(Approximately 3 miles)
We begin our walk in the car park of what is now the Beancross Restaurant. There are several fine 18th/19th century farm buildings including a converted ring mill once used for grinding corn by horse or ox power. We are close to the Antonine Wall here and Geoff Bailey did some excavation at Beancross a few years ago. The large Roman cavalry fort of Mumrills lies on the hillside to the south-west.
From the car park we make our way through the underpass beneath the ‘new’ northern relief road. To our right the rising ground may have been the place where Wallace set his schiltrons in 1298 to face the English army advancing from beyond the Westquarter Burn to the east. Our first port of call is to Grandsable Cemetery, opened in 1901. It takes its name from cottages which stood here in the 19th century. The name of course means big sand and there have been many attempts to explain why. John Reid thinks it is an imported name perhaps from a returning Scottish fortune seeker. Here there are many graves from both wars and, with the wartime Grangemouth aerodrome not far away, there are military graves of many pilots from all over the world who were killed during training.
From Grandsable we will cross the main road (with care!) and enter the grounds of Parkhill past the old lodge. The long drive leads us to the fine mansion house which was converted into flats a few years ago. It is what the architects call a small Palladian mansion, built in 1790 for James Cheape of Sauchie. There had been a big house of some kind here before this because we know that the lands were held by the powerful Bellenden family from the time of the Reformation in mid-16th century and by the abbey of Holyrood before that. For most of the last century it was the home of the Gray- Buchanan family. Round on the west side there is a courtyard with a surviving doocot. There are also several new buildings in flats, which destroy the proportions of the house and its surroundings but at least it is still there.
That is more than we can say for Millfield which we now approach by crossing the parklands to the west. The steep sided valley of the Polmont Burn provided a fantastic setting for the Victorian garden with waterfalls, bridges, ponds, a bowling green, a bleaching green and a sun dial. The house was a very handsome villa with an outlook tower and was built in the mid 19th century for John Millar who became the secretary of the North British Railway. Later it was the home of the Stein family before it was demolished in the 1960s – the first of the Polmont estates to be developed for housing. What remains is the bit the builders couldn’t use and it has been badly damaged by vandals over the years. The fine arched bridge over the burn, for example is in a poor state of repair.
We now take to the road.
Millfield Drive and Marchmont Avenue lead down to the Main Street at the Black Bull. We cross over and go down the Kirk Entry passing the former manse of Polmont Old Parish Church, named now Kinneil House, noting the large modern development for the Christian Brethern on the other side of the road. We cross the motorway and on our right is the old school house and on our left the church.
The present building of Polmont Old Parish Church dates from 1844. It was designed by John Tait and replaced a small building which remains as a picturesque ivy-clad ruin in the graveyard. At least it was picturesque until the powers that be in the Council put up a big fence to keep us out! The building dates from 1733 and was the first place of worship after the creation of Polmont parish separate from Falkirk. The grave of the first Minister Patrick Bennet is not far away. There are some marvellous 18th and 19th century stones in the graveyard including a couple of rare Adam and Eve stones. The south wall of the Churchyard has a series of gun loops used by the Home Guard during the war. This was one of the lines of defence for the airfield. Geoff Bailey told me so it must be true!
Leaving the church we retrace our steps back to the main street. This area was once called Bennetstown after the first Minister. Polmont was originally confined to the area north of the church down Smiddy Brae which is now called Old Polmont. We head west past the site of the Polmont Bank Hotel and a bit further on pass the church hall dating from the 1890s with a modern addition. Beyond that is the community hall which once housed a girls school. Opposite is the Ivy Bank care home, once a famous dairy and even earlier, yet another school. The Texaco garage is at the end of the Millfield estate which we visited earlier. Another lost estate lies on our right. This was Polmont Park, the home of the Griffiths family. The house and estate disappeared in the 1970s.
When we reach Cassels Bridge, where the Polmont Burn crosses the road we take the footpath signposted Grandsable. This takes us down the so called ‘Fairy Glen‘ along the banks of the burn. A century ago an attempt by the proprietor of Weedingshall to close this public right of way was successfully resisted. During the war there was a plan to evacuate people from Grangemouth if the docks were attacked by leading them up this path and on to Parkhill and the other mansions.
The path emerges alongside the Klondyke Garden Centre and we are not far from the underpass and the Beancross Car park.
Ian Scott 2005