Glasgow to Kilsyth canal walk

At the end of my last post I mentioned that the Bowling to Glasgow walk was only the first of three and that I might write about the others when their 25 year anniversaries came around. But since I probably won’t remember to do that (the dates of the other two walks aren’t so deeply emblazoned onto my brain as the first is), and since I quite enjoyed writing the last post and a few people seemed to enjoy reading it, I decided to just write the next one now instead.

I think it was towards the end of our first walk that someone (probably Chris) mentioned the possibility of doing the rest of the canal at a later date. I was all in favour of this, of course, even though Chris hadn’t enjoyed the rest of the canal as much as the Bowling to Glasgow section when she and Ian had walked it before (she’d said that the middle section was quite long and boring, and by the time they reached the Falkirk end she was tired and just wanted to go home). It took us a while to get around to arranging the next part, and in the end it wasn’t until September of 1994 that we returned to the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Ian and Chris had walked the whole remainder of the canal in one go, a total distance of about 25 miles and more than double the length of our first walk! This time we weren’t being quite so ambitious and our plan was just to walk eastwards from Glasgow until we’d had enough, whenever that turned out to be. Apparently there were a few places along the way that were handy for public transport, so this seemed a good plan.

This walk was going to be different from the first in several ways. For one thing we wouldn’t have a dog with us: Ben had a bad toe and couldn’t manage such a long walk, so he was being left with my parents for the day. We wouldn’t have a car either; Ian and Chris’s was off the road so we would be completely reliant on buses and trains to get us to and from the canal. And I’d been researching the canal and poring over maps since our first walk, so I had a much better idea of what to expect this time.

(You might also be wondering why so few photos compared to last time. Well, my camera was still broken so I was borrowing my mum’s SLR, but I found it so complicated to use that I only ended up taking four photos all day, and two of those were identical ones of Firhill Bridge because I was worried the first one hadn’t worked properly!).

The day of the walk dawned, and Ian and Chris arrived bright and early to drop Ben off and pick me up. Ever the master of optimism and motivation, Ian’s first words to me were “You know, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll actually make it all the way today”. I showed him the Dextrosol tablets I was bringing to try and boost my energy, but he just said “Those’ll be handy if anyone suddenly starts suffering from low blood sugar levels”. The weather was looking pretty good as we walked to the bus stop, and I could feel the mounting sense of excitement that could only mean I was off to explore somewhere interesting. The Glasgow bus was just pulling up at the stop as we turned the corner and we had to run for it. Thankfully we made it, and Chris and I found three seats together up at the back while Ian paid for the tickets.

The journey through was uneventful and we talked about how much better for the environment it was to get the bus rather than driving through as we had done for our first walk. When we got to Glasgow the weather was still so nice that we decided to walk up the Glasgow branch of the canal instead of getting the bus up to Maryhill as we’d originally planned. After all, what’s an extra two miles on a walk that long? It meant that we were rejoining the canal at exactly the point we’d left it 8 months earlier, which made for some nice continuity, though it looked very different on a sunny morning from how it had on that cold November night. Eagerly we set off along the towpath, looking forward to a good day’s walking.

Firhill Bridge

I enjoyed seeing the Glasgow branch again, but of course I was most looking forward to seeing some new canal. We diverged from our previous path at Stockingfield Junction, where we had to go down and through a tiny tunnel-like aqueduct beneath the canal, then up a bank to get to the towpath on the mainline to the east. Although we were still very much in Glasgow, this part of the walk had a pleasantly rural feel to it, especially with the blackberries we were able to pick from some nearby brambles to keep us going. Chris pointed at a funny looking brick tower over to the north and said “I wonder what that is?”. None of us knew, but from looking at maps since I think it was probably the chimney of the nearby crematorium.

 

Unlike most of the Bowling to Glasgow section, the canal we were now following had recently been reopened, so the bridges were mostly high enough for boats to sail beneath, and for us to walk under. The first one was an old metal bridge at Lambhill, and just beyond it was an original canal stables block as well as some weird underground tunnel entrances (both of which I would probably have tried to get inside if I’d been a bit older). The houses to the north gave way to open countryside and there was a little picnic area by the nature reserve at Possil Loch. We decided to stop there for a snack. Chris shared out some biscuits she had made and I took a swig from my large bottle of Irn Bru (a must for walking, in my opinion).

While we were having our break, something unexpected happened: it started raining. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised, we were still in the west of Scotland after all, no matter how nice it had looked first thing. I put my jacket on and sheltered the biscuits underneath while Ian and Chris struggled into their waterproof trousers. Chris was amused that my first impulse had been to save the biscuits from getting wet, but said she would have done the same. There didn’t seem much point sitting around in the rain so we decided we might as well walk on.

This walk certainly had quite a different feel from the previous one. The Bowling to Glasgow stretch of canal had had a constant succession of bridges, locks and other canal features to look at, not to mention all the buildings of the surrounding town. On our second walk we didn’t pass a single lock (we were entirely on the canal’s “summit” reach), the bridges were much more spaced out (more than a mile between the ones at Lambhill and Bishopbriggs) and the surroundings were far more rural (currently we had a golf course to the south of us and open country to the north). But I wasn’t sure I agreed with Chris’s comment that it was actually boring; it was certainly quiet and peaceful, but I was enjoying the tranquillity and found some of the countryside quite pretty.

