Linking the coastal paths
The John Muir crosses Scotland from Dunbar to Helensburgh passing through Falkirk and visiting the Falkirk Wheel on the Way. For the keen walker, the Wheel can be a jumping off point for the intrepid wanting to head North along the coast and specifically the Fife Coastal Path which runs from Kincardine in the bottom left hand corner of Fife up to Newburgh on the Tay. In so doing it potentially connect parts of a North Sea Trail that is at present an idea, with a possiblibility of becoming a reality. The Fife Coastal Path is both interesting and beautiful, and offers the opportunity of continuing a truly North Sea Trail, with your sleeve brushing the waterside all along the way.
This walk looks to outline a pathway between the John Muir way at the Wheel through to the start of the Fife Coastal Path at Kincardine.
The Wheel itself is a connector. The original canal, the Forth and Clyde, ran between Bowling on the Clyde in the West to Grangemouth on the Forth to the east. Subsequently the good burghers of Edinburgh wanted in, and the Union Canal was proposed and built.
The second canal, the Union canal, connected with the Forth and Clyde at Lock Sixteen and the drop from the Union at a higher level down to the lower level was done by a ladder of some eleven locks. In their heyday, the canals were the cutting edge of technology, connecting commerce and people between the two coasts. During the mid-20th Century, the canals had fallen into disuse and disrepair were left to rot. The ladder of locks were filled in, although the Union Inn, the centre of the canal system, remained and still remains'.
The surge that marked the approach of the Millenium led to the injection of money which allowed a desire for old glories to return. Funding was applied to resurrect the canal system in Central Scotland. This necessisated reconnecting the high level Union Canal with the the Forth and Clyde, and the solution was to create a new canal from where the old lock staircase began to connect with the hugely innovative Wheel to the west.
Walking to Kincardine
The walk to Kincardine begins with crossing the canal over the swing bridge to the north bank, and turning right. The towpath heads east with the canal on the right. The path is between the canal and Camelon, an area which was built around fabricating nails but more recently the site of a large tarworks. The whole southern bank of the Canal was an industrial area, stretching from the high station in the east to Bonnybridge. In addition to the Antonine Wall, the area is the site of coal and iron mining, with the former tar works and British Steel works occupying the bankside between the wheel and the Union Inn.
The canal meant industry and jobs, and the locals are interestingly called Mariners still. The towpath takes an easy way up to the Union Inn at what was known as Port Downie, in its prime a busy inland port, hence Mariners…. This was the junction of the Union and Forth and Clyde canals.
Downie was a key centre in the development of trade and industry from the late 1700’s and deep into the 19th Century. The bridge at Lock 16 is these days busy enough, but not too busy with road traffice; there is virtually no canal traffic on what was once the artery of indiustrial Scotland. Along the canal Falkirk and Grangemouth were industrial areas, the epitome of dark satanic mills, or in this locality, tar works, coal mines, foundries and warehouses. The Link Route follows the canal although the buildings and works on the bankside have changed. Port Downie itself was a nest of basins and barges, now filled in, an open space where there was once water.
The route runs along the canal to Lock 16 and heads north. Just follow the canal: there are clues to what was there in the past in the building stones, lock gates and buildings. It has been sublect to a degree of resuscitation especially around the wheel, but is now an anachronism which tends to be quiet, peaceful and easy walking. For the more inquisitve and acquisitive there ramains the possiblity of creating an immense collection of beer cans and plastic bottles, with a side order of pooh bags which cheerfully decorate busshes trees and verges by the wayside. On a good day (like it was recently), there is a chance that maintenance will have led to draining the canal so that such glories as shopping trollies, car wheels and various types of scrap are revealed. An interesting reflection of civic pride. Not.
The path follows the left bank of the Canal (careful at the roundabout) and passes the Lock Inn. A personal comment is that my sole dutiful visit to the Union Inn was somewhat underwhelming and a trifle gloomy. By contrast, the Lock Inn was a pleasant visit, just one Lock down at Lock 15 was a far pleasanter gaff, cosy. And the folks tidying up in the morning are happy to comment on the weather.
Apart from the Wheel and the Kelpies (both are on this route), Falkirk doesn’t feature too highly in the places to visit in Scotland stakes: the previous top of the list has been the Dunmore Pineapple which lurks near the Forth past the Kincardine Bridge, with the 1746 Falkirk Battle memorial an also-ran. If you can find it….. However, Falkirk tries and, for instance, the cutouts lurking on the towpath are a bit special if not really spectacular. The celebration of folk who have made a contribution places and communities, marking the passage of people through this life is, I guess, a celebration of everyman (everyperson?). A celebration of the ordinary person, and perhaps the egalitarian “I kent his faither.” (I knew his father)
Apart from the Wheel and the Kelpies (both are on this route), Falkirk doesn’t feature too highly in the places to visit in Scotland stakes: the previous top of the list has been the Dunmore Pineapple which lurks near the Forth past the Kincardine Bridge, with the 1746 Falkirk Battle memorial an alsoran. If you can find it….. However, Falkirk tries and, for instance, the cutouts lurking on the towpath are a bit special if not really spectacular. The celebration of folk who have made a contribution places and communities, marking the passage of people through this life is, I guess, a celebration of everyman (everyperson?). A celebration of the ordinary person, and perhaps the egalitarian “I kent his faither.” (I knew his father)
Statues at Lock 14:
L-R Dr Harold Lyon, Geriatrician and inspiration for the Strathcarron Hospice;
Reginald Adams, big in local sports coaching;
Robert Barr, of Irn Bru and ginger fame
Irn Bru aswe know it was invented in Falkirk. Fact. Despite what the weegies say. Geoff says it was invented in Falkirk, so it has got to be true. He is, after all. the Archaeologist & Keeper of Local History for Falkirk, and worthy of the title. But now a closed Barr’s Factory still stands behind the Union Inn.
In the photo above, there is a chimney in the background. This belongs to what was the Rosebank Distillery , sited next to the canal, and with its old bonded warehouse now serving as an eatery.
The Path runs past the Rosebank Eatery, and dips down under the busy Glasgow Road to pop up on the towpath opposite the old distillery itself, with handy info boards explaining the whys and wherefores. The run down to the Forth after the bridge is managed by a series of locks with the substantial stonework characteristic of the Forth and Clyde.
The route follows the canal north-east with a shimmy up to the road and down again to pass over the railway which passes over the canal at lock 9.
The sequence of locks
TO LOCK 9
The John Muir Way also leads directly on to the West Highland Way, route 1 to the Highlands and now linked to many of the sought after wild highlands. It also passes directly through Edinburgh, so that this means that, for instance, Edinburgh becomes a jumping off point for a path that leads directly into the Highlands. Given Edinburgh’s “Guid conceit of itsel” , there is a journey on offer into the heart of the highlands.