Words by Harvey Smart & Photos By Paul Murdoch
“There are lots of books purely focusing on one topic, but I wanted to give people a full experience of the area through the local walks I have done for the past 50 years – everything from an historic building to a hoverfly and all points in between.”
This was the motivation for local author Paul Murdoch when he started writing his latest series of books, ‘Four Walks in West Dunbartonshire.’
For each season, he mapped four walks, highlighting natural and historical curiosities to be found along the way.
The latest instalment, ‘Four Winter Walks’ follows this theme.
The actual routes he takes us on are varied in difficulty, length, terrain and surroundings.
Most are accessible to those with reduced mobility, but I wanted a challenge, so I picked the longest, from the centre of Balloch, right up to the trig point in the hills to the west of the Vale of Leven.
Following the directions in the book, we begin at Balloch Visitor Centre and head westward along the main road.
This section of the walk is mainly oriented towards the historical, the book gives us facts and context about places as we go.
It’s fascinating the history you pass every day without knowing.
The information the book provides is enlightening, although I can’t help feeling a little sad as well, as these are stories of a heyday well in the past, all the industry that once made this area a thriving cultural hub is now barely a memory.
Meandering further west and higher up the hillside, the history gives way to a more nature-oriented experience as Paul talks about the flora, fauna and fungi to be seen in the area.
As we ascend the hill, the woodland thins out and you find yourself surrounded by heather and, on a clear day, revealing gorgeous views of the Loch, the islands on it, and Ben Lomond beyond.
It’s at this point I would highly recommend a sturdy pair of welly boots, as the terrain becomes extremely wet and muddy as we ascend to the trig point marking the summit.
On this stretch before we start making our way back there is still more to see, in particular the remains of some WWII bomb craters that pepper the hillsides on both sides of the Vale of Leven.
Upon reaching the trig point, you can see for miles n every direction, with panoramic views of Ben Lomond to the north, the Kilpatrick hills to the east and across the Firth of Clyde to Dunoon in the west.
This is truly one of the best views in West Dunbartonshire and worth the walk even for this alone.
Beginning the descent again, the heather seems to come alive, with grouse shooting out from the brush in front of us, wings making the distinctive flapping sound that hunters prize so much.
A lone snipe also flees from our path as we weave our way down the hillside. Deer can also regularly be seen foraging on these slopes, but they eluded us on this occasion.
The route from here is all downhill until we reach the banks of Loch Lomond once again, ending the guided walk beside the Maid of the Loch.
I thoroughly enjoyed this jaunt and learned many things, both historical and natural about what this area has to offer.
Paul’s biologist background and appreciation of local biodiversity really shines through and he adds his own personal flair to the book, making it feel like he’s accompanying you on the walk himself.
I would recommend it to anyone, no matter if you have lived here your whole life or are just visiting for the holidays.
Just one thing, bring your wellies!
You can buy the books online here – www.paulmurdoch.co.uk/the-nature-books, or pick them up from the VisitScotland iCentre in Balloch.