Scotland by museums

Now, this isn’t a League of Gentlemen thing, all about ‘local museums for local people’. In my years, I’ve been to more than a few museums, some big ones, the massive kind in big cities with security guards and Rosetta Stones and that, as well as smaller museums, the ones that fit into one room and have displays that might not have been updated in the last couple of decades. I try to take each one as I find them, seeking to be open-minded and curious even while I may not have much affinity with the place or with what is being displayed. Most towns and cities in Scotland have a museum, some, like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, have quite a few. The National Museums and Glasgow Museums get enough limelight. As much as I like traipsing around NMS, Kelvingrove, Riverside and the rest, I generally prefer the museums to be found outside of the Central Belt, even just outside Glasgow and Edinburgh. They tend to be less familiar and so have more to actually learn and absorb.

National Museum of Scotland

Every so often, a new local museum springs up. When I was off recently, I took a trip to Dunfermline, an old haunt of mine, to go to the brand new Carnegie Library and Galleries. Dunfermline already has a museum all about Andrew Carnegie, who was born in the town, and it is quite fine. Since Carnegie donated money to build libraries all over the place, including a fair few here in Glasgow, it was only natural that he bunged his home town a few quid to build a library, which opened in 1883. That building was refurbished and enlarged over the last few years with a suitably grand Victorian exterior on Abbot Street and a more modern wood, glass and boxy affair looking onto the garden and the Abbey beyond. Inside it is stunning. The library is agreeably old-fashioned looking with wooden shelving and the archive bit manages to combine wooden shelves and looking quite swish with a mezzanine level. It was filled with light and lots of gaps to see the light and the rest of the building at different points. The museum and gallery spaces were much more modern and the tone was set by the entrance to the building, which housed panels, some audio-visual, with images of Dunfermline and its prominent citizens and pursuits over the centuries, as well as a Vespa scooter. Not sure quite why but I liked it all the same. What tickled me was that the museum featured photos of well-kent folk from Dunfermline, including Jim Leishman, who is perhaps best known as a football manager for Dunfermline and Livingston, amongst others, as well as occasionally scribbling doggerel poems to inspire his teams. Referred to as the ‘Lochgelly Messiah’ in Ron Ferguson’s Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, Leishman is now a Labour councillor and the Provost of Fife, no less, and there is a plaque by the reception saying that he officially opened the place, as well as featuring in the exhibits. Legend. Another highlight was the video featuring local scenes, probably from the Scottish Screen Archive, though it featured a soundtrack of music by local musicians, including Barbara Dickson, Big Country and, wonderfully, Into The Valley by the Skids. I’ve written here before about one of the highlights of watching a game at East End Park in Dunfermline being the steak bridies made by Stephens. Another is hearing the Skids belted out at full volume as the teams come out. The video in the museum was originally playing in the background though cleverly it got louder as I walked towards it, sitting down in front of it on a comfy cinema-style seat. I could have sat there all afternoon, to be honest. The museum didn’t suffer from being quite bitty and thematic, as so many museums tend to be nowadays, going into some topics but not following a strict linear chronology. The architecture of the building, inside and out, was cracking and I just liked walking around it, looking out the window and down and up and through the place.


The fact I know Dunfermline fairly well probably affected my response to its museum. If it had been a place I know less well, the museum may not have resonated as much with me. A couple of days previously, I was in Perth. I like Perth – it’s a douce, prim sort of town, a traditional market sort of place. Its highlights for me are the Fergusson Gallery, dedicated to the work of Colourist artist JD Fergusson, and Huntingtower Castle, which sits just at the other side of the A9 at the edge of the city. This time I went to the Fergusson, where there was a good exhibition linking Fergusson to Charles Rennie Mackintosh (on until 29th January 2018, incidentally) and for a daunder along the Tay. On the way back, I hit Perth Museum and Art Gallery, which sits in an elegant building with pillars and an atrium just up from the river. The first time I went to Perth Museum was a few years ago and I remember being struck by how dated its displays were. Some of the displays about the local area were produced in 1990. This was well into the noughties. I was born in 1989 and at that point I could vote and everything. Thankfully, it has been spruced up since then though it is about to shut for a refurb again. The natural history and geology bit, which is much the same age as I am, was fine though it was hard to get into. It was a lot of reading, which is fine, though not knowing Perthshire very well or much about its geography or wildlife, I was a bit lost. The current exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science (on until 4th November) was great, with lots of taxidermy on show as well as good, absorbing exhibition panels about the society’s activities. I go to enough exhibitions to know when a curator has had fun putting an exhibition together and the curator at Perth had clearly been loving their work, displaying all these stuffed animals in such a way that really stood out.

