Monday, 2 March 2020

Glasgow to Culross - Part 2. Kirkintilloch to Falkirk

At the end of last year I spent a few weekends running The Fife Pilgrim Way, a new long distance footpath from Culross to St Andrews. I enjoyed the challenge, particularly as it took me away from running my usual jogging routes again and again. So this year, to explore the rest of Central Scotland I plan to complete my run across Scotland, from the Ayrshire coast to the Fife coast at St Andrews.

This middle section takes me from the River Clyde in Glasgow to Culross on the banks of the River Forth.

Glasgow to Culross - Part 2 - Kirkintilloch to Falkirk

Last weekend I ran from Glasgow to Kirkintilloch along the tow path of the Forth and Clyde Canal. This week I continued upon my very literal cross country run, from Kirkintilloch to Falkirk. From Glasgow I hopped on the train at Queen Street, which takes about 10 minutes to get to Lenzie, and then jogged down to the centre of Kirkintilloch to rejoin the canal.

St Mary's Parish Church by the canal, Kirkintilloch

Kirkintilloch to Twechar

Soon leaving Kirkintilloch, the canal meanders through the countryside all the way to the River Carron at Grangemouth, just beyond Falkirk. The canal just out of Kirkintilloch is accompanied by the River Kelvin, which lies just to the north for about the next 5 miles. Beyond that can be seen the Campsies, a gently rolling range of hills that was formed from lava flows 300 million yeas ago. The Campsies have long been an easily reached rural escape for the people of Glasgow, and was where I first went camping with my school friends. The wee dusting of snow today is a hint of the Campsie Fells place in Scottish skiing history, where William Naismith made the first ever skiing expedition in Scotland, in 1890.

The River Kelvin and the Campsies, viewed from the Forth and Clyde Canal outside Kirkintilloch
The Forth and Clyde Canal was opened in 1790. It became a popular route for sea-going craft to get coast-to-coast, avoiding the treacherous seas around the north of Scotland. It was also used to transport cargo (woven cloth, timber, coal, pig iron, sandstone, and agricultural produce) across the country, and to and from sea ports, at a time when the roads were poor. With the arrival of the railways in the 1830s, and then over time improved road transport, the canal soon became an uneconomic way to travel.

Especially in Glasgow, there is still lots of evidence of the former industrial buildings that huddled by the canal, but coming along this way it is all now open countryside, a few former lock-keepers cottages and derelict buildings hinting at the former activity on the canal. The canal was closed to traffic in 1962 and when I used to live overlooking it in Maryhill in the 1970s it had basically become an open refuse tip. After much work it was re-opened to barges and boats in 2001 but there are ongoing battles still to maintain the funding to keep it open.

Derelict building beside the canal
Reaching Twechar I veered off to the right to take a short diversion to the local Roman fort. Twechar was a mining village. The first substantial pits here were dug in 1860 and mining continued until 1968. For at least 50 years much of the coal was transported away via the canal.

The Antonine Wall, marking the northernmost extent of the Roman Empire in Britain runs across Scotland from Old Kilpatrick in the west to Bo'ness in the east, and therefore runs alongside the canal for much of its route. Constructed around 142AD it was built, occupied and then abandoned by the Romans over a period of just 20 years. To the north of the wall was dug a ditch, 5 metres deep in parts, then the wall constructed with layers of turf on a stone foundation, with some possible wooden palisades on top. Along the length of the wall were built 17 major forts, plus additional "fortlets" which accommodated about 7000 men. South of the wall ran a military way, a road allowing soldiers and supplies to move swiftly along the wall. 

Bar Hill Fort at Twechar is the highest fort on the Antonine Wall, with impressive views east and west along the line of the wall. Although it is hard to imagine today the impact the arrival of the Roman garrison here had on the people living hereabouts, the buildings would have been unlike anything the locals had ever seen before. The headquarters building here, the principia, had rows of stone pillars and iron window grilles housing glass windows. These can all be seen at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. 

The principia at Bar Hill Fort, Twechar

Columns taken from Bar Hill Fort, now on display in Glasgow
The soldiers manning the fort at Bar Hill were initially Baetasian soldiers from Rhineland, and then later Hamian archers from western Syria. Among some of the archaeological finds were discovered north African style pottery, and it may be that some African soldiers had been recruited to the Baetasian ranks during their time fighting the Mauretanian War in modern day Morocco, before being transferred to modern day Twechar.

