Streets of Glasgow: Cathedral Street

I’ve written here before about Edwin Morgan, a poet who wrote about many things, most notably about Glasgow, the city which he called home. As I started onto Cathedral Street, I thought about Morgan’s poem ‘The Second Life’, which is a meditation of a man in his forties about the city changing about him, regenerating and growing anew.

‘Many things are unspoken

in the life of a man, and with a place

there is an unspoken love also

in undercurrents, drifting, waiting its time.

A great place and its people are not renewed lightly.’

Glasgow is awash with development right now. It cannot be denied, however, that there are still problems and places and people in this city which are not being renewed. Cathedral Street changes every time I see it, seeing new buildings springing up regularly as part of the City of Glasgow College and Strathclyde University. It is a part of the city which has waited its time, though, with old 60s concrete replaced by swish glass and colourful designs. At the moment it is a work in progress with cranes, boards and construction happening all around.

I started from the Cathedral Precinct, stopping to scribble notes from the previous Alexandra Parade walk and get my breath back. I paused by the statue of David Livingstone, a much far-flung sort of adventurer, which I hadn’t really paid much attention to before. I also noticed for the first time a plaque dedicated to those who perished in the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. I remembered the beautiful Piper Alpha memorial which sits in the Kirk of St. Nicholas in Aberdeen and I was glad that my city had a small but thought-provoking memorial to those 167 people who died in the middle of the North Sea.

As I neared the junction with Stirling Road, where the Strathclyde University Library is, I distinctly heard skirling pipes. Not a single piper but a full band. As I looked to my left, into the student accommodation, I could see there was indeed a full pipe band, not all in Highland dress but in T-shirts and kilts, playing in the quadrangle. Whatever gets them through the shift. The World Pipe Band Championships take place in the city in the coming weeks so they may have been here for that.

There were also pipes in the street, with much of the section between Montrose Street and North Hanover Street being dug up. This was genuinely interesting, seeing the layers of the street and what lies underneath. Archaeologists getting in there would have a rare old time.

At that point, new buildings came thick and fast, the new City of Glasgow College building sandwiched between two in progress, one for the College and the other for Strathclyde University. The City of Glasgow College building is massive, with a huge frontage with stairs leading up the side of the building and lots of glass facing onto Cathedral Street.

Cathedral Street ends at the junction of Buchanan Street and Bath Street. Bath Street, which continues heading west, will be for another time. This time I stopped to look at the vast glass arch of Queen Street Station. Where at the start I heard pipes, now all I could hear was the booming PA of the railway station announcing the latest service to Edinburgh. I was heading for a train, not for the capital this time, but first to finish the walk, under Buchanan Galleries, another modern development in a street full of them, a couple of generations worth anyway and changing with every day that passes.

Sources and further reading –

Morgan, Edwin – ‘The Second Life’, published in New Selected Poems, 2000, Manchester: Carcanet

Places that can’t be reached by public transport

Recently I visited Elcho Castle for the first time. It’s a fine place, just by the river Tay not far outside of Perth. Elcho had been on my list for many years but to be fair Elcho isn’t the easiest place to get to. I got there by car but I don’t drive. I don’t plan to either. There’s enough cars and enough motorists without me. Besides I’m a bit of a daydreamer so one wrong move and I would end up in the Clyde. That’s not an optimal scenario, to be honest, so I’ll keep to the buses and the trains. It’s only when places like Elcho are on the to-do list that I begin to reconsider it. Elcho is in a beautiful part of Perthshire, by a village called Rhynd. As far as I can see, Rhynd doesn’t have a bus service. Its nearest town, Bridge of Earn, is 4.6 miles away, a decent walk along a country lane. That’s 4.6 miles one way so if I wanted to get there by my own steam, a 9 mile round trip would be required on foot without considering the journey to get to Bridge of Earn and anything else I might actually want to do that day. Sometimes it’s worth going places with someone who drives.

I can off-road it and have done quite a few times. One of the earliest was in 2010 when I went to Crichton Castle, about 2 miles from Pathhead in Midlothian. I got the bus to Pathhead then walked from there, along another of those country lanes out of the village and towards the hamlet of Crichton. I turned right and walked further down by the church and soon the castle came into view. Crichton is one of my favourite castles, in a dramatic setting high above a valley with precious little urban sprawl to be seen. I’ve been quite a few times though mainly by car. That day I remember for having walked along farm tracks to and from the castle and then going to see In The Loop, the Armando Iannucci film featuring Malcolm Tucker, now of course only the second best-known character portrayed by Peter Capaldi.

