The Banks of the Clyde: Part 2

Published: April 27, 2021

River Traffic

Nowadays the largest merchant ships to sail upriver to Glasgow are the bulk carriers, some of which are 225 metres long and weigh almost 40,000 gross tons. They usually bring animal feed or other agricultural products to the city to help feed Scotland`s cattle. For anyone interested in watching and / or photographing waterborne activity, Marine, a free resource, shows real time tracking which makes it easy to get into the best position in plenty of time.

The workhorses on the upper Clyde are the small coasters like Arklow Raven (below) which discharge and / or collect a diverse range of cargoes, including scrap metals, minerals, road salt and cement.  (Following image courtesy of Steve Moyes © 2020 aviation).

With the switch to renewable energy becoming an increasing priority to combat global climate change, wind turbine components for Scotland`s wind farms are delivered to the city multiple times each year. These vessels are always unloaded at the King George V Dock with the parts transferred to their final destination by road.

Tankers also make frequent visits to the Clydebank Oil Terminal at Rothesay Dock.

Other vessels passing the Erskine waterfront in recent years have included survey and scientific research ships, massive pipe-layers, dredgers, live fish carriers and craft belonging to government bodies such as Border Force, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA), as well as luxury private motor yachts including Cayman Islands-flagged Lady Sandals.

Originally named Gallant Lady, this super yacht dates from 2007. It measures 51.21 metres (168.0 ft) in length, has a crew of twelve and can accommodate ten guests. Unfortunately she didn`t bring any Caribbean sunshine with her when she visited the Clyde back in the summer of 2013. 

Operated by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), RRS Discovery and RRS James Cook carry out oceanographic and marine biology research in the Earth’s most challenging environments, from tropical oceans to the edge of ice sheets. ​Both have called in at Glasgow several times over the past decade for post-survey maintenance.

This is FPV Hirta of Marine Scotland en route to the King George V Dock at Glasgow.
Sometimes the ships pass close enough for onlookers at Erskine to overhear what`s being said by the crew on deck. 

And don`t forget that the Erskine Bridge is a unique vantage point on the Clyde, whether it`s for checking out the scenery, or photographing passing ships. Plus, there`s always a chance of an unusual sight! Up until 2015, when the Royal Navy was responsible for Air Sea Rescue in the UK,  Fleet Air Arm crews based at HMS Gannet, Prestwick, would occasionally practice their low level flying by transiting under, rather than over the bridge. HM Coastguard took over the service, operating AgustaWestland and Sikorsky helicopters in place of the navy`s ageing Sea Kings. 

(Following image and the Erskine Bridge sunrise shot above © Steve Moyes 2020 aviation),
Many sailors from all over the world are delighted with the friendly reception they get when they sail past Erskine…
Smiles and waves are often the order of the day.

Shipbuilding & Naval Activity on the Upper Clyde

​The River Clyde has been a centre for shipbuilding for hundreds of years, with boats being produced in the area possibly as early as the 15th century. By the early 1900s, the Clyde yards were turning out around a fifth of all the world`s ships. Two of the most famous companies were located just across the water from Erskine, namely William Beardmore & Co at Dalmuir, and John Brown`s at Clydebank, both of which can be seen in the aerial view above. Of the numerous iconic vessels that the latter yard produced, the most recent was the QE2, pictured below when she made her last visit to the Clyde in October 2008.

Now, all that remains is Ferguson Marine at Port Glasgow and BAE Systems on the upper Clyde, the latter specialising in naval vessels. They have two sites, one at Govan, where the ships are assembled, and another downriver at Scotstoun where fitting out takes place. ​At the time of writing, the run of five Batch 2 River-class Offshore Patrol Vessels is nearing completion. Four are already in service with the last, HMS Spey due to be commissioned sometime in 2021. The proud tradition of warship construction on the Clyde continues with BAE having been awarded the contract to build the next generation Type 26 Global Combat Ship. Work is already well underway on HMS Glasgow and HMS Cardiff at Govan. This comes two years after steel was cut on the lead vessel.

​The waterfront between Erskine and Longhaugh Point near Bishopton offers a variety of backdrops for photographs of new naval vessels as they head out for, or return from sea trials in the outer Firth. This shot of Wave Ruler, a Wave Knight-class Fast Fleet Tanker was taken on a sunny day back in August 2005 from the shore just west of the Erskine Golf Club. Dunglass Castle on the opposite side of the river is currently in a dangerous condition and access is not permitted. 

Security fences and trees more or less screen the ruins from the road, therefore the south bank of the river is the best place to come for a view. The earliest part of the castle, which was once the main power base of the Colquhoun Clan, dates from the 14th century but very little of the original structure remains. In 1735 a large section was dismantled to provide a source of stone to repair the adjacent quay. Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald later re-designed the castle`s interior for its wealthy owner and it`s thought that Mackintosh’s efforts here led to him being awarded the contract for the Hill House in Helensburgh. The obelisk in the castle grounds, erected in 1838, is a monument to Henry Bell who designed the paddle-steamer Comet, which became the Clyde`s first regular steamship service following her launch at Port Glasgow in 1812.

