I HAD been half-expecting that my walk ending in Glasgow would be the last one of this calendar year before the winter weather rolled in. But, as it turned out, a week of excellent early November weather in Scotland not only coincided with cold and wet weather in London but also with my good friend the Lemming being able to join me for a week, which he did.
City of St Mungo
On the first of four walking days, we started where I left off in the centre of Glasgow. Historically in Lanarkshire, Glasgow (Glaschu) is today its own council area as befits the UK’s third-largest city. Founded in the 6th century by St Mungo — the son of King Owain of Rheged — Glasgow was sited upon a prehistoric ford across the Clyde, which for millennia was the lowest point one could cross the Clyde without a boat.
In 1136, a cathedral was constructed on the site of St Mungo’s church and Glasgow was recognised as having city status. A university followed in 1451, authorised by Pope Nicholas V, and the cathedral’s bishop was upgraded to archbishop in 1472. Not that his successors would be in for an easy ride: the Reformation in 1560 would see the cathedral become Protestant, while the Glorious Revolution of 1688 would see Presbyterianism triumph and bishoprics abolished within the Church of Scotland.
Trade & Industry
Even as the church convulsed, secular Glasgow was on the rise. Its position had guaranteed that it would become a centre of trade and the Act of Union in 1707 opened up connections with the North American colonies.
The Clyde was dredged of silt in the 1770s, enabling larger ships to call there, just in time for American independence to badly impact the colonial trade. Perversely, this catapulted Glasgow’s tobacco merchants into spectacular fortune as the stockpiles in their warehouses grew ever more valuable amid the scarcity of imports. Diversifying their interests, they invested heavily into their city as the Industrial Revolution transformed Glasgow beyond all recognition.
Growing to be a centre for shipbuilding and (once again) imperial trade, Glasgow became a county in its own right in 1893 but badly declined in the following century. As Empire crumbled and containerisation arrived, its docks fell into disuse.
Today, it has experienced something of a renaissance, rebuilding or regenerating its former areas of dereliction and the brick and stone of its central buildings are cleaned of centuries of soot. If someone could travel to the present from its past, they just might be astonished.
Buchanan Street Police Box
The Buchanan Street police box is one of four in the city, survivors of the three hundred or so that Glasgow used to have. It has not survived unscathed however. For one thing it’s now blue; Glasgow’s police boxes were actually painted red in their heyday. And for another it’s no longer used as a police box. Indeed, in the summer it serves as an ice cream kiosk.
Glasgow’s modern boxless police force is Police Scotland, formed in 2013 when the country’s eight territorial police forces merged. These included Strathclyde Police, which had previously covered Glasgow and which itself was the product of a merger of forces in 1975.
One of those originals was the City of Glasgow Police — the original police force, founded in 1800 by Act of Parliament and thus preceding London’s Metropolitan Police by 29 years.
Not content with being the first modern civilian police force, in 1931 Glasgow City Police also invented the Sillitoe Tartan, named for Chief Constable Percy Sillitoe (later Director General of MI5). This ‘tartan’ is the simple black and white chequer-board pattern now worn around the caps of police officers the length and breadth of Great Britain and in various other places around the world.
Starting from Where I Left Off
The Lemming and I didn’t see any police officers as we headed through Glasgow to the north bank of the Clyde, passing as we did so Glasgow Central Station (opened in 1879 by the Caledonian Railway). We would start our walk by heading westwards along the Clyde, retracing my steps from last time.
In between my last walk and this, I had carefully weighed up the choice between heading north to the West Highland Way or west towards the sea lochs and had come down firmly in favour of the latter.
The most obvious and direct route would be to reverse my last walk along NCN 7, more-or-less parallel to the Clyde. But I’m not huge on re-walking old ground, so I had a diversion in mind. For now, though, the north bank of the Clyde would do fine.
Central to the photo above is the Clyde Arc, known locally (and irreverently) as the Squinty Bridge. It was opened in 2006 and has a span of 96 m and is a key part of regenerating the post-industrial riverside areas. With this in mind, it has been designed so that it can bear a tram or light railway, should it become necessary.
The Clyde Arc is not the first river crossing at that particular point though, as betrayed by the two rotundas that stand not far from its abutments and which can be seen in the photo above.
