Linlithgow to Falkirk Back to South of Scotland Way index Croy to Milngavie

The Walk

Our journey across Scotland's central belt continues, now with the Kilsyth hills forming the backdrop to the north and with Glasgow coming ever closer. There is effectively a broad choice of two routes today, for we can choose to follow the canal towpaths yet again, or to explore the route of the Antonine Wall, an ancient Roman earthwork. Hamish Brown's walk largely followed the wall through this section, but it must be admitted that much of its course is difficult to follow. My preferred route sticks to the canals as far as Castle Cary then generally follows the course of the wall to Croy Hill. The alternative along the canal towpath almost as far as Kilsyth is shown on the route diagram above but the choice of route might be forced on you, as the canal underbridge beneath the M80 just before Castle Cary is prone to flooding and may be impassable. Early in the day's walk we reach one of the major highlights of the South of Scotland Way, the civil enginering masterpiece that is the Falkirk Wheel. This counterbalanced canal lift was completed in 2002 and serves to link the Union Canal to the Forth-Clyde canal some 115 ft lower. The original link via a series of eleven locks was severed many years ago in what are now the western residential outskirts of the town, and part of the ancillary works connected with the Wheel involve around two kilometres of new navigation to extend the Union canal westwards. Its towpath now forms part of the route.

Maps: OS 1:25000 Explorer 349 (Falkirk)

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Falkirk High railway stationSlamannan Road

The walk begins from Falkirk High railway station, roughly half way between Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Queen St and about 25 minutes' travel from either. From the east end of the eastbound platform, climb the steps to Slammanan Road and turn right, proceeding along the road to the west. In around 300m you will see a path leading off to the right that gives access to the towpath of the Union Canal.

Rejoining the Union Canal from Slammanan Road

The Union Canal at Falkirk

Our route follows the canal towpath once more. The canal, having just emerged from a tunnel, bends to the left to resume its jourmey westwards. Initially it runs alongside a small area of parkland, though after the bend it comes alongside the railway. For the next mile or so, the canal and railway run alongside each other on the southern outskirts of Falkirk.

Scenes along the Union Canal towpath, Falkirk

Approaching the former terminus of the canal

The canal gradually develops a screen of trees on both sides, and less is seen of Falkirk's suburbs. We're approaching the former terminus of the Union canal. In the 1820's when the canal was built, a series of 11 locks was constructed in the locality of Tamfourhill to take the canal down 110ft to the Forth-Clyde canal about half a mile to the north. These were the only locks on the canal, which along the rest of its length stayed at exactly the same contour. At some later time (I have no information as to when, but presumeably sometime during the first half of the 20th century), the link was severed and filled in and the locks demolished. The first image below shows where the link diverged to the right. A few hundred metres beyond there is a turning bay (third image below) after which, up to the late 1990's, the canal simply stopped.

The Union Canal at its former terminus south of Tamfourhill

Our route would previously have led down a ramped track to Greenbank road, then along a residential road to the Union Inn (the site of the old canal junction) and thereafter along the Forth-Clyde canal towpath. Things have changed for the better, for major engineering works (recently completed as I write) have extended the Union canal by roughly a mile and a half to a new junction west of Camelon, involving the massive and futuristic canal lift known as the Falkirk Wheel.

Falkirk Wheel

The new section of the Union Canal west of Greenbank

The new section of the Union Canal beyond Greenbank looks pretty much like a new road construction at the moment, and it will take a few years for nature to cloak the surroundings in greenery and blend it in. The new canal and its towpath crosses a small handful of roads, both by overbridges and underbridges. You soon reach the first lock, which drops the canal substantially (the figure is unknown but looks to be a good twelve feet or so), after which the canal turns right into a short tunnel.

The new Union Canal and the Falkirk Wheel upper lock

The tunnel beneath the railway and the Antonine Wall

The tunnel is around 200m long. There's no need for a torch, the tunnel is broad and the substantial towpath is protected by railings. At the north end of the tunnel you come out onto the Falkirk Wheel's upper approach viaduct. Pedestrian access is restricted.

