A gorgeous early November morning was met with a choice of a visit to B & Q or a bracing walk outdoors. A conversation with a friend decided on a walk at Hillend Loch near Caldercruix. It’s a place that has memories for me, more of which later.
The loch is 1.5 miles from Caldercruix station or 4 miles along the A89 from Blackridge, and is an ideal location for a walk. If you take the train regularly from West Lothian to Glasgow via Airdrie, you will be familiar with the sight of the loch as the railway skirts along metres from the water in places.
My companion picked me up from Caldercruix station and we drove to a carpark on the A89 on the south side of the loch, over from the now closed Owl and Trout pub.
Access to the loch is via a short track beside the pub. You have two choices after a short walk, to either go right over the south side or left to the north side of the loch. We chose to go left, the more rustic route for which in wet weather I recommend wellies or walking boots.
The reservoir has an interesting history. It is one of the oldest in Scotland, built in the 1790s. Its purpose, apart from the storage of water, was to help fuel the paper mills and steel works of nearby Airdrie and Coatbridge. At the time of its construction it was the largest in the world, and it remains a testament to a golden era of Scottish industrial development. At one point during its construction phase it employed 1500 people.
Veering right along a metalled path you have a choice of either walking along the top of the dam wall or a slightly gentler lower path. Carry on for about 300 yards and you then start to take a rough path along the north side. The area is rich in vegetation and owners of nearby land have replanted a wide range of trees. At this time of year with them shedding their leaves there is a delightful panoply of colours contrasting beautifully with waters of the loch. In terms of bird life the loch is populated with a range of gulls and guinea fowl. As you carry on round the loch you will find a planked path which was a godsend given the boggy conditions in places underfoot.
As you carry on round you come to a wooded bluff. This is one of the more interesting parts of the walk, as you walk along the shore you will find numbered stones, the origin of which caused much discussion with my companion. We speculated if these had been milestones of the old Glasgow- Edinburgh road which runs close by. However if you walk into the woods (which is well worth doing, the trees are mature pine and beech) you will come across the shell of Auchingray House, and the land about was part of the estate.
The shell of the house shows what would have been an elegant late classical style, built in the 1820s. Its owner was Robert Haldane who commissioned the property, drained the land and planted the woods; he was one of the founders of the Scottish Congregationalist church in the early 19th century. The house was extended in the 1920s and was later owned by the Stenhouse family who built an insurance empire, and they rented the house to John Colville of Colville’s Steel fame. It caught fire in 1937, and was gutted because, according to local reports, the drive to the house was snowbound and the firehoses were ineffective due to the loch freezing over. The ruined shell of the house echoes an era of Scotland’s wealth created by the commercial barons that made Glasgow second city of empire. As to the stones, speculation centred did they marked the boundary of the estate?
Coming out of the woods there are a couple of stones where you can sit down and admire the waters of the loch. Bring a thermos or what ever your tipple is to refresh you on your route round. Due to the exposed nature of the loch many of the trees show signs of wind sculpting as they drunkenly defy the elements.
At the head of the loch you come across a small path that leads to the main road and the Bathgate to Airdrie cycle path. Opened in 2010 the path allows cyclists a chance to traverse safely. As you walk along you will see the local fishing club buildings, which has a wee refreshment snack kiosk which is open in the summer. Fishing permits are also available in the summer for £10 a day and the loch has some of the finest brown water trout, so in the summer for the less active there is a chance to catch your tea!
You can either walk along the shoreline or the cycle path; having hiked vigorously we chose to take the cycle path. You carry on for about a mile and a half and pass the local sailing club, which holds memories for me of being on the loch on a freezing January day in a wetsuit jibing and cutting and capsizing as I learnt to sail small dinghies. The site is now owned by Monklands Sailing club and they offer lessons in the summer months… if only I had known that then!
For a Sunday walk this can be either done easily along the cycle path or for the more adventurous a full traverse round the loch takes about two hours. If there is a downside it’s that there are no facilities in terms of food and drink. The area around it is clean and affords excellent views and quirky points of interest that warrant further investigation, and is certainly better than a trip to B & Q.
Published in Konect December 2018
Author: Paul Spencer