Union Canal section 5: Calder Crescent to Hermiston

This was definitely the most miserable weather we’d had for one of these walks yet, but I decided I was going to do it anyway rather than be cooped up in the house, for the sake of my sanity. My 21 month old son, though, had the right idea; previously he’s been happy to toddle along on his reins at least for the first part of each walk, but this time he was having none of it and immediately demanded to be put in his cosy buggy with the waterproof cover over it.

We started from the car park at Calder Crescent and walked back a little way to the Westburn Footbridge where we finished the last walk, then set off back the other way for our main walk. Unlike the last, this stretch of canal hasn’t changed hugely since I first walked it 30 years ago, though there have been some additions. The first is the Bridge 8 Hub by the car park, where it’s now possible to hire canoes and kayaks for fun on the water. They’re closed at the moment due to Covid-19, but it’s still possible to admire the beautiful wildlife murals painted on some of their storage containers.

Colourful containers and pretty carvings at Bridge 8 Hub
Colourful containers and pretty carvings at Bridge 8 Hub

Bridge 8 itself is a bit to the north, now sandwiched between the two utilitarian concrete bridges that replaced it. Although the canal runs mainly east-to-west, a few hundred yards here runs north-to-south: the lack of locks on the Union Canal means that it tends to wiggle about more than most canals do in order to keep on the same level, as well as making heavy use of embankments, cuttings and aqueducts.

Bridge 8 from underneath its replacement
Bridge 8 from underneath its replacement

Speaking of aqueducts, there’s an interesting one just after the canal rounds the corner to head west again, a modern concrete one crossing over the very busy Edinburgh City Bypass. This road very nearly spelled disaster for the canal when it was first proposed in the 70s: the original plan was for it to cut across the then-derelict canal at water level, possibly putting an end to any hope of reopening the waterway into Edinburgh, or at least making this prohibitively expensive. But various canal users, enthusiasts and related organisations fought the proposals and won, the road authorities agreeing to put the road in a cutting so that it could pass under the canal instead.

Scott Russell Aqueduct
Top of Scott Russell Aqueduct with Edinburgh City Bypass down below

Originally the aqueduct was called the Hermiston Aqueduct after the nearby village, but it was later named the Scott Russell Aqueduct after an engineer called John Scott Russell. A quiet rural section of the Union Canal might seem an unlikely place for a major scientific discovery to happen, but he discovered the Solitary Wave here by observing the waves produced by passing boats soon after the canal opened. As well as the name plate on the aqueduct, there’s also a plaque on bridge 11 commemorating him.

Plaque on bridge 11
Plaque on bridge 11 commemorating John Scott Russell

The canal changes markedly in character once you cross the bypass. The houses and commercial buildings that have lined its banks since the beginning are replaced by open fields. The bridges are different too – while most of the original stone arched canal bridges within Edinburgh have gone, from here onwards almost all of them survive. There are also a few new ones – bridge 10A at Gogar Station Road is a bit nicer than most of these, with its stone cladding and arched deck.

Bridge 10A at Gogar Station Road
Bridge 10A at Gogar Station Road

While the canal itself looks much the same here as it did in 1990, it doesn’t sound the same – the M8 motorway was extended in the mid-1990s and runs almost parallel to the canal, getting particularly close at bridge 12, resulting in a constant roar of traffic on what was once a fairly tranquil walk or sail. This is where we turned back, having finally had enough of the rain for one day.

Union Canal section 4: Wester Hailes

For the first time in my current attempt to walk the whole length of the canal, I’m deviating from the sections we walked the first time, 30 years ago. In fact, we didn’t walk this section at all first time round, but in our defence we did have a very good reason… there was no canal there back then!

Here’s the view at the end of Hailes Park back in the early 1990s…

Blockage on Union Canal at Wester Hailes
The canal disappeared into the Dumbryden Road embankment

and here’s roughly the same view this morning. Better, huh?

Union Canal at Dumbryden Road
Union Canal at Dumbryden Road

Just over a mile of the canal was filled in here in the late 1960s to make way for the new housing scheme at Wester Hailes. The water flow was maintained through large underground pipes, with a pumping station to keep it flowing to the now-cut-off city section. (Contrary to popular belief, canals aren’t stagnant; a lot of water actually flows through them every day, so if you block one off, this water still has to go somewhere). I once read somewhere that the original plan for the housing estate was to keep the canal as a sort of linear park, but after some boys drowned in the nearby Murray Burn, the plan was changed and both canal and burn were culverted instead.