Glasgow Harbour Tunnel
The two rotundas are the relics of the Glasgow Harbour Tunnel, opened in 1895. It had three tunnels, one for pedestrians and two for horses and carts, which were lowered into the tunnel by hydraulic lifts — the first Otis elevators installed in the UK.
Otis remains a lift-building company today, founded on Elisha Otis’s 1852 invention of the safety elevator, which uses a friction brake to prevent the lift from plummeting if the cable snaps.
Sadly, the Glasgow Harbour Tunnel did not have anything like the longevity of its lift supplier, proving almost amusingly uneconomical to maintain. And it needed a lot of maintaining; it leaked water from day one.
Bankruptcy and Closure
Bankruptcy followed, then a bailout from the city, which outright purchased the tunnels in 1926. They closed in 1943 and the lifts were torn out, their metals to be recycled for the war effort. The passenger tunnel reopened in 1947 (it was accessed by stairs) but closed, forlorn and almost forgotten, for good in 1980. The vehicle tunnels were filled in 1986, when a water main was run through the old pedestrian tunnel.
The rotundas sat derelict for a while until other uses could be found for them. The northern one is now a bar and restaurant, handily positioned for the nearby Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) venues.
Near to both the Clyde Arc and the Rotunda is the Finnieston Crane, a disused cantilever crane from the days when its environment was still a working dock.
Built in 1931, it stood beside Queen’s Dock next to a spur of the Stobcross Railway, transferring heavy machinery between railway and ship. One of only eleven giant cantilever cranes remaining worldwide, its lifting capacity of 175 tons surprised and amused the Lemming on account of its utter feebleness compared to modern cranes. Today, like most octogenarians, it is retired and stands nostalgically in place, as if reminiscing about old times.
The armadillo in question is the Clyde Auditorium, and it stands on the infilled site of the Queen’s Dock that the crane once served. It was built in 1977 as an adjunct of the SECC and was designed by Foster and Partners, the creators of London’s Gherkin. Like the Gherkin, the locals resolutely fail to refer to it by its official name; it is the Armadillo, whatever it says on the door.
Next door to the Armadillo (and visible on the left of the Rotunda in its photo) is the SSE Hydro, a multi-purpose indoor arena sponsored by power company SSE plc. This too was designed by Foster and Partners and was opened in 2013 as a further addition to the SECC site.
Directly opposite stands the studios of BBC Scotland and the Glasgow Science Centre, the latter opened in 2001. It includes Glasgow’s tallest structure, the Glasgow Tower — a 127 m observation tower which is capable of revolving 360° in its entirety; it is shaped like an aerofoil and can turn into the wind. This ability has earned it a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest structure capable of so doing but in practice its brief existence has been a litany of closures and mechanical failures. Glasgow City Council even sued contractors Carillion plc, receiving ‘substantial’ compensation.
It is currently open only during the summer and limited to a handful of rotations per week.
To be honest, I barely spared Glasgow Tower a glance, being far more excited by what was moored by its base. Namely this:
This venerable vessel is PS Waverley, the last seagoing passenger paddle steamer in the world. Built in 1946, she is named for a previous PS Waverley that sank during the Dunkirk Evacuation (and she in turn was named for Sir Walter Scott’s novel of 1814).
Launched in Glasgow by shipbuilders A&J Inglis, the second Waverley initially steamed for the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) between Helensburgh and Arrochar, neither of which are in London nor the north-east. After the railways were nationalised in 1949, she passed to the state-owned Caledonian Steam Packet Company (CSP). She continued in service through the next couple of decades but passenger numbers dropped as foreign holidays became more affordable and popular.
In 1973, a merger saw CSP become Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), which still operates many western Scottish ferries. Sadly though, they didn’t want or need the aging Waverley, which was losing them money hand over fist. She was sold off to the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society for the token sum of £1 with the proviso that should she somehow ever be repaired and restored, she should not compete with CalMac’s TS Queen Mary.
As you can see, the Waverley was indeed restored (following a public appeal for funds) and today makes numerous passenger excursions. In the summer she cruises her home waters of the Clyde, calling in at most of the ports along the firth, while in early autumn she steams south to the Bristol Channel, the Solent and the Thames.
