Milngavie lies about 10 miles north west of Glasgow and is in effect the edge of its conurbation. In the last few decades the town (pronounced "Mull-guy") has become best known as the start of the West Highland Way, the 96 mile Long Distance Path to Fort William. 50 yards from the official start of the way is the Milngavie & West Highland Way Tourist Office and Information Point.
The history of Milngavie dates back to at least 1600, when there was a mill here in a village known at the time as Millgay. The town's early growth owed much to the textile industry, and James Watt, better known as an engineer than a chemist, built a chlorine bleaching works here by 1760s.
Milngavie's more recent development has owed more to its proximity of Glasgow and its excellent transport links. It had a railway connection to Glasgow by 1871, and the city's trams reached out as far as Milngavie in 1924. The trams were only a relatively temporary feature, and service ceased in 1956. It retains its rail link, however, and it is now served by frequent trains from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
In the 1930s an old railway siding near Milngavie was used to test the remarkable George Bennie Railplane System of Transport. An aerial rail was constructed above 130m of the siding, and from it was suspended the Bennie Railplane, a Jules Verne-esque silver cylinder with a large propeller at either end. The line was launched on 8 July 1930, but the idea never gained the financial backing it needed, and Bennie went bankrupt in 1937. The track was removed in 1956.
An earlier development still helps shape Milngavie and its surroundings today. In 1850 Glasgow Corporation started to pipe water from Loch Katrine in the Trossachs to provide clean drinking water for the city. Just up the valley from Milngavie are the large Mugdock and Craigmaddie Reservoirs, designed to help regulate the flow of water into Glasgow.
Near the reservoirs is Mugdock Country Park, home to not one but two different castles or their sites, with a third nearby. Mugdock Castle started life in the 1300s before being added to in later centuries, then largely destroyed to make way for a large country house in 1875. This has in turn been demolished, leaving just the ruins of the older castle.
Just a quarter of a mile north west of Mugdock Castle are the limited remains of Craigend Castle. This castle was replaced by a house in 1812 and today little remains. And outside the park, but still only a mile east of Mugdock Castle is the site of Craigmaddie Castle. This was a 1238 castle turned into a tower house in the 1400s before being abandoned by 1566. Only few overgrown ruins remain. Milngavie's old castles are outnumbered only by its golf courses, with a total of five 18 hole courses in the immediate area.
Today's Milngavie is a thriving and bustling place. It serves as a dormitory for Glasgow and a popular centre in its own right. And stand in the main street for more than a few minutes and you will be approached by someone wearing a backpack, asking you to take a photo of them with their camera as they stand next to the obelisk marking the official start of the West Highland Way.
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