The John Muir Way is a long-distance route running through central Scotland and linking Helensburgh in Argyll in the west to Dunbar, John Muir’s birthplace, in the east. John Muir, writer, mountaineer, geologist, naturalist and conservationist, was a great lover of wild places and this route links some of Scotland’s finest wild landscapes. You’ll find some of the most stunning scenery in the first section from Helensburgh to Loch Lomond, which passes through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, the first to be established in Scotland. Channel the spirit of John Muir and take a walk on the wild side from Helensburgh to Loch Lomond.
The John Muir Way starts at Helensburgh Pier, where you’ll find a seat made from Scottish oak and a circular stone plinth with engraved footprints and a John Muir quote. Take time out to look seawards and imagine sailing off to America from those waters like John Muir did well over a century ago. Climb up through the wide, leafy streets of Helensburgh, passing Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Hill House.
You then pick up a forestry track which climbs to reveal a splendid view of Loch Lomond against the National Park mountain backdrop. As you are climbing, there’s an option for a short, steep 'out and back' detour to the summit of Ben Bowie. This is well worth doing for the views over the Firth of Clyde. Further on as you are crossing more open ground, there is another optional short detour to the highest point of Gouk Hill, which gives you incredible views across Loch Lomond.
There are even more lovely views of Loch Lomond as you cross Stoneymollan Muir. The route starts to descend towards the southern end of the loch and along to Loch Lomond Shores, where there are cafés, shops and visitor attractions. You then follow the waterside to the centre of Balloch.
Things to see and do
Helensburgh is a fabulous place to spend a few hours if you have the time. Hill House should be top of your list. It’s universally regarded as Mackintosh’s finest domestic creation. The celebrated architect and his artist wife Margaret MacDonald designed almost everything to see here, from the building itself to its furniture and textiles. There is ongoing renovation work at the moment, so do check the website before travelling. You might want to visit Helensburgh’s newest attraction, the Scottish Submarine Centre, where you can see the X51- HMS Stickleback submarine. Helensburgh Heroes is another fascinating museum. It also has a 50s themed café which is a top spot to grab some refreshments.
Loch Lomond Shores at the end of the walk also has plenty of things to see and do. It offers a wide range of shopping, eating and outdoor activities. You could give your legs a rest and take a short boat cruise on Loch Lomond. Other attractions include the Wee Heilan Man Adventure Golf, the Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre and Loch Lomond Sealife Aquarium and a play park. Loch Lomond Shores also plays host to great events throughout the year including a farmers' market on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month.
The John Muir Way is designed to be easily accessible and close to public transport links. There’s a train station in Helensburgh and Balloch. The route is great for walking, cycling and horse-riding. The entire John Muir Way will take you 7-10 days to walk and about half that by bike. The first section can be done in a day.