The River Clyde is the dominant physical feature of Glasgow and its environs, an area that comprises the largest urban concentration in Scotland, with almost two million people living in the city and satellite towns. Little of this hinterland can be described as beautiful, with crisscrossing motorways and grim housing estates dominating much of the landscape. Beyond the sprawl, however, rolling green hills, open expanses of water and attractive countryside eventually begin to dominate, holding promises of wilder country beyond.
West of the city, regular trains and the M8 motorway dip down from the southern bank of the Clyde to Paisley, where the distinctive cloth pattern gained its name, before heading back up to the edge of the river again as it broadens into the Firth of Clyde. North of Glasgow trains terminate at tiny Milngavie (pronounced “Mill-guy”), which acts as the start of Scotland’s best-known long-distance footpath, the West Highland Way.
Southeast of Glasgow, the industrial landscape of the Clyde valley eventually gives way to a far more attractive scenery of gorges and towering castles. Here lies the stoic town of Lanark, where eighteenth-century philanthropists built their model workers’ community around the mills of New Lanark.Read More
A UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, the eighteenth-century planned village of NEW LANARK lies a mile below the neat little market town of Lanark. The first sight of the place, hidden away down in the gorge, is unforgettable: large, broken, curving walls of honeyed warehouses and tenements, built in Palladian style, are lined up along the turbulent river’s edge. The community was founded by David Dale and Richard Arkwright in 1785 to harness the power of the Clyde waterfalls in their cotton-spinning industry, but it was Dale’s son-in-law, Robert Owen, who revolutionized the social side of the experiment in 1798, creating a “village of unity”. Believing the welfare of the workers to be crucial to industrial success, Owen built adult educational facilities, the world’s first day nursery and playground, and schools in which dancing and music were obligatory and there was no punishment or reward.
While you’re free to wander around the village, which rather unexpectedly for such a historic site is still partially residential, you need to buy a passport ticket to get into any of the exhibitions. The Neoclassical building that now houses the visitor reception was opened by Owen in 1816 under the utopian title of The Institute for the Formation of Character. These days, it houses the New Millennium Experience, which whisks visitors on a chairlift through a social history of the village, conveying Robert Owen’s vision not just for the idealized life at New Lanark, but also what he predicted for the year 2000.
Other parts of New Lanark village prove just as fascinating: everything, from the cooperative store to the workers’ tenements and workshops, was built in an attempt to prove that industrialism need not be unaesthetic. Situated in the Old Dyeworks, the Scottish Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre (daily: Jan & Feb noon–4pm; March–Dec 11am–5pm; £2) provides information about the history and wildlife of the area. Beyond the visitor centre, a riverside path leads you the mile or so to the major Falls of the Clyde, where at the stunning tree-fringed Cora Linn the river plunges 90ft in three tumultuous stages.