Day 22: The Falls of Clyde

There is apparently an old phrase that goes: “Out of the world and into Crawfordjohn.” This was the first thing we did, coming off the hill, down to the floor of the Duneaton valley, over the river and into the village. The village is tiny, however, so very shortly afterwards, we were going out of Crawfordjohn and into the world. The world we were going into, however, seemed an empty one. The hills were lower, and the land was smoothing out with very little to see. Over the next couple of kilometres, we only passed a sheep farm or two, before joining the cycle route along the side of the B7078.

This was a road with its glory days behind it. Previously the A74, this was an important north-south highway until the M74 superseded it, and it was demoted to a strangely wide but empty B-road. The motorway was running parallel to us less than a kilometre away, hidden above a rise. The road stretched out before us, a thin screen of conifers on one side, empty brown land on the other. This felt like a nowhere-place, a blank distance to be passed through as quickly as possible. That was what the rumbling traffic away to our right was doing, and that was what we would do too. We marched.

We followed that road for nine empty kilometres – an incredible distance to have so little in it. Imagine planning a 9km walk with family or friends. If you picked the right area, you could easily enjoy a forest, a viewpoint, a historic site, a river, and a nice pub. Now imagine replacing every entertaining part of that with an almost featureless landscape and mounting foot pain as you pound the tarmac thousands of times. The Red Moss Truck Stop stood out by virtue of being the only thing there. While I’m sure it provides a decent service, its loneliness gave it a post-apocalyptic vibe. We saw vehicles lined up but no sign of any life.

At least we had the tea biscuits we’d been given the day before. We stopped a couple of times for quick breaks but made good time overall. The road curved round very gradually for 3km to squeeze up next to the motorway, where the landscape funnelled both between two hills. A few more kilometres, and we passed under the motorway and made our way up to Happendon services to refill our water. The sudden mass of people around us was jarring, and I was very aware of how out-of-place I must look, and probably smell. Water was provided in glass jugs on a side table in the cafeteria. I emptied one into my bottles, and Adam did the same, which felt very wrong. I couldn’t help browsing the trappings of civilisation, or the weird imitation of it that exists in service stations, for a while, but I made no purchases. We didn’t want to move on straight away. We wanted to rest. I propped my big, inelegant rucksack by the wall and charged my phone for a while, compulsively seeing how far we had come, how far we had to go.

Eventually we forced ourselves on, along a quiet but much less dystopian-feeling road through some farmland. Things were greener and felt more full of life up here, and the sun was out. I knew we were drawing close to the Clyde. I had set this up in my mind as a big moment, because it meant the end of the kind of wandering I had been doing since leaving Carlise and for a lot of the distance prior to that. Soon, long-distance footpaths would take me all the way to the foot of Ben Nevis. From the Falls of Clyde, I could follow the Clyde Walkway all the way into the centre of Glasgow. I could then follow the Kelvin Walkway to the town of Milngavie, where the great West Highland Way begins, which runs for 95 miles to Glen Nevis and Fort William. I was hungry for this. Everything would somehow be better once I was just following those paths.

My pace quickened over the last few hundred metres to the river, and in my single-minded near-frenzy, I left Adam in my dust. I didn’t actually do anything when the river came into view, except stop and wait for him, so perhaps it was anticlimactic. The sight of that smooth water flowing gently north, and the leaves turning on the far bank, gave me a feeling of tranquillity. Adam sensed that this was a big moment for me, so he took a picture before we ambled on.

Greeted by tranquillity
Resting on my poles, enjoying a big milestone

We crossed a weir and went into the shade of the oakwoods that line the banks. Then we saw the first of the falls, and had to stop to admire them. It was strange – through that pain and monotony we quite suddenly found ourselves in a place of exquisite natural beauty. It was like arriving in Rivendell. You could spend hours watching the leaping spray, the ever-shifting layers of white water, the light playing on the leaves, the fine intricacies of the river-carved rocks. You could imagine what it would feel like to run the gauntlet of the falls and rapids in a kayak, if you were more skilled and bolder than you are, plunging over the drops and feeling the power of the water around you. We found a place to sit and eat by the roar of the falls, then carried on slowly, taking it all in. Those were a charmed couple of kilometres, and gave our spirits a well-needed boost. How far it could carry us, we would see. I was desperate to get within striking distance of Glasgow by that night.

Pain starting to creep into Adam’s eyes
Unexpected beauty

We avoided being shot by arrows in the tourist area of New Lanark (a World Heritage Site), and pressed on. We crossed the river to Kirkfieldbank, then crossed it again. Our pauses became more frequent. I started to find that a gap kept gradually opening up between Adam and me, with him slowly dropping behind. I tried to find a pace that would bring me just in front of him, wordlessly urging him onwards, but it didn’t work. When we stopped for me to fill my bottle from a small stream, he admitted that his feet were giving him a lot of trouble, and he was suffering. This wasn’t good news. We were still 44km from Glasgow, and at this rate we wouldn’t make it the next day. I didn’t want to force him through pain. We agreed that we would slow down, but walk into the night.

The old cotton mills of New Lanark

I found it tricky to hold myself back when there was so far to go, but then again, my feet were hurting too. Maybe that was just a fact of life for me at that point. Darkness fell as we made our slow way along the banks of the Clyde. After 3km, the walkway cut a corner that the river took more widely, and between the path and the water was a flat little wood where we might be able to discreetly tuck the tent away; we had reached a more densely populated area and had passed plenty of walkers along the path. Looking at the map, there probably wouldn’t be as good a campsite for another 3km. We were 41km from Glasgow, but I thought we had had enough for that day. If I had asked to go on, Adam wouldn’t have complained, but he was definitely relieved when we settled on stopping there. I said we’d see how Adam’s feet felt in the morning. We both knew they wouldn’t be good, and that was something we would have to deal with, but we tacitly ignored that. On our phones, we searched for hostels in the centre of Glasgow, and settled on one just by the river. We would get there. We had to.

Published by Alasdair Robertson

Hiker, birder, conservationist, and occasional comedian

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