The next bridge was Farm Bridge, next to the Leisuredrome at Bishopbriggs. This was a slightly notorious bridge because it was only about 5 or 6 feet above the water which meant that bigger boats couldn’t go underneath it. It was supposed to be raised in the early 90s but the Glasgow Canal Project, which rebuilt all the other low bridges and culverts between Glasgow and Kirkintilloch, ran out of money before it got to Farm Bridge, leaving this annoying obstruction in the way. (Now, of course, it’s been replaced by the Millennium Link project along with all the other low bridges on the canal, and the new one has the full 10ft headroom).

But low bridge or no low bridge, I was glad to see that (a) there were trees by the canal after the bridge which would give us some shelter, and (b) the rain was easing off a bit anyway by this time. I found myself looking enviously at Ian and Chris’s waterproof trousers as I felt my own soaked trousers against my legs and made a mental note to definitely get some of my own before I next did a long walk.

The next little stretch, through the trees past Cadder, turned out to be really pretty. As the canal turned a corner, we climbed up onto a wooded bank and looked down over the valley (and yet more golf courses) below. The River Kelvin was down there, looking a lot smaller than it had been where we’d crossed it on the aqueduct at Maryhill the previous year. Apparently the bank we were standing on was probably part of the Antonine Wall. People think of the road building programmes of the 1960s and 70s as being pretty destructive as they bulldozed old buildings out of their path (and blocked canals), but things weren’t actually much better back in the canal age – the canal was cut right through the Antonine Wall here, and the navvies even quarried a nearby Roman fort to get stone to line the banks!

Blurry Glasgow Bridge

There were a couple more bridges to pass before we reached Kirkintilloch where we planned to stop for lunch. The second of these was quite interesting because it had recently been replaced with a modern concrete one so that boats could get under it again, and there were quite a few boats moored nearby. There was also a pub in a converted canal stables block (called, imaginatively enough, The Stables).  I took a photo but it came out blurry unfortunately. The rain kept going on and off, so at least it wasn’t raining constantly, but it never stayed dry for long enough at a time for my trousers to properly dry out.

It was at this point that the walk started to drag a bit. Kirkintilloch seemed further away than we’d expected and we were all starting to get a bit hungry by this time, which may account for the slightly bizarre conversation that ensued. It started off innocently enough, with Chris telling us about one of her plants (she had no idea what it was, but she suspected it might be an African Lily, so she asked an expert who said “well I don’t know what it is but it’s definitely not an African Lily”, so from then on Chris just referred to the plant as “not an African Lily”), but moved into the realms of the weird when Ian mentioned a filing cabinet that had mysteriously appeared in his office at work and told us his theory that it might in fact be an alien from another planet in disguise. After that the effects of the hunger set in even more deeply and we started talking about how anything might in fact be anything else, which at least passed the time until we rounded a corner and reached Townhead Bridge.

(Well, I say “bridge”, but at this point in time it was actually just an embankment blocking the canal, with a horrible silted up submerged culvert in the middle. It was to be another six years after our walk before there was an actual bridge there again).

Eagerly we climbed up the steps to the main road. We’d been planning to find a fish and chip shop and get something from there, but with the weather having turned unreliable we decided to sit in at the nearby shopping centre’s food court instead (they had fish and chips so we didn’t feel like we were missing out). For some reason we ended up having a bit of an argument about religion, with Ian and I saying it was mostly a negative thing that had caused a lot of wars and so on, while Chris said without it we might not have ended up so civilised. That was what I liked about spending time with Ian and Chris, you could talk to them about anything at all, from plants and filing cabinets right up to big things like the effects of religion on society. (And aliens disguised as filing cabinets).

As we returned to the canal with fuller stomachs, I was interested to see that there was a bridge I hadn’t known about next to Townhead “Bridge”. I’d made notes from the Forth and Clyde Canal guidebook in a library since the last walk and ended up memorising the table of bridges and locks in the back (not intentionally, I just found it so interesting that the information stuck in my head without me even having to try! I’m weird like that), but this new concrete flyover wasn’t on the list, so it must have been built after the guidebook was published. It looked a bit out of place, soaring overhead in a big sweeping curve to give lots of headroom over a disused, silted up canal that disappeared under an embankment only a few yards to the west, but I guess they were already planning ahead for the canal’s eventual reopening by the time this road was built.

Just beyond the new bridge (“Nicholson Bridge”, I believe it’s actually called) was a more interesting piece of infrastructure: the Luggie Aqueduct, the second biggest one on the canal after the Kelvin. We went down below to have a closer look. It was just a single arch, but unusually the Luggie Water which it had been built to cross wasn’t visible underneath – that had been culverted under the aqueduct so that a railway line could be built through the arch. The railway line had gone but the path in its place had been resurfaced with railway track patterns in the stone work. I took my fourth and final photo of the day, then we returned to the canal, where there was more rain waiting for us.

