(scroll to the bottom of the page for map links to Kilmun Church)
18.80 miles | 30.26 kilometers | Mixed Surface | Steep Hills
This route between Strachur and Kilmun is a wonderfully scenic route taking place mostly on Forestry roads that traverse the hills overlooking Loch Eck. The surface is good underfoot and the path easy to follow, except for one section early on that requires you to improvise; scrambling uphill to switch between one forestry road and another. The elevation, after this point gradually increases and offers fantastic views over one of Scotland’s most beautiful, unspoiled inland lochs. As an additional treat, the latter stage of this route drops down to road level by Benmore Cafe (an ideal place to stop for refreshments) and then guides you through Puck’s Glen gorge walk and Kilmun Arboretum (both popular visitor attractions in Cowal) and finishes at Kilmun Church, which has been a site of religious and historical importance for centuries. If you time your arrival to coincide with opening hours for Historic Kilmun, then you’ll have the opportunity to be guided through this potted history of Scotland.
This walk is the final leg of our St Munn’s Pilgrim Trail, and the first part of this pilgrimage is also part of the North East Cowal pilgrim loop. If you’ve followed St Munn’s route in from Lochgoilhead, then you’ll have already come through the village of Strachur, which is why we start with the option to loop around it at the beginning. If you’ve come from Kilmorich, following the N.E. Loop through Cairndow, then you’ll have reached Kilmaglash Church from the north, so we’d recommend continuing south through the village. At almost 19 miles, this journey should take around 9 hrs at an average pace. We have included a few options to shorten this where relevant (in case you’re visiting in the off-season when daylight hours are less) and, in most cases, these alternatives serve as the safest route for mountain bikes too.
Stage 1: Strachur to Invernoaden
While this walk starts from outside Strachur Church, there’s no room to leave a vehicle here. If you’re driving, you can find a small parking area to the south, near ///acoustics.tadpoles.tadpole, or another to the north of the church near ///escorting.spades.select. If this one is full, then there’s usually space opposite the community centre a little further down the road near ///pocketed.triads.origins.
From Kilmaglash you have two options: You can head southeast through the village, passing Strachur Smiddy Museum (on your right near ///flat.bets.perfumed), and then turning left onto Forest View and following this until it joins the road at ///limelight.sprayer.disclose. Alternatively, you can head west from the church, via ///curries.elaborate.enchanted, then turn left at ///diamonds.verve.populate and head towards the main road (A815). Turning left again, there’s a pavement by the side of the road which will lead you via a small service station (should you need any snacks or supplies) and uphill to a junction near ///maybe.makeovers.strides. The left turn (heading east) is signposted as The Loch Lomond & Cowal Way; turn down here and down past ///limelight.sprayer.disclose to where the road bends right (southeast) toward a junction at ///dunk.candles.princely.
At this junction you have a choice. You can either carry on straight ahead, or you can turn left to keep following The Cowal Way. Both are suitable for walking and cycling. Straight ahead is slightly shorter and more direct; but the left path is more scenic. If you choose to go straight ahead: keep left at the next junction (which appears near ///petty.tonality.ghost), follow the path downhill and over the stone bridge at ///ranches.highly.deflated, then turn left up the Forestry trail at ///plod.likes.judges. Pass a gate near ///bloom.amphibian.misted, and shortly afterwards there’s an option to turn right near ///trespass.blur.connected. Take this turning and follow the path southeast, all the way around the west flank of Beinn Lagan. You’ll pass turn-offs near ///lifeguard.midwinter.slant, ///interviewer.above.dominate and ///bigger.fearfully.flanked, but in all cases just maintain your southeast bearing until you can hear Invernoaden Burn bubbling away to your right and the path starts to turn back on itself.
If you choose to go left you’re aided by the purple Cowal Way makers: follow the single-track road northeast toward Succoth Farm. Keep left at the junction near ///measure.liked.accordion, and the road will eventually bend right towards a wooden footbridge (seen from ///class.bared.crispier). Just before the bridge, the road bends left, but the purple waymarks direct you across the bridge, through a gate and up an overgrown avenue to merge with a Forestry road near ///tiles.inflation.exploring. Bear left here, following the road as it gradually starts to bend southeastwards, via ///chuckling.loyal.commented. There’s a junction near ///chap.doubts.deaf, where another road merges with your own; press on in the same bearing. Very quickly another junction appears, near ///undivided.grownup.lunching. This is where we part ways with the Cowal Way; press on ahead, despite the marker directing you to turn left, and the road starts to descend; offering good views over to Carnach Mor. The road forks near ///series.applied.shuttle. Take the right-hand fork and you’ll soon be presented with a similar looking junction near ///bachelor.voices.sketching. This time take the left prong and follow the path downhill until it starts to bend back upon itself.
