Late on the morning of Sunday 1 April 2012, we left our home in St Helens for our Easter break to Milarrochy Bay Camping and Caravan Club site on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond.
This was a trip down memory lane, as we had last visited this site on our first family camping holiday in 1992. For our 2012 visit we had booked 11 nights.
From St Helens we joined the M6 northwards and made good progress, stopping at Tebay Services for lunch. We love these independent services which are so superior to the “chain” run services in every way. We were able to park in one of the dedicated caravan parking pitches even though the services were very busy. We took it in turns to visit the toilets and purchased take-away meals from the take-away outlets. We then sat on the grass next to the pond from where we could keep an eye on the van. Cary had a steak sandwich and I had a hand-made pie and hand-cut chips. I also purchased a hand-made pork and stilton pie from the farm shop which sells a wide range of local farm-produced products. After lunch we continued our way northwards on the M6.
North of Carlisle we crossed the border into Scotland and continued northwards on the A74(M) and then the M74. We stopped briefly at Happendon Services and Cary took over the driving. We drove through Glasgow on the M74 before joining the M8 westwards. At junction 30 we turned north onto the M898 and crossed the River Clyde on the Erskine Bridge.
We crossed the Erskine Bridge and continued north on the A82. Just north of the bridge we were stuck in traffic on the A82 for quite some time as a result of roadworks. Eventually we turned onto the A11 through the outskirts of Balloch. Cary is not keen on towing on minor roads so we stopped in a layby and I took over the driving again.
The campsite is located on the minor road which runs along the eastern side of Loch Lomond. This road is reached by leaving the A811 at the village of Drymen and taking the B837 to Balmaha. At Balmaha the road narrows considerably. Immediately on leaving the northern end of the village there is sharp right-hand bend followed by steep hill – the Pass of Balmaha. Care needs to be taken in negotiating this hill, particularly when towing. Milarrochy Bay itself is reached after about 1.5 miles, where there is a large car park, a small National Park Information Centre and a public slipway for boat launching. Milarrochy Bay Campsite is about 0.5 miles past this centre and clearly signposted on the left.
We arrived at the site entrance at around 18.20hrs after travelling approximately 230 miles. The site has a separate entrance and exit; the exit is passed before the entrance is reached. The entrance is on a steep downhill slope with the campsite barrier at the bottom. On our arrival one of the wardens came out and opened the barrier so that we could drive in and park safely before registering at reception. We were given a warm and friendly welcome by the warden
The barrier is always closed during the daytime and locked at night. The exit is on the far side of reception via a large gate. There is an overnight/visitors’ car park next to this gate. The exit is poorly designed. The view of the road, which is single track at this point, is obstructed by overhanging trees. In addition there is not sufficient length between the gate and the road for a caravan outfit to stop after the gate has been closed. On our departure I had to drive out onto the road to allow Cary to close the gate, and then she had to run 100 yards up the road to join me waiting in a passing place!
The site is quite large and the pitches are very well spaced out. To the right of the entrance, from the road, there is a large pitching area with a mixture of grass and hardstanding pitches with EHU. The pitches nearest to the Loch are mainly hardstanding and on flat ground; the site then slopes upwards away from the Loch. There is a smaller “backpackers” toilet block in this area with a washing-up area and dining room. The site is popular with walkers as the West Highland Way passes the entrance. Next to the reception there is a small information room, plus the main toilet and shower block. To the left of the entrance is a storage area for caravans. Beyond this there is a storage area for boats, and nearer to the lochside a further large area of pitches without EHU.
The road along the Eastern side of Loch Lomond is a dead-end and so the site was wonderfully peaceful. A downside of the site IMHO is that the trees around the site screen it from the best mountain views. The water’s edge hardstanding pitches were already booked when we made our booking; they’re the popular pitches, but we were fortunate to get a semi-hardstanding pitch near the water’s edge on an unmarked pitching area. The wardens were always very helpful and allowed us to move our van when the overhanging trees prevented us getting a signal for our TV satellite system. The weather was mixed with some wet and some sunny days. We managed to avoid the snow which fell on Glasgow during our stay, although the snow did cap some of the mountains to improve my photos!
