Friday, 20 March 2015

The Kelpies. River Carron. Carron Iron Works. Docks and Dams. Cycletracks. Grangemouth.

I'm amazed I'm still finding new places in the Central Belt of Scotland to visit after six years of  doing an almost weekly blog. Part of the reason for this is that I,m not just into hillwalking but cycling, coastal walking, photography, island bagging, city and town exploration, canal and river paths, and finding out about the history of these places as well. The Central Belt has a wealth of these in abundance.
                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
The Kelpies are a new Andy Scott installation at the Helix Park on the Forth and Clyde Canal between Falkirk and Grangemouth, where canal boats can enter or exit the Carron Sea Lock, sculptures that have attracted worldwide interest and acclaim. This was my first visit, apart from shooting past on the nearby M9, so I decided to take my bike. Like a lot of "Honeypot" media hyped events it was very popular but three large car parks soak up the visitor numbers. The Kelpies are an amazing sight for first time visitors and any additional new car parks with a network of walking and bike trails in Scotland are always a bonus. Both Falkirk and Grangemouth have many tourist attractions which can now be linked by bike and it was this I was intending to explore. My heart will always belong to Arria though. My favourite A.S. sculpture now for years...   Full history and reason for her name here.

Dog walker on the entrance to the Sea Lock which leads out into the Firth of Forth and eventually the open sea past Edinburgh. Wonder if the old sea going puffers would still fit?
The development of this site has created a network of trails and linked up many more existing ones, often through a post industrial landscape but with a rich history attached. As I've not explored the River Carron in any great detail I thought I'd just go there and follow my nose when I arrived. Sometimes, magical days out happen because you haven't researched the area beforehand and everything is then a complete surprise and unexpected delight. As I'd already seen the Kelpies and the Helix Park on TV and in numerous photographs from all directions the highlights of this trip turned out to be the range of unknown or half remembered other finds along the way. Obvious really.
One of the things that surprised me the most was how swampy and low lying the trails are in this vicinity. Many go through the genuine swampy wilderness of the River Carron floodplain and its marsh land environment which is fairly extensive by Scottish standards. I had no idea this existed until last weeks cycle trip, a lot of it on boardwalks. This is near the Kelpies heading for the new lagoon area and Falkirk F.C. Stadium.
Home of "the Bairns" where apart from the usual football matches taking place, silver fox Tom Jones will be entertaining the stadium crowd with a medley of winners as well. Found that fact out by visiting the photo gallery in here.
 At this point I turned back around as I was entering Falkirk and heading in the direction of 14th century tourist destination Callendar House, and the Roman built Antonine Wall which I had already explored on previous posts. Although tracks led in numerous directions the River Carron exerted a mighty pull on my curiosity magnet so I turned around and headed back into the elephant swallowing swamps of Stenhousemuir and Downtown Larbert. Mostly terra incognita for me ( and most casual visitors I'd imagine.)
 Would I discover a lost tribe of feral hillbillies living in its depths? A old juke joint or illicit honkytonk perhaps selling swamp made whiskey supped out of old rusty tin cans....or maybe a row of possum pelts or rattle snakes hanging up in the porch... anything seemed possible. It was that kind of place.
Teal Duck. ( I have found my long lost bird book again :o)
The sky was that perfect shade of porcelain blue that has always inspired me throughout my life. Hence the title of this blog of course. My first official cycle ride of "Spring."
Eventually, I arrived via walkway/cycle tracks at the twin loops in the River Carron near Carronshore. More wetland habitats here than you could shake a bullrush at and very few people away from the crowds around the Helix and Kelpies. Mostly local dog walkers and the occasional cyclist. More than a few casual visitors would get lost here in this maze of tracks through the swamplands without a map as indicator boards are either vandalized or tell you nothing. (A sign with "path" pointing in four different directions at once but telling you absolutely nothing about where they might actually end up is not helpful.) Maybe all swamps have this in common judging by late night horror films where outsiders always get lost away from the main highway as soon as they leave town. Maybe they do indeed lead nowhere or join up into a circle as one track looked very much like another out here.
Eventually I found the River Carron itself and then a good cycle track/ walkway leading west along the south bank (Falkirk side) towards Larbert. This passed through Mungal. A great backwoods swamp place name if ever there was one.
Fairly colourful in places though.
With fine rest stops where indeed the locals do seem to have indulged in hard liquor and good times of an evening with winsome female company. I knew I'd find a friendly honky- tonk somewhere on the route! I always do! One to keep in mind when the occasional bar opens again.
The Carron Iron Works came next. This gate house and the high surrounding wall is all that is left of the original Carron Iron Works, for many years the largest and greatest of its kind in Europe. Full and amazing history here.
I had an uncle and aunt who lived near Falkirk and offered to take me as a boy to see the works on an unofficial tour, while they were still open.(1960s at a guess) Shame I've waited until this time for a visit but I still enjoyed vague half memories of certain nearby areas.
The Famous Carronade. Winner of many a ship to ship battle at close quarters at sea.
The massive restored gate near Carron Phoenix.
The Grahamston Gate info.
Detail on the gate.
This is the place I had vague memories about. I've been here before many, many decades ago in early childhood but it looked very different then. It used to be an open dam and curling pond in hard winters but now its completely overgrown into a marshy wildlife reserve with a trail around it (fairly tricky but I managed to get the bike round it, mostly on foot) Strange feeling when you have such strong yet half formed memories about places.
Anyway, it now looks like this. One of the clearer viewpoints on the circular trail and no sign of a water filled middle. I was just thinking " not going to see much here" when I noticed a large fox and more importantly, he failed to notice me. As I could see where he was heading... a strip of green grass higher ground that curved round to my position I lowered the bike and crouched down to wait for his arrival.
A magic moment when I realized he still wasn't aware of me and I might get very close.
He or she was only six to eight feet away when I was spotted by a very surprised fox who seemed disgusted I'd created such a successful ambush and got almost within touching distance. Great result for me though. Probably hunting for wildfowl out in the marshlands as it's paws had black mud on them. Also met a guy out here with a sabre, an air rifle, a large husky dog and an axe who filled the necessary top billing of a local hillbilly nicely so I returned happy as a pig in thick mud. Another mission fulfilled.
A scenic cycle tour around Grangemouth followed. Don't know what it is about this place but I've been fascinated by Grangemouth for many years.
Like cycling through a vast meccano set.
The other local river, The Avon meets Grangemouth. Gas Flares. Even taken from here the heat was noticeable. Felt good after a very cold morning cycle.
What a cracking and varied day out. Grangemouth supplies petrochemicals and oil to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England so it's a vital industry needed to keep our oil based economy on track.
The River Avon. A beautiful wild river running through the Falkirk Uplands, by the time it gets to this point the modern desolation of humanity and it's relentless quest for oil occupies both banks. This entire region sits on thick beds of the right stuff so the Central Belt of Scotland will be the new battle ground for intensive fracking proposals.
Also found out that Grangemouth once had an airfield and trained British and allied pilots during the war with strong links to Poland as many Polish airmen were stationed here and some that survived remained in the neighbourhood.
Replica Spitfire. Grangemouth.

