Roads and Travel
Traces of old Roman military roads have been discovered in several places in the locality. Some years ago, in Flanders Moss, on the opposite side of the Forth, a Roman way was discovered, twelve feet broad, and formed by trees laid across each other. The trunks of the trees were squared by the axe at each end, with marks of bolts, or pins, in the longitudinal sleepers. Its direction was from south-east to north-west, and quite probably this is a continuation or branch of the Roman highway which has been traced from England north to the Grampians. Leaving England at the Solway, it passes through Annandale and Clydesdale to the neighbourhood of Glasgow. From the vicinity of Glasgow it takes a direction eastward across the isthmus between the firths of Clyde and Forth. It enters upon Stirlingshire at Castlecary, and is found again upon a rising ground at Larbert. Passing south of Stirling, it takes a westerly direction, and a branch has been found to cross the Forth at the Ford of Drip, near Craigforth, turning northward by Dunblane. It is not improbable that the road found in Flanders Moss may have been a branch of this highway, taking its course direct from Stirling, and crossing the Forth at the Ford of Frew.
On the south side of the Forth, to the east of the curling pond of the Cardross and Kepp Club, a similar road was discovered some years ago, composed of logs of wood identical to those found in Flanders Moss.
In addition to these, there is a castellum at Cardross, with a ditch and inner and outer rampart pretty entire, which is undoubtedly Roman. In 1830, a copper kettle and a number of coins were found within this castellum; these are now in the museum of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh, and have all been pronounced Roman. Roman historians frequently refer to the forests which the armies of that people had to cut down, and marshes which they had to drain, or make roads through, in their marches towards Caledonia, and it would appear that they employed not only their own soldiers in this work, but compelled, with much rigour, such of the natives as fell into their hands to labour with them. These remains point undoubtedly to the fact that the growth of the moss in the valley is subsequent to the making of these roads or causeways.
In more modern times, the road or lane presently known as the Back Road formed a part of the principal military thoroughfare between Stirling and Dumbarton. Tracing it from the Brig of Broich, now called Arngomery Bridge, this road took a southerly direction, passing near to the farmhouse of Dub, where the mansion house of Shirgarton now stands, and from there we follow it in the old lane, passing the old Black Bull hostelry, with its courtyard and stables, and then past the old Parish Church and graveyard, until we reach the cross roads and the old Crown Inn, with its old-fashioned, crow-stepped gables, relic of a bygone age.
Proceeding from the Crown Inn we follow it across the bridge at Burnside, and on until it enters the old lane now known as the Acres Loan, and from there in an easterly direction until it crosses Boquhan Glen, by what is now called "the auld brig of Boquhan," then past the hamlet of Burnton, until we reach the village of Gargunnock.
The present Stirling and Dumbarton Road was made and connected with the old road, at a point near Arngomery Bridge, in 1828.
There are also several old roads in the vicinity of the village, which have been constructed by the residents of the various baronies for the conveyance of peats from the moss in the valley, the longest of these being in the barony of Shirgarton. Leading from Shirgarton Moss, adjoining the farm of Strewiebank, it takes a southerly direction up the steep brae known as the "Balloch," beneath Shirgarton House, where it joins the old military Stirling and Dumbarton road, and, striking off at Cairn Cottage, it leads up past the farm steading of Shirgarton, and close to the site of the ancient mansion house of that name, and from there up through the hamlet of Cauldhame to the Redgatehill and Shirgarton Common, and on to the holdings of Muirend, Dunimerg, etc., now in the estate of Wright Park.
The peat road for the barony of Dasher leads from the Dasher Moss, on Middlekerse farm, passes close to the side of that farm, and joins what is now locally known as the "Cottage Loan," till it reaches the foot of the Keir Knowe, where a divergence takes place, the one portion continuing round the base of the knowe, past the kiln park, till it joins the station road, leading to the village of Kippen ; the other, branching off at the foot of Cuthbertson Glen, crosses the brae park (a part of this section is now effaced by the plough), and takes an easterly direction through the top of Crawfordstone Glen, till it merges into the road leading past the farm of Wester Braehead to the hamlet of Music Hall.