But by the end of the century, things were changing. There was increasing momentum behind the idea of reopening the canal and eventually its owners succeeded in obtaining a large grant from the National Lottery’s Millennium Fund that would (along with funding from other organisations) completely reopen both the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal as well as linking them together with an impressive new rotating boat lift (which we’ll come to in another 28 miles or so). After two years of painstaking construction work and many millions of pounds spent, the pumps at Wester Hailes were switched off in the summer of 2001, the water flowing freely through a brand new canal channel instead.

Union Canal at Wester Hailes
Union Canal at Wester Hailes

Thankfully the canal mostly flowed under roads and green spaces rather than buildings, which made restoration easier and less disruptive than it might have been. The only demolition required was an internet cafe and, other than at the west end where it’s been diverted slightly to the south to avoid Wester Hailes Education Centre’s playing fields, the restored canal mostly follows the same line as the original canal did before it was filled in.

I seem to talk about bridges in all of these posts, and this one will be no exception, not least because there are loads of them on this stretch of canal – six road bridges and seven footbridges, far more than anywhere else. The road bridges are all the same design as the one at Kingsknowe, though number 7 is noticeably chunkier since it carries the Wester Hailes Road dual carriageway. My favourite one, though, is this one next to Dumbryden Road, because it has a interesting story behind it.

Bridge rescued from inside embankment
The bridge that was rescued from inside an embankment

This wasn’t one of the original 62 canal bridges (you can tell as it’s lacking a number on the keystone), but it’s built to the same design so I think it’s a pretty early one. It also survived being buried in a road embankment for about 30 years! During that time, the only clue to its existence was a low, slightly curved stone wall next to Dumbryden Road that looked suspiciously like a standard Union Canal bridge parapet. The bridge was dug out and patched up during the restoration work and doesn’t look much the worse for its ordeal. The parapet on the other side, which would have been right under the road surface, was missing and a new one had to be constructed, though time has made the difference in the colour of the stone less obvious than it was at first.

You see a lot of dog walkers along this stretch, not surprisingly considering how much housing surrounds it. At one of the road bridges it appears some of the dogs couldn’t wait until the concrete surface on the towpath had set before using it.

Paw prints in the concrete
Paw prints in the concrete

Overall, putting the canal back seems to have been a success. It’s a nice green space for local people, especially now that it’s been here long enough for the vegetation to grow a bit, and obviously essential for boats to get in and out of Edinburgh. If its presence has caused major safety problems I haven’t heard about them – the water is pretty shallow with gently sloping sides and there are generally plenty of people around to help if anyone did get into trouble.

We turned back at the Westburn Footbridge where the former filled in section comes to an end and the original canal takes over. You can still see the entrance to the old culvert on the north side (you can at the other end too), but otherwise there’s not much indication now that this is anything other than a normal stretch of canal. Well, except for the big display board telling you about it, of course.

Culvert entrance
The entrance to the culvert that used to take the canal underneath Wester Hailes before it was reopened

Union Canal section 3: Slateford to Dumbryden

This canal walk starts off on a high – literally – with the Slateford Aqueduct, soaring far above the valley of the Water of Leith on eight elegant stone arches. On most canals an aqueduct of this size would be the undisputed king, but the Union has more than its fair share of impressive aqueducts and Slateford clocks in at only the second longest and third tallest. Though famous engineer Thomas Telford apparently thought it was the best aqueduct in the country when he inspected it, so I guess that counts for something.

Slateford Aqueduct
Slateford Aqueduct, with the bowling club in front and the railway viaduct behind

Like the first two this is a rerun of a walk I did about 30 years ago. The aqueduct is still the same as it was back then, but there have been changes down below, in the form of a new section of the Water of Leith walkway suspended over the river, with some quite steep steps linking up to the canal towpath. (I had to carry my son up and down these steps in his “lightweight” buggy, and can now confirm that just because the buggy is lightweight doesn’t mean the occupant is). I think this was one of the last sections of the river walkway to be completed, probably because the lack of space on the bank here for a path made it a bit tricky. It now stretches almost uninterrupted from Balerno all the way to Leith. There’s also a little visitor centre between the aqueduct and the main road here, but that was of course closed when I passed (along with just about everything else right now).

Slateford Aqueduct top
Slateford Aqueduct top, with overflow sluice gate on the left

This was a very green walk with the vegetation on both banks looking a bit overgrown. I guess the recent hot and wet weather coupled with lack of maintenance during the Covid-19 restrictions has probably caused that, but I did pass the Scottish Canals dredger on my way back along today so maybe they are getting back on top of things now.