Gravestone of Salamanes
The gravestone above, now in the Hunterian Museum, was from Bar Hill. It is dedicated by a father to his fifteen year old son, Salamanes, a Semitic name, revealing the middle Eastern origins of this family. It is thought that his father was a merchant who had traveled here from his homeland to a civilian settlement adjoining the fort. Below is part of a gravestone from Bar Hill, a reclining man with what looks like a dog. 

Roman gravestone
The bath house at Bar Hill Fort is shown below, where soldiers would relax and play board games. Other objects from Bar Hill Fort that can be seen at The Hunterian are beautiful leather shoes from a man, woman and child (400 leather shoes have been found here on excavations), and a wine barrel with a bung hole in the side found in a rubbish pit, with its owner Januarius' name scrawled on the side. 

Bar Hill Fort bathouse

Roman shoes found at Bar Hill
Old wine barrel found in a rubbish pit at Bar Hill Fort
On an increasingly blustery February morning I imagined those shivering Baetasians or Hamians waking up for another day on patrol in this remote outpost of the Roman Empire as I jogged on east along the wall. Before getting back to the canal I followed a path from here that leads to Castle Hill, a rocky lump that was once home to an Iron Age fort 500-700 years before the Romans arrived. Getting back on track, I headed along the route of the Military Way, which lies just south of the Antonine Wall, and then via forestry roads to a path signposted for Auchinstarry. 

The Military Way leaving Bar Hill Fort, the Roman road behind their wall
Path down to Auchinstarry

Twechar to Bonnybridge

Getting back on the canal path I arrived at Auchinstarry which lies between Croy and Kilsyth. It is now home to a marina but it is also where Auchinstarry Quarry is found, a popular rock climbing spot. Just east from here on the canal was previously found Craigmarloch Basin. Now overgrown with weeds it is hard to spot, but from the 1890s until 1939 this was the terminus for pleasure cruises from Port Dundas in Glasgow. Steam ships such as the Fairy Queen and the Gipsy Queen. A tearoom here catered for the day-trippers, who could visit the putting green, play in the swingpark or take a picnic up the short walk to Croy Hill behind the tearoom. Nothing now remains, although plans are being submitted to try to restore the nearby canal stables, which date back to 1820.

Boats at Auchinstarry Marina
Pleasure boats at Craigmarloch Basin on the canal 100 years ago
I took a short diversion off to the left here to follow the River Kelvin to its source near the hamlet of Kelvinhead, 22 miles away from where the river joins the Clyde in Glasgow. Here it is little more than a babbling burn. I have no proof of the fact, but the Kelvinhead local community website claims that the village was the place where the first potatoes were grown in Scotland, the beginning of a long love affair between Scotland and the starchy tuber. 

Shortly after the Kelvin veers away from the canal we come to something that hasn't been passed on the canal since leaving Maryhill in Glasgow; a lock gate. The flat summit of the canal comes to an end here and we start to slowly descend towards Falkirk. The former lock-keeper's cottage, and stable block and inn across the canal have been converted here into private houses. 

The mighty River Kelvin near to its source, at Kelvinhead

Wyndford lock-keeper's cottage
Canal bird spotting. Cormorant, traffic cone, oyster-catchers and gulls.

Bonnybridge to Falkirk

Continuing east along the canal path you soon go under the M80 motorway near to the Castlecary arches, and with the handsomely named Bonny Water to the north of the canal instead of the River  Kelvin, we soon come into Bonnybridge. I had never been to Bonnybridge before, and unfortunately only knew it as the UFO-spotting capital of Scotland. Also I cannot help but pronounce its name in the style of "Stoneybridge" from the TV show Absolutely. A village has existed near the river crossing here for several centuries, but it was in the 19th century that it increased in size with people coming to work in the sawmill, paper mill and iron foundries that were being established.

In 1820 the last armed uprising on British soil took place, a year after the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester. A week of strikes and unrest led to workers marching in Strathaven, and another group marched towards the Carron Ironworks in Falkirk, intent on seizing weapons. This group , armed with a handful of muskets and pistols and homemade pikes, were led by John Baird, a weaver from Condorrat, and Andrew Hardie a weaver from Townhead in Glasgow. Both men had been soldiers in the recent Napoleonic Wars. On the outskirts of  Bonnybridge this small group of men rested in a field, at a place called Bonnymuir. The radicals had been heavily infiltrated by spies and agents provocateurs and the government forces knew of their plans. At Bonnymuir a detachment of Hussars on horseback attacked them in a sabre charge. Realising that it was a fight they could not win, the Radicals surrendered. Several men were injured and rumours of others being killed circulated widely. The captured Radicals were taken through a tunnel under the Forth and Clyde Canal here and marched to imprisonment in Stirling. The "Battle of Bonnymuir" took place on 5th April 1820, almost exactly 200 years ago.