Perth Museum

Scotland is far more than Edinburgh and Glasgow. Or indeed more than Loch Ness or Stirling Castle. It is those places that aren’t always obvious. One of the best museums in the country is the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath, another is Broughty Castle Museum in Broughty Ferry, just outside Dundee. The other day I was thinking about being at the opening of the museum in Musselburgh a few years ago, which manages to combine a whole lot of the history of that fine burgh in a space about the size of a newsagents. There are still loads I haven’t seen. For years, I’ve been meaning to go to the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright, which is apparently from a bygone age, and indeed to the Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura. It’s a fairly difficult part of the world to get to, Dumfries and Galloway – as written about a wee while ago in Awkward – so it will probably be a while until I get there. I still haven’t been to Eyemouth Museum, which has a good collection about fishing, despite it being fairly close to Dunbar, where I grew up.

This is why I am in no particular hurry to travel abroad. Where I live, or near to it, is interesting enough already. The museums especially.

 

Advertisements

Streets of Glasgow: Renfield Street


The idea to do another Streets of Glasgow came on the train into town. I was due to go somewhere else but I had 40 minutes to kill before the train. Then the deliberation over which street to do. In the proximity of Central Station, I had already done Gordon Street, Buchanan Street and Queen Street, but that leaves quite a bit of choice. I ended up walking out of Central and happened to look left. I thought ‘hey, Renfield Street’. For those who don’t know, Glasgow city centre is arranged on a grid. On a map, Renfield Street is vertical, going from Union Street through the town up into Cowcaddens. From the junction at Union Street, I could see the top of Renfield Street, the offices of the Herald up there and all the traffic and people in between.


It was lunchtime on a weekday so naturally Renfield Street was very busy. I had to take particular care not to get in anyone’s road as I looked up or snapped away. My main impression of Renfield Street was of its scale. From street-level, the buildings seemed medium-sized, only growing towards the top, particularly when all the buildings are dwarfed by the massive Cineworld, which may well still hold the record for the tallest cinema in the world. The street seemed to be a hodge-podge of different styles, some red sandstone buildings with finials and stylistic touches, others more modern with advertising on the corner (Yorkshire Building Society at Gordon Street, Tennants Lager at Sauchiehall Street), still others grey office blocks. I also had a sense of a few more derelict buildings, including an old cinema which may well become offices. Given that Glasgow once had a very high number of cinemas and picture houses, it seems grimly ironic. Also on this walk I passed by the old BHS shop feeling sorry for itself and Sauchiehall Street, which always seems down-at-heel compared to Buchanan Street and Argyle Street.


When I reached the Pavilion Theatre, I looked at the listings, including a play about Paul Gascoigne and, since we’re marching through October, the Christmas panto. Over the door of the Pavilion are the words ‘Scotland’s National Theatre of Variety’, which I like as a selling point. About books, I’m of the school that as long as people are reading, it doesn’t matter what they read. On theatre, I am much the same. There are people who look down on variety theatre, just as there are those who think plays and productions staged at the Tron or the Citizens Theatre are not for the likes of them. As long as people enjoy it, then the job’s a good ‘un, as they say. The Citizens Theatre, which is in the Gorbals area of the city, does good work reaching out to its community, providing discounted tickets and running initiatives for folk in the Gorbals and beyond to get involved in drama. All too often we get hung up on these things without trying them. Whatever works.


At the top of Renfield Street are the offices for the Herald newspapers. Next door used to be STV until they moved to Pacific Quay, the site now occupied by Tesco Bank. From outside the Herald offices, a bit higher up, there was a great view back down to Union Street. I stood there for a few minutes watching the city move back around me. Right by the Herald offices is what I thought was a war memorial, looking quite like a mercat cross, topped with an unicorn. though it turned out it was a drinking fountain donated by the merchant and publican William Annan in 1915. It used to stand elsewhere in Cowcaddens until the whole place was levelled. Drinking fountains were once prevalent across the city with others in Townhead, Govan and Alexandra Parade, that I’ve seen.