Scottish Canals dredger
Scottish Canals dredger working on a very green canal

Two railway bridges cross the canal west of Slateford. The first carried the Balerno branch line which is now a walkway leading towards Colinton. One of our regular dog walks when I was a child was to park at Slateford, walk along the canal towpath to this bridge, then along the railway path, down into Craiglockhart Dell, and back to Slateford along the river. The other railway bridge is still in use and carries the West Coast Mainline, whose viaduct runs parallel to the canal aqueduct but at a lower level.

Balerno Branch bridge
Balerno Branch bridge

There’s a tiny aqueduct under the canal at Redhall between the two railway bridges, just a pedestrian tunnel really. I’m sure it used to be possible to walk through it, but it was flooded when I went down for a look today.

Bigger changes have happened round the corner at Kingsknowe. After the canal was closed, bridge 5 by the station was taken away and replaced by a road embankment, completely blocking the canal (though with large pipes under the surface to maintain the water flow). Several bridges along the route suffered the same fate, though this damage was eventually repaired. Thirty years ago we had to climb up the embankment and cross the road to continue our walk, but today I was able to walk under the reinstated bridge 5 instead.

Kingsknowe Road blockage
The old blockage at Kingsknowe, taken in the 1990s

These new bridges are all of the same style, with an “arch and keystone” effect cast into the concrete of the deck as a nod to the canal’s original stone arched bridges, and “MM” engraved on some of the pilasters, recognising that the largest portion of the money used to build them came from the National Lottery Millennium Fund.

Kingsknowe Bridge
The new bridge 5 at Kingsknowe

The work that had to be done to reopen the canal for navigation at Kingsknowe Bridge pales into insignificance compared to what was at the other end of Hailes Park… but that’s where I turned back today, so it will have to wait til next time.

Union Canal section 2 (Harrison Park to Slateford)

I walked the second section of the Union Canal today, from Harrison Park to Slateford. (See my first post for background on what I’m doing and why). Again this corresponded exactly to a section we walked back in 1989. For some reason I thought this stretch was much longer than the first one, but in reality it’s almost exactly the same length (about a mile).

Flats at Meggetland
I remember when this was all fields. OK, playing fields… but still…

This part of the canal, a pleasant meander through the suburbs of south west Edinburgh, really hasn’t changed very much at all in the last thirty years. It’s still quiet and pleasant and green, though slightly less green than it was past the Meggetland playing fields where several new blocks of flats have been built on what was once open grass. On the plus side, at least they’re reasonably nice looking compared to most modern flats, with their round towers and multicoloured brickwork. Another change (which applies to the whole urban portion of the canal) is that the towpath, once just a rough track, is now tarmacked and has LED lighting embedded in it, making walking the canal after dark much safer than it used to be.

Bridge 4 at Meggetland

There are three bridges over the canal between Harrison Park and Slateford, two of which are worth mentioning. The first of the canal’s original stone arched bridges survives next to Meggetland. When the route first opened there were 62 of these, 50 of which still stand today, which is not bad really considering it’s now two centuries since they were built. The one at Meggetland is number 4, with a handy new sign on it saying “Bridge 4” just in case the large “4” that’s always been carved onto the keystone wasn’t obvious enough. This bridge is no longer in use, having been bypassed by a nondescript new concrete bridge on the east side; all of the canal’s original bridges are now listed structures, so the ones that have required upgrading since the 1980s or so have their replacements alongside like this (prior to then the old bridge would just have been unceremoniously demolished, as most of the others within Edinburgh have been).

Allan Park Footbridge
Allan Park Footbridge, originally built as a tram bridge

There’s also an unassuming metal footbridge at Craiglockhart, which I only found out recently has more of a history than I’d realised. It was actually built originally to carry a tramway to Redford Barracks, which perhaps explains why it looks more substantial than most footbridges. The tram line was never finished and it was only ever used to carry water mains, which you can still see attached to it in the photo above.

Top of Prince Charlie Aqueduct

In addition to the overbridges, there are a couple of places on this section where another route passes underneath the canal. The first is where the Edinburgh South Suburban railway line tunnels under the canal (as well as a boathouse and Colinton Road) adjacent to the long-defunct Craiglockhart Station. This line is still used to allow freight trains to bypass Haymarket and Waverley, but hasn’t seen a passenger service since the 1960s.

Prince Charlie Aqueduct by night
Prince Charlie Aqueduct over Slateford Road by night

The canal also passes over Slateford Road on a wide single-arched, slightly art deco style concrete aqueduct which, as the inscription above the arch suggests, replaced the much narrower original stone aqueduct in 1937. The Union Canal is well known for its aqueducts and we’ll be seeing much more of them (including in the very next section, in fact!).

