Forth and Clyde Canal Towpath
Start location: Bowling basin, River Clyde (NS 451 735)
End location: River Carron, Grangemouth (NS 905 822)
Geographical area: Campsie Fells, Strathclyde and Lanarkshire, Stirling, Clackmannan and Falkirk
Path Type: Industrial Path
Path distance: 56km
Accessibility info: Suitable for Motorised wheelchairs, Suitable for pedestrians, Suitable for Bikes
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We have no survey covering the whole length of the towpath, but would be very grateful for one. We have been told that it is mostly accessible to wheelchairs but that there are gates in places that wheelchairs would not get through. This means that, for the time being, wheelchair users are unable to travel the whole length of the towpath in one go.
If so desired, this route can be extended all the way to Edinburgh from the Falkirk Wheel by following the Union Canal towpath.
OS Landranger 64 (Glasgow)
The Forth and Clyde Canal was built between 1768 and 1790 and was designed by engineer John Smeaton. It runs for 35 miles from Bowling basin to Grangemouth and as its name suggests, it linked the Forth and the Clyde in order to provide for sea-going vessels an alternative to the long and dangerous journey around the north of Scotland. Bear in mind that, another valuable shortcut, the Caledonian Canal didn't open until 1822. Even so, although an east-west cross-country canal had been long mooted, work stalled for a number of years due to a lack of funds. Construction restarted when money was made available from forfeited Jacobite estates and this enabled completion of the canal to Bowling.
To cater for the size of the traffic it was intended to carry, the canal's 39 locks are 60ft long and 20ft wide. The highest section of the canal lies between Maryhill and the Wyndford locks at Banknock and is 156ft above sea level.
This canal was a vital arterial route and not just for the purposes of trade. Passenger boats could travel the 24 miles between Glasgow and Camelon in five-and-a-half hours, and an intercity link to Edinburgh was later created by the opening of the Union Canal in 1822.
To serve the city, at Stockingfield Junction, the canal's Glasgow Branch runs to Port Dundas. There it formerly met the Monkland Canal; in 1846 the Forth & Clyde Canal Company bought this shorter canal. Stockingfield Junction is also the point at which (going west) the Forth & Clyde Canal's towpath shifts from its north bank to the south bank. In 2020, work started on the £12.8 million Stockingfield Bridge project which will better link the towpaths of the three arms of the canal here, and thus improve access between the communitoes of Ruchill, Gilshochill and Maryhill. It is expected to be completed by September 2022.
The canal is fed along its length by various reservoirs. East of Kilsyth, Banton Loch collects water from the surrounding hills and keeps the canal topped up. A visit to the loch makes for an interesting diversion from the canal; to reach it follow the Avenue.
Before the advent of steam power, the traffic along the canal was powered by sail or horse. As such, at intervals along the canal there were stables - these two-story buildings can still be seen along the route in varying states of repair. In Autumn 2014, Friends of Kelvin Valley reported that the sadly neglected Craigmarloch Stables will be receiving attention from the Scottish Waterways Trust's Canal College in conjunction with Archaeology Scotland - we look forward to hearing more news.
The importance of the canal to industry can be seen by the number of light railways terminating at the canalside marked on old maps. However, the decline of the Forth and Clyde Canal largely came about through later competition with the railways. The canal was actually bought by the Caledonian Railway in 1867 and after a long period of decline finally closed in 1963.
Now owned by the British Waterways Board operating as Scottish Canals, this historic route was rejuvenated by the Millennium Link project and it is navigable once more from end to end. The towpath is also used in part by the John Muir Way which as of 2014 runs from Helensburgh to Dunbar. Weaving its way through lowland Scotland, this 215km trail also takes in parts of the Stoneymollan Road, the Gowk Stane Road, the Strathkelvin Railway Path, the Antonine Wall and the Union Canal. Additionally, the towpath forms part of the Thomas Muir Heritage Trail which runs from Clachan of Campsie to Bishopbriggs.
The Heritage Paths (Campsie Fells) Project has produced a lovely Campsies map leaflet showing this old route and other paths in the area. To get your hands on one, simply write to us c/o ScotWays (see address top-right) enclosing an SAE and we'll post one out to you.