Canal towpaths are suitable for everyone but please cycle considerately!
Building the Forth-Clyde Canal started in1768. The chief engineer was John Smeaton, a Yorkshireman of Scottish descent. The canal would run from the mouth of the River Carron, where Grangemouth is currently located, to Bowling on the Clyde, a distance of 35 miles. The navigators (contracted to navies) would dig a channel 17 metres wide. At its peak over 1000 men were working on the canal, mostly with pick and shovel, but there were also masons building bridges, joiners and blacksmiths. The canal had to be supplied with water, this was diverted from rivers and reservoirs. The Forth-Clyde canal opened in 1790, the first vessel to pass through was the Agnes, making her way from Leith to Greenock. Financially the canal was a success, carrying both freight and passengers, though it went into decline with the railway age.
In 1994 British Waterways announced its intention to seek lottery money for restoration of the Forth-Clyde and Union Canals. Since then all the breaks in both canals have been repaired and the Falkirk Wheel constructed to reconnect the two canals together. The Wheel is just the most obvious part of a massive engineering project which included removing 33 obstructions, including over a mile of the Union Canal which had been filled in at Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, dredging and renovating old locks and bridges, repairing the banks, constructing a new link to the River Carron at Grangemouth and improving the towpaths.
Canal towpaths are flat of course, and cars are mostly absent. Ideal for cycling perhaps, but there are other problems: pushchairs, dogs, toddlers, fishermen. The Forth-Clyde Canal towpath is quite wide so pedestrians should be less of a problem.
You should use the following advice when cycling on Tow paths:
Avoid cycling where your tyres would damage the path or verges (e.g. when they are wet or soft).
Consider others: Anglers, walkers and boaters also use our towpaths
Give way to others on the towpath and warn them of your approach. A polite 'hello' and 'thank you' mean a lot
Watch out for anglers tackle and give them time to move it before you try to pass.
Dismount under low or blind bridges
Never race one another or perform speed trials.
We recommend you have third party liability insurance and equip your bike with a bell or equivalent.
Access paths can be steep and slippery. Join or leave the towpath with care
You must get off and push your cycle beneath low or blind bridges, and where the path is very narrow.
If you really have to cycle the towpath after dark, use front and rear lights
Thorny hedge trimmings can cause a puncture. We recommend plastic-reinforced tyres
The termination of the Forth-Clyde Canal is at Bowling, several miles west of Glasgow by the River Clyde. You can start there of course, even get the train to Bowling, or begin in Glasgow if you prefer. The Maryhill Locks near the River Kelvin are an interesting point to start. Note however that the canal splits in two just east of this (a southern spur leads past Partick Thistle Football ground). East of this junction the canal towpath is on the north side, west of this junction it's on the south side. To cross between the two towpaths you have to pass under the canal on a busy road. You can avoid this by starting at Cadder Road or Possil Loch.
As you work east out of Glasgow you pass golf courses and cemeteries then meet The Stables pub. This has tables outside and they serve food all day. There's an urban section in Kirkintilloch then the scenery becomes more attractive as you enter the Kelvin Valley. There are lots of mature trees, the Kilsyth Hills being visible to the north. Unlike the Union Canal the Forth-Clyde has locks which detain boats from time to time. Between Kirkintilloch and the Falkirk Wheel you would have to leave the towpath to get food or drink. The Wheel is not visible as you approach it despite being very large. This rotary boat lift is unique in the world, and very impressive. Needless to say there is a restaurant, shop and visitor centre. You can continue cycling east on the Union Canal towpath to Edinburgh. At the west end of the Forth-Clyde it's also possible to cycle from Bowling to Loch Lomond using the National Cycle Network - see RELATED ROUTES.
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