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You are here: Information & HistoryEnvironment - Introduction

Avondale SSSI
Rights of Way
Environment - Introduction
The Great Outdoors

The Avon is one of the most endearing and beautiful of all the rivers in Scotland, an inspiration to many a painter’s palette and poet’s imagination. The river Avon flows through the parish from its source in Ayrshire through the parishes of Strathaven, Glassford, Stonehouse, Dalserf and thence into the Clyde a mile East of Hamilton.

The Avon is reckoned to be one of the best trouting streams in Scotland. Salmon used to be plentiful until around 1816 when the mill- dam at Millheugh was raised to procure a more consistent water supply for the mills, thus the salmon were unable to leap the dam.

The Linthaugh bridge which spans the Avon was built in the late 18th century to replace a bridge swept away in floods of 1771. The County and local landowners paid for the new bridge. This and many other bridges were built by Irish immigrants during an era of road building and communication improvements.

From Hamilton to Stonehouse an almost uninterrupted range of rocks overhangs the river Avon on both sides, the summits of which are covered with natural wood of ash, birch, oak, elm and many more. The bed of the river in places is congested with large areas of rock which have fallen from the strata, often obstructing the natural flow of the water’s passage.

Old shale mines can be found on the banks of the Avon near the Ritchies. These mines were said to have been worked by monks (possibly from Lesmahagow) and later used to extract oil from shale at the oil works nearby. These caves can still be accessed, but it is not advisable as they are low roofed, dark and a labyrinth of tunnels lie within. These mines were said to have been worked, to extract coal, during the general strike of 1926. It is said there exists a tunnel travelling under the Avon to the North bank, and that a large cave with luminous stalactites hang down from above. This cave is said to be accessed through one of the said shale mines.

The Avon has many tributaries which in themselves have a natural beauty and interest. The largest of these is the Kype Water which flows through the hamlet of Sandford. In its course to the Avon it forms a cascade of some 50ft at St.Helen’s old mill, better known as the Spectacle E’e falls. The origins of the name are uncertain but the following extract from ‘The Larkhall & Stonehouse Gazette’ is the popular and romantic version of how the mill came by its name. This theory, however, is questionable, as photographic evidence from a later date, clearly shows the mill in good working order.

It is said that long, long ago the miller of Spectacle E’e was prosperous and content. But he was also stubborn and haughty. And as he became a miller in so romantic a spot, he had a lovely daughter who was the apple of his eye. She also delighted the eye of a youth in the hamlet up the stream, but the miller would have none of him. And the youth plotted revenge. One day, towards noon, the people working the fields saw smoke and flames leap up through the trees at the waterside. The mill was on fire! When the flames died down, only the wall remained, but it is not known whether the miller perished or that the youth and the maid were afterwards wed. But the tale was told that, in the night, the spurned suitor had climbed the thatched roof of the mill and fixed by their legs, a pair of spectacles so that, when the sun beat fiercest on the thatch, the lens caught the rays and concentrated them to a burning pin-point on the dry and warm straw. When the flame burst he was far from the mill and so had an alibi. That’s how the mill got its name “Spectacle E’e”.

Equally enthralling is the Cander Water, a stream rising from the Parish of Lesmahagow, some six miles to the ‘meetings’ of the waters (Avon) at the ‘Fairies Rock’, where it is said fairies would come out after dark and dance the night through. Access to the Cander is extremely difficult from the Avon. It can however be accessed from Double Dykes by decending down the Cander gorge, though it is not advised for the faint hearted. The easiest route when reaching the Cander water is direct through the water. This stretch of water is not deep but there are many blockages of fallen debris which make passage more difficult. The feeling of seclusion and silence in this gorge is breathtaking, as is the wild garlic, abundant in late Spring.

Spanning the Cander you will find Woodlands bridge built in 1827 by Thomas Telford around the time of the Edinburgh to Ayr turnpike road becoming established. Situated up river on the Cander is the remains of Cander grain mill. Formerly powered by water driven machinery, the mill was converted to electricity in 1957. Still in evidence today is the wheel which drove the drive shaft to the Candermains grain mill above. A hydraulic ram is also situated here formerly used to pump drinking water from a well to Candermains. The pumping action of the hydraulic ram and the sound that it made became referred to as the ‘devils hammer’. If the Cander water is followed towards its source you will encounter the site of the former sandstone quarry at Overwood, thence on to Gill bridge where a mill formerly stood. Unfortunately a fire reduced the mill to ruins in 1879.