The upper Clyde`s shipbuilding heritage is celebrated in Clyde View Park, Renfrew, with this statue of a naval architect. The last major construction project for BAE before the Batch 2 River-class OPVs ​was six Type 45 Daring-class guided missile destroyers for the Royal Navy. The lead ship, HMS Daring, was launched on 1 February 2006 and commissioned on 23 July 2009 with the last, Duncan, entering service in September 2013. One of these vessels, HMS Dragon is pictured below returning from sea trials just before first light on a cold December morning. 

The largest construction project ever undertaken by BAE Systems was when it produced sections for the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. Various yards around the UK were involved and once complete the prefabricated blocks were loaded onto a barge and towed to Rosyth on the Forth for assembly. Adverse weather meant that at least one of the blocks from the Clyde had to go the long way round, taking a less exposed southern route before running up the east coast, rather than sailing round the top of Scotland. 

Both HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister HMS Prince of Wales, pictured below at Portsmouth, are now in service and training continues with the state-of-the-art F-35 Lightning 2 fighter jets. Neither of the new carriers have visited the Clyde yet, but once the Northern Ammunition Jetty at Glen Mallan on Loch Long has been upgraded the huge vessels will have to appear at some point. The refurbishment is well underway and when complete the huge ships will be able to load up with ammunition and other essential supplies. 

(Above image courtesy of Steve Moyes © 2020 aviation).

​Twice a year, in spring and autumn, the UK hosts Exercise Joint Warrior which is designed to enable the armed forces of participating countries to practice procedures and operate as a multi-national coalition. ​The event incorporates a wide variety of training scenarios, and each one may include small boat attacks, boarding operations, large-scale amphibious assaults, air defence and anti-submarine warfare. The participating naval vessels traditionally gather on the Clyde for a briefing prior to the commencement of each exercise. 

Most of the warships tie-up at either Faslane or Glasgow’s KGV Dock to give their crews some shore time before the hard work begins and Sunday has become the main departure day when most vessels head out to sea to take up station. 

This was the scene at the KGV in March 2019 when no less than 17 naval vessels berthed there. This gathering was the largest-ever number of Joint Warrior participants in the city. The following slideshow features just some of the Joint Warrior vessels that have transited the upper Clyde in recent years. 

The Joint Warrior slideshow and following gallery only feature shots taken around the Erskine waterfront. The scenery becomes even more spectacular as you head west for the outer Firth of Clyde, with the high mountains of Arran and mainland hills to the north often forming a dramatic backdrop to the ships. This is just a small selection from the hundreds of individual vessels from NATO and allied nations that have visited the Clyde in connection with the exercise over the years.​

This guy serving on Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan obviously has Scottish heritage and always blasted out a tune or two on the pipes as he sailed past Erskine. On this occasion he was entertaining onlookers with a rendition of `Scotland the Brave`.

Heading West beyond the Bridge

The entire stretch of the riverbank between Park Quay and Erskine Golf Course is understandably extremely popular with dog owners and indeed, their dogs but the increased activity, usually inadvertently, can result in the disturbance of roosting birds. 

Years ago, for example, Shelduck used to nest in the ground between Mar Hall and Longhaugh Point at Bishopton, but they are seldom seen this far upriver nowadays. This sign, beside the path underneath the bridge, reminds visitors with dogs that they should take extra care along the foreshore, and consider keeping their pets on a lead, especially in winter and during the bird nesting season.

The whole area is steeped in history ranging from prehistoric times, through the Roman occupation, to the First and Second World Wars and beyond. ​Although the entrance to the inner Firth of Clyde was protected during WWI and WW2 by an anti-submarine boom which stretched from Cloch Point to Dunoon, seaborne mines laid by German warships, submarines or parachute versions dropped by aircraft, could easily be carried upstream on an incoming tide to cause serious disruption or catastrophic damage to naval and merchant vessels, all of which were vital to the war effort. 

​In an effort to protect the huge number of ships transiting the Clyde, mine-watcher`s lookout posts were built along both banks of the river between Greenock and Glasgow. Most have since been demolished while others have collapsed and slid into the water as a result of bank erosion but several examples remain. ​​​The shelters are made of brick with a concrete roof and have a foot-high horizontal observation slit facing the river. The rear entrances were often protected by a defensive wall. One post still survives on a promontory at the eastern end of the Greenock Ocean Terminal, and can be seen from the walkway at the back of the town’s swimming pool while another intact example lies at Port Glasgow, near the lighthouse. The tilted one pictured here lies opposite the Mar Hall golf course, just west of the Erskine Bridge. The spacing of these surviving examples suggests that there may have been several more in operation along the river during wartime.

This building, currently operating as the Mar Hall Hotel, opened in 2004, but from 1916, when the Great war was at its height, until the commercial takeover, this was Erskine Hospital, now simply known as Erskine, which continues to provide nursing and medical care for members of the UK`s Armed Forces, helping them to rebuild their lives, usually after suffering horrendous physical injuries or mental illness as a result of their service.