Having made our own journey a short way down the Clyde, the Lemming and I now turned inland, crossing the busy A814 and following a surprisingly leafy path around the perimeter of what is now the West Glasgow Ambulatory Care Hospital — dealing with outpatients and minor injuries — but until last year was the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, which opened in 1882.
The path led us through Yorkhill Park onto Old Dumbarton Road, which ran alongside part of the River Kelvin, a 22-mile tributary of the Clyde. This suited my purposes perfectly as I planned that we should head north beside the Kelvin to pick up the Forth & Clyde Canal.
Our route took us down a quiet street beside which, amongst many more modern buildings, stood a tall one fashioned from stone and housing several flats. Carved wheatsheaves atop its gables betrayed its origins as Bishop Mill, built in 1839 for miller William Wilson on the site of a mediaeval predecessor. Only the central building of the complex remains, converted into twenty flats with the space around them transformed into gardens.
As the Lemming and I peered over a wall at the Kelvin, trying to figure out where the mill race had been he spotted our first heron of the day, bold as brass, fishing in the middle of Britain’s third city.
University of Glasgow
Continuing on our way, we passed a student accommodation block and then turned off into Bunhouse Road, following a bend in the river. Ahead a spiky-looking spire dominated the skyline and we initially assumed that this must be a church. It was not. The student block should have been a clue…
When the Reformation cast out the Catholic Church it did not end the university, which by 1460 had already moved out of its original home in the precincts of the cathedral, transferring to a site on the High Street. It moved again in 1870 to occupy Gilmorehill, which lay in a meander of the Kelvin. While its previous site was demolished and buried beneath a railway goods yard, the Gilmorehill campus has endured.
It was designed in the Gothic Revival style by the style’s most prolific champion, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) and his son John Oldrid Scott (1841-1913) added the spire to its tower.
Still erroneously assuming that the tower was a church, the Lemming and I crossed over Argyle Street and passed into Kelvingrove Park. We were now following a path named the Kelvin Walkway, in whose mostly leafy embrace we would remain for the next couple of miles.
The park was impressive, as well it might be; it was the work of celebrated English gardener Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865). He created it in 1852 on land purchased by the city, which had previously formed part of the Kelvingrove and Woodlands estates.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
As we ambled alongside the river, the trees were adorned with various autumnal shades — yellows, oranges and reds — beneath which squirrels scampered while ducks and moorhens swam nearby. It was pretty delightful in itself, even before we followed a bend in the river to be presented with the baroque extravagance of Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum:
Designed by Sir John Simpson (1858-1933) with more than a touch of Spanish Baroque style, the gallery has turrets on its turrets on its turrets and was partly funded by the proceeds of the 1888 International Exhibition (which was held in the park).
Refurbished in 2006, it is a popular visitor attraction housing various paintings, an armour collection and numerous natural history exhibits. On another day I might have whiled away several hours within its walls but as it was we had places to go. So we went.
Kelvin Way Bridge
Going places involved our crossing Kelvin Way, a street which runs through the park and which spans the river by means of the Kelvin Way Bridge. Designed by City Engineer Alexander Beith McDonald in 1912, the bridge is lit at night by four lanterns, each supported by a pair of bronze statues.
Though planned at the same time as the bridge was built, WW1 got in the way of their casting and the statues were not installed until 1926. They represent Philosophy & Inspiration, Peace & War, Commerce & Industry, and Navigation & Shipbuilding.
We had no need to cross the water yet, so remained on its eastern bank and merely crossed over the road. There, yet more squirrels gambolled within sight of a Boer War memorial.
We passed by a couple more bridges and then under a third — the Eldon Street Bridge — where a set of mysterious dull metal gates caught my eye. They were padlocked shut and adorned with graffiti but hinted at some sort of space beneath the bridge’s approach. A substantial space, as it turns out — the Kelvingrove Tunnel — through which the Glasgow Central Railway (GCR) ran when opened in 1896. A subsidiary of the Caledonian Railway, this linked the districts of Maryhill and Rutherglen until 1959 when the Stobcross to Maryhill section was closed.
Though sealed by gates, the tunnel still exists and, when the Kelvin flooded in 1994, its waters spilled through the tunnel as far as Glasgow Central Station.
I do love mysterious doors.
The next hint of this vanished railway’s existence was in fact the next bridge. Now a footbridge and part of the Kelvin Walkway, it was built as an iron railway bridge and the platforms of Kelvinbridge Station once extended right across it.