I have had an interest in the media for a long time and I’ve noticed lately how a lot of newspaper offices in particular have been scaled down with the demise of print sales. The Herald offices also house advertising and web businesses, as do the Daily Record premises by the river. I noticed, however, that the front of 200 Renfield Street advertised that it was the home of The HeraldSunday Herald and the Evening Times but there was no mention of The National, another of the Herald and Times Group’s newspapers, launched in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. I am unsure about what I think about Scottish independence and writing this in the week following the horrific events that surrounded the Catalonian independence referendum, I am quite firmly of the view that all views should be represented and listened to. The National fills a void since only its stablemate the Sunday Herald is also sympathetic to independence. Our politics is more polarised than ever before with a complete lack of empathy or listening. People get their news in a great variety of ways but their views still often come from their newspapers, or rather the way the news is framed in the case of online. Pluralism isn’t a bad thing.


Renfield Street was very busy when I was there, with constant traffic, cars, buses and people out on their lunch. It is one of Glasgow’s urban canyons, a long narrow street lined by tall buildings though not as claustrophobic as Hope Street, in my experience. It has a lot more to it than it seems, just like every other street in this great city, with more to be gained from looking in at what stands there as much as looking up. Not bad for a notion stood at the traffic lights.

 

Wemyss Bay/Largs

Given a choice, I don’t tend to do much on Sundays. It is one of the easiest days just to say no to the world and not go out. Sometimes I do, occasionally venturing to Kelvingrove or the West End. A couple of Sundays ago, I was watching one of the All The Stations videos on YouTube and I had a notion to go to Wemyss Bay. Luckily, one of my local stations, Hillington East, has a direct service to Wemyss Bay on a Sunday and despite the rain, I found myself tootling along to the station and on a train along the coast. The Inverclyde line is quite underrated. Beyond Bishopton, the line hugs the coast for much of the route, with an excellent view across the Clyde to Bowling, Dumbarton, Helensburgh and Kilcreggan. Towards Wemyss Bay, Bute comes into view though on this particular Sunday the Clyde was choppy and grey with low rainclouds shielding Rothesay from my gaze. Thankfully Wemyss Bay station was its usual splendour, all glass, curves and hanging baskets. I wasn’t tempted onto the ferry this time, instead just looking down the curved walkway to the ferry for a moment before stepping outside. I looked across to Bute and Rothesay through the wet and gloom before swiftly deciding to catch the waiting McGills bus down the coast to Largs, following the coast road with its curves and view to Bute and Cumbrae.


Despite having grown up by the sea, unaccountably I hadn’t been near waves for a little while. I swiftly put that right by setting off along the coast at Largs. Soon, though, the wind and driving rain was doing its job to wash my spirit clean, even while one side of my face was much colder and wetter than the other. There came a point that I decided to call it quits and I ended up heading for a coffee shop to warm up.


The train back up the road took me up another of the nicest lines in Scotland, particularly the bit from West Kilbride to Saltcoats looking over the Clyde to Arran. The road is beautiful, the train is even nicer, a little higher up. The sun peeked over the cloud though Arran wasn’t entirely visible. Having lived in the west of Scotland for four years, I realised on the way north how many of the stations I passed through had some sort of resonance in my life, either through work or other travels. They have become more than just names on a map. It was a nice, brief sort of adventure, a good Sunday kind and hopefully to be repeated some time soon.

Down the harbour 


The other day I was in Dunbar. Remarkably it was my first visit to my home town in about six months, not out of avoiding the place but just life intervening. Earlier this year, I had received an e-mail from the Dunbar Shore Neighbourhood Group, or as I like to think of them ‘the Shories’ after I had written about the Creel Loaders sculpture which sits on Victoria Street. The Shories had furnished me with a press release about their project redeveloping Lamer Island or what I know as the Battery, which is at the other side of the new harbour. I had been planning a trip through anyway but I particularly wanted to see the Battery. I had seen photos of it on Facebook but wanted to see it in person.


Dunbar is famous for being the birthplace of the conservationist John Muir but it is also notable for being the site of the first Methodist church in Scotland and where Robert Wilson came from. Wilson came up with the screw propeller and a sculpture of a propeller sits on the way down to the harbour from the Pool. I’ve always liked it. Anyway, the harbour was fairly quiet save for a few folk working on their boats and some walkers. Since my last trip, the Harbour Trust had put up lots of information boards telling of the history, wildlife and what you can do at and around the harbour. My personal favourite was the one explaining about the numbers boats carry. For those uninitiated, fishing boats are required to display a number based on their port of registration, for example KY120, which indicates that the vessel was registered in Kirkcaldy. The nearest customs house to Dunbar is now Leith, however I gather that Glasgow is one too, though in my extensive harbour visiting experience, I haven’t see any GW boats.


