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The Clyde from the Source to the Sea
Chapter I. Descriptive


The traveller by the Caledonian Railway after passing Carstairs finds himself rising rapidly as he enters the mountainous district to the south. On the right the fine conical form of Tinto stands like a guardian of the pass. As he speeds onwards the valley narrows, with great swelling hills on either side. The river Clyde, which the line crossed shortly after leaving Carstairs, is once more alongside, and as the iron horse speeds his way upwards the long train dashes across the winding stream, which is now seen hurrying onwards with more rapidity than when it was first met lower down, where it lazily moved among the meadow-lands.

A well-made road is also observable, being the old mail-coach route to Carlisle. This road was laid out by Telford, a celebrated engineer of nearly a century ago, who, from being a shepherd boy on the slopes of the Eskdale Hills, rose to design some of the most important engineering works carried out at the commencement of the present century. As a road-maker Telford was a worthy successor to the old Roman engineers who have left so many records of their skill and enterprise throughout our country. The present road from Carlisle to Glasgow is pretty much in the line of the early Roman road which passed north from the termination of Hadrian’s Wall at the Solway to the Wall of Antoninus between the Clyde and the Forth. Branches from this road ran down the Clyde Valley to the termination of the latter wall, and passing over the site of Glasgow, reached the Roman station situated near the town of Paisley, which is supposed by some to be the Vanduara of the Romans.

The road, rail, and river are all at this point close alongside one another in the narrow valley. It is not until an elevation of about 1000 ft. is reached that the river parts company, and winding along an upland valley to the right, stretches away like a silver thread into the dark and misty recesses of the Lowther Hills. Curiously enough, this longer terminal feeder of the stream we have been following does not carry the name we know it by farther down, but a shorter branch coming from the hills to the left, called Clydes Burn, is sometimes spoken of as the source of the Clyde. The longer branches, called the Powtrail and Daer Waters, flow from the amphitheatre of hills bounded by Queensberry Hill to the south; of these branches the Daer Water is the more important feeder. According to the Ordnance Survey the river Clyde is first known by that name after the junction of the Powtrail and Daer Waters.

The course of the Clyde is at first in a northerly direction, after which it trends to the east, and passing near Biggar, wheels round in a roughly-semicircular curve. It then starts off in a north-westerly course, which it more or less keeps until, reaching the Firth of Clyde at Greenock, its waters flow seawards in a southerly direction. The length of the river from its source to below Greenock, where the Firth of Clyde begins, may be taken at 100 miles, and the total fall or difference of level between the same points is about 2000 ft. The area of the basin or prolonged valley through which its course flows is about 1600 square miles. Throughout this course great variations of fall occur, notably at the Falls of Clyde, where the total difference of level from above Bonnington to the foot of Stonebyres Falls is 350 feet.

The sources of the Clyde, lying as they do about the centre of the southern part of Scotland and amongst the high hills south of Tinto and around the Moffat district (some of which rise to 2G00 and 2700 feet above the level of the sea), are naturally associated with other waters which also in their turn play an important part in the topography of the district, and many of which are immortalized in Border song and story. Thus within a short distance of the so-called springs of the Clyde, and on the other side of the hills to the eastward, rises the classic Tweed, and not far to the east and south the important tributaries of the latter, the Yarrow, Ettrick, and Teviot; whilst just over the summit level the Annan darts away to the south, making for the far-distant and blue outline of Skiddaw beyond the wide and rapid Solway.

Tributaries of the Nith flow towards the south-west from the western sides of the hills bounding the valley, and on the western side Don Mas Water flows northwards, joining the Clyde itself west of Tinto.

Wilson, in his poem of “The Clyde,” thus describes the surroundings:

“From one vast mountain bursting on the day,
Tweed, Clyde, and Annan urge their separate way.
To Anglia’s shores bright Tweed and Annan run,
That seeks the rising, this the setting sun.”

The district around the upper waters of the Clyde is wild and bleak, and across the hills on the western side lies the Enterkin Pass, thus described by Defoe:

“From Drumlanrig I took a Turn to see the famous Pass of Enterkin or Introkin Hill: It is indeed not easy to describe; but by telling you that it ascends through a winding Bottom for nearly half a Mile, and a Stranger sees nothing terrible, but vast high Mountains on either Hand, tho’ all green, and with Sheep feeding on them to the very Top; when, on a suddain, turning short to the left, and crossing a Rill of Water in the Bottom, you mount the Side of one of those Hills, while, as you go on, the Bottom in which that Water runs down from between the Hills, Keeping its Level on your Right, begins to look very deep, till at Length it is a Precipice horrible and terrifying; on the left the Hill rises almost perpendicular, like a Wall; till being come about half Way, you have a steep, impassable Height on the Left, and a monstrous Casm or Ditch on your Right; deep almost, as the Monument is high, and the Path, or Way, just broad enough for you to lead your Horse on it, and, if his Foot slips, you have nothing to do but let go the Bridle, least he pulls you with him, and then you will have the Satisfaction of seeing him dash’d to Pieces, and lye at the Bottom with his four Shoes uppermost.”

