Known locally as the ‘Water Track’ or ‘Pipe Track’, this path through the pastoral landscape at the base of the Campsie Fells reveals an interesting history. At the base of Glengoyne hill, and marked by impressive iron gates and railings, as well as towering stone aqueducts, this piped water track has been a crucial commodity to the citizens of Glasgow.
In the Victorian era, dear old Glasgow toon was struggling to maintain an adequate supply of unpolluted water to the population. In fact, the city had only 30 public wells (and a few private ones that the thirsty plebeians would be kept well away from) from which to draw water.
Soap-dodging jokes aside, the lack of clean water posed a serious health threat to the inhabitants of the city. After two serious outbreaks of cholera that impacted on the lives of the poorest inhabitants, it was felt that something had to be done about the foul water. The starting point was for the Lord Provost to bring the water supply under municipal authority control, and this became the remit of the Glasgow Corporation Water Department.
The eminent civil engineer John Frederick Bateman was commissioned to work out a solution to this problem, and he concluded that the water needed to be piped into Glasgow from a nice clean supply outside of the city itself. The rather beautiful Loch Katrine, and some surrounding lochs, were deemed the most suitable source, and a bill was passed in The House of Commons (1855) that approved the necessary engineering work.
And it was no small feat of engineering. There was the construction of a dam on the loch itself, 26 miles of sandstone built aqueduct, the same length again of trunk mains and 46 miles of distribution pipes. Mugdock served as a storage reservoir. The civil road beneath Dumgoyne was constructed by The Glasgow Corporation Water Department. This was completed in a staggering 3 ½ years.
With an estimated 3000 construction workers, the pipes had to be hauled up the hillside by pulleys and ropes.
The entire mileage of aqueduct we can see today did not all happen in one go; one viaduct was built, and then another. The good Queen Vic inaugurated the initial system in 1859, but 24 years later this supply no longer sated the growing city, and it’s industrial needs. A greater water supply was needed to supply the burgeoning population and water-hungry factories.
The first aqueduct (26 miles) supplied Mugdock reservoir and the second aqueduct (23 miles) was built to supply Craigmaddie reservoir and was completed in 1885. It was officially opened on 21st June 1901.
Even Scotland’s poem-murdering William Topaz McGonagall made mention of the water supply in his foundering verse Loch Katrine:
Beautiful Loch Katrine in all thy majesty so grand,
Oh! how charming and fascinating is thy silver strand!
Thou certainly art most lovely, and worthy to be seen,
Especially thy beautiful bay and shrubberies green.
Then away to Loch Katrine in the summer time,
And feast on its scenery most lovely and sublime;
There’s no other scene can surpass in fair Scotland,
It’s surrounded by mountains and trees most grand.
And as I gaze upon it, let me pause and think,
How many people in Glasgow of its water drink,
That’s conveyed to them in pipes from its placid lake,
And are glad to get its water their thirst to slake.
This pipeline still supplies water to Glasgow. We have done away with the threat of cholera, and washing with soap and clean water is accessible to the entire city population. Over 150 years since the first aqueduct and pipeline was put into service, Glasgow still enjoys clean water from thy silvery strand.
The pipe is beneath ground, but it’s passage through the countryside can be followed for 9.3km along the track between Strathblane (Gowk Stane Road) NS 557 789 and Killearn (Ibert Road) NS 525 858. The track can be muddy in wet weather, but is suitable for walkers, trail runners, mountain bikes and horse riders (although there are some very heavy iron gates to tackle).
Image property of, and courtesy of, Glasgow City Council (Libraries). A Thomas Annan photograph, 1876, of the Loch Katrine aqueduct crossing the Endrick Valley on its way to Mugdock Reservoir near Milngavie