The Upper Nethan Gorge
Sometimes it’s not all about big hills or long distances sometimes it’s about taking your time and looking at what’s on your own doorstep. It would appear on the face of things I have an area which is abundant in local signposted walks and ways. One of which brought me to the Upper Nethan Gorge. Literally right on my doorstep. Not 10 minutes from my door. It’s one of two, The Upper Nethan Gorge up at Blackwood and the Lower Nethan Gorge down towards Nethanfoot and Crossford on the River Clyde. Both of the areas are looked after and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. They are also within the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership project boundary.
The Upper Gorge
The Upper Nethan Gorge straddles the banks of the River Nethan. The river starts away up in the hills above Glenbuck in Ayrshire like the River Ayr. However it takes a considerably different and somewhat shorter route to the Clyde. A meandering distance of 21 km. The Upper Nethan Gorge is on the river’s lower reaches before it passes out and flows into the mighty Clyde at Nethanfoot ending its journey. The gorge is heavily wooded and full of all sorts of species of trees.
I’m lucky the walk is so close to my door. There is no parking at the start to speak of or public transport that passes the start of the walk. I have to walk along the Southfield Road towards Tillietudlem. The fictional place from Sir Walter Scott’s 1816 classic story, Old Morality. No longer fictional. It is an actual real place on a map and everything. It was a stop on the old Caledonian Railways in 1856 but more of that later. It’s a back road which is fairly quiet. Nonetheless there’s still a good amount of tarmacadam bashing and car dodging to get to where the track begins.
The walk starts at NS797446. For those that like grid references. It’s hard to miss the beginning for several reasons. One the fields give way to trees. Two there’s a large kissing gate and 3 the most obvious of them all. A great big sign announcing it as the Upper Nethan Gorge. Once through the gate the path starts off on what was an old railway line now removed as mentioned previously. It was part of the Lesmahagow line that goes all the way to Coalburn. This part is the Blackwood spur.
The Railway Line
These railway lines were originally put in to get the coal out of this mineral rich area. There is also a trail marker which is a rather large 6×6 post pointing you down the track. It’s sending you to a castle. The 16th century fortification, Craignethan Castle. The real life inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s fictional Tillietudlem Castle. Home of the Bellenden family in the tale.
It does feel like you are walking down an old railway line at the start. Roman road straight with the fence line of the Southfield cottages to your left. However after a bit the trees start to overgrow the path like the roof of a tunnel and the wooden palisade that is the fence stops. Giving way to open fields. A few more feet forward and you feel cocooned in the bark and leaves yet it still doesn’t feel like a proper wood.
There are a few relics of it’s former use. You can be walking along and become suddenly aware of what looks like a large sandstone retaining wall or maybe the abutment of an old bridge. Green with age and moss. It may the old signal box or junction box there’s always something if you keep your eyes open. The flora and fauna are trying hard to reclaim it from it’s past. It’s not until you are a good way down the line. Close to where the old Nethan Viaduct used to be. That you step down the embankment into the woods proper. This feels how it should feel. Here it feels old and ancient but the trees at most might only be a couple of hundred years old.
Here for me, is the best place to stop and stand awhile in the small glades. In autumn and winter you can catch glimpses of the other side and Auchenheath. You get an idea of just how high you are above the water. In spring and summer when the leaves are growing and the trees feel full of life. The view obscured you can hear and see the birds singing and dancing in the branches. Sparrow and Finch by the dozen. Chirping mad in a frenzy. The occasional an unmistakable cry of a pheasy from the border of the fields and wood. Rooks or Craws circling, cawin’ loud and harsh.
From here it’s just a short walk to the end of the woods. A metal gate onto a field signifies the limits of the trees. The gorge curves away from you heading to the opening and relative flatness at Corra mill. It then cuts a swathe through the cliffs to the Clyde again. You can see the houses of Tillitudelum. Usually this is the end of the walk for me. Where I about turn and saunter back the way I came. Here you can pass through the gate and follow the hedge. It will take you to the road and the entrance road to Craignethan Castle. From there the path leads to Lower Nethan Gorge and Nethanfoot at Crossford.
That’s a post for another day.