A second set of mysterious doors at its north end looked like someone’s fire exit but betrayed where the trains had once run. We paid them little heed; the bridge had other aspects that demanded our attention:
Now on the western bank of the Kelvin, we passed beneath the Kelvinbridge — a 19th century cast iron bridge which carries the Great Western Road. Like several others we had seen, this was adorned with Glasgow’s coat of arms, first granted in 1866:
Glasgow’s Coat of Arms
The arms comprise a robin atop a tree from which hangs a bell with a fish holding a ring in its mouth below, all of which pertain to legends of St Mungo. These are recalled with the following rhyme:
Here's the bird that never flew, Here's the tree that never grew, Here's the bell that never rang. Here's the fish that never swam,
It refers to a robin that was killed by St Mungo’s classmates but which he brought back to life, a branch with which he restarted a fire that had gone out, a bell brought by him from Rome and a fish caught on his orders which proved that Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde had not given away her wedding ring to a lover she didn’t have.
Kelvin Stevenson Memorial Church
The path climbed steeply then dropped again to carry us under Belmont Bridge, which was built in 1870. Beside this high-arched bridge and towering above us with its curiously crown-like spire was the Kelvin Stevenson Memorial Church, completed in 1902 and designed by architect JJ Stevenson (1831-1908). His father, James, helped fund the construction while the church is named for his grandfather Nathaniel, merchant, Kirk elder and philanthropist.
Excitable White Dog
As we made our way along the Kelvin Walkway, we passed and then were passed by a young woman with a small, excitable white dog. It was delighted to see us at every stage in this informal and impromptu relay race but then it was delighted to see everything. It didn’t yap though, which was nice.
North Woodside Flint Mill
Passing the dog and its owner for the nth time, we also crossed back over the Kelvin by means of a footbridge. On the far side we found the low brick walls and telltale race of a ruined watermill. An information sign duly informed us and indeed taught us something. They milled flint.
I’m going to say that again. They milled flint. We’d had no idea that anyone had ever felt the need to do this. They milled flint.
Oh, not at first. It started off as a barley mill when built around 1765. But, by the time of the Napoleonic Wars, it had switched to inedibles, specifically gunpowder to profit from the war. In 1846, it was reconstructed as a flint mill, grinding flints delivered to Kelvinbridge Station on the GCR.
First, the flints would be calcined (fired in a kiln), changing their texture and composition. This was important for two reasons, one being that it affected how the final product came out, the other being that flint would otherwise explode into dangerous shards. Once it was properly heat-treated, it was ground to make pottery glazes.
All of this appeared to surprise the Lemming, who studied geology in our university days. He therefore knew that the flints were a form of quartz. There is plenty of actual quartz in the region of Glasgow, certainly a lot more than flint, which the mill had imported from France.
Leaving the flint mill behind, the Lemming and I continued on our way along the Kelvin’s eastern bank.
At one point, I looked up to see a large retaining wall that could only have once been a bridge abutment. It was indeed one end of the first Queen Margaret Bridge, built in 1870 to carry Queen Margaret Road. It was more popularly known as Walker’s Bridge after coach proprietor John Ewing Walker, who had it built.
Walker had acquired the estate of nearby Kelvinside House plus a strip of land along the bank to the south of that estate, to which his bridge abutted. Next to that strip was the estate of North Woodside, which was acquired by the city and transformed into a new suburb.
For reasons of commercial advantage — he wanted to develop his own suburb at the expense of the city’s — Walker decided to prevent any access to his bridge from North Woodside and accordingly built a huge retaining wall into the hillside, simultaneously marking the boundary and severing access. The only access between them was a flight of sixty steps and, as traffic from North Woodside could not easily access the bridge, the city built Belmont Bridge downstream.
Walker’s intransigence essentially doomed his bridge as it now proved of limited use. It was also inconveniently low.
Queen Margaret Bridge
In 1929, a second Queen Margaret Bridge was opened slightly upstream and the original was demolished in 1971.
The Lemming and I soon passed under the new bridge — a concrete viaduct faced with red sandstone — and, thanks to the meanders of the Kelvin, found ourselves heading westward.