The bridge was down so I walked over to the Battery, up a shiny new path which had various notable dates and events etched onto it. On the way back down, I tried to think of another event in each year and managed most of them. It’s a geek thing. The first thing I saw through the archway was a set of new wooden steps which bore the names of the various Sea Areas which appear on the Shipping Forecast, or at least those in the east of Britain. Anything after Portland (Plymouth, Biscay, FitzRoy, Trafalgar, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes and South East Iceland, incidentally) was nowhere to be seen, which is probably about right given Dunbar is quite firmly in the east. It didn’t stop me reciting the rest of them as I walked round to see the rest of the Battery. I began at the side where I found an interesting information pillar about the shipping disasters that had happened while there was a fever hospital on Lamer Island. Also present and correct was the inevitable quote from John Muir, an apposite one from the very beginning of The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, all about Muir’s very beginnings up the street.


Up the steps were a set of glass cubes, which reflected nicely on the grass. Their sculptor was Donald Urquhart, also behind the landing light pillars in Dysart, which I like a lot more to be honest. Over the wall was an incredible view towards St. Abbs Head. Rather wonderfuly, by the views to St. Abbs Head, the Bass Rock and the Isle of May was a plaque with a poetic or otherwise traditional quote about each place. My particular favourite was the one pointing towards the May, which read:

‘Boys come from the Bass Rock and girls from the Isle of May’

I hadn’t heard that one for years. I have been to the Isle of May but had forgotten that it was also where girls come from, not Venus.


The part of the Battery nearest the entrance had some hardy scrub with blocks bearing more interesting facts. I was very impressed by the job that had been done over there by the Shories, providing a good insight into the Battery as well as into the history and lore of Dunbar, with some interesting art thrown in for good measure. I hadn’t been over there for years but I was glad that while work had been done, the ruined nature of the Battery was still there, meaning it didn’t feel completely alien to a Dunbar escapee like myself who had grown up about ten minutes away. The harbour was looking good with a few folk dotting around even on a brisk October afternoon. We can never forget where we have come from, even while we may now live far away. Since I came from the Bass Rock, apparently, it’s only natural that, like its resident seabirds, I get called back now and then.

 

Digest: September 2017

View from Portobello to East Lothian
September was a fairly quiet month, travel-wise, with most of my forays out for football. My first trip out of the west in September didn’t come until Saturday 16th September, when Hibs played Motherwell at Easter Road. I took a diversion on the way to the ground to the Eastern Cemetery, to visit the grave of Dan McMichael, the manager of Hibs when they won the Cup in 1902. McMichael’s grave wasn’t marked until 2013, made right by the efforts of the St Patrick’s Hibs supporters club. He had died during an epidemic of Spanish flu in 1919 and due to the numbers of folk succumbing, graves weren’t being marked. It’s an interesting story and I’ve written a post which will appear in the coming month about that walk.

Dan McMichael’s grave in the Eastern Cemetery, Edinburgh
The following day was Doors Open Day in Glasgow and my dad and I went to various places across this great city. The first was an unexpected surprise, a curious step into a memorial garden dedicated to the victims of the Arandora Star sinking in 1940. Scotland is a very multicultural country and particularly over the last 200 years, we have seen people come here from all across the world. Many of them were Italians. During the Second World War, however, Italy and the UK were at war and many Italians living in Scotland were interned or sent off to Australia or Canada. Some of them were on the Arandora Star, which was sunk by a German vessel off the coast of Donegal. The garden featured tall mirrored glass pieces around a water feature. This was to symbolise the elegance of the liner and the torpedo coming in to sink it. The glass featured various apposite Biblical and poetic quotations. Around the walls of the garden were plaques about Catholicism in Scotland as well as about the Arandora Star. On Doors Open Day, there was a mannie there talking about the Arandora Star and he was excellent. The garden is open every day and I urge people to go have a look. We walked along the river to the Riverside Museum, a fine place but absolutely mobbed since it was a nice Sunday in September. As we came past the SECC, we could see and hear lots of sirens from the Riverside. Given that the Parsons Green bomb had been left on the London Underground only a couple of days previously, we could be forgiven for being on edge but it turned out that the emergency services were at the Riverside as part of Doors Open Day. After lunch, we went across town to Provan Hall, in Easterhouse, a couple of manor houses dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, now managed by Glasgow City Council. Stevie, the tour guide, was amazing, giving an incredible tour which brought the place alive and it was a true Horrible Histories-style tour, probably the best I’ve had in a long while. Back across town to the Botanics and we had a wander there before dinner.

