Torrance House Nature Trail

East Kilbride District Council, Civic Centre, East Kilbride, G74 1AB

2 miles south of East Kilbride centre on the A726 to Strathaven Map reference: NS655

Approx 1-mile nature trail in wooded river valley in the grounds of 17 th-century mansion Four illustrated brochures -one for each season; car park Although East Kilbride is one of Scotland’s newest towns, a satellite of Glasgow eight miles to the north west, its origins pre-date the Romans. Until the big expansion of 1947, it was a small village supported by a poor coal mining industry and successful shoe-making and muslin weaving trades with farmland devoted to dairy herds. The oldest building that survives is a crumbling, 16th-century building called Mains Castle; but two miles to the

south, the grounds of Torrance House, built a century later, are very much alive.

As a very recent development, the local district council are turning two miles of the Rotten Calder (a tributary of the Calder) into a country park to be known as Calderglen. Threading through this heavily wooded valley is a three-quarters-of-a mile nature trail which follows the course of the river and returns on the opposite bank.

The dominant species of the wood is the beech, which opens its downy, pale leaves in spring and drops them, golden-brown in the autumn. Because the leaves do not rot easily, the ground is often several feet deep in a rustling carpet thick with triangular brown nuts. Dense foliage in high summer allows only a little sunlight through to dapple the forest

floor, so few plants can grow. However, the leaves provide a sheltered habitat for colonies of insects, such as earthworms, beetles and snails, and the tiny creatures of the beechwood

• woodmice, bank voles and even badgers.

Elsewhere, the smooth grey bark and jet black buds of ash appear. Unlike the beech, it opens its leaves late and sheds them early, so wild garlic, dog’s mercury and wild arum get a chance to grow. The leaves decompose quickly and support a hoard of insects, but it is the bunches of yellow seeds, which look so much like old-fashioned keys, which keep small mammals and birds — particularly the bullfinch alive throughout the winter. Moles abound in the woodland, attracted by the abundant insects.

On the river bank, the grass is a mass of yellow and pale orange wood avens, and the red-tinged leaves (and unpleasant smell) of herb Robert. Sticklebacks and minnows dart among the shallows. The underside of rocks are home to leeches, caddis flies and freshwater shrimps, and flying insects dance above the surface of the water.

The mixture of river and woodland attracts a cross-section of birds. The water-loving dipper walks upstream on the river bottom to find a meal of larvae and molluscs, while the long-beaked tree creeper spends its days winkling insects out of fissures in the bark of trees. Tits are common, somersaulting and defying gravity amongst mixed woodland – they, too, eat insects and nest wherever there is a natural hole in a tree. Their nests are skilfully composed of cobwebs and lichens and lined with feathers – building materials easily obtained along the trail. The damp, sheltered valley breeds several varieties of lichen and moss, and many of the trees are still green in winter. The colouring is that of polypody fern and not the tree’s own leaves.

Like the trees and plants, the river changes with the seasons. In spring the level is high, swollen by melting ice and snow and each bend of the bank is alternately cut away or deposited with a mixture of sand and gravel. During a dry autumn, it is easy to study the confluence of the Rotten Burn and the Calder, as the tributary enters over a jumble of boulders and the remains of a bridge which was destroyed when the river was in flood. Winter arrives and the surface is plated with ice and once-dripping rocks hang with icicles. At this time of the year, the evergreens prevent the trail from looking too bare. The dark shiny leaves of rhododendron (probably cultivated initially but now wild and rampant), veined ivy and red-berried holly are reminders of Christmas decorations.

When snow covers the ground, animal tracks are more easily spotted and identified. Scotland is one of the last refuges of the red squirrel, but it will have hibernated at the first hint of cold weather, its cache of nuts safely stowed beneath an old tree trunk. Roe deer will make their delicate imprints on the forest floor, encouraged by the abundance of ferns and berries.

The end of the trail emerges in front of Torrance House. It was first owned by the Hamilton family and then by the Stuarts of Castlemilk and must have witnessed stormy clashes among the clans. Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have spent the night there during his retreat from Derby in 1746.

East Kilbride boasts an impressive precinct, traffic-free with excellent shops and landscaped parks. Pride of all is an Olympic-sized swimming pool and leisure complex, incorporating Turkish baths and games facilities. The town also sports a windy parkland golf course but there is no shortage of good golfing opportunities anywhere in Scotland, especially around Glasgow.

Tributaries of the Clyde offer some scope for visiting anglers, although this great Scottish river is itself dogged by effluent, sewage and neglect in its lower reaches. The rivers Black Cart and Gryfe, which empty into the estuary near Renfrew, have trout (and the Gryfe, grayling, too). For seawater species, casting off the pier at Wemyss Bay hooks flat fish, cod and haddock.

The great explorer and missionary, David Livingstone was born at Blantyre. His birthplace in Shuttle Row has been restored as a national museum and a memorial to his work in Africa. Another famous son of Scotland, Robert Burns, founded a literary and debating society at Tarbolton. The Bachelor’s Club is commemorated each year on 25th January to which enthusiasts (men women) are admitted. Burns would have approved, for the furnishings and décor inside the 17th-century thatched house are faithful reproductions.

At Uddington, Calderpark Zoo is a popular day out for both watching the animals and birds, walking round the reptile house and having a picnic on the grass. North of Glasgow is another area of country dedicated to walking, relaxing and enjoying the fresh air. Like Torrance House Nature Trail, it gives the impression of being in the heart of the Highlands, yet it is close to the centre of Glasgow.

Craigallian is covered by six miles of walks which thread across moor and grazing land and past the castles of Craigend and Mugdock. The mighty Mugdock reservoir ensures that Glasgow throats are never parched, and provides millions of gallons of water to the city.

Weaving kept the villagers of East Kilbride from poverty in the 18th century, and a typical weaver’s cottage has been preserved as a museum at Kilbarchan. A 200-year-old loom is still operational, but in 1794, 383 looms would have clattered throughout the village producing lengths of cambric, lawns and tartans.