And at a much later date the genial authorof Rah and his Friends, the late Dr. John Brown, writes of the same glen: “ There is something marvellous in the silence of these upland solitudes; the burns slip away without noise; there are no trees, few birds; and it so happened that day that the sheep were nibbling elsewhere, and the shepherds all unseen. There was only £ the weird sound of its own stillness ’ as we walked up the glen. It was refreshing and reassuring after the din of the town, this out-of-the-world, unchangeable place.”

And one of the doctor’s friends, inspired by the spirit of the scene, wrote:

“Yet, I know, there lie, all lonely,
Still to feed thought’s loftiest mood,
Countless glens undesecrated,
Many an awful solitude.

“Many a burn, in unknown corries,
Down dark linns the white foam flings,
Fringed with ruddy-berried rowans,
Fed from everlasting springs.

“Still there sleep unnumbered lochans,
Craig-begirt ’mid deserts dumb,
Where no human road yet travels,
Never tourist’s foot hath come.”

The superficial features of the valley of the Clyde are very varied. Rising amongst the great hills of the Southern Highlands, the course of the river lies for a time amid the moors and rough pasture of these uplands. Lower down, and above the Falls, it moves slowly onwards through spreading meadows, with a wide prospect around of cultivated and wooded slopes. At Bonningtol Fall, however, the scene changes to one of combined beauty and grandeur not easily surpassed. The river, after taking its headlong plunge, rushes along for a couple of miles through a deep and narrow chasm, whose jagged rocks seem to torment and vex the once placid stream, until, after its triple leap at Cora Linn, it escapes for a time into the opener valley below. But along with all this impressive grandeur we have the softening effect of the foliage from the thousand trees and shrubs which clothe the rocky crags, and the varied bloom of the wild flowers amongst the grassy slopes.

Here the calm beauty of the scene appears to have affected Wordsworth, who writes:

“In Cora’s glen the calm how deep,
That trees on loftiest hill Like statues stand, or things asleep,
All motionless and still.”

And now for a few miles we see the river once more comparatively quiet, and notice the angler wading in the shallows, or poised on some rocky ledge, deftly throwing his deceptive fly to catch the sportive trout. The deep and sombre ravine of Cartland Crags is passed on the right, with its caves where Wallace found a hiding-place, and its magnificent viaduct by Telford, with its tapering piers and arches rising high overhead.

Once more at Stonebyres the river makes a series of leaps through a rocky chasm, and thereafter flows onward more leisurely through the orchard district above Hamilton. Here let us take leave of the Falls, saying with Sir John Bo wring:

“O! I have seen the Falls of Clyde,
And never can forget them;
For Memory, in her hours of pride,
’Midst gems of thought will set them,
With every living thing allied:
I will not now regret them.”

This part of Lanarkshire appears to have been celebrated for its orchards from an early date. Thus we find in the Statistical Survey of Scotland:—“Orchards are of considerable antiquity on the Clyde. Merlin the poet, who wrote about the middle of the fifth century, celebrates Clydesdale for its fruit. The soil and climate being inland, and consequently free from the blasting influence of mildews and fogs, may account for its being so favourable for the cultivation of orchards. At first they were planted in the shape of gardens, attached to houses for the accommodation of resident families. For two centuries or more they have been cultivated as a source of profit; they chiefly prevail, and are most extensive and productive, on the north bank of the Clyde, having a southern exposure, though on the south bank there are also a considerable number, and some of them very fruitful.”

Campbell thus records his memories of a visit to this district:

“It was as sweet an autumn day
As ever shone on Clyde,
And Lanark’s orchards all the way
Put forth their golden pride;
Even hedges busked in bravery,
Look’d rich that sunny moi’n;
The scarlet hip and blackberry
So prank’d September’s thorn.”

The area of ground set apart for orchards in Scotland appears to be nearly 2000 acres, of which Lanarkshire possesses nearly one-third. The fruits cultivated in the Clyde orchards are apples, pears, plums, strawberries, and gooseberries. Apples are not cultivated now to the same extent as formerly, owing to the importation of American varieties. The culture of strawberries has very much increased of late years, arising in part from the extensive manufacture of this and other fruits into jams and jellies, owing to the cheap price of sugar.

