Balloch to Helensburgh and the Hill House

Walking the John Muir Way and visiting the Mackintosh-designed Hill House

On a calm note, we set off on a walk from Balloch to Helensburgh along the John Muir Way, beginning with views over the southern corner of Loch Lomond and the surrounding hills. It's been a long winter, and the cold, wind and rain have returned recently, so it was nice to catch a day that felt almost springlike. A faint recollection of warmer, sunnier times kindled in my mind.

Ali with this sculpture of her spirit animal, the otter. We didn't see any. I always keep an eye out.

As we walked uphill and away from Balloch, we passed through some trees. Still, some leaves are hanging on from last year, even though buds are starting to open up elsewhere.

The walk continued uphill and through some forestry areas. Unfortunately, part of the John Muir Way is currently impassable - according to the website and also some dog walkers we met en-route - due to fallen trees which have been there since January. There’s an alternative route suggested, which we took, until we came to a gate with a sign reading "Warning: dogs running freely" and a picture of a greyhound. We didn't fancy the idea of being attacked by dogs, so reluctantly continued walking along the road. Thankfully this part of the road was quiet.

I took a smaller camera with me on this trip: a Canon M6 Mark II which I've owned for a while. I wanted to test this camera with a new (second-hand) 55-200mm telephoto lens. Since we are planning trips further afield later this year, I want to make sure I choose the right camera to take.

I often like to use a telephoto lens on walks, where many of the things that catch my eye are details in the wider landscape. I also carried my iPhone, and some of these photos come from that camera. I feel much less self-conscious when carrying a smaller camera in urban areas. It's also nicer carrying something light and compact versus a heavy DSLR. I'd say the 5D Mark IV does produce much sharper images, and would always be my first choice for professional work. But for travelling and walks, I like the M6 II and iPhone combo.

The road we joined earlier eventually met with an A-road, which followed the water's edge into Helensburgh. This part of the walk was a little unpleasant for half a mile or so, as we walked on a narrow pavement close to fast, busy traffic. The pavement widened and then became a cycle/footpath after maybe three-quarters of a mile.

I stopped briefly to photograph the blossom on trees and this red-brick railway bridge.

By Helensburgh seafront, I spotted this ghost sign on the side of a building, advertising fish suppers. I'm still collecting ghost sign photos here and there, with the idea of making a print series or zine/artist's book at some point. I think I have 3 or 4 of them so far.

The next day, after staying in a hotel in Helensburgh, we walked up to the Hill House.

It was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh on commission for the Blackie family and is now owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland. It's quite a unique and fascinating example of Mackintosh design.

Many of the details in the house feature the distinctive Mackintosh style and aesthetic, including these amazing light fixtures, as well as furniture, ornaments and art throughout.

The house is situated in a very affluent area of Helensburgh with wide streets and large houses with big gardens. Approaching Hill House, I was surprised to see what looked like a giant metal barn or warehouse structure. Amazingly enough, the entire house has been surrounded by this structure, to keep rain and moisture from further damaging the fabric of the building, which is already suffering the effects of time and weather. It's a temporary measure designed to protect the building and to allow essential conservation work and maintenance to take place. Part of the external structure has been designed with pedestrian walkways which go around and - frighteningly if you don't like heights - over the top of the building. I'd never seen anything like it before, and while some people might not like the look of the metal structure, it certainly adds something to the visitor experience.

The Hill House is about a 30-minute walk from Helensburgh Central train station and is open nearly all year round. There's also a café!

Write a comment