There are no lochs in the parish but there was at one time at Goslington, a large area of marsh which supported many water fowl including wild geese and ducks. The Avon in its natural setting is a haven for many birds such as tawny owls, mallards, dippers, buzzards, cormorants and the occasional kingfisher, one of which was spotted near the Linthaugh bridge in recent years. Wildlife is abundant if you know where to look. Deer, mink, badgers and even the otters have returned to the seclusion of these waters. In its often tropical appearance the Avon gorge also supports many rare plant species such as Herb Paris and the Lesser Wintergreen. Robert Naismith, a keen botanist, was eager for children to explore and learn from the many interesting and educational elements found within their environment.

“To train the youth to know the wild flowers of the district in which they reside would be an interesting, instructive, and
beneficial method of imparting additional zest into their holiday rambles, and would leave sunny memories in their minds for
all future time”.
Robert Naismith 1885

Researching through old maps of the district, it appears that in 1768 the river Avon, at the Horsepool had a diversion cutting directly across the land. This may have been a man made diversion, in connection with the mill situated at the Horsepool.

The Great Outdoors
With our ever changing environment, through atmospheric deterioration and the constant expansion into our so called ‘greenbelt’ protected areas, we face a perpetual fight to preserve and maintain our natural surroundings. Through the advancement of learning and awareness, we, and future generations, must help safeguard and educate those in power, to recognise the need to halt the erosion of our countryside, and the decline of our more rare flora and wildlife alike.

As a community we are under the constant threat of opencast mining, which is advancing towards our village at an alarming rate. Having previously investigated and objected to an application near Watstone farm in the past, I have grave concerns regarding not only the effects upon the welfare of the community, but equally upon the environment.

We, in Stonehouse, are fortunate to have the best of both worlds on our door step; the comforts of the city, and the freedom of the countryside. The parish of Stonehouse possesses more rights of way than any other ward, in the former Hamilton District. These right of ways have not been created at random, but have transpired because people have found a particular route more convenient for their journey to work, church, school or other destination. The right of the public to use such routes for reasonable purposes, has been acknowledged in the past by landowners, where the routes exist.

In the old Stonehouse parish, as in other parishes throughout the country, the network of routes reflect the economic and social history of the area. For instance, over half the rights of way in the former Hamilton District have access to some industrial usage, primarily to coal pits (Dovesdale - Broomfield Pit), quarries (Watstone - Overwood sandstone quarry), limekilns, oil works and mills (Sandford- Spectacle E’e Mill). Some routes provided general access, such as drove roads, and railway stations; while some routes follow the lines of ancient roads (Tanhill - Roman Road) and village lanes. In addition to these, a few routes led to churches, schools and allotments. All rights of way have their origin in the public need for a route from one place to another, whether for employment, religious or recreational purposes.

These old rights of way were once travelled on foot, or horseback and in later days, wheels. Many now lie beneath tarmac, but others remain in their ancient state, as mere tracks through the heather, not always visible without direction. Many of the country routes were drove roads, by which cattle and sheep were driven to market, and indeed in some instances still are today. “Kirk” and “Coffin” roads were also common; the former being a route to church, and the latter to the graveyard.

In order to preserve these ancient routes, it is up to the residents, and those walkers seeking the escapism of the city, to ensure the right of ways are used regularly, to preserve what have been handed down, and sometimes fought for by our forefathers. In doing so, the utmost respect and care must be given to those who make a living from the land. In my many adventures into our countryside, I have experienced an awakening of adventure and relaxation, from the quiet, timeless seclusion of the Cander gorge, to the excitement and expectation of finding one of our many historical sites, hidden away in our parish.

Influenced greatly by local walkers, such as Hugh Burns and the late T.E. Harkness Graham’s ‘Tributaries of the Avon’, I took a keen interest in our countryside and the treasures within. Through local knowledge, research and exploration I have endeavoured to record and share my experiences with others through local walking guides, such as a Right of Ways booklet and ‘A dauner roon the Cauner’. In doing so I have compiled and recorded the flora, birds and creatures I have witnessed on my rambles.

The late Ralph McLeod similarly undertook a more detailed survey in 1966, which recorded the names, whereabouts, significance and Latin term of the birds and plant life he encountered. This excellent project indicates the demise of some species and development of others in comparison to local studies of recent, some of which I expect are due in part to agricultural changes and the expansion of housing into the greenbelt. For instance, Ralph recorded sightings of skylarks, tree creepers, red shanks, song thrushes and blackcaps which were common locally in 1966, but which have now either disappeared locally, or, are exceptionally rare. In particular, the sighting of Corncrakes in the area of the Tilework park, are a prime example of how agricultural developments have reduced such nationally, leaving Corncrakes confined to a few isolated areas of the country. On the other hand, rarities in 1966 such as the magpie, lapwing and sparrowhawk are now common place throughout the old parish.

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