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changes to rivers are inevitable; particularly when used as a harbour. But sometimes changes can be surprising. 

Near where the Leven leaves Loch Lomond you will find the BARRAGE which is discussed here : index.asp?pageid=718264 Along its length there have not been bridges built, but lades to redirect water off to the textile industries. See TURKEY RED & THE TEXTILE INDUSTRIES including the subsections index.asp?pageid=715772. The industries along the Leven was just one of the reasons for the towpath. Another was to get boats up to Loch Lomond. Much of the towpath still existon the west side, albeit now tarred and used by walkers, cyclists and anglers. Along the navigable length of the upper Leven, that managed with towing by draft horses, we also find long sections of built up embankment much as a canal would be. On the east side we even find lengths of high retaining wall in dressed sandstone to protect the towpath.Some of the towpath remains on the east side, but that was never quite as relied on due to the extensive areas of boggy land, the most significant of which was that of the lagoon, long since infilled as Broadmeadow Industrial Estate. See RIVER LEVEN - THE LOST LAGOON : index.asp?pageid=718419.

The lower part of the Leven opens up as a basin once heavily utilised for shipping and indeed ship building. It is this area that has undergone a great deal of change before our eyes. On the west side, infilling has been ongoing for at least two decades, roughly speaking to the extent of the slipways and jetties that had been there for quite some time before that. On the east side, one of the two basins used by the shipbuilding industry was completely infilled and became the football grounds. Nearby the second basin was partly infilled at its end towards the town and was under threat for full infilling too. But more of that later. To understand the transformation of the river we need to look at its original form and how it changed as the town grew and shipbuilding developed.

In this map by John Wood from the 18th century you see the Leven as it reaches the Clyde, passing around Dumbarton Rock. This is tidal water, but the map only shows the water at high tide. It gives the impression that the natural basin is quite spacious, enough for most craft. But this is an illusion. Low tides would expose a great deal of mud and some rock. To make this usable and navigable, a great deal of dredging was required. The small town of Dumbarton is seen to the north. Dumbarton Rock with its castle to the south. The Leven almost meets the Clyde below its eastern slopes and that land is somewhat boggy, more so after heavy rains and extreme high tides. You can also see the burn coming down close to the town with embankments to try to control it. That is today almost all piped. To the west is what was to become Sandpoint Marina. (The then shipyard on this side was a little further up).


In this map from 1861 there is better indication of the tidal zone. Dumbarton Rock is to the south. "A" shows a small harbour within the mud complete with a basic quayside serving the nearby Victoria Shipbuilding Yard. There was also a "wharf"at the point where the permanent deep chanel met the tidal mud and a narrow slipway from the yard to the channel. The area below the Rock includes some farmland, but also a fairly level area shown at "B" as "Castle Green".


Move on to 1896 and much has changed. The Leven Shipbuilding Yard on the east side is well established and it has two sizeable basins. The shipyard on the west side remains, but is all but disused. The two bason on the east side are dredged, but are labelled as tidal, an acknowledgement that the tides play a very significant role over the mud. Keep these two basins in mind.


This aerial view of 1941 shows the River Leven where it meets the Clyde at Dumbarton Rock. You can clearly see the two basins and also some slipways. A channel has also been built from the shipyard into the Clyde.  


The basin nearest the Rock was infilled and is where the football stadium was built. A great deal of land was gained for other uses quite central to the town when the shipyard structures were removed. 

The basin towards the town centre began to have some debris deposited in it. By this time though the whole area had already undergone tremendous changes. Little was left of the shipyard premises and instead the Allied Distillery premises dominated the scene. .......... and then they in turn outlived their usage and became derelict. See ALLIED DISTILLERY index.asp?pageid=715663

At about the time that we entered the current millenium infilling was also occuring on the west side at the Sandpoint Marina. See SANDPOINT index.asp?pageid=716661 In essence this appeared to be reclaiming of the space taken up by the slipways into the Leven. Interpretation of quite what was happening varied. To some it meant that the tidal mud was no more and the property now reached the central channel. Early property rights seemed to allow for this, but that was challenged. Even if the original documents showed the property boundary in the middle of the river, surely the community as a whole had rights to the water, tidal zone included. 

Here you can see the building up of Sandpoint Marina site. At this time the Allied Distillery tower was still standing. Alongside that to the right is the remaining basin.

