Monday, 20 April 2015

Dumbarton to Balloch. The River Leven Swamp.

                                                 ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
As I had several other things to do on Sunday in the morning it was after 1:00 o clock in the afternoon before I was free to go out. Normally this would be too late for an adventurous day but the great thing about a bike is that 3 or 4 hours can give you a cracking ride through a variety of scenery in a short space of time. Not even stopping for lunch, as it was a great sunny day I tossed the bike in the car and 30 minutes later I was parked at Dumbarton. Mallard drake above.
Although I've been in Dumbarton and Balloch many times it's been at least ten years since I walked the River Leven between the two towns. Under 10km as the crow flies The River Leven as it snakes through the Vale of Leven indulges in some mighty bends, two loops containing an acreage of ground the size of small to medium city parks. This river drains the entire volume of the 23 mile long Loch Lomond, and is the second fastest river in Scotland, after the Spey.
Unless you have walked or cycled along its length, or live in the area, most people will not have heard of the Lomond Swamp, an extensive marshland habitat that spreads over the floodplain between Renton and Dumbarton and most winters gets a new influx of water across it when Loch Lomond receives heavy rainfall or the sea floods in during storms or high spring tides.It's brackish enough for seals to swim right up the Leven and into Loch Lomond, though they can only stay a week to so before they become ill and swim back to the sea. Who knows what other sea creatures from Neptune's Dungeon lurk in the swamp? Sometimes the adjacent walkway/Cycle-track (Route 7 again folks, see last post) disappears under several feet of water and the river struggles to cope with rainwater draining from the steep mountainsides that line this large loch. On a fine sunny day however it's a beautiful place.
According to the information boards along the route, most of which are sadly smashed and hard to read, Robert the Bruce spent his last years near here at Mains of Cardross. A canal, which may have been originally dug out to get the building blocks of stone delivered for his manor house, ran from that into the Leven and there is some evidence that he had a small dock with boats, that being the best way to get around fast in medieval times, as rivers were the highways of the age. As a celebrated veteran of the often vicious Wars of Independence and eventually the liberator of Scotland and King of Scots he spent his free time hunting, fishing and wild fowling in the marshes near here until his death. When he died his last wishes were carried out and his heart was taken by his loyal comrades in arms in a silver casket to fight in the holy lands as he'd always vowed to do when alive. Full story here.
In busy places like Dumbarton the traffic free walkway/cycle-track is divided in two, in outlying areas it's more informal. It goes through a mix of environments from quiet rural countryside to running along the edge of post industrial, semi built up areas, but is never less than interesting throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Around 2 and a half to 3 hours walk one way at a reasonable pace, more if you stop to explore the many points of interest slightly off route. For instance, Levengrove Park in Dumbarton, down beside the Firth of Clyde, is worth a visit by bike or foot.
Main road bridge across the river at Dumbarton.
Dumbarton was looking pretty in the afternoon sunlight with a full display of spring daffodils on show.
Not used to the weather being so good in Scotland.We normally get a few good days here and there but two full weeks of sunshine without any rain is slightly unusual.
The church at Bonhill on the River.
One of the loops on the River Leven. These days the river has several beautiful secluded areas but in the past it was an important industrial base for textiles, printing factories and dyeing works and led the world for many years as the centre of the Turkey Red technique. a secret method of permanent cloth dyeing as red was a notorious colour at that time for running and this area had perfected the method of fixing the colour onto cloth and fabric before anyone else in the UK and most of Europe. The river used to run red into the sea on occasions and was heavily polluted. By the 1960s most of the heavy industry along both banks had disappeared and unemployment and decline took hold. Like many UK post industrial towns in the 1970s,1980s and 1990s the vale had serious problems with slum housing, poor job prospects, alcohol dependency, gangs and drugs.Good industrial history here when this sleepy backwater was a powerhouse and driving light of commerce before London and the south east became the new economy hub of Britain with most other districts of the UK picking up the leftover scraps.The sheer number of different factories lining the banks of this short modest river is astounding.  Pictures in here of all the various works and samples of coloured fabrics.