Arandora Star garden, Glasgow

Provan Hall
The following Tuesday night I was back in Edinburgh for football. I travelled through a bit sharper and had a meander around the New Town. I stopped for a few minutes to admire the sphinxes on top of the Royal Scottish Academy on the Mound, which I hadn’t really looked at before. I took a turn around Charlotte Square, now recovering from the Book Festival, and towards Northumberland Street, Broughton Street and Forth Street. On a whim I decided to go along Annandale Street to see where the Lothian Buses depot is, which is a series of big sheds with the logo of the various Lothian companies on the front of one of them. On the way was an Islamic centre with various interesting quotes etched on the side.

Royal Scottish Academy
That Saturday Hibs were playing Ross County in Dingwall, a place I had never been to before. I got a bus to Inverness and had a walk along the river before getting the train to Dingwall. I’ve been watching a YouTube series called All The Stations recently (more about that in the upcoming posts about Wemyss Bay and also the one called Stations) and that stretch of line, including Beauly which has a very short platform, was quite familiar to me from that with the Cromarty Firth to the right as the train moved to Dingwall. Dingwall itself is a nice market town though the football seemed to be the main event in the place. The bus ride back to Glasgow was very long but pleasant just to read and write.

I was off that Monday so I decided to go off to Edinburgh. On the way, I decided to take a diversion via ferry. Over the summer, the Govan Workspace was running a free ferry shuttle from Govan to the Riverside Museum just across the Clyde and to my discredit, I had not been on it despite bunging them some money. I decided to put that to rights and I enjoyed my 30-second journey immensely, despite the grey and the gloom. I got a train from Partick to Queen Street then another to Edinburgh, where I had decided to go for a walk in Holyrood Park. I am not a climber so Arthur’s Seat was not on the agenda. I decided instead to walk up to Dunsapie, up the back of Arthur’s Seat, familiar to me from walks from my primary school, which is about a mile away. I sat there on a rock for a while before heading back down. I got a bus from Meadowbank back into town and spent a very enjoyable hour in the National Museum of Scotland, lightly grazing and wandering rather than getting bogged down in one display in particular. NMS is one of those places where I can only concentrate for so long since it has a lot of stuff. I had forgotten how good NMS is in its breadth and depth.

Govan ferry

Dunsapie

National Museum of Scotland

Millennium Clock, National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland
On Saturday, Hibs were playing at Celtic Park. I walked there from Central Station, particularly liking being around Glasgow Cross with its tolbooth spire and high buildings.

Glasgow Cross
So, that’s September. I was off for the start of October so a few posts have resulted from those adventures which will appear in the coming days. Thanks again to all readers for their comments, likes and follows. Toodle pip.

Posts published –

Morrison’s Haven

Walk this way

Cardonald

Membership

When you’ve written better before

Names

My favourite beach: Belhaven

Reading more often

Brougham Castle

Glasgow vs. Edinburgh

Make it rain

Signposts

Murals in Paisley

Hello once more,

This is another archive post, this time about Paisley’s murals. There have been a few others added since and only last week Paisley formally submitted its bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021. The original field has been whittled down to a select few. Also last week was a debate in the Scottish Parliament not only about Paisley 2021 but also about Dundee’s bid to be European City of Culture in 2023. Both to be encouraged.

Sunday’s post is brand new, a digest of my doings in September. Thereafter I have a few new posts in the next few weeks, including two new Streets of Glasgow rovings. Stay tuned.

IMG_4386
Paisley Town Hall

The race to be the UK City of Culture in 2021 is currently underway. There are a grand total of eleven areas bidding, including two in Scotland, Paisley and Perth. Some place called the Hundred of Dewisland is also bidding, which I gather from a quick Google search is in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Every day is a school day. Paisley is a place I have come to know well over the last couple of years and there have been quite a lot of different things going on in support of the bid. One is that St. Mirren FC’s ground was renamed the Paisley 2021 Stadium. Another is the emergence of various murals around Paisley town centre. On the way to a work thing today, on a scorching hot afternoon, I took a detour down Causeyside Street and took in three of them, one celebrating the 30th anniversary of St. Mirren winning the Scottish Cup, another slightly psychedelic and the third showing a girl wearing a pair of sunglasses reflecting the Paisley skyline and a top bearing the words ‘Spread your wings’. Anything showing the Scottish Cup is fine by my book, even though it is no longer calling Easter Road home. Chick Young of BBC Scotland also appears, since apparently he’s a St. Mirren fan. I liked the one on Storie Street a lot more, the one with the girl with Paisley in her eyes. It depicts a real girl, Eva Rose Ross, who was chosen after a public competition. Other murals appear around Paisley town centre, including a few on gable ends, and at some point I will share some more here. But in the meantime, if you are in Paisley, go have a wander. There are some very handsome buildings and some even better art on show.

