Friday, 26 July 2013

Biggar to New Lanark

Following Ken’s instructions, I made my way out of Biggar on the Lindsaylands Road, and then turned off to the North for a cross country section which was both shorter and safer. This climbed past a farm, and then became an attractive track bordering fields and then through a
The farm track above Lindsaylands
wood. All the same I managed to lose my way, and found myself crossing the corner of a field overgrown with weeds before reaching more open pastures. Here there was a large herd of heifers galloping around, and I was concerned that they were interested in me rather than just out for exercise. No need to worry, as it turned out – they galloped back the way they had come, and were never closer than a couple of hundred metres. It seemed curious behaviour: cattle seldom seem to do anything very fast, so I have no idea what got into them.

After that it was a minor rod all the way to Thankerton, skirting a hill with a prehistoric fort on the right, with the infant River Clyde on the left. The map actually shows continuous minor streams all the way from Biggar Water, which I had travelled along the previous evening, and the Clyde. It’s not clear where the watershed actually is, but it must be somewhere close to Biggar itself. This is not a very conspicuous watershed, which after all separates water that flows into the North Sea from that which flows out into the Firth of Clyde and the Irish Sea.

Past the watershed - the Clyde at Thankerton
Just before Thankerton I crossed the Clyde, which at that point swing in s great loop to the North before it swings South again to reach the Falls of Clyde above New Lanark. In Thankerton I also crossed the main railway line between Glasgow and London, with frequent Virgin trains zooming past in both directions. Then it was another main road avoidance scheme – a minor road that parallels the A73 before cutting back to cross the road at the Carmichael Visitor Centre. Longer this time, but definitely safer. The Visitor Centre itself was a disappointment: very basic, with no one else in the café, where I treated myself to a pot of tea in the sunshine. As Ken had suggested I asked whether there was an alternative route to Carmichael village, but the vague information I was given didn’t sound very promising, so it was back to the road – a long steady climb, followed by a steep descent into the village. Not much traffic, fortunately – fewer than half a dozen cars over the two and a half miles.

When I reached Carmichael it became evident that the storms that had been threatened had actually materialised. Thunder was only a mile away, and it was obviously raining quite hard under dark grey clouds. However, my direction seemed to be just outside the margin of the storm clouds, and I was still in sunshine for the next three miles. Then, as I reached Douglas
The bridge over Douglas Water - just before the rains
Water, a reasonably large tributary of the Clyde, my luck ran out. So it was on with waterproofs as the first raindrops hit, only to remove them when it seemed I was still outside the margin of the storm. No such luck: the next cloud was directly overhead, and it started to rain quite heavily, and that was how it was for the rest of the walk to New Lanark.

There were no signs, so I took a chance on the first road that appeared to reach the Clyde half a mile above the footbridge at the top of the Clyde walkway. It was somewhat worrying to start, as this was the highest part of the route, and quite open, and the thunder was close. However, it soon started to descend to the river. There I discovered that, even though no track was marked on the map, there was a perfectly good road going exactly where I wanted it to go. I was to discover, over the next couple of days, that the OS Explorer mapping of footpaths in this part of the Clyde valley is woeful, and this was only the first of several places where the mapping bore little resemblance to what was on the ground.

Some relatively modest falls ... 
Then it was the weir at the top of the Clyde Gorge, where I crossed the river, and met the first encouraging sign referring to the Clyde Walkway. The path then winds down beside the river, undulating over bits where there are cliffs, but generally going downhill. This is a spectacular walk, with the Falls of Clyde at the bottom of the cliffs that flank the gorge. It would be inappropriate to describe them as thundering falls on this occasion: although the rain was quite heavy, it was the first after a long dry spell, and the river had yet to respond. In any case a lot of the water is taken off at the weir to feed the pipes which lead down to the power station just above New Lanark. But the falls are still quite impressive even in low water conditions.

... and some more significant ones. The Clyde Gorge
The power station itself is almost at the bottom of the gorge. Below it there is a long stretch of quiet water, almost lake-like, before the next weir. This was built as part of the New Lanark development around 1780, and takes water into a tunnel which carries the water needed to power the mills themselves.

After a mile and a half I reached New Lanark itself. This is an impressive set of old mills, now almost all fully refurbished. They stretch for several hundred metres along the river, with a mill lade emerging from the tunnel to feed water down through the individual mills. These no longer have working wheels, of course, but there is a small hydroelectric plant that feeds the whole site. The drop between the mill lade and the river below is little more than twenty metres, and it seems astonishing that such a modest head of water can supply enough power to operate the spinning machinery and other equipment on four or five floors of each mill building. I had always thought that much greater falls were required to produce any sensible amount of power, but in practice, both here and later in the valley, quite modest drops are exploited for major power projects.

I reached the New Lanark Hotel in Mill Number 1, at about 4:00 p.m. Just as I finished registering Stuart and Elinor Goldsmith also arrived, which seemed an extraordinary coincidence. Susan, however, was not so fortunate: her train from Glasgow broke down, and she was an hour late.

But by 6:30 we were all present and correct for my “rest day” on the Saturday and the next section of the walk on the Sunday.

Rain threatened, but in practice it was largely bright and warm until mid-afternoon, when the heavens opened and thunder and lightning dominated. 17 to 21C. A lot of the day was on roads, though I managed to avoid heavy traffic. 25.71km; maximum elevation 309m; 352m of ascents, 460m of descents.

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