(scroll to the bottom of the page for map links to Lochgoilhead Church)
12.71 miles | 20.45 kilometers | Mixed Surface | Steep Hills
This route between Strachur and Lochgoilhead is deliberately circuitous. It deliberately avoids roads and paths wherever possible, in favour of exposed hillsides, hidden lochains, muddy scrambles and astounding scenery. Which is to say, it’s not for the faint hearted. At almost 13 miles, this is a full days walk and is demanding on the knees. It starts off easily enough on pathways and forestry tracks, then jumps off the track at Invernoaden, crossing a well hidden footbridge into a field with no path. A lengthy scramble up a steep hillside leads to a disused forestry road, which deposits you on the steep end of the Loch Eck Loop. This stint on core paths doesn’t last long though; at the Coire Ealt hydro-dam we leave the road once again, following old waymarkers up into the hills and over to Lochan nan Cnaimh. The waymarkers are hard to spot and they soon run out, after which we’re following a dotted line on an old OS map, picking out a track that’s so faded and/or overgrown that you might think you’re imagining it. Eventually this line joins up with a disused Forestry road, which joins up with The Loch Lomond & Cowal Way, and finds paths and roads into The Church of the Three Brethren, in Lochgoilhead.
This testing and enjoyable pilgrimage forms the penultimate leg of the North East Cowal Pilgrim Loop. If you’ve arrived in Strachur from Kilmorich or Cairndow, then you’ll have reached Kilmaglash Church from the north, so we’d recommend continuing south, straight through the village, rather than looping around it on the main roads. Of course, you may need supplies from the service station on the main road, so the choice is yours to make. Due to the amount of time spent hiking up steep hillsides and over rough ground with no trails, this pilgrimage is not suitable for cyclists. However, if you wish to experience a similarly challenging cycle route between these sites, then you could perhaps modify the Cowal section of the Wild About Argyll Bikepacking Trail, so that it runs from Kilmorich > Cairndow > Strachur > Kilmun > Carrick Castle > Lochgoilhead > Strachur. Incidentally, if you’re interested in helping us put together cycling route guides between our pilgrim sites, then please get in touch.
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 head southeast through the village, passing Strachur Smiddy Museum (on your right near ///flat.bets.perfumed), then turning left onto Forest View and following this until it joins the road at ///limelight.sprayer.disclose. Next follow the road as it bends right (southeast) near ///putter.jeeps.bleaching, towards a junction at ///dunk.candles.princely.
Alternatively, you can head west (right) 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 past ///limelight.sprayer.disclose to where the road bends right (southeast) at ///putter.jeeps.bleaching, toward a junction near ///dunk.candles.princely.
At this junction carry on straight ahead, then keep left at the next junction (which appears near ///petty.tonality.ghost), follow the path downhill and over a stone bridge at ///ranches.highly.deflated, and turn left up the Forestry trail at ///plod.likes.judges. The road will 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.
Stage 2: Invernoaden to Coire Ealt
As the path starts to bend back on itself, keep your eyes peeled for a heavily overgrown track peeling off to your right (eastwards) near ///trace.resolves.lurching. It’s easy to spot in our photographs, because there are Forestry signs posted nearby, but these are temporary signs and may not exist when you arrive. 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). Pass through the fence, turn right, and follow the fenceline downhill over a wooden footbridge near ///handlebar.blush.chilling, then up to a gate at ///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. We’re going to be taking an old Forestry road, which runs southwest around the west flank of Beinn Dubhain, from higher up the hill. 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 past this point, then leave the road near ///encoded.flagging.tilts, and head back downhill over the (sometimes boggy) grass towards the start of the track. 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’ll see the Loch Eck Loop running off south east and 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 installation, 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 you’re to turn off the road and into the hills.
