The Greenock Cut is a 14km–ish trail that follows an aqueduct that was built to serve the thirsty machinery and workers of industrial revolution era Greenock. The circular route takes in the whole of the aqueduct and skirts its feeder lochs with only the briefest of road crossings to pull you away from what feels like a wonderfully remote walk despite never being too far from or high above the urban blanket laid along the Clyde coast.
As well as the hills and coastal scenery, the whole route is an engineering marvel with less than 200 metres ascent recorded from our starting point, so lots to enjoy.
We’d been talking about doing this for ages, and now we’ve been.
The closest we’ve been is going “Oh look, there’s the visitor centre up that road…” when we’re coming back the coast road and now when we were going for real the visitor centre was the planned starting point, but as we got into Greenock a mix of local knowledge and a desire to burn as little fuel as possible sent us up the hill to Overtoun instead. There was proper parking next to some houses, handy and hopefully safe*.
*Spoiler alert, it was indeed fine.
You’re straight onto the track and round the first corner you get the views. Jeezo, why has it taken so long to get here? This is magic.
The track averages out at 160m elevation but the views are so extensive it feels so much higher. We stood and picked out some favourite places, the distinctive tops of the Arrochar Alps being easy to spot and were feeling very close.
The walking is easy and full of wee places to explore, ducts and overspills, workmen’s huts with long cold fireplaces, gates and bridges built to access the central hills which have been made an island of sorts by the aqueduct.
The heather is in full bloom in shades of pink, purple and white, yellow flowers still shine and frantic insects buzz around all of them, scooping up the last of the summer harvest.
The distance passes easily as the weather shifts from grey and windy to warm and bright with every turn as the track flows sharply left and right as it clings to its designated contour line.
We walked anticlockwise, just because. It turns out this was the right way as anyone else we saw on foot or saddle was going the other way. We liked the views this way too, walking out to sea towards Arran and Cowal.
We were starving and hid from the stronger wind on one of the stone bridges to have lunch, well dinner I suppose, because it was late when we left.
Lots of ships to spot, cargo coming and going, a ferry over there, a few yachts and the familiar silhouette of the PS Waverley lolled past as we munched away. The fastest vessel on the Clyde which rockets past our window twice a day and it looked like it was standing still.
Btw, I’ll be talking about that Haglöfs L.I.M Mimic Hood I’m wearing in a wee bit.
As you curve away from Inverkip there’s a little stone building almost buried in greenery, not unlike many along the trail, but this one has some overgrown steps down one side which obviously just had to be explored. I mean why have a red button if you’re not allowed to press it?
Walking onto the slightly shoogly gantry you can see below, a heavy gate protects what we found out later is a restored version of an aqueduct overflow management mechanism.
It’s genius in its simplicity. If the water level in the aqueduct rises to a certain point water will flow down the overflow pipe and into the large bucket which will fill and drop down, opening the cast iron sluice gate which is counterweighted by the second bucket to stop it opening too quickly. The water runs out of the sluice, the aqueduct level drops and the bucket drains through the holes drilled in it, resetting the mechanism to its normal state.
Brilliant. Who needs electricity.
Linda, its a mechanical sluice gate, not a bench… Lots to see at the Cornalees Bridge vistor centre, probably, it was all shut as we were so late in the day. We will go back though, the wee cafe look nice and here’s where you get to find out the history and technical stuff.
The aqueduct stops here as this is where the reservoirs that feed it are, so past the unexpectedly remote feeling Loch Thom is the day’s only real ascent across a pass of around 250m.
Before we tackled this unexpected technical section we sat by the loch and finished our flask and had cake.
This cake was from the wee shop in Duntocher and came from McGhees and in a box too. I’ll probably get into this stuff properly at some point, but a wee health scare earlier in the year has seen me change a lot of what I do and eat and I’ve shed a load of weight through doing well, what I should have been doing all along.
But, I’m not becoming a fitness and food fascist, the cake on that day was one of the finest of joys. But I earn my cakes properly now.
There are minor roads hidden in the hills as well as tracks and there are plenty signposts to keep you right. I’ve crisscrossed Scotland my whole life and this area is probably where I know the least and I can actually see it from my window.
Since me and Linda got together we’ve been setting that right, hardly a week goes by without is setting foot on something somewhere and so much of that has been close to home. There’s so much around us other than the Kilpatricks, it’s all adding more joy and more possibility.
The last run down to Overtoun brings the views straight to the north. It fills my heart so it does.
It was getting late and the skies were darkening but flashes of pale blue could still be seen and the yellowing sun shone beams through the broken cloud to make even the intrusive infrastructure of civilization look soft and maybe even pretty.
We could see the buildings at Overtoun, we were nearly there. But we were still having fun, still had energy, there was still daylight, but there was the car.
We’d been out for hours, walking and just sitting. The time had just evaporated, the best sign of how well you have spent your day.
As we reluctantly skipped down the last gravelly stretch to the edge of town, a familiar sound reached our ears, a dog barking and an incoherent ned shouting at it. The little group sat on the knoll as the sunset geared up to the west, hoods up, their carry–oot in a poly bag ready to blur the last rays of the sun before the western mist could do it for them. Urban poetry in motion.
What a magic day. What a winter trail this would be, what a great bike ride. We’ll be back, but first…