Another one that still eludes me is Kellie Castle, not far from Pittenweem in Fife. It is a National Trust castle so a building with a roof and generally jolly volunteers, as befits an NTS property. I’ve wanted to go for a while, partly because it is in one of my favourite parts of the planet but also because of the castle itself, which appears in two of the nicest paintings in Kirkcaldy Art Gallery by John Henry Lorimer, whose family also owned the castle. The NTS website advises me that there is a Flexibus that can be booked from Anstruther but being a person who doesn’t always operate to a plan and indeed often works on the hoof, booking a bus in advance might not work for me. According to Google Maps, it is a 3-mile walk from Pittenweem, taking just over an hour but with an ascent of 180 feet. Not one for a hot day then.

The one I really want to see is Hermitage Castle. I’ve wanted to go for years. It looks amazing, in the middle of a moor with a history of Border reivers and, inevitably, once visited by Mary, Queen of Scots. If a queen and her court could make it there in the 1560s, surely I could in 2017 with all the trappings of modern life. I have just been looking at the bus timetables to try and get there, which involve getting a train to Carlisle then a bus to Newcastleton or Hawick then another bus from there, and it is giving me a sore head, full of caveats and conditions that buses only run Mondays to Fridays or on Fridays during the school holidays. It will happen, I’ll make sure of it, but I am scunnered if I can figure out exactly how.

One place that is far easier, despite being a mile from a bus stop, is Dryburgh Abbey in the Borders. I was there in July, having got the bus to St. Boswells and walked along the Tweed to the Abbey. I remember the first time I went. I was with my auntie and we asked the bus drivers at St Boswells for directions. Bad move. They didn’t have a clue, being people whose legs had four wheels on them. Luckily I now know better and the walk is part of the experience, a part of the day I look forward to rather than just being just a means to an end.

I am always excited to visit new places, particularly those which have involved the most effort to be there. I am writing this post in mid-August and at time of writing, I have a few ideas of places I want to get to this year but require a bit of a hoof. Two are in my native county of East Lothian and not so far from each other, the Hopetoun Monument in the Garleton Hills just above Haddington and Chesters Hill Fort near Drem. Drem is on a train line (but has very few buses) and is about a half-hour walk from Chesters. The Hopetoun Monument can be done from Drem but is easier from Haddington or better still the road end, which is infrequently served by buses. Amazingly I haven’t been to either of these places before, despite having grown up not far away. The OS maps have been consulted and I am pretty much waiting for the right day to go about it. I like to walk and it clears my head as well as being good exercise. 9 miles is pushing it, mind, and it’s why some places are just not possible by public transport, as much as I would like them to be.



I recently turned 28. It’s not as easy to find good things to say about being 28 compared to being 27 (which is the age a surprising amount of rock musicians have died) or 26 (the number of letters in the alphabet). Indeed I read the other day that 28 is the age that people decide to ‘grow up’, whatever that means. I don’t plan on it, to be honest, and while I am content to be 28 and be all grown-up, I’m a taxpayer and I have a pension fund and all that stuff, I also don’t want to completely lose the wide-eyed curiosity that makes my life worth living. So, whenever possible, I look at puddles and wonder at the little circles the raindrops make. I walk on low walls and all these things that adults forget to do sometimes. The biggest one is whenever I am near the Royal Scottish Academy building, which sits at the junction of Hanover Street, Princes Street and the Mound. The RSA is in a fine neoclassical building with pillars and steps at the front. There is a section of pavement between the RSA and the street and to my knowledge I have never walked on it. Each and every single time I am there, I make a point of walking up the steps, under the roof and down at the other side. I could say that it is an excuse to see the fine view up Hanover Street to the statue of George IV. It may also be the case that I might be checking out what art exhibitions are on at the RSA. But that wouldn’t be true. I just like walking up stairs and back down them again. It’s like people do in Philadelphia when they imitate Rocky but it’s in Edinburgh and involves about 12 steps in two stages. I notice other people doing it too, for whatever reason, and it gives me a small tinge of hope about the world. Especially now I’m 28 and old.

Streets of Glasgow: Alexandra Parade

Of all the streets in this city, there aren’t very many Parades. There can be parades on them, certainly, but not many bear the name ‘Parade’. Alexandra Parade was chosen for this walk because I happened to be going to Dennistoun anyway and it was a quick and simple route back into the city centre. It starts by Cumbernauld Road in Dennistoun and ends about a mile later by the Royal Infirmary at Castle Street. Unlike some of the streets in this series, Alexandra Parade was entirely new to me, only a name I had heard others speak about or that I had seen on the map. It was also the first street where I had the sweet smell of beer wafting through my nostrils, blowing up from the Tennents Brewery. Not altogether unpleasant, as it happens, despite that I don’t like beer that much.

