Theses ancient estates lie to the south of Airdrie and cover over 600 acres (244 ha) of extensive countryside with hedgerows, woods and active farming. The land has been ‘green’ here since the ice disappeared some 7,000 years ago. It saw the first hunters; then herders and farmers came. By the 11th century, Faskine was a hermitage for monks from Newbattle Abbey who have given their name to the Monklands of Lanarkshire.
The estates have two wonderful corridors for nature – the North Calder Water, a tributary of the Clyde and the Monkland Canal. This waterway, designed by engineer James Watt, to carry coal to Glasgow, opened to Calderbank in 1794, Today, it is one of the few stretches of the canal that has not been ‘pipelined’. Soon the first railways came and after1826, the Monkland & Kirkintilloch, one of Britain’s earliest lines was established at Palacecraig, thereby stealing some of the canal’s coal trade.
Meanwhile Woodhall was a splendid country estate with a grand mansion in classical style dating from 1711, set in a landscape of woods and hedgerows. Later, an arboretum of special trees, plus a Lily Loch and Walled Garden, were part of a designed landscape. However, the coal trade was a temptation and in 1874 Alexander Whitelaw bought the estate for its minerals. Subsidence eventually took its toll on structures and by the 1920s, the mansion was demolished to be followed by the removal of other heritage buildings. Coal mining ceased by the Second World War.
Since this phase of exploitation the land and nature have recovered remarkably – the old railway lines are now walking trails and the Lily Loch is a picnic spot. Woodhall and its neighbours are a ‘de facto’ Country Park for local people from the ‘built up’ areas around the estates – Carnbroe, Cairnhill, Brownsburn, Calderbank and Chapelhall to name a few. They walk, jog, cycle, and nature watch – or just sit and relax in a green environment.
The estates have long been protected as ‘green belt’ and are part of Clyde Plan and the Central Scotland Green Network. In 2016, a speculative threat emerged for the building of 2,600 executive houses plus commercial developments on this irreplaceable green land. There was immediate action and SWAF – Save Woodhall, Faskine and Palacecraig – was set up. It is now the Woodhall, Faskine and Palacecraig Conservation Group, a Scottish Charity, that aims to have a Community Buy out through the Scottish Land Fund to conserve the estates as a Country Park for all time. A priority is to retain active farming that has a big part to play in nature’s biodiversity. The Group has organised many ‘nature based’ and heritage events With NHS Lanarkshire, its trained members lead health walks for the betterment of both mental and physical wellbeing for local people.
With this amazing countryside ‘on our doorsteps’ giving so much scope for exercise and solace during the pandemic, as in time past, we must save the ‘Green Planet’ right here.