Rain, rain not going away… welcome back to dreich, drookit and LEJoG Day 65
Day 65 pre-amble
Back to those Scottish phrases again for this one. I guess most people will be somewhat familiar with the song ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers‘, by Andy Stewart, from 1960. Well I certainly wasn’t until Simon Mayo started playing it on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show during the run-up to Christmas 1989. Re-released as a direct result of this airplay, it reached number four in the Christmas chart. Yes kids, the past (unlike Scotland, at least for now) is a foreign country and they do things differently there.
Here’s the news from Day 65: it rained all day. Even on Day 60, it rained only in the hills of the Yair Forest. I’m not saying today was anywhere near as bad. For a start I was at 73m above sea level until the Falkirk Wheel, before dropping down for the Forth and Clyde Canal. So I was nowhere near the elevation of, say, the Three Brethren or Minch Moor, and the wind speed was accordingly much lower. And the rain was never horizontal, never driving and rarely as hard as it was between Yair Bridge and Traquair. But, as you may have deduced from the title, I did forget my waterproof trousers. As this is the last day on which I’ll be using the name ‘Ben’, I thought it was about time he made an appearance in a post title.
Hence it’s Ben (rather than Donald), Where’s Your Troosers…?
LEJoG Day 65 (Tuesday 25 August 2020)
Linlithgow to Kilsyth (20½ miles)
Cumulative: 938 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 40 minutes. Average speed: 3.62 mph. Weather: I think we’ve established this: very wet and rainy all day. Also mild to begin with, but cold enough for gloves in afternoon.
Practicalities: Breakfast in room at 7:30am. Aiming to check out within 90 minutes: left at 9:15 after having to call staff as all doors were locked except for the fire exit. On the matter of the canal diversion, assumed the tweet rather than the website was definitive. This proved correct later.
Start: Junction of Union Canal and Preston Road, Linlithgow, 9:25am. End: Auchinstarry Marina, ¾ mile south of Kilsyth, 3:40pm.
The walk uses only OS Explorer map 349 (linked yesterday). It starts about three quarters of the way along the East sheet, changes to West near Falkirk and ends close to the far left of the West sheet.
Might be summed up as: more of the same, but wetter. Canals were dominant once again, but there was a diversion by footpath and road to avoid the landslip, and a change of waterway just over halfway through.
From the start, it was raining hard enough to put my hood up. And to no-one’s surprise, the towpath was far quieter than yesterday. I think I could count the number of fellow walkers on the fingers of one hand. Didn’t see anyone in the 2 miles before the first landmark: the splendid Avon Aqueduct. This one really stands out for both length and design, although I think the prime spot for photos is the river below. It’s difficult to capture the spans from the towpath: my effort is obscured by overhanging greenery.
The Avon Aqueduct, from the east end towpath (just before the welcome sign)
About half a mile later, as the towpath goes under Almond Road, the diversion is signposted. It is the later one as tweeted by Scottish Canals, rather than the original, so they’ve obviously put the work in over the last few days. First you follow Almond Road to the west, then take a footpath straight ahead after the road curves to the right. This leads over the A801 to the village of Maddiston, after which you follow a B-road NW through Rumford and Brightons before rejoining the Union Canal. The total length of the diversion is around four miles. It’s not an attractive or memorable route, so let’s move on.
There’s a section along an industrial road rather than towpath before you re-enter the more familiar rural surroundings. Here I was starting to feel quite self-conscious and stupid. Why are you doing this? It was a thoroughly miserable day; the scenery was deeply uninspiring; I wasn’t enjoying myself at all; the website doesn’t get that many hits; most of the money so far raised for Mind has come from family. Sure I still want the sense of achievement. But really I was experiencing my first prolonged bout of “Broken Pencil” syndrome since 2018. It was difficult to escape the conclusion that I’m doing this as a distraction from the horror recounted in the ‘Head’ posts, the life-changing mess which followed and the consequences I still live with day to day. And once it’s done, what then? I have to find another.
The next point of interest is the Falkirk Tunnel. I said that the towpath was much quieter in the rain and wet. I only saw four cyclists all day. Incredibly – in about 16 miles of canal walking – three of those four (including a couple) were behind me in the 630m Falkirk Tunnel. Now, I was well disposed to all cyclists yesterday, but the path through the tunnel is very narrow and cyclists are asked to dismount. As you can see from this sign:
The couple didn’t dismount: instead they caught me up and asked if they could get past. I don’t know, it just pissed me off. I’ve followed the rules to the letter throughout the walk and always done the right thing. But not even once, not even on a dark, dank, narrow passageway can they do me one small courtesy. OK, this time I was not much more than halfway along, they asked very politely and I had no issue letting them past. But then, as I neared the exit, I turned my head to see another guy on a bike. He’d catch me up before the exit, but he’d have to wait less than 30 seconds behind me. Surely this wasn’t too much of a hindrance on a wet day. But no. He repeatedly sounded his bell as he approached. I’m afraid I’d had enough and just walked on. Hope those extra 30 seconds didn’t spoil your day too much, mate.
