GUIDE TO THE RIVER LEVEN
(Loch Lomond to Clyde Confluence)
NAME OF RIVER: Leven.
WHERE IS IT?: Drains Loch Lomond to the sea. Map.
Access: Various options around Balloch, most important point is to stay clear of the cruise boat pontoons for launching, and be aware of these large vessels manoeuvring in small space when paddling past. Free (last time I looked) car park and slip behind the pub just upstream of the upper bridge, free parking in the national park visitors centre but stay away from the boat launch ramps which there is a charge for - you can carry kayaks to plenty of other access points around the centre keeping the whole ramp area (and dedicated parking) clear for the trail boats it is meant for. Also various places to launch on the loch and paddle to the river.
Egress: Again various options in Dumbarton but the one that makes most sense is to park by the castle and paddle out onto the Clyde and around the castle to a beach. There are car parks both sides of the river near Dumbarton bridge (which has the ancient Leven Ford beneath which forms a small drop/rapid at low water) but access is from steps without any real eddies. If tide not high there is an unappealling beach upstream of Dumbarton bridge river right extending upstream of the new road bridge adjacent to Dalreoch station (parking). I can't recall anywhere suitable to land at Sandpoint Marina.
Shuttle: By road various routes are possible, about 5 miles. Train shuttle is also possible, Balloch central (Balloch's only station these days) is very close to the free slip mentioned above (and the cruiser terminal), Dumbarton has 3 stations and which you use depends on where you want to take out. Dalreoch station is right next to the river on river right just before the new road bridge. If egressing in riverside car park in town centre Dumbarton Central is closest especially if you find a pedestrian alley through to the high street, go through the artizan centre and then take the underpass. From the castle it is a bit of a trek to a station, but on reaching the top of Castlegreen street you will see Dumbarton East station to the right.
APPROX LENGTH: 12km?
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS:
GRADING: Grade: 1 perhaps a little more depending on flow.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Barrage at Balloch - meant for flood control, not designed to be canoe/kayak friendly, sluices are totally walled in for good distance downstream, happily it was built to allow larger vessels to portage so you will find more than adequate ramps river right - the gates may be locked but are only crotch high.
Leven Ford which is now the foundation for Dumbarton Bridge appears significantly harder than any other rapid, but I have only paddled it when the tide has been in (flat water), maybe grade 2.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: As a formerly industrial river running through some of the more deprived areas in the region the Leven has reverted back to the wild surprisingly well and for most of the trip you will be completely unaware of industrial heritage or proximity of housing schemes. Assuming you launch on the Loch Lomond side of the bridges in Balloch, the first part of the river is covered in small boat moorings - residents apparantly have some ancient right to keep a boat on the river, although the national park has tried to change this in particular with respect to the number of vessels which appear to have sunk on their moorings and been abandoned. Keep an eye out for cruise boats until you pass under the first bridge, they push the limits of practical size for the river and may not see kayaks/canoes. Moorings turn to marinas between the bridges and towards the barrage shortly below (portage right).
From the barrage the urban landscape quickly recedes and trees line the banks. Small rapids are mainly formed by groynes part way across the river in various places - evidence of former control of the watercourse which seem to allow larger craft to navigate, although I seem to recall some shallow gravel rapids as well. At Bonhill houses again appear on the banks, some on the flood plain basically at the height of the bank. Immediately below Bonhill bridge is a small hole which I am told is the best fishing spot on the river so take care to keep up good relations if you meet anglers - I can only recall seeing mature fly anglers around here, further downstream you may encounter coarse anglers but there are no known issues with either type.
The river once again gets a wild feel until the Ballantines building on the Polaroid industrial estate hoves into view (towering over the trees and hinting at a change of character to come) - the river meanders a lot and it changes banks several times, I won't spoil the guessing game by telling you which side you eventually pass it! Shortly after the estate slips by almost out of view from the river you will pass under the A82 bridge and the river opens out with extensive reed beds and wetlands adjacent to the golf course on river left. The less mature woodland river right conceals the remains of Dennystoun forge which used to supply Dennys shipyard in years gone by, a scrapyard is the only hint at industry on that side of the river, Dalreoch station is immediately after the scrapyard before the bridge.
Passing under the new road bridge you will find some moored boats, tower blocks to the right and council offices etc. to the left - straight ahead is the old Dumbarton Bridge and if the tide is out the old Ford under it will be forming a weir which may go in several places but probably best through the right hand arch. The town centre (riverside car park) is along the left wall now (several sets of steps) and the density of moorings increases down towards the clyde. As the river bends left there isa patch of bulldozed land where the old distillery stood, running on towards the site of Denny's shipyard, most of which now lies under Morrisons supermarket (Note that Denny's towing tank still exists and has been turned into a maritime museum, signposted from the main road). To the right is Sandpoint marina (more boats, steep rocky embankments) whilst to the left the land flattens right off (castle green) with Dumbarton Football Club taking up what would be a prominent position if it were not for the near vertical sided volcanic plug just beyond with Dumbarton castle on top! As you approach the castle from this side you will be looking at the Dumbarton rock crag and bouldering area - home to some pretty serious climbing routes. The rock is right at the Clyde confluence and paddling around it to the left (upstream on the Clyde) you will find a beach (sandy at the top, stony at lower tides) which makes a good takeout. A glance at the chart of the Clyde is interesting here, there are extensive shallows running out into the Clyde which in kayak/canoe we can paddle over to the beach but yachts have to follow buoys to keep to a deep channel.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Jim Wallis.