Balloch lies at the south end of Loch Lomond where the River Leven exits the loch before taking its short journey to the River Clyde at Dumbarton. The name comes from the Gaelic "bealach" which means, oddly at first sight, mountain pass. Some have interpreted this as an indication that the River Leven was fordable here, but it seems more likely that it refers to the River's function in providing a "pass" for boats between Loch Lomond and the sea.
Today's Balloch is effectively a northern extension of its more industrial neighbour Alexandria. The core of the town lies a little south of the shore of Loch Lomond, but this in no way diminishes the strength of the link between town and loch.
This is most strongly demonstrated by a stroll across the bridge that crosses the River Leven in the town. From here you can see the huge numbers of small vessels berthed at Balloch for use on Loch Lomond.
And some of the vessels are not so small. Balloch is the main base of Sweeney's Cruises. This family run business has been operating boats on Loch Lomond for over 120 years. Today they have a fleet of passenger vessels, including Astina, the biggest passenger vessel on Loch Lomond and the Silver Marlin (both shown in the header image), plus the Lomond Duchess and the Glen Falloch. These are used for daily cruises and private charter throughout the year and have both toilet and full bar facilities on board.
Balloch became an important gateway to Loch Lomond during the 1800s, when many steamers operated on the loch. In 1850 the railway reached Balloch, and continued right to a station built alongside the newly completed Balloch Pier on the loch.
Today the railway stops in Balloch itself, and for a time in the 1970s and 1980s the demise of the traditional steamer services suggested that Balloch might actually turn its back on the lochside area altogether. Thankfully this never quite happened. The last steamer in service on Loch Lomond, the Maid of the Loch, which had been left to rot at Balloch Pier in 1981, was restored to become a static attraction during the 1990s, and the eventual aim is to return it to service on the loch.
The resurgence of the lochside area continued when, in 2002, the Loch Lomond Shores development right on the shore of Loch Lomond opened its doors with a range of shopping and other attractions, including the National Park Gateway Centre.