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 sandy beaches as far apart as East Lothian and the Western Isles to the 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 that 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 increasingly 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 that 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 harks back to the days when the animals were stabled nearby to be used as a passenger service along the canal.
Nowadays, the canal is a great leisure resource, with walking a popular attraction. On the waterside, you can look out for a variety of bird life, including herons, swans, little grebes and tufted ducks. Just away from the canal, in hedgerows and woodlands, 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 with young children here but don’t be put off as the route provides a great chance to walk close to horses. n
One short slope and an undulating road. About 50ft in total.
1½ to 2 hours.
OS Landranger 64.
The Auchinstarry marina has a car park, off the B802 between Kilsyth and Croy.
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 that 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 stable complex. The road then leads to the canal – take a path on the right that goes down to the towpath.
After just over a mile, the canal towpath reaches Auchinstarry marina again. Leave the towpath to re-cross the road bridge and return to the car park.
Next to the car park, the Boathouse pub serves good food.
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA
You can hire bikes, canoes and kayaks at the marina (www.outdoortrax.co.uk). Or the Colzium estate (www.northlanarkshire.gov.uk), in Kilsyth, has a walled garden, a ruined castle and picturesque grounds.