In the following months 88 people were tried for treason. Many were deported to Australia. James Wilson of Strathaven was executed in August 1820, and upon 8th September 1820 John Baird and Andrew Hardie were executed in Stirling. Hanged and then posthumously beheaded. A small plaque at Stirling Tolbooth, and a monument in Paisley commemorate their deaths.

Radical Pend, Bonnybridge
The passageway, or "pend", that the prisoners were taken through on their way to Stirling Castle was renamed "Radical Pend" in 1981, and a plaque above the arch was unveiled by Winnie Ewing to mark the occasion. It is one of the oldest tunnels under the canal still in use, constructed in 1780. After running through this I tried to find the hillside known as Bonnymuir. Unfortunately I ended up on the wrong side of the railway tracks here and had to take a circuitous route to it, but I got there in the end. It did let me run past some fields filled with Highland coos, and barnacle geese, which was nice.

Memorial stone to the Battle of Bonnymuir
Is this the Radical Dyke?
A memorial stone at the side of the B816 now marks the spot where the "Radicals took cover behind a 5 foot high dry-stane dyke...later known as The Radical Dyke". I wandered into the field trying to find that radical dyke. I don't know if I saw it, or just a pile of stones, but I am glad that Andrew Hardie and John Baird are not forgotten. I have seen James Kelman talk several times, at book launches and the like, and he almost inevitably manages to get the topic of conversation around to our lack of knowledge in this country of our working class radical history. In fact he has previously written a play about these events "Hardie and Baird - The Last Days". It surely is due a revival on the bicentenary of this Radical Rising, Scottish Uprising or Radical War. The events of that year go by many names but I would hope to see them investigated more fully and taught more widely.

Once I had found Bonnymuir I was so far away from the canal that I finished my run into Falkirk along the John Muir Way. This path goes from Helensburgh to Dunbar, John Muir's birthplace, and their website has lots of useful information on the various attractions along the route.

Finishing my day on the Antonine Wall I passed through Rough Castle. Little remains above ground from the excavations from the last century of the fort, but the rampart and ditch here are more obvious that at other parts of the wall. 

Antonine Wall at Rough Castle, near Bonnybridge

The site of Rough Castle, little of it remains at the site
Continuing along the path eastwards out of Rough Castle, after a short distance I arrived at the mighty feat of engineering known as the Falkirk Wheel. The world's only rotating boat lift takes vessels between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal. Due to a maintenance issue I understand that the Union Canal is not navigable from here to Edinburgh at present, but plans are in place to repair it this year. In the meantime you can still take short boat trips up and down the Falkirk Wheel if you fancy.

The Union Canal where it connects to the Falkirk Wheel

Falkirk Wheel

Falkirk Wheel and visitor centre, viewed from the locks that lead to the Forth and Clyde canal
I am delighted that the canal network across Scotland has been re-opened, and provides green corridors for people to enjoy. At present it is a struggle to finance the necessary maintenance to keep the canal safe and navigable, but I think that it is of benefit to the common good and worth preserving. Maybe I am just biased because until I was 11 years old my bedroom window, looked down into the canal and Maryhill Road. Running along it today I enjoyed learning about the people that have worked, played, fought and rebelled along this quiet strip of greenery, and I have almost made it from Glasgow to the east coast now without stepping on tarmac for very long, or dodging any cars. Next for me is to find a route from Falkirk to Culross.

Antonine Wall at Watling Lodge, Falkirk
After a roll and square slice and a mug of coffee at the Falkirk Wheel visitor centre I jogged on to Falkirk High train station, passing another impressive bit of Antonine Wall at Watling Lodge, where the deep ditches of the wall are very obvious. One last Roman find to end on. At Bar Hill fort many statues to Silenus were found. He is usually depicted as an older man, a drinking companiion to Bacchus, and sometimes described as the god of drunkenness. It seems that he was a popular character with the soldiers. This wee statue of him below, which can be seen in The Hunterian Museum, describes him as having "an extended middle finger to ward off the evil eye." 

A 2000 year old statue from a Roman fort in Scotland that seems instantly recognisable.

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