On a surprisingly cold November morning, we pulled on our woollies and took ourselves on a much needed adventure day. Our destination, former childhood school trip favourite as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site – New Lanark in South Lanarkshire.
Located around an hour from us in Glasgow, we arrived mid-morning to begin our exploration into the history of the cotton mills and the amazing social experiment that was the New Lanark village. First though we were somewhat blown away but the amazing autumn colours on site. Entering from the top car park up the hill we got the chance to meander down towards New Lanark and enjoyed an excellent overview of the site before experiencing it up close.
Built on the River Clyde in the heart of the Clyde Valley, New Lanark is surrounded by woodlands and makes a picturesque spot for wanders, even if you have no interest in the area’s past. It’s strange to think that incredible industry could be located in such a location of beauty, but the whole town, which once provided spun cotton to the world, depended on the power of the river to turn the wheels and operate the machinery.
We started our tour with the Annie McLeod Experience, a moving ride that allows you to hear the story of one girl and her family’s experience of working in the mills and the differences between this town, built on pioneering ideals, and others of the time. The Mill’s owner Robert Owen was a great innovator and believed in educating those who worked for him, as well as providing affordable housing and produce within the town and much of this is told through Annie’s story.
After this high tech exploration of the past, we stepped into history itself to see the fully operational spinning machinery. Not just for show, these machines are still spinning and working their magic to create the textiles ready for you to purchase in the gift shops or some pre-made items for those not so crafty. Although no longer controlled by the mill wheels, the river still plays it’s part in powering the machinery, in the form of hydro-electricity.
I got a little mesmorised watching the machines working but the real showstopper for us was the roof garden on the top of Mill 2. Walking out of the elevator into such a amazing spot with magnificent views over both the mill heritage site and the natural settings in which we find it.
From up here you can gain an amazing perspective on both of the wonderful leafy surroundings and a deeper connection to the people of New Lanark as you look down over the millworkers’ houses, their school, chapel and of course the mills themselves. There are also all kinds of wonderful art work critters to be found among the garden foliage so make sure to look out for creatures great and small if you’re visiting!
After spending a long time enjoying the views outside we felt we’d earned a break so sat down for a hot soup at the cafe to warm us up before we continue our exploring.
While walking around this living museum it’s easy to imagine what life must have been like and feel the presence of the millworkers on the site. However, while some structures have survived from the 18th century, when the mills closed in the 1960s, they fell into decline and required major restoration work. It’s great to see the great care and attention that went into this project and even within the Millworker’s House you can see how people lived through the ages. A walk to the neighbouring Falls of the Clyde is also a perfect way to see how nature and industry can exist together in harmony.
The river walk adds a wonderful dimension to a historical site and during such a beautiful autumn day, the colours are certainly out in full show. We stopped to enjoy the view at Corra Linn, a spot of stunning natural beauty which has inspired poets and artists throughout the ages including Wordsworth and Turner and certainly got our seal of approval too.
There’s far more than just great views and history, these collection of waterfalls represent the future as well, with a successful Hydro-electric scheme, ensuring that New Lanark still has an important part to play in Scotland’s industry. And as we return towards New Lanark our path gives us some more fantastic views over the historic village and of course the river that the former industry was built on.
After our outdoor excursion we returned back to civilisation and toured the stunning classroom in Robert Owen’s school. Far from displaying a disciplinarian establishment, this appears to have been a creative place to learn with stunning artwork taking children on safari, and a huge globe allowing children to explore the world using both the lessons and their imaginations.We even tried out a gird and cleek, one of the traditional period children’s toys.
After learning all we could in the classroom, we visited the temporary exhibition housed next door which currently highlights the role New Lanark and its people played in The Great War. Certainly worth a visit while you’re there to read about some of the personal stories of military combat of of course those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Our final stop is Robert Owen’s own home showing that while there was much improvement in work conditions and millworkers’ homes, there was always space for a bit of luxury at the top as well. Lovingly recreated there’s plenty more to learn about Owen himself as well as his other project beyond New Lanark – New Harmony, Indiana.
As we left with the light started to fade, we took in the incredible views over New Lanark and its wonderful autumn setting. The site allows the perfect combination of out door exploring and cosy indoor history and is certainly a must visit.
You’ll need to get in quick to enjoy the amazing autumn colours this season but New Lanark will also be open through out the winter season with Christmas events over the festive period.
We would like to thank the New Lanark team for providing us with tickets to the attractions at New Lanark World Heritage Site
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