A footbridge offered a route across the Kelvin to Glasgow Botanic Gardens (opened 1817) but we kept going, turning north as the River Kelvin curved. A small building belonging to the Friends of the River Kelvin proved not to be the café we had hoped for and we continued past the Ha’penny Bridge — a 2002 footbridge on the site of an 1886 toll bridge.
A short distance north, we passed beneath the classical splendour of Kirklee Bridge, a red sandstone viaduct with the city arms carved into its spandrels. Designed by Charles Forman and completed in 1901, it is decorated with columns and balustrades fashioned from pink granite. These look suitably splendid but are purely cosmetic additions.
Ahead, the river now veered northwest and the Kelvin Walkway conveyed us past some particularly autumnal trees whose leaves were a riot of fiery hues.
Ghosts of Railways Past
Pressing on, we espied another tree-growing bridge, once again an abandoned rail route over the river. We would in fact see the remnants of several such bridges, some intact but overgrown and others merely pier stubs. These betrayed the routes of two different disused railways — the GCR, whose top end curved around to end at Maryhill, and the Lanarkshire & Dumbartonshire Railway (L&DR), which linked Balloch on Loch Lomond to Glasgow via Dumbarton — plus a couple of freight lines that once served nearby mills and gasworks.
In addition to the telltale signs of old bridges over the river, we also saw the abutments of one over Kelvindale Road when the walkway climbed out of the valley close to Kelvindale Bridge. We crossed the road and descended once more for our final stretch of the river.
Kelvin Crossing Aqueduct
We passed a V-shaped weir that once fed Kelvindale Paper Mill and the piers of one final lost rail bridge before finding ourselves at the foot of the Kelvin Crossing aqueduct. Not that we’d have known what it was had we not been expecting it. From below, it looked much like any bridge, with only its higher side walls betraying that it carried a canal.
The Kelvin Crossing was constructed in 1790 along with the rest of the Forth & Clyde Canal. It was a tremendous engineering achievement and at 400 ft long (122 m) and 70 ft high (21 m) one of the largest aqueducts to be built since Roman times. Indeed, upon its completion the Kelvin Crossing became something of a tourist attraction in its own right.
It stands just west of Maryhills Locks, a rise of five locks (lock numbers 21 to 25) separated by basins. These were the first locks on the canal to be restored, being renovated in the 1990s, ahead of the millennium grant that helped fund the work on the rest of the canal.
For us though the locks lay in entirely the wrong direction and thus we turned our backs upon them. Pausing only to notice a heron standing atop a ruined railway bridge pier, we set off along the canal.
Forth & Clyde Canal
A Remarkable Waterway
As previously noted, the Forth & Clyde Canal links the firths of those names across the narrowest part of the Scottish Lowlands; it was designed by eminent civil engineer, canal-builder and lighthouse designer John Smeaton (1724-1792).
It was hard to remember, seeing as it is now (a recreational waterway) that it was once a key highway of industry. We saw no boats on the water — I believe it was closed for the season — and ducks, swans and moorhens were going about their business without interference. The towpath, once trodden by mighty shire horses, was now the province of joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers and two Englishmen who’d got it into their heads to walk an unnecessarily long distance.
Temple Gas Works
Any doubts that we were treading upon Glasgow’s industrial past were soon shattered by the looming bulk of a pair of immense disused gas-holders (or their frames, at least). Erected in 1893 and 1900 respectively, these had been the UK’s largest as part of Temple Gas Works.
The works were built in 1871 by the Partick, Hillhead and Maryhill Gas Company and were the second-largest gasworks in Britain. Taken over by the city in 1891, the site was connected to another nearby gasworks via an underground pipe and served by a dedicated railway siding (the bridge remains with the heron were part of that line). The works closed down in 1968.
A short way beyond Temple Gas Works we came to Temple Bridge, an electrically operated bascule bridge designed by Sir William Arrol & Company in the 1930s to cope with increasing road traffic along Bearsden Road. Sadly the bridge no longer lifts.
Howth Drive Bridge
At the next bridge west, a road bridge carrying Howth Drive, we paused to consider a pair of swans occupying the towpath beneath it.
