With time running out before the days are too short, Country Girl and I attempt our final John Muir Way section before Christmas. So far this year we’ve managed over 90 miles from Dunbar to Kilsyth but with the next sections over more hilly ground it’s time to coorie doon for the winter before attempting the last legs to Helensburgh.
“We can do walks closer to home,” says Country Girl, who refuses to be penned in by short days, rain or box sets. “We just need the right clothes. Because we’ll need to stay fit if we’re going on to do the West Highland Way, and then Sicily north to south,” she says.
Gulp. Why did I have to mention Ben Nevis at the end of the WHW?
We’re walking from Falkirk to Croy, often following the Forth and Clyde Canal so distractions should be fewer - shops selling must-have items (kilner jars or second-hand cashmere), coffee bars or aromatic fish and chip shops.Yet still we manage to pause and ponder.
Starting in Falkirk it’s not long before we’re standing on the site of the Battle of Falkirk Muir where the sign says that in 1746, 8,000 Jacobites and 8,000 Hanoverians met in a fast and furious afternoon of killing before the Jacobite victory. Surprisingly there’s mention of ‘spectators”; I know it was pre-box set or league football, but it sounds like a risky day out. Were they supporters or scavengers, family, camp followers?
Next it’s downhill to the Falkirk Wheel (we smelt the coffee) where we marvel at the engineering as a barge is hoisted up to the canal above, then who can resist the fascinating Roman hill forts along the Antonine Wall? There’s more bloody history as we tramp through the Radical Pend at Bonnybridge, named for the route of the cavalry who ambushed the weavers and radicals at the Battle of Bonnymuir in 1820.
Finally a peaceful, bucolic ambience takes over along the canal as we spot a kingfisher, day-tripping cormorants (prehistoric silhouettes incongruous next to a bollard atop their fencepost perch) and several grazing roe deer. If it wasn’t for the trips back in time and the multiple false summits of Croy Hill we’d have been finished long before dark - but then we’d have missed the spectacular views of the sunset and the history in our backyard.