North Calder Heritage Trail. February 2021

Monklands Canal

Helen Rose Outdoors

During the lockdown due to the Covid 19 Virus, my walks have been fairly local but there is much interesting history near Glasgow and in the countryside near small towns. The lowlands of Scotland have an interesting industrial history and one such walk was the North Calder Heritage Trail organised by the Glasgow HF Outdoor Club  The trail is a linear walk from the train station at Drumgelloch to the town of Coatbridge. The trail is named after the River Calder which runs through it. Drumgelloch is located near Airdrie, a town in North Lanarkshire, and lies on a plateau about 400 feet (130 m) above sea level It is approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of Glasgow city centre.


We left Drumgelloch to start the North Calder Heritage Trail towards Coatbridge. Of course, you can do it in reverse from Coatbridge. The weather was shocking with constant rain and we completed the 8 miles of the Trail in a record three and a half hours with only one short stop for refreshments under some trees. The area was once a major source of manufacturing pig iron but there is no trace of it now. The name ’pig iron’ originated in the early days of iron-ore production when the total output of the blast furnace was sand cast into ‘pigs’ a mass of iron roughly resembling the shape of a reclining pig. Scotland’s steel industry has its origins 350 million years ago when layers of iron bearing rock were intermingled with layers of coal in what was to become west central Scotland. Although the first use of iron produced using charcoal occurred 3200 years ago, coal in the form of coke has only been used to produce iron for 300 years. Unfortunately, globalisation lead to the loss of most of the iron industry in Scotland. There is an excellent museum to Industrial Life in Scotland called Summerlee near Coatbridge.

We could see the ruins of a watermill near the River Calder and we continued the walk along the tree lined path by the river.

Monklands Canal

We reached the Monklands Canal with the river on one side of the path and the canal on the other. The canal was a 12 1⁄4-mile-long (19.7 km) canal designed to bring coal from the mining areas of Monklands to Glasgow. After a difficult construction, it was completed in 1782. Originally, it did not have locks so coal was unloaded and carted to the lower section and loaded onto a fresh barge. Locks were later constructed linking the two sections, and the canal was also connected to the Forth and Clyde Canal, giving additional business potential. It had an inclined plane which was faster than a lock. In the early 1800s technical advances in iron smelting coupled with fresh discoveries of abundant iron deposits and coal encouraged a massive increase in industrial activity in the Coatbridge area, and the canal was ideally situated to feed the raw materials and take away the products of the industry. The development of railways reduced the competitiveness of the canal, and eventually it was abandoned for navigation in 1952 but its culverted remains still supply water to the Forth and Clyde Canal. Much of the canal route now lies beneath the course of the M8 motorway but two watered sections remain and are well stocked with fish. It looked like a country river with vegetation as we walked alongside.


Continuing our walk in the unrelenting rain, we reached Coatbridge. The walk was unusual as we did not have a proper sit down lunch stop, only a quick bite to eat while walking. We passed the remains of an aqueduct for the canal towering over us.
Coatbridge is an interesting town. While the earliest known settlement of the area dates back to the Stone Age, the founding of the town can be traced to the 12th century, when a Royal Charter was granted to the monks of Newbattle Abbey by King Malcolm IV of Scotland. Coatbridge, along with its neighbour Airdrie, forms the area known as the Monklands. Coatbridge is known locally as Coatbrig.

The town’s development and growth have been intimately connected with the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution and in particular with the hot blast process. Coatbridge was a major Scottish centre for iron works and coal mining during the 19th century and was then described as ‘the industrial heartland of Scotland’ and the ‘Iron Burgh’. Coatbridge also had a notorious reputation for air pollution and the worst excesses of industry. By the 1920s however, coal seams were exhausted and the iron industry in Coatbridge was in rapid decline. It has been said that in modern-day Coatbridge ‘coal, iron and steel have all been consigned to the heritage scrap heap’.

Snowballs and Bridges

The town is famous for Lees Snowballs. Lees of Scotland was established in 1931 and is based in Coatbridge. The original products were Lees Macaroon Bars and Lees Snowballs but the product range has now extended. Scots are famous for having a sweet tooth and these were always treats for children and adults. The Snowball is a chocolate covered mallow sprinkled with coconut. The giant Snowballs sculptures are part of a project to memorialise the best of the town in a previously derelict area.

Near the end of the walk on the way to the Railway Station, I noticed an interesting two level bridge with the railway above and a footbridge below. It could be called a Marsupial bridge as the host is the railway bridge with the pedestrian walkway underneath. This is a B listed bridge built in 1898 and spanning various streets in the centre of the town and the former Monklands Canal. It underwent specialist restoration in 2009 along with other bridges to restore them to their former glory and help to extend the lifespan of the bridges for decades to come.

A very interesting walk despite the rain and many thanks to Eleanor for leading it on such a miserable day.

Thanks to Barry Pottle for the photo of the Lees Snowballs sculptures.

Coming attraction; Blantyre Circuit.


Helen Rose Outdoor Diary – Blantyre Circuit
Helen Rose Outdoor Diary: Kilpatricks. January 2021

This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary

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