An Underestimated Undulating Undertaking!
Like many others I love a good challenge, particularly when it involves stunning scenery and a valid excuse to eat my weight in sweets and pizza. Throughout the year I've been meaning to do The Three Lochs Way, but between lockdown, work and surgery I've been struggling to find the time.
What is the Three Lochs Way?
One of Scotland's many long distance walks. A 55 km adventure from Balloch to Inveruglas envisioned and invented by the late Alan Day. It links Loch Lomond, Gare Loch and Loch Long. I done it in reverse as I live in Glasgow which is closer to Balloch.
Why do it in one day?
It's not because I had something to prove, or I like to rush through these things but logistically if I wanted to do it this year, it had to be on foot and in one day. I had surgery (again) on my clavicle a few weeks ago, so unfortunately I'm unable to shoulder a rucksack for bivvy adventures or ride my bikes but I do have a fantastic 6L bumbag and can still walk & run. So that's what I did, I went 'runking'.
A 4am rise kind of adventure
Holidays and adventures are the only time you will see me getting out of bed at 4am. I needed the full hour to snooze my alarm several times, drink strong coffee followed by some more coffee and get myself ready to catch my train at 0520. I wanted to catch the 0520 train to Arrochar for two reasons, it would be quiet, which it was and to see the sun rise kisses over the Arrochar Alps.
I arrived at the station at 0733 and took the woodland path towards Arrochar with my head torch ready. There's something that makes you run faster in the woods when it's that dark but between my head torch and the huge moon I managed to avoid the burns and seen a couple of red deer grazing. It was getting light faster than I could run...not really a surprise. I'm slow.
First glimpse of the Arrochar Alps.
Yessss, made it to the best section of the entire Three Lochs way, peaked too soon some might say ha.
The Glen Loin Loop is one of my favourite places to run and ride my mountain bike. There's lots of smooth forest floor to pound and technical, fast flowing sections that are super exciting.
I can't get enough of Arrochar. If you haven't been, please go.
Ben Vorlich being a babe
Time to say goodbye for now and head to Inveruglas for a vegan sausage roll with a view and the 'official start'. Yup, 10km in and I wasn't at the start yet.
Next stop...Arrochar, wait what? Due to public transport my only option was to head back to Arrochar if I wanted to walk towards Glasgow. So I happily went back to my beloved Arrochar.
Before I knew it I was getting a birds eye view of Arrochar and the Mountains, it was heavenly but soggy and undulating. If you look in the dictionary under 'runners knee hell' you will find the word 'undulating'.
The views along this section were spectacular and there's a lovely view point at the dam around Ben Reoch Hill. I enjoyed my second vegan sausage roll here and took far too many of what could be argued as the same photo. I followed the path alongside Loch Long for miles towards Glen Mallan, it was very up & down, steep, wet and technical, but I was having fun.
I met a mountain biker with a loaded and very heavy looking bike and a hiker with a very heavy looking rucksack. I felt great being so light and free with my wee bumbag and doing my 'runking' best.
The next people I saw were a couple of lovely soldiers as I was nearing Faslane, I hid my pizza ( I know how much soldiers eat) and took one video, fear of being shot for videoing top secret stuff haha.
Uch, do you know what I mean by 'Same, Samey'? that's how I would describe this whole section along Glen Fruin (like the last 15km/20km). Now, this could be because I was getting annoyed at all the dog poo in bags neatly placed along the side of the road (why bother bagging it?) and both knees were sore, so was my ankle bone. Never had a bruised ankle bone before. Anyway, I padded it up with gauze and carried on. This was the longest section and all I could think about was being on my bike and smashing it.
Finally I saw the sign for Helensburgh and I perked up, again this is a section I have mtb'd before and the view before you drop down into the woods is pretty beautiful, especially with the bubblegum sky I was treated to.
50km and 9.5 hours later, I had made it to Helensburgh town. Balloch was only 5 miles away but I didn't do it for two reasons. Firstly my knees were totally beginning to seize, you know that feeling where standing is fine and so is your knees being at 90 degrees, but anything in between that is excruciating? That's where I was at. Secondly I know this last section very well and I mtb there regularly, I didn't want to tarnish good memories or finish on a total downer so I got the train home to Glasgow and gracefully slithered into a bath with a CBD bathbomb. When I say gracefully...picture a penguin getting into a bath lol.
I am beyond happy that I have finally done it, and yes I am saying it's complete despite not doing the last 8 miles. I did do more at the start ;) Would I do it again?...probably not, not even on my mtb. For me, Arrochar, Helensburgh and Balloch are the most exciting sections and I mtb in these areas frequently but the 20 km section in the middle lacked something. I need technical terrain and adrenaline or pretty views to pacify me and the middle section just didn't do it for me. I would however probably bike the middle section on my touring bike. I'll probably be back.
I would recommend doing the walk though, this is only my opinion and to my taste. I am quite strange ;)
Due to not being able to wear a rucksack over both shoulders I decided to buy the 'Steeze' bumbag (£20), I thought it would be great for trail running and mountain biking and if all else fails it's cute for every day use. So I loaded it up and tested it whilst running across my shoulder and around my waist, it did not budge and was super comfortable. It has 6L capacity so I could fit;
a pair of gloves
emergency foil blanket & 'ouch pouch' first aid kit
head torch & spare batteries
Dextrose & Pain relief
3x slices pizza, 2x vegan sausage rolls, 2 x bags of sweets, nuts & dried fruit, mint cake
500ml water bottle
face mask, money/cards and tissues.
Honest review, no ads. I would recommend.
As it's so wet at the moment I do recommend decent waterproof footwear, whether that be waterproof socks and trail running shoes or heavy duty winter boots. I guess it also depends on the level of support your ankles need too as it is technical and steep. I opted for my summer hiking boots as they are lightweight with a bit of flexibility for running paired with some merino wool socks.
Travel advice & exits
If you can arrange a drop off/pick up then from Balloch train station to Inveruglas (Loch Sloy Power Station car park) then you're laughing. Whatever direction you wish.
Public transport is super easy too; there is a direct line from Glasgow Queen St to Arrochar (my way) and you can walk to Inveruglas and back via Glen Loin Loop or start at Balloch station.
There are only a few train stations along this route (Arrochar, Garelochead, Helensburgh, Balloch), please ensure you are fully committed and prepared for each section.
What I would do differently & advice
I would probably go for trail running shoes with waterproof socks, take the same amount of kit/food but start at Balloch so I had the views of Arrochar to look forward to. I think two days is a decent amount of time but be wary of where you plan to camp as I'm pretty sure you won't be able to wild camp where the soldiers train and Loch Lomond is a camp management zone.
If you have any questions about the Three Lochs Way just send me a message and I will do my best to answer your query.