Firstly,what is the Coway Way?
Taken from the Cowal Way’s Website
“The Cowal Way in Argyll is known as “Scotland in 57 miles”. Only one to two hours from Glasgow and Prestwick International airports, this accessible part of the Scottish Highlands offers beautiful coastlines, dramatic scenery, engaging heritage and abundant wildlife.
The Cowal Way is Scotland’s most diverse long distance footpath. It runs the length of the Cowal Peninsula, passing through some of the most beautiful and varied landscape in the Highlands. The Cowal Way begins in the south of Cowal at Portavadie and winds its way up through the peninsula to end at Inveruglas on the shores of Loch Lomond, passing through the communities of Tighnabruaich, Glendaruel, Strachur, Lochgoilhead and Arrochar. The route makes use of existing footpaths, forestry tracks, hillsides, quiet roads and traditional rights of way. The terrain is varied and stimulating, encompassing forests, shorelines, hills and lochs.
A quiet and superb long-distance walk, it connects with the West Highland Way and also Kintyre Way.”
The Cowal Way is something that has been on my list of things to do, but just never had the time. In fact I still have a copy of the original book with the shorter route,the addition being the end point is now Inveruglas, Loch Lomond as supposed to Arrochar.
Apart from wanting to do this trail,an incentive was an opportunity to raise some funds for my wife’s highland dancing school. The sponsorship money going towards funding for pupils to compete in a competition in Disneyland,Paris.
Initially I did some research into the route,reading information on the Cowal Way website and a few reports on walking the route over 3-4 days. My mind was made up, something I could do that was right on my doorstep! However, once I started plotting my route I had roughly worked out that 80% of the route could be cycled,leaving the remaining 20% would involve pushing or carrying the trusty steed over the rougher,steeper terrain. On completion of the route I think the percentage is now split 70/30 as some sections are too steep or of varied terrain to use peddle power. Anyway, with my rough calculations I decided in my wisdom that this could be done in a day…….all be it, a long day !!! To be honest I did doubt myself, so as a precaution I decided to leave my camping gear with Argyll Voyageur Canoes in Lochgoilhead just in case.
Prior to committing to this journey I got in touch with Stewart ( Cowal Way Manager ) and Charlie ( Cowal Way Ranger ) to check on the areas of concern I had. These concerns were promptly cast aside with their encouraging words, ” a bike….a day, go for it ! “. As far as I’m aware someone has taken their bike on this walk, not quite sure if it was part or whole of the route, but certainly not in a day. Hello incentive number three.
Please see below for my planning of sections,expected terrain and approximate times. This was basically to give an indication if there would be enough hours of daylight,hence the nice early start.
With my recent communication with the Cowal Way team I was kindly offered a lift to the start point, this was great as the alternative was to camp the night before at Portavadie. Charlie was at the end of my lane waiting to throw my bike in the back of his pickup truck at 04:15hrs, now that’s service.
Portavadie to Millhouse
Leaving from the slipway at the Portavadie ferry,before taking to the forestry road and then onto the off road trail. I’d noted this down as a walking section,however on some sections the bike can be used,especially from the eastern side of Loch Ascog out to the B8000 rural road. Path slightly overgrown in some very short sections, navigation easy enough following trail and marker posts.
Millhouse to Cemetery
A short main road cycle on rural public road. Gate with Stile for access to next off road section.
Cemetery to Tank Landing
Another section of off road,marked down as a walking section. Once over the Stile,progress is made initially over soft ground prior to firmer ground then cutting across golf course,before descending on a good bit of single track…perfect for the bike.
Tank Landing to Boatyard.
An uneventful and easy section along a rural paved road, good chance to get a few quick miles in. Passing through Kames and Tighnabruaich offers the opportunity for a toilet stop or stock up on supplies ( if it wasn’t so early,Ha).
Boatyard to Caladh Farm
A forestry road section, ideal for the bike. A few short sharp climbs but nothing to bad,progress good. Passing Caladh Estate and a few cottages before arriving at the path to shore.
Caladh Farm to Ormidale
One of the area I had concerns with. Definitely a walk with pushing/lifting of the bike required,slow progress….but still progress. Shore walk prior to winding through the rocky woodland joining the public road at Ormidale Lodge. Improvement works are currently ongoing in this section. Walkways are being installed at the more difficult sections along with clearing and upgrading of the trail. It was wet underfoot but after the summer we’ve had it’s to be expected. Thankfully I’d allowed an hour for this section, the bike certainly impedes progress. It’s well documented that a low tide is beneficial whilst doing this section,especially with the bike. It gives the option of going round the large rocks on the shore as supposed to passing through them.
Certainly worked up a sweat on this section!
Ormidale to Glendaruel
Another straightforward cycle section. Rural paved road,passing Shellfield Farm before joining the A8003. Heading North turning off at Waulkmill and onto the old road that leads to the C11. Then it’s onto to the A886 for a short section,turning left for the Clachan of Glendaruel. Again progress good.
