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Green Belt Walk Part 2: North of Kilsyth

This is the second part of the fundraising walk our Director Kat is doing around Greater Glasgow’s Green Belt. She is finding routes and exploring fascinating places on her way around the 250km of green belt land encircling Glasgow and nearby towns.

The sheer scale of the task at hand in circumnavigating the whole Greater Glasgow Greenbelt is starting to sink in, and the sheer lack of time I have at weekends and in days off to do this walk. I estimate that I have done about 10km and have at least 200km to go. So I’m taking every opportunity to do a bit here and there as I am starting so close to home.

This week a friend suggested we meet up while her son was at a swimming lesson in Kilsyth, and, since I finished the last bit of the walk just outside Kilsyth, this small sliver of time seemed tailor-made to accommodate the next bit of the Green Belts odyssey. A quick calculation using Naismith’s rule told me that we could do the 6 kms in an hour and a half (even though we only had an hour and 15 mins once we’d accounted for the drop off and pick-up) and I assured Julie that all would be well.

We set off from Colzium Country Park, walking past the 18th Century mansion house and a lovely walled garden, I took a peek into the garden as we passed, and the café with a terrace, and made a mental note to return when I had bit more time. Our route took us across the Tak Ma Doon Road, popular with bands of lycra-clad cyclists, which winds up and over the Campsie hills. A friend who grew up in Kilsyth told me that the name came from it being the route used by drovers to take their cattle down to Glasgow. His daughter told me it was because the farmers on the hill would roll their goods down the road to market in Kilsyth.

Just a kilometre east from here the hills of the Campsies level out into a bog called Slaughter Howe, which was the site of the Battle of Kilsyth in 1645 where an advancing Scottish Royalist army destroyed the Covenanters (allied with England) killing three quarters of their men. It is thought at least 4000 men died at the Battle, which was, apparently, one of Scotland’s most significant battles, alongside Culloden and Bannockburn.

From the map it looked like you could cross straight over the Tak Me Doon Road and skirt round some quarries on a track but we came across a firmly locked gate. Instead we took a path which forked off in the right direction (looking at olds maps I found this was the route of an old mineral railway linking up some of the collieries with the mainline) and took us along the backs of gardens and over a bridge with a rushing burn below (no time to look for any picturesque waterfalls – it was already 7pm). We turned a sharp right to continue skirting the town, right on the boundary of the green belt – houses from 60s council housing to larger modern villas on the left, and the burn in a belt of woodland on the right. Every few minutes I checked the time with Julie, it was rushing past and we were still in Kilsyth.

At a huge farm we stopped climbing and turned along a track that contoured above the town. Straight on would have taken us to the gorges and pools of the Garrel Burn and the Covenanters’ cave where there are supposed to be stone heads carved by a local. But that would need to wait to another day. We were, instead, faced with a lake of slurry and mud reaching shore to shore across the track. There were no stepping stones, and seemingly no way around. Julie bravely walked through, liquid cow poo topping her walking boots. I considered retreating to a gate and going through the field but time was most definitely of the essence and by crawling along the line of the hedge, I managed to avoid the worst perils of the lake of manure.

Continuing along the track we left the outskirts of Kilsyth and entered a pretty patchwork of grassy fields, and hedgerows, but it wasn’t always like this. Printed onto the wall panels in our shower is an old map of the area surveyed in 1859. The track we were walking along is marked as a tree-lined road and dotted everywhere on the map, along the slope we were traversing, are marked coal mines and, also limestone workings and lime kilns. This area was once at the heart of an industrial landscape.

“It’s 740pm” says Julie, and then we really have to pick up the pace. From here it is cross country to my car. Over a fence, wade a burn, across a field of startled sheep, and then down the steep beech-shaded banks of Wham Glen.  

When we moved to the area, we received a fascinating letter which had been written in the 1940s and was a summary of local history. The letter recalls that “In Wham Glen the farm lads in years past used to make wham sticks. These sticks were peeled and dried and sold to Cattle Dealers at the Riot Fair”. Wham sticks; Riot Fair…. So evocative, but what is a Wham stick, and what was the Riot Fair? The west side of the glen is covered in hazels, not a very common tree for the area, which also make good straight sticks when coppiced. So that must solve the mystery of the wham stick –  I’d need to do a bit more research about the Riot Fair.

Wham Glen forms part of the Corrie Burn SSSI, special for its Carboniferous geology. The coal and the limestone workings on the map are down to the fact that this bit of green belt was once a shallow sea and a forested swamp (“plus ca change” Julie might have said as we clambered through woods, and sank into bogs…)

This glen is, according to the citation, the best place to see the full stratigraphy including some fossil beds. But there isn’t time for fossil hunting as we are scrambling down the stream and then up the bank the other side into a field of nettles. A fence and a couple of gates and we are on the home stretch, scratched, muddy, stung and happy that we managed to get to the swimming pool in time (just).

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

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