IMG_4393IMG_4399IMG_4400IMG_4403

For more information on Paisley’s bid to be the UK City of Culture, please see http://www.paisley2021.co.uk/.

Thinking about a wander

Hello again,

Another archive post tonight, this time from 26th April this year, about walking in a dear, perpetual place. Thursday’s couldn’t be more different, a post written on the hoof about Paisley.

The very first post on this blog, way back in August 2015, was a dwam about vivid memories of places that occur to you seemingly without warning:

‘I was just thinking about a place near where I grew up in East Lothian. Just outside Dunbar is the John Muir Country Park, stretching from Dunbar Castle to Tyninghame. It is a very varied place, encompassing golf courses, beaches and an animal park. I spent a lot of time there as a kid. Anyway, the particular part of the park that came to mind a few minutes ago is at the far end of the dump road, where it meets the Biel Burn near West Barns. There is a bridge there, leading towards the sand dunes or the firs, what is locally known as ‘John Muir’, and I was just thinking of walking there. It is nearly always muddy and usually smells rank (there is a water treatment works nearby) but the path leads to good places, whichever way you take.’

I hadn’t been there in years, in fact well before I moved to Glasgow. When I was in Dunbar recently, I hadn’t planned to be out there at all but when I was walking around the Prom, I looked across Belhaven Bay and saw the trees. I didn’t plan to walk so far, though, across what the map calls the Hedderwick Plantation but what I know as ‘John Muir’. I did because I was just enjoying setting one foot before another. I haven’t been there in quite a few years – I now live at the other side of the country, I have done many jobs since – but as soon as I got past the Linkfield car park, my feet guided me through the woods as if I had just been there the day before, feeling utterly at home, recognising paths leading this way and that. Even the smells were familiar, tree smells and from the beach across the dunes. There were a few folk in the woods but not nearly as many as were across the way in the East Links farm park looking at llamas and that. It was their loss. After a few minutes, I was alone and I felt utterly content, thrilled to be in a place where I spent a lot of time as a kid and finding it had changed not a bit in the intervening decade.

IMG_3614

IMG_3609

I soon reached the bridge. I had seen a photo of it a few days ago on Facebook and it must have stuck in my brain. I have long thought that if ever I get a memorial bench, by that bridge would be where it would go. It is a very secluded place, at the back of Hedderwick, right by the mouth of the river Tyne, looking across towards Tyninghame Links and up into East Lothian, with Traprain Law, Pencraig Hill and the Hopetoun Monument. It was remarkably still when I was there, save some runners and a guy walking his dogs, and I loved being there, especially because they have plonked a bench there, randomly as part of the Legacy 2014 project following the Commonwealth Games. I live in the big city and there are times when I feel overwhelmed by that, the noise, hustle, bustle and all round madness. Sitting right there I felt very far from all that, with the bird noises and the Isle of May out in the distance across the dunes. I rested my feet and looked at my OS map, wondering for a moment about whether I could walk the 4 miles more to East Linton. In the end, I decided against it, wanting to enjoy the rest of the long loop around the edge of the trees and walk back along the dump road to the Prom and back to the train. Eventually, I set off again, once more letting my feet guide me, stopping to look at the tank traps and old huts from the Second World War and generally letting my mind wander further.

IMG_3617IMG_3581IMG_3619

I walked back to Dunbar station, another few miles, some of them rainy, naturally smack dab in the middle of the golf course at Winterfield. The dump road I wrote about in this blog’s first post was on the route and I stopped a minute looking across Seafield Pond towards the old Battleblent Hotel and West Barns. On the way along, there was a heron on the pond. As I was reaching for my phone to get a photo, the heron got up and flew over the wall, a clear lesson as to why sometimes you should just capture the scene in your mind’s eye. When I reached the Prom it was wet but I didn’t really care. I had loved the walk, with not so many thoughts but a song going through my head (‘Clash Of The Ash’ by Runrig, incidentally, which I have just learned is about shinty) and stopping now and then for a photo.

IMG_3567

Sometimes memories are difficult to live up to. Places you once liked, that had resonance, don’t rise to the expectations placed on them. I was glad just to be there, for a step out of my life and for the walk to be so deeply familiar, those paths ingrained in my memory, not just in my mind but almost in my feet as I was led on almost without conscious thought into a place I knew so well.

