At any time of the year, a walk along the banks of the Kelvin is one of the most rewarding experiences Glasgow has to offer. Today we take for granted the benefits that the Kelvin brings to visitors and to all of us who live or work in the west of Glasgow. But it is only in recent years that the River has become treasured as a rich natural habitat and a place of unspoiled beauty in the heart of the city.
Fifty years ago, the River Kelvin was dead – a chemical sewer poisoned by the products of decades of industry. Following the closure of the paper mills, chemical and dye works in the 50s and 60s, it has taken thirty years of cleansing rainfall to heal the damage. Now the fish have returned and its tree lined banks provide cover for dippers, kingfishers and other birds. The botanist will find a wide variety of plants, many of them rare and even exotic.
The Kelvin provides a unique environment in Glasgow, which needs to be protected and improved.
The River Kelvin is about 35km long (22 miles) long. It flows from the Dullatur Bog near the village of Kelvinhead to the east of Kilsyth to its confluence with the Clyde in Glasgow
Of the many burns that flow into the river there are three main tributaries, the Glazert Water, the Luggie water, and the Allander Water.
The Kelvin Valley
From Kelvinhead the River Kelvin flows in an almost straight line to the southwest. The Kelvin flows through a broad valley between the Kilsyth Hills and the high ground to the south. Although its former meandering course has been straightened by centuries of farming, it flows slowly through the valley. At Bardowie and the confluence of the Allander Water the river suddenly turns south, a result of being dammed by sand and gravel washed out from melting glacier.
Between 105 and 142AD the Kelvin Valley formed part of the northern boundary of the Roman Empire. The Antonine Wall named after their emperor, stretched between the Clyde and the Forth. It was predominantly built from wood and earth, and had bridges over the Kelvin at Balmuildy, and the Luggie in Kirkintilloch, both of which have long since gone.
The Kelvin Valley aside from being a defensive structure, has also served as a line of communication. With roads, railways and the Forth and Clyde canal using it as a route from western to eastern Scotland.
The River Kelvin in Glasgow
At Bardowie near where the Antonine Wall crossed the Kelvin, the former south westerly course of the river abruptly changes and the river flows south towards Glasgow. At Killermont the gradient of the river changes sharply too, and the former slow flowing Kelvin enters a deep gorge through which it rushes. The gorge opens out again at Kelvinbridge, but the river maintains its new found speed to its confluence with the Clyde.
Between Bardowie and Killermont
From the confluence of the Kelvin and the Allander Water at Bardowie, the River Kelvin forms the boundary of Glasgow. Apart from a spur from the city which crosses the Kelvin at Balmuildy, the river remains the boundary until it fully enters the city at Killermont. The Kelvin is slow and deep at this point before it begins its rush through Glasgow. Generally people and industries have avoided building on its banks along this stretch, which are prone to flooding. In spite of this the Romans chose a spot near the present day Balmuildy Bridge to site their own. A bridge that helped form part of the Antonine Wall.
Between Killermont and Dawsholm
At Killermont the river Kelvin fully enters the city of Glasgow. It is also at Killermont that we first encounter on the Kelvin milling. The buildings of the saw mill at Killermont are some of the few remaining on the Kelvin. Most others have been demolished.
Like for example the Dawsholm paper mill. Which was demolished in the 1970s.
The bridge over the Kelvin at this point is one of the oldest in the city, and was built in the 1780s.
Maryhill and Kelvindale
Railway bridge, now removed in Kelvindale. Formerly the railway was an important feature of industrial life along the Kelvin in Maryhill and Kelvindale. There were extensive goods yards and mineral yards by the river. As well as spurs of serving the mills, other industries and people of this stretch.
North and South kelvinside
At Kelvinside, the Kelvin flows through parkland. The Botanic Gardens choosing to build there after it moved from its former location on Sauchiehall Street
Ha’penny Bridge House, is situated in the parkland surrounding the Kelvin Walkway.
Woodside and Kelvinbridge
From the Botanic Gardens the Kelvin Walkway runs along the north bank of the River. Mining was once an important industry by the river here and iron rich water still wells up alongside the footpath as it springs up from the abandoned mineshafts. Milling was also important here, although the North Woodside Mill had a distinctly chequered history.
The mill was rebuilt in 1846 as a flint mill. Grinding flint to make the glaze for tiles and pipes. It was demolished in 1964, and its ruins left. Further down river at Kelvinbridge stood the South Woodside Mill one of the largest cotton mills in Glasgow, and the only one to be powered by water.
Kelvinbridge, where Great Western Road crosses the river, is a fine cast iron bridge. It is situated where the Kelvin leaves its deep gorge behind. This has been a popular crossing point for centuries, the Hillhead ford and two previous bridges crossed the river here.
Kelvingrove park is one of the oldest open spaces in Glasgow. Overlooking the park is Glasgow University.
Just off the left of this picture is the location of the the City’s Kelvingrove art gallery and museum. The wooden bridge that can be seen crossing the Kelvin connected the gallery with the University. It was built a couple of years before this photograph was taken for the Exhibition of 1901.
The Kelvin through Partick was dominated by milling. Now only the Scotstoun mill owned by Rank Hovis Macdougal remains on the western bank of the river. On the opposite bank stood the impressive Regent Flour Mills, constructed to replace the appropriately named Bunhouse Flour Mill.
The Kelvin and the Clyde
Just behind the Kelvin Hall, the large building in the background, is the Kelvin’s only natural waterfall. Below this point the River Kelvin is tidal and has met the Clyde.
The decline of heavy industry in Glasgow conspires to make this one of the grimest sections of the river. As the river flows past industrial land, some now disused and full of rust and weeds.
The area wasn’t always industrial, once it was considered a very beautiful spot. The Bishops of Glasgow built their summer residence by the banks of the Kelvin here. Although by the time this drawing was made the building had fallen into ruin. The confluence between the Kelvin and Clyde was once famous for the fish that could be caught there.
Now however all that lies at the mouth of the Kelvin are abandoned ship building yards. A & J Inglis’ Pointhouse yard on this side of the Kelvin and Tod & MacGregor’s Meadowside yard on the other. Looking down the abandoned slipdock it is hard to imagine any ships being built here. Least of all the most famous ship built on the Kelvin, and launched from this dock, the Waverley.
“Suggested Further Reading” – “Glasgow’s Other River. Exploring the Kelvin” by Alex Matheson