Falkirk Wheel upper approach viaduct

The Falkirk Wheel from above

Only as you make your way down the embankment to the Wheel's lower level does its structure reveal itself. Its centrepiece is a pivoted structure with a boat cradle at either side, 35 metres apart, each holding 600 tonnes of water. In the vertical position one cradle mates to the upper viaduct and the other rests at the level of the lagoon. The two cradles counterbalance each other and the lifting mechanism is hydraulic, needing a bare minimum of energy (apparently just a couple of kilowatts). A half turn of the pivot brings the upper cradle to the lower level and vice versa, lifting eastbound canal traffic from the Forth-Clyde to the Union canal and dropping westbound traffic in the other direction in the same operation. The lift takes approximately five minutes.

The Falkirk Wheel

British Waterways realised at the outset that the Wheel would be a major tourist attraction in its own right, and have provided an adjacent visitor centre with car parks and a picnic area. The visitor centre contains an (expensive) cafe, viewing gallery, gift shop and toilets, and lays on entertainment and other events. The visitor centre is itself a futuristic piece of architechture.

  The Falkirk Wheel website

Falkirk Wheel visitor centre

Falkirk Wheel and lagoon

Below the Wheel and adjacent to the visitor centre is a lagoon - part lake, part marina, and roughly circular in shape. Once the surroundings mature this will be a nice place to be. At the north end of the lagoon another lock drops the Union Canal the final few feet to the level of the Forth-Clyde. A pedestrian swing bridge allows access to the Forth-Clyde canal towpath on its northern bank.

The new junction between the Union and Forth-Clyde canals

Joining the Forth-Clyde canal

Turn left and follow the towpath of the Forth-Clyde canal. In a very short distance it leaves the environs of Camelon and the Falkirk Wheel and runs through pleasant pastoral country towards Bonnybridge.


The first stretch of the Forth-Clyde canal

There isn't much to say about the towpath between Camelon and Bonnybridge, a distance of around a mile and a quarter. It echoes the stretches of Union canal between Linlithgow and Falkirk as it meanders a little, running through farmland and partially screened by ribbons of woodland. You're losing the views across Stirlingshire towards the Trossachs, and the Kilsyth hills are beginning to appear to the northwest.

Canal towpath, Bonnybridge

Just as the Union canal ran along the southern bounds of Falkirk, the Forth-Clyde canal more or less defines the southern edge of Bonnybridge and you see little of the place from the canal. Should you want to break the journey here, any of the numerous paths that run off to the right will get you to the village centre from where you can get a bus back into Falkirk. I've not explored Bonnybridge to any extent but it appears to be divided into old and new parts, with the old village on this side of Bonny Water and the new part to the north.

The canal at Bonnybridge

Approaching the centre of Bonnybridge

The canal is bridged by the main road just outside Bonnybridge town centre and there is a brief stretch of urban activity. North of the little town there is a giant triangle of motorways, with the M876 from Kincardine Bridge converging with the M80 from Stirling. We'll be meeting the combined motorway at Castle Cary not far ahead.



The canal bends a little to the left past Bonnybridge and runs through more of the same scenery for another couple of miles.Here, the Bonny Water runs to your right while the course of the Antonine Wall is to your left. Unless you're a keen student of Roman history or archaelogical remains, it's not really worth specially seeking out. Attempts to walk along the course of the wall come up against numerous access problems, and there is little to see anyway apart from the obvious line of earthworks. Those with a keen interest in the wall are advised to consult guidebooks on the subject.

The Forth - Clyde Canal near Longcroft

The route from Longcroft to Castlecary

The canal runs on past Longcroft, away to the right. As well as the Antonine Wall, the Edinburgh - Glasgow railway line is also converging from the left. We pass Underwood Lock and its adjacent pub (pictured below) and then approach the motorway overbridge just outside Castlecary. The views towards the Kilsyth hills to the northwest are good.

Underwood Lock

The cnal towpath west of Underwood Lock


Approaching Castlecary

At Castlecary you have a choice of continuing by the canal towpath towards Kilsyth or following Hamish Brown's preferred route along the course of the Antonine Wall. The canal towpath route is straightforward but might be considered monotonous. Beyond the M80 the canal curves to the right around Banknock, then more abruptly to the left again to reach Wyndford lock. Beyond here it runs dead straight for some 3km, broadening out to a width of some 100m for much of the distance.