Fidget

Hello,

I am currently on a week’s leave so rather than go through a hiatus like I did in August, I thought I would share a few older posts from the blog archive, beginning with this one, about fidget toys. Since I wrote this one, a fidget spinner was left at my work and I can be found playing with it on occasion. Still doesn’t beat a pen, though.

The next three posts, appearing on Wednesday, Friday and a week from now, will be about a walk in a dear, perpetual place, murals in Paisley and an urban ramble. Suitably varied, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As befits someone who spends a lot of life writing, I carry at least two pens at pretty much all times. Of course this is also useful when I am working since libraries never have a functioning pen when one is so required. They are also useful for when I need to find what the scientists call local coherence, or in other words when I feel slightly awkward or overwhelmed and need to focus on something else. Just yesterday I was at a social gathering and I took out a pen, just for a second, and pressed its top, open and close, just once. It didn’t involve much conscious thought and it was all done in a matter of moments. I even do it sometimes walking along the street. I used to get told off before going to job interviews for always having a pen in my hand. But then again not having a pen in my hand might have led to Donald Trump-esque hand gestures to emphasise whatever points I was trying to make so there’s always an argument to be made on both sides.

IMG_3885
Pens
It’s why I just laugh when I see kids with the latest in-thing, fidget toys. I’m autistic. I’m the king of fidget toys. At various points, I’ve experimented with figurines of Wallace (from Wallace and Gromit), keyrings, S-loops that are used to hang paintings and elastic bands. Indeed I went to the gym recently with an elastic band still around my wrist from work. Fidget toys are interesting looking, sort of like a safety protector for a plug socket but flat. I have seen shops around the place with signs saying ‘Fidget Toys Sold Here’ and it makes me grin broadly each and every time.

It’s strange seeing the world slowly come round to one’s way of thinking. At the moment designer stubble is fashionable. Shaving too often bothers my skin so I inadvertently keep to that particular trend. A wee while ago, ‘geek chic’ was all the rage. I’ve had glasses since I was 10 and I don’t dress like David Gandy anyway. Or look like him or any other male model. That wasn’t a problem either. When I joined Facebook a few months ago, I found that people I went to school with spent their weekends with their families going around castles. Castlebagging is a real term to describe this thoroughly intellectually and spiritually enriching pursuit. It was written about in the papers a few years back and at the time I felt momentarily irritated at the thought of carpetbaggers filling up good castles when I had some of them to myself for years.

dscn2139
Castle. This one is Warkworth, in Northumberland
Recently the (very worth reading) Anonymously Autistic blogger shared a link on Twitter to a Kickstarter for something called a Fidgi Pen, or a fidget toy disguised as a pen. I didn’t know there was funding available. I just buy pens and they do the business. As I was thinking of what to write next just now, I played about with a Berol Handwriting pen that I bought in a pack of three from the supermarket for a couple of pounds. No disguise required.

It isn’t always easy to know when you fit in. I am 27 now and I have reached a point when I somehow function in society just fine. I wear clothes for comfort rather than fashion. My glasses were expensive but that’s because I need them to see. I wear Skechers shoes (as written about here – other shoes are available) because they are comfortable and don’t hurt my feet. I generally do okay with people. I am not that confident but that’s okay. Indeed with some people that makes the situation more bearable. In society more generally, the fact that fidget toys are popular with neurotypical bairns can only be welcome. We can only hope that the world changes ever more to embrace our unique way of thinking, rather than just tolerate or accommodate it.

Signposts

I grew up not far from the A1. For those unfamiliar with that particular highway, it goes from Edinburgh to London with a few points in between when it becomes a motorway. At Dunbar, north was signposted as Edinburgh, south Berwick, both about 30 miles away. South of Berwick was Alnwick then Newcastle then Durham, if memory serves. Journeys were always bigger when the signs changed and far-off places not only appeared on signs and mile markers but were reached and passed by en route. To this day, I still get excited by the inklings of long journeys on road signs and train departure boards. They are a tantalising glimpse of what lies over the next horizon, even if the reality is much more prosaic than first imagined.

