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The Antonine Wall and the Forth and Clyde Canal

Travel back in time along a 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 Canal 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 Suitable for dogs, but keep on leads near livestock

Parking Car park near old quarry at Kilsyth

Public toilets None on route

1 Exit the car park to the main road and turn right. Cross the road and take an immediate left on to a road, signed 'Twechar and Kirkintilloch'. Continue along this road for 200yds (183m). When the road turns sharply right, veer off the footpath to the left and on to the tow path of the Forth and Clyde Canal.

2 Continue along the tow path until it rejoins the pavement beside the main road. Turn left, cross the canal via a bridge and enter Twechar.

3 Continue on this road, heading uphill to a sign on the left pointing to the Antonine Wall and Bar Hill. Turn left on to this 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.

5 From the top of the fort you will see some woodland in front of you. Head for an opening in the trees and go on to a well-defined trail. Follow this through the trees and up on to the summit of Castle Hill.

6 From here head downhill with the remains of the Antonine Wall on your left. Turn right when your path is blocked by a dry-stone wall and follow it until you intersect a farm track. Turn left and follow this, crossing a gate, to a T-junction with the main road. Turn left and head downhill. Keep left at the roundabout and at the T-junction cross the road to return to the car park.

Before the Forth and Clyde Canal was built ships had nearly 310 miles (499km) to sail round the coast of Scotland to get from west to east. 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; 22 years later they finally reached Bowling on the Clyde.

This was the first canal built in Scotland and it was created for seagoing vessels. The 39 locks are all 60ft (18m) long and 20ft (6m) wide. It linked the two major waterways of the Clyde and the Forth. A further 3-mile (4.8km) branch was constructed from Maryhill to Port Dundas taking trade right to the heart of Glasgow.

The canal was purchased by the Caledonian Railway in 1868 and was the first canal to carry loaded railway wagons. In 1802 the trials of the Charlotte Dundas, Scotland's first steamboat, were conducted on the canal and Scotland's first iron boat, The Vulcan, was built for a passenger service on the canal in 1818. The canal continued to operate into the 20th century and finally closed to navigation in 1963. Now after extensive restoration and the creation of the revolutionary Falkirk Wheel (PWhile You're There) it is once more open throughout its entire length.

The canal followed the line of the Roman Antonine Wall. This frontier defence was begun by the governor of Britain, Lollius Urbicus, in ad 142, at the time of the Emperor Antoninus Pius. Like the more famous Hadrian's Wall further south, it was intended to keep the warlike Pictish tribes of the north out of Roman territory. But Lowland Scotland had not been completely subdued and, on more than one occasion, the remnants of hostile tribes forced the Romans back to the safety of Hadrian's Wall. The Romans finally gave up and left Scotland about ad 180.

A series of forts, fortlets and beacon platforms were spaced along the 37-mile (60km) length of the wall. This one is about 200ft (61m) south of the wall and as you explore the site you can see traces of the west, north and east ramparts and ditches. Look also for the foundations and outline of the bathhouse and latrines.

The foundations were made of stone and on them was set a rampart of turf with a ditch in front. The Military Way, a Roman road for moving troops ran to the south of the road from the Clyde to the Forth.

While you're there

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 in 2002 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.

What to look for

On the summit of Castle Hill are the traces of an Iron-Age fort. All that remains are two low terraces on the north and west slopes. These and other earthen ramparts would have been surrounded by a wooden palisade and safe within this a small group would have occupied some wooden huts.

Where to eat and drink

Buy some sandwiches and a take-away cup of tea or coffee from one of several small bakers shops in Kilsyth and take them with you for a picnic by the canal. 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.


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