Luggie Aqueduct

Pretty soon we were out in the country again, following the canal through open fields, with very few features along the way. The next bridge, Twechar Bridge, was only a few miles east of Kirkintilloch but it seemed to take us ages to get to it. At times the towpath shared its course with a minor road which was harder on the feet and meant we had to be on the lookout for cars. Eventually we started to suspect that the village of Twechar was actually getting further away from us the more we walked towards it. Then it suddenly “appeared” in front of Chris as she tried to unobtrusively relieve herself. She came back to where Ian and I were waiting and reported that she had found it.

I was starting to flag by this time. We’d already walked about 14 miles, further than I’d ever walked in one go before, and although the scenery was pleasant enough, there wasn’t really enough canal infrastructure on this section to spur me on to keep going. So when Ian suggested we leave the canal at the next bridge (Auchinstarry) and make our way home from Kilsyth, I agreed. The next suitable stopping point was several miles further on and I wasn’t sure if I could manage that, Dextrosol or no Dextrosol.

Kilsyth wasn’t too far away, just a short walk to the north along a B road. When we reached the main street, Ian sprinted across the road in front of a huge lorry to ask a passer by what time the next Falkirk bus was due. (“I thought I was going to collect my insurance money there!” said Chris, grinning, as we followed Ian slightly more carefully). Apparently the bus was due soon after 5pm… that wasn’t too bad, it was nearly 5 already. We settled down on the bench in the bus shelter, glad to take the weight off our weary feet for a few minutes.

But it turned out to be a lot longer than a few minutes! 5pm came and went with no sign of the bus. By 5.30pm we were starting to get a little restless, but since it was 1994 and smartphones and bus trackers were yet to be invented, there wasn’t a lot we could do except continue to wait. By 6pm I was starting to wonder whether I would have to live out the rest of my life in this slightly grotty bus shelter, and whether the old woman who kept smiling out of the window of a nearby flat was laughing at us.

Finally at twenty past six or so, a bus trundled round the corner. As we heaved ourself onto it, not sure whether to be annoyed at the wait or glad it was here at last, Ian asked what had happened to the 5pm bus. Apparently it had broken down. So much for buses being better than cars.

We had to change buses at Falkirk bus station. We had half an hour or so before the Edinburgh bus was due, which meant there was time for Chris and I to make use of a funny looking automatic public loo (quite a novelty in those days), and then for us all to go to a nearby cafe while we waited. Chris and I just had hot drinks, but Ian was hungry and ordered a chip butty. I’d never heard of such a thing before and was quite amazed to find, when it arrived, that it was exactly like its name suggested. I decided I quite liked the look of it and half wished I’d ordered one myself.

Despite having had half an hour to spare, we still managed to nearly miss the Edinburgh bus. This was one of the more memorable bus journeys of my life; almost all the other passengers seemed to know each other and the driver and were chatting to each other the whole way, making us feel a bit like we were intruding on some private gathering. The only other person who didn’t appear to be part of this cosy little community was a middle aged man sitting near Ian, Chris and me. He spent most of the journey staring at us and laughing whenever one of us spoke. Luckily I was feeling pretty out of it after my long day and all the fresh air and exercise, so I was happy to just sit there and let it all wash over me. Even so it was a relief when we got off into the comparative sanity of my own neighbourhood.

Despite the rain and the travel difficulties, I think I actually enjoyed this walk the most out of the three. It was a nice picturesque stretch of canal and satisfying to walk so much of it in one go.

Bowling to Glasgow canal walk (with “vintage” photos)

When I checked the date this morning I realised it’s exactly 25 years since a day I’ll always look back on fondly. On Saturday 20th November 1993, I walked from Bowling to Glasgow along the Forth and Clyde Canal with my uncle and auntie, Ian and Chris. It was part of my 14th birthday present from them. I could also have chosen a geological expedition in the Pentlands, a meal out, or suggested something myself, all of which would have been fun, but it didn’t take me long to decide on the canal walk.

(I’ll just acknowledge right now that walking 12 miles along a derelict canal in the freezing cold wouldn’t have been most 14 year olds’ idea of fun, and also that most 39 year olds probably wouldn’t remember the exact date of said walk 25 years later. But then as you probably already know if you’re reading this blog, I’m not most people).

As soon as we’d arranged to do the walk, I couldn’t wait for the day to arrive. My mum and brother and I (well, mostly my mum and I, I think my brother was just dragged unwillingly along) had been walking the Union Canal in stages of a mile or two for a few years and had completed most of it by that time. I think we’d done all the way from Edinburgh to about Polmont and probably would have already finished the whole thing if I hadn’t broken my arm falling over a fence a few weeks earlier. I always enjoyed exploring each new section, seeing what it would be like… the forgotten mossy bridges, the overgrown reed-filled basins, the silted up culverts.

But this walk was going to be even better. For a start, we were walking a full 12 miles, further than I’d ever walked in one go before, and that meant a whole 12 miles of canal to explore rather than the usual one or two! Secondly, I barely knew the Forth and Clyde Canal at all so it would all be completely new to me. Thirdly, going right over to the other side of the country, especially to Glasgow, felt very adventurous to me back then. And fourthly, I always enjoyed spending time with Ian and Chris no matter what we were doing.

