Day 10: a tour of South Lanarkshire’s country parks

Our Director Kat is spending her weekends and days off on a fundraising walk around the Green Belt of Greater Glasgow. This section takes her between South Lanarkshire’s two Country Parks – Chatelherault in Hamilton and Calderglen in East Kilbride.

The plan to circumnavigate the green belts of Glasgow might have been conceived as a summer project, but there was no arguing with the change in the air blowing autumn through the Clyde Valley woodlands.  

This walk started out at Chatelherault country park: parkland and river woodlands near Hamilton, with the endpoint at Calderglen country park on the outskirts of East Kilbride.

Two friends, John and Jamie, met me at the start. Jamie was already a veteran green belt walker, and both are enthusiasts of off-the-beaten-track adventures. They are both part of a vanishingly small community of people walking the ‘Marylins’  – all the summits in Britain with at least 150m clear of a neighbouring summit.  There are over 1500 Marylins and many of them involve exercising ones right of access across some of the least hospitable terrain this country has to offer, namely recently felled Sitka spruce forestry and tussocky bogs. They were, in short, ideal candidates for the green belt walk; seasoned fence climbers and bog trotters.

Chatelherault is a fancy looking stately home run by south Lanarkshire council, which was actually built as a picturesque folly and hunting lodge for the Duke of Hamilton to look at from his palace a mile away. The palace no longer exists, having been undermined by the Duke’s insatiable appetite for the profits of the coal that lay under his estate.

We ate breakfast rolls in a windowless visitor centre hung with a selection of tea-towels (‘Say Aye to a Scotch Pie’), and watched over by pale waxworks representing characters from Chatelherault’s history. “I wonder what a wedding would be like here” said Jamie, pointing at a notice advertising it as a venue.

Fearniegair had been a home of the powerful for centuries before the Dukes of Hamilton, and, just after we set off, we passed the ruins of Cadzow castle on a bluff above the river. Surrounded in scaffolding and fenced off, orange plastic netting fluttered among the oak and the ashes. A few hundred metres further on stood the famous Cadzow oaks, thought to have been planted by King David I who reigned from 1124-1153. The oldest one still standing is known to be at least 570 years old 

A deer fence divided the few barrel-chested oaks within the country park, from the scores of others growing on a neighbouring landowner’s property. It meant that we could not wander amongst the ancient trees as those who planted them as a hunting forest had intended, which took away something of the magic. One of the oaks we stopped by had been split, perhaps by lightning, perhaps by rot and old age, and fires had been lit in its core, blackening the wood.  Scaffolding poles propped up its sagging limbs.

We’d have to cross this deer fence somehow but decided to walk along the path which followed the top of the river gorge to see if we could find a more accessible place. I have climbed deer fences on walks with Jamie before, but was hoping to avoid the indignity.  We eventually found somewhere others had evidently crossed which had, at least, a couple of good posts for footholds and a sturdy strainer post. We were pretty well served with gates through wood pasture beyond and Jamie demonstrated his graceful gate vaults on the ones we couldn’t open.

The walk continued through gated fields and down farm tracks. We passed the first landfill of the day, diggers working on the capping of a section while a large flock of gulls and crows circled. I’ve become a bit more obsessive about planning after a couple of walks which were unexpectedly challenging, looking at the OS maps and aerial photos from google earth to check the maps are up to date. This had definitely brought down the level of jeopardy on the walk, but John was disappointed.

“I was promised trackless wilderness and impassable gorges” he objected as we walked through yet another flat field of grazing sheep.

On the map the obvious route would have skirted north of what looked like another enormous landfill site, where there seemed to be lots of tracks and paths. However we decided against it in case it was shut to the public and, instead, headed south across, what was marked as bog on the map, but turned out to be a large remnant of heather moorland.

I fell in a few holes while John floated miraculously over the surface. My plan had been to cut over to a track but a small one storey building with a chimney, and surrounded by caravans and campers reminded me of the settlement I’d passed near Airdrie and we decided to give it a wide berth.

We stopped for a picnic on the edge of a mature beach woodland on the edge of a steep bank down to another River Calder, the third river so named on this walk, possibly the forth. I had looked up on the web ‘Why are so many rivers called the Calder?’ and discovered that Calder comes from an old word meaning ‘hard or rocky water’.  

Mature beech trees signalled that we were in the woodland policies of another old estate and, having scrambled down the steep sides of the gorge we discovered evidence of an old path along the south side of the river. Lovely walking through a lovely woodland (I know beech trees aren’t native and they have such a dense canopy that they don’t allow an understory to grow – but they are beautiful in autumn and the lack of an understory makes walking through them a joy.)

After a short while we came upon a footbridge – I think this is the first footbridge I have come across that was both marked on the map, and existed on the ground. The bridge took us into the path network of Calderglen country park and through the sandstone cliffs of the river gorge, up to the Baronial Mansionhouse and children’s zoo. I couldn’t persuade my companions to visit the meerkats and parakeets, even for the bargain price of £2, and we finished off with a cup of tea from the boot of Jamie’s car, just as the rain started.


If you’d like to read about the other green belt walks you can do so here

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