Glad to see the canals open again

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Auchinstarry canal basin, by RK

FOR many, the finest stretch of the canal flows through the Kilsyth area, rich in history, scenery, and wildlife. And one man who is especially gratified to see the canal open for business is Paul Carter of Banton, who has been involved with the Forth & Clyde Canal as a volunteer for 30 years and was first chairman of the Forth & Clyde Canal Society when it was established in 1972.

He is still active with the society and is editor of the Forth & Clyde Canal Handbook. And it is particularly pleasing for him that the society is recreating the voyage of the old Gipsy Queen and her peers from Kirkintilloch to Craigmarloch, using its own boat, the Gipsy Princess. These trips are arranged on June 2, July 28, and August 11.

The cruises aboard the Queen boats were a popular feature of the canal from the early years of the last century up till the outbreak of World War Two. ‘‘It is great to see the canal fully re-opened,’’ said Paul.
‘‘With the magnificent new Falkirk Wheel open, Kilsyth folk can launch a boat at Auchinstarry and cruise all the way to Edinburgh. They can also cruise to Glasgow and Firths of Forth and Clyde.

‘‘When I came here in 1969 the canal was the loneliest place on earth. There were more people walking around the face of the Moon than along the towpath. This seemed all wrong. Down in England the canals were busy with people enjoying themselves, but our canal was just going to waste.

‘‘I soon joined a group of volunteers who were determined to put things right. Now, after 30 years of campaigning, running boat trips, canal clean-ups, walks, and talks, the canals have re-opened for us all to use once more. We had a lot of support from local people, councillors, MPs and MSPs, who helped us by raising cash, joining activities, and lobbying the powers that be.

‘‘Personal highlights for me were helping build early slipways and landing stages at Wyndford and Auchinstarry in the ‘70s, the very colourful grand canal safaris from Auchinstarry and Craigmarloch in the ‘80s, and the Kilsyth Canal Festivals and Gipsy Princess cruises in the ‘90s.

‘‘The future? I am really keen to see lots of people enjoy the canal now that it is fully open. More people boating on the water and more people walking and cycling along the towpath. To achieve this we need a good boat marina at Auchinstarry basin and a good, well-sign-posted network of footpaths and cycleways linking with the towpath.
‘‘We also need facilities for visitors as well as local people. It would be good to see some form of hostel/hotel/tearoom at Auchinstarry or Craigmarloch. The old stables at Craigmarloch are ideal for re-development. Local folk could benefit by providing farmhouse and bed and breakfast accommodation. A small, discreet holiday chalet development would be welcome, as would quiet countryside pursuits like riding and fishing.

‘‘What we must avoid at all costs are sprawling developments such as housing or intensive holiday accommodation, more road schemes, and noisy ‘countryside’ activities which would destroy the quiet rural atmosphere that our stretch of canal enjoys.
‘‘Most of the Forth & Clyde Canal is urban. Kilsyth lies at the centre of the best rural stretch. This is our main selling point and this is what we must develop, while taking great care not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.’’

Perfect choice for mooring
THE attractions of the Kilsyth area for canal users are set out by Margot Macmillan, chairman of Kilsyth Community Council.
‘‘Kilsyth is fortunate, both by being situated on the most rural and picturesque stretch of the waterway and by being at the mid-point of the coast-to-coast journey which takes two days to complete. Thus it is the preferred overnight mooring choice, with serviced moorings available at Auchinstarry.

‘‘In this area, restful, tranquil cruising can be contrasted with invigorating, wake-up rock climbing or horse riding, tramping the glens and hillsides or strolling in Colzium Estate’s fine walled garden and woodlands, all to be followed by a convivial meal or a longer stay.
‘‘Kilsyth, on the ‘wild side’ of the Antonine Wall and on the Covenanting side in the Battle of Kilsyth, has plenty of history but is hugely conscious of the future and keen to link into the economic benefits which will accrue from the influx of voyagers and visitors across the valley.

NORTH Lanarkshire Council has supported the development of the canal to the tune of £1.3 million, and Councillor Francis Griffin, whose ward straddles the waterway, is a keen supporter.

‘‘Our green belt policy requires that there be no residential development along our stretch of the canal but we would look at certain tourist development,’’ he said.