A weekend away walking or a weekend sleeping in your own bed: often it’s a choice of one or the other. The Clyde Walkway, between Partick and New Lanark, allows you to combine both pleasures. The 40-mile long walkway can be done as two day walks, returning to Glasgow each evening.

Or you can lodge overnight on the way, somewhere like Motherwell or Hamilton. To make a real weekend of it, travel to New Lanark on the Friday and enjoy the night there, walking on the Saturday and Sunday. Well, in normal times anyway.

The walk is undemanding in terms of difficulty, but it is rewarding. The River Clyde not only wends its way across the west of Scotland. It flows through history. The Clyde’s vital energy brought wealth to Glasgow, and employment along its course.

The trailhead is in Partick. Threading through the city centre, the path hugs the river, amidst its built legacy of trade wealth. You can join at any point which suits you. I started on Clyde Street beside the old Customs House. Its proud façade looks desolate in the shadows of towering construction around it. The only marine craft to be seen were boats prone for action at the nautical college on the far bank.

Walking over Glasgow Green past the People’s Palace, it is hard to imagine that this area was once densely populated. It felt airy and fresh. The neat park lawns gave way to trees and soon the city felt far behind. Housing sometimes broke the trees, but mostly the only sign of people was on the trail itself. A couple picked blackberries. The plentiful berries were temptingly ripe, a reminder of why the Clyde Valley once hosted so many fruit businesses upriver.

Mostly the other path users were not on foot but on bike. The surfaced trail leading out of Glasgow forms part of the cycling National Route 75, from Gourock to Leith. Its flatness made walking easy. A few miles on, the Clyde Walkway diverged from the cycle route and crossed the river near Cambuslang. With the cyclists gone, earth underfoot and a few short but sharp inclines, the path was now asserting its own identity as a long distance walkway rather than a city stroll. Aside from the occasional dog walker it was deserted.

Although the M74 revealed its nearness with a constant hum, neither the motorway nor other signs of modernity infringed upon the bucolic landscape. The only movement visible was the river itself.

The route is signposted but only sporadically. Moving away from the water here towards a new housing estate, the navigation became less obvious. But the series of paths are well trodden, so it is hard to get lost for long.

The path shifted into rich forest. The beauty of the lush, varied foliage was accentuated by creeping autumnal colours. Deep in old woodland on a comfortable earthen path, I rounded a corner. A gap in the tree cover dramatically revealed the red walls of Bothwell Castle looming ahead. The medieval castle perches beside the path, so makes for an easy detour. Further on there was a more modern fortress in the forest. It was made entirely of branches, carefully arranged around a large trunk to form a den. Two wee boys busily dragged more branches towards it, under their grandmother’s gaze. “It gets bigger every time we come here,” she said.

A solitary fisherman cast his rod into the languidly curving brownish river. Here, there are still salmon and sea trout. Across a modern bridge, the path passes the whitewashed tenement birthplace of David Livingstone. It was on these banks, presumably, that he acquired his fascination with river exploration. The tenement was built near the now demolished Blantyre Cotton Mills. Mill owner David Dale and his partner sited the mills here to harness the water flow. Although closed for renovation, the museum exterior provides a sense of the place. The path also passes close to Blantyre railway station. Cambuslang, Uddingston, Dalmarnock and Blantyre all form convenient endpoints for those who want a shorter stroll.

The path goes to Strathclyde Park, with limited accommodation options. Instead, I meandered up to Motherwell. A tasty white pudding supper straight out the fryer at Marcantonio’s rewarded the wait. Across the road sits the Moorings Hotel, a convenient and charming hotel if you decide to stay the night in Motherwell.

The economic power of water can make places, but it can break them too. One village I passed but didn’t see on the walk was Bothwellhaugh. The mining village was flooded in the mid-1960s as part of the construction of Strathclyde Loch. The walkway moves fluidly between new and old. Close by, it crossed the Dalzell Estate, which was a royal hunting forest in the ninth century.

A dairy farm sat ahead. The path wound past its doors, while cows lolled in the sun. The river plain here felt wider and had dark, fertile-looking soil. In the distance rose the Cambusnethan Priory, designed by the architect James Gillespie Graham. From afar its lines remain elegant. As the walkway passed its entrance, brick patchwork and roofless were visible. The priory was like a vintage ball gown, now moth ravaged. Cows abounded nearby but still the distant motorway hummed. The path rather awkwardly crosses the A71 and a local road before plunging down into the forest, the sudden total silence noticeable.

The river widened slightly and a pebble beach provided an ideal picnic spot. The long-running repair works at Maudslie Bridge have ended, so a tempting alternative for lunch was the Popinjay Hotel over the river in Rosebank.

The joyous shrieks of children wafted from an animal petting farm near Crossford, where the path runs parallel to a miniature railway. I met a walker who had set out from John O’Groats and expected to get to Land’s End in another seven weeks. It was mid-afternoon, but I was the first person she had met on the path all day. “I’m so glad I decided to come on the Clyde Walkway,” she said. “It’s a hidden gem – it’s got so much diversity.”

Walking through fields by the river, the going gets muddier. There are stretches of wooden walkway, but elsewhere a sturdy pair of shoes or careful footwork help. The path looks down across the rugged Stonebyres Linn. Overlooking it sits the first of two power stations which use the water to generate power. The path crosses a bridge to Kirkfieldbank and continues left towards Lanark whence it descends to New Lanark, the well-preserved model mill village with a well-appointed hotel. There are also cottages to let, for a minimum of two nights. All sit in period buildings.

Alternatively at Kirkfieldbank, a quiet local path on the right bank affords views of New Lanark as it winds up past the Falls. Crossing the river, the path veers down past Bonnington power station. The art deco design is for now obscured by scaffolding, making it more reminiscent of an installation by Christo the Wrapper. The walk through a nature sanctuary to New Lanark marks the end point for most walkers. Lanark train station can be reached even on tired feet in under an hour, or alternatively the 135 bus runs to Lanark.

The Clyde Walkway makes for a simple couple of days’ break. The scenery is surprisingly varied and undisturbed given its location. The walk reveals a new perspective on the river even for those who regard it as an old friend.