The countdown is now well underway for the launch of the coast-to-coast John Muir Way.
The new 134-mile lowlands trail will officially open on 21st April 2014, during the first ever Scottish John Muir Festival, to mark both the conservationist’s birthday and the centenary of his death.
The new trail which runs between Dunbar and Helensburgh echoes John Muir’s own personal journey growing up in Scotland’s east coast town of Dunbar before travelling to the west coast, where he set sail for life in America. The route has been designed to take in castles, historic towns and villages, stunning coastal scenery as well as Scotland’s first national park, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
The John Muir Way has much to offer and some may wish to undertake the challenge of walking or cycling the whole 215km route. The route is designed to be accessible for everyone and the terrain is easy-to-moderate and can be done end-to-end on foot or by bike.
For cyclists it is recommended that hybrid or sturdy touring bikes are used to tackle some of the steeper and bumpier sections, although a few parallel lines or braids give smoother and flatter options. It is estimated that cycling the route will usually take about four days.
Creating the new John Muir Way is a flagship project for the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN). Keith Geddes, Chair of the CSGN Partnership Board, which developed the concept of the route, commented: “Watching our idea develop into this inspirational and fitting tribute to John Muir has been an incredible experience. We are very proud of playing our part in commemorating one of Scotland’s most famous sons and hope the next generation will follow in his footsteps and appreciate and protect our beautiful country.”
- Helensburgh to Balloch
Distance: 9 miles or 14.5km
Points of Interest: Cameron House Hotel, The Waverley Paddle Steamer, The Hill House, Helensburgh Town Centre, Helensburgh Golf Club, Duchess Wood Local Nature Reserve
Starting out from Helensburgh is a treat. There are more than enough cafes and eateries to choose from in this west coast holiday town before you set off up the hill on your trip. Take time out to look seawards and imagine sailing off to America from those waters like John Muir did over a century ago. If you’ve time, why not visit the National Trust for Scotland's Hill House and enjoy some art-deco splendor. Once up onto the hill you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Loch Lomond against the National Park mountain backdrop. With that tremendous view, the route winds its way down to Balloch, where your first set of home comforts lie.
- Balloch to Strathblane
Distance: : 18 miles or 21.5 km
Points of Interest: The Whangie, Maid of the Loch, Loch Lomond, Balloch Castle Country Park, Sweeney’s Cruises, Loch Lomond Sea Life Centre, Can You Experience – Loch Lomond, Auchineden Hill
On the outskirts of Balloch be sure to visit the National Park headquarters and then make your way to Balloch Castle Country Park on the shores of Loch Lomond. This is your last stop for a wee while as you wind your way over the hills, through farms and settlements to the village of Croftaime. From there, the West Highland Way gives sturdy walking past Glengoyne distillery and its iconic hill, Dumgoyne, to your destination of Strathblane, where you can rest body and mind.
- Strathblane to Kilsyth
Distance: : 13 miles or 21 km
Points of Interest: Merkland Local Nature Reserve, Lenzie Moss Local Nature Reserve, Glengoyne Distillery, Bar Hill, Dumgoyne Hill, Auld Kirk Museum
This leg is a 13 mile walk, one of the longer sections, but it has some lovely open stretches on good surfaces. Head off to Clachan of Campsie underneath Cort-ma Law hill and then onto Kirkintilloch’s rich, historic town centre for elevenses. Here you join the first canal stretch, enjoying flat walking on the old towpath before encountering your first Roman fort at Croy Hill. Take some time out to recreate the ancient settlement and rest weary legs after that steep pull up to the summit. Auchinstarry marina hosts a great eco-pub, so why not stop off for food or a floating overnight stop. You can detour to the Antonine Wall on the way to take in the ancient Bar Hill Roman Fort.
- Kilsyth to Falkirk
Distance: : 13 miles or 20.5 km
Points of Interest: The Helix Project, Falkirk Wheel, Antonine Wall, River Avon Heritage Trail, Callendar Estate Cycle Trails
East of Kilsyth the trail meets the Forth and Clyde canal which, in John Muir’s time, provided a busy shipping link between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. Now the canals are cherished places to enjoy quiet fishing, cycling or just messing about on the water. If you’d like to relax and watch some wildlife, try visiting Drumbreck Marsh nearby, or if industrial heritage floats your boat, float off on the Falkirk Wheel which transports shipping from one canal to another.
