The work of water

This week’s West Highland Way club design is Stronachlachar – a loose-fitting tee, with, sinuous twisted stitches.

The simple cables which twist over the surface of this design have a very direct inspiration in my local built environment, specifically the pipelines and waterworks of the Loch Katrine scheme, which runs from Stronachlachar all the way to Glasgow, providing fresh highland water for Scotland’s largest city.

In this week’s West Highland Way essay, I’ve written about the Loch Katrine scheme – a visionary act of Victorian engineering, which had important implications for public health, and public ownership.

It’s a subject I’ve been interested in for a few years: Tom and I have been a bit obsessed with tracing the scheme’s watery infrastructure through our landscape, from the reservoirs in Milngavie, to the peripheries of the network at Glen Finglas and Loch Arklet. I now find I know a surprising amount about aqueducts, dams and sluices; their histories; their locations; and am happy to bore anyone on this subject who cares to listen.

The Loch Katrine scheme is not just an important example of nineteenth-century industrial architecture, but, is, itself, really beautiful. The Highlands is a social landscape – not a wilderness, or a playground – and to me, the work of water is an essential part of understanding that.

Tom has taken many photographs of our local waterworks . . .

. . . but he’s by no means the first to do so. In 1877, the Loch Katrine scheme was celebrated in an album produced by Glasgow’s pioneering documentary photographer, Thomas Annan.

Annan is probably best known for his Photographs of Old Closes, Streets &c , whose unflinching documentation of Glasgow tenement conditions helped spearhead campaigns for the improvement of the living conditions of Scotland’s urban poor. But his commission from the Glasgow Corporation Water Works is equally important, evincing a great deal of municipal pride, as well as an obvious curiosity about the relationship between the landscape and its new industrial engineering.

The first image in the album is a view with which many visitors to the Trossachs would already have been very familiar:

This is Loch Katrine with Ben Venue in the background and “Ellen’s Isle” in the foreground – immortalised in Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake and, by 1877, a major tourist attraction. Subsequent images in the album highlighted the landscape’s other celebrity connections – such as Glen Gyle, whose name was widely known because of its associations with Rob Roy MacGregor.

But Annan then moves on from the picturesque Trossachs the tourists revered to reveal an ancient landscape proudly restructured by modern human endeavour.

“Aqueduct near Duntreath Castle”

“Endrick Valley Looking South”

“Syphon piping in Endrick Valley”

Annan depicts those whose labour built the scheme . . .

. . . as well as those who commissioned and managed it.

Scrutinising the faces of the Glasgow Waterworks Corporation commissioners is certainly one of this album’s many pleasures.

But I’m perhaps more interested in the way Annan chose to document a landscape, defined by water, from Loch Katrine. . .

. . . to Milngavie

. . . to the heart of the city of Glasgow.

All of the images in this post are albumen silver prints reproduced from the copy of the album held in the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. They are reproduced here under the terms of their Open Content Programme , with grateful thanks.

You might also be interested to read Lionel Gossman’s book on Annan, which you can download as a free Open Book PDF here.