I’d got a new camera for my birthday so I was taking plenty of photos along the way. It wasn’t the best camera and I wasn’t the best photographer, but it’s still interesting to look back at what the canal was like in those days, as it’s changed quite a lot since then. So I’ve scanned the whole lot.

When Saturday 20th dawned, I was glad to see that it was perfect weather for walking – cold but clear, with no rain and little wind. Ian and Chris (and Ben, their very excitable black labrador, who was also coming with us) picked me up first thing in the morning and Ian drove us all through to Bowling on the Clyde, via the M8 and the Erskine Bridge. On the way through I looked with interest at the map they’d brought, trying to work out the route we were going to be walking. I liked maps and already had quite a few of my own, but I didn’t have that one yet.

Bowling basin

At Bowling we parked in the station car park (an ideal location as we planned to get the train back to Bowling at the end of the day) and found the canal quite easily. Although most of the canal had been closed for 30 years, the first part was still open so that boats from the Clyde could moor there, and there were lots of them in the terminal basin by the sea lock. The towpath that we would be following for the next 12 miles led invitingly off under a large disused railway bridge at the east end of the basin and, after I’d taken my first photo of the day, we were off!

Now that we’d actually started, the walk somehow felt even longer. Even the Erskine Bridge, which passed over the canal a mile or so ahead of us, looked a long way away to me now. The canal was very different to the one I was used to; unlike the Union Canal it was built to take sea going ships, so it was much wider, and the bridges were lift or swing bridges rather than stone arches. The first couple of miles of our walk had a pleasantly open and rural feel, the canal threading its way along the bank of the River Clyde next to a nature reserve and an overgrown disused railway line.

Dalmuir Bridge, where the drop lock is now

The character of the canal changed completely at Dalmuir, where it swung away from the river and was promptly blocked by the very busy Dumbarton Road. I didn’t know then that within a few short years the canal would be reopened, with Britain’s only “drop lock” installed here to take boats underneath the low road. At the time I was just glad to see that there was a pedestrian crossing to help us cross the busy road and get back onto the towpath again. The rural feel had gone completely and there were now houses on both sides.

By this time we were starting to get hungry, probably due to a combination of the cold and the exercise. Chris had originally suggested we have lunch at the Lock 27 pub, but that was still miles away. Thankfully the huge Clyde Shopping Centre was just beyond the next road crossing, so we left the canal there to go and find something to eat.

Clyde Shopping Centre

(Chris had told me before the walk that the canal went underneath a shopping centre at one point and I’d been looking forward to seeing that, but when we got there I found the reality of it a little disappointing. I’d pictured a huge building soaring high over the canal, with shoppers peering down at us from elevated walkways as we walked along beside it. In reality it was really just a covered footbridge across the canal, linking the two parts of the shopping centre on either side. But there was a cafe that served bacon and chips and I wasn’t complaining about that).

I wolfed down my lunch pretty quickly, then drew a rough map of what we’d walked so far while I waited for Ian and Chris to finish their coffee. I was enjoying myself immensely so far, and I knew that the longer and more interesting part of the walk was still to come – I couldn’t wait to get back to it! Once we’d retrieved Ben from where Chris had tied him up (someone had been feeding him dog biscuits but he obviously hadn’t liked the pink ones, which were still lying intact among the crumbs of the other colours), we returned to the towpath and to our walk. As we left the shopping centre behind I wondered what the huge “boat” was sitting on the far side of the canal – I later found out that it was a fish and chip shop!

Linnvale Bascule Bridge (and Ben)

The next section of canal through Clydebank mostly flowed through quite an open, green area – it was nicer than what I’d expected from Clydebank, at any rate! Some of the original little wooden lifting “bascule” bridges were still there, but the newer roads mostly just crossed on embankments, the water channelled into pipes or weirs underneath – there was no chance of getting a boat through this section any time soon.

Lock 35, with Ben and Chris

There were also quite a few locks, which I found interesting as I hadn’t seen many locks before, the Union Canal not having any, so I lagged behind with Ben and had a closer look at them while Ian and Chris walked on. The old wooden gates mostly looked in a pretty bad state, and had been cut down to the minimum size needed to hold back the water now that the canal was no longer in use.

Great Western Road infill

At one point we had to climb up an embankment and cross a busy dual carriageway, Great Western Road. On the other side the canal was piped for about half a mile so we had a little canal-less walk through some trees and then up through two dry, half-buried lock chambers that had been made into a little park. Ian was amused by a heritage sign that had been put up by British Waterways or some similar organisation that said “Forth and Clyde Canal” with “in culvert” in very small letters underneath, because there was no sign of any canal!

Temple Lift Bridge

After the canal re-appeared, we passed a few more dilapidated locks, but at least these ones had water in them. We were well into the suburbs of Glasgow now and the towpath was quite busy with local people walking their dogs or using the towpath as a shortcut. Lock 27, with its eponymous pub, was just past a huge metal lifting bridge carrying Bearsden Road at Temple. I think it was about 3pm by the time we got here, so I was glad we hadn’t waited this long to have lunch! We stopped for a little rest on a convenient bench and I loaded a new film into my camera, having finished the previous one.

