Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Forth and Clyde Canal - Scotland

Welcome to my Wednesday slot

I've no guest author today, but ...

as part of my series of blog posts about the Helix Park, I’m writing about another amenity which features there.

My husband at the Forth and Clyde Canal- Helix Park
The Forth and Clyde Canal was officially opened in 1790 after a building period of around 20 years, finance available for the progress in fits and starts. At 35 miles long, it stretched across the narrowest part of Scotland and made access available to seagoing vessels from the River Clyde in the west to the River Forth in the east. From Bowling (near Dumbarton) in the west, it was possible to go through canal locks all the way to Grangemouth in the east.

During the earliest part of the nineteenth century, by using the canal many small ships didn’t have to circumnavigate the Scottish coastline. There was no longer a need to sail past the unpredictable waters of the islands to the west, no need for the lengthy time spent heading north and across the far northern coast of Scotland; and no navigation of the difficult North Sea to the east of the coastline. In winter, when circumnavigation of Scotland wasn’t possible the canal provided a route when not iced up.

Seagoing vessels of the late 1700s were small enough to make the passage but soon after this, during the earlier part of the nineteenth century, seagoing vessels were built to larger specifications and could no longer use the canal.

Links to other Scottish canals were made, e.g. the Union Canal, which extended the area that was possible to travel across. Barges, built specifically for canal use, towed by horses were the main users of the canal system right into the twentieth century. Passenger traffic also used parts of the canal for many years during the nineteenth century, successfully transporting passengers by steam powered vessels.

Inevitably, the traffic of goods and people was affected when the railway system was put in place and by the end of the 1930s the canal use was seriously in decline. Roads and motorways were built along the line of the canal meaning a lot of the canal water was in-filled. From then on, many stretches were totally dormant.,
Wikimedia Commons - att: Stephen McKay

I was brought up a short walk away from a stretch of the canal, during the 1960s, but it was a stagnant sorry mess. It was not far from the image above which was taken after recent restoration, but it's clear by the amount of surface debris you can see that that particular stretch of water is still not in much use by boats. Today, the canal towpath, restored to a sound pathway, is popular with walkers and cyclists. I was delighted when various restoration projects around the millennium restored and reopened stretches for public leisure use.
 More about the canal here, (and other places on the web):

Two thousand years ago, Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britannia, circumnavigated the waters of northern Scotland - but naturally didn’t use the Forth and Clyde Canal. However, his infantry legions made their mark across the stretch of land where the canal was later built.

I’ve written about the progress of Agricolan Roman legions across that narrowest stretch of Scotland in After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures. 

Here's a tiny excerpt from After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks where Brennus and his family are approaching what we now name as the 'River Clyde':

Coming down from some foothills and onto a flatter plain in front of him, Brennus turned to his guide. “Will we reach any large Damnonii settlements soon?”
            “We have larger villages but few of those can be named settlements. The hillfort of the Damnonii High Chief is our largest settlement. To get to it you will have to travel on to the part of Damnonii territory where the land is the shortest.”
            As ever Kaideigh’s ears were alert. “What does that mean?”
            He looked to the guide to confirm the answer for his inquisitive child. “You must mean a part of the land that is extremely narrow between the waters of the west and those of the east?”
            “I mean exactly that. The Damnonii High Chief’s settlement is on the southern bank of the large sea going river that is up ahead. A trek from his stronghold to that of the Votadini High Chief near the eastern sea is across that shortest stretch of land.”
            “Is it only a few steps wide?” In her innocent childlike way Kaideigh asked a very important question.
            “Not so narrow. If your father walked very fast, and was able to walk directly from sea-river to sea-river it might take him only three new dawns, but of course our hilly land does not make the walking so easy as that. Depending on the weather, it may take longer.”
            “Only a short time to go across the narrowest part?” Brennus was taken by the idea. “All the way from west to east coasts?”
            “Why does that make you laugh so much, father?”
            He cuddled Kaideigh to his side. “I am just thinking on how long it took us to go westwards from Tarras to the point of Novantae land where it turns north after the headland.”
            Lleia’s voice drifted down from the horse she was riding. “That was a trek of many long days but we did not journey directly west. We visited many villages along the route. Are there many high hills across this shortest stretch of land you speak of?”
            “Some, but no really high ones. It is the best and flattest farmland of all the Damnonii territory, though naturally the land undulates and there are many smaller peaks between the level areas.”
            Brennus could see the next village was not far off, was just able to make out the smoke spiralling up from the roundhouses.
            “Is that the settlement of the High Chief?” As usual Kaideigh was interested in places of some size which might have some children to play with.
            “Nay. You will have to journey on the morrow to reach that one. Dusk will be settling in soon so we must stop at this village for the night if you want to avoid sleeping under your leather.”
             The elders of the village confirmed Roman patrols had been in the area just the day before.
            “How many soldiers?” This was important information to send back via his guide.
            “Less than twenty men but our High Chief has spread the word that many Roman troops have landed near his settlement.”
            Brennus was glad to know that the Damnonii villagers had good communication links even though their villages were quite far apart. It gave him confidence in the links he was establishing.
            The guide the following day was a young warrior, full of battle fury, eager about fulfilling his role to lead them to his High Chief. Kaideigh was full of chatter as they walked through a leafy glade. The sun was high and warmth had already chased away any early cool. “Are we going to see a great big river?”
            The young lad was patient, even encouraged her to talk since it made the journey pass more quickly. “Very wide. We will soon come to the riverside where it has not yet reached the open sea. It is deep there and a crossing is only possible by boat.”

(The area named above in the excerpt is to the west of this map - marked as Damnonii High Chief's Settlement. )


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