If you step back from all this change to the river's form and consider how it naturally ebbed and flowed, you will also notice that before it was modified by man it could better absorb the extreme levels during peak tides and times of flood. The river remains tidal quite far up, although to a lesser degree than originally due to the stone near Dumbarton Bridge. But the one-time lagoon, the reed beds towards the Rock and the tidal mudflats all around the lower River Leven towards the Clyde coped with a great deal of fluctuating water volume. It no longer has that capacity. See FLOODING index.asp?pageid=734104 

Concern about infilling of the basin nearest the town centre was for various other reasons. The town was once a buzzing port. While that is something of the past, it still has the capacity to act as a marina and a place to welcome visiting boats such as the tenders from cruise ships docking in Greenock. Perhaps pleasure boats with tourists from up the Clyde. Perhaps even the Waverley. And then there would be the lost of the aesthetic aspects, the simple joy of looking out on the water, a vestige of the bygone shipbuilding industry. 

As with so much that becomes derelict, many people cannot envisage it renewed and restored with practical modifications to new use. But then with foresight and imagination it can. With a great deal of patience too. Change to our urban landscape is very slow. And here too where it interfaces with the river even more so. But then change can suddenly happen and it may be too late to save such heritage. Imagination and patience need to go together. 

This page is being written an incredible 20 years after the date at which this basin was saved from being infilled.

In the Lennox Herald of July 2, 2004 it was announced that it was saved. Not only that, but Historic Environment Scotland had designated it as B-Listed. This covers Buildings of special architectural or historic interest which are major examples of a particular period, style or building type. Yes, the basin is a "building". Listing covers a broad range of man-made structures. As the article says : It is now officially recognised as "the last surviving example of the town's tidal basins and an histdorical reminder of Dumbarton's once prolific shipbuilding industry". 

The basin was formed around 1835 to service the shipyard of Archibald Macmillan and later the town's famous Denny shipbuilding yard. This decree meant that the developers had to rethink their design. The first planning application which included a carpark here lapsed and the subsequent ones worked around it. There was great relief from the Community Council and other concerned groups such as the West Dunbartonshire Heritage Trust. Interestingly though the B-listing designation does not seem to have been fully processed and it is not on the list of designations, yet this has nevertheless been entrenched in the future of the town through the Local Development Plan (LDP). Whatever the final outcome of the basin, it is now safe. The Council are developing a Riverside Path from the town centre to Dumbarton Rock. This too is a long term project. All new development has to tie in with this and indeed contribute to it. You can already see the attractive start of this path behind Lidl where it currently comes to from the Dumbarton Harbour housing, in turn linking with the town centre. The remainder of that path is already designed in concept and awaits contributing development along the way. But you can clearly see the basin with the new efficient and attractive pathway on one side and a bare site on the other. See DUMBARTON WATERFRONT PATH index.asp?pageid=715736 As of 2023 the Council have arranged for the derelict boats to be removed. Interesting, but an eyesore, Yet this too has its problems, not just physical, but legal as the owners, wherever possible need to be found first. 

You can see what is possible. Now imagine the river, the basin, the riverside path. The river once again a thriving port of call and moorings; a marina. A place where we can hold regattas and other water sports and events. Visiting boats such as the Waverley, tourist boats up or down the Clyde coming in. Even tenders bringing tourists from the cruise ships moored not that far away across and Greenock. A place overlooked by hotels, restaurants and cafes. A range of housing looking out over the water. Walkers and cyclists enjoying the waterfront paths. 

Dumbarton as it should be. Vibrant. Proud of its shipbuilding heritage while looking forward to a new future. Vision. Patience. Initiative.

LENNOX HERALD : July 2nd, 2004. Page 19. Marc McLean.

NATIONAL COLLECTION OF AERIAL PHOTOGRAPAHY (NCAP) : Airview : Date: 19 June 1941; Location: Silverton; Dumbarton; DUNBARTONSHIRE; SCOTLAND; Coordinates (lat, lon): 55.940330, -4.559400
Description: Oblique aerial photograph taken facing north east. ;Denny’s shipbuilding; Sortie: CAM/011; Frame: P_00268 https://ncap.org.uk/frame/8-1-8-11-1?pos=163

NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND Maps (NLS) : These are all extracts, the originals being as follows:

First map : Name:Wood, John, ca. 1780-1847; Title:Plan of Dumbarton[ Imprint:Edinburgh : [T. Brown], 1818.; Pagination:1 map ; 759 x 543 mm. ; Shelfmark:EMS.X.009 (formerly EU.31.W) https://maps.nls.uk/view/74400020

Second map : Dumbartonshire XXII.6 (with extension XXII.7) (Dumbarton). Survey date: 1860 to 1861,   Publication date: 1862. https://maps.nls.uk/view/74941048

Third map : Dumbartonshire Sheet XXII.NW; Date revised: 1896, Date Published: 1899  https://maps.nls.uk/view/75498375



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