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The North Calder Heritage Trail

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It's history and wildlife

by Alastair Ewen
formerly with NLC as North Calder Heritage Trail Officer

(The North Calder Heritage Trail, which runs from Summerlee Heritage Park to Hillend Reservoir, was formally opened on 1st October 1999 by Karen Whitefield MSP)

Summerlee Heritage Park is an industrial museum and is a great place to get to know the industrial heritage of the area before embarking on the Trail. Take time to examine the Vulcan, the remains of Summerlee Iron Works, the reconstructed pit-head and the exhibits on forges, coal mining and the iron and steel industry.

Coatbridge Cross, at the beginning of Main Street, was where the Monkland Canal met with road, rail and pedestrian traffic. Today the canal through Coatbridge is piped underground but many bridges at this junction testify to its being there.

Coatbridge Fountain at the corner of Main Street and South Circular Road was built in 1890 in dedication to Alexander Whitelaw, the then manager of Gartsherrie Ironworks. He paid for the reorganisation of Coatbridge Cross, raising the level of the railway above that of the Canal.

At Coatbridge Cross the Trail leaves the route of the Monkland Canal and goes along Main Street, the main shopping area of Coatbridge. There are a number of buildings of interest along this route including Airdrie Savings Bank and the Municipal Baths.

Beyond the underpass under South Circular Road the Trail enters Town Centre Park and joins with the route of the Forth-Clyde Cycle Route. . .

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Once past the footbridge over Coatbank Street the Trail joins up again with the original route of the Monkland Canal. The shape of the canal basin can still be made out.

Further east you come to Lock Street. This area is called Sheepford. It was where the construction of the Monkland Canal began in 1770. In the 1790’s, when the Canal was extended eastwards, a set of locks was built here. It was one of only two lock systems on the whole of the Canal. At the same time a road bridge was built over the Canal to carry Lock Street. You can still see this iron road bridge today.

Overhead is the Lock Street Railway Viaduct. It was built in the 1880’s and carried the Caledonian Line between Rutherglen and Airdrie. Its piers were orientated in an unusual way to accommodate the Monkland Canal underneath.

The viaduct provides a good view of Coatbridge. On the left (looking west) you can see the Meadowbank Works, the last steel rolling mill in Coatbridge. Further right is the derelict Tennant works.

Just below the viaduct on the right, are the darkened red brick remains of Rochsolloch Steel works. The works rolled steel billets from the 1930’s to 1964. Prior to that it was a malleable ironworks and prior to that again, between around 1850 and 1859, it was a brickworks. Today the remains are home to a pallet-making factory.

Rochsolloch Primary School, high up on the right, is a fine nineteenth century red sandstone building.

Further right still is Cairnhill Works. This works started as a malleable ironworks in the early 1900’s but switched in 1920’s to making tubes under the name of the Imperial works. It became the largest producer of tubes in the world. Tubes are still made at the site today.

The Forth Clyde Cycle Route continues on to Airdrie along the line of the disused railway. The Trail drops down from the viaduct and goes south, keeping to the former route of the Monkland Canal.

A short distance south of the viaduct, on the left hand side of the Trail, are the policy woodlands of Cairnhill Estate. Paths lead off from the Trail into the woodlands. Among the species that can be seen are beech, sycamore, Scots pine, oak, lime and chestnut.

Further on you come to Sikeside Road. Beyond that is a 4km remnant section of the Monkland Canal, with water still in it.

To the east and north of the Canal is Palacecraig. Remnants of this areas mining history are evident along the canal in the form of burn out coal bings. Amongst them are new woodlands planted by the Central Scotland Countryside Trust as part of the Central Scotland Forest. On the hill to the north is Palacecraig House. This 200 year old farmhouse is a reminder that amongst all this mining and iron-working farming continued to be an important industry.

This stretch of the Monkland Canal supports a range of wildlife. Herons, coots, ducks and moorhen are a common sight. There are also plenty of brown trout and pike in the water making it popular among local anglers. Much of the Canal has a covering of Great Water Grass which offers shelter to the wildlife in the Canal.

