Linking the coastal paths

The Wheel

The Wheel

The Union Canal as it was, or may have been…

The Union Canal as it was, or may have been…

The Union Inn, as is

The Union Inn, as is

Puffers at Lock 16

Puffers at Lock 16

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.

The Canal Inn, Lock 15

The Canal Inn, Lock 15

Walking to Kincardine

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The walk to Kincardine begins with crossing the canal over the rotating bridge to the north bank and heading east along the towpath with the canal on the left. The walk passes 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….

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 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.” (Iknew his father)

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

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

Note: Irn Bru was invented in Falkirk. Fact. Despite what the weegies say.

Geoff says it, so it has got to be true. He is the Archaeologist & Keeper of Local History , and worthy of the title.

And the now closed Barr’s Factory still stands behind the Union Inn

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.