James Miller designed some very fine buildings in his day, not least the Grand Central Hotel in town and Clydebank Town Hall. St. Andrews East Church isn’t one of them, looking very austere and just like a fortress. Apparently, according to my Pevsner guide, it is ‘an Arts and Crafts interpretation of the late Perp style, with a prominent Westwerk facing Alexandra Parade’. As a connoisseur of castles myself, it looks like it should have gunholes, archers and a portcullis about the place. It may have been the greyness of the day but it just looked grim. The church hall next door, which is now the proper church, looks a bit more appealing, thankfully.

Alexandra Park faces onto the Parade and I admired the flowerbeds around the gates as well as the cherubic figure sitting under a canopy at the park entrance. Glasgow seems to have a few of these kicking around; there’s another at Govan Cross, for example, and this one was painted in red, gold and black.

Much of the walk took me past fine tenement blocks, most in red but some in more yellow sandstone, some with very handsome roof features, domes and finials. As I walked further towards the city centre, I began to imagine this street bustling with people and lined on both sides by staunch, old-fashioned tenements. Not far along was Alexandra Parade Primary School, another handsome Victorian schoolhouse, this one with prominent Art Nouveau style lettering denoting the school’s name and that it was operated by the School Board of Glasgow. At the end of the playground was a decent sized house that may well have housed the school headie or the jannie at one point.

Closer to the city centre the landscape became a bit more modern with office blocks and industrial premises at either side. One of the office blocks, City Park, was previously a tobacco factory, one of quite a few in and around Alexandra Parade at one time. City Park is a colossal building, housing quite a few different companies. It also has some intriguing statues outside it, a male figure on one side and a female figure on the other. I also liked how an old cinema had been turned into a tyre garage. The only clue of its past use was the bold colours and curves on the front of the building, with the garage operating from the side.

Towards the end the M8 was beside me for much of the way, with constantly bustling midday traffic making their way through the city. I soon came to the Royal Infirmary, realising swiftly just how vast a complex it is, with boxy buildings at the eastern side to augment the grander edifice facing onto Castle Street. The hospital was busy too, with folk shuffling in and out and ambulances with their loud caterwauling wails never far away.

Soon I came to Castle Street, the point where Alexandra Parade ended. And, naturally, the rain started, as if just waiting for the walk to be finished. I sheltered for a wee while under a tree in the Cathedral Precinct, scribbling thoughts and reflecting on the walk just undertaken. It was good to be in an unfamiliar part of the city, discovering new architecture and making connections between names and places at last. The contrast between swish Dennistoun and Townhead with the constant whir of traffic made it all the more interesting but in all Alexandra Parade was a good choice, leading me back into the city and another wander about to begin.

Source and further reading –

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press

Dirleton, Seton and a coastal walk

This whole day trip came about because I slept in. I had booked train tickets to Durham but of course I fell back asleep, waking up just too late to get myself up, ready and out the door for the train to Central to take me down south. I did think about getting another ticket, maybe even going via Carlisle as I sometimes like to do, but as the morning went on, I decided on another plan. East Lothian is an easy place for me to go to. It’s where I grew up and over the 24 years I lived there I must have covered most of the county. I had been having notions to go to Dirleton Castle for a wee while and I was soon on the way into the town. I decided to get the bus to Edinburgh, something I do occasionally when I’m not in a rush. The bus was fairly busy and I sat and read most of the way. When I reached Edinburgh, I walked up to Waterloo Place for the North Berwick bus. I still wasn’t quite settled on Dirleton and if the Dunbar bus had come first, I might have been on that. As it was, three East Coast buses came along in quick succession, for North Berwick, Dunbar and Haddington, so I got on the 124 and sat back. The East Lothian buses take probably the nicest route out of the city centre, along Waterloo Place and then Regent Road, past St. Andrew’s House and then the old Royal High School. To the right is the Old Town and Arthur’s Seat beyond. It was a stopping service and the new snazzy East Coast buses announce each stop over the PA system. There were a lot by the time I reached Dirleton since the 124 goes through Portobello, Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry, Aberlady and Gullane. By far the nicest bit of the journey is the stretch from Longniddry to Gullane, hugging the coastline with its gorgeous views over the Forth.