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"Sustrans Cycle Rangers. 
Some of the route of the Trail is shared with the
Edinburgh - Glasgow Cycle Route - one of the many routes which make up the
Sustrans -  National Cycle Network."

 

Further east along the Canal you come to a canal basin and the Lower Faskine Bridge. The basin may have been where, in 1819, the first iron boat in Scotland was made. It was called the Vulcan and was passenger carrying canal boat or scow built for the Forth and Clyde Canal. Built with iron from the nearby, Monkland Ironworks, it was the forerunner of all the great iron and steel ships to be built in the west of Scotland. The original boat has long gone but a full size reconstruction of it can be seen at Summerlee Heritage Park.

On the skyline is the village of Calderbank. Ahead, in the field bound by the pipeline is the former cricket pitch of Calderbank Cricket Club. Cricket was played here for over 100 years from the 1880’s.

The field and the extensive woodlands to the south are part of Faskine Estate. The woodlands were the grounds to Woodhall House and were laid out between 1750 and 1800.

Just beyond the end of the Canal you can see a dam on North Calder Water. This dam was constructed in 1792 to control the flow of water into the Canal.

The Trail now follows the river all the way to Hillend Reservoir. A short distance on the path goes through a tunnel under a road bridge. This tunnel was built to maintain the connecting railway line between Monkland Iron and Steel Works and the Monkland Canal. Passing through the tunnel you enter the site of Calderbank Steel works.

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Today, seventy years since the works was scrapped, a natural birch, oak and ash woodland has regenerated the site. The first part of is entirely built up from slag from the period when steel was produced here . Beyond this there is a clearing in the valley marking the site of the actual works. On the left hand side in this area is the blast furnace platform from the period when iron was produced here. The wall, was much long that it appears today. The platform enabled the six blast furnaces (each 50-60 feet high and situated along the foot of the wall) to be charged from the top.

Continuing along the Trail you come to a weir on the river. This was the main extraction point of water for the works. Water was used to power hammers and also for cooling.

The main route of the Trail goes up to the right but take time to explore the path on the other bank of the river on you right. A short distance on you come to a retaining wall and terrace for work’s mineral lines. The wall is made from huge drums cast from the waste from puddling furnaces during the period when malleable iron was made here.

Back on the main route of the Trail the path goes up some steps. Soon you come to a huge railway viaduct pier. The line was entirely separate from the works below and carried passengers from Airdrie to Newhouse. It opened in 1887 and closed in 1939.

All along the Trail there are areas rich in wildflowers. In some instances industry has benefited wildflowers. Slag, coal dings and disused railways often offer a well-drained surface, which is ideal for flowers like ox-eye daisy, wild strawberries, St John’s wart, bird’s foot trefoil and orange hawkweed. Feeding on these wildflowers are butterflies like the meadow brown and the common blue.

Wetter grassland areas support wildflowers like common spotted and butterfly orchids, cranesbill, great willow herb and meadow sweet.

The Trail continues north through woodlands to Monkland Glen where a footbridge crosses over North Calder Water, underneath the road bridge.

On the west bank of the river where the housing is, was where Monkland House used to be. It was a magnificent sixteenth century house with gardens and policy woodlands, some of which is still preserved along the Browns burn. The managers of iron and steel works at Calderbank stayed here.

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Monkland House

On the north side of the road bridge was where Monkland Forge used to be, one of many nineteenth century water powered forges making spades for the coal mining industry.

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Further north the valley becomes a gorge and the woodlands become dense. The woodlands are mostly oak and ash with hawthorn and some non-native species like beech and sycamore. The woodlands flanking North Calder Water offer a welcome environment for the kingfisher. The dipper and heron are other birds to look out for along the river. Such has been the improvement in the river quality over the years that otters now live there.

