Kirkintilloch is a small industrial town in the Clydeside area of central Scotland. It's about 8 miles (13 km) northeast of central Glasgow, on the Forth & Clyde Canal. The main reason to visit is to see the Antonine Wall east of the town. It's also a base for exploring the canal, and the Campsie Fells to the north.
The Clyde Puffers were stubby little cargo ships that used to ply the seas around the Firth of Clyde and the Hebrides, and came to hold a romanticised place in Scottish lore. Kirkintilloch, miles inland, was their unlikely birthplace.
The first puffers, from 1856, were simply iron canal barges fitted with a rudimentary steam engine. Since the barge could continually draw fresh water from the canal, the engine didn’t have a condenser, so the piston strokes created a great snorting puff-puff-puff of steam. Later designs had condensers and could go to sea but the name stuck. The ships had blunt bows, shallow draft with flat bottoms, a single mast, and (later) a derrick and a wheelhouse just behind the funnel. They were built along the Forth & Clyde Canal, with yards concentrated at Glasgow Maryhill and at Kirkintilloch. New ships were launched sideways into the canal with an almighty splash, and the local children’s sport was to try to sprint along the towpath beneath the wave without getting drenched.
Forth & Clyde Canal traffic withered as the railways were built, but the Crinan Canal was an important shortcut between Glasgow and the Hebrides, which lacked roads and harbour facilities. The puffer could simply be beached as the tide fell, a horse and cart came alongside for the coal sacks and other supplies to be offloaded, then the puffer departed on the next flood of tide. This era passed into legend with the Para Handy tales of Neil Munro, published from 1905, describing the adventures of the four-man Vital Spark.
By 1939 the puffers were being replaced by diesel craft, but wartime created a shortage of diesel while Britain mined its own coal. The puffers had proved useful auxiliary vessels in World War I so the Admiralty placed a large order for more, known as VICs – Victualling Inshore Craft. Over 100 were built, mostly in England as the Clyde builders were too busy with other navy work. Many survived the war, were converted to diesel and remained in civilian cargo service, but by 1993 better roads and harbours finally brought about their retirement.
A small number of puffers survive. VIC 27 "Auld Reekie" played the role of Vital Spark in the TV adaptation of Munro’s stories; it’s under restoration at Crinan. VIC 32, also based at Crinan, runs cruises in summer.
Kirkintilloch is 8 mi (13 km) north-east of central Glasgow, by car leave M80 at junction 3 and follow A806 north for 3 miles. By bike follow the canal towpath, or A803 north through Bishopbriggs. Parking in the town is generally easy and free.
First Glasgow Buses X85 & X87 run from Buchanan station via M80 and Lenzie to Kirkintilloch, every 30 min, taking 30 min. The X85 continues to Lennoxtown and Clachan in the Campsie fells. Bus 88 runs via Bishopbriggs to Kirkintilloch every 15 min, taking 50 min.
The nearest railway station is 1 Lenzie a mile south. There are trains from Glasgow Queen Street every 30 min, taking just under 15 min. These trains continue north via Stirling to Alloa or Dunblane.
As well as X85 and X87, the hourly bus 178 runs from Kirkintilloch to Lenzie railway station.
The Forth & Clyde Canal is navigable west to Glasgow and east to Falkirk and Grangemouth, with a good towpath for walking and cycling. Check Falkirk for current status of the Wheel, the ingenious contraption that lifts boats into the Union Canal to Edinburgh.
- 1 The Antonine Wall was a turf wall and line of defence built by the Romans from 142 AD, and only garrisoned for a few years till they retreated to Hadrian's Wall. Their fort at Kirkintilloch is just an embankment in Peel Park, and the best sections are further east at Kilsyth. Discoveries from the wall, such as the richly-carved plaques left by its builders and garrisons, are in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
- The Auld Kirk was built in 1644. It was vacated for a new church in 1913 and is nowadays a small free museum of local history, open Tu-Sa 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:00.
- 2 Kirkintilloch Town Hall. This 1906 building is nowadays mostly an event space, e.g. for weddings. There are occasional exhibitions and talks.
- Lenzie Moss just west of the railway station is a peat bog with birch woods and wildlife. Access by the footpath from the station.
- Walk or cycle along Strathkelvin Railway Path, which runs south to Gartcosh. It doesn't link into other cycleways, but there are plans to turn it into National Cycle Network Route 755 with links to Loch Lomond, the Campsie Fells and along the canal to Edinburgh.
- Stroll in Peel Park, which has an elaborate bandstand and fountain, cast at the town's Lion Foundry. Plus of course the Antonine Lump.
- Occasional narrowboat cruises explore the canal.
- You'll need your own wheels to tour Campsie Fells to the north. The highest point is the Earl's Seat at 578 m (1896 ft).
- Sainsbury's is just off Townhead, and Lidl is by the river bridge on Glasgow main road.
- The town's main drag is Cowgate/Townhead, eateries here include Ashoka Brasserie, Alessio's Bistro, Nonna's Kitchen and Thai Cafe. There's another little cluster of places just east of the river, including Kirky Mahal, Oriental Palace and Paolo's. A mile east of town on the Kilsyth Road, Caulders is a chain garden centre with cafe.
- 1 The Stables, Glasgow Bridge G66 1RH (A mile west of town on A803 at canal bridge), ☏ . Daily 11:00-23:00. Country pub with good food in former stables for the horses that towed the canal barges.
- 1 The Kirkie Puffer, 1-11 Townhead Kirkintilloch G66 1NG, ☏ . Daily 08:00-00:00. JD Wetherspoon with decent food.
- Bar Bliss at 1 Cowgate is a no-nonsense Central Belt pub, open daily 12:00-00:00.
- 1 Smiths Hotel, 3 David Donnelly Place Kirkintilloch G66 1DD, ☏ . Basic 3-star in town centre, with bar and grill. B&B double £60.
- 2 Premier Inn and Best Western are mid-range chain hotels at M80 junction 3 at Stepps.
Decent 4G mobile reception in and around town.
- Milngavie is not only the start of the West Highland Way, but the most implausible contender to host the 2020 Olympics. Continue west to reach the shores of Loch Lomond.
- To the Falkirk Wheel along the canal towpath is 14 miles (23 km); it's flat and in good repair. Here join the Union Canal and pass through the long dark tunnel at Falkirk (Gandalf impersonations optional). Continue west via Linlithgow and the grand Almond Aqueduct to Edinburgh Tolcross.
- 25 min on the train brings you to historic Stirling.
- Glasgow is a great, must-see city - don't just pass through on the way to somewhere else.
|Routes through Kirkintilloch|
|Stirling ← Cumbernauld ←||NE SW||→ → Glasgow|