By one of those strange quirks of fate I was heading towards Falkirk again this weekend - this time from the west via the Forth & Clyde Canal and Castlecary.
View Castlecary in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
Bus: Glasgow Buchanan St to Castlecary (X37 First in Scotland)
Castlecary is not the easiest place to get to by public transport - it's in the middle of a railway dead-zone between Croy/Cumbernauld and Falkirk. I'd normally walk from one of these stations, but the canal's a bit boring between Croy & Castlecary and the alternative is the mass of roundabouts/flyovers in Cumbernauld - fine if you know all the paths, but I don't - so bus it was.
The Castlecary Hotel is a large place - with the main hotel, function rooms, formal restaurant and cottage-style accommodation across the road I assume it's targeting the Marriages and other Functions market.
The attached pub is called the Poachers Lounge and it's a large place split into 3 different areas - a lounge area, a really nice wee snug (mostly used by locals, I'm guessing), and a separate screened off dining area. I liked all the long bench-type seats, the separating screens, the wooden beams and the whisky bottles/cases & books as decor - it all looks fairly organic and evolving.
Their cask selection was pretty good today - Jorvik Blond, Kelburn Red Smiddy and they also have Tryst Bottleneck One as their house beer - it's a great Tryst pale'n'hoppy session beer, fairly similar to the Carronade IPA. Food wise today I had the soup'n'sandwich deal (as is getting to be normal) - £4.40 and great value. The staff were really helpful - I asked for the WiFi key and they must have spent 5 minutes getting it - not surprising since it was about 20 characters long and not at all obvious!
When I left the Castlecary Hotel I wan't at all sure what effect the construction of the new M80 extension had had to the paths and cycleways around Castlecary. Thankfully it wasn't a problem - I was able to walk under the Castlecary Arches and along the road towards Bonnybridge without any obstructions.
On the road into Bonnybridge are the Allandale Cottages, originally built to house the workers from a nearby brickworks. There are 46 of these in a row - I caught these just as the winter sun was illuminating the upper sections of the cottages - a great contrast to the dark brick-work of the lower parts.
I joined up with the Forth & Clyde Canal at the Underwood Lockhouse, an Indian Restaurant on the canalside - different to say the least!
I didn't go in (unusual for me to miss out on a curry house and a drinking establishment) but headed onwards to Falkirk. After the Underwood the canal became more tree-lined and was frozen over in large places.
It was then a good walk (the first for a few weeks), past Bonnybridge and almost into Camelon until I came to the Falkirk Wheel, a simply fantastic piece of modern engineering and architecture. It's designed to carry canal narrow boats to/from the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal which is ~80 foot above it, and from a purely engineering point-of-view I'm sure there could have been a simpler solution, but instead it's something visually stunning and quite unique.
A twitter colleague let me know about this - Tryst Wheel Ale (although it's a re-packaged Tryst Drover's 80/-), and I went into the visitor centre to buy a bottle.
After the Falkirk Wheel I kept to the Forth & Clyde Canal and walked along to the Union Inn - it was here that the 2 canals were originally connected via a number of locks. It's a distinctive whitewashed building set apart from others. There's no real ale, but it was busy, full of people of all ages, had a great open fire and seemed to be thriving community pub.
Next I headed to Falkirk High Street where I managed to fight my through the crowds and find the (almost) hidden arched entrance & alleyway to the Wheatsheaf Inn, a former CAMRA Forth Valley pub of the year.
It's a fairly small place and today it was full of Christmas shoppers and really busy, but the service was still impressive (actually it was outstanding). I blagged the last free table and savoured 2 superb real ales - the very smooth, best bitter-like Marston Moor Merriemaker and the more citrusy Oakham Bishop's Farewell, both in great condition. As well as great beer and great staff, the Wheatsheaf also has a number of superb brewery mirrors - the McEwans mirror must be close on 2 metres in length and it's always interesting to see these brewery associated antiques.
Train: Falkirk High to Glasgow Queen St