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77. California

start: Linlithgow
distance: 21 miles
OS map: 65

California route mapWhen a name like California appears on the map, it's not something you can ignore, so we just had to go and pay a visit...

This route isn't blessed with breathtaking scenery, as its name might suggest, but it does have its good points. We follow the canal towpath from Linlithgow to Falkirk and this includes a tunnel just over half in kilometer in length, and lights are an advantage.

Start at the canal basin in Linlithgow (004 769). The towpath has been much improved and now has a good surface. At the time of writing (Feb 2001) the canal itself is being extended through Wester Hailes into Edinburgh along what was once its original route.

Head west, then, and soak up the easy miles towards Falkirk. The canal crosses the River Avon over a dramatic aqueduct on the way. When you reach the tunnel you'll see that it's fairly straight and you can see a chink of light at the far end. It's possible to get through without lights, but cycling it without lights is a different matter - maybe better to get off and walk. There's a wooden rail between you and the water so there's no real danger unless you go out of your way to create it.

Note: I am told that the tunnel is now lit and so shouldn't be a problem.

Emerging into the light again, go along for a hundred yards then turn R to pass through a pedestrian subway under the railway. Take the ramp on the R up to the station car park. Exit the car park to go a short way down the road before turning R onto the main road heading out of town and uphill quite relentlessly - the road goes over the canal tunnel that you've just come through.

This road drops down to cross the canal near the other end of the tunnel before heading uphill again. There's a slight downhill section and then we go up to a T junction at Shieldhill. Turn L and go along to the uninspiring Clachan Bar where the road turns R for California - can you feel a song coming on yet?

Reaching the route's namesake, you can't help but notice the steel shutters that take the place of windows in shops and schools in areas like this. At one time this, and others nearby, were mining villages but nowadays they seem so bleak and lacking in hope.

Turn L at the school and your efforts in getting here will shortly be rewarded with a long roll downhill and some good views too. Turn R at the T junction, just opposite a pub, then turn L onto a minor road. This will pass under the A801 and then cross the canal. You have a choice here of staying with the road back into Linlithgow or taking the towpath along to the start.

jb, galashiels

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