As we approached, the nearest swan — possibly the cob — spotted us and raised its wings, adopted a classic threat display. Swans being large and powerful and notoriously territorial, this was less than ideal. It was clearly laying stake to the towpath and for a brief moment we considered letting him keep it. Certainly, we could have gone around, leaving the towpath and going by road, but that seemed too much like giving up. After all, there were two of us and two of them and we were bigger. We compromised on advancing confidently but unthreateningly and attempting to nonchalantly stroll past.
The swan watched us warily but then relaxed and we were soon upon our way.
The canal meandered a bit now, perhaps to maintain the same contour. We passed a swing bridge then a modern, high-arching footbridge before arriving at our first set of locks. Here the terrain descended rapidly leading to a flight of five grouped as three and two together These were the Clobberhill Locks (lock numbers 29 to 32), where First Minister Donald Dewar officially opened the Millennium renovation project in early 1999. He signalled this by digging a symbolic spadeful of earth and the reason digging was required was that half a mile of the canal, from lock 31 onwards, had been infilled and culverted during the 1960s.
Because of the infilling, Locks 31 and 32 had to be re-excavated before they could be restored, while much of the rest of the half mile was replaced with an entirely new channel directly west of the old one. The original, infilled channel was known to contain asbestos and it was considered safer (and cheaper) to simply leave that alone and build a new route, creating a section two centuries younger than the rest. The towpath still follows its old line, however, appearing to divert away from the waterside through a small copse of trees — we found some impressive fungi there — before rejoining it under a road bridge conveying the Great Western Road.
Bard Avenue Bascule Footbridge
A short distance further on we came to a small, hand-operated bascule bridge, which was one of very few originals from the canal’s early days. We paused to examine its workings and quickly came to the conclusion that whoever raised the far deck would be stranded until the boat had passed. This further led us to conclude that no bargee could navigate the canal single-handedly and indeed Scottish Canals discourage any attempt, even though their staff are apparently on hand to help during boating season.
We passed the Boghouse Locks (locks 33 to 36) with houses to the south where a brickworks once stood. These soon gave way to the open space of Peterson Park where the towpath, which had been mostly deserted since the vicinity of Kelvin Crossing, suddenly became rather more busy with joggers and dog-walkers.
Beyond the park we passed beneath a modern road bridge carrying Duntreath Avenue and, in doing so, left Glasgow and entered Dunbartonshire.
A fairly straight section of canal followed, passing between the Clydebank neighbourhoods of Drumry and Whitecrook, both largely residential. The latter was named for a farm that once stood there but was heavily developed in the late nineteenth century to house Irish immigrants working in the shipyards.
As we headed west, Clydebank’s industrial heritage started to make itself felt in the shapes of the buildings we could see, while the unmistakeable signs of a modern retail park hinted at what had replaced it. And then, just before the Argyll Road Bridge, we reached the point where I left the canal on my previous walk.
A digital sign set up by Sustrans was counting every bike going past except, since it worked by induction, it couldn’t actually discern between bikes and other passing metal contraptions such as pushchairs. Still, a bit of overcounting was hardly likely to damage the charity’s message that we should do more cycling (or use other sustainable transport). Standing nearby, reinforcing the message, was this sculpture:
Three Queens Square Bandstand
On the far side of the Argyll Road Bridge was the Clyde Shopping Centre, where we a paused to get some lunch and hunt down some new footwear for the Lemming, who was anticipating needing some before the week was out.
I also paused in Three Queens Square to admire the bandstand. It wasn’t the most ornate or impressive example of its kind but it was surprisingly well-travelled, having started out in the town’s Dalmuir Park in 1907 before moving to Whitecrook Park in 1935 and then to its current site in 1983.
Dalmuir Drop Lock
Having refuelled and rested the Lemming and I set off again, heading westward to where the canal passes under Dumbarton Road. This had been culverted when the canal was disused and the density of road traffic — Dumbarton Road is the A814 — precluded reinstating the old swing bridge.
As I mentioned last time, the solution was to lower the canal by building the very first drop lock. Essentially it’s a tunnel with a lock either side (both unnumbered) in order to give access.
As walkers, we had to cross the A-road via the usual pedestrian crossing. This revealed to us a sculpture I’d not seen on my last walk on account of facing the wrong way:
The Beardmore Sculpture stands near the entrance to the old shipyard of William Beardmore & Company, whose Naval Construction Yard employed 13.000 workers and was the largest and most advanced shipyard in the United Kingdom in its time. That time was rather brief, however, beginning in 1906 and ending in 1930.