A note for cyclists: The next section starts with a scramble up a short but steep hill with no path whatsoever. If you don’t wish to carry your bike up this hill, then you may prefer to head down to the road at this stage. At the junction near ///bigger.fearfully.flanked, choose the fork heading downhill and southwest, continue on this bearing at the next fork (keeping left at ///imprints.staining.evaporate) and the trail will guide you down to the main road near ///motor.whirlwind.mysteries. Turn left here, heading southeast now, and travel for a short distance until you see the entrance for the Lauder Monument near ///stag.dupe.tangent. From here you can follow the Loch Eck Loop (waymarked by wooden posts with a white band) all the way to the start of Stage 3.
Stage 2: Invernoaden to Whistlefield
As the path starts to bend back on itself, keep your eyes peeled for a heavily overgrown track peeling off to the east near ///trace.resolves.lurching. In the photographs it’s easy to spot because there are Forestry signs posted nearby, but these are temporary signs. The track runs down to the burn, which can be crossed near ///numeral.flanked.skunks. Once across, a faint trail runs up via ///pigtails.pink.grand to a break in a fence at ///gold.tastes.glove (pictured from ///pouting.secrets.keyboards). Once through the fence, turn right and follow the fenceline downhill, over a wooden footbridge near ///handlebar.blush.chilling and up to a gate near ///sized.puffed.response.
The fence running uphill from the left end of that gate is the one we need to follow to get to the next section of path. Rather than stay on this side of the fence, it’s easiest to climb over the gate (near the hinge end so as not to damage it) and follow a faint track out into the field ahead of you, until you’re near ///poster.failed.shelving. Next, turn about to your left, by approximately 50 degrees, and head uphill (east) over tussocky ground towards ///faster.september.orbit, or until you can see the fence on your left. Strike out toward the fence, meeting it near ///vegans.hardening.workouts, and follow it uphill. This is a very steep climb over rough ground, but it’s only a short distance before you reach a newly constructed road (as of summer 2020). As you near the top, it may be easier to bear right and find a safe place to scramble over the ridge of the road, near ///jumped.motor.ruling.
You’re now on a road that climbs uphill to the east, on your left, and falls away downhill and southwest to your right. As of summer 2020 this was being newly constructed. We can’t say as to whether this is permanent or temporary but it matters little as we won’t be staying on this road. We are going to be taking one of two old Forestry roads, which run southwest around the west flank of Beinn Dubhain, from a little higher up the hill. There’s one which starts very near to where we’ve just paused to catch our breath, and one a little higher up the hill. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose, they both put you onto the east side of the Loch Eck Loop, just at different heights. In fact, the new road can be followed downhill to join the same trail at a much lower height (and this is worth bearing in mind in case Forestry work renders the first two options void).
Easily the simplest option, although it does involve a troublesome fence hop. To find the entrance to the Forestry road in the trees above you, head to where the the fence line opposite you forms a corner, near ///design.removal.newlywed. Choose a place to cross the fence, and then follow it uphill for a short while. Shortly you’ll see the overgrown road open up to your right near ///wobbles.developer.costumed. It runs alongside the new road we’ve just left for a short while, then peels away and runs without distraction to a junction with the Loch Eck Loop, near ///estimated.standard.winner. Take the left fork, climbing uphill towards ///paths.noisy.asked, which is where Option B emerges.
This option requires more steep climbing in order to reach a gate through which to enter the Forestry road cutting through the trees. It does put you higher up on the Loch Eck Loop than option A but, in all fairness, the ascent at the other end is gentler. However, at time of writing there are some indications that the new road will link up with this higher road, so this may become the easiest route to follow in future. Start by following the new road uphill via ///ringside.receiving.water and ///returns.frog.picturing. From here you should be able to see a break in the fence near the treeline to your right, where the road we’re looking for begins. Due to a drainage channel being cut into the roadside, however, it’s easier to keep climbing at this point, and leave the road near ///encoded.flagging.tilts, then head back downhill over the (sometimes boggy) grass towards the start of the old Forestry road. You can see from ///hardly.email.apartment that a dirt trail leads directly to the fence break, or alternatively, go through the gate just above the break and cut down on the other side of the fence. Either way is fine (currently), and will deposit you at the start of the road that runs from here, near ///shuffles.amplified.pictures, to ///sizzled.websites.fatherly, where you can see the Loch Eck Loop running off uphill ahead of you.