Dirleton is a place I know fairly well. It is prim and proper with a village green and everything. As the late Linda Smith said, it is the kind of place where nothing happens louder than a scone being buttered. Its castle is one of the best in Scotland, a favourite of mine and I’ve been a right few times over the years. I like Dirleton Castle because it is big yet subtle, with lots of good architecture to go with the history and the gardens. It also has some very nice views across East Lothian, to Traprain Law and the Garleton Monument as well as towards North Berwick Law, Fidra and the Isle of May. I spent a good hour there, wandering around and dodging out of the rain. I also managed to find the only bench in the gardens that was completely shaded by a tree, handy when it was beginning to rain pretty heavily.

It was only about 3.30 so I decided to head for Seton Collegiate Church, another Historic Scotland property about fifteen miles down the coast. I had been there only once before, about 7 years ago. I remember it being a muggy summer’s day and I sat for a while in the grounds reading Around The World In Eighty Days (I was in a classics mode at that point, clearly). It was brilliant, insanely peaceful and beautiful despite the rain and the family doing a treasure hunt around the church as I was there. There were all sorts of little touches that made it a pleasure to be there, not least the little handwritten quotes about the plants and water flowing through, plus the toilet which even had reading material. And not just any reading material: the National Geographic. Plus some books. The church was the main event and it was amazing, with stunning architecture and peace seeping from the stonework. The doorway was also an outstanding place to stand to watch the rain for a few minutes, feeling at one with my surroundings in the stillness.

The rain went off as I walked down towards Port Seton, where I had planned to get a 26 bus back to Edinburgh. Instead I walked along by the harbour, now bathed in sunshine as much of the coastline around me looked like it was getting another downpour. I decided to walk on a bit, inhaling food smells from chip shops then a Chinese takeaway as I hit Cockenzie. It was the first time I had been down there since the Power Station was demolished and there was just a crater where once stood a mighty turbine hall and two chimneys that always seemed like they could be seen from space. (Or at least from much of eastern Scotland). I came to Prestonpans and stopped to admire the Burns monument and then the sculpture right by it. I was getting hungry so ended up getting a chippy and sitting down to eat it at Morrison’s Haven, looking over the Forth which now looked less stormy. I had enjoyed the walk from Seton Church, paying close attention to Prestonpans’ murals and remembering local history as I tootled along. It was tinged with some sadness as Cockenzie felt a little lost without its power station, once a major employer in these parts. Now there was only demolition crews doing their work in a vast empty space. At the moment there are no definite plans for what will take the power station’s place. At one point they were talking about establishing a cruise ship terminal, which would certainly make a considerable difference economically. Greenock has one and it has helped the Inverclyde economy no end. Alas not to be.

The best things happen without a plan. The best day trips certainly do. This particular day was carrying on and I wasn’t quite sure what the next step would be. At Dirleton I decided on Seton. At Seton I decided to walk to Port Seton. From there I walked and walked until I came to Prestongrange, at which point time was against me and so were my feet. As much as I love Durham, I was glad I slept in.



Digest: July 2017

July has been busier with work than most months though I am now on leave so can slow down and travel more. I am starting this post on day one of my time off and in the diary I have football in Alloa and a day trip to Durham and Newcastle before the month officially finishes. The blog is even on hiatus until mid-August – this is the first post back – but I will probably be writing a fair bit while I’m off. Not too much, though.

Loch Awe
Kilchurn Castle

So, to the month that was, and July began with a day trip with my dad to Argyll, taking in Benmore Botanic Garden near Dunoon and Kilchurn Castle that bit further north by Loch Awe. It was wet and grey at Benmore but we didn’t care, wandering amidst the trees and up to the shelter at the very top. The sequoias that form the entrance at Benmore are utterly gorgeous and the trip I’ve wanted for many years to Yosemite and Muir Woods in California was being mused about all the more under those fine trees in Argyll. We drove past Inveraray to Kilchurn and managed to park in a lay by just up the road. Kilchurn has long been on my list and it is in a stunning setting at the head of Loch Awe. It was well worth it. Read about this visit here – Kilchurn Castle

I spent an hour or two that week wandering about Glasgow’s West End in the rain, going to Kelvingrove and then to the Botanics, not for the first time pausing by the old railway and wondering what else lies under these city streets. Last week I was watching a documentary about the new Crossrail project in London and it was interesting to hear about what had been found about life in that great metropolis in centuries past.