The view inside the Falkirk Tunnel
Grimacing on, I looked forward to the first stop I’d permitted myself, at the Falkirk Wheel (11 miles from Linlithgow). This is the major preoccupation of both Mark Moxon and Dave on their corresponding LEJoG stages, and Moxon goes into some detail about the technical workings of the Wheel and the underlying scientific principles. I’ll follow Dave’s approach and leave you with a Wikipedia link and a quick reference to Archimedes’ principle of water displacement. But luckily, my lunch stop (12:30 – 12:55) at the Falkirk Wheel happened to coincide with boats being lowered and raised. So below are some photos of the Wheel in action. The undoubted highlight of Day 65:
1. Red boat (called ‘Eureka’!) enters the approach aqueduct from the south (Union Canal)
2. Eureka at the far end of the approach aqueduct, waiting to enter the Wheel
3. Eureka has now entered the Falkirk Wheel and is being lowered (another boat, not yet visible, is being raised on the left side of the wheel)
4. Zoom in on Eureka being lowered, a few seconds after picture 3 (you can now see part of the boat which is being raised on the left side of the wheel)
5. Eureka now out of sight; raised boat nears top of Wheel
6. The process is complete. The pink boat, just raised, now proceeds along the aqueduct
The approach aqueduct at the top of the Falkirk Wheel is 11m below the Union Canal and is entered by way of two locks. The Falkirk Wheel raises and lowers boats by 24m, enabling them to access the Forth and Clyde Canal. After watching the show, that was my destination too, though I accessed it by the far less visually striking means of a path, car park and footbridge.
The Falkirk Wheel, seen from the north side (Forth and Clyde Canal towpath)
Falkirk Wheel sign on the Forth and Clyde Canal towpath
Of course you can see the cloud from the photos above, but you can’t tell how hard it was raining. Lunchtime and after saw the heaviest rain of the day so far. In spite of the distraction provided by the wheel, morale was at its lowest since Day 60. My response was to put the afterburners on and walk as quickly as possible. I estimated there were about 10 miles to Kilsyth, and then an extra mile to the hotel. I’d already made good progress, but reasoned that the extra energy should be converted into a determination to finish as early as possible. So I just flew down the towpath to Bonnybridge, covering 2 miles in half an hour with a heavy pack.
There was clearly no prospect of the rain clearing or easing, so I just carried on at close to the same speed. In all honesty there is nothing of scenic interest in the whole of the 9½ miles from the Falkirk Wheel to the Auchinstarry Marina near Kilsyth. Never was I tempted to take a photograph. Around 2½ miles after Bonnybridge I passed under the M80 (the second motorway crossing in Scotland and tenth overall). Stayed under there for 5 minutes. Other than the Falkirk Tunnel, it was literally the only respite from the rain all day.
Sometimes, rapid walking along a level, unchanging surface has unforeseen consequences. I went into this week thinking nothing could be easier than 40 or 50 miles of near-continuous canal walking. And, for your lungs and heart rate, that’s correct. But it means the same leg muscles are doing the same things all day for three days, with no spreading of the load. The hamstrings aren’t being stretched by climbs, the quads aren’t being strengthened by careful descents, the lower legs settle into such a comfortable rhythm that you fear pulling a calf muscle on any mildly testing gradient or terrain, such is the shock of the new.
Thankfully I didn’t. However, I saw first hand what happens when this repetitive style of walking coincides with heavy rain and leaving your waterproof trousers at home. That is, you develop an actual lather on your standard walking trousers. Like, a couple of square feet of white soap on the thighs. Even my overcoat caught some of it. I briefly considered titling this post “Lather Troosers”, as the sight so dominated the boring miles along the Forth and Clyde.
The other notable feature was what might be termed ‘Canal Walker’s Bollock’. Picture the scene. You walk very quickly on the flat for several miles, then stop to relieve yourself in a well-concealed bush. And then you bend down slightly to put your map and gloves on the grass. And – oh my god. The adductor muscles just haven’t been used at all, and now this very mild lateral movement has caused a shooting pain that goes directly to the inner thigh and groin and… stays there. As if someone has put a needle in both sides of your scrotum. Moved very gingerly for the next few minutes, trying desperately not to trigger it again. Not entirely successfully, I’m afraid. The only relief comes from walking forward again, and indeed within less than a minute back on the path things are back to normal. I mention this purely because it doesn’t ever happen on the hills or on a normal undulating road/ridge walk.
And also because the walk itself was dull. For several miles after the M80, the canal heads dead straight SW, bound for Auchinstarry. This is great when you’re looking forward to your end point and hotel room, but not interesting to walker or reader. According to my Apple Watch (now working much better for walks than it did a few weeks ago) I actually slowed down on the straight bit. Whether this was boredom or just the after-effects of Canal Walker’s Bollock, who knows?
After the walk
Followed the road north to the Coachman Hotel at Kilsyth. About half the distance of Traquair to Innerleithen. Bloody cold by the time I arrived though, partly due to wind chill, and absolutely no let up in the rain. Once again Mr Sunak had scuppered my plans to eat at the hotel restaurant, but the Coachman offered room service with the same full menu. I had possibly the greatest pizza I’ve eaten outside Italy: a humungous 12″ deep pan chorizo, pepperoni and pancetta. Used the radiator to dry as many of my clothes as possible. I may have forgotten my waterproof troosers, but I did manage to waterproof my backpack today. Therefore my stuff was in a much better state than it was after the walk from Melrose to Traquair three Tuesdays ago.
Struggling for evening entertainment in wet Scottish towns where most tourists are passing walkers, though. Ended up watching old episodes of The Chase. A glamorous life this is not.
Picture (taken 25 August 2020) shows, inevitably, the Falkirk Wheel. First view as I sat down for lunch, before the Eureka boat entered the approach aqueduct.
Next: Day 66 (26 August 2020)… in which the West Highland, and a certain western island, are each a part of the main.