The Broich and Arnmanuel peat road leads from the Broich Moss, adjoining the farm of Fairfield, past the south side of Arngomery mansion house, through the Glen of Broich, and on to the barony of Arnmanuel.
There is also another old road, very seldom used now. Tracing it from a point where it branches off the old Stirling and Dumbarton road, a short distance east from the hamlet of Music Hall, it crosses through the Dasher Common, the Black Brae, the baronies of Shirgarton and Arnmanuel, joining the Kippen and Campsie road a short distance above the sandstone quarry in Kippen Muir; while numerous other old roads and rights-of-way are fast becoming obsolete in the parish.
The advent of railways, affording a cheap and speedy mode of travelling, has supplanted the old-fashioned stage-coach. Up till the year 1850 a coach ran between the Crown Hotel, at Kippen Cross, and Glasgow three days a week, the fare being four shillings and sixpence for the single journey. It is needless to add that only the well-to-do class could participate in this, at that time, luxurious mode of travelling; indeed, we have been told by some old residents of the village that it was quite a common occurrence in those days for the women folk of the district to set out early in the morning across the hill, by way of Fintry, Crow Road, and Campsie, and from thence to Glasgow, do their shopping, and return by same route that evening with their purchases, thus covering a distance of 48 miles.
The following is also related: - A native of the village, William Donaldson by name, long since deceased, migrated to Glasgow, where he obtained employment. Previous to his departure from the village he had centred his affections on one of the many "weel-faured" lasses that abound in the locality, and, as the love of olden times laughed at milestones as well as locksmiths, he set out regularly, and one evening every week for two years stepped across the hills by the route already referred to, and, having spent an hour with his sweetheart, was back in Glasgow, as he told the writer, when the six o'clock bell was ringing, ready to begin his daily toil. He afterwards married this lass, and settled down on a farm in the vicinity of the village. Compared with the facilities afforded by locomotives, bicycles, and motor cars, comment is unnecessary on the love-making episodes of the twentieth century.
A four-in-hand coach also passed through the village from Balfron to Stirling every Friday.
The proposal, which has long occupied the attention of the principal Glasgow merchants, to connect the eastern and western seas by means of a navigable canal, took shape in 1723. The passage proposed was by following the River Forth up to the ford of Cardross, and then crossing the bog of Ballat, into the water of Endrick, down to Loch Lomond, and from thence by the River Leven into the Clyde at Dumbarton.
This survey took shape under Government auspices. It, however, fell in abeyance. The subject was revived in 1761 by the Trustees for the "Encouragement of Fisheries and Manufactures" in Scotland, who appointed the celebrated engineer, John Smeaton, to survey the ground, but this met the same fate as the previous one.
For many years prior to this limestone had been brought down the Forth from a rock close to Gartmore by means of small boats. There was often, however, considerable risk and delay occasioned on account of gravel shoals. It became, therefore, a question, which was long entertained by the proprietors north and south of the Forth, whether they should not adopt the suggestion of Mr. Smeaton of putting a lock at Craigforth Mill, and another lock and a dam at the Fords of Frew, in order to make the river navigable at all seasons as far as Gartmore, for the bringing of coal and lime to the district and for the transmission of grain. This project also fell to the ground.
The railway, which now runs through the valley, has not only met the wants which were long experienced in this neighbourhood, but has helped materially to increase the value of landed property in the parish.
In more recent years another survey was made of the Forth passage, for the purpose of forming a ship canal, similar to that at Manchester, and thus enabling shipping to cross direct from the eastern to the western oceans. This project has also met the same fate as its predecessors.
The intimation, early in 1903, that the Government had taken over St. Margaret's Bay, on the Firth of Forth, as a Naval Base for Scotland, renewed the question of a ship canal between the Forth and Clyde, it being contended that both in times of peace and war such a means of passing vessels from the east of Scotland to the west, and vice-versa, would be of material advantage to the nation. The question has been taken up with great enthusiasm, and the ultimate settlement may be left with the advocates of the rival schemes.