Temple of Muses
Dryburgh Abbey
Introverted road
Dublin Street

The following Saturday I ended up in Berwick. Wandering the walls and looking into the distance was utterly ideal. I went to Dryburgh Abbey, read by the river then hoofed it the five miles to Melrose. The Borders Railway took me to Edinburgh where I had a psychogeographical meander before finally heading home. It was a brilliant, brilliant day. Posts – Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders and Introverted roads

That Sunday saw me at Easter Road for Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial. On the way back, I managed an impromptu Streets of Glasgow walk along Gordon Street, probably the finest and underrated thoroughfare in the city.

Bridgeton Burns monument

Saturday 15th July I was at a conference for radical library folk. It was held at the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton, and I walked from Central to Bridgeton and back, the return leg catching up with a friend who was at the conference too. Bridgeton has a memorial to Robert Burns, which I hadn’t seen before and liked immensely.

Wardie Bay

Edinburgh is my go-to place when I can’t think of anywhere else to go. I didn’t have a plan that Sunday and on the way out of Waverley I decided on a walk up Leith Walk towards Newhaven. My feet finally stopped at the Barnton Roundabout, having walked all the way along the Forth via Granton, Wardie and Cramond, the last bit due to the buses not being that regular. My feet are sore just remembering that one but it was great just to look and see another side to our beautiful capital. Post – Edinburgh’s promenade


My next trip out was to Edinburgh again one Tuesday after work. Hibs were playing but I got through to Edinburgh early. On the spur of the moment, I got off at Haymarket and walked along Dalry Road, all the way in fact to Tynecastle where I wanted a nosy at the new Main Stand currently being built by the Hearts. The big office bit at the back didn’t inspire me, to be honest, quite reminiscent of an out-of-town office block or something to be found in Cumbernauld or Livingston. I walked back into town via Murrayfield, where I paused by the war memorial (shown below), which is surprisingly subtle and elegant. I don’t normally pay much heed to war memorials, not out of any disrespect, but it gave me pause. As I reached Haymarket not long afterwards and the clock that stands there (shown below) as a memorial to those Hearts players who died in the two World Wars, I was thinking about how there are always things more important and before we consider rivalries, sporting or otherwise, there must always be empathy and respect for our fellow people who have gone out and made the ultimate sacrifice.

Hibs won in Alloa, as it turns out. I also managed to find time to get to Alloa Tower, a National Trust property which sits in the town centre. I liked it more the longer I spent there. I’ve been to a lot of castles in my time and too many of them have been built-up ones that were home to various entitled folk. But I liked it immensely, particularly the grand hall on the middle level, which had a gallery. The views from the top were fine, mainly across urban central Scotland towards Falkirk, Grangemouth and Stirling though also across to the nearby Ochil Hills, which were mostly shrouded in low cloud when I was there due to the often driving rain.

The day trip to Durham and Newcastle became a day trip to East Lothian instead. I slept in and missed the train to Durham, necessitating a change of plan. I had the idea to go east and ended up doing the whole thing by bus. I reached Edinburgh and got the bus to Dirleton Castle, one of the nicest castles in the country. The rain wasn’t too bad and indeed I sat for a while under a tree looking at the gardens, while it rained. It got nicer for a bit as I headed back down the coast to Seton Collegiate Church, one of the nicest, most peaceful places around. It was wet there too but dried up as I had a walk the few miles through Port Seton, Cockenzie and Prestonpans to Prestongrange. It was a great day, entirely unplanned at each stage, the best kind.

Dirleton Castle
Seton Collegiate Church

Well, that’s the July digest. This is the first post back after the break and I have a few new posts ready to go. This week there will be posts on Thursday and Sunday. Thursday’s will be about the day trip to East Lothian while Sunday will be a brand new Streets of Glasgow post about Alexandra Parade. Thanks so much for reading as ever.

Posts published this month –

Proclaimers Live

Streets of Glasgow: Battlefield Road

Bothwell Castle

Kilchurn Castle

Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders

Introverted roads

Streets of Glasgow: Gordon Street

New Town psychogeography

Hampden Park

Edinburgh’s promenade

The Bass Rock’s doppelganger



The River Tweed by Dryburgh Abbey
I’ve been reading a bit lately about why people follow blogs. As a blogger of nearly two years, I read a lot of other blogs. I didn’t used to until I started Walking Talking. I follow a grand total of 140 blogs and most of them I follow through my WordPress Reader. Some of them I get e-mail updates for weekly, a select few as soon as a post is published. There are some who say that people follow blogs to get traffic for their own blog. I don’t do that. When I used to post photos for the WordPress challenges, I got some new readers that way. Nowadays I get random likes for posts I’ve published, usually soon after they’re published. Some are familiar names, others aren’t. I decide which ones to read, like or follow (or all three) on a case-to-case basis. I have exactly one rule, namely, if I enjoy what I read, then I’ll read more. I don’t follow or like blogs to get other people to read mine. If people like what I write, great. If not, then there are other things out there on the Internet.

