You can easily cross over the line from lowland to highland, but you can climb on top of it too. Peter Macfarlane explains how on Conic Hill.
Distance 6.3km (4 miles)
Total ascent 390m
Time 2½ hours
Terrain Good paths throughout with one section of steep open hillside and one lochside section by open water
Accommodation Oak Tree Inn (01360) 870357; Passfoot Cottage B&B (01360) 870324; Balmaha Bunkhouse & Hostel (01360) 870218
Public transport local bus service www.travelinescotland.com; Balloch Railway Station www.scotrail.co.uk
Tourist info Balmaha Visitor Centre (01389) 722100
The Highland Boundary Fault is more than a geographical feature or a mere phrase from a textbook; it’s there if you want to look for it, and – even better – you can climb onto the top of it. The fault line, which marks where two land masses have joined together, runs roughly from Stonehaven in the east of Scotland to the isle of Arran off the west coast and it divides the lowlands from the highlands – often very noticeably, with mountain peaks tumbling away to the north and rolling hills and farmland to the south.
The fault line is very well seen around the south end of Loch Lomond, where it rises as a crest of rock forming a visible ridge that also dips into the loch to create a chain of islands. The best-defined section lies above Balmaha as Conic Hill. Its whaleback ridge is clearly seen from across Loch Lomond but it’s a little off the beaten track and visitors often drive by it for the bigger prize of Ben Lomond just down the road.
But Conic Hill has more to it than its height suggests; as a viewpoint it’s magnificent and its modest stature is also its greatest strength. Its ascent is a rewarding short day out; often its top sits under the cloud so you’ll still get a view; but best of all (here I’ll let you into a local secret): the top almost always sits just out of the top of a temperature inversion. So if it’s foggy, Conic is the place to go.
NS420908 The start is at the Balmaha car park, also home to the visitor centre, which is well worth a visit: lots of useful information to help you spot and identify the range of wildlife that lurks round the corners ahead. At the back of the car park hop up onto the track that skirts its perimeter and you’re now on the West Highland Way (WHW). Turn right and follow the wide track into the forest. At the next junction turn left.
NS423911 The path narrows from here and you start gently climbing as the trees tower above you. As the path narrows again and becomes rougher, a steeper section with some steps carries you up to the forest edge where there is a gate. Pass through the gate onto a hill path, which gradually contours left around one of the tops that forms the fault line with a burn running to your right. A flat section in a dip in the ridge is reached.
NS424917 The path turns right and climbs uphill with another less used track carrying on and turning left. Climb the path which keeps to a shelf running next to the humped crest of Conic Hill; you quickly get stunning views to the north with the length of Loch Lomond stretching out, ringed with mountain peaks.
NS429922 Watch for and follow a path that cuts off to your right. It climbs up the ridge and over a rocky section to a bealach from where a second short, rocky climb takes you to the little flat top of Conic Hill.
NS430922 It’s a stunning summit view: almost coast to coast and from the flatter lands below to the ranks of northern Munros that start with Ben Lomond just along the lochside. It’s the perfect spot for a leisurely lunch. Descend to the bealach and walk along the humps on short heather and rock. The final descent is quite steep and care should be taken, but it’s worth it for the airy views. Meet the outward path and follow it back to the car park.
NS421910 Stay on the West Highland Way and follow it through the trees until it reaches the road. Cross the road onto the path by the bay and follow it to the minor road, which passes two cottages.
NS418909 Past the cottages, follow the WHW path signposts on the right to a rocky viewpoint above the loch, a great wee bonus on our route. Drop to the lochside.
NS415910 Turn left and take the picturesque lochside path which crosses a metal bridge and then skirts a craggy bluff right on the water’s edge opposite Inchcailloch Island where care should be taken. Reach the end of the minor road and follow it back past the cottages and around the edge of the bay to reach our start point.
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