There are very few flat areas near where we live. More precisely there is one flat area near where we live and, if the scientists are correct, now would be a good time to take visit before any potential crossing becomes subject to maritime regulations.
Only a mile from our house begins the “Carse”, a narrow strip of flatland bordering the River Forth. From about Grangemouth, stretching westwards past Stirling, this mature river valley feature is underlain by bands of river and estuarine deposits. Soft layers of clays and silts make it a bugger to build on, as I discovered during the motorway construction of the late 70’s.
I like to think of this walk as a prelude to the longer trans-Scotland trip to come, a setting of the scene, a small snapshot of where I live and work…and where this adventure begins.
Today’s walk would take us along the high water mark of the tidal section of the Forth’s south bank, from opposite Kincardine down to the Forth’s confluence with the River Carron at Grangemouth some 8km distant. With a start only 3 miles from the house J dropped myself and the Fatdog near the small village of Airth where we set off with great purpose down a narrow, single track, road heading towards the river.
We had only been walking a matter of minutes when I pulled the Fatdog onto the verge as a white pickup shot past, its open back loaded with scrap carpet and its driver clutching his mobile phone to his ear. The lack of a genteel wave made me think the worst and as FD and I waded across the heap of fly-tipped carpet some 10 minutes later, I regretted not having used the camera when I had the chance. The countryside bordering the Falkirk-Grangemouth conurbation appears to suffer extensively from the ravages of white van man, the elusive mainstay of many a “Watchdog” type TV programme. There is hardly a leafy lane that is missing its mandatory quota of discarded tyres, furniture and garden waste.
But if we can manage to ignore the odd heaps of rubbish deposited at convenient widenings in the road, the pancake level fields of infant crops remind me more of France than Scotland.
Across our path and dominating the air space above us a line of tall pylons stretched across the narrowing river to what was the old coal fired Kincardine Power Station. This building is now conspicuous by its absence, having made way for the new Clackmannanshire Bridge joining what was Stirlingshire with the tiny unitary authority of Clackmannan and the historic Kingdom of Fife.
As I photograph the area’s newest bridge my back is to one of the areas oldest. This old masonry arch over the Pow Burn is slowly tipping into the silts of the “Carse”. We hung around for a few minutes to see if it would finally sink majestically into the dark grey mud…but nothing happened so we moved on.
As we neared the new bridge the air was filled with the harsh screeching of hundreds of starlings. Hiding in the long grass and hawthorn bushes there was very little to be seen of these noisy birds, but they were determined to be heard. I recall some 12 years ago watching them at dusk in a big, ever swirling cloud around the superstructure of the old Kincardine Bridge…a fantastic sight.
I was after a geocache at the new bridge so we paid a quick visit. The wee plastic tub was particularly easy to find…but on the other hand I work with bridges so that was always going to make this a fairly easy operation.
It was high time we started the walk proper so we crossed the main road at the start of the approach to the old Kincardine Bridge and picked up the right of way path heading due south along the river bank. Well that’s what we would have done if someone hadn’t built a large stilling pond and was half way through building what appeared to be a giant picnic area…smack bang across our route. Through the construction site we marched and over the back fence.
Near the old bridge just above the high tide mark, creeks of thick oozing mud separated by grassy ribbons of semi solid land provide a natural barrier to any sensible walker. We found ourselves on the fringes of this treacherous terrain luckily only having to risk its first few metres before reaching a low levee.
Thigh deep in grass, thistles and other miscellaneous plants of an irritating height we stomped, the Fatdog disappearing into the jungle flourishing on the levee top. We persevered with the ever thickening undergrowth for all of 10 minutes before risking the shoreline. I say risking as today’s high tide masked the area’s characteristic mudflats. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, it could only be of interest to a hardened scientist!
At the foot of the levee we picked up a faint “path” following a narrow strip of grass between the serious bog and the flood defence. I say path but that is pure exaggeration. It looked like an animal track that only saw an animal on an annual basis. We even found a sandy beach! Unfortunately it was only about 4sqm in size which more or less ruled out the recliner, drinks table, parasol etc. Oystercatchers patrolled what was visible of the mudflats and further towards the port end of Grangemouth on a solitary rock, a solitary cormorant stretched its wings.
From this shore the Longannet Power Station dominates the estuary. I keep meaning to scour the photos for their trial CO2 capture plant. There are extensive coal workings underlying this whole area all the way up to Stirling but I don’t think any of these deep mines are producing coal these days, although there are a number of opencast pits still working.
Much to my surprise the shore in front of the low sea defence was cut through by a small number of narrow creeks. Was I in the wrong part of the country? I really didn’t expect to find this type of terrain a mere 3 miles from my front door. The Fatdog kept watch for pirates, customs men and the like as we skulked up the creek, hidden from passing ships.
As we rejoined the path along the shore the seawall became more pronounced. Where before it had appeared to be a grass covered earth mound, it was clear the coming section was a combination of pitched stone and random rubble.
My nose twitched… I had caught a whiff of seaweed. There it was clinging to the shallow masonry slope between the wall and the water. It was at this point I came up with the idea of going coast to coast…to our first scent of seaweed somewhere in the west. A few weeks ago I had considered walking all the way up the Carron valley to its source. Today was down as a preliminary walk, to see if I felt it was something I would wish to follow through, but this new idea was something more to my liking.
Beyond the levee, on the landward side, recently tilled fields held an unholy alliance of the massed hordes of gulls and crows. I couldn’t resist a manufactured photograph as I sneaked up the steep seawall, camera at the ready. Slowly and quietly I checked my settings…then sprung to my feet. Three Hundred metres away a mass of black and white shot immediately into the air, loudly cursing the human nuisance who had disturbed their Sunday lunch.
We were by now nearing our target destination…the confluence of the Rivers Forth and Carron. This is the area where the River Forth begins to widen into estuary. To the east the iconic Forth landmark was now clearly visible, the magnificent Forth Rail Bridge.
A number of years ago I had an invitation to visit the painting works on that bridge, an incredible and unforgettable experience. Although I was only up as far as track level the sheer scale of the structure was difficult to comprehend until I was actually on it. The bridge even has its own bothies, steel shelters just under track level, built for the original workforce. Entertainment value was high that day, watching the “Dopes on Ropes” as they dangled high above the ground painting the parts scaffolding could not reach.
Back on the shore things were becoming a bit tight…I was running out of path and I had only a hundred metres or so left to go! It was back onto the overgrown levee to hack a route along to, then downward onto a small rocky platform where the two rivers joined. The slow sluggish Forth was joined by a spirited Carron eager to rush its way to the sea beyond. The difference in flow rates was very marked from where we perched at the Carron’s end.
We turned sharp right onto a much higher levee which formed the north bank of the River Carron. This proved to be almost impassable, its thick dense carpet of 1.0m high bramble chasing us back down to the path below. We would have to walk parallel to, but out of site of our new river until the vegetation permitted. As it worked out it was a good few hundred metres before we would see the river again, but by now today’s walk was nearly over. As we neared Kerse Bridge near Grangemouth I could see J and the “tank” waiting for us just off the road.