Lockdown Blog 3: Walking the Union Canal (the first mile)

For obvious reasons I can’t do my usual mix of day trips, weekends away, family holidays and so on this summer. So, while I have to admit that “making the best of a bad situation” doesn’t come easily to me, I’ve turned my attention to what I can do closer to home instead to try and preserve my sanity until things are a bit more normal. And one of my ideas was “Let’s walk the whole length of the Union Canal again”.

Lochrin Basin
Lochrin Basin at the eastern end of the Union Canal

I used to be a bit obsessed with canals and bridges and so on as a boy, and when I was about ten my mum (who liked to encourage this interest) suggested that we walk the whole of the canal (in sections, since 31 miles in one go would be a bit much!). In fact, we’d already tried to do something similar with the River Almond, but walking the canal would be a lot easier since it had a towpath all the way along. I was excited about this. I’d already visited a few locations along the canal and found them all interesting, so seeing the whole thing would be great.

We started the “Canal Expedition” as we called it at the Edinburgh end in the summer of 1989, which I can hardly believe is over 30 years go. We mostly walked sections of one or two miles at a time, though a few were longer, and our progress was very sporadic – if I remember rightly, we got about half way within a few months, but then didn’t do any more for several years, and it wasn’t until late 1994 that we triumphantly completed the final section, from Polmont to Falkirk.

Leamington Lift Bridge
Leamington Lift Bridge at some point in the 90s, before restoration

Once our strict lockdown ended and we were allowed to travel a bit for leisure again, I thought it would be interesting to do the same thing again now and see how much it’s changed 30 years on. I love the canal so obviously I have been back to it numerous times during the intervening decades, but this is the first time since then that I’ve actually set out to walk the whole thing from east to west. Right now, there’s still a 5 mile travel restriction in force in Scotland, so I’ll only be able to do the first few sections until this is relaxed, but the rest’ll give me something to look forward to. Anyway, enough of the preamble… on with the walk.

The first section I walked was from the Edinburgh terminus of the canal at Lochrin basin to Harrison Park, about a mile out from the city centre. It was exactly the same section we started with in 1989, but it’s changed a lot in the mean time. Back then it was still mostly unused and forgotten, the first few hundred yards surrounded by run down looking industrial buildings. It was also quite rare to see boats in this area – although the Edinburgh section of the canal was used sometimes by rowers and canoeists, there were no larger boats. Not surprising really, considering that at that time they would only have been able to sail a few miles before finding a road in their way (more on that later).

(Actually, I didn’t walk quite the same route this time; the first time around we started on Lothian Road, where the canal used to terminate at a large basin called Port Hopetoun before it was truncated to its present terminus in 1922. This time I didn’t bother with that and just started from Edinburgh Quay near Fountainbridge, since there’s nothing to see on Lothian Road other than a stone carving on one of the buildings commemorating the old port).

Boats moored near Viewforth
Boats moored near Viewforth

Today the area has been transformed. The canal was fully reopened in 2001 (though the link to the Forth and Clyde Canal wasn’t restored until the following year) and the newly created Edinburgh moorings are usually busy with colourful narrowboats, some privately owned and some community boats owned by organisations such as Re-Union. The old industrial buildings have been swept away and in their place are smart new blocks of housing, offices, bars and restaurants with open spaces allowing pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy the waterside. A lot of people were taking advantage of this opportunity at the same time as I was – I suspect it wouldn’t be so busy on a “normal” night with the pubs and restaurants open.

Further out, things start to feel a bit more closed in, with tenement blocks backing onto the canal on both sides. It opens up more again at Harrison Park, with the park itself on the north bank and larger suburban houses on the south. This area is definitely the prettiest part of the city section of canal with the picturesque church next to Harrison Road Bridge, the yellow boathouse at Ashley Terrace, and usually plenty of boats and wildlife on the water as well.

Ashley Terrace Boathouse
Ashley Terrace Boathouse at Harrison Park

The Union Canal has no locks except at its far western end near the Falkirk Wheel, so the most obvious canal features on this section are the bridges. There are five in total, all the same ones that were there when I first walked it, though the impressive Leamington Lift Bridge has been restored to full working order since then, and the metal bridges numbered 1, 2 and 3 have had a new coat of smart pale blue paint, having previously been quite drab looking. (Bonus geeky fact: if you’re wondering why the numbering doesn’t start at the first bridge, apparently the first few bridges at the Edinburgh end were originally built as little wooden drawbridges, and for some reason they had their own distinct numbering system, separate from the stone arched bridges used along the rest of the canal. So now you know).

I’ll hopefully be out again soon walking westwards from Harrison Park, so shouldn’t be too long until the next post.

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.

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.


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.



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.