Helen Rose Outdoor Diary – Blantyre Circuit



We continue in lockdown due to Covid 19 pandemic so opportunities are limited for walks as we are required to stay near home. The town of Blantyre in South Lanarkshire is near Glasgow.  It is bounded by the River Clyde to the north, the Rotten Calder to the west, the Park Burn to the east and the Rotten Burn to the south. It is not to be confused with Blantyre, the capital of Malawi but more on the African connection later. There are many explanations on the meaning of Blantyre. One is that it comes from the Scottish Gaelic for ‘the field of holy men’. Another is that it is from the Gaelic for ‘warm retreat’. The walk was organised by the Glasgow HF Outdoor Club and John Paul led the walk.

David Livingstone

We met John-Paul at the David Livingstone Centre and Memorial. Livingstone was born in Blantyre on 19 March 1813. He was a Scottish physician, Congregationalist and a pioneer Christian missionary with the London Missionary Society, an explorer in Africa and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era. He had a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels, Protestant missionary martyr, working-class ‘rags to riches inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader and advocate of British commercial and colonial expansion. Livingstone advocated the establishment of trade and religious missions in central Africa and the abolition of the African Slave Trade. Livingstone died on 1 May 1873 at the age of 60 in Chief Chitambo’s village at Ilala, southeast of Lake Bangweulu, in present-day Zambia, from malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery.( Read more about Livingston.)

Livingstone was the first European explorer to discover and map out Lake Nyasa in Malawi and Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital, is named after the town of his birth in Scotland.


We left Blantyre and crossed the River Clyde by a bridge where we saw the salmon ladder to aid the salmon swimming upstream to their spawning area. Walking alongside the river we did notice the boathouse where the ferry boat on the river was kept at one time. John-Paul had originally intended the walk to include a visit the carvings but he considered it was too muddy and slippery to access them on the other side of the river. This is a reason to go back to Blantyre to see them personally!


The Carvings of religious Christian scenes were made in 1950s and19 60s by a local person on the Stations of the Cross. He is said to have been gifted a set of chisels by the Queen. More information on the carvings.

Bothwell Castle

We continued on a good path to the grounds of the ruined Bothwell Castle for our refreshment stop. Bothwell Castle is a large medieval castle of red sandstone sited on a high, steep bank above a bend in the River Clyde. Construction of the castle began in the 13th century by the ancestors of Clan Murray to guard a strategic crossing point of the Clyde. Bothwell Castle played a key role in Scotland’s Wars of Independence changing hands several times. The Wars of Independence were between Scotland and England. Although its name may suggest otherwise, the castle has little to do with the Earl of Bothwell since it came in to the possession of the Earls of Douglas in 1362. The Earl of Bothwell was married to Mary Queen of Scots but there would appear to be no connection with her and Bothwell Castle. The Wars of Scottish Independence were a series of military campaigns fought between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

.Whins Anti-Aircraft Battery (WW2)

We stopped for lunch beside the Rotten Calder River where there were stones to sit on socially distanced and looking on to a waterfall.  On these walks, it is so good to have our picnics with wonderful views. Rotten does not imply that the river is polluted but that it is reddish in colour at some point due to discoloration from underlying rock. Apart from the occasional shopping trolley, the Rotten Calder River is kept in pretty good condition, and there have been sightings of salmon reported in recent years.

We walked on good paths and eventually came to a sign for the Battery. The Whins Anti-Aircraft Battery was built in response to Nazi air raids in World War Two. Initially, the site was equipped with four 4.5 inch guns. Later, they were replaced with four 3.7 inch guns as the threat of bombing receded. The weaponry was set in a horseshoe arrangement around a command post. There is no evidence it was ever used and today all that remains are some buildings mostly covered in graffiti. These were the concrete stores used for storing the magazines as the administrative and dormitory buildings were made of wood.

Along the path under the trees there were interesting mushrooms but I do not have the knowledge to decide whether or not they were edible. They did look good and you can let me know if they were edible? Did I miss the chance of a foraged dinner!?

Mining Disaster

On the way back to Blantyre we passed some very high defunct railway supports that are used by climbers who are athletic enough to climb vertical walls. We could see the holes in the walls where pitons had been inserted. A piton is a metal spike that is driven into a crack or seam on the climbing surface with a climbing hammer and which acts as an anchor to either protect the climber against the consequences of a fall or to assist progress to aid climbing while using a rope.

On reaching Blantyre, we visited the statue to commemorate the mining disaster in 1877 when 207 miners lost their lives, the youngest being only 11 years old. This was Scotland’s worst ever mining accident when pits 2 and 3 of the 5 pits of William Dixon’s Blantyre Colliery were the site of an explosion.  It was known that firedamp was present in the pit and it is likely that this was ignited by a naked flame. Methane gas is known as firedamp to miners. As this name suggests, methane can burn and in certain conditions can cause explosions. This gas is formed with coal over millions of years.

On the way to the train station we passed a tree with poppies wound around it for Remembrance Day. The reason poppies are used to remember those who have given their lives in battle is because they are the flowers which grew on the battlefields in Flanders, France after World War One ended.

Special thanks to John-Paul for leading this interesting walk and his knowledge on local history.

Coming attraction; Springburn Park and University of Glasgow.

Thanks to Eileen for the carvings photos.

Helen Rose, March, 2021


North Calder Heritage Trail. February 2021

This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary

Written by :

Avatar of HelenRose Scottish hill walker and writer for Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End.

Comments are closed.

Copyright Glasgow Westend 2009 thru 2017

Contact Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End | About Pat Byrne | Privacy Policy | Design by Jim Byrne Website Design