So I had got to Edinburgh and then I had to get back again so I decided to go along the Union Canal to Falkirk. It was a bit of a grey morning and I had no food so found some nice locals at Leamington Wharf who pointed me in the right direction to the corner shop where I bought a picnic of a Cadbury’s fudge (a finger of fudge being just enough), a bread roll and a packet of gouda slices.
Leamington Wharf is in the process of being redeveloped at the moment.
There are a few canal boats there already. You can buy a mooring on ebay from about £3,000 for 3 years. There is a also a floating hotel, a canal info centre and some cool metal swans.
It’s not quite the magic of Amsterdam canals, but I guess this sort of redevelopment will take some time after the canals fell into disuse with the advent of the railways. They simply weren’t economical to transport coal and stuff around. But with the advent of the millennium and some funding from somewhere, slowly, slowly the canals are coming back into use but not for the movement of goods rather for cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and the like.
You pass through the outskirts of Edinburgh and Wester Hailes where a wooden statue of Burke and Hare sends you on your way. They came from Ireland to build this canal but then fell into the practice of selling bodies (dead ones at first then they did the necessary themselves) for anatomy students to practice on. They got £4 for the first body (who was actually dead and whose coffin they lined with tanning bark in place of the body). As they became greedier, they murdered their victims and their method of killing (which left not a mark on the body) became known as “burking”.
Once out of Westerhailes, the scenery becomes more and more rural and prettier and prettier as the canal winds along with trees on either side billowing in the wind. Of course, it was a head wind! Isn’t it always!
I could have stepped inside a Hawkins paintings with the reflections of the tender trees in the water!
And next came Scotland’s answer to Uluru in the shape of oil shale bings of West Lothian. These are composed of the waste material from an industrial process to retort paraffin from deep mined oil bearing shale. This process was patented by James “Paraffin” Young in 1851. For a few years, Scotland was the major oil producing nation of the world! We could have been the next Dubai with our own thistle shaped islands in the North Sea and the tallest cafe selling irn bru anywhere. Alas it was not to be.
The bings are protected both for their biodiversity and also for their industrial heritage though I did see the tracks of some quad bikes so perhaps they also have a social purpose!
Daffodils and ducks brightened up my path next.
The canal basin at Linlithgow provided me with a nice but late stop for lunch! I was getting tired. The result of a head wind I reckon!
The Avon aqueduct was my next photo stop. It is 86 feet high and 810 feet long (the 2nd longest in Britain) with a narrow path which my little, tired legs tottered along on! It was a day of magical light which filtered through the arches onto the grass below.
After the aqueduct I made slow but steady process against the wind to the “Miley”. It was getting late by this time, after 6 and I was rather in a hurry! At first I cycled a bit but then decided it was too dangerous being slippery, slopy and a bit eerie. The local kids call this tunnel the “Miley” and it did feel like it went on for a good mile. Inside it, although there are a few lights, you can really only see either end. So, when I met a young guy halfway through who was almost at the end of my nose by the time I saw him, I almost jumped out of my skin (ie I was really scared!). As you get deeper inside it the walls are lined with stalagmites which adds to the creepiness. Outside, a little shaken but not stirred I chatted to some local kids.
“Hey missus did you just come through the miley?” they asked me.
“Yes” I replied.
“How was it?”
“A bit creepy” I said trying to act like a brave adult but failing miserably.
One of the kids crossed his fingers (for luck) and said to his mate, right we’ve got to do it! And off they headed, hesitantly, to the Miley!
I met one of the kids dad’s under a nearby bridge where he was sheltering from a shower. He told me his son was obsessed with the Miley and it is a matter of scary folklore among the locals! I was certainly glad to be out in the open air!
A few miles later and I was at my final destination, the magnificent Falkirk Wheel. While I had cruised down the Yangtze Gorge mesmerized by the high walls on either side and the construction of what the Chinese guide described as the world’s biggest boat lift (at an estimated displacement of 6,000 tonnes), I’d never seen the Falkirk Wheel, itself a remarkable feet of engineering and with a respectable “displacement of 600 tonnes”.
I was a bit late, after 7, and it was a quick stop at the Wheel before I headed through some housing estates to Camelon Station. There I met a trainspotter who was eagerly awaiting a South African steam engine arriving. He regaled me with tales of steam until a train for Stirling arrived. Three hours and a Macdonald’s coffee later together with another finger of fudge…they lied one finger was not enough (!!!) (and a nightride around Glasgow) I was home from my adventure.
As always it had seemed like many days in one!
Time to plan my next adventure I thought…