Now that you’re on the Loch Eck Loop – a designated core path – the route is easier to follow. It’s punctuated by wooden posts with white bands on them, and there are very few turn-offs. The Forestry road climbs as it travels in a south easterly direction for a good few miles. You begin to see glimpses of Loch Eck from ///chair.hands.inspected, and the view becomes more impressive the further along this route you travel. Eventually the trail pinches in near a hydro-dam, pictured from ///asterisk.payer.reissued. The road bridges the burn and winds around to resume its southeasterly bearing (as seen from the dam at ///crops.gymnasium.mash). As it does so, there’s a sign, near ///alleyway.backpack.greeting, indicating where the North East Cowal Pilgrim Loop departs from St Munn’s Pilgrim Trail.
Our current route sticks to the main path, branching right at a junction near ///seashell.website.unwind, passing a wonderful viewpoint (looking north up the Loch) at ///backpacks.brilliant.lyrics, then beginning to snake downhill. It bends right near ///furnish.rungs.unloaded, then switches back left again (shown from ///disband.nimbly.basics) to continue it’s southeasterly bearing. The route is still marked by white bands at this point, you can see them spanning a junction near ///trail.plotting.obstinate in order to encourage you to maintain your bearing and ignore the right turn. Shortly after this point you pass a green gate, near ///backtrack.firewall.clocked, which marks where the path meets the Whistlefield road.
Stage 3: Whistlefield to Kilmun
Our route crosses the road and passes through a pair of wooden barriers near ///friction.rocked.superbly. The Loch Eck Loop is designed as a cycle route and these barriers are there to prevent motorised vehicles using the route. Beyond the barriers there’s a trail, which leads via ///tungsten.prepped.parties to a junction near ///superhero.predict.gloom. Turn right onto a wider path (still following white-band waymarkers) and you’ll be taken downhill to a signposted junction near ///notices.subsystem.nest. We’ll be taking the left path (following the L.E. Loop toward Benmore Botanic Garden) but it’s worth noting that the Whistlefield Inn (signposted off to the right) is an excellent place to enjoy a refreshing ale or a quality meal, and has recently been refurbished.
The path here is fairly uncomplicated: it runs south between ///polo.folks.takeover and ///fidgeted.swoop.festivity, flanked by white-band waymarkers and passing three junctions. The first two junctions are both grassy lanes leading off to the left, and the third, at ///ratty.solar.petal, is more complex but there’s another signpost directing you to keep walking on the same southeasterly bearing. When you do reach ///fidgeted.swoop.festivity, the Forestry road ends abruptly and a narrow trail runs off in the same direction (south). The waymarkers change here too; no more white bands, just posts with a cycle logo upon them.
Whether you’re walking or cycling, this trail continues to wend its way south and, due to the lack of trees in this section, enjoys delightful views over the valley. In short time it starts to snake downhill. When you reach low ground, continue walking south, eventually passing through a gate near ///reverses.replayed.shoving, then another shortly after, at ///estimate.inserting.follow. This latter leads to a wooden footbridge near ///firms.lends.duke, which sets you on some grass near a small parking area, with another Forestry road spanning from NW to SE. Follow this road south east from ///items.unit.hypnotist, passing through a green gate at ///bench.piglet.caused, and gently ascending until you reach ///sunk.motored.amazed. Here a small grassy trail leads off to the right from the main thoroughfare.
Here you’re presented with another choice. Although there’s a cycle-route waymarker on the smaller trail, this is for the L.E. Loop, which terminates at Benmore. Pilgrims travelling on foot are encouraged to head down this way (Option A), so that they can enjoy Puck’s Glen further on. However, the gorge walk isn’t suitable for bicycles, so cyclists must follow this main road (Option B), which passes above Puck’s Glen. Walkers who are looking to reduce time spent on the trail could also choose option B, which is a more direct route.
