Thousands of walkers tackle Conic Hill every year but if you don’t mind some company on the summit the views are absolutely fantastic. Around 45 minutes’ drive from Glasgow, this circular route starts in the small village of Milton of Buchanan. Please park carefully to avoid blocking any driveways we headed north east towards Creityhall Farm on a well made track.
After around a mile you’ll meet the West Highland Way at a crossroads in the forest, take a left. Being Scotland’s most popular long distance walk the rest of the route is well signed and maintained, although on a day as nice as Sunday that doesn’t come into play. The path takes a wide arc across the moor above Loch Lomond, always keeping Conic Hill in view as you gain height gradually.
The ground gets pretty boggy between the Kilandan Burn and the Burn of Mar, around two miles in, but almost immediately you start to climb steeply onto the hill. From the Mar bridge the path zig-zags up the eastern slopes of Conic Hill, with stone steps to help in the steepest sections. There was snow and ice on the ground in the shade when we were there, just as a reminder that no walk should ever be taken lightly.
The West Highland Way bypasses the summit completely, skirting around the edge of the hill, but it’s well worth taking the short detour onto the tops. The true summit is at the eastern end of the ridge, but it’s on the central and western tops that you’ll get the most spectacular views over Loch Lomond. A short (and on this occasion icy) path takes you onto a wide, round summit as views open up before your eyes.
I expected it to be busy on a rare sunny Sunday afternoon but while there were around twenty people on the summit it’s easy enough to find a quiet spot to take it all in and tuck into some lunch.
Retracing your steps onto the main path is the most common route but we decided to follow a fainter path along the ridge which took us down to the western summit and eventually to some crags, which involved a tricky scramble down. With snow and ice melting the rocks were wet and pretty slippy in places but the scramble won’t be an issue for anyone with a little confidence and experience.
As soon as we rejoined the main path it was clear just how good a choice we’d made to make our approach from the east – there were more people on the hill than you’ll see on many high streets at the weekend. Still, with the path between Conic Hill and Balmaha being very popular it’s in pristine condition, with solid steps and good drainage all the way down. My focus on cycling over the last year or so certainly didn’t do me any favours and almost a week later my legs are still a little sore from the descent!
Even if you find the hill a taxing effort you’ll be duly rewarded in Balmaha’s Oak Tree Inn. Set on the shores of Loch Lomond it has a fine selection of food and drink that can be enjoyed in the sunshine if you get the chance. After a short stop there it was around 1.5miles back to the car in Milton, all on a pavement so you’re safe from traffic.
We covered the six miles with a lunch break on top and a well earned pint at the bottom in a little over 3.5hrs, making it a comfortable afternoon’s walk.