In their latest look at what's on across Helensburgh and Lomond, Destination Helensburgh suggests a busy list of walks to explore in the new year...

As we step into 2024 there is no doubt that Helensburgh and Lomond emerged from the shadow of Covid last year.

This column started out as a round-up of local events, activities, and entertainment to inform locals and invite visitors to join in.

As the year went on it got busier and busier, and difficult to try and write an entertaining list that didn’t leave anyone out! So, this year the Destination Helensburgh column will be about general local interest.

A full listing of local events can be found at the What’s On page on the Destination Helensburgh website.

The Advertiser publishes a weekly round -up of events, and we post a weekend events update on our Destination Helensburgh Facebook page every Friday.

A walk along Highlandman’s Road

We are starting with a well-known local walk - along the Highlandman’s Road from the Hill House to Rhu.

The most strenuous bit is walking up the hill to the Hill House, or you could park in the car park (check locking up times) and collect your car later.

The walk starts in the north-west corner of the Hill House car park and is on made paths created and maintained by the Helensburgh and District Access Trust, and on the old drove road over to Rhu. Trainers will do, but proper walking shoes or boots would be better, as it can be muddy.

The Hill House car park is D-shaped and is actually a belvedere in an early 18th century designed landscape, laid out over the Barony of Malligs by landscape architect William Boutcher, working for the landowner Sir John Schaw of Greenock.

This classic example of early 18th century formal parkland with tree lined avenues or 'rides' intersecting at belvedere roundels, which acted as focal points to look out over the landscape and provide points of interest, was created in 1732.

The Schaw family had acquired the Barony of Malligs from the McAulays of Ardencaple in 1705, and the Colquhoun family bought the land from the Schaws in 1756. 

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There are several remnants of ‘Boutcher’s Banks’ around Helensburgh, and the strip of ancient native woodland known as the Blackhill Plantation, that runs from the Hill House car park to the Glennan Burn, is one of the best preserved.

Once you reach the Glennan Burn, the path diverges, with the Three Lochs Way running up the hill, where it merges with the old Highlandman’s Road over to Glen Fruin. The lower path leads to Ardencaple Wood, and following the path beside the burn up the hill (the second right turn) will lead you to Highlandman’s Road.

Just before you reach Highlandman’s Road, there is a massive glacial erratic boulder deposited here by ice with prehistoric cup and ring markings.

The North Clyde Archaeological Society did some restoration work on the boulder a few years ago, and there is a handy interpretive panel that will help you find the weathered cup and ring markings.

The large boulder has been shattered into four pieces following an attempt to blow it up for building stone at least 100 years ago - and the holes for inserting the dynamite are still visible.

The cup and ring marks were pecked onto the rock about 5,000 years ago, in the later Neolithic or Early Bronze Age.

The carvings are very weathered, and the most visible ones are on the top flat face of the rock. What these carvings mean is a long running source of debate amongst archaeologists!

On the east side of the rock, there is a graffiti of the date 1732. That's the year in which William Boutcher surveyed the Barony of Maligs for the designed landscape: surely not a coincidence.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Rhu Pier (Pat Drayton collection)Rhu Pier (Pat Drayton collection) (Image: Pat Drayton collection/Destination Helensburgh)

Just a little further up the hill, one reaches Highlandman’s Road, between Helensburgh and Rhu.

The track is an old drove road, and a church and coffin road, which follows the best natural route over the lower slopes of Tom na h-Airidh, between the Gareloch and Glen Fruin.

William Battrum’s 1864 Guide to Helensburgh describes the path as a cart track, and records that it had been refurbished by Ann, Dowager Duchess of Argyll (who died in 1847), in the earlier 19th century.

That it needed refurbishment in the 19th century indicates that it was already an old track by the early 1800s.

Cattle and horses were swum across the Gareloch at its narrowest point, between Rosneath and Rhu Spit/Rhu Ferry. They would travel over the Highlandman’s Road to converge with the cattle and horses travelling on the Mark-Portincaple-Strone route, and with beasts travelling from the east side of Loch Lomond, to all meet at the Dumbarton Tryst.

The Dumbarton Tryst was held on Carman Hill above Renton in the early 19th century and attracted about 8,000 cattle every year.

Highlandman’s Road is also a Church and Coffin Road that linked Kilbride (St Bride’s Chapel) in Glen Fruin to the parish church at Rhu in the 17th century.

Kilbride Chapel in Glen Fruin is an early Christian site, but the chapel was out of use by the 17th century, and residents of the Glen walked over to the church at Rhu, which was established in 1646.

The present church is the third church on the site and dates to 1854. The inhabitants of Glen Fruin had to carry their dead over the hill to bury them in the consecrated ground at Rhu Church.

There are several other walks up on Tom na h’Airidh - 'hill of the shielings'. Leading off Highlandman’s Road, but keeping to the track, will lead you to a gate into a field above Torr Farm in Rhu, where you'll be rewarded with a panoramic view over the Gareloch and Rosneath peninsula and over the Firth of Clyde to Arran.

Continuing on the old track down past Torr Farm, you will join Station Road down through Rhu village and all the way down the hill on to Pier Road and the seafront at the Marina.

Rhu Marina is built on the site of Rhu Pier - built in 1835, although there was probably an earlier pier on the site - where a ferry used to operate between Rhu and Rosneath.

Sources record it was a much better pier than Helensburgh’s first pier of 1816, and passengers apparently often chose to disembark at Rhu and walk back to Helensburgh.

Rhu pier was served by various steamers, and was one of eight piers on the Gareloch.

It closed to steamers in 1920 when motor transport by road took over. The pier was modernised and a marina developed on the site in 1977.

From here you can walk along the front back to Helensburgh or catch the half-hourly bus at the bus stop opposite the marina.