Looking through the blogs I follow, there is considerable diversity, blogs about football, Scotland, psychogeography, museums, autism, London, libraries, writing and plenty of other things besides. I spend a little time every day catching up with my Reader and like and follow based on my whims. Occasionally I get ideas from reading other blogs, for example with a recent post called ‘Introverted roads‘ which was inspired by the psychogeography blog Edinburgh Drift, or the monthly digests I nicked from The Glasgow Gallivanter. A post I wrote recently which mentioned a concept called ‘the urban imaginary’ came from a comment left by the blogger behind the very interesting lullueblog. I am a reader and new ideas excite me. Being a human being not all of my own ideas are winners; that’s why other people are worth listening to. That’s why they’re better.

We spend so much time in our days staring at a screen that having a filter is desirable a lot of the time. My sole yardmark is quality. It’s undefinable, for the most part, but most of what makes something good isn’t easy to describe. That’s fine with me.

In that spirit, then, I am off for the next 10 days or so and I’m taking a break from blogging over that time too. In the meantime go out and be in the world. If you can’t do that read a book. I intend to do a bit of both.

The Bass Rock’s doppelganger

Ailsa Craig
I didn’t know until recently that the Ailsa Craig, a big hunk of granite in the middle of the Firth of Clyde, is twelve times the area and three times as high as the Bass Rock, its doppelganger in the Forth. Having grown up in Dunbar, I am considerably more familiar with the Bass and so I always think of the Ailsa Craig as being the lesser relation, even though I now know the western version is much, much larger. Things always have to be bigger and better through here, eh? Anyway, it got me thinking about Ayrshire. Going down there is always exciting to me. I grew up at the other side of the country so the rolling coastline south of Ayr and Girvan is exotic, with an unfamiliar vista to the Ailsa Craig and beyond on a good day to Arran, Kintyre and Northern Ireland. The first time I went was when I was a kid and there was a brief stopover at Girvan en route somewhere else. I was entranced by the Ailsa Craig and bought a postcard of it to take home. (My main memory of that particular trip, though, was getting a can of Mango and Mandarin Lilt, which was my favourite and can never be found anywhere.) Ever since, I love being in that part of the country. When I went to Northern Ireland last year, I thought all the way down to the ferry at Cairnryan that even this journey was enough to see me for a while, let alone the trip across the North Channel. (For posts on that particular trip, please see (North) Channel crossingUlster MuseumTrains and that.)

Bass Rock
The Bass Rock is far more familiar to me. When I see it, I have a similar response to when I clap eyes on the Ailsa Craig: I just smile, sigh and relax. I may have written before about how it looks different from different angles, whereas the Ailsa Craig looks remarkably similar from wherever you happen to see it. From Dunbar, the Bass looks craggy and intimidating while from North Berwick it is more of an island affair. Across the Forth in Crail, Cellardyke and Anstruther the Bass looks more like a tooth, a monolith as opposed to the bumpy land just beyond it in East Lothian. I’ve never actually been though I have been close. When I was a teenager we went out on a fishing boat and went quite close to the Bass, if not right up to it. It is one of the largest seabird colonies in the world and in the summer there can be thousands of gannets on it, turning the rock a bright white. I gather that the Ailsa Craig has quite a few gannets on it too but I’ve never quite seen that shade of bright, glossy white anywhere else.

Hugh MacDiarmid wrote a poem which began ‘Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?’ Our country is a multiform and that is particularly evident when thinking of our coastline. Both sides of the country are rugged with lots of jagged edges that Slartibartfast of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be very proud of. Scotland isn’t very symmetrical but the Ailsa Craig and the Bass Rock make up for it, two lumps of rock in the sea at either side of the country, at either side of the Lowland Fault. For a Dunbar boy like me, the Ailsa Craig is still a tribute act, even if it is far bigger than I realised before.

