Map of Union Canal from Philpstoun to the Avon Aqueduct
Map derived from data (c) OpenStreetMap

M8 to Philpstoun Avon Aqueduct to Falkirk

The tranquil countryside continues west of Philpstoun. At Bridge 41, Park Farm, a new canalside bistro has been opened since the canal reopened. From about here onwards the modern housing estates straggling out from Linlithgow come into view on the north side, as well as the main Edinburgh and Glasgow railway line, which runs quite close to the canal all the way from here to Falkirk. The canal enters the town via an original stone aqueduct over the B9080. Before the building of the M9 motorway, this was the A9, the main road north from Edinburgh, and after the canal's closure there were plans to demolish this aqueduct and maintain the water flow with a siphoning system to allow the road to be widened. That never happened and the little aqueduct survives, now with lights to control road traffic through it.

Manse Basin, Linlithgow

The canal clings to its contour, terraced onto the hillside for most of the next few miles. Old distillery buildings, now converted into houses, are visible below on the approach to Manse Basin, next to bridge 43. This has been an important centre of activity on the canal for many years now. It is the base of Linlithgow Union Canal Society, one of the most active such societies in Scotland. They run a small canal museum (well worth a visit) and tearoom in a converted stables block during summer weekends, and also operate boat trips using some of the barges that can normally be seen in the basin here.

Linlithgow was also the site of the first large-scale restoration project on the Union Canal. Called the West Lothian Canal Project, it was funded by the European Regional Development Fund in addition to several other agencies, and completed successfully in 1992. The project restored the section of canal from Manse Basin to the Avon Aqueduct to navigation. This involved replacing a culverted road crossing at Preston Road with a new bridge (45), and repairing the canal embankment at Kettlestoun where it had collapsed badly a decade earlier.

Restored bridge at Preston Road, Linlithgow

Past Preston Road, there is a pleasant stretch next to a golf course with another two small aqueducts. Before the big aqueduct, an original stables block survives at Woodcockdale, now used by the Sea Scouts. Woodcockdale Bridge (48) carries the main Linlithgow to Bathgate road (A706) which is quite busy, so its arch has been extensively patched up with bricks over the years.

An exposed-feeling embankment follows, with steps down to join up with the River Avon walkway on the north side - and then there it is, the aqueduct itself. At 810ft long and 86ft high it's the largest aqueduct in Britain apart from Telford's famous Pontcyssylte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal. (Like that one, the Union Canal's aqueducts carry the water in an iron trough, but unlike the Pontcyssylte, the trough is covered with dressed stone so it's not so visible). It's possible to scramble down to the grass by the river to see the impressive sight of the 12 arches striding across the valley, but not recommended in wet conditions.

The spectacular Avon Aqueduct from the valley below

Immediately to the south of the aqueduct is Muiravonside Country Park, worth a visit and much more easily accessible from the canal now that the steps have been built under the western end of the aqueduct. Previously a very steep scramble or a long detour was necessary.

View photos of this section of canal in the gallery