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Published 26 January 2015

An 800-metre stretch of upland section of the John Muir Way has been upgraded between Balloch and Helensburgh.

The new wider gravel path, which replaces the former narrow, dirt path, improves access up and over Gouk Hill, as well as to an outstanding viewpoint within Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park. It also links up with the historic Stoneymollan coffin road and the Three Lochs Way.

From the viewpoint, there are panoramic views to the Firth of Clyde and Arran, to Loch Lomond and the Ben with the Highlands beyond, and to the Campsies. Gouk Hill itself also offers extensive views in all directions.

The upgraded Dunbartonshire path has also opened up a great half-day off-road circular path, starting in Helensburgh or Balloch, and linking to the John Muir Way to the Red Burn and Camis Eskan path to the east of Helensburgh.

The start/finish of the John Muir Way (depending on the direction you begin the walk) in Helensburgh is marked by a circular stone plinth, with engraved footprints and a John Muir quote, on the esplanade opposite the pier, and a seat made from Scottish oak, again with a John Muir quote. There are many cafes and eateries to choose from before you set off on the route, with the National Trust for Scotland's Hill House also a popular choice.

The 800m long improvements have been funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, with support with route negotiations and design by Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, West Dunbartonshire Council and the Helensburgh and District Access Trust.

The Council have managed the pathwork, which has been undertaken by Greenlight Environmental Ltd, a locally- based social enterprise. Councillor Patrick McGlinchey, Convener of Infrastructure and Regeneration, said, "The work completed by Greenlink has improved access to a local beauty spot which has been popular with walkers for centuries. I'm sure that thanks to the new path, the route will now be enjoyed by many more people. The team worked in remote conditions and often during extreme weather to ensure that the project was completed in good time and well in advance of spring when it will be visited by hundreds of locals and visitors."

Gordon Forrester of Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park said, "The new path improves both the John Muir Way and the Three Lochs Way (which share this section) and is also a great boost to local access."

Ron McCraw of Scottish Natural Heritage added, "It's really great to see this new path replacing the former narrow slippery trod. While steep in places, it's now much more accessible for more people, and offers a wilder experience within the route. We'd like to thank the project partners and Scottish Woodlands , who manage the forestry on behalf of landowners, for helping us bring this about."

The 134-mile John Muir Way officially opened on 21 April 2014. The route boasts some of the most beautiful coastal scenery, sweeping landscapes, and historic visitor attractions across Scotland's heartland. Walkers, cyclists and horse riders can enjoy the rocky coasts of East Lothian where Muir played as a child, the dramatic Blackness Castle on the Forth, historic Linlithgow Palace, Roman hill forts on Antonine's Wall, and the unique Falkirk Wheel boat lift, among other highlights.

The John Muir Way is way-marked with signs, and a website (johnmuirway.org), book, leaflets and map give people all the information they need to complete all or part of the trail.

John Muir was born in Dunbar in 1838, before emigrating to the United States in 1849. He helped save the Yosemite Valley in California, was a co-founder of The Sierra Club - one of the most influential grassroots environmental organisations in the USA - and successfully campaigned for national parks in America.

The John Muir Way was developed by Scottish Natural Heritage, with the support of the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) and local councils across the Central Belt.