The Greenock Cut and Kelly Cut
In this edition of My Favourite Run, Adventure staff writer Julia Clarke guides you along a historic aqueduct which once kept the industries of Greenock supplied with water. The route takes you across a fantastic moorland, and provides stunning views over the Clyde estuary and towards the Highlands in the distance, before ending at a glittering expanse of sea.
“This running route has absolutely everything,” says Julia. “You can reach it from either end by train in just over half an hour from Glasgow, but you feel far from the city lights the moment your feet hit the trail. You’ve got mirror-like lochs, open heather moorland, mountain and ocean views, a deep gorge and even a pub at the end!”
- Start/finish: Drumfrochar train station/Wemyss Bay train station
- Distance: 16.6km / 9.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 175m / 575ft
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Duration: ~1.5 hours
If you’re driving, you can navigate to Overton Road (off Papermill Road) in Greenock where you will find free parking. Otherwise, hop on the train from Glasgow Central – they run once an hour – and get off 40 minutes later at Drumfrochar train station. Upon exiting the train, go left along the platform, up the steps and take a left onto Peat Road. Walk uphill past the primary school and after a couple of minutes you’ll see signs for the Greenock Cut. Just follow the sign to take a left onto Overton Road and you’ll find the beginning of the trail about a half mile from the train station. Before you go through the gate, look back at the stunning views over the Firth of Clyde.
The Kelly Cut: why I love it
My mum had been telling me about this route for years but I’m embarrassed to admit it took me ages to try it. Greenock is a bit of an industrial town and I just couldn’t believe a nearby route could be so beautiful. I am happy to share that I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Firth of Clyde is a fantastically gorgeous part of western Scotland, where the industrial river you might associate with Glasgow opens up and gives way to a wide estuary that’s dotted with islands such as Arran and Bute. In the distance are the mountains surrounding Loch Lomond. As a non-car owner, of course, it’s a huge perk that I can easily reach it on the train, and I love ending up in the gorgeous seaside town of Wemyss Bay.
The route is really composed of two sections. The first section goes from Greenock to the Greenock Cut Visitor Centre, about halfway, and takes you along the shore of lovely Loch Thom. Most of the climbing on this route honestly happens between the train station and the car park, followed by a bit of moderate incline once you reach the path, which takes you along a wide metalled road that provides easy walking and running, and you might share the trail with other walkers and the odd biker. Almost immediately, you'll come to a fork where you'll take the path to the right. About one mile in, you’ll reach a crossroads where a paved road leads up to the right and a dirt track leads downhill in front of you. Ignore the paved road to the right and head downhill and in moments you’ll see Loch Thom.
The path skirts the edge of Loch Thom, a C-shaped reservoir – it’s worth going early before the wind picks up as you’ll get a perfect mirror reflection of the surrounding hills in the water – as well as an adjoining reservoir. I’ve been known to take a quick, icy dip in the loch on a warm day here. As you approach the south end of the reservoir, you’ll see an old house up ahead and when you pass through the gate, you’ll soon arrive at the visitors centre. I haven’t stopped at the visitor centre myself, but there are benches and toilets here should you need a break, and it's a great turnaround spot if you don’t want to keep going.
Just past the toilets, you’ll find yourself coming upon a road and several different possibilities. Turn left on the road to cross the bridge over Kip Water and immediately on the far side, you’ll see a wooden signpost on the right signalling the Kelly Cut. Go through the kissing gate to join the Kelly Cut which will take you all the way to Wemyss Bay over four more miles.
This section follows another Cut (which feeds the Greenock Cut) and the path here is rougher, narrower, the terrain a mix of grass and bog. However, great care has been taken to place useful logs and bridges to keep the ground from becoming too boggy and you’ll be able to keep up a good pace. Stop frequently to look back over the Cut, the Loch and the mountains of the Highlands behind you as they loom in the distance. The whole way you’ll enjoy undulating moorland but never encounter any steep inclines or descents, supplying you with an absolutely delightful running experience.
Follow the obvious trail past Darr Reservoir on your right until you reach another crossroads. The road to the left takes you up to the Kelly Reservoir, but instead, take the sharp right down the tarmac country road. You’ll soon come across some farmhouses as the descent becomes quite steep and you may choose to slow to a walk here. As you near an obvious holiday caravan park, slow down and have your wits about you. To your left is an unmarked sharp left track that heads into the deep forest on your left. If you miss this, you’ll end up running on concrete through a holiday park for far longer than you want (trust me). The forested path takes you down a steep-walled gorge with a rushing river and tumbling waterfalls to your left, a near complete canopy overhead and the sounds of birds chirping away in the trees. The ground here can be slick and rough, so watch your footing.
After about half a mile, you’ll pop out onto the road at the bottom end of the holiday park. Walk out to where it meets the main road and you’ll discover that you’re only feet from the water’s edge and the ferry terminal where the boats sail over to the Isle of Bute. On a sunny day, you’ll find nothing better to do here than stand and admire the views of Bute and mountainous Arran across the shimmering water. To your right is Wemyss Bay train station which is a fine building, one of only 10 to receive five stars in the book Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations which features it on the cover.
Trains run back to Glasgow (via Drumfrochar if you’re returning to your car) once an hour and you can enjoy a well-earned cup of tea and cake in the station cafe, a pint in the station pub or browse the used bookstore. If you need more sustenance, there’s a fish and chip shop across the street.
Highlight: Loch Thom
Loch Thom is a C-shaped freshwater lake that was turned into a reservoir in 1827 to provide a water supply to the nearby town of Greenock via a long aqueduct known as The Cut. An early morning run before the breeze picks up often delivers perfect reflections of the surrounding landscape in the loch's surface.
My Favourite Run Collection
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.