History of the Vale of Leven Page 1
The Vale of Leven lies in West Dunbartonshire about 20 miles north west of Glasgow between Loch Lomond and the River Clyde, lying on a predominantly north-south axis. It takes its name from the River Leven, Scotland's second fastest-flowing river (after the River Spey), which flows from Loch Lomond to enter the River Clyde at Dumbarton, just at the foot of Dumbarton Rock. The valley is about 5 miles in length, but because of the twists and turns of the river, it is about seven and a half miles long. The image at the top of the page shows the Vale with the river Leven snaking its way to the Clyde at Dumbarton.
The hills on the west side of the valley rise to about 900 feet and are considered to be the tail end of the Grampians. On the east side the hills are lower and are the western end of the Kilpatrick hills.
While it's a cliché to say that all history is a product of geography, like most clichés it has a strong element of truth, particularly so in the case of the Vale. Geography has produced three factors, which have to varying degrees over the years strongly influenced its development.
The first of these is its location, which strategically occupies one of the most important north-south and east-west lines of land and water communication from the comparatively flat and fertile central lands of Scotland to the Western Highlands and the islands. The Vale lies just to the south of the Highland fault and the Highland line, and this is very clear as you look northwards up Loch Lomond because your view is dominated firstly by the Loch and its islands but perhaps even greater visual force comes from the mountains receding into the distance as far as the eye can see.
It is therefore the end of the line as far as the industrial central belt of Scotland is concerned and the beginning of the Scottish Western Highlands.
Secondly the Loch and the River Leven provide an abundant supply of fresh water, which has remained free from the oil-based industrial pollution, which affected many other Scottish rivers, particularly in the central belt. It did run red with dyestuffs which were equally poisonous in the short-term, but which were of very short life, the fast-flowing river quickly moving them on and cleansing the bed and contents of the river.
This water also proved very adaptable in the economic and population growth of the area. It was initially, and continuously, useful in the bleaching process in the textile works which grew up on the banks of the Leven, and when the steam engine was developed it provided the boilers with all the water they would ever require as a bye-product of the investment of drawing water off the Leven for the textile production processes.
In the early days, it provided a cheap and safe source of drinking water for the growing population. As a pure and more sophisticated domestic supply was required the Loch and hills just north of the Vale proved equal to the task.
Thirdly, the beauty of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs drew visitors in increasing numbers to the area and this was a major influence in improving road and rail and steamer communications to and through the Vale. If we are to believe some, this 200 hundred year old industry actually represents the Vale's best hope for the future.