Glendaruel to Garvie Farm
Yet another straightforward section on a rural public road,another chance to get the miles in at a reasonable pace.
Garvie Farm to Glenbranter FCS
After a good few miles on public roads,the journey over to Glenbranter was on forestry road,approximately 8 miles. What I wasn’t counting on was the continuous climb of about 5 miles. Whilst not steep and more of a gradual climb over a long period the thighs were certainly feeling it, to the point I had to get off and push just to break the monotony and rest the thighs. The thought I wasn’t quite half way through my journey had me questioning what I was doing. What goes up must come down, the 3 mile descent into Glenbranter was a relief. Some of the time I’d gained on the previous sections had taken a hit, I was 25 minutes overdue. A wee pit stop at the FCS workshop for a drop of oil for an annoying click coming from one of my pedals,thankfully nothing serious.
Glenbranter FCS to Succoth.
Back on to the tarmac for this easy section. The quite, tree lined back road gave shelter from the sun. Feeling a lot better than 4 miles ago and heading for the petrol station to pick up something to eat and replenish the stock of fluids. A non eventual continuation to the end of the public road at Succoth.
Succoth to Lettermay
A mixed section of forestry roads and mid section of open hill. Starting this route on the forestry road was hard work,first a climb then onto a surface covered in brash from previous forest harvesting. Was down to such a speed walking would have been easier and less energy consuming, so a push through the rough section was the choice. The sun splitting the sky and the feeling I was going to internally combust meant a shaded area was sought for a bite to eat.
Fed and watered,it was time to hit the open hillside where the track terminates. This section requires a push all the way until joining the next forestry road. White marker posts make navigation easy as they provide a guide towards the lochain. If there was anything to deviate from the thought of my aching thighs it’s a peddle across the shin, then off my calf. Pushing the bike over the varied terrain wasn’t the best and the descent below the waterfalls may have made me swear out loud…….apologies to anyone climbing Beinn Bheula. The waterfalls are spectacular though!
Finally getting to the forestry road was a relief,followed by a speedy descent to Lettermay.
Lettermay to Lochgoilhead
Simple public road section into Lochgoilhead. A wee stop off at the shop at the caravan park for more fluid supplies before a break in the village. It was make or break time,chuck it for the day and go get the tent or push on to the end. Phoned Charlie to give him an update on progress then decided to continue on my merry way!
Lochgoilhead to Coilessan.
Now,seeing the hill I had to scale from the previous Strachur to Lettermay section I knew there was quite a climb ahead. I’d had a wee reccy of the lower part of this section before,so knew the terrain ahead……to a certain point. Pushed the bike from the car park to the second forestry gate. Once the bike was over the stile, a cycle to the waterfalls and bridge was an energy saver. The path from the bridge uphill required an initial push,then a cycle then a push. At the end of the track there is a steep,undulating slog ahead. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but after 40+ miles and having to carry or push the bike on this section was the worst thing I’ve ever done. Every 10 paces required a rest and the sweat was blinding. Once out the tree line the terrain was more favourable and slightly less steep. Marker posts are well positioned, cutting diagonally across the hill. It was a relief to actually see a marker post below me rather than above. Even managed a short cycle between a few of the posts before descending to a gate and steep hardcore track through the woods, sadly too steep to cycle. The track continued over a few small footbridges then it was time to get back on the saddle prior to joining a forestry road. The forestry road has suffered a great deal of wash out,there is some nice ruts and loose stone!! Joining the road at Coilessan car park, a nice smooth tarred surface.
Coilessan to Ardgaten
Leaving the Coilessan car park,it was a fast descent to Ardgarten on the surfaced road,even managed to get to 28mph!
Ardgarten to Bridge at Arrochar
Feeling good that there was only 7 miles to go and the end was nigh. Crossing the A83 at the designated point, the track wound it’s way up to join a forestry road. This was mostly a push as too steep to cycle. Once on the forestry road, which was mostly level,allowed a bit of pace before descending the zig-zags towards Succoth car park on the A83. A short section to the head of the loch turning left just after the bridge.
Arrochar to Inveruglas
The home straight ( with some bends,ascents and descents). 5 miles to go !!!!!!!!!!!! Off to a great start on the final section. Wide forestry road followed my a wide path allowing good progress, following the power pylons through Glenloin. Half way through the glen,the track becomes too steep and eroded to cycle. So it’s back to pushing till the highest point at the foot of one of the pylons. From here its a great descent on a good track. Crossing Inveruglas Water, it’s onto the main road for the hydro operations, a tarred surface makes for a speedy descent to the main road and onto the cafe at Inveruglas !!!
THE END !!!!
The Finishing point. 57 miles and 14.5hrs later !!!!!!!!!!
If that’s not enough info, there’s an INTERACTIVE MAP WITH PICTURES AVAILABLE BY CLICKING HERE
Huge thanks to all those that sponsored me, your generosity is much appreciated. Thanks also to Charlie and Stewart at The Cowal Way for their input and support. Special thanks to my wife and daughter for coming to pick me up, didn’t fancy the cycle back!!