Cleveden Road culvert

I was surprised to see that the next bridge looked from a distance as if it was arched, though too low for anything bigger than a canoe to get under it. As we got closer it turned out to actually be a modern corrugated iron culvert, so again we had a road to cross (you can see Chris putting Ben’s lead on ready for the road in the photo above).

Ian, Chris and Ben at the Kelvin Aqueduct

Now we were nearly at the part of the walk I’d been looking forward to the most: the Kelvin Aqueduct! After walking across the top and admiring the views down the river valley, we went down underneath it so I could take some photos of it from below. It wasn’t as long or as tall as the Union Canal’s three aqueducts, but it was impressively huge and solid. (I think it was actually easier to get decent photos of it back then that it is now – there were fewer trees in the way!).

View from Kelvin Aqueduct

I also took a photo of the view from the top. I remember noticing the bridge piers a little way downstream and wondering what they were for. Little did I know they used to carry a railway line into the Kelvindale Tunnel, which I would explore nearly 19 years later.

Maryhill Locks

Just beyond the aqueduct was the final lock flight of our day. It was also the steepest climb of the day since there were 5 locks in quick succession here. They were a bit different from the other ones I saw that day since they’d recently been restored to working order, with new metal gates and smart black and white paint. (They also might look familiar to Still Game fans!).

Stockingfield Junction

It was starting to get dark by this time, but I’d still been hoping to take a few more photos. Imagine my annoyance when my camera decided the film was finished and it was going to rewind it, after I’d taken this picture of Stockingfield Junction (where a 2 mile branch into Glasgow city centre meets the main canal). I’d just put in what was supposed to be a 24 exposure film and I’d only got 9 photos out of it. I was hoping it was just a freak film but it turned out to be a recurring problem with that camera.

Anyway, after we’d finished discussing the annoying behaviour of my camera, we turned our attention to the rest of the walk. Ian said that if I was tired we could leave the canal here and get the bus the rest of the way to the station, but I was still feeling fine and was happy to carry on walking. (As luck would have it, I then did start to feel really tired a few hundred yards further on, but I didn’t like to say anything at that point!).

The Glasgow branch turned out to be pretty interesting. There were no more locks, but there were a couple of bridges which had been rebuilt in a modern concrete Charles Rennie Mackintosh-inspired style in order to reopen this section of the canal. (Previously they’d been low bridges or culverts that would have been impossible to sail under). There were also several aqueducts over roads, as this part of the canal was high up on an embankment above the surrounding city.

We passed the Partick Thistle football stadium at Firhill. There was a match on, and some people were sitting up on the embankment so that they could see the pitch. Ian wanted to stay and watch the game but Chris and I, who had no interest in football, wouldn’t let him. We also passed a basin filled with colourful boats, the first boats we’d actually seen since Bowling (other than the fish and chip boat at Clydebank). It was now starting to get properly dark.

Finally, we rounded a corner and at the end of a cobbled wharf was… the end of the canal! It was weird to see it suddenly just stop after following it all day. We stood there a while getting our breath back and looking out over the lights of the city below us. We’d made it.

Now it was time for the next challenge: finding Queen Street Station so that we could catch a train back to Bowling where we’d left the car. Fortunately this was easy enough, and soon we were sitting on one of the low level platforms waiting for the train and eating what was left of the food we’d brought. (After that night I had quite a vivid memory of the low level platforms at Queen Street, though I hadn’t realised there was also a high level station, so I was quite perplexed when I got the train through from Edinburgh the following year and the station looked nothing like I remembered. It was years before I finally found myself in the low level part again and thought “Yes! This is the place I remember!”). When the train came, it only took a few minutes to cover the distance it had taken us all day to walk.

It had been a great day out and had more than lived up to my expectations, as evidenced by the fact I still remember it so well 25 years later! It ended up being the first of three walks, as I ended up walking the whole canal with Ian and Chris between 1993 and 1995. The other two walks were just as enjoyable so maybe I’ll write about them as well when their 25 year anniversaries come around… but for now, thanks for reading 🙂 .

In memory of Ian Ogilvy Morrison, 1950-2006.

 

A little light relief

This blog’s been getting a bit intense lately… a lot of the last few entries have been long rants in response to things that have annoyed me.That’s fair enough, one of the reasons I started the blog was so I’d have somewhere to post those, but it was also to give me somewhere to write about more light-hearted and fun stuff that interests me. So here’s a post about my walk today. Look, this one even has pictures!

View from Almond Aqueduct

I couldn’t decide what to do with myself today. Laura’s out at her hen do (much more of an event than my “stag do” was, it would seem!) and Alex is through in Glasgow editing, so I couldn’t do anything with them. I’ve been exhausted all week and I’m away in Sweden most of next week so I didn’t want to overdo things, but at the same time I felt like getting outside and taking some photos, something I haven’t done enough of lately. In fact I sort of felt like doing an explore, only I wasn’t in the mood to drive far or to risk a confrontation if things went wrong, which ruled out most of the sites on my list.

