Sitting just a short distance from the historic town of Lanark, roughly equidistant between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Cartland Craigs National Nature Reserve is perhaps the finest of 11 woods that cloak much of the Clyde Valley. These woods stretch for around eight miles along the River Clyde between Hamilton and Lanark and form the Clyde Valley Woodlands Special Area of Conservation.
The dramatic gorge that slices through the Cartland Craigs was shaped after the last Ice Age when melt waters from glaciers scoured through bedrock and formed the Mouse Water, a tributary of the River Clyde. The river was once home to a number of mills, including Lockhart Mill where linen for uniforms used in the Napoleonic Wars were made.
A walk through Cartland Craigs Nature Reserve is the best way to witness the outstanding examples of the ancient, semi-natural and deciduous woodland that once covered great swathes of lowland central Scotland.
The combination of acidic and limestone soils means ash, elm, sycamore, hazel, alder, oak, birch and Scots pine, with occasional stands of aspen, all co-exist here, as does an exceptional assortment of flora and fauna.
Over 210 species of flowering plants have been recorded in the reserve, which is a riot of colours and smells at many different times of the year. Common species such as bluebell, wood anemone, wild garlic, dog’s mercury, wood sorrel and primrose all thrive here and are particularly impressive in May. Furthermore at least 20 regional woodland rarities, including golden saxifrage, wood fescue and yellow star of Bethlehem can also be found.
And if insects are your thing, there are butterflies galore, while keen entomologists will need to keep their eyes peeled for an endangered species of caddis fly and a number of uncommon beetles.
Badgers, pipistrelle bats (look for droppings or tracks), treecreepers and great spotted woodpeckers love these woods while dippers and kingfishers hunt for their next meals along the banks of the Mouse Water. Brown hares, however, frequent the more open grassland areas.
Head into the woods
From Lanark Railway Station turn right on to Bannatyne Road and descend High Street through the town, keeping right of St Nicholas Church.
At Mousebank Road, turn right and follow this on to a quiet country road. In due course, the road swings left to cross a bridge over the Mouse Water. After this, turn left over a wooden footbridge into Cleghorn Glen.
Garden of Eden
A path climbs steeply high above the Mouse Water and through the reserve where the variety of wildflowers is superb. Soon the gradient eases and there are some fine views across the surrounding countryside.
After crossing several footbridges a steepish descent begins, eventually dropping down a flight of wooden steps out of the reserve to reach the impressive Cartland Bridge beside the A73.
Don’t go over the bridge. Instead carefully cross the A73 onto a road signposted ‘Nemphlar’. Go left at a fork on to Sunnyside Road then Mousemill Road. After re-crossing the Mouse Water bear right onto the A72 and cross at Kirkfieldbank Bridge.
Back to the start
Turn left then left again and cross Clydesholm Bridge. Turn right through a gate and descend a single-track road. Beyond another gate follow a track onto St Patrick’s Road.
At a junction, walk left onto Friar’s Lane, which leads back into Lanark. Turn right and follow High Street back to the start.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are regular Scotrail Services from Glasgow Central to Lanark. By car from Glasgow it takes 45 minutes on the M74, exiting at J9 for the B7086 Lanark Road. Or, it is an hour from Edinburgh on the A70.
The Cartland Bridge Hotel
Lanark ML11 9UE
This grand A-Listed hotel has a spectacular view across Cartland Crags and is only a few minutes from Lanark town centre.
The Inn on the Loch
179 Hyndford Road,
Lanark ML11 9BJ
Beautifully positioned on the banks of Lanark Loch, The Inn on the Loch serves excellent food and drink in family-friendly surroundings.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of New Lanark
Just a few minutes’ walk from Lanark town centre, this historic village offers a fascinating window into the past when New Lanark’s cotton mills played a central role in the industrial revolution.
OS Landranger 72
Grid Reference: NS886436
Subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine today and you can enjoy generous savings from the shop price plus, free UK delivery and discounts off special editions and back issues.