You probably haven’t heard of Kirkintilloch before, and that’s okay. A small town on the outskirts of Glasgow, its most notable features are charity shops and hairdressers — hardly a top tourist destination. Normally, when I think of Kirkintilloch, two words spring to mind: Ghost Town. With under 20,000 residents, there’s not a lot going on.
That is, until the Canal Festival comes to town.
Every August, we’re given the chance to celebrate the town’s heritage. Our Canal — The Forth and Clyde Canal — was the first one to be built in Scotland, and so it’s only right that we pay tribute to the landmark. And boy, we do it in style.
This isn’t your average celebration — Kirkintilloch goes all out.
What with boat trips, face-painting, and a live band, this isn’t your typical Saturday in town. The usually
vacant marina is overflowing with people. Some are admiring the stalls (from homemade toffee, candles, to candyfloss, there’s lots to choose from). Some are rock climbing or trying their hand at archery. Some are cruising down the canal in their very own boat. But not me. I’m with my family.
It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we’re together. Mostly we’re just admiring our beautiful town. Strolling past the bunting and banners, we make our way to the town centre. There’s something for everyone: exhibitions, funfair rides, and more. But when my dad — who has lived here all his life — tells me he has never been to the local museum, I know it’s our next stop. The Auld Kirk Museum is smaller than my house, but it’s a museum nonetheless. And I find it atrocious that my dad hasn’t set foot inside! Today, they’re hosting a 1940s-themed tea party, where you can sip tea and cake while learning about the town’s history. It’s all in honour of the festival, of course. And let’s face it — we’re all more interested in the free cake than the history lesson!
Later, as we walk the streets, I see an otherwise greyscale town shining bright. Or maybe it was always bright — maybe I’m just not used to seeing this many people smile. Maybe I’m not used to seeing my family smile.
We’re like most modern families: our lives are busy and hectic, with little quality time left for each other. But not today. My parents and I cleared our schedules just so that we could be here. I look around and see that the place is swarmed with families like my own. They’re all different in their own way: big kids, little kids, lone parents, two parents, grandparents. But one thing we all have in common is this: We chose to spend the day here, and we chose to spend it together.
By evening, the crowd has multiplied. No surprise there. We are gathered by the marina, where the stalls and rides have closed down, with nothing but the Jersey Boys for entertainment. And that’s fine by my Gran: she jives to the music of her generation, happily content. I sip hot chocolate and chat to long-lost friends. That’s the thing about the festival: You can go without seeing someone for a year, but you’re bound to bump into them here. Everyone’s here.
And soon, the event that we’ve all been waiting for: the fireworks. There’s electricity in the air. The band has stopped playing, leaving silence in its place. We stand jammed together — friends, family, neighbours, strangers — all waiting for something magical. And it is. The fireworks are better than most displays I’ve been to. We watch the vibrant colours dance in the sky, lighting up our town like a rainbow.
And yes, it really is magical. But what I find more magical is this: Tonight, we are a town united. We are a community. When given something to celebrate, we band together like never before. We stand proud and patriotic. We push aside our daily routines, all so that we can spend time with each other.
What I said before still stands true: Kirkintilloch is a Ghost Town. But tonight, we are a Ghost Town filled with life.