Starting in the city of Glasgow and ending with a woodland trail, The Clyde Walkway offers the best of both worlds
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Scotland is blessed with a whole host of wonderful long distance trails, which bring the country’s exemplary scenery to the fore. The Clyde Walkway, however, offers something a little bit different in that a good portion of its course cuts through an urban environment. Yet it is all the better for it, as the Clyde Walkway visits some of Scotland’s most historic and fascinating buildings, both in Glasgow’s city centre and the towns and villages on its outskirts. Having said that, if you like your greenery, the Clyde Walkway has this in abundance as well, following the course of the mighty River Clyde through the bucolic countryside of South Lanarkshire, home to superb wildlife and scenery.
Beginning in Partick, a few miles from Glasgow’s city centre, the Clyde Walkway completes its 40-mile (65km) journey at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of New Lanark. The route, which utilises pavement, parkland and riverbank paths, is relatively flat with excellent public transport and road infrastructure at either end and can easily be broken down into more manageable day or weekend walks.
The start point is the Riverside Museum, a marvellous location to begin. Opened in 2011, this stunning modern building holds over 3,000 exhibits, all illustrating Glasgow’s history in transport, shipbuilding and engineering. On the water, outside the Riverside Museum, is the historic Glenlee, or the Tall Ship, which was built in 1896 in Port Glasgow and, during its lifetime as a cargo ship, circumnavigated the globe four times. From here, the route heads towards the city, passing Pacific Quay, an area of significant regeneration and once home to a number of Glasgow’s world-renowned shipyards. The industry peaked immediately prior to the First World War when around 100,000 people in Glasgow were directly or indirectly employed by the shipyards. Celebrated ships such as HMS Indomitable and the QE2 were built and launched here. Today, Pacific Quay is a media hub as well as home to the Glasgow Science Centre, concert venues and the indomitable Stobcross (Finniestone) Crane.
It is then on through the bustling surrounds of Glasgow Green, whose history dates back to 1450 when it was used for common grazing ground, while the River Clyde here was used by women of Glasgow’s East End as a washhouse and drying green. Over the years armies have marched on the Green and it’s seen all sorts, from anti-war demonstrations, to political meetings and rock concerts. Overlooked by the People’s Palace and the remarkable Doulton Fountain – the largest terracotta fountain in the world – it is one of the city’s most popular green spaces.
Easy walking then continues through Dalmarnock and Cambuslang. Even within this built-up environment, the array of wildlife to spot is surprisingly diverse, from dipper and kingfisher, to foxes and roe deer. Soon the Clyde Walkway heads south to pass a number of heritage sites. First up is the striking red sandstone facade of Bothwell Castle, which was built in the 1240s and passed between Scots and English hands no fewer that six times during the Wars of Independence.
Nearby is the David Livingstone Centre, a National Trust property that celebrates the life and achievements of its pioneering namesake, the missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was born a stone’s throw away in 1813. It is then on to Strathclyde Country Park, where the remains of a Roman Bathhouse sit as well as the magnificent Hamilton Mausoleum. This gorgeous structure was built in 1858 as the final resting place for the Dukes of Hamilton and its 123-foot high facade reputedly holds the longest lasting echo of any man-made structure in the world.
The bustling urban environs are eventually left behind as the Clyde Walkway continues along the languorous flow of the River Clyde, which extends its course through the beautiful open countryside surrounding Baron’s Haugh Nature Reserve, where whooper swan, goldeneye, nuthatch, redshank and ringed plover may be spied. Woodland and riverbank paths then head southeast through the gorgeous Clyde Valley where villages such as Rosebank, Hazelbank and Crossford are surrounded by the wildlife-rich Clyde Valley Woodlands National Nature Reserve.
There is historic evidence that the six woodlands that make up the reserve have been managed since the Middle Ages, providing timber for buildings and livestock pasture. It presents one of the finest examples of semi-natural woodland surviving today within the Clyde Valley, with ash, oak, and elm trees playing host to song thrush, willow warbler, yellowhammer, wood sorrel and bluebells. It is also one of the loveliest sections of the route.
Beyond Stonebyres Power Station the Clyde Walkway briefly follows the south side of the River Clyde through Kirkfieldbank after which the river is crossed again via the Clydesholm Bridge, constructed between 1696-1699, making it the oldest crossing on the Clyde.
The final couple of miles rise above the River Clyde, through more beautiful woodland to reach journey’s end at New Lanark, an evocative and historic village that is well worth exploring. It was here, during the 19th century that Robert Owen and his father-in-law David Dale laid out their pioneering socialist ideals that provided workers, particularly women and children, at New Lanark’s cotton mills, with proper working and welfare conditions. During his 25 successful years running New Lanark, Owen created a model community prohibiting children under 10 from working in the mills and providing free medical care and a comprehensive education system to all. We may take these things for granted today, but back then the ideas were truly revolutionary.
Many of the original buildings are open to the public and a visit can be combined with a walk to the Falls of Clyde. During autumn the colours radiating from the beech and birch trees are exquisite, while in spring wildflowers such as bluebells and wild garlic, provide a riot for the senses, bringing a lovely end to this marvellous walk.
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