Walking

I’ve been ranting lately on Twitter (you may have noticed). I’m vegan, gender-critical and I question the HIV-AIDS hypothesis. There’s a lot to rant about. Today it’s about idiots shooting wild goats on Islay and the tour company that promotes this. However, when I’m not ranting on social media, proofreading, acting, navigating along the Forth & Clyde canal in a narrowboat or rowing boat, I like to go walking.

For various reasons, I haven’t had a holiday this year. Summer is a busy time, workwise, and my plans to fit in a short break between plays didn’t work out. So I decided to walk to Edinburgh along the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, in stages, on good days. A good day in Scotland is the same as a good day anywhere else: it’s when you have the gumption to keep going (that’s a wee nod to the late Dr Robert M. Pirsig, by the way).

I live on the border of what’s blithely known as Central Scotland (which is about 100 miles south of the geographical centre) and my town is bounded by both the Antonine Wall, which predates Hadrian’s, and the Forth & Clyde canal. So I’m fortunate to have access to beautiful countryside by simply walking up the road for five minutes.

Last week I walked from Kirkintilloch to Auchinstarry then back by Barr Hill, the site of a Roman fort and the inspiration for another novel idea for the Bruno Benedetti series. After I finish the one I’m writing now, which is mostly set in Fife.

The marina at Auchinstarry is just down the road from Croy train station and it was from here that I (and my trusty canine companion, Ben) started walking on Monday:

Auchinstarry
Narrowboats at Auchinstarry marina on the Forth & Clyde canal

I’d started a bit late, I’d slept badly and I do tend to faff, so we’d caught the train at Lenzie about 2:30pm and arrived at Croy (a mile or so uphill, to the right of the photo) about ten minutes later. This photo was taken after a snack sitting on the steps at the back of the restaurant, which was unfortunately closed (boaters blame the extortionate rent charged by Scottish Canals, I couldn’t possibly comment). The canal towpath is to the left.

The next photostop, and snack, was about 4pm at Kelvinhead. Where I found picnic tables and Ben found much to sniff!

Banton
My tan terrier Ben sniffing under a wooden picnic table beside the towpath

I won’t say that my cares instantly vanished as soon as I started strolling along. I didn’t do any walking meditation and I was a bit anxious that I’d really started too late to get to Falkirk High before dark. But I’d silenced my phone and only took it out for photos. And the peace and just walking started to have its effect. Wyndford, just before Banknock, was the next pretty picture, about half an hour later. Lock 20 is at the top of the eastern section of this canal, which leaves 18 miles of canal to navigate without portage (carrying your boat) all the way to Maryhill in Glasgow. As I’ve recently acquired a Mirror sailing dinghy, which I want to use to row on the canals and sail on lochs, I was pleased to see low pontoons or canal walls for portage places on either side of each lock.

Loch 20 Wyndford
Stone canalside cottage with lock and pontoon in foreground

I couldn’t resist snapping the contrast between the frenetic motorway traffic, roaring over the bridge carrying the M80 between Stirling and Cumbernauld, and the peaceful stone bridge a few yards to the east at Craigmarloch.

Motorway
Cars & lorries on the M80 bridge over the F & C canal
Bridge near motorway
Peaceful stone bridge over the canal at Craigmarloch

The residents at Banknock have extended their back gardens right up to the towpath, outdoing each other in displays of rock gardening and topiary. I wasn’t expecting any section of this canal to look like an entry for Britain’s Prettiest Railway Station and this display of quirkiness made me smile. About 5:30pm the sun began to set.

gloaming
Looking west along F & C canal at setting sun

However, Glasgow sits at a higher latitude than Moscow, we were a bit further north still, and the sun takes a while to set and the time in between we call the gloaming. So I was able to snap this shot of cattle browsing and taking a drink from the canal, about twenty minutes later.

cattle
Cattle browse on the far bank while one drinks from the canal

Much of the canal has a fairly straight and level towpath with trees either side, and some might find it monotonous. I find it soothing. Just walking. Just being in nature. No need of the exhausting adrenaline rush of constant thrill and distraction.

Ben facing camera
Ben sniffing along the towpath, looking east

Still, by the time we arrived at Bonnybridge, which I’d mistaken for Falkirk, I was already a bit weary and I knew we didn’t have much light left. So I was glad to see a train on the line from Falkirk High, our destination, on the far bank.

train
Train among the trees over the canal

Finally at Falkirk about a quarter past 6 and there were canalboats, either marooned by the closure of the bridges until March (hopefully) next year or just waiting to go up over the Wheel to the Union canal in the morning.

boats at Falkirk
Narrowboat and 2 cabin cruisers moored at Falkirk

Then the Falkirk Wheel itself! Unfortunately the centre was closed, understandably at this hour, in October, so I didn’t get the coffee I’d been dying for all day! But I was glad to have made it, with just a step to go till the train station. First to climb the hill to the tunnel.

wheel
Falkirk Wheel across the F & C canal

Looking over the Wheel from the top at the tunnel entrance is a serene and majestic sight. I took a while to visit the Wheel because of all the hype but this is indeed a beautiful feat of engineering.

looking back to wheel
Looking north over the top of the Wheel

We entered the tunnel about six thirty. The entrance is cute but inside is a bit spooky and I was glad to have Ben and, I suspect, vice versa.

entering tunnel
Entering the tunnel

The tunnel itself is well-maintained and we trotted along with no mishap.

looking back from inside tunnel
Looking back at the Wheel from inside the tunnel

And then we were out and walking along the Union canal!

union canal
Union canal from the tunnel exit

The Santa House was just round the corner.

Santa house
Santa’s House for festive boat trips

And then another lock. We hurried on.

lock gate waterfall
Lock with water overflowing

Ten minutes later and it was getting very dark indeed.

darkening sky
Darkness falls over the Union canal, looking west

I realised that what had seemed a short step, on a bike, was a bit of a way, walking in the dark.

last stretch
Dark towpath and canal looking east

Falkirk isn’t known for crime, unlike my native Glasgow (mostly unfairly) but by the time I saw the twinkling lights of the tunnel above the train station, and the brighter light of Falkirk High, it was almost 7pm and I was very glad to have, nearly, reached safety. Ben had already tried to head off the towpath towards civilisation. He’d had enough.

station and tunnel
Twinkling lights of tunnel above the station

Journey’s end, Falkirk High. Never have I been more glad to see a railway station!

Falkirk High
Back entrance to Falkirk High train station

We walked into the station as a train arrived, got on, changed at Croy and arrived at Lenzie and walked 20 minutes to a warm, dog-friendly pub where Ben had water, lots of pats and a lie down and I had a great fried jackfruit with potato wedges. Hot and tasty. Renewed, we walked home. Where I immediately went onto Twitter and apologised to some people for ranting. A day spent in nature does give one perspective. (But I hope those hunters of wild goats get jailed and the community on Islay gets recompense from suing that company!)

[All photos ©Alan McManus 2018. Use permitted with link to this post]