Kilsyth to Falkirk Canal Walk

I didn’t have to wait as long between the last two walks as I had between the first two. We were keen to finish the canal now and, once the weather had started to get a bit better after winter, we arranged a date in late March 1995 to walk Kilsyth to Falkirk.

(Keen-eyed readers will note that technically that’s not the whole canal; it finishes in Grangemouth, not Falkirk. But I actually walked the section from Underwood Lock near Bonnybridge to Grangemouth only a few weeks before doing Kilsyth to Falkirk as part of a guided walk series, so I didn’t mind stopping a bit short with Ian and Chris. The last mile or so was filled in and culverted at that time anyway so there wasn’t a lot of canal stuff to see there).

I had mixed feelings as the day of the walk dawned. Of course I was looking forward to seeing more of the canal and spending another day with Ian and Chris, but I was a bit sad that this would be our last Forth and Clyde Canal walk, unless we decided to go back and do it again in the future which wouldn’t be quite the same. Also, what with this being a shorter walk and having already walked some of the route before, I decided it probably wouldn’t be as eventful as our first two walks, though I think I was wrong on that count in the end!

We’d done the second walk without a car or a dog, but both were now rejuvenated and were coming with us for the finale. I also had my own camera back again and planned to make up for the shortage of photos from the second walk by photographing practically everything on the third! As we sped along the M9 on our way to Falkirk (a novelty to me as my mother always preferred to take the back roads instead, leading me to think of places like Linlithgow and Falkirk as being much further away than they actually are), I was glad to see that it didn’t look as if it was going to rain this time. But then it hadn’t the second time either…

We had planned to leave the car at Falkirk Grahamston Station and get the train to Croy, then walk back. Unfortunately a broken down freight train was blocking the line so we decided we would have to get the bus instead. It was a while until the next one so we ended up in the same cafe as last time, but no chip butties were consumed this time. It was a bit too early in the morning for that.

It took so long for our drinks to arrive that we nearly missed the bus again, but soon we were safely seated up at the back, behind two teenage boys who were discussing the Simpsons. Ian decided that in the absence of chip butties he would have to start eating his packed lunch. I couldn’t really blame him; what with the train problems and the wait for the bus it was now a few hours since we’d left my house and we still hadn’t even seen the canal yet.

Kilsyth main street looked horribly familiar as the bus rounded the corner and pulled up at our stop. After last year’s experience we had no desire to look at it for any longer than necessary, so we turned away and headed down the side road that led to the canal. It seemed a much longer walk now than it had done last time, probably just because we were impatient to get on by this point. As we arrived at Auchinstarry Swing Bridge we saw that we weren’t the only people who’d given up our Saturday morning lie-ins to come to the canal: some canal society members were working on their boat, the Gipsy Princess, in the reedy basin next to the bridge.

Auchinstarry Bridge

After I’d taken photos of both the bridge and the boat, we (finally) set off eastwards. Although there was no rain, the wind was blowing in our faces, which was annoying. Chris said she’d planned all the walks so that the wind was likely to be on our backs, but it hadn’t worked today. I guess planning around the Scottish weather is never a very reliable proposition.

Gipsy Princess in her berth among the reeds. There’s a huge marina and The Boathouse restaurant here now

It didn’t take us long to reach the next bridge, at Craigmarloch. It wasn’t very much like I’d imagined. The books I’d read about the canal all made it sound like a really picturesque, significant place, I think mostly because the famous “Queen” pleasure steamers that used to sail out from Glasgow terminated here. But now, both the pavillion-type building used by the steamer passengers and the pretty little bascule bridge had gone, and Craigmarloch was just the point where a minor road crossed the canal on an anonymous concrete bridge. About the only mildly interesting thing left was the canal’s main water supply, which ran into it on the north side, the towpath crossing it on a little bridge.

Craigmarloch Bridge

Chris and I, having so far resisted the temptation to start on our packed lunches, were getting hungry by now, and since there was a little picnic site near the bridge, we decided to stop there and have our lunch. We had hoped to put a few more miles behind us first but the transport delays hadn’t been our fault and there was no point in walking along feeling hungry. While we ate we talked about the exams I had coming up at school, and Ian and Chris told me about what theirs had been like.

Beyond Craigmarloch, the canal widened out to maybe twice its normal width, and for a mile or two it cut dead straight across open country, looking quite impressive. This was Dullatur Bog which apparently gave the canal engineers a lot of headaches when they were trying to build through it. We saw some fishermen sitting in little tents on the grass verge away from the wind, their rods set up on the canal bank with some sort of electronic alarms that would trigger if a fish rose to the bait. This seemed pointless to us as we thought the point of fishing was to sit there holding your rod, but after we discussed it we came to the conclusion that the fishermen probably thought it was equally pointless for us to be walking along the canal.

Another thing I couldn’t understand was the rubbish. Even here, on one of the most remote stretches, people had dumped rubbish in the water, and there was even the remains of a television in the grass at the side of the towpath, which someone must have walked at least a mile from the nearest road in order to dump there.

The wide, straight, open section came to an end at Wyndford. The canal resumed its more usual proportions and finally curved again, and there were some trees around as well. There was also the first lock we’d seen all day, in fact the first one we’d passed since the Maryhill flight, way back on our first walk. There were more people fishing here, but unlike the ones we saw earlier they were doing it properly.

Wyndford Lock

Round another few bends was the A80, the main Glasgow to Stirling dual carriageway. The whole reason the canal was closed back in the 1960s was so that this road could be built across it without the expense of a huge lifting bridge, so it was kind of notorious among people who liked the canal. Fortunately we didn’t have to dodge 70mph traffic to continue our walk; there was a dingy little concrete underpass through the road embankment. Chris had described it to me before as being the kind of place where “there’s things in corners that you don’t look at”, but I didn’t think it was quite that bad. On the far side of the blockage, Ian and I both stood on the old metal swing bridge that used to carry the old A80 so that we could take photographs of the new one (not that it was particularly photogenic).

