Kilsyth is a town on Clydeside, historically part of Lanarkshire, in the Central Belt of Scotland. It's 15 miles northeast of Glasgow near the watershed between the Clyde and Forth river catchments, at a point where the natural lowland routes become pinched between the Lanarkshire moors, the abrupt Campsie Fells, and sucking bogs. So this way have passed the Romans, cattle droves, warring armies (the Battle of Kilsyth was fought here in 1645), and later road, canal and rail routes. The town claims to be the birthplace of the ice-sport of curling and to host the oldest club, though there are stronger contenders for both titles. With a population of 10,380 in 2020, it's nowadays a commuter town for Glasgow, along with the neighbouring villages of Croy and Dullatur. Four miles southeast is the drab "New Town" of Cumbernauld.
- The islanders built the wall which they had been told to raise, not of stone, since they had no workmen capable of such a work, but of sods, which made it of no use.
- - the Venerable Bede blamed the state of the Antonine Wall on lumpen British workmanship.
The Roman Empire began colonising Britain from 43 AD: they quickly secured England, and marched up the east coast of Scotland. In 84 AD Agricola fought the battle of Mons Graupius against the Caledonians, probably somewhere near Stonehaven. He won, but Rome was preoccupied by threats elsewhere, and couldn't spare troops to garrison and colonise Scotland. They fell back to a line of control between the Tyne and the Solway, where the Emperor Hadrian built a defensive stone wall from 122 AD. After a few years they were again ready to advance.
So it was in 142 AD under Emperor Antoninus Pius that a new wall was built, stretching 39 miles / 63 km from Bo'ness on the Firth of Forth to Old Kilpatrick near Dumbarton on the Firth of Clyde. The Antonine Wall was a turf barrier on a stone foundation topped by palisades, with a deep ditch on its north side and a military road to its south. There were 19 forts and a series of fortlets or lookouts along it, of similar homespun construction. The wall took 12 years to complete and for the following eight years the Romans enjoyed standing sentry in the rain and occasional skirmishes with the Caledonians. Then the Empire retrenched and in 162 AD the troops fell back to the earlier line of Hadrian's Wall. They only re-occupied the Antonine Wall briefly in 208 AD but remained on Hadrian's Wall until Rome abandoned Britain altogether early in the 5th century.
Later centuries called the Antonine Wall "Gryme's dyke" - Gryme being the devil. Britain was first accurately mapped in the late 18th century, and those maps capture features of the wall that have since been lost. It didn't have masonry to be looted, but it followed the natural route across the narrow waist of Scotland and was therefore carved through by later infrastructure. Roads, canals, railways, motorways - it only lacks an airport runway for its full set.
What you see today is primarily the ditch and earthworks, and Kilsyth has the best preserved sections, at Croy Hill and Bar Hill. You can also trace it east at Falkirk (Rough Hill Fort), and west at Cumbernauld (Castle Cary) and Kirkintilloch (Peel Park). Findings from the Wall are to be seen in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and the NMS in Edinburgh.
There isn't a long-distance path along the Wall but the Forth and Clyde Canal towpath is close.
Glasgow Airport (GLA IATA) is 25 miles west of Kilsyth. Take the airport bus 500 to Glasgow city centre then onward bus or train as below; or the X24 direct from airport to Cumbernauld (heading for Fife) and change to the local bus 43.
Nearby Cumbernauld airport only has private aviation.
1 Croy is the nearest railway station, two miles south of Kilsyth along B802. This has trains from Glasgow Queen Street every 15 min, taking 15 min, with the first at 06:15 and the last at 23:45. These trains continue east to Edinburgh (every 30 min via Falkirk, taking 35 min) or Stirling (every 30 min, taking 20 min) and Alloa. Change at Stirling for Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness: those trains rush through Croy without stopping. Croy has a staffed ticket office and machines, a waiting room, toilets and coffee kiosk. There is step-free access to both platforms.
Between Kilsyth and Croy Station, take Bus 43 or X35 as below.
From Glasgow follow M80 to jcn 4A, then B802 through Croy. You could also take A803 through Bishopbriggs and Kirkintilloch, but it's an undivided road dragging through residential areas. From Edinburgh follow M9 then M876 to the M80.
First Scotland East Bus X35 runs M-Sa hourly from Glasgow Buchanan station via Croy to Kilsyth, taking 45 min, and continuing west to Falkirk, another 40 min. Change at Falkirk for Stirling and Edinburgh.
