The 9 mile route between Helensburgh and Garelochhead features a segregated cycle path, the smell of the sea, lunch at a marina, the call of oystercatchers and a nuclear submarine base.
Regonal Cycle Route 42 links Helensburgh and Garelochead in Argyll. The route is largely along a cycle path on the main road, so not the most enjoyable ride, but there are nice views of the sea and some interesting things to see along the way.
Begin at Helensburgh Central train station
Helensburgh Central is another fine survivor from the golden era of Scotland's railways. It has a long glass canopy, decorative ironwork and wood paneling in the ticket office. It is nicely decorated with pots of colourful flowers.
You may wish to linger in Helensburgh. The seafront location makes it a pleasant place for a stroll and an ice cream. You can also visit Hill House, designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh the famous Scottish architect. The inventor of the television, John Logie Baird (no relation), was born in Helensburgh.
The cycle route begins on the A814. Cycle westwards through the quieter streets of the town to avoid the busy road for as long as possible and to reach the start of the shared pavement and cycle path. This can be found opposite Cumberland Avenue where you will spot the blue Route 42 cycle signage. All you have to do now is follow these signs until you reach Garelochead.
It soon becomes clear that the strategy of this route is to keep bikes away from the main road as much as possible, so you will find some interesting bits of cycle infrastructure, like this section:
Helensburgh and the surrounding area is a wealthy part of Scotland, so you will notice some impressive houses. This lodge house is a more modest example that sits alongside the cycle route. I like the Gothic-style windows.
"Scottish Tapas" at Rhu
About two miles into the route you will reach the village of Rhu which sits on a curve of the loch and has a parish church tower dominating the horizon.
As I passed through Rhu I could smell the salty air mixed with smoke from log burning fires in cosy cottages. At a football pitch a group of lads were sat on the grass, resting and chatting after their game.
I went for the carrot and coriander soup, served with a warm roll. It was just perfect on a slightly chilly day.
I liked the nautical decor of the cafe- red and white sails hanging from the ceiling and rope tied to the curtains to hold them in place. There are only 6 tables in the cafe and most of the clientele were ordering takeaway whilst having a bit of banter with the couple running the place. I heard the man joke about one customer, "Don't serve this guy! He used to come here all the time for fish n' chips. Now he doesn't. There's no excuse. We do airmail you know."
There is a lot of yachting activity taking place here. There is a chandlery shop next door, boats were being repaired in the yard and I watched tractors dragging around boats on trailers.
The route passes the Faslane Peace Camp. The residents of this collection of colourful caravans are protesting against the nuclear weapons that are kept at the Faslane Naval Base. The camp has been here since 1982 and there have been frequent protests through the years, including blockades of the base.
The route then proceeds alongside the immense fence and rolls of barbed wire that protect the perimeter of the base. Signs warn of CCTV and patrolling armed guards. At one point I negotiated a van parked on the cycle path and men were up on ladders carrying out repairs to the fence.
The route passed an entrance to the base where vehicles were being stopped at a checkpoint by armed guards. There was something unsettling to see such a sight in Scotland, particularly in the middle of the countryside. It is rare to see guns in Scotland and this is probably one of the few, if not the only place, in the country where you are going to see armed men. It was not pleasant to pass so close to them on my bicycle and I found myself desperately avoiding eye contact.
Garelochhead is a small village with not very much to see apart from the views of the loch. It is a peaceful place, a place where the call of the oystercatcher is the loudest noise. Prior to World War II it had been popular for people from Glasgow to travel here by steamer for holidays, but it has since declined as a tourist destination.
Garelochhead has a train station, part of the famous West Highland Line, so you could get a train back to Glasgow instead of cycling back to Helensburgh. Be aware that trains on this line are less frequent and you must have an advanced reservation to take your bike on this train.
Combine this with a visit to Dumbarton Castle
The train to Helensburgh stops at Dumbarton East station from where you can easily reach Dumbarton Castle. The castle is a magical, fairytale grotto experience.
Read my blog post about Dumbarton Castle