The notorious A80 obstruction

The old A80 swing bridge

As we walked on, we had to jump to the side quickly to avoid someone who was driving along the towpath to get to an old lock keeper’s cottage at the next lock. Like the Maryhill flight, these locks had been restored, and Ian couldn’t resist having a go of the new metal gates.

Lock 19 (with a blurry Ian, Chris and Ben)

“I’ve always wanted to do this”, he said as he heaved one of the lower gates open. “But I’ve never dared to on the Crinan Canal in case the lock keeper comes out and shouts at me”.

“Someone’ll probably come out of that house and shout at you in a minute!” said Chris.

I wanted to have a go too, so I closed the gate Ian had opened, while Chris stood there looking embarrassed. No-one came out and shouted at us, but we moved on all the same.

Lock 18, the one Ian and I played with. The photos from here onwards were taken by Ian, who had a proper camera and knew how to use it, so they’re a lot better than mine!

A few hundred yards further on was Underwood Lock, where I’d started my guided walk a few weeks earlier. So that was it: I’d seen the whole canal! We were starting to get hungry again after having our food so early in the walk, so we decided to go into the canal side pub in the old lock house and see if we could get a snack, or at least something to drink. It didn’t really have the homely-traditional-canal-pub vibe I’d been expecting and was actually quite a smart restaurant, with very tidy looking families enjoying their meals and looking surprised to see a bunch of scruffy walkers like us slouch in. After a few minutes of wandering around we couldn’t find any staff.

“They must have seen us coming and run away”, I said, as we gave up and returned to the towpath somewhat regretfully.

A little further on, on the far side of Bonnybridge (probably quite close to where the Falkirk Wheel is now in fact, though it was a pretty nondescript location back then), we decided to stop and have the remainder of our food and drink, not that there was much left by this time. This stop turned out to be the unexpected highlight of the day for me, although I’m not sure if Ian and Chris enjoyed it so much. We sat down on the bank of the canal with our legs dangling over the edge. The bank was pretty high at this point and several feet below was a narrow shelf of mud next to the canal itself. Ben looked wistfully down there, no doubt feeling thirsty and wishing he could drink from the cool water.

“I don’t think you can get down there, Ben”, began Ian, seeing what was about to happen, but it was too late. Ben took a flying leap over the bank and landed on the mud below with his head nearly in the water.

“Bloody hell, Ben!” said Chris.

“How’s he going to get back up?” I said, and then had a laughing fit.

Ben stuck down the bank

Ben seemed happy enough where he was for the moment, and at least it meant he could have a drink now, so we left him there while we had our drinks and snacks. At one point some people passed with a black labrador of their own, and that one jumped down next to Ben as well, so for a moment there were two of them down there! But the other dog, unlike Ben, was young and fit and managed to scramble back up the bank, leaving Ben well and truly stuck.

Chris readies herself for the rescue operation

Eventually, when we’d had enough and wanted to move on, Chris jumped down and hauled Ben back up the bank, while Ian took some action photos and I watched and laughed.

Up he comes!

Maybe it was the three cans of Irn Bru, or the constant wind that was blowing around my legs and making the canal water lap at the bank all day long, but I just could not stop needing to pee that day. I’m normally fine on long walks; I’m pretty sure I managed the Bowling to Glasgow walk fine with just a single toilet stop at the Clyde Shopping Centre, but for whatever reason this third walk was different. I found a secluded spot down an embankment near where Ben had his unexpected adventure, but no sooner had we resumed walking than I could feel the pressure starting to build again.

By the time we reached Falkirk and started to descend the lock flight towards Camelon Bridge, I was starting to look around anxiously for anywhere I could find a moment’s privacy, but there were houses and roads all around us now. It was just as well I knew this part of the canal quite well, having walked along it twice before, because right now I was too distracted by my bladder to take much of it in.

Me, Chris and Ben by lock 10, almost the very end of our Forth and Clyde Canal adventure

Finally, as we passed the little bridge over lock 8, I spied a wall with some trees behind it on the far side. That was good enough for me. I ran across the bridge and in between the wall and the trees, finally able to get some blessed relief. It was only after the urgent cries from my bladder subsided a little that I started to think: what is this place, anyway? It’s probably someone’s garden, isn’t it? But thankfully no-one seemed to notice me slinking sheepishly out again. (If you’re reading this now and it actually was your garden, all I can say is I’m sorry).

We left the canal about there. I probably would have insisted that we go right to the very end, even though it was just a crumbling weir surrounded by rusty fencing in a run down industrial area, but having already done that a few weeks ago I didn’t feel the need to inflict it on Ian and Chris now. Eventually we managed to find our way through the industrial estates of Falkirk to the Grahamston Station car park, where there was coffee for all of us waiting in a flask in the boot of the car (except for Ben who had the leftover milk). I’d only recently started drinking coffee, having decided that being wired on caffeine would be a good strategy for my upcoming exams.


So that was it. Three of the best days out of my life, which I’ll always remember fondly. Sadly we never did get around to doing any more walks together; both the Crinan Canal (which could be done in a single day, and indeed I did walk it in a single day on my own years later) and the West Highland Way were mentioned at various times, but we were never organised enough to actually do them. I did walk the central part of the Forth and Clyde Canal again with Ian about ten years after the initial walks, though; by that time it had reopened and was quite different from how I’d remembered it.


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.