Stage 3: Coire Ealt to Lochan nan Cnaimh
Cut round behind the sign, leaving the path from ///debut.crisps.cake, and follow an incredibly overgrown quad path uphill towards the waymarkers at ///professes.remarked.fires. You’ll see two marker posts here, one in the modern Forestry style (green, with a thin band of coloured paint; indicating which route you’re on) and one older style (a simple wooden post with a metal disc, that was probably once red or orange, nailed to it). Our pilgrim route follows the older style posts. It’s difficult to guide you from here, as it’s simply a case of reaching one waymarker and scanning ahead to see if you can spot the next one.
Waymarker posts are quite difficult to spot. In the picture taken from ///admits.crumb.develops, for example, can you spot the post standing between the two fir trees in the distance? They can easily be confused with fence posts, as you can see at the next juncture; ///shred.seagull.bunks. You may therefore prefer to chase the what3words addresses stamped on our pictures (taken from every other waymarker), or download the route using the ViewRanger app, where we’ve plotted a GPS track for your convenience.
This ascent, though not steep, can be boggy and uneven, with ditches hidden under the long grass. If you look carefully, you can see evidence of a track, perhaps in the colour of the grass – as seen from ///recoup.searcher.scorecard – or by the presence of an old drainage channel that used to run alongside. The route climbs more gently now, toward ///bandaged.overtime.veered, which is where the last of the new-style waymarkers appears. In the distance, the next post can be spotted on the brow of the hill as you look east. Continue eastwards toward ///steady.outreach.rabble, where the muddy trail begins to curl southeast slightly, around the circumference of the hill. Come around to ///pushing.observes.compacts, where you now take a definite southeasterly bearing passing through ///credited.represent.reclined, to reach ///dancer.young.crucially.
At this point the views to the north (behind you) are better than the view ahead, and it’s easy to lose your bearings. Also, the route strikes northeast again here, and if you’ve gotten used to finding waymarker posts straight ahead of you, then you may miss the ones to your left and end up chasing fence posts. In order to stay true, remember to head east/northeast, aiming for the right side of the saddle between Cnoc na Tri Criche, to your right (south), and Creag Sgoilte to your left (north).
Head east via ///script.furniture.insisting, and cross a burn at ///sling.winter.requiring. The waymarkers guide you around the northwest flank of Sgurra a’ Choinnich and Cnoc ne Tri Criche, slowly climbing between ///caves.dame.magically and ///slack.parkway.lighters (the views behind you improving as you climb). Continue following the waymarkers east, through ///reclaimed.folders.mild and to ///prayers.watching.simulator, where an old drainage channel points you toward the next waymarker on the horizon.
As you reach ///handbags.fully.conquests, the horizon starts to sink, and you get the sense that soon you’ll be rewarded with great views ahead of you. This is true, but it’s also a little misleading; you cross a fence and then spot a marker post on the horizon from ///pizzas.iterative.shipped. Upon reaching it, however (at ///houseboat.thudding.vertical), it turns out to be a decoy. You “should” have followed the fenceline north. Fear not though, the view was worth it, and the mistake is easily fixed: simply turn left through 90 degrees, to face north, and head for the twin peaks of Creag Sgoilte and Beinn Bheula. A marker post appears near ///riskiest.gone.rekindle and, at that point, bear northeast again to find the next, and last, waymarker near ///happily.scratches.tweezers, where the view into the valley ahead of you starts to open up.
There are no more waymarked posts to be had after this point, but if you continue north/northeast towards the fenceline ahead of you,then you’ll run into another decoy post near ///typed.guitars.lowest. From here you can see down towards Lettermay burn, and also visible, is Lochan nan Cnaimh on your right. Our route flanks the northwestern shore of this lochain, so strike out towards it now. There’s a deep burn gully just beyond ///ringers.keen.softly, so be careful as you go. Aim to reach a point between the water and the wee knoll near its north west shore (///fillers.report.branched). Our goal is to find a way down to the burn being fed by this loch, so head via ///commenced.repaying.flamingo and ///dolls.mixed.woof, then follow the burn toward a fence, and cross it near ///gamer.afterglow.marine.
