Sunday, 25 March 2012

Balfron to Carbeth at the start of Springtime: 24th March 2012

This weekend Spring had definitely sprung (or at least had teased us with a glimpse), so I decided a walk in the country would be good for the heart and the soul. There is a fairly regular bus from Glasgow to Balfron, a small town just on the northern edge of the Campsie Hills, and from there I could walk down to the village of Killearn and then follow part of the West Highland Way to the Carbeth Inn - a favourite meeting place and watering hole for bikers and walkers out from Glasgow and the surrounding area.

View Balfron in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Westerton to Milngavie
  Bus: Milngavie Train Station to Balfron, 10 First Scotland (41 on the hour)

I caught the bus just as scheduled outside Milngavie Train Station, and then sat back and watched the Glasgow skyline disappear into the distance (at least for a few hours). I'd had a look at possible pubs in Balfron and there certainly seemed to be 'limited' choice of possibly 2, however I'd come across what seemed to be a decent cafe/deli called Doyles Cafe and Deli proclaiming On and Off Sales of bottled beer & cider, so I decided that this was the place to try first. It was located only 50 yards or so from the bus stop in Balfron's main Buchanan Street.

The place had a decent selection of wine, cheese, Italian snacks & some great ice-cream, but the bottled selection wasn't particularly good - only bottles of Peroni. I got chatting to the owner (a really knowledgeable beer guy) about this and he said that although the trade in the village was almost 99.9% golden, fizzy lager he had previously sold & stocked Innis & Gunn beers (obviously his favourite, and I have to admit quite liking them as well) but had been let down recently by his distributor. I dropped a few not so subtle hints about great local beers from Loch Lomond Brewery & Fyne Ales into the conversation and it'll hopefully get him thinking about some different options - all you can really do in this type of situation.

The owner warned me off about trying any of the pubs in the village if I was looking for something non-mass market (I like advice that) so I decided to start my walk to Killearn. Thankfully there was a pretty decent pavement path all the way from Balfron into Killearn and it was great to enjoy the spring sunshine, albeit that there was a slight haze in the air which stopped me from getting some clear photographs of the Campsie Hills.

Killearn's a small place with some antique shops and convenience stores, but there's also a couple of decent pub/restaurants, the first of which was the Old Mill.

It's a classy place with a nice courtyard beer garden, but there was no decent beer (sigh...), so I gave it a miss and walked down the road to the The Black Bull Hotel and its 'Local' Bar (thankfully there wasn't a scene from The League of Gentlemen inside).

It's actually a large place with comfy sofas near the bar, football on the flat screen TV near the pool table and another great beer garden out the back, but although there was only Deuchars IPA on the single hand-pull this was still very welcome after the lack of anything else so far on my walk.

I needed some food, so went for the sandwich deal (again!) with a 'mug' of lentil broth for an extra £1, although when it came it wasn't quite a mug, but I wasn't complaining. It all came with a salad and nice & crunchy beetroot & sweet potato crisps.

I finished my Deuchars outside in the beer garden and for the first time(!) noted the seriously impressive obelisk-type monument (similar to Cleopatra's Needle, but no hieroglyphics) just outside the Black Bull.

This was built in 1789 in honour of George Buchanan, born (in 1506) and raised in Killearn, a renowned Latin scholar and historian who taught Mary Queen of Scots and James VI. It's over 100 foot high with a marble base and would be fit to grace a large town, so to have it in as small a village as Killearn must be a source of definite local pride.

Killearn is a sort of extended collection of houses and cottages, so it was a longer walk than expected to leave the village and join the main A81 road just before The Beech Tree Inn at Drumgoyne, situated right at the intersection of the West Highland Way.

It's an easy place to get to from Glasgow and the place was really, really busy this afternoon with day trippers, walkers and cyclists. For some reason there was only 1 person serving at the bar (taking orders for food at the outside tables as well as drinks), but it was all pretty efficiently organised. They have a more than decent choice of beer with kegged Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Schiehallion as well as Budvar and bottles of Williams Fraoch, Chimay Rouge, Leffe and Krušovice. I paid up for a really cold Bitter & Twisted (£4.20) and then blagged one of the last benches available in the large garden, just in the shade of the eponymous Beech Tree, and watched the kids attempt to feed the ducks (1-0 to the ducks in most cases).

I'll have to admit that the kegged Bitter and Twisted is a great, cooling drink on a warm day (and still keeps the majority of its taste), so suitably refreshed I started down the West Highland Way. This section follows the old Blane Valley Railway line past the Glengoyne Distillery (I've still never been in) to the wooded Dumgoyach Hill.

After the hill it was a bit of an uphill walk until reaching the minor road which connects Strathblane to Carbeth. The West Highland Way then turns left for its last 5 miles of so through Mugdock Park to Milngavie, but I went right, past the Carbeth Loch (& Fishery) until the junction with the Glasgow to Drymen road.

From here it was a hundred yards or so to the Carbeth Inn, which, as I had expected, was busy with (mostly middle-aged) bikers and a group of guys on a Stag Weekend staying at nearby Carbeth House.

I've stopped here a number of times when I've had the car (after walking The Whangie and Queen's View - well worthwhile), and have always had some decent food and a real ale, but today only the main bar area was open with no food being served and nothing on the single hand-pull. Whilst I was being served my half of Guinness I obviously quizzed the barmaid on this, and she said the place had been up for lease by Belhaven for a number of months with no takers, but now someone was due to take this on this Thursday (29th March) with both food and hopefully real ale back on the menu. I certainly hope this is the case since the place can be great in both winter (with a roaring fire and loads of interesting bric-a-brac (including a staring Stagg's head) in the atmospheric rooms) and in summer with the outside tables and stunning views of the Kilpatrick Hills.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Carbeth Inn to Milngavie Train Station, C8 Aberfoyle Coaches (17:02 - the only bus from here on a Saturday)
  Train: Milngavie to Anniesland

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