The village of Balmaha is less than two miles away by road. It is a small Lochside hamlet with a couple of pubs, a small village store, a few houses and not much else. We found the village shop to be both expensive and not very well stocked. There was a new National Park Information Centre opened for the first time during our stay which was very pleasant with informative and interactive displays, including some for children. The centre is situated in the large public car park and includes public toilets. The staff were pleasant, well-informed and helpful.
The village has a marina and small boatyard from where boats can be hired. There is also a ferry to the nearby island of Inchailloch. The Millennium Forest Trail from the centre of the village leads past the ferry pier and along a partly paved path to the high viewpoint of Craigie Fort before returning along the shores of the Loch. Craigie Fort gives spectacular views along the Loch to the mountains at its northern end.
The larger village of Drymen is situated just under 6 miles from the Campsite. It has a number of shops including a butcher, village store and “Spar” minimarket. We did not stop at Drymen as we preferred to shop at the larger Co-op in Balloch, but had to drive through every time we went out from the Campsite.
The nearest town of any size is Balloch which is about 13.5 miles away. Balloch is not a particularly attractive small town, situated on the River Leven at the southern end of Loch Lomond. It has a good tourist information office, a selection of small shops, several pubs and restaurants, a McDonald’s and a well-stocked Co-op supermarket. Balloch also has a rail station which connects it with Glasgow.
Milarrochy Bay and Balmaha
When we booked, we requested a pitch as near to the Loch as possible, however those on the loch side had already been booked. The wardens were very helpful and suggested that we might like to stay on an unmarked pitching area close to the loch side; the area was partly covered in hardstanding but was classed as grass pitches. It was rather shaded by the overhanging trees but we liked it because of its close proximity to, and rather spectacular views over, the Loch.
We spent Monday 2 April resting after our long journey, and as the weather was rather dull we stayed in and watched the TV and read.
TV reception with our van’s built-in Status 530 aerial was rather poor due to the trees overhanging our pitch. As an alternative, I spent a lot of time trying to get a signal on our satellite system but again the trees proved to be a problem. On Tuesday 3 April, as the weather forecast was rather poor, we asked about the possibility of moving to another pitch with better TV reception. After a helpful discussion with the wardens we were allowed to move just a few metres, within the same pitching area, nearer to the slipway. The break in the trees for the path accessing the slipway gave us a “window” which enabled us to obtain a satellite signal.
On Wednesday 4th April, the weather was brighter and we took what turned out to be one of our favourite walks along the shores of the Loch to the small village of Balmaha, and then back again. This path is part of the West Highland Way which passes by the gates of the campsite. The path followed the shores of the Loch and we were able to spend time sitting on the beach in the sunshine en route.
Just before reaching Balmaha, we passed the Balmaha cruise and ferry landing pier, spending some time watching the “Cruise Loch Lomond” ferry from Luss arrive and depart. A little beyond the Pier we joined the Millennium Forest Trail and climbed the stepped path to the viewpoint at Craigie Fort. This viewpoint gave spectacular views over the Loch and northward to the mountains beyond, and in other directions too.
Continuing on to Balmaha we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch at the “Oak Tree Inn” in the centre of the village. The restaurant was very busy and so we opted to sit outside in the adjacent beer garden. We enjoyed a very pleasant meal of beautifully tasty home-made beef burgers and chips, although for a bar meal it was quite expensive at £10 each. The beer garden would have been more pleasant if there had not been builders working on an extension to the Inn very close by.
After lunch we returned by the reverse of our outward walk, although we did omit the climb to Craigie Fort. We followed the banks of the Loch and enjoyed the changing vista. At the southern end of Milarrochy Bay itself, we paused to visit the small visitor centre and the toilets there. There is also a public slipway for boat launching and a car park.
On Thursday 5th April, we drove into Balloch for a look around. We visited the Tourist Information Office in the centre of the town which was very informative, plus the staff were very helpful and knowledgeable. In addition there is the Lomond Shores shopping “experience” on the shores of Loch Lomond.
