Day 6: Cleland to Greenhead Moss

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 from Cleland to Greenhead Moss in North Lanarkshire.

“What do you want to go to Cleland for?” asked the taxi driver at Motherwell station, with a hint of incredulity, as I got into the cab. He lent out of the window to call to the other drivers who were congregated by the taxi rank “She’s heading to Teucheter-land, this one!”

Having only known the word ‘Tuechter’ used as a derogatory word for folks from the Highlands, I wondered what Teuchter-land meant in this context. “I live between Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch. Is that Teuchter-land?” I asked.

“Kilsyth is OK” he said, and then added hurriedly, “But I wouldn’t live there.”

Cleland is a mining village separated from Carfin by green belt. It once had an iron works and two train stations. Wikipedia tells me that a lot of famous footballers have come from Cleland as well as Sidney Devine, a Scottish Country Singer who, even I, had heard of. 

The taxi driver didn’t seem to have a nice word to say about Cleland.

“Cleland is cliquey” he said, “No-one is accepted in Cleland unless they and their grandparents were born there”.

I assured him that I wasn’t planning on staying long. 

He drew up in front of a brown pebble-dash semi right next to the station to drop me off. “A man killed his wife in that house” was his parting shot.

I met my friend Susie at the station, back in Glasgow for a visit from her home in Brazil. We set off confidently to a path cutting between houses and an old church of Scotland, marked on the 1:50,000, and which would take us onto a disused railway and hopefully most of the way to Murdostoun castle, which looked like it had a network of paths. We walked back and forth a couple of times but the path wasn’t there. In its place stood three new-build houses. There was no provision for accessing the path beyond so I knocked on the door of an older bungalow to ask if we could go through their garden. In the end we headed further along the main road and forked off down a country lane. 

The path along the old railway was beautiful, with rosebay willow herb bursting into clouds of white fluffy seeds on the banks of the cutting. “This is lovely” said Susie and I chided her for saying that so early in the walk. It was lovely though. We had a view of fields and hedgerows and, beyond them, the pyramid of a bing rising up from a housing estate, reminding us we were never far from a mine.

Our route crossed a dual carriageway and I had decided, from my studies of the map and google earth, that there would be a culvert that would take us through to the other side of the road. The track didn’t seem to head in the right direction so we cut across a field and, sure enough, we found one. The walls of the tunnel were formed of corrugated iron, thick with black dust. We peered into the dark towards the circle of light at the other side. Fifty metres of mud and standing water lay ahead, with a row of car and lorry tyres lying half submerged. It didn’t look very welcoming, but neither did the thought of crossing the dual carriageway above. The tyres stretched all the way through the culvert and so we balanced, tyre to tyre, hands on the corrugated walls of the tunnel and I wished I’d brought something to clean my hands on before I ate my lunch.

Ahead was, what looked on the map like a country park – woodlands, paths, a river and a castle. But that was wishful thinking. The trail of abandoned tyres continued as we walked up a bank. It looked like quad bikes or scramble bikes had carved these paths through the woods, some were mud, but others were metalled, the vegetation encroaching from each side so only a foot of tarmac remained. Susie and I chatted about her life in Brazil as we climbed out of the woodland and into a huge sloping field of grazing sheep completely hemmed in by woodland on each side and with a copse of limes in the middle. Across the field the trees we could see contrasted with the sycamore we’d been walking through and I could see tall specimen trees: cedar, Douglas fir, limes. On the rolling fields beyond there were a collection of slowly turning wind turbines.

As we neared the castle we joined an old avenue of limes and, arranged in a huge pile amongst the rhododendrons, was a snake-pit of abandoned piping and insulation. In the dappled lighting of the woodland it looked strangely natural – like the nest of a dragon, or the dung of a building-sized animal with a particularly bad case of worms.

We passed the castle, boarded up, and with a brain injury rehabilitation unit in the grounds, and down to the spectacular walled garden – overgrown but evidently still somewhat cared for. We were heading for the river where, I had assured Susie, was a footbridge. To our surprise there was a small bungalow almost on the track, and our route seemed to continue through its ragged and unfenced garden. A speckled grey chicken and a muscovy duck sat on the front step. We wondered whether we should ask at the house for permission to continue down the track to the river, but it was quiet so we scurried past and into the woods beyond.

The footbridge turned out to be hostile to pedestrians, carrying a large sewerage pipe.  The rings of spikes on the pipe (and self-preservation) deterred us from climbing up and shimmying along it. Suzie went off to explore alternatives to cross but found none so there was nothing else for it but to walk across the river.

By this time Susie had unzipped the legs of her walking trousers below the knee to make shorts, and she put her gaiters on and managed to keep (almost) dry feet.