Take the track on the left. There’s a sign near ///reforming.hissing.forks warning that the going is steep and slippy: take heed, this is certainly true when it rains (and it rains a lot here)! It’s a short, winding decent, leading you via ///lodge.examples.cookbooks to the roadside. It’s worthwhile paying attention to the notice board at ///those.fights.prevented because it will inform you if any parts of the route ahead are closed because of essential works. For instance, when this photo was taken, Puck’s Glen was off-limits while a fallen tree was being removed. Knowing this might encourage me to stop at nearby Benmore Cafe for a treat while I decide how to proceed (there’s a selection of forest walks to choose from, between here and Kilmun Arboretum).
Assuming everything is fine, continue heading south following signs for Puck’s Glen. There are some junction’s to navigate (at ///slippery.nosedive.lotteries, ///meant.smarter.headsets and ///annotated.huddling.cones). In all cases simply maintain your current bearing; stick to the main path and ignore any turn-offs. Of course, if the notice board says Puck’s Glen is closed, then these turn-offs heading uphill to your left will prove handy. You’ll pass by a green gate near a house with a white, picket fence at ///loom.destined.agrees and, shortly thereafter, come upon the entrance to Puck’s Glen gorge walk, near ///glows.rockets.rarely.
Initially there’s only one route to follow up through the gorge. Developed in the 1870s, Puck’s Glen was designed to impress the guests of a rich sugar merchant who owned Benmore Estate. And it’s still incredibly impressive to this day; a triumph of both man and nature (and a perfect environment to contemplate man, nature and God). When you reach ///toxic.overdrive.sprinkler, however, the trail splits in two, with one path heading downhill (briefly) and over a series of wooden bridges, and the other climbing up out of the gorge. The first path is straightforward, and eventually brings us out to the Forestry road at the top of Puck’s Glen. The other path may need a little more guidance (it’s often here that visitors become confused). Climbing the stairs up out of the gorge, one is met with a bench near ///fruity.validated.cheerily. From here a new path stretches off to your left and your right. Take the left path (passing between a large tree and a red-band waymarker) and follow the trail gently uphill and southeast. Eventually you come to another bench, near ///retraced.daylight.newsstand, whereupon the trail deposits you on the same Forestry road that those who chose Option B will be travelling on. turn right onto this road (by ///values.below.chosen) to head towards Kilmun.
Taking the Forestry road directly up and over is quicker and easier, but less rewarding overall. If you’ve already experienced Puck’s Glen however, or are running out of time then this is the route for you – or, of course, for those pilgrims on two wheels, this is the only route. There’s nothing to it really, the road climbs steadily and gradually drifts from south to southeast bearing. It passes some trails heading down through the woodlands on your right (near ///dreading.costumed.outsize, ///thickens.grapes.sampling, and ///surpassed.edge.rifled. These are the black, blue, and orange trails, so there’s a different waymarker at the top of each, but if you stick to the main road, you can’t go wrong. Eventually you’ll pass a viewpoint opportunity near ///intrigued.book.fight, then round the top of Puck’s Glen. There are two exits from the gorge (each with a red waymarker nearby), one at either end of an arc described by the main road between ///entitles.direction.shall and ///windpipe.compacts.boldest. These are where you could have emerged had you taken Option A. For now, simply follow the road in the direction your heading and it will start to bend east towards Kilmun.
The road bends gradually ever eastwards and eventually you come to gate near ///modes.liquids.adhesive. This gate marks the boundary of Kilmun Arboretum. passing the gate you can simply follow the main route down hill towards the car parking area, or take the path leading off to your right near ///grant.rectangular.spellings. This latter will lead you into the network of footpaths through the small arboretum, all of which will guide you toward the car park. Continue past the parking area and the path twists and banks steeply towards the A880 Shore Road, depositing you in sight of Holy Loch, near ///acquaint.securing.ripen. Turn left here (heading southeast) and in no time at all you’ll see the parking area for Kilmun Church to your left near ///alongside.remote.safely.
If this was where you started St Munn’s Pilgrim Trail, then congratulations! Hopefully the seagulls haven’t been playing target practice with your car, and please get in touch to let us know what you think of the route, and this guide. Do feel free to explore the grounds of Kilmun Church, which has been a place of spiritual importance for centuries, and has a definite air of tranquility. Even better if Historic Kilmun is open, for you’ll be able to view the interior of the church and it’s spectacular stained glass windows too, or enjoy a guided tour round the whole site for a modest fee.