In my opinion Lomond Woods is a rather ugly building with rather overpriced “designer” shops and a small department store aimed at the tourist trade. It is, however, apparently built on a reclaimed industrial site and so is probably an improvement on that! It has an absolutely huge car park. Adjacent to the Lomond Shores complex is a SeaWorld Centre but we didn’t visit.
A short walk along the Loch shore at Balloch Pier is the historic steamer, “Maid of the Loch”. This paddle steamer was the last of the Loch Lomond paddle steamers that was launched in 1953, after being re-assembled at Balloch. 1953 is the year I was born! The ship last sailed in 1981 and is now being restored by a group of enthusiasts who hope she will again cruise on the Loch. “Maid of the Loch” is open to visitors every day from Easter to October and is an interesting ship to visit.
After we had looked around Balloch and visited Lomond Woods we took the opportunity to stop off at the Co-op supermarket to buy some provisions. The Co-op was well stocked with a wide variety of goods including some local specialities. Before driving back we filled up the car with diesel at the local Shell petrol station which was the cheapest in the area. Opposite the petrol station there is a fish and chip shop which we visited several times during our stay.
When travelling back to the campsite at the end of the day we decided to take an exploratory drive, continuing along the eastern side of the lake beyond our campsite.
The road from Balmaha continues for a further 5 miles beyond the Milarrochy Bay Campsite before ending at Rowardennan. On the way we drove past a Forestry Centre but we did not visit.
The road to Rowardennan is narrow and quiet with just a few farms and the Cashel Club site en route. There is not much at Rowardennan; just a hotel, a National Park Centre with toilets, a car park and a Youth Hostel. There is also an unusual ring-shaped monument which gave an interesting and novel frame to the northward views along the Loch.
On this dark and cloudy evening the lovely, brooding views over the Loch to the mountains to the north were superb. Rowardennan is also the starting point for those who wish to climb Ben Lomond. Ben Lomond is Scotland’s most southerly Munro, ie, a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet.
Balloch, Lochgare and Tarbet
On Friday 6 and Saturday 7 April the weather was not good and we spent several relaxing days at the campsite watching TV, reading and working on the laptop. On the afternoon of Saturday 7 April, the weather had improved and we decided that we would take a drive along the northern banks of the River Clyde through and beyond Dumbarton and Helensburgh.
We then continued on the A814 along the eastern shores of Gare Loch to Garelochhead. Just before reaching Garlochhead we passed the Royal Naval Scottish Headquarters and nuclear submarine base at Faslane. This very large naval base with its large accommodation blocks and other buildings extends along the loch side for a considerable distance. It is effectively a small “town” in its own right with 3,000 navy personnel, 800 of their families and 4,000 civilian personnel. However, it does not really fit in with the pleasant Loch and mountain scenery location.
When we reached the aptly named Garelochhead at the northern head of Gare Loch we turned south down the opposite, western, shore of the Loch on the B883. This road offered lovely sea views back across Gare Loch to the shore which we had just driven along. We stopped for a while at Kilcreggan at the southern end of the Rosneath Peninsula. The Kilcreggan pier gave a wonderful vista across the wide expanse of the Clyde estuary to the towns of Gourock and Greenock on the southern bank of the Clyde. We watched the small passenger ferry crossing from Greenock and docking at the pier. As the B883 ended at Coulport a little further along the eastern shore of Loch Long we decided to retrace our journey northwards along the western shore of Gare Loch. At Garelochhead we turned north onto the A814 which soon joined the eastern shore of Loch Long. This road was narrow but set well above the Loch and gave lovely views over the Loch to its lonely, heavily forested shore. Loch Long is a narrow sea Loch with only a few houses along its length. At the northern head of Loch Long at Arrochar, after a brief stop to take some photos, we turned east on the A83 to Tarbet and the junction with the main A82.
At Tarbet, there is a National Park Centre with a café and car park and a grassed area leading down to the shores of Loch Lomond and the “Cruise Loch Lomond” Pier. Several of the “Cruise Loch Lomond” boats were at anchor for the evening and made a lovely view against the backdrop of the Ben Lomond and the Inversnaid Hotel on the opposite shore. After a brief stop at Tarbet, we drove back down the western shores of Loch Lomond on the A82 before turning off to Balloch and on to the campsite.
