SCOTLAND is traditionally viewed as a land of mountains and glens and while the uplands to the north and south of the central belt are to be admired, there is much more to its countryside.
The coastline is comparable to that of any country in the world; from stunning beaches as far apart as East Lothian and the Western Isles to rugged cliffs and stacks from Galloway to Orkney.
Much of the countryside in lower lying areas is there to be savoured as well, from the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland to the canals which thread across the Central Belt.
In recent years the canals have seen something of a renaissance with much work done to bring them back to life. While timber and coal are not the planned cargo, humans are making use of the waterways for recreation, and in increasing numbers as a place to live.
One successful hub on this network is the Auchinstarry Marina on the Forth and Clyde Canal. Here, there are many moorings next to a hostelry which claims to be the first “eco-hotel, restaurant and pub” in Scotland.
It is a lot more modern than its 18th century origins, but the presence of horses in neighbouring fields is a throw back to the days when the animals were stabled nearby, to be used to provide a passenger service along the canal.
Nowadays, it is a great leisure resource with walking a popular attraction. On the canal you can look out for a variety of birdlife including herons, swans, little grebes and tufted ducks. Just away from the canal, in hedgerows and woodland, smaller birds fill the air with song, making for a perfect walk.
This route takes in the canal, a tree-lined track and country lanes (you do need to take care of young children on these, but don’t be put off as they provide the best chance of walking close to horses). n
DISTANCE: 3 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: One short slope and an undulating road. About 50ft in total.
TIME: 1½ to 2 hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 64.
PARK: The Auchinstarry Marina has a car park, off the B802 between Kilsyth and Croy.
IN SUMMARY At the back of the car park behind the Boathouse pub, a path – a mini nature trail – leads up a grass bank. Follow this to reach the road you drove in on and turn right to cross the canal. Keep on the road for about 200 yards, then go right at a car park entrance.
Go right again almost immediately to follow a rough track which goes up to a junction near a large green farm shed. Go straight across the junction to follow a track where vehicles are blocked by a large boulder. This leads along the slope of a tree-clad hillside to a country lane, where you go right.
Follow the lane for just over half a mile to reach a T-junction, where you go right to drop down to pass a large horse stable complex. The road then leads to the canal – take a path on the right which goes down to the towpath.
After just over a mile, the towpath reaches Auchinstarry Marina again. Leave the towpath to re-cross the road bridge and return to the car park.
REFRESHMENTS Next to the car park, the Boathouse pub is in a nice spot and serves good food.
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA You can hire bikes, canoes and kayaks at the marina (www.outdoortrax.co.uk). Or, if you drive into Kilsyth you will find the Colzium Estate. It has a walled garden, a ruined castle and picturesque grounds (www.northlanarkshire.gov.uk)