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Issue 41 - Walking the Clyde

Scotland Magazine Issue 41
October 2008


This article is 10 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Walking the Clyde

Ian R Mitchell describes a three-day trip from New Lanark to Glasgow Green.

The Clyde is not Scotland’s longest river, but many claim that its scenery is the most varied, rising as it does in the wild moors of Lanarkshire and flowing through some of Scotland’s most fertile lands, to its mountain-girt outlet at the Firth of Clyde. And with certainty, no other river can match the historical built environment of the Clyde, which has along its banks some of the finest castles in Scotland as well as an unrivalled heritage of industrial glory.

There are many ways to explore the Clyde from sailing its wide lower section, to hard hiking in its upland reaches, but the best way to appreciate the central part of this great river is to take the relatively gentle 45 miles of the Clyde Walkway between the city of Glasgow and the UNESCO-designated village of New Lanark. Lanark is reached by train from Glasgow, and New Lanark itself is gained by a short walk downhill from the station.

UNESCO designations are usually reserved for outstanding landscape or for ancient and medieval remains; the fact that the former industrial town of New Lanark has one of Scotland’s handful of such listings shows its importance. It is not just that this factory and its associated buildings, the birthplace of the Scottish cotton industry when constructed in 1785, are beautiful. This is no Dark Satanic Mill, but a cluster of buildings inspired by the Palladian aristocratic mansions built by the Scottish Adam architectural dynasty, and set like a jewel in the delightful riverside scenery.

New Lanark, when taken over by Robert Owen in 1800 became the scene of a social experiment that had international significance.

Owen believed that by bettering working conditions, shortening the working day, improving housing standards, and facilities for the education and recreation of his workforce, he could transform human nature, which he believed was formed by environment (Owen was the first person to call himself a ‘socialist’). It is worthwhile spending several hours touring this fascinating place, and indeed stayin overnight here; with former mill buildings having been converted, one to a Youth Hostel and another to a luxury hotel, you have plenty of choice.

Before heading downriver, walk a couple of miles upriver from New Lanark, past the various Linns (Scots for waterfall) which form the Falls of Clyde. Poets like Burns and Wordsworth came here to rhapsodise, and painters such as Turner to record the beauty.

Don’t let the scenery distract you too much; here is one of the best places in the United Kingdom to see the fastest creature on earth, the peregrine falcon.

Crossing the river upstream from Bonnington Linn the walkway takes you down though wooded glades, to the Vale of Clyde at the charming village of Kirkfieldbank.

The Vale of Clyde has rightly been designated as Scotland’s Garden of Eden due to its benign climate, which makes it ideal for fruit growing. The Romans introduced the apple here, and the display of blossom in spring is still a sight of wonder. Other fruits such as strawberries and the famous Lanark tomato followed, and soon the area sprouted greenhouses like mushrooms. Although tourism is now the main industry in the necklace of delightful villages along the Vale, with the move to healthy and organic eating, there has been a revival in the fruit growing fortunes of the area.

The walkway follows the river closely till Crossford and then takes a detour to Craignethan Castle on the banks high above the river. The extensive remains here are maintained by Historic Scotland and contain the only carponier (a defensive gun chamber) in Scotland. The castle was immortalised by Walter Scott in his novel Old Mortality, disguised therein as Tillietudlem Castle.

Down Clarty Brae the Walkway leads back to the village of Rosebank where – 15 miles from New Lanark – it might be advisable to seek accommodation in one of the many flowerdecked bed and breakfasts. An evening stroll to the close-by 17th century Dalserf Kirk and kirkyardis highly recommended.

The next day the scenery changes completely as we leave the Vale of Clyde for the widespread pastures of the Clydesdale south of Dalserf, an area traditionally given over to arable and stock raising, not fruit growing.

There is always something to see, from the ruins of Cambusnethan Priory to the old gravestones in the disused Cambusnethan Graveyard. At Baron’s Haugh, there is an important RSPB reserve which may delay progress for a while.

Soon afterwards you come to Strathclyde Loch, set in Strathclyde Country Park. The artificial loch was created by the flooding of former mine workings, and it and the park itself create a large green corridor between the busy towns of Motherwell and Hamilton.

The park is alive with sporting activity, especially watersports, but the visitor should not fail to walk through the quieter northern side of the loch, where there are the remains of a Roman fort and Bothwellhaugh Roman Bath House, one of the finest such in Scotland.

On the southern side of the park, across the Clyde, stands the Hamilton Mausoleum, reputed to be the largest in the world apart from the Pyramids, and claiming to have the longest echo in Europe at 15 seconds. It was built to commemorate a Duke from the famous Hamilton family, formerly the most important landowners and coal-mine proprietors in the district.

After leaving Strathclyde Park and circuiting Raith Haugh, another wetland reserve for birds and animals, the Walkway meanders with the river until Blantyre is reached, and here again our footsteps echo history. Blantyre was the location of a cotton mill where in 1823 the 10 year old David Livingston began work, educating himself at his machine during a 14- hour working day, and later, after medical training, becoming a missionary, explorer and campaigner against the slave trade in Africa.

Though the mill itself is long gone, the workers’ housing where Livingston was born remains, and the whole site is today managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

From the Livingston Memorial onwards is one of the loveliest stretches of the whole Clyde, the Bothwell Woods, carpeted with bluebells and wild garlic in spring and suddenly revealing what has a claim to be Scotland’s finest medieval fortification, Bothwell Castle. The oldest part of the structure is the massive keep, or donjon, dating from the 13th century. It was part of a much larger building which featured prominently in the 14th century Wars of Independence, and was partially destroyed by the Scots themselves. The impact of the rising or setting sun on the sandstone of Bothwell Castle is unforgettable; it looks on fire. Bothwell, or nearby Uddingston are both places worth spending the night.

The next day’s walk is again totally different, and takes us to the entry to Glasgow at Glasgow Green. From Uddingston to Glasgow we walk along a river which was the artery of the Industrial Revolution, and where de-industrialisation is creating a new landscape. One where abandoned industrial wastelands have become sites of flourishing wildlife, and where former industrial sites are being converted to the sports facilities and housing for the Commonwealth Games due to take place in Glasgow in 2014.

And at Glasgow Green we are at what has been described as the most historically saturated 100 acres on the surface of the planet, with the densest concentration of built attractions. But that would take an article in itself…