On Sunday 8 April we spent a day visiting Loch Katrine and the north eastern shores of Loch Lomond at Inversnaid. To reach Inversnaid involved driving east on the A811 from Drymen before turning north on the A8 to Aberfoyle. We then took the B829 north west past Loch Ard and Loch Chon. The road became increasing narrow and lonely, eventually becoming a single track road which passed Loch Arklet and the Inversnaid bunkhouse; a beautiful conversion of a former church. After passing through the village of Inversnaid the road terminated at the Inversnaid Hotel on the north eastern shore of Loch Lomond. I don’t think that this rather challenging road was worth the effort of driving it, particularly the final precipitous hairpin bend stage down to the Inversnaid Hotel. This very large hotel has its own landing stage and is more easily reached by the regular ferry from Tarbet and Inveruglas on the western side of the Loch.
Adjacent to the hotel are the Arklet Falls which are fed by Loch Arklet above. There is also a display board about William Wordworth’s poem “To the Highland Girl of Inversnaid”. We parked near the hotel and walked north along the shore of Loch Lomond towards Rob Roy’s cave. The signed path makes up a section of the West Highland Way, and we passed a number of walkers travelling both ways. We found a grassy spot overlooking the loch to enjoy a pleasant picnic.
On the drive back from Inversnaid we made a short detour to visit the pier at Stronachlachar at western end of the beautiful Loch Katrine. Loch Katrine was much beloved by the author Sir Walter Scott. We had thought about a trip on the restored steamer “SS Sir Walter Scott” but the weather that day was not really suitable as it was rather cloudy and misty. There is a very pleasant café at the landing stage at the Stronachlachar. In addition there are rowing boats available for hire at the pier.
On Monday 10 April we drove along the western shore of Loch Lomond on the A82. We visited the village of Luss. Luss is a rather busy and touristy village just off the A82. The village also gained fame as the outdoor location of the Scottish TV series, “Take the High Road”. Loch cruises and ferries depart from Luss, and in addition there are some pleasant walking routes in the area. There is a very large Pay and Display car park and a small beach with a pier and lovely views over Loch Lomond. There is another Camping and Caravanning Club site on the shores of the Loch. We stayed there in our caravan many years ago, and its proximity to the A82 make it a popular stop for those heading north into Highlands. The site is worthy of longer stays but it is not as peaceful as the sites on the eastern shore. The village of Luss has a number of pubs but not much else as far as I saw on our brief visit.
After visiting Luss we continued northwards to Tarbet from where we took a cruise on the Northern end of Loch Lomond with “Cruise Loch Lomond”. We took their “Rob Roy Cruise” along the northern shores of the Loch. The weather was rather cloudy and showery but we were impressed that the cruise still ran even though we were the only two passengers. We were still given a Camping and Caravanning Club discount of £1.50 on each of our fares, and the young lady crew member even served us our complimentary liqueur coffee with rum on the upper viewing deck. The boat’s captain gave an interesting and amusing commentary during the cruise.
The other main cruise company on Loch Lomond is “Sweeney’s Cruises” who operate from a quay on the riverside in the centre of Balloch. On the afternoon of Tuesday 11 April we took the one hour cruise but I really would not recommend it. The fact that the boat had to first sail out of the River Leven into the Loch meant that it didn’t get very far up the Loch at all. This cruise did, however, give some splendid views northward to the mountains which were capped with snow. We had hoped to take the two hour cruise but Sweeney’s cancelled it due to what they considered poor weather and the supposedly resultant low demand. All in all we felt that for value for money and friendliness, “Sweeney’s” cruise compared very unfavourably with the one we had taken with “Cruise Loch Lomond”.
