Helen Rose: Hillwalking Diary December 2002

Cycling to Linlithgow

Photo: Roy and Frances. Yes, I know I said I would not be writing the diary again until the Spring as I am grounded for surgical reasons but I felt I just had to tell you about my marvellous achievement of cycling along the canal tow paths to Linlithgow from Glasgow. I am by no means a cyclist and I don't even enjoy cycling generally but Roy was organising an easy cycling trip to Linlithgow with an optional extension to Edinburgh. It was early September and the weather was good so I signed up and met the others on the Forth and Clyde Canal towpath near where I live in the westend of Glasgow.

I had minimum baggage and had only been on the bike once in the last year so certainly did not feel confident. Anyway, it was a beautiful day and we started our leisurely cycle along the towpath towards the outskirts of Glasgow. As a Millenium project, the canal was made navigable from Bowling on the Firth of Clyde to connect up to the Union Canal and onto Edinburgh. The towpaths are well maintained and sign posted.

The towpath runs through some lovely woody countryside and we soon reached Kirkintilloch where we stopped at a teashop for elevenses. There were canal boats out but the development of the canal is in its infancy but British Waterways Board intend the canal to be a busy and thriving place for tourism. Although there is urban spawl and villages and towns around, on the canal and the towpath you are unaware of this and it feels calm and peaceful with swans and ducks gracefully swimming along beside you. Being a very incompetent cyclist, I tend to keep my eyes on the path in front so have to stop frequently to admire the views.

Photo: Forth and Clyde. Along the canal there are many places of interest and you can venture away from it to explore areas of Roman antiquities. From Kirkintilloch we headed to Falkirk and on the way stopped to look at the Auchenstarry Quarry where there were rock climbers out practicing their skills. We had frequent stops to have a snack and a chat and to rest the 'nether regions' which really suffer on a bike. Why can't someone design a large comfortable saddle? Even the gel ladies' saddle only goes a little way to being more comfortable! Our chat was different from the usual exchange of information on hill walking gear and was of panniers, saddles and brakes!

We reached the Falkirk Wheel for lunch at the Visitors Centre. This wheel is a remarkable feat of engineering and was only recently opened to connect the Forth and Clyde and the Union Canals as there is a difference of 35 metres in height and to connect the two canals would have taken a long series of locks. It is the first rotating boat lift in the world and as it is so perfectly balanced, it only takes energy equivalent to a light bulb to turn it. We relaxed in the sunshine taking in this marvel of modern engineering. You can find out more about it on www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk. There are boat trips on the wheel and the Visitors Centre is interesting with a good cafeteria.

It was back on the bike and up the slope to the Union Canal where we passed Polmont Prison and heard the prisoners shouting over to us. The next point of interest was the long tunnel through which the canal passed. The water dripping was brown from the iron supports to the tunnel and it was very dark but fortunately I had the front light of the bike to guide me as we walked through. Roy recounted that on a previous trip he had heard a plop in the water and discovered his dog had fallen in the canal but he did manage to retrieve her successfully.

Photo: The Falkirk wheel. Further along the canal is the Avon Aqueduct which is the longest, tallest and most magnificent of Scotland's aqueducts. The 12 arches are each 26m high to support the aqueduct trough of light iron which stretches across the Avon Valley for 247m. The towpath is cobbled here so it was a case of walking rather than leaving the bike involuntarily!. At last, we reached Linlithgow which is a very pretty little town with a ruined palace that can be traced back to King David 1st of Scotland in the 12th century. The town is steeped in history and has many buildings of arhiectural splendour.

We spent the night in Linlithgow and toured the town the following day but I returned on the train to Glasgow while most of the group cycled onto Edinburgh finishing with dinner at a pub on the Royal Mile. There are other cycling possibilities on the many networks of cycle paths in Scotland. Roy is already looking at routes for a follow up next summer and as long as it is easy, I might be there!

You can contact me at [email protected]

Thanks to Tom Addie for photographs.

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