First Glasgow Bus 89 runs M-Sa every 30 min from Buchanan station via Caledonian University, Springburn, Bishopbriggs, Cadder and Kirkintilloch to Kilsyth, taking just under an hour.
Canavan Travel Bus 43 shuttles M-Sa every 15 min between Kilsyth, Croy and Cumbernauld.
There is no service on Sunday so take the train; or you could reach Cumbernauld by bus then take a taxi.
You can reach Colzium, Croy and Bar Hills on foot. A bike will be handy for exploring the canal towpath or Campsie Fells.
- 1 Colzium House and Estate, Stirling Rd, Kilsyth G65 0FF. The park has a walled garden, the remains of an old ice house, a curling pond, and beautiful scenery. There's a visitor centre and cafe open April-September. The 18th-century Colzium House is not open to the public but is often hired for functions such as conferences and weddings. Free.
- Banton Loch half a mile east of Colzium House is the feeder reservoir for the Forth and Clyde Canal. The site of the 1645 Battle of Kilsyth is submerged beneath it, and bodies of those slain were found during construction. As part of the Civil Wars, the Royalist general Montrose trounced a weary Covenanter / Parliamentary force, seemingly ending their cause in Scotland. But it was too late, as the Royalists in England had been smashed at Naseby.
- 2 Croy Hill on the Antonine Wall only ranked as a minor fort, though its camp and civilian settlement may have been large. It's one place where the Romans gave up on digging a ditch, as they hit hard basalt.
- 3 Bar Hill was a larger fort. Findings here include a well, shoes of men women and children, and a stone altar to Silvanus (now in the Hunterian, Glasgow). Silvanus in mythology was the boozing companion of Dionysus, only more dilapidated, a fine subject for a regimental toast.
- See Cumbernauld for Westerwood and Castlecary, the next forts east, and Kirkintilloch for Auchendavy fort going west.
- Burngreen Park is a short walk from Main Street. There's a children’s playpark, tennis court, trampolines and a miniature putting green.
- Visit Lanarkshire "Ten Walks Guide" features two local routes - the Antonine Wall and Forth-Clyde Canal Walk, and the Colzium House and Tomtain walk.
- Golf: Kilsyth Lennox GC is north side of the village, and Dullatur GC is south of Croy Hill on the edge of Cumbernauld.
- Swim: the public pool is in town centre on Airdrie Rd, open M-F 11:00-20:00, Sa Su 09:30-16:30.
- John Muir Way is a 130 mile / 215 km walking trail from Helensburgh to Dunbar on the east coast. Local sections simply follow the towpath of the Forth-Clyde Canal from Kirkintilloch to Falkirk, thence along the Union Canal towpath to Edinburgh.
Most of the shops in Kilsyth are on Main Street. There are few recognisable high street names, with most of the shops being run by local businessmen. There are two principal supermarkets – the Co-operative on Main Street, and a Lidl just off Main Street.
- Takeaways and fast food places in town centre include Marinis, Dhillons, House of the Dragon and Viva Garden.
- 1 Scarecrow Bar & Grill, 2 Main St, Kilsyth G65 0AQ, ☏ . M-Sa 11:00-23:00, Su 12:30-23:00. Gets great reviews for food & ambiance, so it can be busy even midweek.
- 2 Boathouse Restaurant, Auchinstarry Marina, Kilsyth G65 5SG, ☏ , email@example.com. M-F 07:15-20:00, Sa Su 08:00-20:00. Mid-priced restaurant by the canal marina south of town, also has bar and hotel. Bearers of the "John Muir Passport" can get it way-stamped and have a free cuppa.
- Other pubs in town are Campsie Bar at 4 Parkfoot St, and The Curling Stone at 5 High Craigends.
- 1 The Coachman, 4 Parkfoot St, Kilsyth G65 0SP, ☏ . Pub with decent clean rooms, okay for a stopover but noisy music from the bar till late on Friday and Saturday nights. The pub food gets good reviews. B&B double £50.
- See Cumbernauld for accommodation along the M80 south of town.
Kilsyth and its approach roads have 4G from all UK carriers. As of Feb 2022, 5G has reached nearby Cumbernauld but doesn't extend to Kilsyth.
- Glasgow and Edinburgh both rank as must-see.
- Campsie Fells are just north, and you can travel by back roads to Loch Lomond.
- Stirling is a pocket-sized Edinburgh, with its well-preserved castle, the Wallace Monument and the historic battlefields of Bannockburn and Stirling Old Bridge.