Balloch Country Park at the eastern end of Balloch stretches along the shores of Loch Lomond and is well worth a visit, particularly on a sunny day. The Park is owned by Glasgow Corporation and managed on its behalf by Dumbarton Council. The 18th Century Gothic mansion houses a visitor centre which describes the history of the park. The extensive gardens which make up the Park have been extensively restored to show off the plants and trees which were collected from all around the world. There are a number of marked walks of varying lengths. The park makes full use of its location at the southern tip of Loch Lomond with superb northward views. It is an excellent place for whiling away a sunny afternoon with a picnic on the extensive lawns. We visited the park on the way back to the campsite on the evening of Tuesday 11 April and enjoyed the lovely views.
Isle of Bute and Rothesay
For our final outing on Wednesday 12 April we took a day-long tour to, and around, the Isle of Bute. This trip involved driving north along the western banks of Loch Lomond on the A82.
At Tarbet we turned onto the A83 and drove over the “Rest and be Thankful Pass”. The drive over the “Rest and be Thankful”, with its panoramic view, was spectacular.
We turned south onto the A815 along the eastern shore of Loch Fyne with views to Inverary on the Loch’s western shore. We then turned inland on the A886 along the edge of the Glendaruel Forest before emerging onto the shores of Loch Riddon at Auchenbreck. The drive along Loch Riddon was a picturesque one with views down to the northern end of the Isle of Bute.
At its southern end, Loch Riddon splits to form the Kyles of Bute sea channel which passes around both sides of the Isle of Bute. The main road ends at Colintraive, where the Cal Mac Ferry departs for Bute. We bought an “island hopscotch” ticket giving a cheaper, combined fare for that crossing, plus our return from Rothesay.
The ferry from Colintraive is a small vessel holding only about 20 vehicles on its open desk. The crossing is only 5 minutes and we hardly had time to jump out of the car to take some more photos before we had to rush back to disembark at Rhubodach on the northern end of Bute. After stopping to take some pictures of the returning ferry, and scenery generally, we drove southwards to the island’s main town of Rothesay. It has to be said that the town of Rothesay does look a little ‘down-at-heel’; however, this interesting port town has lovely views over the Kyles of Bute towards the Ayrshire coast.
Behind the seafront is a warren of slightly dingy shopping streets set around the ruined 13th Century castle. We decided not to visit this castle which is an unusual circular shape. On the promenade there is an impressive Visitor Centre, including a tourist information office housed in the former Winter Gardens Theatre. This has lots of interesting multimedia displays of Bute’s heyday as a day trip destination – “doon the watter” by paddle steamer for the Glaswegian masses.
Adjacent to the Winter Gardens, on the promenade, there are some very pleasant floral gardens. A more unusual visitor “attraction” is the nearby Victorian gents public toilets. Although the tiled exterior of the building is nothing of note, the interior is a very different matter. The 14 original porcelain urinals lining the walls are topped with imitation green St Anne’s marble and there is a circular centrepiece of 6 more urinals. The urinals are fed by the original glass-sided cisterns via mirror-finish copper pipes. The WCs and wash basins continue this grand and decorative theme, all of which are set off by the sunlight from the glass roof.
After visiting the glories of Rothesay, we took the coast road south past the unending row of Victorian guest houses before stopping for a pleasant picnic on one of the many benches overlooking the Kyles of Bute. This vantage point gave a lovely vista with distant views of the Ayrshire coast and the opportunity to watch the arrival and departure of the large Cal Mac car ferries travelling between Rothesay and Wemyss Bay.
After lunch we spent the whole afternoon touring the beautiful Isle of Bute. We drove southwards, keeping as far as possible to the minor roads along the eastern coastline, before finally taking the narrow B888 to the village of Kilchattan Bay at the end of the east coast road. This route gave us lovely seascapes to Islands of Great and Little Cumbrae. We then returned to the village of Kingarth and took the A844 which followed the western coastline northwards.
We stopped several times along this route to visit the sandy bays at Scalpsie and Straad. There were lovely views to the nearby isle of Inchmarnock, the more distant Isle of Arran and the Kintyre Peninsula. We stopped at the southern end of the sandy beach at Ettrick Bay. We then continued northwards and eventually turned west on the B875 to visit the northern end of the Ettrick Bay, where there was a café. From Ettrick Bay we took the single track road skirting the western coastline with views across the western Kyle to Ardlamont Point. We then retraced our route and took the A884 back across the island and rejoined the A886 at Port Ballantyne just north of Rothesay.