- Falkirk to Linlithgow
Distance: 8 miles or 13km
Points of Interest: Callendar Park and House, Glen Farm Ice-Cream, Muiravonside Country Park, Falkirk Town Centre, Kinneil Foreshore Local Nature Reserve
Despite being a busy industrial hub, Falkirk has some hidden gems of peace and tranquillity as well as some superb historical heritage sites. Callendar Wood and Estate let you enjoy wooded walks and visit these permanent displays: The Story of Callendar House, a history covering the 11th to the 19th centuries; The Antonine Wall, Rome's Northern Frontier; and Falkirk: Crucible of Revolution 1750-1850, which tells how the local area was transformed during the first century of the industrial era. Further on, the route takes you past the tranquil wildlife haven of Linlithgow Loch, which was probably in existence when the fairytale Linlithgow Palace was constructed in 1425. Today anglers and water-sports enthusiasts enjoy the loch’s waters in summer, and wintering wildfowl take their shift in autumn when it’s quiet.
- Linlithgow to South Queensferry
Distance: : 14.5 miles or 23.5 km
Points of Interest: Linlithgow Palace, Bo’ness Town Centre, Beecraigs Country Park, Clackness Castle, Bo’ness Steam Railway, Kinneil House & Museum, Bo’ness Hippodrome, Blackness Castle
Leaving Linlithgow you travel through some wonderfully rural countryside. The Fisherrow walk gives you superb views and was used by wives of fishermen travelling between Bo'ness and Linlithgow to sell their catches. Bo'ness itself is a delightful town with its architectural mix from 16th-century housing to the Hippodrome Cinema from the 1920s. Look out for steam railway and bird-watching opportunities by the shore. Further on you journey through the large, beautifully managed Hopetoun House Estate before reaching the southern end of the Forth Road and rail bridges at South Queensferry. The town also boasts a harbour and numerous fine restaurants.
- South Queensferry to Edinburgh
Distance: : 15.5 miles or 25 km
Points of Interest: Dalmeny estate, South Queensferry Harbour, and Corstorphine Hill
South Queensferry affords you superb views of both of Scotland's famous Forth bridges; be sure to get out at sunset (or dawn if you’re keen) to capture them at their best. From South Queensferry you start to enter the outskirts of the city, passing through the coastal Dalmeny estate. If you've time, why not visit the largest Napoleonic collection outside France before turning inland at Crammond to take on the capital and all of its delights.
- Edinburgh to Prestonpans
Distance: : 10 miles or 16 km
Points of Interest: Corstorphine Hill Local Nature Reserve, Bawsinch and Duddingston Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve
Once you’ve immersed yourself in the wealth of sightseeing and dining opportunities, you can then leave Edinburgh via Musselburgh. Be sure to take in a race or two, if only for the spectacle, before joining the coast and its wading wildlife. Much of the shore is designated for its visiting birds, which flock on its sandy beaches and shores to pick up worms, shells or crustaceans amongst the tides. In winter you’ll see Redshanks and Dunlin and the large black-and-white Eider Ducks all year round. Eiders are unusual in that they ‘crunch up’ mussel shells (and their soft yummy contents) for an ideal meal.
- Prestonpans to North Berwick
Distance: : 16.5 miles or 26 km
Points of Interest: Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum, Dirleton Castle, Longniddry Bents, Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve
Outside Prestonpans with its battle site and rich industrial heritage, the route runs past Cockenzie Power Station, a local fishing hot spot (literally), before heading off east to Seton Sands and long beach views. Circumnavigating Kilspindie and Craigielaw golf courses you'll trail arrive at the picturesque village of Aberlady. Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve is famed for its skeins of roosting Pink-footed Geese in winter along with mixed flocks of plovers and waders. Be sure to stop by at Dirleton Castle with its tranquil wooded grounds before heading north to Yellowcraigs Beach and North Berwick’s well-serviced seaside town.
- North Berwick to Dunbar
Distance: : 15 miles or 24 km
Points of Interest: John Muir Country Park, Yellowcraig Beach, Dunbar Harbour, North Berwick Law, John Muir Birthplace Museum
Leaving North Berwick southwards gives you an opportunity to climb Berwick Law, which gives you great views both east and west of the town, to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and Tantallon Castle south of Dunbar. It has always sported whale jaw bones, and when the last ones decayed, fibre-glass replicas were installed. After a few miles on country tracks and quiet roads, you’ll reach the popular village of East Linton, whose National Trust for Scotland attractions of the Phantassie Doocot and Preston Mill are well worth a look. The café serves up good lunches to fortify you for the final leg of the journey. You now follow the Tyne for a while, until the way takes you onward to the coast and beaches of John Muir Country Park, before reaching Dunbar. Head for the birthplace museum as the statue marking the route finish (or start) is nearby.