A great song from a local singer. The soaring vocals of Elizabeth Fraser and band the Cocteau Twins who all came from Grangemouth... A beautiful and very under rated Peter Jackson film, much better story and plot than the over hyped King Kong or the Hobbit. Great music throughout and no dwarfs or elves in sight. Saoirse Ronan has since gone on to be one of the most sought after young actresses in Hollywood with Hanna, The Way Back, and Byzantium an interesting and eclectic mix of parts. Song to the Siren is also an under rated classic that's been covered by many different artists over the years.

Cocteau Twins info here. Was she the first mainstream artist to deliberately "sing in tongues" and be noticed for it? Dead can dance formed in 1981 a few years after the twins and REM formed in 1980 as well. Two bands who also seemed to use "glossolalia " at times although certain religious groups have practiced it for centuries. Not an important thing to know but it's the little things that bother me the most.  This particular song has conventional lyrics though.



Carol said...

Those swampy bits looked interesting - really beautiful wetlands - I'd have been a bit worried about meeting characters like the one you met though - especially through those tunnels!

Lux G. said...

Majestic! Would be lovely to take a walk and see all these places one day.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Yes, I always like exploring new rivers and the industrial past. Visiting new places still gives me a thrill as I like getting lost at times. It's a nice feeling so long as it's brief and not life threatening.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Lux Ganzon.

Ida Safstrom said...

Hi! I'm an exchange student from Sweden who studies at SRUC i Edinburgh. I'm making a poster about industrial heritage preservation and river improvement in a module called integrated catchment management and was just wondering if I could use one of your pictures (the walkway/cycle track) on my poster? Of course a will refer to your blog. The poster will seen by my teachers and classmates. Best wishes from Ida

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Ida,
Yes, that's fine with me. You will have to take it from the blog as that's the best size available.

Ida Safstrom said...

Thank you so much! I appreciate it. Enjoy your future trips :) Ida

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers thanks,
Best wishes for your project.