Descending down from Petersburn Estate the Trail crosses the river. At this point, at the side of the path, you can see waste paper from the old settling ponds of Moffat Mills Paper Mill. Beyond this on the left hand side of the path is a green mossy area, which was on old settling pond as well. Moffat Mills occupied the area now occupied by housing to the left of the path. A weir further upstream is the only architectural monument that remains.

On the opposite side of the river are huge warehouses storing whisky. At one time whisky was made here but today it is just a store.

Beyond Caldervale Secondary School the Trail ascends a hill and goes through a copse of beech trees, at one time the grounds of the nearby Wester Moffat House, now a hospital.

Further on the Trail joins up with the Forth Clyde Cycle Route.

The Trail passes through Plains Country Park, a community park run by volunteers from the village.

Just to the west of the Park is a weir and lade which drew water off to a grain mill called Brownieside Mill. The building to the east was part of Ford Forge. It is the only mill building on the whole river to have survived..

Beyond the village you passes an old farmhouse called Loadmanford and beyond that you come to the Fair Brig, built when the North British Line was constructed here.

After the bridge, on your right hand side are some large sandstone buildings. The buildings on the north side of the road were lived in by the managers of Caldercruix Paper Mill. On the south side is the old Caldercruix Public School built in 1875, a church and The Craig Institute. The Institute was built in 1908 by the mill owner to provide facilities for mill workers. It had a diner, recreation room and library.

Caldercruix Paper Mill was the largest produced of rag blotting paper in the world. All that remains today are the old settling ponds just opposite the artwork called Legs

The Trail passes through the village and out the other side where, on a railway viaduct you pass another artwork called steam.

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Walkers on the Trail

 

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A short distance further on the Trail leaves the Forth Clyde Cycle Route and enters Caldercruix Countryside and Nature Park. This Park is also managed by volunteers and is a place for the local community and visitors to enjoy the countryside.

The tallest trees are beech trees and a few Scots pines - a legacy from the grounds of Hillend House. Little remains of this house, built just beside the dam bank for the manager of Forth and Clyde Canal.

The Park looks out on to Hillend Reservoir. When it was finished in 1799 it was considered to be the biggest man made reservoir in the Scotland. The Reservoir is one of the best angling lochs in Central Scotland. Between October and April it is also a great place to see ducks and geese.

North Calder Water

North Calder Water attracted industries to it. It was particularly attractive because Forth and Clyde Navigation controlled the flow of water along it as early as 1799 with the building of Hillend Reservoir.   The industries along the river were concentrated at Calderbank, Moffat Mills, Gartness, Caldervale, Plains and Caldercruix. The industries here changed over time and used the river in different ways.   Early on the river was a source of power for grain mills making flour and waulk mills which made woollen cloth.  Water was used for power and for soaking in Flax mills which made cotton cloth.  The next types of industry were forges and ironworks, which used the river for powering hammers and for cooling.   Lastly there were paper mills and print mills which used the river for soaking, washing and as a source of power. The last mill to disappear was Caldercruix paper mill in 1970 putting an end to 400 years of industry

Click here to read about Coatbridge - The Iron Burgh

Click here to read about The Monkland Canal

Click here to read about The Railways

Alastair Ewen, North Calder Heritage Trail Officer, c/o Conservation and Greening, North Lanarkshire Council, Palacerigg House, Cumbernauld, G67 3HU, Tel 01236 780636

The North Calder Heritage Trail is a partnership involving North Lanarkshire Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Central Scotland Countryside Trust and Lanarkshire Development Agency.

For more information on the history of North Lanarkshire look out for the following titles in your local library or at the shop at Summerlee Heritage Park:

Old Airdrie Villages, Rhona Wilson.
Old Coatbridge Villages, Oliver van Helden.
Monkland: The Canal That Made Money, Guthrie Hutton.
The Monkland Canal, George Thomson.
Placenames of Monklands, Peter Drummond
Coatbridge: Three centuries of Change, Peter Drummond and James Smith.
Calderbank: An Industrial and Social History, Robert Duncan.

 

 

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