We then took the short journey back to Rothesay stopping en route to photograph a rainbow dipping its tip into the Kyle. After a short wait in the early evening we caught the Cal Mac ferry from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay on the Ayrshire coast in the early evening. This was a much larger ferry which had a comfortable lounge, snack bar, etc. The crossing was a smooth one, although it was very windy when I ventured onto the open decks to take some photos. On disembarking from the ferry we took the A8 northwards from Wemyss Bay. We then turned onto the A770 which gave us a scenic route along the southern banks of the Clyde through Gourock and Greenock. At Greenock we rejoined the A8 through Port Glasgow. We then took the M8 and M898 back to the Erskine Bridge. After crossing the bridge we took the A82 back to Balloch where we stopped briefly to buy a fish and chip supper which we enjoyed back at the caravan.
The Isle of Bute trip was our final day on Milarrochy Bay, and after packing up on Thursday 12 April, we hitched up for our journey home to St Helens. This trip was not without some drama. Just south of Carlisle, travelling on the M6, we were held up for over an hour when all 3 lanes of traffic were stopped by a serious accident involving several overturned container lorries. After about an hour the police allowed the “stranded” southbound traffic to continue past the accident. However, when I tried to start the car’s engine I was horrified to discover that it had a flat battery. As our “Sorento” is an automatic, we were marooned in the inside lane of the motorway needing a jump-start. I had to quickly deploy our warning triangles and phone for the breakdown service. Despite desperately pleading that all I wanted was a tow onto the hard shoulder and a jump-start, the Green Flag operator insisted on going through a very lengthy list of questions about our outfit before promising to send a breakdown truck within the next hour.
The motorway behind us was still closed at this point so at least there was no traffic approaching us from behind. I was very concerned about our location on the actual motorway carriageway when the traffic restarted and so I phoned the police emergency service. The police operator was very reassuring, even phoning me back to tell me that I had not been forgotten a little while later. After about 30 minutes, two Highways Agency Officers arrived in a Land Rover Discovery and towed us to the relative safety of the hard shoulder. Just after that, a passing RAC patrol man very kindly stopped and jump-started our car using a power pack. We were forced to wait another couple of hours at the accident site, with our engine running. Eventually a large mobile crane moved one of the lorries involved in the original accident sufficiently for the traffic, including us, to squeeze by. We then continued our homeward journey without further mishap, although we did arrive home much later than planned, at midnight – oh the joys of caravanning!
When and if we return to the area we will probably NOT stay at Milarrochy Bay CCC Site again as we discovered a better alternative at the Cashel Forest Fields Campsite whilst we were out exploring during our holiday.
There are lots of positive reviews here:
This site is located about a mile past the Milarrochy Bay Campsite on the same dead-end road to Rowardennan. Formerly a Forestry Commission site, Forest Fields sites are now managed by the Camping and Caravanning Club with similar terms and prices. We thought that the Cashel site was better than the Milarrochy Bay site because of its position with a more open aspect, giving it superior views along the Loch northwards to the mountains. It, too, is on the lochside, and the most expensive “select” pitches (EHU, hardstanding and picnic table!) are right at the water’s edge with views-to-die-for. In addition, the site has a well-stocked shop. The wardens were very helpful, allowing us to look around the site and willingly answering our questions.
The only disadvantage to both sites in my opinion is that it is necessary to drive about 6 miles on minor roads to reach main A811 road when travelling to anywhere else. From a peacefulness point of view that is, of course, an advantage!
A final tip – if you are travelling to this area in the near future via the Erskine Bridge and up the A82 to Balloch, I would recommend you check the traffic bulletins. We were held up in LENGTHY delays at roadworks between the Erskine Bridge and Balloch on both our outward and return journeys. The roadworks may have finished now, of course.
Article Provided by Tim Irwin for CaravanTalk