Walk of the week: The Falkirk Wheel and the Antonine Wall

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THE Antonine Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman empire, stretching from Bo'ness, on the River Forth, to Old Kilpatrick, on the Clyde. Much of it was just a large ditch with ramparts on the southern side, topped with turf and interspersed with forts.

One of the best places to see the remains of the wall is Rough Castle, between Bonnybridge and Falkirk. Although the fort at this point is little more than small walls, the massive ditch does give a great impression of the incredible feat of engineering undertaken by the soldiers. Last month, some 1,866 or so years after it was built, it became a world heritage site.

Just down the road is the Falkirk Wheel, opened in 2002 by the Queen to link the Forth and Clyde and the Union canals. It is home to another feat of engineering – the world's fanciest boat lift.

This walk combines the two and gives a number of good picnic opportunities. It can be a little muddy in places, but can be completed by anyone of reasonable fitness.

Once past the wheel and under the canal, you are confronted with an array of summer flowers in a clearing bordered by woodland – it's hard to believe this was actually once an opencast mine. Before taking a gravel path across it, it is worth continuing up the side of the canal to walk above the entrance to the Rough Castle tunnel, from where, on a clear day, you get a great view of the wheel and beyond to Ben Vorlich.

You then follow good paths all the way to Rough Castle, where, as mentioned before, a lot of imagination is needed to envisage a fort. But that is countered by the very large ditch to your right. Helpful information boards from Historic Scotland describe what to look for, including small pits which once had stakes in them for the purpose of impaling invaders – the Romans named them lilia, because they thought they looked a bit like lilies.

Once past this, a pleasant country track leads to the industrial outskirts of Bonnybridge. From here there are only a few hundred yards to walk, however, until you reach the canal towpath again and a lovely two-mile stroll back to the car park.

Distance 4 miles.

Height climbed Negligible, but one steep bank at the wall itself.

Time 2 to 21/2 hours.

Map OS Landranger 65.

Park

Leave the M876 at junction one and follow the A883 for around two miles to reach the Falkirk Wheel car park.

In summary

Follow the path at the end of the car park, alongside an access road, and go up to the Forth and Clyde Canal. Go left and walk along the towpath for few yards, to a bridge. Cross this to reach the Falkirk Wheel visitor centre. Walk past this and up a hill, branching off to the right along a gravel path that goes under the aqueduct next to the wheel itself. Once you have gone under the canal, ignore grass paths and take another gravel path, on the right.

At a junction of paths, go straight on, following the sign marked 'Roman Fort'. When the path forks, go right and then almost immediately right again, along a grass path. You go up a short rise and then down to the left, through woodland. The path emerges at a gap in a fence and a clearing – Rough Castle.

Go straight ahead, then bear right to cross a causeway over the Antonine Wall ditch. Follow the ditch along the other side – looking right for the small pits, used as a line of defence. Recross the ditch after dropping down and crossing a burn. Climb up the side of the ditch and walk past an information board before reaching a little-used car park.

A track leads to a metal gate. Go through this and continue straight on, down to a minor road. This goes over a railway bridge and past industrial units and houses to eventually reach a main road, where you go right. Cross over the Forth and Clyde Canal and turn right to join the towpath. Two miles further on is the Falkirk Wheel and the car park.

Refreshments

There is a caf at the Falkirk Wheel which serves snacks and light meals. Otherwise, try the Wheelhouse restaurant, just before the entrance to the car park.

While you are in the area

After the walk, it makes sense to get up close to the wheel (0870 050 0208, www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk) and take a trip on it.

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