Then I remembered about this walk I’d been meaning to do again for a while, from the Almond Aqueduct on the Union Canal, down the river to the next couple of bridges. Alex, Gavin and I did it about five years ago (I’m not sure why, I think we were just bored and looking for something to do) and I enjoyed it a lot. It felt surprisingly adventurous considering how close to home it was – although that was before I started clambering into derelict hospital buildings and railway tunnels for fun, so my threshold for what constitutes “adventurous” has probably gone up somewhat in the meantime. But anyway. I decided it would be worth trying it again. I might get some better shots of the bridges now I had an SLR, at least.

Canal Feeder

After stress testing my new car’s suspension on the impressive collection of potholes on the access road, I reached the start of my walk: the Almond Aqueduct. Back when I first got interested in bridges and canals and stuff, this used to be my favourite bridge. Although the Avon Aqueduct on the other side of West Lothian is much bigger and more impressive, there’s something very nice about the setting of the Almond one, and it’s also impressive in its own right (though annoyingly hard to get good photos of, I discovered!).

Almond Aqueduct top

As I went down underneath to cross to the north side of the canal where the towpath is, I noticed that the access gate into the interior of the structure was open. I probably would have had a peek inside if I could, but it’s pretty high off the ground so I wouldn’t be able to get in there without some sort of equipment. This video, on one of the best YouTube channels ever, gives a pretty good impression of what it’s like in there.

Almond Aqueduct Access Gate

At the far side of the aqueduct, I turned off into the trees, along a rough track which may or may not actually be a path. (One of the nice things about Scotland is that thanks to the right to roam, you don’t need to worry too much about whether something is or isn’t a path – as long as you don’t damage anything or walk into a live military or transport site, you can pretty much go wherever you want). The first part of the walk was a gentle, quite picturesque stroll through the trees, with the river down a steep bank to my right.

Woodland stream

The last time we were here, I actually saw a deer cross the path ahead of us and then swim across the river. Unfortunately I couldn’t get my phone camera ready in time, but it was amazing even just to see it – I normally think of deer as being something you get up in the Highlands rather than something you can see while walking through a narrow strip of woodland only a few miles from home. I didn’t think I’d be so lucky a second time, and indeed I wasn’t. I did see quite a large bird of prey, but it had disappeared into the woods before I even had time to get my lens cap off.

(Speaking of last time, I’m sure we also had an orange helium balloon with us when we did this walk before. I think Gavin had insisted on stopping for ice cream at the Newbridge McDonalds on the way and had somehow acquired it in there. As you can probably guess, it didn’t survive the walk).

Mill lade entrance

The path got narrower, more hilly and more muddy as I walked further from the canal. I seemed more difficult going than I’d remembered, but maybe that’s just because I was on my own this time. About halfway along was a feature I remembered: an old mill lade, now so full of earth and vegetation that the water wasn’t high enough to get into it anymore. Next to it was a very rough, but still clearly manmade, weir in the river itself. I was curious about this so I checked an old map when I got home… the lade used to run for quite a distance, powering a mill called Bird’s Mill, roughly where the viaduct of that name stands today (more on that later).

Old Mill Lade

Part of the lade, though, has been obliterated by construction of the M8, which crosses the river on a high concrete bridge. The area around this bridge always feels curiously desolate to me, I guess because it’s quite difficult to get to, and the quiet and stillness down below contrasts nicely with the traffic constantly thundering over the top. Thousands of vehicles a day pass overhead, but I wonder how many people have stood underneath since I was last here five years ago?

Under the M8

There’s only one bit of graffiti on the bridge (that I noticed, anyway), and it hasn’t changed in the five years since I was last here. I remember we found it strangely unnerving. There is a lot of rubbish either side of the bridge, but none at all actually underneath, indicating that it’s all been thrown down from the road above rather than dropped by anyone on foot.

Graffiti

Just beyond the M8 bridge is an older, slightly nicer looking bridge: the Bird’s Mill Viaduct. Until recently this carried a fairly minor single track branch line from the main Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway to Bathgate; but in late 2010, the previously-closed line was reopened from Bathgate to Airdrie, and the whole route was electrified and double tracked at the same time, creating a new line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so frequent electric trains now pass over the viaduct.

Birds Mill Viaduct

It was annoyingly difficult to get decent photos of the viaduct due to all the surrounding trees. This was about the best I could do.

At this point I retraced my steps back to the car, not wanting to overdo things. As I picked my way slowly up a slightly precarious slope, with the river quite a way down a steep bank to my left, it struck me that this walk is probably actually more dangerous than some of the urban explores I’ve done (you’d have to try quite hard to come to any significant harm in Kelvindale Tunnel, for example), Yet if you tell people you’re going for a walk by the river they go “Ooh, that’s nice”, but if you tell them you’re going in an abandoned rail tunnel they look horrified!

I enjoyed my day out and I’m glad I decided to do this walk again. I didn’t get as good photos as I’d hoped, though; too many trees in the way of the bridges. This was the best shot I could get of the Almond Aqueduct from my path.

Almond Aqueduct

On the way home, I stopped off to do something I’d been meaning to do for a while: namely, take photos of the new Edinburgh Gateway station that’s currently under construction at Gogar. (My interest in railways is starting to get out of control now. Yesterday I spent a whole 20 minutes watching a YouTube documentary about the Intercity 125 on our new Chromecast – this one, if you’re interested).