Sources and further reading –

Haswell-Smith, Hamish, An Island Odyssey, 2014, Edinburgh: Canongate

MacDiarmid, Hugh, ‘Scotland small?’, accessible via


Edinburgh’s promenade

When I reached Waverley, I didn’t have a clue where I was going to go next. I had vague notions of Dirleton Castle, maybe even Dunbar, but loud drumming I could hear from the top of Waverley Steps made me want to escape the city centre all the faster. It was a nice, sunny day and I decided to head for Newhaven Harbour by the Forth. Leith Walk was its usual traffic chaos, with the latest bit being dug up by Brunswick Road. At the foot, I thought about going to the Shore via Constitution Street or Parliament Street but I decided to walk up Great Junction Street instead. I hadn’t been up Great Junction Street on foot before. I know it best from primary school swimming lessons in Dr Bell’s school, one of the various Victorian primary school buildings in Edinburgh built with a swimming pool. Dr Bell’s is still there, looking in good nick from the outside. I gather that the building houses a family centre now though I can’t make out whether the swimming pool gets any use now. It was an old-fashioned space with white walls and changing cubicles at either side of the pool on two levels. In retrospect, especially considering how many generic leisure centres exist now, I was lucky to learn to swim at Dr. Bell’s and the pool at Broughton Primary, another sturdy old Victorian schoolhouse.

Great Junction Street is quite underrated. It is fairly run-down, particularly at the end nearest Leith Walk, but there are some very handsome buildings along it, the best of which is topped by a cupola and houses the Leith Bed Centre, of all things. It is quite reminiscent of the buildings around Tollcross at the other side of Edinburgh. I also admired a church further along at the other side of the Water of Leith, which appears to have been a bingo hall or a cinema, judging by its frontage.

At the junction of Ferry Road sits Leith Library, quite similar in design to Elder Park Library in Govan, with the Leith coat of arms above the door, even though it was built after Leith had been amalgamated into Edinburgh in the 1920s. As I walked towards the shore, I spotted another old school, this time just a plaque for David Kilpatrick School, now demolished with a small park in its place.


Newhaven is a fine old harbour, with a few fishing boats and a smattering of yachts. In place of the fish market, though, is a Loch Fyne oyster bar and some trendy eateries. It is still a fine place with views across the Forth to Fife and along the coast to the Forth Bridges. I sat down for a bit under the lighthouse and decided that since it was a nice day, I would walk some more of the coastline, perhaps even to Cramond, about 6 miles away. As I left and turned right, I reflected that as much as I love Newhaven, the actual Loch Fyne is probably a better place to sample their oysters.

This stretch of the Edinburgh coastline once saw a young Charles Darwin studying geology and some of the marine life thereabouts. I had forgotten about that but it’s a lesser-known part of Darwin’s life, with some of his education in Edinburgh, even while most of his work was in Cambridge and of course the Galapagos.

Wardie Bay
Towards Granton I enjoyed walking past Wardie Bay, handsome houses on the land side with a quaint village sort of feel and modern flats like at the Western Harbour jutting out into the Forth. Granton Square with its stout grey buildings led into an industrial estate that kept me away from the Forth for a bit. There was a nice red brick building with a lighthouse tower at the top but that was the sole interest for a bit. Further towards the coast there was an interesting elaborate stone archway behind a fence, which I gather was part of Caroline Park House, a private house a bit further through the trees.

Gates of Caroline Park House
Not so far away I crossed the road and joined the Edinburgh Coastal Path again, this time a wide path that eventually led to Cramond. I sat for a couple of minutes admiring the view to Fife and what I thought was Inchcolm but turned out to be the smaller islet of Inchmickery. I couldn’t see Inchcolm, with its abbey, until much closer to Cramond, since it is just to the left of Cramond Island with its spiked causeway. This part of the walk was much busier with other walkers, cyclists and families out enjoying the day. Towards Silverknowes in particular, the cafe was thronged with people and there were a right few people on the beach or even rockpooling. I sat on a bench for a bit, to rest my now-tired tootsies, then walked the mile or so to Cramond. The tide was right but I felt I had walked enough. I had a quick look at the yachts, took a few photos and then hoofed it to Barnton, since I soon discovered that Cramond isn’t well-served by buses on a Sunday. Why would it be when half the population seems to drive a Range Rover?

Looking towards the Forth Bridges


Cramond Island

Fish sculpture by Ronald Rae

I had been meaning to walk this particular stretch of coastline for years. When I was in Edinburgh regularly, I had notions to walk from Cramond back towards Leith but it never happened. This was the right day for it, to be honest. It was an interesting insight into some of the less lovely parts of the capital but some of its lesser-spotted charms too, like the gate at Caroline Park House and of course Newhaven. The finest part of the walk, though, was just after Granton with the view to the Forth Bridges. I wondered if the designers of the new bridge had walked this path before since the three bridges were perfectly aligned with each popping up higher than the one before. Sometimes the best notions come when we walk, the result of putting one foot in front of another with impulses leading us further still.