In that time, it built a number of Royal Navy warships including the dreadnought HMS Ramillies, which is the ship displayed in this 2010 sculpture by local artist Tom MacKendrick.
Once across Dumbarton Road, we continued westwards retracing my previous steps until we reached the old swing bridge that led down to Erskine Ferry; this was where I had joined the canal on my last walk. The ferry’s replacement, Erskine Bridge, loomed high above us and we kept going, passing right under it.
Beneath Erskine Bridge was Dalnottar Lock (number 37), the last lock before reaching Bowling, where the canal ends. Nearby, we found signs indicating that there were pathways across the woods between the canal and the Clyde but when we actually located one it was locked and gated.
This blocked-off route would have crossed an old bridge over the L&DR line to Dumbarton. The line itself was overgrown with trees and apperaed to be full of stagnant water; I assume that the bridge had also become unsafe.
Random Deer Encounter
In any case, our direction was westwards and so we pressed on, following the towpath along the south bank of the canal. We had not gone far when the Lemming froze and shushed me — standing in the woods, just feet from the towpath was a deer. We looked at it; it looked at us and everything was still. Then, as if a spell had broken, it was off like a rocket.
On the far bank of the canal was now Old Kilpatrick and we passed another hand-winched bascule bridge leading across to that village.
Before long, we started to see boats moored — the seaward end of the canal has always served as mooring space, even when the rest of it was disused and derelict. We passed Bowling Lock (lock 38) and reached the final basin, beyond which lay Bowling Harbour and a final pair of sea lock gates.
Across the narrow constriction separating basin from harbour, there stood a disused railway bridge, the arches of its approaches containing various businesses. Immediately before this, a final manual bascule bridge allowed us to cross the canal. Or to pause and take photos if we chose.
The Final Stretch
National Cycle Network Route 7
Once on the north bank, we headed up the basin’s access road, passing over the current Glasgow-Dumbarton rail line. The disused L&DR line also crossed it and I’ll admit to some disappointment that we couldn’t use that bridge instead. This became all the more pronounced when the access road led to the A814, which we crossed and then left on a foot and cycle path (NCN 7).
It became quickly and readily apparent the path was following an old railway alignment, a fact only reinforced when we passed through a short tunnel. I assumed this must be the L&DR alignment and, accordingly, it seemed a shame to me that we couldn’t have joined it earlier, making use of the old viaducts. I was mistaken.
Glasgow, Dumbarton & Helensburgh Railway
A bit of old map-studying reveals that the current line swapped alignments in Bowling and it was that which was now running on the L&DR alignment. NCN 7 was actually following the alignment of the Glasgow, Dumbarton & Helensburgh Railway (GD&HR), which opened in 1858 and which the modern line had been following between Glasgow and Bowling.
The GD&HR was taken over by the North British Railway in 1865, which was merged into the LNER in 1923. The LNER suffered a similar fate in 1949 when it was nationalised and incorporated into British Railways. In today’s privatised world, services via Helensburgh (on whichever alignment survives) are operated by Scotrail.
The GD&HR alignment carried us west, sandwiched between the Dumbarton Road (A814) and Great Western Road (A82) and yet shielded from both by a dense screen of trees and our position in a cutting. We skirted the edge of the village of Milton and thus came at last to the edge of Dumbarton.
Taking a side path, we escaped from the railway alignment onto the pedestrian pavement alongside the busy Glasgow Road (a continuation of the A814). We passed a series of large, industrial-looking buildings that turned out to be a site of Chivas Brothers, the Pernod Ricard subsidiary that produces Chivas Regal. The company currently has premises in both Dumbarton and Paisley but plans to transfer all operations to Dumbarton, investing £40 m into a new bottling plant there.
The sun had set as we entered Dumbarton and the precipitous crags of Dumbuck Hill — a 140 m hill and quarry — were silhouetted against the twilit sky. I did try for a photo but the factory lights of Chivas Brothers turned it into nothing but glare.
Dumbuck House Hotel
Our hotel was in the eastern end of Dumbarton and it was with a mixture of feelings of accomplishment and relief that we made for the bar and a well-deserved sit down.
This time: 17 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,639 miles