NS3979 : Embankment of the River Leven

taken 5 years ago, near to Bonhill, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

Embankment of the River Leven
Embankment of the River Leven
The view is from about the same point as NS3979 : Pipe beside the River Leven, but in the opposite direction. The level of the river was very low after a long period of dry weather, providing an opportunity to photograph parts of the embankment that would usually be covered.
River Leven (West Dunbartonshire) :: NS3978

ITS COURSE:

The River Leven, in West Dunbartonshire, is just under 12 km (7.5 miles) in length¹. It flows from Loch Lomond, of which it is the only outlet, to the River Clyde. On the way, its meanders enclose two named points: Cordale Point and Dalquhurn Point (see Link and Link respectively). Among the settlements alongside the river are Balloch, Jamestown, Bonhill, Alexandria, Renton and Dumbarton.

Of rivers that are navigable or nearly so, the Leven is one of Scotland's fastest².

THE NAME:

According to contemporary place-name scholarship³, the name of the River Leven is derived from a Celtic word for "elm" (modern Gaelic "leamhain"). The surrounding area was long known as the Lennox (< "Levenax"), derived from the same root⁴. The names are related to that of the Lemannonian Gulf⁵, situated somewhere nearby, that was listed by Ptolemy in his "Geography" (first century AD).

(At the time of writing, some web pages state that the name of the River Leven means "smooth stream", but this reflects much older thinking⁶, now defunct.)

EARLS OF LENNOX:

During the 13th and 14th centuries, certain charters⁷ were made at Balloch by the Earls of Lennox. Traces of an old castle, presumably that of the earls, can be seen close to the source of the River Leven, in Balloch, in the form of a mound with a surrounding ditch; see Link for pictures and LinkExternal link at Canmore for archaeological details. As noted at the latter link, stones from the old castle are said to have been incorporated into the modern Balloch Castle (not a castle, but a 19th-century castellated house), though not in a noticeable way.

FISHING:

The River Leven receives early mention in connection with fishing; for example, a 1330 charter⁸ mentions the "yare of Linbren" (a yare is a kind of fish-trap) and its fishing rights. Angling still takes place on the river. The name "Linbren", of the old charter, survives: a part of the River is now called NS3980 : Linnbrane Hole. Anglers have names for many parts of the river: see the link just given for a partial list.

INDUSTRIES:

From the establishment of the first bleachfield beside the River Leven in 1715, works related to the textile industry would spring up along the length of the river. These developments are set out in some detail at LinkExternal link (on the Vale of Leven website). Though the numerous works are now gone, remnants of them can still be seen in the form of lades, by means of which water was diverted through these industrial sites. Old maps reveal the former presence of railway tracks on the west bank of the river, between Dalquhurn and the Cordale; a small locomotive nicknamed the Pug used to travel along them.

Shipbuilding would become very much associated with the lower reaches of the River Leven. Also worthy of note are the glassworks whose cones came to dominate Dumbarton's skyline from about 1777; the works stood in roughly the area now occupied by NS3975 : Dumbarton Health Centre.

BARRAGE, CANAL PLANS, AND CROSSINGS:

Varying depth aside, the river is not now navigable: a barrage, which was officially opened⁹ in 1971, crosses it at Balloch. In the 1840s, proposals¹⁰ for a canal running alongside the river came to nothing, as did similar ideas in c.2008.

As of 2021, the current and recent crossings of the river, from source to Clyde, are as follows: two road bridges at Balloch; the above-mentioned barrage, though only technically, given that its walkway is not accessible to the public; the Stuckie Bridge — Link —, originally a railway viaduct; the Bonhill Bridge — Link —, which is close to the site of its removed predecessor; the Black Bridge — Link —, removed in late 2014, leaving only its piers; Renton Bridge — Link —, closed for several weeks in late 2021 for repairs; the Blue Bridge — Link —, carrying the A82 over the river; a railway viaduct at Dalreoch; NS3975 : The Artizan Bridge, opened in 1974; and Dumbarton Bridge — Link —, built in 1765, but not opened to traffic until 1768 on account of problems caused by soft underlying material (these would later affect the Woodyard, a shipyard at what is now Posties Park).

FROZEN:

As of 2021, the River Leven has not frozen over in living memory. However, Dr I.M.M.Macphail, in his book "Lennox Lore" (1987), records a great frost during the winter of 1434-35, in the latter part of which "people could and did walk over the River Leven". John Mitchell cites this, and other examples¹¹ from 1607, 1795 and 1802, "when safe passage on foot across the frozen Leven is known to have been achieved".

PARISHES:

The River Leven formed the boundary of several parishes, including Cardross and Renton on the west, and Bonhill and Dumbarton on the east. Evidence that Cardross Parish anciently extended as far as the Leven can be seen in Levengrove Park, in the form of the remains — Link — of St Serf's, which was an early Cardross parish church.

ROBERT THE BRUCE:

Somewhere on the land lying on the west bank of the lower part of the Leven, between present-day Renton and Dalreoch, Robert the Bruce had a residence (a hunting lodge, in modern terms) where he spent his final years. The precise site is (as of 2021) unknown, and opinions on the likely location vary, but the residence may have been somewhere in the vicinity of the site that would later be known as Mains of Cardross; see Link for a more detailed discussion. The king is commemorated by a flagstaff (NS3875 : Bruce's Flagstaff) at Brucehill in Dumbarton (on the basis of an earlier belief that the king's dwelling was at adjacent Castlehill), and by a NS3975 : Plaque beside the ruins of St Serf's church (the church was mentioned above, in the section "Parishes").

ECOLOGY:

The lower reaches of the river feature what information panels on the western bank describe as a "valuable swamp habitat", often frequented by birds. According to those panels, the swamp on the western side is "dominated by Reed Canary-grass with Water Sedge, Bottle Sedge and Water Horsetail", while that on the other side, "heavily influenced by the tidal brackish conditions at this point", includes "Reedmace, Grey Club Rush, Reed Canary-grass and Sea Club Rush".

FLOODING, DEFENCES, AND THE LANDS OF MURROCH:

In the early burgh records of Dumbarton, there is a preoccupation with the "waterworks", a term then used to refer to defences built to protect the town of Dumbarton from flooding by the River Leven. One such work, the Bishop's Water-gang, was built in the early 16th century, but fell into disrepair later that century. As a result, an area, colloquially called "the Drowned Lands", and corresponding roughly to what is now the site of Broadmeadow Industrial Estate, would be flooded twice a day. Local author Tobias Smollett recalled that in his schooldays (in the 1730s) he could feel the presence of cobbles underfoot when paddling in the water, though it is likely that he and his schoolmates were imagining more to be underwater than was really the case. One effect was that the College Bow — Link — (a stone arch that is a remnant of the Collegiate Church) was left standing oddly isolated beside the tidal area (note that the Bow has been moved since then). The problems with flooding would not permanently be resolved¹² until the 1850s, with the coming of the railway. See NS3975 : View to Broadmeadow Industrial Estate, where the flooding and some related uses of the land are related in more detail, with references.

Above what is now the Broadmeadow Industrial Estate, on the other side of a golf course, the Murroch Burn flows into the River Leven close to the eastern side of the Blue Bridge (a road bridge on the A82). Although the town at the lower end of the river is called Dumbarton, that name had originally referred specifically to Dumbarton Rock; much of the land on which the town would be built was formerly "the lands of Murroch"¹³. That name suggests a connection with the Gaelic "morbhach", meaning "land prone to sea-flooding", which would at least be appropriate. See Link (on the Murroch Burn) for further discussion.

Notes:

(1) "just under 12 km (7.5 miles)" — this is the length as measured along the course of the river. It differs from the distance quoted by some other online sources, but it was determined by the author of this shared description by means of measurements carried out on satellite imagery. The straight-line distance from end to end is about 8 km (5 miles).

