The Falls of Clyde (we’re not talking about the ship here) were a series of three main waterfalls consisting of the Dundaff Linn, Cora Linn (pictured above), and the Bonnington Linn. All of these waterfalls were on the River Clyde suggesting they should be permanent and powerful. But it turned out that these waterfalls were merely my waterfalling excuse to check out what the UNESCO designation of the town of New Lanark was all about. For the moment I stepped foot into the strangely industrial yet historical-looking town from where the waterfall hike started, I got the sense that this place played a pretty critical role in not only Scotland’s heritage but the world’s heritage as well.
It turned out that the town of New Lanark (founded in 1785) was the result of a Utopian vision by Robert Owen, who modeled this industrial mill town to be free of crime, poverty, and misery while still producing textiles. At least that would explain why I saw numerous signs dedicated to Robert Owen himself. Under these humanitarian principles of fair work and living conditions (which were radical at the time), Owen managed to successfully carry out his form of benevolent industrialism in this town, and it apparently was said to be a key influence on how society should be run to the present day. In fact, I’ve read that many of his principles gave rise to things like garden cities as well as socio- and economic systems that are now widely accepted. So I guess given the significance of Owen’s ideas and how they were literally applied here, that was ultimately what warranted the awarding of UNESCO World Heritage status.
As for the waterfalls themselves, I learned that this was also the site of Britain’s first commercial hydroelectric power station in 1926 called the Bonnington Power Station. Given the hum of generators that I could hear as I was hiking past some of this infrastructure, it appeared that this power station was still in use to this day. Now while I have mixed feelings about sacrificing Nature in the name of “clean” hydropower, the historical role that both the River Clyde and New Lanark have played in the history of the world cannot be understated. And so it was with this perspective that I was better able to understand how such an industrial town was able to be recognized as a World Heritage site, which otherwise defied my preconceptions of what it meant to be UNESCO World Heritage in the first place.
The hike to all of the Falls of Clyde began from the public access car park (see directions below) just up the hill from the actual town of New Lanark itself (where traffic access was limited unless you were working, living, or overnighting here). From there, I had to walk downhill on an established footpath that brought me right into the heart of New Lanark, where I followed the light purple badger signs that would ultimately lead me to the Falls of Clyde Visitor Centre, very close to Dundaff Linn, which was the first of the Falls of Clyde. Now it turned out that the actual trail itself was not from the visitor center, but a short distance up some steps towards a gate flanking some water channels.
The relatively flat trail pretty much followed the River Clyde upstream alongside a reservoir, then past some infrastructure supporting the Bonnington Power Station, before going uphill alongside some diversion pipes towards the viewpoints for Cora Linn – the second and most impressive of the Falls of Clyde. It took me about 30 minutes of walking from the visitor center to Cora Linn. The first views of the falls tended to be hampered by overgrowth and obstructions, but I found out that as I continued along the main trail, I was able to get a few more looks at the impressive multi-tiered waterfall from a higher vantage point without as many foliage obstructions getting in the way. It appeared that I had to be content with the distant views of the falls as I didn’t see how it would be possible to get closer to Cora Linn itself. So it was pretty much relegated to a look-but-don’t-touch waterfall.
Beyond Cora Linn, the trail then entered into a small gorge as it continued meandering alongside the River Clyde. After another 30 minutes beyond Cora Linn, I’d ultimately make it to the unsightly dam called the Bonnington Weir. This structure was what ultimately controlled the flow of the River Clyde, and from what I could see, it pretty much robbed the thunder from the Bonnington Linn, which was the last of the waterfalls I’d encounter on the River Clyde. The best viewpoints of this waterfall actually required me to cross over the weir, then hike briefly downstream towards a pair of overlooks. That was where I could see that the current flow of the falls was but a mere fraction of the spectacle I’m sure that would’ve been on display had the River Clyde be allowed to flow in full spate and the entire width of the bedrock would be under water.
This was my turnaround point as there was no way I could continue on the trail then cut right back to New Lanark across the River Clyde. I believe the next crossing of the River Clyde wouldn’t be for another 3.5 miles anyways (though I’m sure there were more things to see in that direction). Thus, I can’t comment more on what else was further on this side of the river since I didn’t go past this point. When I eventually got back to New Lanark, I had a little more time to explore the town a bit, and that was where I got more direct views of Dundaff Linn as I was standing near an active waterwheel (Mill Number Four).
When I finished the uphill walk back to the car park, I ended up spending about 2.5 hours away from the car. Again, if Tahia and Julie had joined me on this excursion, I easily could have envisioned us spending at least 3 hours here.
We went to the Falls of Clyde from the Gray Mare’s Tail near Moffat. So we’ll describe this driving route first. From the Gray Mare’s Tail, we drove west on the A708 road towards Moffat, then continued on the A701 road towards the A74 motorway, which we took for about 27 miles. We then exited at the A70, heading northeast for about 7.5 miles towards Hyndford Bridge. Then, we turned left to go onto the Hyndford Road (A73) through the town of Lanark before turning left onto the narrower Braxfield Road (at this point, we were following the brown signs for New Lanark).
We then took the Braxfield Road for about 0.4 miles then kept right onto New Lanark Road, where we continued following the signs towards a roundabout (telling us to take the first exit on the left), which eventually led us to the large public car park at the end of the spur road that appeared to be free. Overall, this drive took us a little over an hour to cover the 48 miles.
Had we come from Edinburgh, we could have taken the A70 road for about 32 miles towards Hyndford Bridge, then turning right onto the A73 (Hyndford Road) and eventually towards Braxfield Road as described above. Or, we could have taken the A70 road for about 28 miles, then continued heading west on the A721 for another 1.5 miles towards the A706 road turning left. Then, following the A706 road south for 3.6 miles before turning left onto the A73 (Hyndford Road) before quickly making a right turn onto Braxfield Road. The rest of the way would also be as described above.
The latter approach going in the opposite direction was the way we went to get to Edinburgh from New Lanark, and it took us about 90 minutes (with traffic) to do that drive, which covered some 34 miles. Perhaps the nearest metropolis to New Lanark was Glasgow, which was 28 miles or under an hour drive to the northeast.
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