The Forth and Clyde canal is so named as it connects these two rivers but its eastern end drops into the River Carron which flows down to the Forth. Living in a town right in the middle, I’d walked and cycled to Glasgow and from there cycled to Bowling, at the western end, and I wanted to walk to the other end. There be Kelpies!
These water horses, creatures of Celtic legend, have inspired two sculptures in sheet metal and I’d seen them from afar but never visited the site itself. I suppose I felt that, with all the hype, the reality would be a disappointment. I’d felt like that about the Falkirk Wheel and yet, when I saw it, I could only agree that it was an elegant feat of engineering.
The recent ice had melted on the canal by St Valentine’s Day and I decided to continue my walk the following day. Previously I’d walked as far as Falkirk High train station so I started from there, with my dog Ben, at about ten past two in the afternoon.
It was a lot more pleasant to walk along the canal towpath in daylight.
The last time I did this it was pitch dark! This time I could see the old stone structure of the Union canal, as I walked west towards the Falkirk Wheel which connects the Union and the Forth and Clyde canals.
The towpath to the tunnel and the top lock of the Falkirk Wheel was closed so I took the shortcut over a bridge and popped into the Visitors Centre. There it was strange to see the basin dry and the Wheel itself surrounded by scaffolding, awaiting its reopening in May.
But the café was open, with its friendly staff, and I picked up some supplies.
A map near the door of the Visitors Centre shows the canals and rivers around Falkirk.
I walked across the wooden bridge to the north side of the Forth and Clyde canal.
The canalboats that are usually in the marina, or somewhere along either canal, were now tied along the bank near the entrance to the Wheel.
By this time, it was almost three o’clock and I thought we would have light enough to reach the Kelpies but I didn’t want to be walking back along the canal in the dark, again! My first idea was to take the train to Camelon, where legend sites the Camelot of King Arthur (the central lowlands of Scotland have a lot of evidence of Brythonic heritage that links to the people now in Cumbria, Cymru and Kernow, so this is not as far-fetched as it sounds) but I couldn’t get a return ticket so then I had the idea of retracing my steps from Falkirk High. But in the light! Present-day Camelon (pronounced ‘Kamelin’) is quite prosaic.
Some of the wildlife, like this magpie who fluttered away through the branches, are quite shy.
Some, like these swans, are more inquisitive.
The canal skirts the north of the town and a series of locks provide interest and pretty locations for some canalside cafes and pubs.
The industrial heritage is evident in the factories, such as this one for whisky, along the banks.
I also loved the whimsical graffiti of dragonfire and an umbrella-wielding hero, on an old stone lintel set in a wall.
Further along, the canal seemed more functional than pretty.
Heading out of town, to avoid scrambling through a lock-keeper’s garden, we had to climb a steep flight of steps to the road and immediately descend. But the reedbeds further on were unexpected and no doubt a valuable contribution to the local ecology.
By now we’d been walking for two hours and I felt there was something familiar about this bridge. Had I seen it in an article about the Kelpies?
The ducks ahead swam over to investigate us.
Which was nice but aloud I wondered, “Where are the Kelpies?” And looked around…
There, across the fields. We hurried on, with fresh energy. In minutes I was seeing them just across the canal.
Then just at the end of the path!
Then, of course, I had to get close. Ben went back on the lead and we approached the western waterhorse. Which has been sculpted so expressively.
Before approaching the eastern Kelpie, I wanted to walk to the end of the canal. And witness the last few feet of water, pouring down the lockgate and into the River Carron.
From there, the river flows under a bridge and down to pass industrial Grangemouth on the Forth.
But then we walked back to more legendary beauty.
Technology, wild nature, myth and beauty. I sat at a table in the café. And fell in love.
[All photos @Alan McManus 2019. Use permitted with link to this post]