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Forth and Clyde Canal: explore the past, present … and future

By on April 11, 2014

You don’t need a smartphone to start exploring the majestic Forth and Clyde Canal – but a new app adds an exciting dimension to unlocking the 200-year-old waterway’s secrets, writes Ginny Clark.

If you want to know more about the history, heritage, wildlife and artworks along the Glasgow’s Forth and Clyde Canal, then the app offers a great way to access loads of information, bringing to life the stories of its industrial heyday and on to the current renaissance led through the Glasgow Canal Regeneration Project.

Using the new ‘Glasgow’s Canals Unlocked’ app, visitors walking or cycling along the waterway – or planning their visit from home – can now check out their location on a new colourful illustrated map of the towpaths, identify over 100 sights of historic and local interest and discover new developments underway. Tapping on  points of interest on the app accesses archive photos, audio clips and videos, fascinating anecdotes and strange but true facts. The app can be used to search for specific places of interest, from locks to cafes, sorting the list by how close they are or  how recently the information has been updated.

And it’s not just about history. Recent highlights covered include the refurbished Maryhill Burgh Halls, Lambhill Stables, the flourishing cultural quarter at Speirs Wharf and the new Pinkston paddlesports centre at Port Dundas.

Gordon Barr, Heritage Manager for Maryhill Burgh Hall Trust, adds: “Have you ever wondered what Glasgow was like in 1790? Now you can see your actual location overlaid on an exclusive archive map that shows how tiny Glasgow was at the time.

“With some locations, you can even See Through Time with a unique ‘augmented reality’ mode that overlays the archive images with the current camera view when you’re standing in the right spot! Glasgow’s Canals Unlocked is a terrific, accessible resource which you can tailor to your own needs and interests. We hope it gives everyone more reason to enjoy the fabulous heritage, wildlife and the attractive traffic-free green open space of the towpaths.”

Glasgow’s Canals Unlocked, also now available as a free full-colour A5 booklet, divides the towpaths into a series of short and easy walks or cycle rides. And it includes the story of the Monkland Canal, as it travelled through Glasgow, and Glasgow’s often forgotten third canal, the former Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal.

Creating the app and booklet is part of the Scottish Waterway Trust’s wider Unlocking the Story project, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Glasgow City Council and Glasgow City Heritage Trust. Tracey Peedle, Development Director at the Scottish Waterways Trust, said: “It’s hugely exciting that we are working with the local communities of North Glasgow to use new technology to bring the heritage of the canals to life.

“For the first time, you can walk along the waterway and read about how it looked in days gone by, see old photographs and listen to stories and stand right where they took place. With Glasgow’s Canals Unlocked, you can get a real sense of how the canal is changing as it becomes one of the city’s most important heritage, health, leisure and greenspace amenities.”

Other elements of Unlocking the Story, led by a partnership of the Scottish Waterways Trust, Scottish Canals, Glasgow City Council, Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust, Lambhill Stables, Glasgow Sculpture Studios and the National Theatre of Scotland, include a free exhibition of Scottish Canals archive materials currently on display at Maryhill Burgh Halls.

Volunteers have also been trained to gather local memories and stories about Glasgow’s canals with some of these stories on the app and others set to be retold on new interpretation boards that will be installed on the Forth and Clyde Canal starting this month. Work is also underway with Glasgow Sculpture Studios to create an artwork trail to complete this unique and exciting project.

Forth and Clyde Canal facts

* Work on the Forth and Clyde Canal actually began in 1768 but financial problems meant the world’s first sea to sea ship canal didn’t open until 1790 – when the Glasgow branch was extended to the ‘new village’ of Port Dundas, making the link with the Monklands.

* One stretch of the Forth and Clyde shares its territory with another historical example of a major engineering feat – the Antonine Wall, which was the the north west frontier of the Roman Empire in 142AD. The wall is either parallel to, close to or actually crosses the canal on its route from Old Kilpatrick in the west to Bo’ness in the east.

*By the mid 19th century, more than 3million tonnes of goods and 200,000 passengers were travelling on the Forth and Clyde Canal each year. Flourishing bankside industries included timber and paper mills, glassworks, foundries, breweries and distilleries – including one at Port Dundas which was thought to be the largest in the world in its heyday.

* Sights of historic interest include a few of the small bascule brides which once peppered the canal, lifting to let masted boats through in full sail – and the spectacular Kelvin Aqueduct, which was one of the largest to be built since Roman times when it opened in 1790. Swan & Co’s boat yard at Maryhill Locks was known for constructing some of the landing craft used for the D Day landings in World War Two and the first steam powered ‘puffer’ boats which once plied the canals and which were brought to life so vividly in Neil Munro’s popular Para Handy tales.

*The uniquely placed boundary line between Dunbartonshire and Glasgow  runs down the middle of the towpath between Cloberhill Locks and Westerton.

* The app will be continue to be updated with more information, sound and video clips, photos and points of interest over time. And the Scottish Waterways Trust is keen to hear from anyone who has a favourite canal-side place they would like to see added or any old photos or a story to tell – use the Tell Us Your Story button on the app.

The Glasgow’s Canals Unlocked App and booklet are both available online through the Scottish Waterways Trust website here  The smartphone app, available for both iPhone, iPad and Android devices, can also be downloaded direct from Apple iTunes and Android App Stores by searching for ‘Glasgow Canals’. The printed booklet is also available for free at leaflet drop points across the city. Call 01324 677809 for more info.

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