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The River Avon Heritage Trail, West Lothian, Scotland

It has always been a bit of an embarrassment to me that I have never (as an adult at least) walked in Scotland. This gaping absence in my outdoor experience has lingered over me throughout my outdoor-related successes over the last few years: being involved in the growing popularity of Social Hiking, speaking about social media in the outdoors and being shortlisted for Outdoor Personality of the Year…. I kept thinking to myself… surely eventually I will be outed as a fraud for not having ever walked in Scotland….

Well thankfully my personal self-doubt (about this at least!) can at last be put to one side – I have finally walked in Scotland!

As I was heading up to Scotland to give a training session for a customer in East Lothian anyway, I decided to make the most of the trip and arranged to meet Paul (@iomadh), a fellow user of both Audioboo and Social Hiking, for a hike. Paul had, the week before, stumbled across a leaflet for The River Avon Heritage Trail, and as the weather forecast was dire for the weekend, it seemed a sensible to do a low-level hike.

The River Avon Heritage Trail is a 10 mile linear walk that follows the River Avon as it flows downstream between Avonbridge and Linlithgow (you can download a leaflet from the West Lothian Council website). I met Paul at The Bridge Inn at Linlithgow Bridge, where we left one car before heading over to Avonbridge to start the walk (the walk starts on a quiet street, which has a few places to park).

The weather started as bad as we expected – with wind and snow, although it thankfully eased to rain as we reached the more sheltered river. The river was swollen from all the recent rain – although still constrained to it’s bank in most places it still surged angrily downstream. To start with the trail was a narrow muddy track along the river bank. I had not met Paul before, but we made good progress in single file as we chatted – passing a weirs, crossing the river at a disused mill and going under the disused Westfield Viaduct which dominated the view as we approached.

We remained on the north bank as we continued following the river – occasionally climbing up the valley side before dropping back down to the river (in one case passing a small waterfall as a stream joined the mightier river) and in places there were relatively new board walks installed to negotiate particularly boggy areas. As we approached the location of Wallce’s Cave (on the edge of the Muirsvonside Country Park?) the track improved – we crossed the river again and began a search to find the cave, eventually discovering it was just to the left of the footbridge we crossed over the river (in our defence the path turns right and we were too busy chatting to notice the cave – now just a sandstone arch). To celebrate our find, we got the stove out for a coffee and a break.

Coffee drunk, we continued on our way 0 crossing the quiet A801 we passed a monument to engineer Henry Bell on the remains of a wall. Thanks to @welshracer for the information that Henry Bell was famed for introducing the first successful passenger steamboat service in Europe (more details on Wikipedia).

At the start of the walk I had joked how ‘funny’ it would be if we got half way only to discover the river was too flooded to continue – the joke backfired when we reached the point where the South Glen Burn joins the river (we had once again cross the river and were on the north bank). The burn was deep and fast – the stepping stones hidden beneath a surging current (and the River Avon was fierce). Neither of us fancied trying our luck even with a chain for support!

We pondered our options and, sensibly, decided to head upstream to find somewhere safer (and dryer) to cross – eventually finding a fallen tree that had fallen across the water. We did not have much chance to celebrate our successful crossing – around the corner we discovered a similar problem at North Glen Burn (this time we negotiated some larger rocks just up stream).

Any thoughts of not having to climb anything on a river walk was dashed when we came to a flight of steps up the steep river valley side, although at least the rain had stopped and there was even some sunshine. We past through the visitor centre (managing to rest the tea shop) and dropped back down to the river, before passing under, up to (another climb!) and then across an aquaduct carrying the Union Canal.

Although spirits were still high, it was this point I have to admit to starting to feel tired – although we had not walked a particularly long distance, my feet were feeling sore and my hips stiff (my excuse – the long drive the day before, the cold weather and the muddy terrain!). After crossing the aquaduct, we rejoined the River Avon on the south bank and continue to follow the trail along the river until we finally reached the final ‘duct’ of the day, an in-service viaduct,  and Linlithgow. We made ourselves at home in The Bridge Inn lounge bar for a late lunch and a pint of Scottish ale.

I really enjoyed walking the River Avon Heritage Trail – lovely scenery with fantastic company. Thanks to Paul for choosing the route and for accompanying me! It is great to have a first taste of walking in Scotland, although I still have not walked in the Scottish mountains…….

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