Edinburgh Gateway Station

The works currently underway to build an underpass so that people can safely cross the road to get to the station made it nearly impossible for me to safely cross the road to get to the station.

 

Geocaching!

I’d been meaning to try Geocaching for a while… the combination of exploring places close to home that you wouldn’t normally go and messing around with technology in the process really appealed to me right from when I first heard about it. So when, during a late-night discussion of what we were going to do the next day, Gavin suggested we try geocaching, I was very excited.

Big sticks are essential geocaching equipment.

We decided to meet at Tesco at 1pm to buy supplies, then head off to Cammo for a walk and see if there were any caches near there. I think we all assumed someone else would take care of signing up for an account on geocaching.com and looking for caches in the right area and finding the GPS co-ordinates and all that stuff. But when we met up no-one actually had. One smart phone to the rescue, and soon we were on our way.

Gavin thought the geocache might be in there. It wasn't.

After getting parked and eating my sandwiches, I fired up the phone again and checked for caches nearby. There were several, more than we’d expected. Initially we were going to go for one at a nearby bridge as I knew roughly where it was, but we were tempted by a slightly further away one that was apparently full of CDs and DVDs instead. (Gavin was excited by the prospect of possibly finding a Nutty Professor DVD so we had to give him that chance).

First part of the route was straightforward enough… just down to the river and along. I hadn’t been that way in a long time so it was nice just to see it again. As we walked I messed around with my phone trying to find a good way of downloading the geocache’s co-ordinates. In the end I settled for just memorising them and then staring at the GPS app as our location gradually closed in on the cache’s. There’s probably a more high tech way of doing it but this way was quite fun.

Past Cramond Brig we took a wrong turn or two and the geocache web page decided to choose the worst moment to stop responding so we couldn’t check where we were supposed to have gone. But after retracing our steps and walking another few minutes we were looking at exactly the view in the photo on the web page. We knew we were close! I charged off into the trees, watching the GPS intently as the numbers counted down to the ones fixed in my head. Once again I made the mistake of paying too much attention to my phone and not enough to the real world, and walked straight past the cache without seeing it. But Alex had no phone to distract him… and he found it!

Alex finds the cache!

It was a big metal ammunition box. It reminded me slightly of the ammo dumps in an old board game I used to like (“Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs”), except those didn’t have “Geocache” written on the side in big white letters. Excitedly we pulled it open as Laura and Gavin, who’d been waiting to see if we were actually in the right place before getting too muddy, joined us. Sure enough, there was a big stack of CDs in there! We wrote our names in the log book and had a flick through the previous entries. This cache has been there quite a while, with log entries going back nearly 3 years. No Nutty Professor DVD sadly, but Gavin did pick out a CD (“This can be our geocaching CD!”) and we rummaged through our pockets and bags for something suitable to leave in exchange, but couldn’t find anything. (The general rules say you’re supposed to leave something of equal or better value, but this cache specifically said there was no need to because it’s usually so full of discs anyway, so we didn’t feel too bad. Though I still intend to go back and put something in there at some point).

What's inside?

We packed away the cache and put it back where we found it. All in all this was a pretty successful and fun start to the world of geocaching… I think I could easily get hooked on this, especially as everywhere I search there seem to be loads nearby! We were tempted to go and look for another one straight away but we were running out of daylight and out of time. We had to go and help Gavin’s Dad move his pool table instead, which is a long story (involving brittle slate tops that weigh as much as 3 people, one lift that the table would fit into with less than an inch to spare, a second lift that we discovered too late was an inch smaller than the first one, a garage door that stubbornly refused to open when we needed it most, and a long diversion route around the streets and up fifteen flights of stairs. Yes, fifteen… in fact, thirty if you count the little half-flights individually). On the plus side I did get some amazing pictures from his balcony, if I can manage to get them together into a panorama I might post it.

MoleThrower records his visit for posterity

Update: went again today (11/2/2012), found 4 this time, around north east Edinburgh, and found lots of little corners of the city we never knew existed. Also found a very nice Android app (c:geo) that helped for finding them.

 

End of January update

Well, we’re already into the second month of 2012, and once again I can’t believe how fast it’s going :O

I’m going to try and regularly track my progress on my vague-sort-of-resolutions that I made earlier.

Goal setting: has been going ok. I’ve been setting myself weekly and monthly ones and mostly been keeping to them. I am generally much more organised and on top of things than I used to be even a few months ago. Maybe I’ll write about the things that helped me get here sometime. (I’m still a bit worried that my goals are a bit aimless and not really leading up to anything coherent, but I have some longer term ideas forming in my mind. Maybe I need to give them a bit more time to form).

Meditation: good, have been doing it a few times a week, will hopefully gradually increase it over time. Some days it really does seem to help.

Weight loss: not good… still slowly gaining 🙁 but I feel it’s low-ish on my priorities right now. I guess January is the best time of year for getting exercise if you prefer outdoor activities (which I do).

