Days 17, 18 & 19. Milngavie to Edinburgh (via Kilsyth and Linlithgow). c. 58 miles.
Updated: Feb 5, 2020
Due to the sheer monotony of these days, I have decided to lump them together into one blog entry, both to save you the pain of reading 3 bland pages, and to save me reliving each and every tiresome leg that made up my journey from just north of Glasgow to Edinburgh.
Part 1, to Kilsyth, approximately 14 miles.
Having spent 2 wonderful days in Glasgow with Becky, and my good friends Dylan and Richard (one of whom will be making an extended blog appearance towards the Midlands, how exciting), I hopped on the short train back up to Milngavie feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the leg to Edinburgh, but sadly without charming strangers offering me free beers this time. The first half of the first day here was lovely - the sun shone as I meandered down the charming, and largely empty, Scottish lanes, working my way east to Kilsyth, my destination for the evening.
However, I soon reached my true path for the next few days, the Forth and Clyde canal. This was useful as, unlike my recent West Highland way excursion, the canal was flat, direct, and well stocked with benches. But oh my god, after 20 minutes I was bored, after an hour I was beyond consolation, and by the time I arrived in Kilsyth my feet hurt and I was seriously considering jumping into the canal to end my suffering. Part of the problem was the Forth and Clyde canal itself, I didn't see a single barge, nor pub on the whole thing. Honestly, what is the point of a canal bereft of boats or drinking holes? Kilsyth was average at best, the highlight for me being retreating to my room at 3.15pm to watch the game I'm sure you all saw, Solihull Moors vs Leyton Orient (I had shortened my first day just to catch this clash of titans). It was a nail biting 0-0 which all but secured the Os promotion back into the football league with one game to spare and I celebrated with a few too many beers in the wane South Scottish sunshine and the biggest portion of cheesy nachos I have ever seen in my life. You Os!
Part 2, to. Linlithgow, about 21 miles.
Dreading hitting up the banal canal (that's a fun rhyme) again I awoke feeling hungover and footsore, and so I trudged downstairs to eat alone at my Kilsyth hotel, fortunately their breakfast warmed my flagging spirits. Double egg, double bacon, and a metal container to restrain the beans' propensity for corrupting every item on the plate like some mad, over-bearing parent with a large book of embarrassing childhood photos. tThe only downside was that the 'Lorne' sausage was, in fact, a de-tubed form of the meaty treat. It tasted perfectly fine, but I like the tubular nature of a breakfast sausage, it adds a certain texture to the morning meal, it is satisfying to slice into, and the skin provides an important counter texture on the palate. Good effort though, 8/10.
I won't go into how awfully dull the canal was today, instead I'll focus on engineering marvel - the Falkirk Wheel. Now the canal I was on used to have 32 locks to account for the height differential from start to finish, but the canal had fallen into disrepair at some point in the last hundred years or so and the whole route was abandoned - until Millennium funding allowed for the canal to be reinstated as the 'Mathematical Canal', so called as they replaced all those pesky locks with what can only be described as giant 2 passenger Ferris Wheel for boats, which means the entire canal remains perfectly flat for the entire length. This rotating boat lift carries vessels 24 metres up (and down) to link the now-separate Forth & Clyde and Union canals. As the boats are sat in a pool of water within the lift, boats of different sizes will still weigh the same in the arms due to the displacement of water (this was the very discovery that prompted Archimedes to allegedly shout Eureka!), as a result the gigantic metal structure only uses 7Kv of power which, as the signs by the Wheel proudly proclaim, is the equivalent of using just 8 toasters. What a fascinating metric to use, I know imperial can be a tad tricky as times (just how many furlongs are there to a fathom anyway, and how do you convert that into stone and inches?), but thank your lucky stars we aren't using 'number of toasters in operation' as a standard unit of measurement - though using numbers of horses to describe how fast a car can move remains mental, but that's an issue for another time.
But Falkirk wasn't done yet, oh no. There was a mile long tunnel to stroll through, dug from both ends at the same time into the sheer rock as the landowners of the time refused to allow the canal to spoil the views across their lands. Speaks volumes about the landed gentry really, but the tunnel was legitimately cool. Stalagmites / cites (I forget which) dripped cold, rock-filtered water down the back of my neck and the floor was slick with the accumulated moss and slime of two centuries. Whilst I was technically still on the canal, I almost forgot for a moment, which made the tunnel more than worth the while.
After what felt like a million years, I arrived at Linlithgow and checked into my Airbnb with the charming Kate who was a wonderful host. Linlithgow was a perfect Scottish town. It was the birthplace and residence of Mary Queen of Scots and so boasted a truly impressive Palace and church, as well as a plethora of excellent pubs. It was with sadness that I dragged myself away from the watering holes that lined the cobbled streets, knowing it was another 20 or so miles on the canals tomorrow.
Part 3, to Edinburgh, c. 22 miles.
I hated today. I was footsore from endless miles of unforgiving tarmac, and uninspired by the insipidly stagnant and seemingly endless Union canal. Worse still I had 22 miles with no Falkirk Wheel and no Victorian tunnels to act as highlights, so I shall summarise swiftly.
The walk continued to be lined by those huge, man made hills of slag you can see above, relics of this areas industrial past, and seemingly endless. After the slag hills? Utter boredom for about 10 more miles until I entered the little village of Ratho, one excellent pint on the pub terrace later and I was back on the march, soon strolling over a truly impressive viaduct, so high that to peer over the side was to feel one's stomach lurch unpleasantly.
I finally stomped into Edinburgh and realised that my Airbnb was basically in Leith, the complete other side of the surprisingly large city. On the plus side, I had another rest day tomorrow, mainly to catch up on writing this blog that I had been sorely neglecting. Another significant positive: the drudgery of the canals was complete, and I would be striking south of Edinburgh, deliberately not following any discernible path or recognised trail for the next few days. I think there's something deeply attractive about making it up as you go, especially after following well-defined routes for weeks, and I was looking forward to it. Oh, and my sister bought me a wonderful B&B for my second night in the capital as an early birthday present - nice one sis, corresponding breakfast review coming soon!