Stage 4: Lochan nan Cnaimh to Lochgoilhead
You should now be standing at the head of a burn that flows down between the trees. We’re going to use this burn to descend to where a clearway has been cut through the trees. There was once a pathway coming down the southern bank of this burn, but you’d be hard pressed to tell nowadays. Because it’s so overgrown, you may find you have to strafe the burn as it heads downhill and to the northwest. Crossing to the north bank, near ///clocking.dividing.decay, avoids a treacherously steep bank on the south, but very soon you have to cross back over, following the remnants of a trail down the south bank. This trail is so muddy and obstructed, however, that it’s perhaps easier just to come down through the trees (///keen.lessening.lifted).
When you’ve descended to around 350m, another crossing point presents itself near ///reprints.darling.canyons. As you crest the verge of the north bank here, you’re treated to a clearway, running north from ///studs.plausible.slave, with a faint track to follow. Paradoxically, as you come out of the trees, onto felled woodland near ///drums.partners.tucked, the trail becomes harder to follow, but if you stay among the lush green grass, you can pick it out. It heads northwards and almost imperceptibly descends to around 300 meters. There’s an old Forestry road somewhere nearby, the trick now is finding it (in our photo it’s near the trees in the top right corner)! You should come across a burn, intersecting your path near ///workflow.glass.pronouns. At time of writing (summer 2020), a fallen tree means you must crawl Commando-style underneath before you can cross this burn, but as soon as you do, aim to track back uphill a little in order to to find the road.
The overgrown Forestry road bears northeast for some way, passing through ///purely.staked.thickened, and eventually joining a more serviceable road near ///still.shifters.giant. This continues northeast and soon arrives at a junction with a road in even better condition, near ///grapevine.lodge.hoofs. This road is The Cowal Way; turning left will take you back to Strachur (and if you intend to complete the N.E. Loop, then you’ll come back via this way soon enough), and turning right will lead towards Lettermay and then Lochgoilhead. We, of course, are turning right, via ///hounded.camper.springing, and the road loosely follows the course of Lettermay Burn, while gradually descending. It turns east (right), snakes down a hill, with good views views over Lochgoil, and feeds you down toward ///goofy.sandpaper.fell (photographed looking west), where a right turn can be safely ignored. By the time you reach ///frame.ready.outs, you’re on a regular, tarmac road curling down through Lettermay, and joining the road to Lochgoilhead near ///snitch.ducks.rewriting.
Follow this road north (left) and downhill towards the next junction at ///streak.torches.closer. From here, looking down onto Drimsynie Holiday Park, as long as you keep Loch Goil to your right, you can’t go wrong. Simply take the road along the shore and ignore any options to turn off. Eventually you’ll see a wooden footbridge over the River Goil. It appears on your right near ///darker.stooping.flaunting; opposite an entrance to The View Restaurant in the Drimsynie estate. At the gangway onto the bridge there’s both a waymarker for The Loch Lomond & Cowal Way and one of our Faith in Cowal notice boards, which welcomes you to Lochgoilhead and explains a little about the history of The Church of the Three Brethren.
Use this bridge to cross the river, then turn right; following the Cowal Way markers through ///ballots.symphony.prominent. The path leads around the southern border of Drimsynie Estate Golf Course and opens up to a clearing near ///shrimps.doses.marinated. The Cowal Way branches left here, passing behind the church, then looping back down to the front entrance. This is the official route recorded on our GPS tracker, but if the tide is low, then it’s quicker and more pleasant to cut across the beach.
Head towards a rusted gate in the far right corner, near ///animates.gulped.expressed, and drop down onto the beach (note, if the tide is up, there’s another path just to the left of this gate, which leads straight to the cycle racks). There are incredible views to be had from the beach, though we’re not on it for very long. Hop back up to the road, near ///tried.snowmen.thighs, and immediately turn left, heading north up Viewfield Terrace (B839) past the cycle racks at ///live.badly.ambitions. You’ll find the entrance to Lochgoilhead Church just up the street; on the left near ///singers.slugs.defends. Please sign the visitor book and let the local congregation know what you think of the walk, this website and their wonderful church!