Sources and further reading –

Canmore, ‘Edinburgh, West Granton Road, Caroline Park Avenue, Caroline Park House, Gates’,

The University of Edinburgh, ‘Charles Darwin’,

Hampden Park

In the recent Streets of Glasgow post about Cathcart Road, I forgot to mention that particular thoroughfare’s resonance in my own life. I grew up in East Lothian and visits to Glasgow weren’t all that frequent. It was after all the other side of the country. When we did we were usually passing through en route to Paisley, where one of my aunties lived. One time we came through was to go to the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park, Scotland’s national stadium. We got the train to Mount Florida and walked down to Cathcart Road, all brown tenements, the street absolutely jumping or so it seemed to my 13-year-old country bumpkin self. For a long time that was one of my main mental images of Glasgow. Even when I moved here, I knew how to get to Hampden and that was pretty much it.

I have written about Hampden before, including a visit last year to the Scottish Football Museum. Rather than repeat myself, I wanted to write about what Hampden means to me. I’ve been there three times to see the museum plus to see Hibs play five times. My Hampden scorecard is two wins, three defeats. That one of those wins was one of the greatest days of my life, 21st May 2016, brought about by the head of Sir David Gray, doesn’t bear repeating. I have a reverence towards any football ground, big or small, and the National Stadium strikes awe in me every time. I know it’s got many faults – the west and east ends are too far away from the action, food is ridiculously expensive, it’s a good 15,000 seats smaller than Murrayfield and that’s before mentioning those who manage the game from the offices there – but for better or worse it’s Hampden and it’s where the Cup Final happens. It’s a day for pomp and pageantry, for Sunday best and hopefully going absolutely radge come full time. As Stephen Watt said in his poem to celebrate Queen’s Park’s 150th anniverary, home is where the Hampden is. It’s a place for history, of great internations, of Puskas and the 1960 European Cup Final, of record-breaking crowds (149,515 against England in April 1937, even 122,714 for the 1973 Cup Final between Celtic and Rangers). The last time I walked by Hampden I tried to imagine that scale of people passing along these streets, just a sea of bunnets. And the roar of the crowd.

Hampden Park
Not so long ago, the fixtures came out for the new season, emanating naturally enough from the SPFL’s offices at Hampden. The Premiership fixtures are more spaced out than those of the Championship, League 1 and League 2, and I looked at the fixtures for the lower leagues to see if there were some Saturdays I was off and when Hibs weren’t playing that I could get to another game. I would like to get to Palmerston Park where Queen of the South play, partly because I like the hurl to Dumfries, but also because Palmerston looks a nice, old-fashioned ground with terracing and everything. Edinburgh City is another one since they only came into the SPFL last season and they gave Hibs season ticket holders a discount. But I would like to see Queen’s Park most of all. The Spiders are 150 years old this year and make a virtue of being the last amateurs in the senior leagues in Scotland. They also play at Hampden to an average crowd of 645, some 51,000 fewer people than the ground’s capacity. It’s that which makes me want to go, as well as Hampden being a mere 4 miles from here. Plus it would back up that I’ve often said that Queen’s Park is my Glasgow team, owing to my deep dislike of Celtic and Rangers. I’ve checked and there are a grand total of two Saturdays this season when Hibs aren’t playing but Queen’s Park are at home, on 11th November against Arbroath and 6th January against Stranraer. Hopefully I’ll get there. I don’t imagine 645 people can roar that hard but I hope to be proven wrong.

Next to Hampden is Lesser Hampden, where Queen’s Park’s offices are. It is also a football ground, though mainly used for training. The Queen’s Park crest is etched into the wall outside Lesser Hampden and it’s a nice reminder that yes there is football here outside the Cup and when Scotland are around. What I didn’t know was that the pavilion building backing onto the Mount Florida Church and Cathcart Road was a farmhouse and barn, of Clincart Farm, in fact, only in 1923 turned over to footballing purposes. In a sprawling city like Glasgow, it’s good to remember that it wasn’t totally urban until comparatively recently.

Lesser Hampden

I don’t know when I’ll be back at Hampden. Hopefully the Hibs will be there soon, obviously, but here’s hoping I make even one of Queen’s Park’s games, even for the novelty of sitting as one of very few when once this ground held hundreds of thousands. Still the same game, though, and that’s what matters.

Sources and further reading –

O’Brien, Ged, Played in Glasgow: charting the heritage of a city at play, 2010, Malavan Media

Scottish average attendances –

SPFL fixture list –

STV recently broadcast a special edition of the People’s History Show dedicated to Queen’s Park’s 150th anniversary, available at for those in the UK.