​Although the UK is no longer officially at war, members of the British Armed Forces continue to serve their country at various locations across the globe, ensuring that the expert care of Erskine is constantly in demand. On 11 October 2000, to meet the current needs, a £16 Million modern care centre, renamed  simply `Erskine` was opened within the existing hospital grounds. Although the present day accommodation is in well-spaced individual units, some of the original estate buildings, including the stable block remain.

​In the early 18th century, the Mar Estate passed to Lord Blantyre and in 1828 Major General Robert W. Stuart, the 11th Lord Blantyre (1781-1867), who also designed the British Museum in London, commissioned the present house. 

He was a veteran of Wellington`s army and fought with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars. The lavish Gothic-style mansion, designed by Sir Robert Smirke M.A. was completed in 1845. By 1900, however, the house, which had taken 25 years to build, lay derelict.

Sadly, Major General Stuart never saw his dream home as he was killed in Brussels in 1830 during an insurrection. His death came as a great shock to the community of Bishopton as he was highly respected. As a tribute this monument was erected to his memory in a field near the village and close to his unfinished project.​

For those with the relevant skill and experience, as well as access to a sea kayak, an excellent alternative to walking this stretch of the Clyde would be a paddle. Obviously the weather, tides and ships transiting the river would have to be taken into account. Knowing the tide times can be useful and in some cases imperative, depending on the activity you`re embarking on. Also, the larger ships will only come this far upriver around high water. The Admiralty Hydrographic Office provide free tide tables for seven days in advance which can be found on the easytide website.

Most walkers only go as far as the west end of the Mar Hall Golf Course and double-back to the main Boden Boo car park beside the Erskine Ferry slip. 

The path, however, continues uphill between the Mar Hall and the Erskine Golf courses then crosses a shallow drainage ditch to enter the mature woodland, now known as Big Wood, which once formed part of the Mar Hall Estate.

Just beyond the point where the path bears left, you get a view down the Clyde towards Greenock and Dumbarton Rock. The green navigation bollards in the above photo form part of the Lang Dyke, the training wall designed to deepen the central channel of the Clyde which was very shallow at this point. As previously mentioned. before the dyke was brought into use, most of the larger merchant ships had to unload cargoes destined for the city of Glasgow at Port Glasgow, just east of Greenock. The onward transfer of goods by road was not only slower but far less cost effective. 

​The Erskine Golf Course clubhouse (see below) can`t  be seen from the trail but several of its holes can. 

Several trails crisscross the the Mar Hall Woods but its often muddy underfoot and can be more like a quagmire in places after heavy rain. 

Although there`s usually not a lot to see in winter, extensive banks of rhododendron wait to burst into bloom and some of the more open areas are carpeted with bluebells in springtime. 

The Return Leg

The designated car park for Big Wood (above) is located at the start of the  Mar Hall Hotel`s long driveway. Although it`s smaller than most of the other car parks in the area it`s very popular, especially with dog walkers, and fills up quickly. Once out on the main road, you can head east along the B815 to return to the start point, or about turn and retrace your route.

Bishopton Parish Church lies between Bishopton and the old Erskine ferry slipway, just west of the Erskine Bridge. It`s thought that a church, an annex of the Abbey of Paisley, has stood at this location since the 12th century, possibly as the site lay on the main pilgrimage route north to Iona.

​The present building was constructed in 1812 after the first one fell into disrepair and around 1999 Erskine Parish Church was renamed Bishopton Parish Church. ​The kirkyard contains a number of military headstones, most of which presumably commemorate men who died at nearby Erskine Hospital as the dates, where discernible, show that most passed away after the end of the Great War. Various regiments and branches of the armed services are represented. ​

Computer manufacturer Compaq was the major employer in the Bishopton / Erskine area for many years. In 2002, however, the company signed a merger agreement with computing giant Hewlett-Packard for $24.2 billion and gradually most Compaq products were re-branded with the HP nameplate. HP discontinued the Compaq brand name in the United States in 2013.  The Renfrewshire HP facility currently employs about 400 people and refurbishes millions of laptops, printers and servers annually, most of which are supplied to customers throughout Europe. 

Caulders Garden Centre, nestled between the entrance to Erskine and the west side of the bridge, has a popular restaurant which makes a good place to rest your legs and thaw out during the colder months. Erskine can be found by heading straight down the turnoff road past Caulders` main car park. 

Note there is no pedestrian or vehicular access to the Mar Hall Hotel from here. The only entrance lies to the west near Bishopton as previously described. 

Our walk continues eastward, following the main road under the bridge to the turnoff for the Boden Boo which is just a hundred and fifty metres ahead.

 Footpaths lead onto the Erskine bridge for pedestrians and and cyclists, but quite often one side is closed off for essential maintenance. 

As you head back through the woods to the walkway and start point, you can think about your next jaunt in Erskine, Inchinnan or Bishopton. 

This content has been compiled specifically for the community website by Brian Moyes of Please note that all images in this feature belong to the Photographer. They are subject to copyright and must not be reproduced without permission.

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