                                                                Stencil on cycle-track.
Although it has improved a lot in the past 10 years, both in terms of new housing stock and in the natural quality of the surroundings, drugs, drink, gangs and poor employment prospects still blight this area and the current austerity drive certainly isn't helping with over one million now depending regularly on food bank handouts in this country thanks to government sanctions and a massive increase in low paid or zero hours contract jobs. Ironically, some if not all of the political parties that are currently campaigning for an end to these types of jobs have been found to be using them themselves, and even the Queen has given them the royal stamp of approval. Cake for some... crumbs for others. This world will never change. Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK today, many times higher than knife crime, cancer or drug deaths. That's got to tell you something.
A view of the Lang Craigs from the River.
The central section of the Leven is very fast flowing,with powerful currents, particularly after heavy rain or snow-melt in the mountains and gallops along faster than a person running flat out. Swimming is not an option here unless you want to get to Helensburgh faster than the bus or train service. In medieval times a ferry used to carry passengers across from bank to bank near this spot where the river is slightly wider and calmer. A chain ferry connected the later works and you can still see the stone supports of an old railway bridge.
I spotted this mallard in the distance upstream, trying to swim across the river and even he was soon in trouble, paddling hard but making little headway except downstream in the swift current. Exhausted, he took to the air and landed a few feet from where I was having lunch. His reward was half an almond slice and he seemed quite happy he'd crossed the river after that. Beautiful colours and green sheen.
Nearing Balloch and the start of the moored boats.
Lomond Shores and hire kayaks and canoes. Being Easter it was mobbed with tourists. They even had Segway Scooters, mountain bikes and small boats for hire and seemed to be doing a reasonable trade here in the fine weather but for me personally if you were enterprising enough you could look around and pick up a cheap second hand model for the price they were charging per day.
My main aim was to get a view of Loch Lomond to complete my river trip then head back to Dumbarton again and this was achieved without fuss. A very enjoyable 3 to 4 hours at an easy pace.
Well worth doing. By bike or on foot. If walking, regular trains take you back from Balloch or walk downstream to Dumbarton.
Loch Lomond. Birthplace of the River Leven.

Smashing video here. Mountain  and volcano scenery in majestic full screen HD  then a collage of different and fast disappearing cultures around the world. The planet is the same size it always was but the difference now is any conflict or war zone seems to impact directly and immediately around the world thanks to ease of travel and instant communications. Trouble or instability in parts of Africa or the Middle East used to be too far flung to be relevant to Europe but now any conflict around the world is up close and personal the next day in all our lives.


Linda W. said...

What a lovely place to go for a bike ride!

Carol said...

I wish we had more extensive flat cycling around here - we have very little and I'm not great at big, steep hills on a bike.

I might not have fed a mallard drake around here (although I usually feed wildlife if I have anything suitable) as they're disposing rapidly of the females and there are few left now. A total imbalance in nature - not sure how that's come about as it wouldn't normally.

Kay G. said...

Lovely photos, as always and I can just imagine the fresh air!
How sad to think of all the suicides of the young people.
I have a really good photo of a mallard that I took in England...thanks for reminding me!
(I love them, I think they're gorgeous!)

The Glebe Blog said...

You remind me of my dad Bob, back in the 50's and 60's he cycled most of Scotland taking pictures.
Sadly his photographs have gone astray. I keep hoping to come across them at a car boot sale sometime somewhere.

That's a brilliant video. Thanks for that, I've just shared it on Facebook.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda.
Glasgow is a great city for a whole range of varied options for days out.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Loads of flat areas around Lincolnshire, York, Middlesbrough, and The Fens. Suffolk and Norfolk I remember being good for cycling with loads of little villages.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Although they are a common duck here in most ponds, parks and rivers the male has beautiful colours.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Jim,
What a spell of great weather we are having. I like the cool breeze you generate cycling when its hot outside.
Glad you liked the video. I can watch things in HD now I have a faster connection.