Concentrate on the people who are worth it: check 🙂

Piano playing: very pleased with this. It’s going better than it has in ages and I’m enjoying it a lot. I can play the Fugue in A Minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier book 1 reasonably well now, which I always thought would be beyond me. Also started on something else, but it maybe deserves its own post in a bit. And I have an interesting idea for a piano-computer hybrid project which I might get onto soon.

Dancing: another positive thing. Been back to dance class not once, not twice, but three times so far in 2012. Have also booked myself on two weekends away with the dance society, both in the next few weeks. So that’s something to look forward to.

Walking and photography: it’s not really the best time of year for it at the moment. But we did have our Stirling weekend, and planning a Glasgow museum visit tomorrow.

Creativity: paid work projects are going pretty well (though very busy – I now have 3 separate things to work on, where I previously had only one. It’s lucky the two new ones are both things I can get really excited about). Spare time programming projects are going ok, though I’ve possibly bitten off more than I can chew with the latest one. On the minus side I haven’t written as much (or as interesting) stuff as I wanted on here. I do have a list of ideas though, so maybe I’ll get round to putting up something more substantial soon.

Gigs: got two gigs booked so far (Fascinating Aida and Derren Brown) and about to book another one (Ross Noble, without a doubt my favourite stand-up comedian of all time). Still want to do a festival this year as well.

Other stuff: I’ve been cooking a lot more food from scratch, partly thanks to being in a relationship with someone who does it all the time, partly thanks to the lovely recipe books I got for my last birthday and Christmas from several people, and partly just because I’ve been meaning to for ages. I’m not sure it’s actually any cheaper or healthier than my previous diet, but it’s certainly more fun and tastes a lot nicer.

(On the subject of new year and resolutions and all that, I found this post on one of the blogs I like to read very inspiring. Plus I can always get behind anything that encourages me to act like a big kid 😉 ).

The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond

Been a busy weekend. Last night was Gavin’s 21st birthday party. (His actual birthday was over 2 months ago but I’m sure you’ll all agree, that’s no excuse for not having a party). I managed to keep to my resolve not to drink for the moment, and I feel it would be unfair of me to recount the drinking games from the point of view of a sober person. So I won’t.

Handily, staying over at Gavin’s meant I was much closer to Loch Lomond for my walk today than I would have been at home. Not so handily, I only managed to get about 3 hours of sleep… but I felt surprisingly OK. The weather looked promising as I set out towards the Erskine Bridge. I soon found I’d massively overestimated how long it would take to get there – only 9 miles remaining to Balloch and still an hour til the meeting time. So I tried not to think longingly of the precious extra minutes of sleep I could have had, and instead turned off into Bowling to have a wander round the western terminal of the Forth and Clyde Canal and take some pics.


Looking up the Clyde to the Erskine Bridge, which I’d just crossed.


The canal basin itself. Bowling is sort of special to me, in a bittersweet kind of way. Some of my favourite days out ever were when I walked the whole of the canal with my uncle and auntie as a teenager, and Bowling was where we started one crisp November morning. (I say bittersweet because my uncle died suddenly at a young age a few years ago. Coming to Bowling always reminds me of him and the best of the time we spent together. So far every time I come it seems quiet and still and cold and bright just as it was that day, and makes me feel happy and sad at the same time. Rest in peace Ian).


Looking down the Clyde now. Looking like a good day for a walk.

After I’d passed enough time wandering round the basin and finding somewhere to get a coffee, I got back in my car and headed to Balloch. I didn’t remember much of the place, which maybe wasn’t surprising since I think it was 1991 when I was last there, and Lomond Shores hadn’t even been built. But the loch was still the same.

(Ben Lomond in the distance looks much clearer than it was when we climbed it back in June and I took this photograph from the summit. Yes, that is a real photo. I have a similar one taken from the top of Ben Nevis as well).

After meeting the others (small group today… only 4 of us) our first stop was the cafe, then we went for a wander along the shore. I’m more or less over my swan phobia now, which is a good thing considering I like walking by water so much.

We decided to head up to the castle we could see in the distance and have a closer look at it. That meant walking down the River Leven to cross it at the bridge in Balloch, then back up the other side. There were loads of boats of all shapes, sizes and states of repair moored there, though not many actually moving at this time of year.

The castle was all closed up and fenced off, looking as if it needs some work. For some reason that made me really want to get inside and explore it, whereas if it had been open to the public I probably wouldn’t have been all that bothered. That’s the way my contrary mind seems to work.

But I contented myself with photographing its features from the outside. A bright sunny morning with lots of families walking past is no time for exploring semi-derelict buildings, anyway.

Finally, on our way back towards Balloch itself, we saw the walled garden.

We were very lucky indeed with the weather… it was actually warm enough to sit outside for a while.

The walk was rounded off nicely with a snack in The Tullie Inn, then I decided it was time to leave before last night caught up with me and I got too sleepy to drive. It was a good day. Thanks Charlene for organising :).

(The car seems to be enjoying its new spark plugs. It got 56 miles per gallon on the way home from Balloch which is more than usual and not bad at all for a petrol car of its age and size. Unfortunately though the passenger door is now resolutely refusing to open so maybe I’ll be posting about car maintenance again sooner than planned).