An Ode to the Clyde
‘An Ode to the Clyde’ was written by Jenny Pearson, Rivers Trust Ambassador. If you have a river which feels like home, please consider supporting our work with a small donation, or support your local Rivers Trust through volunteering. We want future generations to find peace and inspiration in rivers – but to do that, we need to make sure they are protected.
High in the green hills of central Scotland, a slow trickle of water drips over the rocks into the stream below that twists around the rugged Lanarkshire landscape. The stream glistens as it flows and the sound of rushing water breaks through the sound of the wind and rustling leaves. Another small stream runs perpendicular, and together they form a larger rush of cold, clear flow. It continues downhill, gaining momentum as its heads west from the centre of the land. The surroundings are barren – years of felling, peat destruction, and the burning of gorse moors has left this land plain but the wildlife that has been able to, clings on for life – Buzzards soar and Sky Larks sing, grouse and pheasants roam the land.
The landscape starts to shift, it becomes flatter and thicker with trees. The water is darker, deeper, faster and almost furious – it heads towards the historic town of New Lanark, where for generations, Mill workers relied on the power of the Clyde, keeping their factories and livelihoods alive. The power of the water here is indisputable. The water flows steady through the stunning glen, before plummeting over the edge with a fall that makes the ground tremor and fills the glen with a rumble as loud as ten strokes of thunder. The Clyde Falls are majestic, surrounded by woodland that has stood for hundred of years. Peregrine Falcons are the pride of the falls. Cheetahs of the bird world, they rise to great heights before swooping to the ground in a flight of lightning, faster than any other bird in the feathered kingdom, feasting on their favourite meal – pigeons. But the drama doesn’t break the rivers concentration. It continues on into its mid-path, continuing to grow stronger and more powerful with every bend.
The trees start to thin as the farms get larger – on either side, cows laze in the sunshine or huddle in the rain. Tucked in a bend in the Clyde sits Baron’s Haugh Nature reserve where bird watchers, families and dog walkers come. Baron’s Haugh is a piece of nature’s paradise amongst the bustling old towns that line the Clyde in these parts. In a dash, a golden spec of blue darts from one bank to another, the king of the river, a Kingfisher. And with a splash, an otter makes a scene, attracting onlookers to line beside the willows that overhang the water – it shows off to them as they watch and take photographs.
And as always, the river continues on. Through Motherwell, it passes Uddingston where the ancient red, crumbling but magnificent Bothwell Castle stands guard. It is just past here that is passes through the Lanarkshire boundary and into Glasgow and alongside the river runs the Clyde walkway. Always busy with walkers and cyclists, the walkway hides the city glamour from view and gives the river a more rugged and wild look. Glasgow is a historic city that built itself along the river. Industries and societies grew here from the river up. As the river widened, deepened and reached its tidal point, it opened Glasgow up to the world as a valuable shipping route. But these industries were dirty, polluting and some even played a significant role in the devastating slave trade. Glasgow’s air was thick and clogged, and the clear water ran foul. Today, the industries have closed but their legacies live on. Now along the banks, shopping malls and offices stand tall, night clubs and pubs party on until the early hours, and the people of Glasgow watch over the river.
But the Clyde’s journey isn’t yet over. At its deepest and most powerful, it continues on its westerly route, towards the edge of the land. It continues to widen, opening itself up further. The mud-banks covered for half of the day are rich in nutrients. When the now salty water retreats exposing the mud, the waders flock in. The cackle of the curlew and the screech of the oyster catching, the graceful heron and bobbing red shank – they take their time, hunting for small invertebrates amongst the sludge. On a calm day when the waves slow, porpoise can be seen from the banks, rolling over the water. They thrive in the estuary, breeding and feeding in the mild and sheltered waters.
Past the historic ship building towns of Clydebank and Greenock, the river takes a sharp southern turn towards its end. It meets the many sea-lochs of the stunning and mountainous Argyll – Loch Long and the Holy Loch. The estuary turns to run down the long Ayrshire coast. Here, the river Clyde becomes the Clyde Sea – a sea of dramatic, volcanic islands and incredible marine life. Below the surface of the cold, harsh waters and amongst colourful reefs, life is blooming. And from all over the UK and beyond, students and academics travel to the small, tooth shaped island of Cumbrae to study this marine life and see it for themselves.
It is from Cumbrae, that I write this ode to the Clyde. A river alongside which I have spent my entire life. To me, this river is home. Whether I am standing awestruck feeling the rumble of the Clyde Falls in my legs, bird watching at Barons Haugh, dancing with my friends in Glasgow or watching the waves crash on Cumbrae, the Clyde feels like my river. But isn’t mine, it has flown long before me and will for many years after me. The Clyde has left behind most of its dirty days, but it still has some cleansing to do. The important work of river conservation must keep going – keeping the Clyde strong will keep us strong.