The Castlecasry approach road and the M80 overbridge

To reach the Antonine Wall option you first need to find Castlecary, and this involves tackling the maze of slip roads immediately east of the village. Take the slip road up to the eastbound B816 and then turn sharp right along this road to cross the M80. Then follow it down to the village, rounding a sharp left bend to dive under the railway line then an even sharper right bend to enter Castlecary itself. It's easy to miss the continuation of the route here. Right by an inn at the eatsern end of the village you will spot a driveway heading off to the right, to what appears to be an industrial yard (on the map it's right by the spot height of 63 metres). Go up this drive but, where it goes right into the yard you will find a stile giving access to a field to your left. Cross the stile into the field and follow its northeastern perimeter to converge with the railway line and then bend further left to follow the earth bank that is one of the better preserved bits of Antonine Wall.

You're OK on this course for some 500 metres, when you come to the outskirts of the vast Wardpark industrial estate. The layout of tracks is confusing and it's anyone's guess how to proceed along the line of the wall. To play safe consult the OS map and find the rough vehicle track heading slightly west of north towards Wyndford lock (this also gives you the option of returning to the canal towpath if you wish). To return to the line of the Antonine Wall turn left just before the railway bridge and follow a straight farm track for one kilometre, then left again to reach the earth bank and line of trees that marks the wall's course.


The stretch of canal west of Wyndford Loch runs across the main watershed. If you're a veretan of the Pennine Way you will be all too aware that one of the main features of watersheds is water. The straight section of canal runs across Dullatur Bog, which gives birth both to Bonny Water (a tributary of the Forth), and the river Kelvin (a trubutary of the Clyde). As has previously been mentioned, the canal is very wide here. Hamish Brown, in his guide to the Edinburgh to Glasgow canals, reports that this part of the canal teems with fish.

You pass Kelvinhead Jetty just over a mile west of Wyndford. Tree cover reappears beyond the jetty, and the surrounding terrain becomes hillier. Dullatur is seen across to the left. The canal reaches the pool of Craigmarloch, and immediately beyond it you should leave the canal towpath and go left across the bridge, then along the Dullatur road for a couple of hundred metres before turning off the road to the right, at a signpost, to ascend Croy Hill.


The Antonine Wall variation of the route follows the line of the wall along the northern edge of Cumbernaulld airfield. Initially the terrain is rough and not a little boggy, and there is nothing that could honestly be descriibed as a path. As you progress, however, the situation improves and there is quite a decent track to follow once you leave the environs of the airfield and reach the lone farm of Westerwood (there are Roman earthworks here marking the site of a fort). The taller buildings of the new town of Cumbernauld can be seen well over to the left, but they are soon lost to view as the terrain starts to get hillier and our route converges with the woods of Mainhead plantation. You cross the main watershed between east and west (Forth and Clyde) somewhere around here, and Dullatur Bog lays down to the right.


Eventually the track brings you out at a sand quarry. Here you go right to pass under the railway line then go immediately left again, the route now running along a surfaced road to Dullatur. The main body of the village lays south of the railway but it has no facilities and is not really worth exploring (sorry, Dullatur). There was once a railway station just to the west (in fact we pass it on the road). Past the old station the road swings right, then half left, to reach the little group of cottages that is Wester Dullatur. About 350 metres further on leave the road to the left (there's a signpost for Croy Hill) and begin the ascent of the hill.

Croy Hill

Croy Hill is probably of sandstone, judging by the quarries arround its flank and the heathland vegetation that cloaks it. The Antonine Wall crosses the hill and the nominal route more or less follows it, though since much of the area is open heath you are pretty much free to wander where you will. Keep heading uphill. The summit is complex and there is more than one top, but remember that the easiest way off the hill is to the north west so don't wander too far south. The best views are to the north and northwest, with the Kilsyth Hills dominating, and the graceful curves of the canal shown to advantage. The town of Kilsyth itself nestles within the valley.

Descend to the northwest, taking care to avoid the quarry works on the west flank of the hill, and aim generally for the northern end of the village.


You will probably end up picking your way through the quarry access yards to reach Croy itself. The day's walk ends here, the continuation of our route leaving to the north for the access drive to Bar Hill. Walk south through the village to reach the railway station at the south end. Croy has a couple of shops but it has a rather sad air and does not invite exploration. The railway station has trains to Glasgow, and to Edinburgh (via Falkirk).

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Linlithgow to Falkirk Back to South of Scotland Way index Croy to Milngavie

This page last updated 10th November 2005