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Travel back in time following along the line of an old Roman wall and an 18th-century canal.
Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 344ft (105m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Tow path, farm road, footpath and road
Landscape Canal, pastures, hillside and woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 348 Campsie Fells
Start/finish NS 719770
Dog friendliness Care near livestock
Parking Car park near old quarry at Kilsyth
Public toilets None on routeWrite a review of this walk
© The Automobile Association 2008. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Leave the car park on to the main road and turn right. Cross the road and turn immediately left on to a road signposted for Twechar and Kirkintilloch. Continue along this road for a short while and, when it turns sharply right, veer off the footpath to the left and on to the tow path of the Forth and Clyde Canal.
2 Go round a barrier and keep on along the tow path until it rejoins the pavement beside the main road. Take the next turning on the left, cross the canal via a bridge and enter Twechar. Continue on this road, heading uphill; near the top keep a look out for a sign on the left pointing to the Antonine Wall and Bar Hill.
3 Take the next turning on the left on to an access road. Continue along here past some houses and continue on a farm track. Go through a gate and uphill. Look back the way you have come for a grand view of the canal as it winds its way towards Glasgow.
4 When you reach the entrance to the Antonine Wall go left through a kissing gate and along a grassy lane, then through another kissing gate to access the site. Veer left and uphill to Bar Hill Fort. From the top of the fort you will see some woodland in front of you. Head for an opening in the trees and on to a well-defined trail.
5 Follow this trail through the trees, then up on to the summit of Castle Hill. From here head downhill with the remains of the Roman's Antonine Wall on your left-hand side. Turn right when your path is blocked by a dry-stone wall and follow it until you intersect a farm track.
6 Turn left and follow this, crossing a gate, to reach a T-junction with the main road. Turn left and head down the hill. Keep to the left at the roundabout, still heading downhill to reach another T-junction. From here cross over the road and re-enter the car park.
Running almost parallel across the central belt of Scotland are two old lines of communication separated in time by some 1,600 years. Despite their antiquity, both have experienced something of a renaissance of interest in recent years.
The Forth and Clyde Canal was the first canal built in Scotland and was created for sea-going vessels. Before it was built, ships had nearly 310 miles (498km) to sail, all the way round the coast of Scotland to get from the west to the east coast. When the canal was completed the journey was reduced to 35 miles (56km). Construction began in 1768 with a team of navvies digging at Grangemouth on the Forth, and 22 years later they finally reached Bowling on the Clyde.
This revolutionary engineering achievement linked Scotland's two great waterways - the Clyde and the Forth. It also substantially reduced the cost of, and therefore considerably increased, trade between the country's two most important cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Because it was built for shipping it had very large locks, 39 of them in total, each 60ft (18m) long and 20ft (6m) wide. A further 3-mile (4.8km) branch section was constructed from Maryhill to Port Dundas, taking trade right into the heart of Glasgow.
When it was new the Forth and Clyde Canal boasted the Kelvin Aqueduct, which at 400ft (122m), was the largest structure of its kind then in existence. In 1802 the trials of the Charlotte Dundas, the world's first practical steamboat were conducted along the canal and Scotland's first iron boat, The Vulcan, was built for a passenger service on this waterway. It was also the first canal to carry loaded railway wagons and was eventually purchased by the Caledonian Railway in 1868. It continued to operate well into the 20th century and finally closed to navigation on 1 January, 1963. However, a growing interest in the leisure potential of canals has led to a revival of its fortunes and after extensive restoration and the creation of the revolutionary Falkirk Wheel it is once more open along its entire length.
The canal followed the line of the much older Antonine Wall, built in AD 142. Like Hadrian's Wall further south it was intended as a barrier to keep the warlike Pictish tribes of the north out of Roman-occupied Britain. But what we now call lowland Scotland had not been completely subdued by the imperial occupiers and, on more than one occasion, hostile tribes forced the Romans back behind their more southerly frontier line at Hadrian's Wall. They finally abandoned the land of Scotland in about ad 180. Built from a stone foundation with a turf rampart behind a ditch and with a series of forts and beacon platforms incorporated along its 37-mile (60km) length, the wall lies just north of the Military Way, a Roman road built to allow troop movements between the Clyde and the Forth.
The Falkirk Wheel is a miracle of modern engineering and the only rotating boat lift in the world. It can carry eight or more boats at a time on a trip taking a mere 15 minutes. When it opened it reconnected the Forth and Clyde and Union canals making it once more possible to travel from the west to the east coast, overland, by boat.
On the summit of Castle Hill are the traces of an Iron-Age fort which stood here long before the Romans came to Scotland. All that remains are two low terraces on the north and west slopes. Sometime during the last couple of centuries bc these and other earthen ramparts would have been surrounded by a wooden palisade and a small group would have occupied some wooden huts safe within.
Buy some sandwiches and a tea or coffee from one of several small baker's shops in Kilsyth town centre and take them with you for a picnic by the canalside. Alternatively, get a hot and satisfying snack from the mobile snack bar at the car park or seek out the Coachman Hotel in Parkfoot Street for a bar meal.