THE gardens, shoreline and woods of Balloch Castle country park - bought in 1915 by Glasgow Corporation as a lung for the city's toiling industrial masses - are to be restored to something approaching their original glory.
Vistas of Loch Lomond familiar to Glaswegians from the time of the First World War will be reopened as secondary growth of trees and undergrowth is removed and the original planting patterns re-established.
Many of the specimen trees planted after the castle was built in 1809 have either fallen in gales or are reaching the end of their natural lives, but the specimen rhododendrons are thriving.
The aim is to recreate what has become a tired landscape as a showpiece within the new Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, a special place which will complement the Lomond Shores commercial and recreational development on the other bank of the River Leven. The option of linking the two attractions by a #1m footbridge over the Leven, subject to much controversy locally, has receded for the present, although Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire remains committed to a link, possibly by water taxi.
The regenerated park will, as one of the only areas of southern Loch Lomond open to the public, also take visitor pressure off more sensitive shorelines if, as anticipated, visitor numbers to Scotland's first national park soar in response to the ''honeypot effect'' of national park status.
The restoration plan was confirmed yesterday with the announcement of a first tranche of a #1.6m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund which will complement money put up by other partners - West Dunbartonshire Council, Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire and Loch Lomond and Trossachs Interim Committee, the new national park body. In all, #2.3m will be spent on the gardens and woods.
Russell Fleming, resource manager at West Dunbartonshire Council, said: ''This project brings back to life a vital part of Glasgow's social heritage. It was possible for ordinary working people to take a tram from Glasgow city centre all the way to Balloch. The trains ran right to the shore of Loch Lomond.''
Balloch Castle was built in 1809 by John Buchanan of Ardoch, a Glasgow MP and an original partner of the Glasgow Ship Bank. Subsequent owners, Gibson Stott and A J Dennistoun-Brown, added to and improved the gardens, which had originally been laid out to resemble a wild North American landscape. The castle itself was used by Glasgow Corporation for the entertainment of visiting dignitaries.
In recent years the country park had been leased to West Dunbartonshire Council, but the pathways and landscape had suffered increasingly from the chronic shortage of funding.
The Heritage Lottery Fund said yesterday the regeneration would provide a natural counterbalance to the Lomond Shores development. As well as the restored ornamental plantings and gardens and the return of the woodland to positive management, play areas will be provided for the very young.