I live in Bowling, a little village lost between the towns of Clydebank and Dumbarton. It’s mostly quiet and uneventful and I have the Kilpatrick Hills at my back door and the River Clyde at my living room window.
Once upon a time it was a hub of industry with shipbuilding, engineering, weaving, distilling, quarrying, mining, pottery and more while by it’s location it served at the western terminus of the Forth and Clyde Canal.
Squeezing through it’s houses it also had two railways and their stations and the only two roads that run up the west coast from Glasgow. The railways brought goods yards and sidings, cranes for filling and emptying wagons and boats and enough infrastructure to define the shape and look of the village to this day.
The harbour was also where the Clyde steamer fleet sheltered the winter, with the Waverley being amongst the vessels so tightly packed in you cold walk across from sea wall to shore from deck to deck.
It looked like this.
By the 60’s decline was set in, tracks were taken up, one railway line shut altogether and the station became a lockup garage and the trackbed a race track for dirtbikes until the cycle track was built and gave access back to the thousands that use it now.
I saw the last of it leave, the pottery, the flue for steam boilers that powered the bridge mechanism were all places we played, the viaduct that bisected the village was a shortcut to the woods and the beach. It was all part of the landscape and decaying, Bowling was forgotten, stuck between tow local authorities and neither was interested in us.
Bowling became a dormitory village. We went from three shops to one, three pubs to one, we lost our post office, our butchers and our Victorian brick railway station building. Buy hey, the plastic bus shelter on the platform keeps the rain off, who needs that coal fire in the wood paneled waiting room.
The only remains of the shipyard are our workshop, the harbour is crumbling after decades of abuse and neglect and Littlemill Distillery is now flats.
This air of neglect is something we’ve learned to live with and when something new comes along the reaction can be varied. Some are happy with the way it is, indeed some folk move here to hide in plain site, away from the world but still near the shopping centres. I have no time for this, my village is not a mausoleum, it needs to thrive to survive.
I do live in fear of housing though, over the years many plans have been put forward and they are still on the table to destroy the waterfront for profit with high value new build garbage boxes between the river and the canal. The canal is the problem though, and the savior to date, it’s acting as a castle moat.
We shall see what the future brings. Locals lying in front of diggers heading for the woods by the river most likely.
When Scottish Canals announced the development of the basin and the viaduct after the reopening of the Forth and Clyde canal there was the usual mix of wailing and gnashing of teeth and guarded optimism. It was ambitious and expensive and it would bring people in, do we want people in the village, spending their money, walking on our pavements etc etc etc
We’d see, work was started and change was on the way.
The viaduct is a series of red concrete arches and three metal bridges. One swing bridge over the canal, one over the railway and one over the road. The arches had always been occupied, usually storage, workshops or garages, but now we would have shops, cafes, they would be clean and dry inside too.
The track bed above used to be open and accessible but over the years trees and bushes had made it all but impassable, these would be c;leared for something new.
The bridges would be taken back to the bare metal and brought back life. This was important to me, so many places have lost their heritage infrastructure and it changes the place, Strathblane and Lochearnhead being two obvious ones who lost their railway bridges and just don’t look, well, right anymore.
If it can be made safe, keep it, use it, incorporate it into current life. The only barrier is imagination. And money.
This was the plan for Bowling’s viaduct, make it into the Bowline, a liner feature with gardens and viewpoints with industrial history at every step.
The centrepiece is the old swing bridge, where the postcard above was shot, actually from the signal box over the tacks. This was a fantastic thing, it would be saved, even if it would forever remain non operational.
Funny though, me and Jimmy are among the few who still know how it worked, and among the even fewer who could have had a go at fixing it. Well, with a team.
It’s now been a few years in the doing with lockdown slowing the process too and while the arches have thrived and the basins have been attracting even more visitors (including waves of disruptive neds, but that’s not the fault of the works, that’s a whole bigger issue) the works eventually completed above it all and opened a few weeks ago.
Amusingly, Jimmy was cycling for his papers one morning and met the basin staff as they were faffing around the barriers at the village end. “Ah, is it opening today?” said Jimmy. Aye was the reply and the barrier was removed, so Jimmy became the first visitor to cross the Bowline.
There was a low key opening event which I was sorry to miss, but we got there soon after and have been frequent visitors ever since. Dusk is the best time to visit, the views are excellent, the lights are on and the whole place takes on a little air of magic.
There is a wide walkway the whole way and there are plants and trees all along in boxes or beds, there are lights for your feet and also to illuminate the bridges mostly in a rainbow of colours, but it seems to stick a lot now and we get one colour a day, maybe another 50p in the meter?
There’s are viewing platforms and interpretation boars which are amongst the best I’ve seen, good research was done for these are there is good information to go with some excellent photies. Well worth slowing down to read them all.
The beach is just there and hidden in the undergrowth you’ll find wooden tracks for young (and old) to follow and that level of detail can be found all over the Bowline with metal tracks in the surface to reference the past and carvings to examine.
I was pleased to see little things like the painted numbers had survives and here and there scraps of the old steel gantries are still fixed to the concrete, the history is still there if you look.
It gives villagers and visitors something new, something different. We can see our homes in a different way, it expands our horizons a little bit and you know what, at the very least it’s taken the bare look off the village.
I think the reaction has been mostly positive and we are all using it, there’s always someone walking a dog or standing on a viewing platform when I’m walking or riding over.
And I just like looking out by back window and seeing the bridge lit up. I love it, I think you will too, come and visit.
But mind and go a little further, there’s the tunnel and old station to see to your north, do that first maybe and come back to the Bowline as the sun goes down, stand on the platform on the swing bridge and watch the sky light up and reflect in the river.
Maybe the restaurant in the old custom house will be open by the time you visit. I remember the last live-in harbour master there, Mr Lee. Still have the leather bound book he gave me when I was wee and lived on the boat in the basin.
History, life, environment, it’s all closer than you realise.