John Muir is something of a hero in Scotland. He was the founder of America’s national parks and a legendary conservationist. He was also born in Dunbar, on East Lothian’s coast.
While Muir lived only the first 11 years of his life in Scotland before setting sail with his family for the US in the 1940s, he remained fondly connected to his home country.
He is said to have talked a great deal about the fabulous countryside of East Lothian during his adventures and travels in America. Scotland is also rightly proud of its connection to Muir.
And now John Muir’s life and work is being celebrated by a new long-distance walking and cycling trail in his home nation. Next month, the John Muir Way is launched, offering a 134-mile route form Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland to Helensburgh on the west coast. Helensburgh is on the same Clyde coastline from where Muir sailed to the US.
The new John Muir Way
It’s anticipated that it will take seven to 10 days to walk the whole John Muir Way. However, many people will dip into the long-distance trail, walking shorter sections of the trail for just a few hours or perhaps a day.
The John Muir Way route is split into 10 sections. It can be walked from east to west or west to east. The first few sections from Dunbar to South Queensferry are in fact the “old” John Muir Way walking route.
This already popular – but shorter – route has been extended to the west coast of Scotland to form the “new” – and longer – John Muir Way.
The coast-to-coast route takes in a huge variety of scenery, including canal towpaths, lochsides, hills, farmland, villages, towns and cities. Most of the route is on easy-going terrain although some sections will be a bit more challenging.
The John Muir Way will also pass through the new Helix Park, near Falkirk, and the stunning Kelpies sculptures.
Other sections to visit include Croy Hill, which is part of the Antonine Way near Cumbernauld, where you can see the site of a Roman fort; a section on the Firth of Forth between Bo'ness and Blackness Castle; and the experience of walking beneath Forth Bridge at South Queensferry, near Edinburgh.
It’s also possible for cyclists to ride the trail, although several different paths are provided in certain places to avoid damaging historical sites.
Walking from Balloch to Helensburgh
Most of the John Muir signs are now in place although there is a section in woodland where walkers enjoy a “wee adventure” on muddy terrain following red-and-white plastic tape tied around trees. (This will presumably be replaced with something more permanent by the time the route launches officially on April 21.)
The John Muir Way signs are small round discs with an arrow in white and purple colours. Beware of becoming confused with Helensburgh and District Access Trust walking signs that are the same colours but in a different format. I ended up taking a detour and then having to back track because I mistook the similar signs.
On the whole though, the signs are easy to follow and take walkers from the popular tourist attraction of Loch Lomond Shores at Balloch on the south banks of Loch Lomond to the seaside town of Helensburgh.
Walkers enjoy quiet country roads, atmospheric woodlands and open moorland. Less attractive is the final mile or so along a busy road but on a tarmacked bike path.
The views in so many places on this Balloch to Helensburgh section are spectacular, including dazzling Loch Lomond, the loch’s mysterious islands and a backdrop of numerous mountains, including Ben Lomond. Towards Helensburgh the views move to the dramatic Clyde estuary.
The terrain is a mix of tarmac, trails and some very muddy sections so good quality walking boots are advised.
* Thanks to photographer Mike Bolam for the pictures of me on the John Muir Way.