I am writing this on the way back from watching Hibs play Ross County in Dingwall. I’ve been to Inverness before but great swathes of the country north and west of Inverness are unknown territory. My sole trip north of the Kessock Bridge before today was about five or six years ago, a bus trip to Orkney (post here and Islands) which left Inverness at an agriculturally early hour and returned well after dark. The bus hugged the coast road until John o’Groats where we got the ferry to Orkney. Apart from that, it’s unknown, which was why I was childishly excited that my train to Dingwall was going on to Kyle of Lochalsh, a line which becomes a lot more rugged with lots of little stations with long, complex Gaelic names. Recently I’ve been into a YouTube series called All The Stations, where a London couple, Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe, filmed their endeavours to reach all 2,563 stations on the rail network. Some of their videos took in the Far North Line I found myself on earlier, including one filmed at Beauly, which has one of the shortest platforms in Britain. Watch it, if you can. There’s a fair few adventures percolating around my head as a result. The football was worth not going further to Kyle and Skye, even while I was tempted.


On the bus back, the road from Dingwall soon reached the A9. There was a road sign pointing left to Thurso and Wick, a good 100 miles up the road. Serious temptation and I may need to yield to it sometime. Even better was a sign I spied in Inverness city centre pointing towards Ullapool, Wick, Aberdeen and Perth, much of the country encapsulated and dismissed by a single road sign pointing left. Such a sign suggests possibilities. I know Aberdeen and Perth well enough that I’ve never been to Ullapool and there can be found ferries to the islands and palm trees. Wick I’ve been through so I can comfortably say I’m not overly fussed about returning. It’s still a possibility. It’s like the sign on the front in Oban pointing towards Campbeltown, which is about 80 miles away but still in Argyll and Bute. A trip to Campbeltown isn’t something I would actively encourage, incidentally, but there are beautiful places on the way, like Tarbert and Machrihanish.


There’s something exciting about just picking up and going as far as you can go. I live in Glasgow so the furthest I can go in a single journey by train varies from Mallaig, Oban and Inverness to the north and London, Bristol and Penzance to the south. I’ve done Oban, Inverness and London so far, though the others elude me as yet. The problem is getting to these places and realising they have untold possibilities of their own, just waiting to be explored. Thankfully for my energy levels not to mention my bank balance, there are only so many hours in the day. There’s always another horizon, though, and a way to cross it, even if it might take longer to come back, even if I might never actually reach it. Very often wonder is good enough.

Make it rain

The island of Iona has always felt very far away, especially as I write this with the sound of passing cars and air conditioning prominent in the background. Iona is a little island to the west of Mull, not quite as far as you can go in Scotland but far enough to be going with. I’ve been twice, both very briefly but long enough to have a deep and lasting affection for the place. Before I ever went there, I saw it through paintings and read of it in the history books, of monks and sacred books once made there as well as golden beaches and clear waters crashing on them. The first time I was there it was grey, cloudy and not massively warm despite it being high summer. What I remember, though, was sitting on the end of the pier, or on the dock of the bay to quote Otis Redding, and looking down into the water lapping against the harbour. It was beautiful and clear, a phosphorescent light upon the sea there with only a wee bit of seaweed, kelp mostly, to reduce the view to the seabed.

My second visit was more memorable. I had moved to Glasgow by that point and I had learned of the connection between Govan, not too far from where I live now, to the formation of the Iona Community in 1938. It was also the day when we got absolutely soaked walking from one end of the island to another, with no protection or shelter from the elements. All we could do was trudge on and get wetter. Nearly four years on, I still don’t think I’m fully dry. I had never encountered rain like that. In towns and cities, you are never far from some form of shelter. Iona is an island with nothing between it and the Atlantic. It, therefore, doesn’t have a lot of trees. Neither does it have bus shelters since it isn’t on a bus route. It was raining incredibly heavily for about 15 minutes as we looked for a path and gaps in fences to get towards the Abbey, our clothes heavier by the minute and yet our spirits not dimmed. I certainly remember feeling more alive, in the best traditions of mindfulness deeply, powerfully and inextricably linked to where I was at that particular moment of time. I couldn’t have cared just then. It was a sensation of ‘this is happening. You are here. Deal with it’, and a reminder of the transience of our lives, that nothing, no weather or anything else, is permanent, even if it sometimes seems so.

100_3833100_3821100_3787

By the time we reached the Abbey, dripping, sodden, waterlogged, the sun had come out. I remember making a beeline for the cloisters, which had been sculpted in the restoration of the Abbey with swans and birds on each of the pillars. I also recall walking around the quiet, monumental kirkyard, where numerous Kings of Scots are buried as well as the late Labour leader John Smith. The Abbey itself is a grey church inside, more interesting for where it is than what’s inside. Iona is one of those places where being outside is best, though, even when it rains, especially when it rains, really. Sitting on the dock of the bay is a good, vivid memory and even while I’m far from it, to slightly misquote W.B. Yeats, I feel it in the deep heart’s core.