Walk of the week: Balloch Castle Country Park, Loch Lomond

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THIS is a great walk for a family day out. Take a picnic, stroll along the shores of Loch Lomond, then stretch out in wonderful parkland and enjoy the view. If the tranquil waters, wooded banks and even a fairy glen fail to satisfy your offspring, there is a playground with a snack bar in an old boathouse nearby.

A number of waymarked paths lead around the country park – this route links two of them, taking you to the loch and through the grounds and a number of ornamental gardens. Comfortable shoes are the main thing to remember, the paths being good enough to mean boots aren't necessary unless it's really wet.

Balloch Castle was built in 1808 for John Ardoch of Buchanan, with the grounds and gardens being established over the following decades. Today it is in public hands and is popular all year round, being within a national park, yet also lying so close to Scotland's largest city.

The first section of the walk leads across open parkland, with views to the loch. On reaching the edge of some woods, you can make a detour and go up Whinny Hill. This is not really for young children, as it doubles the length of the walk and requires much more energy. (Boots are recommended.) However, you do get up high and can enjoy views of mountains across the loch.

Instead, this walk leads you down the Fairy Glen to the shores of the loch – the presence of forest spirits is something you'll have to make up your own mind about. The going is a little rough underfoot and not suitable for prams or pushchairs, so some may wish to stay on the tarred path to reach the shores of the loch.

Little beaches are passed before the playground and boathouse are reached. If you want to cut the walk short, you can go left here – up to the castle and car park. The route then passes further along the loch to the upper reaches of the River Leven, where many private boats are moored.

Leaving this behind, you go up past a walled garden to your left. This is well worth a detour – it once provided vegetables and fruit for the castle, but is now a haven for flowers. Next to it is a secret garden, built at the start of the last century.

Finally, you reach the rather dilapidated castle, which is closed to the public. From here, you can enjoy fine views over the loch before visiting an ornamental Chinese garden on the way back to the car park.

DISTANCE: 2 miles.


TIME: 1-2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 56.

PARKING: Turn off the A811 at the east edge of Balloch, following a brown sign for the country park, then almost immediately turn right into Mollanbowie Road. A little over half a mile along the road, you reach the country park's entrance, just after a sharp left-hand bend.

IN SUMMARY: Continue to the far end of the car park and drop down to a path on the left. After a few yards, go right on a tarred path across open parkland. Ignore a waymarker pointing up a path on the right, which leads to Whinny Hill, but go right at a red waymarker a little further on. A rougher path leads down through woodland, bearing left by the Burn of Balloch (Fairy Glen) and then further left as it reaches the shore of Loch Lomond.

On reaching a wider path, go right to follow a red waymarker, and continue along the shore to a playground and old boathouse. The path reaches the River Leven and, a few hundred yards further on, you should ignore a yellow waymarker pointing straight ahead, and instead go left up an avenue with streetlights.

A walled garden is passed on the left before you reach the top of the avenue and a junction, where you go left along a drive. When the drive forks, go left to reach Balloch Castle. Walk round the left (loch) side and follow a path on the other side. After a few yards, go up some stone steps on the right, leading to an ornamental Chinese garden. Leave this on the left and, on reaching a path, go right to walk back up to the car park.

REFRESHMENTS: You can buy snacks halfway round, at the former boathouse by the loch.

WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA: For something a bit special, try a trip with Loch Lomond Sea Planes (0870 2421457, www.lochlomond seaplanes.com), which take off from a spot just north of Luss, on the other side of the loch from Balloch. Otherwise, Sweeney's Cruises (01389 752376, www.sweeneyscruises.com), in the centre of Balloch, will allow you to journey up and down the loch at a more gentle pace.