Roman Ruins: A Lockdown Walk – WALK REPORT – Feb 2021

After a few weeks of usual dog walks and not a lot else, Max and I started to get the itch to do something a little more adventurous. Unfortunately the current travel restrictions mean we cannot get anywhere close to some big hills, so we had to settle for more of an explore in our local area. After a bit of research and map searching, I settled on a walk from Auchinstarry quarry along the canal to Twechar and then climbing the hills behind the canal via the Roman road loosely following the Route of the Antonine Wall.

Crags at Auchinstarry Quarry

We left early and parked up in Auchinstarry Quarry, just under the crags. When we are allowed friends to cross the border, I’ll have to get some climbing in here as it looks epic. The grades didn’t look too hard and I’m not sure where else you would find good rock within 20 mins of my front door. I haven’t climbed in ages, so it would certainly be a good eye opener to see what level I am at.

Looking back towards Kilsyth

We set off roughly westwards along the canal. The path here is good and would probably take a pram if you are looking at doing this walk with small children. Max and I put the hammer down and made short work of this stretch of the walk.

It’s pretty nondescript and pretty flat all told, but it was a nice leg stretch and Max enjoyed gambolling about around the path. The canal is flanked on the south side (the right hand side following this route) by a steep embankment, which is largely tree covered and is home to quite a lot of different wildlife. In the short time we spent on the opposite bank, Max and I saw several different types of birds and a couple of deer too. Its was quite pleasant, quiet and there was no navigation to worry about! We came across one cyclist in this stretch, but I can imagine that on a summers day, this could be quite a busy area.

Max leading the way

After about 3km, we reached the bridge at Twechar and proceeded to cross over to the southern bank of the canal. We headed up hill into the village, where Max met his first Highland Cow. He is not a fan. A short walk of less than 1km along the road and you will get to the war memorial and signage for the Antonine Wall.

Views opening up

Turning hard left following the sign, the road starts to deteriorate as it climbs up past a couple of farms. Eventually the views start opening up to your left over the valley that contains the canal, looking onto the Campsie Fells on the other side. This is the first time I have really considered the landscape in this part of my local area, you can see why the Romans decided to stop the advance here, it certainly not much friendlier as you look north. Imagine marching all the way from Rome, over all the hills, rivers and hostile armies to be harried all the way north to be faced with the relatively “impenetrable” façade of the Campsie Fells. Actually, as I am typing this, it was probably laziness that made them stop… 😉

Looking across to Tomtain

You keep on ascending up the hill after the farms when you enter more open ground. At the top of the climb, near the water plant, you turn left off the tarmac and onto a grassier path. This takes you up towards the first tourist trap of the day, the Roman fort and earthworks at Bar Hill. I’ve lived in the area for about 8 years or so and never been up here. It’s be great for school kids to come and learn about the history or the area. With a bit of imagination, you can see what the hill top would have been like. I was surprised by the amount of remaining Roman stone there was around and the small signs helped me understand what I was looking at.

Trig on Castle Hill

As you move through the old Roman landscape to the left of the main path, the ground rises to Castle Hill with its trig point. There was no way that Max and I were missing this out, so up we headed to the trig and the best views on the walk so far.

The next part of the walk follows the route of the Antonine Wall through the woodland to rejoin the main path. It was quite cool for walk down the hill from Castle Hill along the clearing which follows the path of the ancient construction. It’s an odd thing to see something so clearly man made, and yet there is no sign of anything man made there. Either way, the going was good and Max and I shot down the hill to rejoin the main route through the woodland.

Looking back to the Route of the Antonine Wall

From here the path weaves its way through some scrub and farmland crossing the B802. Following the signs for the John Muir Way, we cut around a few corners and watched for signs of old mining activity, which used to be rife in this area. Eventually we set our sights on Croy Hill, the last significant hill on our route today.

There is another Roman Fort here, so I was looking forward to seeing if it was as well preserved as the one on Bar Hill. We entered a field through a gate that proclaimed that there were wild roaming highland cows in this area. Now, I’m not being funny but those things are huge and have rather large horns. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting one.

The haze and rain had started to drift in making it much more atmospheric, it also meant that a herd of highland cows could have been over the next hillock, but luckily I didn’t come across any today.

Start of the climb up to Croy Hill

After a short but surprisingly steep climb in places Max and reached the top of the hill and attained the roughly flat plateau like area just to the east of the true top. This a a great viewpoint looking across the valley again and also back towards Castle Hill to the west. In the image below, you can see the clearing for the route of the Antonine Wall just to the right of centre on the horizon.

It was starting to look like the rain was here to stay, so Max and I bore left and down hill passing a few other groups of walkers and a family here. After a short 10-15 minute descent the path curves back around to the west and popped out down by the canal at the bottom of the valley.

A quick point to note here. I did a bit of exploring a few years back around this area and actually walked through this area with the family. I enjoyed that walk at the time as it all felt quite tranquil. I mention that here as I got the same feeling on the same stretch of path this time around, before I really knew exactly where I was. I find it odd because I don’t often get this sense of peace whilst out walking. I’m usually concentrating on the navigation, how I’m feeling or something to do with work, trying to solve problems. A sense of peace is something I normally find atop high summits whilst sitting enjoying the view. It’s strange to me that I have found this feeling in a low woodland, twice, without any obvious sign or stop to allow me to reach that state of mind.

Anyway, once Max and I popped out on the tow path, it was a short hop skip and a jump back to Auchinstarry Marina, over the road bridge to the crags and car park of the quarry.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable walk with the dog taking in several small summits that I have never visited before in my local area. I really enjoyed the Roman ruins and the history of the area, I kind of wished I had a guide to take me through it all. The canal was nice and peaceful and the hillier sections whet my appetite for more climbing in the spring and summer when we are hopefully allowed to travel for exercise. A good walk that I would recommend if you are in the area.

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