Map derived from data (c) OpenStreetMap
The Forth and Clyde Canal begins at the village of Bowling on the north bank of the River Clyde. A sealock gives access to the canal basins through Bowling Harbour and there are good views up and down the river and of the Kilpatrick Hills to the north. This is one of the busiest sections of the waterway and both the upper and lower basins are usually filled with colourful boats. When the rest of the canal was closed and became derelict, the western end at Bowling was kept in use as moorings for boats on the Clyde, with the locks and bridges maintained in working order. There are two bridges in between the basins at Bowling: the little bascule bridge, now painted in smart black and white, and the massive disused Caledonian Railway swing bridge. All of the canal's 38 bridges were originally bascules, and up until closure in 1963 all new bridges were either swing or lift bridges, giving unlimited headroom for masted vessels. But since reopening, most bridges are now fixed in place.
Bowling lower basin
For the first few miles, the canal wends its way along the bank of the river. Saltings Nature Reserve is on the south side, giving a pleasantly rural feel. The Erskine Bridge looms up ahead and crosses the canal high above lock 37. The 1930s swing bridge that took traffic to the ferry before the Erskine Bridge was built is still there and has been restored to working order. There are also a couple more original bascule bridges, which were restored by the Clydebank Canal Project in the early 1990s.
The character of the canal changes as it swings northwards into Clydebank and passes under the busy Dumbarton Road. The road bridge was replaced by a culvert after the canal closed and this caused major problems for the restoration project - the road is only a few feet above water level and raising it was out of the question due to nearby junctions. So they lowered the canal instead. Underneath Dumbarton Road is the first of several modern innovations on the canal - the UK's only "drop lock". When a boat needs to pass through, water is pumped out of the chamber until there is enough headroom to sail under the road bridge, then at the other side the chamber is refilled to bring the boat back up to normal canal level again.
In fact, the whole section through Clydebank presented a challenge to the canal's reopening. Several culverts (Dumbarton Road, Kilbowie Road, Argyll Road, Duntreath Avenue and Great Western Road) had to be replaced by road bridges, while the low foot bridges were either raised or turned into lifting bridges. In addition, the water had been shallowed for safety reasons by partially infilling the channel and this had to come out as well.
Clydebank was once a major industrial town with shipyards and a huge Singer sewing machine factory, but now there are just suburban streets and shopping centres. The canal goes right through the huge Clyde Shopping Centre, which now boasts two vertical lift bridges as well as a huge "boat" housing the world's first "Sail-Through" fish and chip shop! A short canal called the Forth and Cart Junction Canal once branched off to the south here giving a more direct link to the Clyde, but that's long gone now.
East of the shopping centre, the canal traverses open parkland and its banks have been nicely landscaped. Just past the new concrete bridge at Duntreath Avenue is the first of the canal's lock flights: the four Boghouse locks. The lowest of these (lock 36) was filled in during the 1960s but it has been dug out and, along with all the other locks, restored. At the top of the flight was an even bigger blockage to navigation - from Great Western Road through to lock 31, half a mile of canal was filled in and piped. The original line was slightly to the east of the current channel. It now contains asbestos so the restored canal was diverted slightly to avoid disturbing this. The road that runs parallel here is also new.
The canal returns to its original line at lock 32 which, along with lock 31, required some patching up after being buried for several decades. Three more locks (the Clobberhill Locks, numbers 28-30) complete the flight of five. These ones were never buried, but did need new gates and repairs to their walls before being declared reopened in 2001.
View photos of this section of canal in the gallery