John Muir was born in Dunbar on April 21st 1838, and as a child developed a deep love of the natural world around his home. He was known to escape from his bedroom window into the Dunbar countryside and he began his "love affair" with nature. He is best known for his conservation voice establishing the ‘Sierra Club’, his writing and for encouraging the establishment of the Yosemite National Park. Scotland has been quite slow to recognize its famous son, The John Muir Trail in California has been famous for years, but it took until 2014 for him to be honoured with a trail in his native land. The John Muir Way is a route that symbolically links Dunbar with Scotland’s first national park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and with Helensburgh in the west, forming a Scottish coast to coast route. It provides an accessible and varied route across the Scottish low lands, following a mixture of seaside, river and canal side paths, with some forestry walking for good measure. Altogether the route links together some fine landscapes, countryside and places of historical and natural interest.
We grade this tour as Introductory to Moderate (grade 2); anyone used to hill walking with ascents of a few hundred meters during the day should be suitable for the walk. The hardest day has an accumulative ascent over the day of approx 900m. Some long sections are fairly flat following canal towpaths, however some of the days are long and you should be comfortable walking distances up to 29km /18 miles, and the walking times can be between 3-7 hours. There can be forestry diversions, so you should be competent at using maps, although compass work on this tour is unlikely. It is generally well waymarked.
Make your own way to the attractive coastal town of Helensburgh founded in 1776 as a spar resort and then modelled on a grid base of Edinburgh New Town. Handsome buildings, wide elegant tree-lined streets, long promenade with attractive parks and gardens create a pleasantly distinguished atmosphere, even more so in summer as pleasure cruisers jostle at the pier. It is said that a quarter of Britain’s millionaires resided here in the 1800s, these were tobacco and shipping magnates and the town operated the World’s first steam ship ferry service from 1812 across the Clyde.
Accommodation: We use a couple of pleasant B&Bs close to Central Station. They are buildings of aged character but with comfortable ensuite rooms.
The John Muir Way officially climbs steeply up past National Trust for Scotland ‘Hill House’ before turning onto the forest track heading across ‘Bannachra Muir’ and up steeply towards and around ‘Ben Bowie’. The walk then winds across the desolate area of ‘Darleith Muir’ before an attractive, scenic descent onto the ancient drove and coffin route known as 'Stoneymollan Road' with views over Loch Lomond and ‘The Highland Fault.’ You then arrive at the tourist village of Balloch on the Shores of Loch Lomond. If you arrive early, you could enjoy a cruise on Loch Lomond and visit the ‘Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Gateway Centre’.
Accommodation: Balloch is a popular boating and tourism spot. We use several ensuite rooms in B&Bs on the road through the village. Pubs and restaurants are close by.
This is a long but rather beautiful day with a few undulations; it is also the hardest and highest day of the tour. Much of the walk is on quiet tarmac or gravel roads, and a newly laid gravel track in the Kirkpatrick Hills, with views to start towards Loch and Ben Lomond. There are sections of moor and woodland as well. The highlight of the day, is the Burncrook reservoir and the views to the north from the southern side of the Highland Fault. You will reach a cafe and pub at Garbeth, just when it is needed and then observe the chalets of the Garbeth Hutters Association. You then enjoy views towards the Campsie fells. Finally the walk descends a long woody ridge to the village of Strathblane and a small comfortable hotel.
Accommodation: Originally built in 1601 as a stables and tavern, the Inn we use has 15 bedrooms. It was the scene of secret correspondence between King James VI of Scotland and Queen Elizabeth I of England that eventually led to the Union of the Crowns. A lot has happened since but the only secrets to be found now are in the restaurant and the whisky bar with plenty of treasures to enjoy!
This leg is one of the longer sections, but it has some lovely open stretches on good surfaces. Head off to Clachan of Campsie underneath Cort-ma Law Hill and then onto Kirkintilloch’s rich, historic town centre for morning tea. Here you join the first canal stretch, enjoying flat walking on the old towpath before encountering your first Roman Fort at Bar Hill. Take some time out to recreate in your imagination the ancient settlement and rest weary legs after a steep pull up to the summit. You could continue onto Croy Hill and to successive Roman sites, or drop down to the canal and then waslk or bus into Kilsyth.
Accommodation: We use a town hotel with restaurant and bar in Kilsyth town, or upgrade to a hotel down by the canal. All rooms are ensuite and well appointed.
Today’s walk is an easy stroll largely on gravel and woodland trails to the large town of Falkirk. Much of the distance is on the Forth and Clyde Canal, which was very active in John Muir’s day, but is now solely a recreational feature. The final section of the walk before Falkirk is on the Union Canal. An ideal lunch stop would be at the ‘Falkirk Wheel’ an extraordinary and unique engineering feature that connects the canals together via a rotating boat lift. Other attractions include a great section of the Antonine Wall. Even more than yesterday you will be able to see what a huge labour it was to construct. Falkirk is famous for two battles, the one where Sir William Wallace was defeated in 1298 and the one in 1746 when Bonny Prince Charlie‘s forces were victorious over the government troops, but for the Jacobites it was a pyrrhic victory.
Accommodation: Small bar-restaurant hotel right in the centre of Falkirk. All rooms are en-suite and equipped with wall-mounted widescreen freeview LCD televisions. Tea & coffee facilities also provided. In addition all rooms have free wireless internet access. Sometimes you may be staying in an apartment belonging to the hotel a couple of blocks away which has its own kitchen.
