Florence Boyle: Walk from Erskine Ferry to Bowling + historical connections


The Forth and Clyde Canal (opened 1790)

Opened in 1790, the Forth & Clyde Canal stretches for 35 miles across central Scotland and terminates at Bowling Harbour.  There’s a lot of history packed into the  mile and a half stretch between Erskine Ferry Road and Bowling Harbour.

lockkeepers house erskine ferry road

Lockkeepers House Erskine Ferry Road

Starting at the lockkeeper’s former home and looking South towards the end of Erskine Ferry Road, the remains of the old ferry slipway are just about visible at the end of the road. Believed to be one of the oldest crossing places on the Clyde, the ferry was replaced in 1971 by the Erskine Bridge, which dominates the skyline above the canal and the river.

Erskine Bridge by Gary Mullen

Erskine Bridge bt Gary Mullen https://www.facebook.com/gaz.mullen.14

Agnes Naismith, Old Kilpatrick woman hanged as a witch

Erskine Ferry had some dark associations. It features in the famous 17th century Bargarran Witches trials held in Paisley. Old Kilpatrick woman, Agnes Naismith travelled by ferry to the Bargarran Estate on the south bank looking for work. Subsequently she was accused of killing the local landowner’s son.  Naismith was tried, found guilty and hanged, all the while protesting her innocence. At the same trial another woman was charged with using her demonic powers to capsize the Erskine Ferry leading to the death of two men, her fate is unknown.

 Glasgow Art Club Connection With Old Kilpatrick

Glasgow Art Club

Stinglehammer, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Approaching the first lock, on the other side of the canal, you will see a pier of the Erskine Bridge. At the same spot, over a century ago, stood a tenement called Glenburn which, was for a time home to William Dennistoun, founder of the Glasgow Art Club. The first meeting of the club took place in Old Kilpatrick in 1867. Around the same spot Alexander Hart, one of the Scottish Radicals grew up. Hart  was tried in 1820 for his part in the Bonnymuir uprising and was transported to Australia, where he lived into old age garnering a reputation as a maker of fine furniture.

Mar Hall

Mar Hall

Discolover18, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Further along the path, looking South across the Clyde you can see the impressive 5* Mar House. Designed by Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum, the house was constructed between 1828 and 1845 and latterly owned by the Earl of Mar.  During WW1 it became the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers.  The Erskine Hospital Charity now in a nearby  location continues to look after veterans.

The Canal’s Working Past


Milestone photo Florence Boyle

It’s difficult to imagine just how busy this stretch of the canal was in times gone by; puffers making their way up and down the canal, sea going vessels in the harbour laden with timber, coal, and fish.


Ferrydyke photo Florence Boyle

The now derelict Ferrydyke Cottage with its stables and stores just about visible stands beside the bascule bridge and serves as a monument to the canal’s working past.  On the other side of the bridge there’s now a replica Roman milestone, a reminder of the area’s more ancient history and its place as the westernmost station on the Antonine Wall. Within walking distance of this spot JMW Turner stopped to sketch the old church tower on his journey north to the Trossachs in 1831.

The Custom House, Bowling

Custom House Bowling Harbour

Custom House Bowling Harbour photo Florence Boyle

The Custom House built at the beginning of the 19th century was home to John Murray, the customs collector and more significantly a leading anti-slavery campaigner. The legendary Frederick Douglass spoke warmly of the hospitality he received at Bowling Bay on a short break from his campaign tour in 1843. Murray’s close friend James McCune Smith, a graduate of Glasgow University and the first black American to qualify as a doctor thought so much of Murray, he named one of his sons after him.  On Murray’s death he penned a heartfelt obituary to “that most earnest and efficient man”.

Dunglass Obelisk


Bowling Harbour, Obelisk in distance. Photo Florence Boyle.

Standing at the harbour looking down the Clyde there is yet more history peeking out from the promontory at Dunglass . The 1838 obelisk dedicated to Henry Bell , a pioneer of the paddle steamers which revolutionised tourism on the Clyde. Beside it you will find the now ruined Dunglass Castle, once home to the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret McDonald and believed to be the place they created their first white room.

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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