By Douglas Young
We were lucky with the recent day-about weather for our walk to the Lang Craigs. Warm sunshine and good visibility held as we completed the nine-mile saunter and exploration (snoop and skulk) of this stunning landmark above Dumbarton.
My partner, Lilly and I had never been to this area before, although it is only 10 minutes away. Often we tend to ignore what is on our own doorsteps – and what bonny doorsteps – when seeking somewhere new and exciting to explore.
There are many paths and routes to choose from, relaxed and easy or difficult and strenuous, and like all good walkers we did absolutely no pre-planning except to find access and set off.
Garshake Road, one starting point shown on a wee phone map, leads with a fine, wide pathway and descends well-made steps into beautiful, light woodlands. The contrast from urban to countryside is immediate, the sounds of traffic gone, replaced with silence.
Silent apart from birds in their hundred-shades-of-green, sunlit canopy and the gentle babbling of the Garshake Burn, which is wide and shallow enough to walk across. So we do and chicken out at the last part, which is slightly deeper with slippy stones. You wouldn’t drown in the foot of water but wet socks and boots at the start of the walk means chickens we shall remain. Dried foot chickens.
Shafts of sunlight illuminate the rich brown stones on the river bed through crystal clear waters and we loiter – skulk – for ten minutes before setting off into the woods along a good path with the burn far below. A diversion up a flight of steps is in place due to a landslip, it’s short and the original route is regained quickly.
Speaking of diversions, walking is good for my mental health. Literally. Diagnosed a few years ago with depression when I was living in Shetland, I realised something more than drugs and counselling would be needed to conquer my illness.
Conquer is perhaps too strong a word, live with would be more accurate, because I can’t be sure it will not return, many with mental health problems are re-visited by them. Once you recognise the symptoms it is relatively easy to take the steps needed to control the illness.
Walking with depression works for me and using one of those wee wrist gadgets – pacemaker – helps me aim for a daily target too. After 10,000 steps it vibrates but you can set your own step count and this walk smashed that target.
But enough of this and back to the beautiful, sunny woodlands (you remember them?) and we cross a bridge over the burn and climb out into the lovely garden and house at Overtoun. This approach is sudden and unexpected, the contrast from being in woods to gazing at this towering, grand mansion is delicious.
There’s plenty of information available https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overtoun_House but for now the most interesting is, there’s a tea room inside! Such grand surroundings and also welcoming and informal in which to “take tea”. Walking boots and t-shirts getting stuck into homebakes, china teapots and white linen, and we’ve hardly started the walk. Prices are on the low to reasonable scale too.
Since planning had been at a minimum we set off for the Crags around 4pm not knowing how long it would take, with a short stroll through large metal gates and into open countryside with recently planted saplings. The ground rises steeply here and we stopped often to look back over Dumbarton, Loch Lomond and the distant mountains.
The Woodlands Trust have a ten-year plan for the area, covering around 600 acres, and it’s well advanced with trees native to Scotland, paths and thoughtfully – benches, although some are only single seats. Rowan trees glowed bright red in the afternoon sun.
The Crags rise out of lush green vegetation, sheer rock faces, with a few trees clinging to their lower slopes which we circumnavigated round the western flank and up the steepest part of our route to the summit. Steep enough for someone to have cut toe-holds into the turf. Would not have liked to come down this way!
The views are expansive and on such a clear day Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps are visible. Dumbarton Castle is an insignificant rock from this viewpoint. Overtoun House pops out of the trees as lowering sunshine gleams off streets and roads in Dumbarton.
It’s best to stop and look because the path goes very near the edge at times without fences of any kind for much of the walk and, walking through the heather, there is no warning of the sudden nothingness ahead. A few strands of ineffective iron railing remain in places.
We stop to refill our water bottles in a burn and start the slow descent, which takes about an hour, and checking our time we realise the light will be going soon and we’ve quite a way to go. The final path is a bit uneven and rough, passing a fenced-in quarry/landfill site and a superb drystane dyke carpeted in moss. You must stop to stroke its squashy greenness. The circular walk ends with a mile or so through built-up areas but Google maps shows a quicker way which takes us straight past Overtoun House again.
With twilight falling we take 15 minutes to reach our original starting point. How did we manage to spend an hour covering the same distance when we commenced?
That’ll be all the skulking and snooping I guess.
A total of nine miles were covered in about four hours. There are so many walks and routes here, you can choose your own. Half an hour or the whole day, it’s up to you. If we were doing it again we’d probably start out sooner, take some food and not just water and of course “take tea” in the Big Hoose.