Inverclyde and Renfrewshire
Bordered by the city of Glasgow to the east and the Firth of Clyde to the west, the villages and towns of Inverclyde and Renfrewshire prospered and grew during their textile manufacturing, sugar-refining and shipbuilding glory years. The factories, mills and yards may be quieter now but the natural assets which enabled much of that prosperity are still here. The 40 walks in this guide make the most of the rivers, moors, reservoirs and coastline of this often-overlooked part of Scotland, exploring some impressive industrial heritage and hidden away wildlife-rich havens along the way.
Inverclyde and Renfrewshire
The regions of East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde lie at the western edge of Scotland’s Central Belt, bordered by Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. These three regions have much in common, by way of both industrial heritage and landscape, and their natural assets – the rivers, the moorland and the coastline – have in recent centuries been pivotal in enabling towns and villages to grow and prosper here. Today, it’s these same natural assets that make walking here so rewarding. With far-reaching views around almost every corner, there’s also much to be learned about the industrial heritage of these areas while out exploring. There is evidence of Roman occupation in and around Paisley (the Romans named it Vanduara) while there are traces left by Iron Age inhabitants in Busby and on the summit of Duncarnock above Neilston. Paisley Abbey was established during the 12th century and it became an important commercial centre for trade across Europe, with great influence and wealth following.
Within East Renfrewshire and Renfrewshire, rivers such as the Levern Water, the Gryffe and the White Cart Water were all central to the thread, cotton and textile industries in Neilston, Barrhead, Houston, Eaglesham, Kilbarchan and Paisley from the 18th century. Paisley, in particular, became a textile giant, with a peerless weaving heritage, and the town is known across the globe for its famous Paisley Pattern. Although its teardrop motif had its origins in Persia, Paisley adopted the design during the 19th century, particularly in its cotton and silk Paisley shawls. The Coats and Clark families were instrumental in making Paisley the centre of the thread and cotton industries.
Away from Paisley and a 5km stretch of the Levern Water, between Barrhead and Neilston, was home to several cottonmills. The biggest was Neilston’s Crofthead Mill, which first opened in 1792 and at its height employed around 1500 people. Another 1000 worked in the nearby bleachfields and calico printing works. Many of these workers were local people but many more were immigrants from Ireland and the North and West Highlands of Scotland, meaning the village grew substantially. Crosslee Cotton Mill, near Houston, was the largest mill on the River Gryffe, having opened in 1793, and in its heyday employed upwards of 300 workers. Eaglesham had two mills, employing more than 200 people, while Kilbarchan once had an extraordinary 800 handlooms within the village.
Heading out to the coast, shipbuilding was the dominant industry from the 1700s, with Greenock and Port Glasgow second only to Glasgow as centres for shipbuilding. The River Clyde has been key to the industry of Greenock – by the early 1600s, a pier had been built on the river and the town quickly established itself as an important port. After the 1707 Act of Union it became the main port for the West Indies, and one of the Clyde’s most famous yards, Scotts, was established in Greenock in 1711 where ships were built for 277 years. The first yard in Port Glasgow, Thomas McGills, opened in 1780, and it too became a centre for shipbuilding. Port Glasgow was also where The Comet, the first commercial steam vessel in Europe, was built in 1812.
As well as shipbuilding, sugar refining played a prominent role in Greenock’s prosperity during the 1800s with 14 refineries processing sugar from the Caribbean. The historic affluence of the town dubbed ‘Sugaropolis’ is linked, inextricably, with the slave trade, as it is in Port Glasgow. Reflecting the wealth of a period when many of the town’s civic leaders were merchants involved in the slave economy in a variety of ways are some of Greenock’s most imposing buildings, including Custom House and Victoria Tower.
The natural environment
The landscape of East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde would generally be described as rolling with a number of high points, including Duncarnock above Barrhead, Windy Hill in Muirshiel Country Park, and much of the high ground of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, having widespread and extensive views across much of Central and Southern Scotland.
Although the routes described in this guide span the western edge of Scotland’s heavily populated Central Belt, meaning you are never far from human habitation, the plants and wildlife that can be seen on these walks is surprising.
Dolphins, porpoise and even orcas can be spotted at times in the Firth of Clyde. Oystercatcher, redshank, common guillemot, red-breasted merganser, red-throated diver and great black-backed and black-headed gulls may also be seen along the coast.
At the other end of the scale, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies thrive out on the moorland of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, Eaglesham Moor and Gleniffer Braes while wildflowers line woodland and countryside paths criss-crossing all three regions; the carpets of bluebells found in the Bluebell and Rannoch Woods of Johnstone and snowdrops in Finlaystone Country Estate and Ardgowan Estate are particularly special. The countryside and moorland is also home to a variety of birdlife, such as lapwing, skylark, hen harrier and buzzard while the many dams and lochs dotted across the landscape are ideal sites for spotting geese, great crested grebes, tufted ducks, goldeneye, goosander, mute swans and black-headed gulls.
How to use this guide
The 40 walks within this guidebook are between 1.5km and 12km in length and can be completed within half a day. The region has good public transport links across Scotland’s Central Belt and the majority of the walks are accessible by bus or train (travelinescotland.com).
Most of these walks are low level and make use of the excellent network of paths. A few are child friendly and any rocky, boggy or steep terrain is highlighted at the start of each route. It is not advisable to stray from the described walks onto farmland or near exposed cliffs, and where livestock is present dogs must be kept on leads.
Some routes cross steep hill or moorland terrain where good map-reading and navigational skills are necessary in poor weather. Winter walking brings distinct challenges, particularly the limited daylight hours, whilst strong winds, especially along the coast and over higher ground, are possible throughout the year.
Even in summer, warm waterproof clothing is advisable and footwear that is comfortable and supportive with good grips is a must. Don’t underestimate how much food and water you need and remember to take any medication required, including reserves in case of illness or delay. Do not rely on receiving a mobile phone signal when out walking.
Each route begins with an introduction summarising the terrain walked, the distance covered, the average time to walk the route and the relevant Ordnance Survey (OS) map. There is a route for almost all levels of fitness in this guide, but it is important to know your limitations. Even for an experienced walker, colds, aches and pains can turn an easy walk into an ordeal.
Until the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2003, the ‘right to roam’ in Scotland was a result of continued negotiations between government bodies, interest groups and landowners. In many respects, the Act simply reinforces the strong tradition of public access to the countryside of Scotland for recreational purposes. However, a key difference is that under the Act the right of access depends on whether it is exercised responsibly. Landowners also have an obligation not to unreasonably prevent or deter those seeking access. The responsibilities of the public and land managers are set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.