Clydesdale has long been famed for its horses, many of which are now exported to America, and fetch large prices on account of their great strength and other valuable qualities. The fine lorry horses in Glasgow, drawing their heavy loads, carefully looked after and well harnessed, are a well-known sight, especially on the carter’s holiday, or mayhap during some civic procession, when they turn out in all the glory of their natural strength.

A writer in the Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland thus describes them; he says: “ Clydesdale horses, the best type of which are perfect models of strength, with shapes eminently calculated for endurance and activity, undoubtedly are, as generally admitted, the best breed for farm work.” On the upland farms the powerful draught of the Clydesdale soon adds furrow to furrow in the stiff soil, and at evening we see the cheery ploughman and “the miry beasts returning from the plough.”

The angler can find plenty of sport on the Clyde. Among the lonely hills, on the rocks or shallows at the foot of the Falls, further down in the Both well haughs, or again at Carmyle in the shade of the Kenmuir woods, he will find the trout rising to his fly. Regarding this Mr. Robert Blakey in his book on Angling says: “The waters from El van foot to the primary rivulets of the river are full of fine trout; and there is a splendid flyfishing range of many miles in extent. The streams are numerous and rippling. The trout found in these waters are of very good quality. The Falls effectually prevent salmon ascending higher up than a few miles below Lanark. The rod-fishing is interrupted by the Falls, which are objects well worthy of a visit from the tourist. Below them good fishing again commences, and continues down to within three miles of Glasgow Bridge.

There are no tributaries of the Clyde of so much fishing repute as to induce the tourist to turn aside from the main stream. If he fishes it properly from its source to the confines of Glasgow he will find the range of waters very interesting, and capable of affording him ample sport.”

Following the course of the river we reach Hamilton, with its ducal palace showing above the tall trees which cover the haugh lands on the left bank, whilst indications of the utilitarian progress of the age may be seen on the opposite side in a briskly-going colliery placed close to the line of the old Homan road. A fine sweep of the river with high terraced banks on the right, on which part of the town of Bothwell is built, also suggests a time long before our historical reckoning when a wider stream swept past, or estuarine waves beat, on the higher slopes, which at that time probably formed an island.

Bothwell Bridge, as originally built, appears to have been of the style commonly adopted by the earlier bridge-builders, that is, a high arch or arches in the centre, nearly if not altogether semicircular, with smaller arches towards the ends or sides of the river. The roadway was also narrow, and this, combined with the great steepness of the gradients on each side of the central arches, must have rendered the passage of wheeled vehicles a laborious process. We have still a number of such old bridges remaining in different parts of the country; some preserving the early characteristics referred to, others showing improvements in wider roadways and less steep gradients.

The Bridge appears to have been built at an early date. It was originally only 20 feet wide, had a steep roadway, and was fortified by a gateway at the Hamilton side. It appears to have retained its smaller side arches till 1826, when it was widened; the addition which was made on the up side was 22 feet. This difference in the mason work is readily noticeable, as the old or downstream part of the centre arches is of a kind of ribbed work, the new part being plain in the soffit or under part of the arch. The piers, which are 15 feet thick, have heavy starlings both on the up and down side of the stream. Some years ago the width was still further increased by iron work carrying a footway 5 feet wide. The footway thus projects from the stonework of each side, and the carriage roadway, which is 30 feet wide, extends over the whole breadth of the stone structure. There are now four arches of 45 feet span, and the length of the bridge from bank to bank is 225 feet.

The roadway of the bridge is now level, and the road on each side rises with a considerable gradient. The old road on the Glasgow side was much steeper than the new approach, and had in addition the disadvantage of leaving the bridge at nearly a right angle, turning sharply in the reverse direction as it ascended the hill. In coming down this hill on a dark night, taking the sharp turns required to get on the bridge, must have called for all the well-known skill of the drivers of the mail-coaches of the old days. Standing on the bridge and viewing the changes which have taken place there, it is difficult to picture to one’s self the unsettled and troublous times of our forefathers, when the struggle for its possession took place. When

“The muskets were flashing, the blue swords were gleaming,
The helmets were cleft, and the red blood was streaming.”

Passing the Blantyre mills, where at one time the great African traveller Livingstone worked when a boy, and who was born at the village of the same name adjoining, the river flows through the steep and beautifully-wooded slopes between Blantyre Priory and Bothwell Castle.

