Wednesday 15 April 2015

Scotland by Rail - Garelochhead - 5 destroyers, 35 birds

(My first post under Abellio's ScotRail. Many thanks for continuing support of my ongoing Scotland by Rail work.)

from Garelochhead shore

The village:
A regular spot of mine is Garelochhead, where my soon-to-be-in-laws are. It's only an hour from Glasgow yet feels very west coast, very Highland - refreshing rains, beautifully rich sunlight, carpets of green mosses, lichens dripping from birches. And midgies in summer...

From Garelochhead station walk down the steep road (there's no other way) passing various characterful stone homes until you're in the heart of the village. There's a little shop to buy supplies, or a three minute walk in the direction of Helensburgh gets you to the excellent Café Craft.

Walks & police & plastic:
You can walk as far as you want along the east shore road towards Helensburgh, or the west shore road down the Rosneath Peninsula. Be especially careful on the Rosneath route, the road is ropey - narrow and pathless in many or perhaps most sections. Views are beautiful whichever side you choose. On the Rosneath side you have the interest of looking across to Faslane, and don't be worried if a police car stops to ask, "How are you?".

I was through primarily to carry out count no.1 of my twice-annual BTO BBS bird count. For those less birdy that's the British Trust for Ornithology's Breeding Bird Survey. Volunteer counters are allocated a 1km square and twice during the spring/summer breeding season count the species they see on their patch, following various rules to ensure continuity of results year after year. My BBS square is in the hills between Garelochhead and Loch Lomond.

Unfortunately the forecast was wind, rain and poor visibility so I had to postpone my count. Instead I made short walks around the shore and cleared one full bin-bag of plastic from the garden. The amount of plastic that blows and flows to the head of the Gare Loch is quite incredible. When you look at the high tide line it can be hard to spot much that's natural -weed or driftwood- among the mounds of brightly coloured pieces. Plastic bottles and, for some reason, little plastic sticks like those of cotton buds, seem especially in evidence.

It doesn't put off the birdlife though. During two hours I counted 35 species:
Black Guillemot
Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Coal Tit
Common Gull
Feral Pigeon
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Tit
Greylag Goose (domestic)
House Sparrow
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Hooded Crow
Canada Goose
Collared Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Grey Heron
Herring Gull
Long-tailed Tit
Red-breasted Merganser
Song Thrush

And my first frogspawn of the year, in puddlepools by the cyclepath. I've seen it there every year.

Naval goings-on:
This was an especially interesting weekend to be on the shore. An operation of some sort was basing itself around Faslane and over two days we watched a Trident submarine, five huge destroyers, a chunky red-cream helicopter and a whole flotilla of smaller naval and police boats.

More walks:
Although I didn't make use of the following fact on this particular occasion, Garelochhead isn't just about the shore. It's a gateway to smaller hillwalks on the Rosneath peninsula and to longer taller ones in the hills where I do my bird count. The Three Lochs Way winds from Garelochhead north to Arrochar & Tarbert and eventually to Inveruglas, towards the northerly end of Loch Lomond; and south to Helensburgh and eventually to Balloch, at Loch Lomond's base.

ScotRail - adopting old station buildings:
I can't talk about Adopt-a-Station when it comes to Garelochhead because no station building there has yet been adopted. There's a lovely signalbox currently derelict on the platform if anyone's interested...

N.B. Although no building has been adopted, in September 2014 the Helensburgh and Lomond Artisans Association volunteers began gardening at the station. Bulbs should be blooming soon and a barrel train planter is timetabled to chuff its way down from Lower Cabrach in Aberdeenshire shortly.

warships and crow, pencil in sketchbook

"please adopt me"

from platform to Garelochhead

views around the town

views around the town (2)

trying to i.d. a goldeneye


How to get there:

ScotRail runs regular trains on the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban/Mallaig. Garelochead is an hour from Glasgow Queen Street. Timetables here.


  1. Hi there, glad you enjoyed your trip to Garelochhead Station it is in a lovely location. You may not have noticed but Helensburgh and Lomond Artisans Association have taken on the planting at the station. We just started last September so have so far tidied up the planters and put in some bulbs which should be flowering soon. We have ordered a train barrel so hopefully next time you come to visit it will look a bit more colourful!

  2. Thank you very much indeed Heather. I apologise for not having noticed. I was hurrying for the train on this occasion, but on my next visit I'll make sure I'm not. I'm delighted that Helensburgh & Lomond Artisans Association have taken on the station planting, volunteers like yourselves make a huge difference at so many of our stations - where I live in Burntisland, for example. I look forward to watching Garelochhead bloom! I will also update this blog post to mention yourselves. Many thanks. Leo

  3. Thank you for that, hopefully with this lovely sunny weather we are having everything will start to bloom soon!