The John Muir Way
croy TO strathblane
Back to the Way, and on the path again. Back to the Antonine Wall. Starting on the Kilsyth to Croy Road, is innocuous but very quickly hits the vertical-looking site of the Wall which climbs up to Bar Hill. Like most of the Antonine Wall, there’s not a lot to see. When I first saw it I needed to look at the map to work out what it was, and how it was. I know better now. We, the incredible Neil and I continued to impressed most particularly the steepness of the climb, which means that the highpoints of the wall, like Bar Hill, look over the ramparts below. Impressive. The Bar Hill site is quite obvious and well described. Tidy.
Like most other War Memorials, the memorials tell a sad story; in the case of Twechar, that story is well-amplified on the web-site which includes oral histories. My brother, bless his cotton socks, runs a website that tracks the individual histories of men (and women) who went to war and did not return. As with all history, more history is lost than retained so the backgrounds to the names are important.
The stories are hinted at: why, for instance are there three men who died members of the 8th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, a regiment whose recruiting area was Ross-shire? Perhaps the rank of Robert Scott Quartermaster Sergeant, a regular possibly, may point to a regimental connection with the Ross-shire Buffs and a link through him with Twechar. A Pals platoon? Two men on the Memorial died on the same day, 29 May 1915 i.e. during the Battle of Loos
The life of a miner was hard, and we know that in the early years of the First World War, what was seen as a wartime adventure attraced men away from the mines. Some adventure, some sacrifice.
We followed the road down to the canal, and crossed over the hefty bridge and headed east following the line of the canal towards what was the Shirva Stables, now a ruin albeit a significant one. The Kelvin runs parallel for a short time, more obvious on the map than in reality. There is a path under the canal which is banked high to preserve the levelness of the contour canal. The Catholic Church is prominent across the canal. We walked on: canal walking is relatively easy and a tad tedious at times.
We ruminated on litter, and the habits of folk until the we reached the Kirky swing bridge. Where there was a traffic jam. As it happens, we were encountering an awareness and fund raising canal borne flotilla approaching the bridge which meant the bridge opening. Our way crossed the road and dived north to pick up the Kelvin and Kirky Central. Strangely pleasant… But i’m jumpin ahead of myself. F&C Canal folk have the happy smiles (mostly) of enthusiasts, and once again we were able to chat with the crews and make conversation. Well, they were waitng for the bridge as much as anything…
Some one needs to watch the boats go by….
John Muir had been strutting his funky stuff, and Purple Disks were duly observed. We walked through a small industrial estate, headed up to a junction and caught an old railway aka the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, Campsie Branch. Which neatly runs north by north west to the end of the stage, Strathblane. These days the wheels are cycle wheels, and travellers end not to be travellers but strollers, four-footed or two.
At this point, we began to get confused. This happened:
It turns out that Thomas Muir is known as the father of Scottish democracy, a radical reformer, and most importantly, he has his very own heritage trail which co-exists with the Tom Muir for part of each route. The old line runs alongside what my map calls the Glazert Water before it runs into the Kelvin back at Craigmarloch. The line had passenger traffic serviced printing and alum works along the banks of the Glazert. The 1865 OS map gives the picture, and includes a place called the field of blood. The story is told, and involves whisky and the McGregors. See “whisky”.
Before we reach the field of blood, (and in fairness we walked past it, knwing as we did nothing) the pathway follows the railway. The industrial past is there to be seen, but you do need to ask questions. For instance, the Campsie Line was crossed by another line from Castlecary, through Croy and passing over the Campsie line to Maryhill via Torrance. The crossing is clear, with bulwarks of stone still remaining.
The industrial srawl that affected so much of the Central Belt of Scotland has gradually been being taken back, either by or by people. The loss of heavy industry, like engineering, like mining, mean that the capacity to win bread appears final, and in many respects the delight of walking old railways has meant that re-used countryside has greened the environment, I think to the better. I feel that fossilised industry offers a way into the past just as scratching around looking for dinosaur fossils does. Just as walking along these paths means walking into the past, the sense of layers of history just deepens the quality of the experience of walking. Nan Shepherd talked about walking into the hills (must read the book sometime): perhaps we walk into our past even as we walk through it.
The trackbed leads up to what was Milton of Campsie Station, which still looks like a station but is actually a pleasant place, with seats, and bikes and pots and plants. It is clearly a good place to be, and Neil sitting on the Up platform munched thoughtfully on his sarnies, and I did the same on the down.
The remaining part of this leg of the JMW, about 12k, mainly follows the route of the railway. Easy walking, and pleasant coutryside. We met dog walkers and cyclists but once again, no John Muir walkers. It was a long stretch of walking, 21k, but short of the 29.5k on the next stage from Strathblane to Balloch.
The coutryside was just that: scattered houses and farms along the strath, and at the end a surprise: Dunglass.