After passing Uddingston the course of the river is through Kenmuir Wood and past Carmyle—favourite haunt of fisherman and artist—and as it winds along in the flat grounds it passes in turn some well-known landmarks, such as the Clyde Iron Works, the site of the old Glasgow Water Works, and then through the high arches of the old bridge leading to Eutherglen, the handsome tower of the town building of this ancient burgh rising high on the left. Hugh M'Donald in his interesting Rambles Round Glasgow, says: “The steeple of a small though very ancient church, on the site of which the present one was built, stands in the vicinity, a venerable memorial of bygone ages, associated with recollections of several interesting events in Scottish history. According to Blind Harry, the biographer of Wallace, a peace was concluded here between England and Scotland in 1297.” Sweeping in a fine curve round Glasgow Green, and passing through the arches of the various bridges which connect the northern and southern parts of the city, the river holds its way to the sea, hemmed in now by quay walls and dykes, with the buckets of the dredger constantly scooping out the loose material from the bottom, and thus fitting it to bear on its now broadening bosom the vast fleet of vessels, new and old, which constantly ply on its waters.

The valley of the Clyde from Glasgow downwards is wide and open, with great areas of comparatively fiat and fertile land stretching hack on either side to the ranges of hills which bound its course to north and south.

Several fine old mansion houses are still to be seen on the banks, many of them now incorporated in the numerous shipbuilding yards which line the river.

Campbell—with more of sympathy for nature than for the triumphs of science and art—expresses himself forcibly on the changes which have taken place through the shipbuilding and engineering industries on the river banks:

“And call they this Improvement?—to have changed
My native Clyde, thy once romantic shore,
Where Nature’s face is banished and estranged,
And Heaven reflected in thy wave no more;
Whose banks, that sweeten’d May-day breath before,
Lie sere and leafless now in summer’s beam,
With sooty exhalations covered o’er;
And for the daisied greensward down thy stream
Unsightly brick-lanes smoke and Banking engines gleam.”

About 10 miles from Glasgow the hills on the north side of the valley approach the river, and from a slight elevation called Dalnottar Hill a magnificent view is obtained of the now widening Clyde, with Dumbarton Rock and the distant hills above Dunoon filling up the distance. This view has brought several artists of high reputation to portray its features on canvas. Lovely at all times as the view is, it is specially so on a fine summer evening, when the sun, now nearing the western hills above the Holy Loch, throws a long trail of luminous splendour all along the line of the flowing stream.

Near this point the Forth and Clyde Canal joins the river, the Roman wall terminates but a short distance below, whilst the adjacent village of Old Kilpatrick has the special prestige of being, according to authentic tradition, the birthplace of St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. The harbour of Bowling, where the bulk of the river steamers quietly doze away during the winter months after their busy summer’s work, the monument to Henry Bell, who has the distinguished honour of having started the first passenger steamer in European waters, the Comet, and the great basaltic hill of Dumbuck completely fill the eye of the observer as he contemplates the scene; whilst, turning to the southern side, he sees the handsome mansion and grounds of Erskine House.

Onwards the river sweeps to the sea, hurrying past the Yale of Leven, which opens out to the north, with the massive form of Ben Lomond overlooking the surrounding hills. Wide stretches of sandy flats now show themselves when the tide is out, but the navigable part is kept clear by training walls and constant dredger work, and the sea breezes now curl the waters as they flow past Port-Glasgow and Greenock, to mingle with the salt waters of the tidal wave which beats upon the coast.

Around us now is a varied scene: shipping, from the full-rigged ship and the 5000-ton steamer to the 5-ton yacht and steam-launch; towns and villages lining the shores with the villas and mansions of the prosperous Glasgow merchant; while we may catch a glimpse of the evening steamers racing from the nearest railway terminus, each with its load of business men returning to their families at the coast. The beauties of the Firth of Clyde are deservedly well known, and for this we have to thank the enterprising steamboat-owning firms, who have for more than half a century been actively engaged in opening up the various now well-known routes and consolidating their efforts in connection with railway and coaching transit.

The Firth of Clyde just below the “ Tail of the Bank ” presents many of the well-known characteristics of the West Highland scenery, which in turn is like a miniature Norwegian coast-line. The arms of Loch Long, the Gareloch, and Holy Loch run into the wild Highland hills beyond, like the fiords of the old Norse land, whilst the Alpine peaks of Arran are seen far away over the low and fertile hills of Bute.

“In night the fairy prospects sink
Ay here Cumray’s isles, with verdant link,
Close the fair entrance of the Clyde;
The woods of Bute no more descried,
Are gone.”


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