This incredible underground world can be found on the Union Canal, right next to Falkirk High train station. It's a tunnel with a special atmosphere thanks to the lighting, the cave-like structure and a fascinating history that includes Burke and Hare.
If you cycle around 25 miles along the Union Canal from Edinburgh you will arrive at the Falkirk Tunnel. Or you can take a train to Falkirk High and from the south platform it is just a five minute walk.
What's it like to visit?
This is so much more than just a tunnel. It feels like a cave with the rough natural stone interior that was blasted out by navvies around 200 years ago. There is a hint of Bond villain lair- you can almost imagine patrol boats with armed guards cruising by. The walls glisten with trickling water and a hole in the roof has a continuous stream pouring through it.
The canal was meant to be an overland route, but the owner of Callendar House, William Forbes, said it would ruin his view so successfully campaigned to have it diverted under Prospect Hill. Construction of the tunnel took place between 1818 and 1822.
It is 630 meters long and can be a challenge to cycle through as the towpath is cobbled, slippery, has puddles and is only 5 feet wide. Pushing your bike through it can give you more time to appreciate the unique environment of the tunnel.
When the tunnel first opened there was such a thing as passenger canal boats. Some people were afraid to travel through the tunnel so horse transport was provided so that they could get off the boat and meet it at the other end.
I can understand why they did not want to go through the tunnel. Moving from daylight and pleasant countryside into a dark cave-like structure is disconcerting. Although the lighting is much improved today it still feels dark and the roof is low. Plus there is a spooky association with Burke and Hare, the murderers who stalked people in early-1800s Edinburgh, killed them and sold them to the anatomy school. The two men had moved from Ireland to Scotland to work on the canal and the construction of the tunnel.
The tunnel really is worth a visit. I just loved the stark contrast between the bright and bucolic surroundings at the mouth of the tunnel and the mysterious, dark world that you step into. It's not one of Scotland's most obvious attractions, but you will not be disappointed if you put this on your itinerary.
Containing some of the oldest and tallest trees in Britain, Dawyck Botanic Garden is a peaceful place of woodland walks, waterfalls and wonderment. Here you will find the mighty Douglas fir, grown from seeds collected by David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who gave the tree its name. The gardens are 8 miles from Pebbles in the Scottish Borders.
One way of reaching Dawyck is from Biggar:
1. Take a train to Addiewell and then cycle 20 miles to Biggar. My Cycling to Biggar blog has full details of the route.
2. Take the 5 mile disused railway path from Biggar to Broughton. My blog has full details of this route.
3. Cycle the final 5 miles from Broughton to Dawyck along quiet country roads with breathtaking scenery, which I will describe below:
This happens quite a lot when exploring Scotland by bike. I find a new road that takes my breath away and I have to put it on the list of my most favourite ever. This short stretch between Broughton and Dawyck is on that list. My dreams about cycling in Scotland will feature this road. It is a perfect combination of quiet roads and outstanding scenery.
The B712 is the most obvious and direct road to take between Broughton and Dawyck, but to experience the incredible scenery of this area take the single-track roads to the north of the B712. It's a non-stop rolling panorama of a valley of hills with the mighty River Tweed flowing through it.
I could cycle this road all day long. Every single second my eyes were being treated to the most lovely vistas. It was Scotland at its very best. Come here and cycle this road or, at least, travel it on Google Maps and you will be smiling.
Dawyck is nestled within this glorious valley. It is a regional garden of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the focus is trees, in particular the Douglas fir. It is also home to the world's first reserve for mosses and lichens. Azaleas, rhododendrons, snowdrops, bluebells and blue poppies can also be seen here.
It is the extensive network of paths, through woods and alongside a burn with little waterfalls and bridges that makes Dawyck such a pleasure to explore.
My favourite part of the garden was the small clearing with a Douglas fir and Grand fir alongside each other. The Grand fir is the tallest tree in the garden, over 50 metres high and a trunk with a diameter of 1.6m. You can walk right up to these trees and marvel at their scale. I put my hand on the bark- it was very rough and textured. I felt privileged to be able to feel trees of this significance, trees that have been here for over 150 years.
Their size is incredible, but the trees are remarkable in other ways. The Douglas Fir smells like strawberries in hot weather and if you crush the needles of a Grand Fir they smell of tangerines! I didn't try this for myself, but if you do please let me know if this is as wonderful as it sounds.
David Douglas, born in Scone, near Perth, was one of the greatest plant hunters. He took 8 months to travel from Scotland to the Columbia River in America where he discovered these trees and brought back the seeds to Dawyck. He faced many challenges during his expedition including his canoe overturning. He was only 35 when he died in Hawaii, falling into a trap to catch bullocks.
The garden is 65-acres and there is much to explore using the numerous paths that twist and wind through the site. The gardens are actually in the grounds of Dawyck House and you will catch glimpses of this private home. It explains the many grand staircases, topped with chunky urns, that you will come across.
Dawyck is a place to lose yourself in and enjoy being enveloped by thick woods, ferns and beautiful flowers. Make use of your nose here and inhale pine, fern, flowers, grass and moss.
Of course, there is a cafe, so you can get some sustenance here or you might prefer to bring a picnic and find a bench in your favourite part of the garden.
There is an entry fee for the gardens. Current prices and opening times are on the Dawyck website.
There are many outstanding gardens to visit in Scotland. Here's a couple of suggestions to inspire you- Drummond Castle, near Crieff and Inveresk Lodge, near Musselburgh.
The Scottish Borders
The gardens are in the Borders region of Scotland. For ideas of more places to visit in this region visit my Borders page.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: