town in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland, UK

Kirkintilloch is an industrial town in the Clydeside area of central Scotland, with a population in 2022 of 20,000. It's about 8 miles northeast of central Glasgow, on the Forth and Clyde Canal. The main reason to visit is to see the Antonine Wall east of the town. It's also a base for exploring the canal and the Campsie Fells to the north.


Puffers were designed to be beached

Clyde Puffers were stubby little cargo ships that plied the seas around the Firth of Clyde and the Hebrides, and came to hold a romanticised place in Scottish lore. Kirkintilloch, miles inland, was their unlikely birthplace.

The first puffers in 1856 were simply iron canal barges with a rudimentary steam engine. Since the barge could continually draw fresh water from the canal, the engine didn’t have a condenser, so the piston strokes created a great snorting puff-puff-puff of steam. Later designs had condensers and could go to sea but the name stuck. The ships had blunt bows, shallow draft with flat bottoms, a single mast, and (later) a derrick and a wheelhouse just behind the funnel. They were built along the Forth and Clyde Canal, with yards concentrated at Glasgow Maryhill and at Kirkintilloch. New ships were launched sideways into the canal with an almighty splash, and the local children’s sport was to try to sprint along the towpath beneath the wave without getting drenched.

Forth and Clyde Canal traffic withered as the railways were built, but the Crinan Canal remained an important shortcut between Glasgow and the Hebrides, which lacked roads and harbour facilities. The puffer could simply be beached as the tide fell, a horse and cart plodded alongside for the coal sacks and other supplies to be offloaded, then the puffer departed on the next flood of tide. This era passed into legend with the Para Handy tales of Neil Munro, published from 1905, describing the adventures of the four-man Vital Spark.

By 1939 the puffers were being replaced by diesel craft, but wartime created a shortage of diesel while Britain mined its own coal. The puffers had proved useful auxiliary vessels in World War I so the Admiralty placed a large order for more, known as VICs – Victualling Inshore Craft. Over 100 were built, mostly in England as the Clyde builders were too busy with other navy work. Many survived the war, were converted to diesel and remained in civilian cargo service, but by 1993 better roads and harbours finally brought about their retirement.

A few puffers survive. VIC 27 "Auld Reekie" played the role of Vital Spark in the TV adaptation of Munro’s stories; it’s under restoration at Crinan. VIC 32, also based at Crinan, runs cruises in summer.

Get in

Map of Kirkintilloch

Kirkintilloch is 8 miles northeast of central Glasgow, by car leave M80 at junction 3 and follow A806 north for 3 miles. By bike follow the canal towpath, or A803 north through Bishopbriggs. Parking in the town is generally easy and free.

First Glasgow Buses X85 and X87 run from Buchanan station via M80 and Lenzie to Kirkintilloch twice an hour, taking 30 min. The X85 continues to Lennoxtown and Clachan in the Campsie Fells. Bus 88 runs via Bishopbriggs to Kirkintilloch every 15 min, taking 50 min.

1 Lenzie is the nearest railway station, one mile south. Trains from Glasgow Queen Street run every 30 min, taking 15 min and continuing north via Stirling to Alloa or Dunblane. From Edinburgh you need to change, either at Larbert off the train for Stirling and Dunblane, or at Croy off the train to Glasgow. Lenzie station has a ticket office and machines, toilets and waiting room. There's a footbridge between platforms and a long work-around by road.

Get around


As well as X85 and X87, the hourly bus 178 runs from Kirkintilloch to Lenzie railway station.

Taxi operators in town are Broomhill (+44 141 777 7477 / 7770) and Company Cars (+44 141 777 7711).

The Forth and Clyde Canal is navigable west to Glasgow and east to Falkirk and Grangemouth, with a good towpath for walking and cycling. The Falkirk Wheel is the ingenious contraption that lifts boats into the Union Canal to Linlithgow and Edinburgh.

  • 1 The Antonine Wall was a turf wall and line of defence built by the Romans from 142 AD, and garrisoned to 162 AD then they retreated to Hadrian's Wall. Their fort at Kirkintilloch is just an embankment in Peel Park, and the best sections are further east at Kilsyth. Discoveries from the wall, such as the richly-carved plaques left by its builders and garrisons, are in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. The Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle on the site of the fort, but that too has gone. The finest feature in Peel Park nowadays is the Victorian wrought iron bandstand, cast at the town's Lion Foundry.
  • Auld Kirk was built in 1644. It was vacated for a new church in 1913 and is nowadays a small free museum of local history, open Tu-Sa 10AM-1PM and 2-5PM.
  • 2 Kirkintilloch Town Hall, Union St G66 1HH. This 1906 building is nowadays mostly an event space, e.g. for weddings. There are occasional exhibitions and talks.    
  • 3 Inchterf "Secret Bunker" conflates two separate facilities, of which you'll nowadays only see "no entry" signs. Above ground was the Proof and Experimental Establishment, an artillery test range developed in the 1930s. The walls were thin not blast-proof, the idea being that if a gun barrel exploded and brought down the building, the occupants wouldn't be crushed. This closed in the 1990s. Nearby underground was the unrelated bunker, an ROC Monitoring Post built in the Cold War of the 1950s.
  • Lenzie Moss just west of the railway station is a peat bog with birch woods and wildlife. Access is by the footpath from the station.
Forth and Clyde Canal at Kirkintilloch
  • Strathkelvin Railway Path runs south to Gartcosh and is suitable for bikes. It doesn't link into other cycleways, but there are plans to turn it into National Cycle Network Route 755 with links to Loch Lomond, the Campsie Fells and along the canal to Edinburgh.
  • Peel Park has an elaborate bandstand and fountain, cast at the town's Lion Foundry. Plus of course the Antonine Lump.
  • Narrowboat cruises occasionally explore the canal.
  • Kirky[dead link] is the community centre on Union St, and has a cinema. Black Bull Cinema and Turret Theatre have folded.
  • Golf: nearby courses are Kirkintilloch GC, Hayston GC and Lenzie GC, plus a driving range at Bishopbriggs.
  • Campsie Fells rise to the north — you need wheels to explore them. The highest point is the Earl's Seat at 578 m (1896 ft).
  • John Muir Way is a 130-mile (215-km) walking trail from Helensburgh to Dunbar on the east coast. It's named for the naturalist John Muir (1838-1914) and was built stretched from Dunbar his birthplace to Edinburgh, but in 2014 was extended to Helensburgh. Hiking east to have the weather at your back, Stage Three is from Strathblane near Milngavie, through Lennoxtown to join the Forth-Clyde Canal at Kirkintilloch, thence along the towpath towards Edinburgh.
  • Sainsbury's is just off Townhead, and Lidl is by the river bridge on Glasgow main road.
  • Main street is Cowgate / Townhead; eateries here include Ashoka Brasserie, Alessio's Bistro, Nonna's Kitchen and Thai Cafe. There's another little cluster of places just east of the river, including Kirky Mahal, Oriental Palace and Paolo's. A mile east of town on the Kilsyth Road, Caulders is a chain garden centre with cafe.
  • 1 The Stables, Glasgow Bridge G66 1RH (1 mile west of town on A803 at canal bridge), +44 141 777 6088. Daily 11AM-11PM. Country pub with good food in former stables for the horses that towed the canal barges.


Strathkelvin Railway Path
  • 1 The Kirkie Puffer, 1-11 Townhead Kirkintilloch G66 1NG, +44 141 775 4140. Daily 8AM-midnight. JD Wetherspoon with decent food.
  • Bar Bliss at 1 Cowgate is a no-nonsense Central Belt pub, open daily 12:00-00:00.
  • Whisky abounds but there are no breweries or distilleries locally. The town's Duntiblae closed sometime in the late 19th century, and Highland Distilleries was lost to a 20th century merger. But "the one that got away" was Jessie Cowan, who in 1920 married a Japanese student, became 竹鶴リタ (Taketsuru Rita), and moved with him to Osaka to found the Yoichi whisky company.


  • 1 Smiths Hotel, 3 David Donnelly Place Kirkintilloch G66 1DD, +44 141 775 0398. Basic 3-star in town centre, with bar and grill. B&B double £60.
  • 2 Premier Inn and Best Western are mid-range chain hotels at M80 junction 3 at Stepps.


Roman distance marker

As of Feb 2022, the town and its approach roads have 4G from all UK carriers, and you might get 5G with Vodafone.

Go next

  • Milngavie is the start of the West Highland Way. Continue west to reach the shores of Loch Lomond.
  • Falkirk Wheel is 14 miles east along the canal towpath, which is in good repair. Here join the Union Canal and plunge through the long dark tunnel at Falkirk (Gandalf impersonations optional). Continue via Linlithgow and the grand Almond Aqueduct to Edinburgh Tolcross.
  • 25 min on the train brings you to historic Stirling.
  • Glasgow is a great, must-see city - don't just pass through on the way to somewhere else.

Routes through Kirkintilloch
StirlingCumbernauld  NE   SW   Glasgow

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