Tall-masted ships return to Glasgow’s canal

The first tall-masted ship to sail the Glasgow branch of the Forth & Clyde Canal in more than a century has completed its inaugural voyage to the city’s Speirs Wharf.

Marking the latest stage in the regeneration of both the canal and North Glasgow, the Dutch Barge, the MV John Hume, is now moored up overlooking the city skyline and will soon be welcoming guests as one of Glasgow’s most unusual holiday lets.

The 114-year-old vessel has been lovingly restored by Scottish Canals over the past year and now boasts a luxurious interior that’s more black-tie than ‘Black Pearl.’ The barge joins the likes of loch-side lighthouses and converted canal workers’ cottages on Scottish Canals’ growing holiday home portfolio.

Named after Professor John Hume OBE, the vessel carried the eponymous canal champion, who was instrumental in the restoration of the nation’s waterways at the turn of the Millennium, as well as Scottish Canals’ Chief Executive Steve Dunlop and Bailie Liz Cameron, along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the barge’s new home in Speirs Wharf. The event also coincided with the 225th anniversary of the construction of the waterway.

Once a common sight on the canal during its industrial heyday in the 18th and early 19th centuries, tall-masted ships were the workhorses that stoked the fires of the industrial revolution, carrying coal, sugar, tobacco and more  to and from the commercial hub of Speirs Wharf.

It is appropriate that the rebirth of the Forth & Clyde Canal over the past few years is being marked by the visit of a Dutch Barge dating back to the end of the Victorian era. There will be many special events to mark this, the 225th anniversary of the canal, and the visit of the John Hume is going to be spectacular.

Bailie Liz Cameron, Executive Member for Jobs and the Economy at Glasgow City Council

Steve Dunlop, Chief Executive of Scottish Canals, said: “We’re delighted to celebrate the return of tall-masted ships to the Forth & Clyde Canal after more than a century. This area was once the beating industrial heart of North Glasgow and, while the canal is now home to creative studios and cafes rather than coal scows and warehouses, the waterway continues to bring vibrancy and positive change to the communities along its banks today.

“The arrival of the MV John Hume at Speirs Wharf signals another step forward for the ongoing transformation of North Glasgow and allows us to honour one of the nation’s true canal champions. John was instrumental in campaigning for the reopening of Scotland’s waterways and the renaissance they’re undergoing today is due in no small part to his dedication and that of the many men and women like him. Naming the barge after him seemed a fitting tribute.

“The last time a tall-masted ship sailed the waters of the Forth & Clyde Canal, Speirs Wharf was a bustling hub of industry. Today, 225 years after its construction, the canal is again thriving and playing a key role in the local community.”

While Speirs Wharf was once a commercial hub featuring everything from bonded warehouses and distilleries to grain mills and glassworks, today the area is fast becoming a centre for culture and tourism, with the creation of a flourishing creative quarter featuring the likes of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; the improvement of links between North Glasgow and the city centre; the opening of Scotland’s first urban watersports centre at Pinkston Basin; and the installation of a heritage trail allowing visitors and locals alike to unlock the rich history of Glasgow’s canal. The area has had more than £5 million invested in its regeneration by Scottish Canals and its partners in recent years.

Bailie Liz Cameron, Executive Member for Jobs and the Economy at Glasgow City Council, said: “It is appropriate that the rebirth of the Forth & Clyde Canal over the past few years is being marked by the visit of a Dutch Barge dating back to the end of the Victorian era.  There will be many special events to mark this, the 225th anniversary of the canal, and the visit of the John Hume is going to be spectacular.”

The dedication of the barge celebrates a busy and successful career for Professor Hume, who spent two decades as a lecturer in Economic and Industrial History at the University of Strathclyde and 15 years with Historic Scotland, retiring as Chief Inspector of Historic Buildings in 1999. Currently, John serves as Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland – a post he has held since 2005.

A vocal supporter of Scotland’s canals since the 1960s, John was instrumental in everything from the preventing the infilling of the Union Canal to the setup of the Forth & Clyde Canal Society and the Seagull Trust – a charity that offers free canal cruises for disabled people. He also played a key role in securing the canals’ status as scheduled monuments – recognising the waterways as historic assets of national importance and safeguarding them for future generations to enjoy.

His finest moment came in the late 1990s, when he was heavily involved in securing the £84 million funding that saw Scotland’s canals restored to a navigable state for the first time in more than 50 years as part of the Millennium Link project. Even after the long-awaited reopening of the canals, John continued to play a key role in their ongoing renaissance, serving as chair of the Scottish Waterways Trust, the Lowland Canal Volunteer Group and the Lowland Canal User Group.

Professor John Hume OBE said: “Having the barge named after me is such an honour. When I first became interested in Scotland’s canals in the 1960s, they were in decline and in danger of disappearing entirely. Today, all of that has changed and I’ve been delighted to witness and play some small role in their revitalisation.

“When I put forward the proposal for Millennium funding in the mid-1990s, I knew that the restoration of the canal network would be a fantastic asset for central Scotland but their popularity has exceeded my wildest expectations. The Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies have encouraged millions of people to engage with the incredible environments and history of Scotland’s canals and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

The barge, which has been fully interior-designed, boasts all the comforts of home within its century-old shell, as well as period touches such as historic canal signage and artefacts. With a fully-equipped kitchen, a power shower, double bedroom and even a wood burning stove, the John Hume is the perfect place for those looking for a quirky break in Glasgow that’s a little more interesting than the bricks and mortar hotels of the city.

A break on the water is also the ideal introduction for those wondering if canal boat life is for them. Scottish Canals’ Living on Water scheme, which aims to encourage Scots across the country to swap cul-de-sacs and cottages for waterways and wide-beam barges, is now in its second phase and offers moorings everywhere from the shadow of The Kelpies to within the city centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh. All revenue generated by the Living on Water initiative is being reinvested in safeguarding the heritage of the 200-year-old waterways and in projects that will help bring vibrancy, income and jobs to the communities that line their banks.

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