I had also assured Susie that there was a track on the other side of the river “see it’s there on the map” I’d said with confidence. By the time we had scrambled up the river bank through nettle and bramble and discovered there was no track to be found, indeed that there was just a very steep slope ahead, it was too late to find an alternative route. We delicately ascended the bank, holding onto seedling sycamores and pulling on larger branches as our feet slipped on the mud. At the top we emerged into a field of long grass with a purple wheelie bin right in the middle “recycle here” it said on the lid.

We were getting close to Newmains and, with it, the network of paths that I have discovered always criss-crossed the countryside close to habitation. We followed a small path into a wood of young sycamore and birch and to a door cut in a 6 ft high wooden fence appeared. “Will this be someone’s garden” asked Suzie as we stepped through into the manicured communal grass of a housing estate. In my greenbelt walk, this is the second secret door I’ve found cut into the perimeter fence of a housing estate.  People taking access to the countryside into their own hands.

We hit a couple of cul-de-sacs in the estate before we found a muddy and narrow path, made by the feet of many people, along what must have been a disused railway. It took us between houses and out onto a bigger path heading up a well-mown hill.  A group of five teenagers, dressed in almost matching tracksuits passed us.

“Hey Mrs! Hey. Hey!!!” called one of the boys “are you heading up Honkey Bing?”

We stopped and turned around. We must have cut quite a dash in the neighbourhood, Susie with her trousers zipped off at the knee, and gaiters below, both of us wearing walking boots, and rucksacks and holding an Ordnance survey map. They must have spotted that we weren’t locals. 

“That’s where the neds go to sniff [couldn’t make out the word].” 

We nodded our thanks for the warning and turned to carry on. 

“But Mrs! Watch out there’s Protestants over the other side”.

“Protestants?” I said with extreme surprise, “where are the Protestants?”

“They’re just by ASDA”

We assured them that we would be OK and that we’d walked all the way from Cleland today. “OK Mrs”, said another of the teenagers “but if you see one just ….’ and he mimed taking a major league baseball shot with the empty glass bottle in his hand.

We thanked them and turned to walk up the green backbone of the bing, rising above the estate and the scrubby woodlands at its base. About 100m further on we reached the top and, sure enough, on the other side was a simple stone building with no windows, “Gospel Hall” was carved over the door.

“Ah, this will be where the protestants are!” said Susie. 

We had taken a bit of a detour to get across the river by the non-existent footbridge and so had strayed away from the green belt and found ourselves walking along the main road past ASDA and towards Wishaw. One of our maps showed a path coming off the main road, just past four advertising hoardings entreating us to buy uPVC windows and a holiday, and diving between houses, whereas the other was more ambiguous.

On the walk so far most paths marked on the map showed no sign on the ground, especially where it was shown on one map and not the other,  but this one – though it looked like it was taking us up a dead end road- actually turned behind someone’s garden and took us into some open ground at the back. We were back in the green belt and promptly started walking in the wrong direction. We found ourselves in the football ground for Newmains United Football Club, ‘Smile! You are on CCTV’ with huge stainless steel fencing between us and where we wanted to go.  We double backed, found the path through scrub and rosebay willowherb and, skirting a high security storage facility for trucks and burger-vans, we found our way to the edge (almost) of  Greenhead Moss.  

I’d chosen Greenhead Moss as one of the places I wanted to walk through because, when I worked at Scottish Natural Heritage, now Nature Scot, in the early 2000s, I was involved in a plan for interpretation at the moss, which is jointly managed by the council and the Greenhead Moss Community Trust. Most of the site is a reclaimed coal mine with woodland and a network of good paths, but it also has a small remnant of one of the very rare intact raised bogs once common in central Scotland. I had a recollection of visiting the site probably 20 years ago to hear about the paths and interpretation project and I hadn’t visited since. 

My clearest memory was of the steep slope down from the level of the intact raised bog, down to the current level of most of the site, which takes you through 10,000 years of peat accumulation. 10m of peat means that a bog had existed here, and been accumulating sphagnum moss, since the end of the last ice age.  On that visit my hosts from North Lanarkshire Council and the community group had explained their plans for a ‘Stratigraphic Staircase’ to take the path up to the raised bog with illustrations of the age of the peat at each level.

We asked a man who was working in his garden in a row of houses that must have backed onto Greenhead Moss, how to get through. He directed us a mile down the main road to the official entrance and car park. We started down the route but saw, a few houses further on,  a gap between the houses surrounded by 8ft high temporary metal fencing. I stopped knowing that there would be a route through, as experience so far on this walk has shown me, and, sure enough, there was a small gap between a garden wall and the fencing with a well trodden path leading through the thistles and scrub into the field beyond. We carried on, passing the back garden of the man who had directed us miles round to the official entrance, and walked across a sloping field of long grass with lovely views back towards the campsies, into a woodland. After some following of desire lines and footpaths created by locals, we found the official path network. 

I had hoped we would stumble across the Stratigraphic Staircase in our wanderings but, we didn’t. It obviously serves me right for not using the official entrance, but it gives me a good excuse for visiting again very soon – perhaps even to start my next green belt walk!

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

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