Location: Inchcailloch, Loch Lomond

Grade: Moderate countryside walk

Distance: 2 miles/3.5km

Time: 2 hours

Inchcailloch is not one of the bigger islands on Loch Lomond but it is probably the easiest to reach, and has a truly excellent path network. Despite the relatively short distances involved you could lose yourself here for hours, enjoying to the full the wonderfully peaceful atmosphere and the stunning views.

The peaceful feeling may come from the fact that there was a small nunnery here for a time, and this also provides a basis for the island’s name. ‘Cailloch’ (in various spellings) usually means an old woman but the derivation is here stretched to take in the holy sisters.

You cross from Balmaha on the venerable but still sturdy Margaret, built in 1948 and still going strong. It’s just a few minutes before you reach the small jetty at the north end of Inchcailloch. Up the worn stone steps and the path leads you to an island of delights.

We chose to take the summit path first. It is well engineered and the extensive tree cover ensures that the summit view, when you do come to it, is a surprise. The panorama is astonishing, looking north up the full length of the loch, with the high mountains crowding the horizon and Ben Lomond a stately peak on the right.

Inchcailloch is right on the Highland Boundary Fault which separates Highlands and Lowlands and you get several views down the line of islands leading west towards Helensburgh. Geologists tell us that around 400 million years ago, two ‘proto-continents’, Laurentia and Avalonia, collided, pushing the rocks at the edge into huge mountains. What we see today is the eroded stump of these massive hills; regardless of the geological facts, the result is sublime.

From the summit, the path leads down to the lovely Port Bawn, which has a good beach, and then turns back north. A short diversion takes you to an old burial ground. There was a church here in use until about 1770, dedicated to St Kentigerna, the patron saint of Glasgow. The headstones, some dating back to the 17th century, include a clan chief of the McGregors.

It is a short walk back to the pier and the return journey on the Margaret – or you could wander round the paths again, maybe in the other direction? The island is a nature reserve managed on a principle of minimal intervention. This recognises, for example, that dead trees provide valuable habitat for many invertebrates, which are in turn food for small birds; fallen trees are therefore left in situ unless they are dangerous, blocking a path for example.

Before you leave Balmaha, do go and pay your respects to the statue of Tom Weir, the much-loved writer and broadcaster. The area round the statue has been very nicely developed as a place to meet and sit for a while; a good pause for West Highland Way-walkers too.

A visit to Inchcailloch cannot but leave you feeling better; such places are invaluable and we should treasure them.

Roger Smith


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 56 (Loch Lomond & Inveraray) or 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 347 (Loch Lomond South).

Distance: 2miles/3.5km.

Time: 2 hours.

Start/Finish: Inchcailloch North Pier (GR: NS413906).

Public transport: Bus 309 runs from Drymen to Balmaha. Buses from Drymen to Stirling or Glasgow via Balfron. Details from www.travelinescotland.com

Information: Balmaha National Park Centre (01389 722100) or www.lochlomond-trossachs.org

Route: Climb the steps from the jetty and follow the path to the right. At a junction go L (summit path). Follow path, with several stepped sections, up to the summit. Continue downhill through woods and at junction TL to Port Bawn. Follow path past toilet block heading north. In 1km divert L to see old burial ground. Return to path, go sharp L down steps and continue to junction. TL to return to jetty.

Note: The ferry to Inchcailloch is operated by Macfarlane & Son (01360 870214) and leaves from Balmaha boatyard (signposted). It runs every 30 minutes in summer, and the return fare is £5 for adults and £2.50 for children under 16.