Towpath Talk

Milestones of the Union Canal

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CANAL heritage is multi-faceted, from the waterways themselves, the lock gates and mechanisms, to buildings, bridges and, often overlooked or difficult to identify, milestones.

Jim Lonie, a member of the Linlithgow Union Canal Society (LUCS), has written a book, Milestones of the Union Canal, cataloguin­g the history and location of all the milestones on the Union Canal between Falkirk and Edinburgh.

Just before the Union Canal (officially the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal) was opened in 1844, the canal company decided to have markers every half-mile of the canal’s length and that the markers should be of stone rather than iron.

Mileage was given on two faces, showing the traveller how far he had already travelled rather than how far he still had to go. When restoratio­n of the canal began, only around a third of the original milestones remained. New stones were made to the original pattern as part of the restoratio­n project.

The collection of milestone data was originally started by the late Colin Galloway, a former LUCS chairman. Jim took over the project. He took most of the photos in 2010, completing the photograph­y in 2018 and finishing the text in 2019. The resulting book, convenient­ly ring bound, contains a photo, descriptio­n and grid reference of each stone, together with a note of the nearest canal bridge where relevant.

The book is a wonderful reference, indicating which are original and new stones, with occasional notes. One original stone with only one blank face, for example, is inside the Falkirk Tunnel and was obviously of little use in an unlit tunnel. Jim also includes photos and locations for the stage markers: the canal was divided into four stages, each about eight miles long and the original markers are still to be found.

The Romans introduced distance markers along their roads and, according to the Milestone Society, around 117 still survive throughout the UK. Leap forward to the 18th century when, in 1767, mileposts were made compulsory on all turnpike roads.

They told travellers of directions and distances, helped to keep coaches on schedule and were also used to calculate postage charges until a uniform postal rate was introduced in 1840. The Milestone Society (milestones­ociety.co.uk) has a wonderful website and a repository including records of more than 30,000 milestones and other markers.

The book would be of interest to anyone walking, cycling or boating the canal. It is available for sale in the Canal Museum at LUCS base in Linlithgow, priced £6.

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