(2) "At peak flow from the loch the Leven is understandably one of the fastest rivers in Scotland and provides a significant discharge of fresh water into the Inner Clyde Estuary": John Mitchell in "Loch Lomondside" (New Naturalist Series, 2001), page 12.

(3) See page 19 of W.J.Watson's "The Celtic Place-names of Scotland" (2004 edition; book originally published in 1926), and page 228 of W.F.H. Nicolaisen's "Scottish Place-names" (2001 edition).

(4) See page 119 of [Watson], the book cited in the previous note.

(5) The "Lemannonian Gulf" (Lemannonios Kolpos) can be seen listed, in Greek, as the first line of page 83 — LinkExternal link — of the Karl Müller edition (1883) of Ptolemy's "Geography". On the kinship of the form "Lemannonios" to the later names Leven and Lennox, see, again, page 119 of [Watson], op. cit.

(6) The superseded explanation of the name Leven appeared in the first volume of Chalmers' "Caledonia" (1807), as a note attached to the list of names of "Rivers, Rivulets and Waters". The same explanation, probably on the authority of that work, would later be given on page XIII of the preface of the Lennox Cartulary (1833). A certain old poem, "Saor do leannán a Leamhain" — LinkExternal link —, thought to have been composed c.1200, gives a fanciful explanation for the name of the River Leven.

(7) In the Lennox Cartulary (properly the "Cartularium Comitatus de Levenax", Maitland Club Edition, 1833), see, for example, the charter on page 13, dated 1238 "appud Bellach"; one on page 59, dated 1373 "apud Bellach"; and another on page 86, dated 1274, "apud Bellach". Towards the end of the 14th century, the earls would relocate to a new castle not far away, at the southern end of the isle of Inchmurrin in Loch Lomond; see LinkExternal link at Canmore for details.

(8) The 1330 charter mentioned here begins on page 17 of the Lennox Cartulary; the last few words of the charter give the year. Similar charters mentioning the yare of Linnbrane (although with a great variety spellings) can be found in a list of Paisley charters: specifically, the "Registrum Monasterii de Passelet" (1832); for the relevant charters, see that book's own index of place-names and personal names.

(9) "The Loch Lomond Water Scheme, which involved controlling the natural discharge from the loch by means of a barrage across the River Leven, was officially opened on 29 June 1971": John Mitchell, "Loch Lomondside", page 92.

(10) Canal plans in the 1840s: at Link (which shows only a small part of the entire plan), the canal's proposed course appears as a brown line crossing the river. The plan is cited there in more detail.

(11) Pages 48-49 of John Mitchell's "Loch Lomondside" (2001). In the same account, he mentions that ice covered the Leven from bank to bank in February 1895, but that it was "not of sufficient thickness ... to tempt even the foolhardy".

(12) It should be added that the River Leven does, to this day, occasionally burst its banks in various places; for just a few examples, see NS3975 : Flooding at Riverside Lane / NS3981 : Flooded footpath beside the River Leven / NS3977 : Cycle path crossing flooded field.

(13) Dr I.M.M. MacPhail, in his book "Dumbarton through the Centuries" (1972), discusses the foundation charter of the Burgh of Dumbarton, which was "sealed by Alexander II on July 8, 1222"; he goes on to observe that "in three other charters, in 1223, 1226 and 1230, Alexander gave to the newly-founded burgh the lands of Murroch (equivalent to almost the whole of the present parish of Dumbarton) and, in addition, extensive trading privileges".

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NS3979, 203 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Sunday, 8 May, 2016   (more nearby)
Submitted
Sunday, 22 May, 2016
Geographical Context
Rivers, Streams, Drainage 
Primary Subject of Photo
River 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3938 7930 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:58.7834N 4:34.5507W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3937 7929
View Direction
Northeast (about 45 degrees)
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