Did you know that you can travel across Scotland, from West Coast to East Coast by walking or kayaking the total length of the man-made Forth and Clyde Canal? – no roads required!
Bowling Basin Lock 39
From the west; The Forth & Clyde Canal begins at Bowling, Dumbarton on the River Clyde. Following the length of the Canal past the awesome Falkirk Wheel and on towards the Kelpies; the Canal Lock here connects with the River Carron, which flows down to Grangemouth on the East Coast.
The Kelpie Sculptures constructed next to the Carron Canal Locks are two giant horse heads made from steel plates designed by regional artist Andy Scott as a tribute to local progress made in the Scottish Industrial Revolution.
The Kelpies, Falkirk
Building of the Forth & Clyde began in 1768 at Grangemouth, and the full-length route finally opened for sailing vessels in 1790 – the aim being to transport Scottish steel, coal and local goods from inland towns to the merchant ships waiting at the Coastal Ports of Glasgow (on the Clyde) and Grangemouth. Later, the Union Canal was built and opened for vessels in 1822 as a merchant route between Glasgow and Edinburgh connecting where the Falkirk Wheel is today.
The connection route to the Union Canal fell into disrepair around 1930, but was reconnected with the Forth & Clyde in 2002 with the opening of the Falkirk Wheel, a giant lift (elevator) for boats to move them from one canal to the other. It really is quite spectacular – the Wheel is 35 metres high, the height of 8 double decker buses and only needs the power of 8 hot water kettles – how clever and eco-friendly is that?
Until about 3 years ago I went on a lot of walking and hiking holidays, but sadly, I’ve been limited in the activities I can do until recently, and now I need to use crutches or walking sticks.
Last week it suddenly occurred to me; Canal Walkways (towpaths) are FLAT!!
This means I could possibly hike from one side of Scotland to the other on my crutches and make a holiday of it, stopping off at different places on the way - my plan began to form...
Volunteering gave me my inspiration...
The inspiration for this came from doing some volunteer work with Scottish Canals, who are a registered charity working with the Scottish Waterways Trust to conserve the Canals and Buildings on the lands close to them. Many parts, such as the Canal Locks are registered historic monuments – and I had the opportunity to assist with painting them!
I learned a lot and had a wonderful time!
There was sunshine in Scotland that day – yes, really! – and I enjoyed the opportunity to work outside.
Working in a water environment was a new experience for me, but there was no cause for concern as I was shown what to do and how to work safely by the water. I even got waterway health and safety training - including how to use a ‘throw-line’.
This is a brightly coloured rope that’s thrown from the bank of the canal to someone who needs help to get out of the Canal, as the sides are very steep and the water can be fast flowing and deep too.
Workmates for the painting job included Lewis, from Historical Environment Scotland who helped me understand the importance of restoration using the materials used in the original building of the Canal. Did you know that any cement materials used between the giant stones used in the walls of the Locks must be made using the “recipe” provided by conservation experts?
Lewis is also a volunteer ‘Lock Keeper’. He cycles along the Canal and opens the Locks to let boats through to the next part of the route. The Canal has 40 locks over the route. I can’t use a bike due to being on crutches but have still been promised a chance to learn how the Locks are worked by the Keepers soon.
Working outdoors was great, the water, the birds, the lovely walkways and helpful and informative workmates who do this kind of volunteering every week. The sound of the water is relaxing, and I could see fish swimming around near where we were painting, and wee ducks wondering what on earth we were doing there!
I’ve been invited back to help with other projects and love what I’m doing.
So, back to my trip later this year – I think I’ll begin at the Glasgow end……and stopping off at for a wee drink in Glasgow, a wander around Kirkintilloch and the famous Maryhill Locks, the Falkirk Wheel and Kelpies on the way……..sounds like a nice walk, right?