Today is the shortest day and a mixture of walking through Callandar Park and woodland, on the Union Canal and beside the beautiful River Avon. Walking out of Falkirk and into Linlithgow there is also some street walking. The main attraction of the day is the old part of Linlithgow which sits above its own small loch and was the birth place of Mary Queen of Scotts. The Stuart Palace, although today a ruin is quite magnificent and is in an attractively ensemble with St. Martins Church and the ‘Town Cross’ with its old buildings. The Church was where Henry IV of Scotland was warned not to fight the English at Flodden Field, but he did not heed the warning and was cut down with the ‘flower of Scotland’.
Accommodation: In the terraces above the centre in a very quiet location is a gorgeous B&B, relaxing and with superb breakfasts.
Today in good weather is certainly one of the most memorable of the walk with some interesting historical features. Leaving Linlithgow you travel through some wonderfully rural countryside until you arrive at the Firth of Forth,which is the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea, between Fife to the north and Lothian to the south. The Fisher row walk gives you superb views and was used by wives of fishermen travelling between Bo'ness and Linlithgow to sell their catches. Bo'ness itself is a delightful town with an architectural mix that ranges from 16th-century housing to the Hippodrome Cinema from the 1920s. Look out for steam railway and bird-watching opportunities by the shore. Further on you journey through the large, beautifully managed Hopetoun House Estate*. On the way You can visit remarkable Blackness Castle which is shaped like a ship. Along the Firth of Forth, enter South Queensferry and pass under the three Forth bridges. The most extraordinary is the Forth Railway Bridge from 1890, whose design helped to inspire Gustav Eiffel for his tower.
Accommodation: Stay at the Inn where Robert Louis Stevenson got ideas for his book 'Kidnapped' room 13 to be exact. The rooms are appropriately old fashioned and there is a popular restaurant.
*Note that very occasionally the Hopetoun Estate can be fully closed to walkers when there is a special event on and Sherpa will contact at the time of booking to make sure that this day does not coincide with a closure.
From South Queensferry you start to enter the outskirts of Edinburgh, passing through the attractive coastal Dalmeny Estate before turning inland. There is some walking through golf courses, parks and housing estates into the capital with all of its delights. Eventually you walk beside a river called ‘Water of Leith’ before joining the ‘Union Canal’ into the city centre.
Note: Edinburgh is a large city, and although we try to get accommodation near a suitable juncture close to the trail, you may need to take a bus, taxi or walk off the JMW to your accommodation. We would thoroughly recommend a second night and day off in Edinburgh, and you may have a another night here if we cannot confirm accommodation at Port Seton.
Accommodation: We use a number of B&Bs towards the end of the Union Canal, which makes an obvious stage end. The B&Bs are old fashioned sandstone built with comfortable rooms. Ensuite bathrooms where possible.
Today is a pleasant walk out of town on the Union Canal and then besides parks to follow quiet valley walking routes to the seaside near Joppa and Musselburgh. From there you take a coastal walk to the old fortified sea town of Prestonpans, site of a victorious Jacobite battle in 1745. There are also some attractive old gardens, market cross and old house. Your accommodation is normally 3km further along the coast in the attractive tiny fishing village called Port Seton.
Accommodation: In Port Seton we use an attractive fisherman's house just behind the harbour. No nets in the garden these days, but a warm welcome and a lovely breakfast.
It is possible that if we cannot confirm accommodation at Port Seton, you may have to have a second night in Edinburgh and use the bus or train on a round journey from Prestonpans.
The walk is a coastal affair dodging around golf courses. There is some walking along sandy trails on sand dunes and there is quite a lot of road walking so comfortable shoes recommended. You will appreciate how big an industry golfing is in Scotland, if you haven't already. People who are not so keen on golf will like the beautiful village of Aberlady with its bird reserve you can visit overlooking golf courses - aim for an eagle, birdy or perhaps a duck! The final couple of hours walking brings you into North Berwick, a town enriched by golf. The official route dodges the golf courses and housing estates inland, but especially at low tide, you could follow the beach all the way round for the last few kms. You will also see Bass Rock way out to sea like a beached white whale. The rock is encrusted not with barnacles, but with thousands of gannet birds.
Accommodation: We use a gorgeous friendly B&B on the seafront, the lounge has a telescope to enjoy the views over the extensive sands to Bass Rock. The rooms are very comfortably appointed and ensuite.
Today is the last walk and it is an absolute beauty. Very little road walking, mainly field and farm track, woodland and finally along the cliff tops before you arrive into the interesting historical town of Dunbar. Leaving North Berwick southwards we would thoroughly recommend that you take time to walk up the volcanic plug called North Berwick Law (187m). You can get great views both east and west of the town, to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and Tantalum Castle south of Dunbar. It has always sported whale jawbones and when the last ones decayed, fibre-glass replicas were installed. After a few miles on country tracks and quiet lanes you’ll reach the popular village of East Linton, whose National Trust for Scotland attractions of the 'Phantassie Doocot' and 'Preston Mill' are well worth a look. You now follow the River Tyne for a while, until the J.M.Way takes you onward to the coast and beaches of the John Muir Country Park, before reaching Dunbar. Don't miss the free little house museum in Dunbar where John Muir was born, it closes at 17.00.This actually marks the official end of the John Muir Way. They will be able to make a certificate for you having completed the route, and you can find out a lot more about John Muir and his legacy.
Accommodation: Nice old fashioned style pub hotel towards the cliffs of Dunbar with some sea views. Popular restaurant with a good menu. All of rooms are en-suite and have been thoughtfully decorated to make your stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Arrangements end after breakfast
Per Person, Twin Share