Streets of Glasgow: John Street

Glasgow means different things to different people. To me it’s where I live, a place of culture, variety and strangeness. To others, it is music or crime. John Street is in the city centre and it is also where the police station was on Taggart, the long-running police procedural drama on STV. In that spirit, my walk down from Cathedral Street was soundtracked by the Taggart theme music. DCI Burke, Jackie and Robbie were nowhere to be seen, sadly. I walked past the Student Union and admired the side of the Royal College building last seen on George Street. Straight ahead was the archway leading to the back of the City Chambers, all pillars, sculptures, towers and cupolas. Even on a Sunday, there were a few people dotting about, tourists taking photos. I did the same and generally revelled in the architectural splendour, the back of the City Chambers truly stunning and even nicer than the front.

Across the road the cafes were full. I looked up to see the Roman god statues of Mercury, one at either end. It was pleasantly cosmopolitan and I was cheered to see the rainbow flags flying proud there too. In a few short minutes I had walked from the busy Cathedral Street through reminders of No Mean City and the grandeur to the swish modern bars of the Merchant City, all on one street, Glasgow in miniature.

Thank you for reading. This is the forty seventh Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. Other nearby streets featured so far include Cathedral Street, George Street, George Square, Cochrane Street, Ingram Street, Albion Street and Miller Street.

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Railwalk: Restalrig Railway Path

I had seen signs for the Restalrig Railway Path a few times on the way to Easter Road but it was only when I was on a roundabout walk of Edinburgh that I finally ended up on it. From Salamander Street I saw a bridge over the road with people cycling across it and that swayed my decision. I turned onto Leith Links then onto the path. Walking above the street was great, feeling removed but not detached from the city around me. There were a few cyclists and walkers, even a family foraging for berries. To the left was Seafield Road, industrial premises and the sludge works, the right the crematorium and cemetery, trees lent greater beauty by a coy sunshine. I hadn’t been in the area since a funeral a few years back and thoughts turned definitely on. Behind the crematorium is the site of the old Eastern General Hospital, now a care home but once the place where babies from the east of the capital and East Lothian were born, including me. I didn’t check to see if they had put the plaque up yet.

The path soon curved and there were more trees. I soon realised from a sign that I was now in Restalrig, at the other side of a golf course from where I went to primary school. The path now sat in a dip with houses at either side. Nearer Lochend allotments came to my right and smart flats to the left. Bridges came at regular intervals with signs telling the casual visitor where they were, which was appreciated as while I was on very familiar terrain, I had never been on this path before. I knew I would soon come to Hawkhill Avenue, round the back of Easter Road. The cantilever atop the Famous Five Stand peeked above the wall, the modern Lochend Butterfly flats dominating the landscape. A kid cycled around and around the path, waiting for his mum and dad to catch up. I turned left onto Hawkhill Avenue and I was back in urban Edinburgh once more. Some time I’ll finish the walk, finishing near the top of Easter Road the street, but it felt right to finish near my spiritual home, even on a quiet Sunday.

Thank you for reading. This is the first of a new series here on Walking Talking, probably occasional rather than weekly. Something entirely different will be here next week.

Book blethers

Well, it’s Saturday morning again. I am on my way to work just now so here’s one I prepared earlier.

Books. I spend a lot of time around them, at work and of course at home. I’ve recently moved house and as part of it I decided to downsize fairly drastically. Before the move I must have had 500+ books, most of them living in a cupboard though some also ended up in a box or beside my bed. Over a couple of days I went through them and filled a grand total of 14 supermarket bags for life and a suitcase full of books to go to charity, some of the best of them donated to the library. I don’t have any strong feelings about it. Working in libraries and having weeded thousands of books has rid me of any sentimentality. I think there’s some catharsis there from having shed some of the many, many books I would never have read, some of them presents, most bought with good intentions. I’m glad they will go to good use, even for recycling. This is also not an invitation to get me any more either.

A few weeks ago I wrote that I was intending to read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, a book I found in the clearing out process. I managed to read it in a couple of sittings, finishing it on the train to Edinburgh one day. It was one of those books that shakes up your head and leaves you feeling a bit woozy afterwards. That’s a good thing. The best fiction does that. The Bell Jar covers all sorts of different notes and themes, a period piece in its insights into 1950s New York and how mental illness used to be treated, certainly, but also universal and timely in how it covers feminism and loneliness too. I believe that in most things it is right to get out of habits now and then, particularly with reading. I bought the book a few years ago with good intentions, probably because I had heard of it at some point. I tried to read it on its own terms, not seeing it as some seminal tome but just as the book I was currently reading, and it wasn’t bad at all.

The next on the ‘books I bought ages ago but never got round to’ list is The Silver Darlings by Neil Gunn. It’s sitting by my bed as I type this. I bought it years ago, it might even have been a gift, and one of my teachers used to talk about it as one of her very favourites. More recently I’ve discovered that Neil Gunn was also a mentor to Nan Shepherd, author of my favourite book, The Living Mountain, which is certainly another reason to read it, to establish a broader context to that great book. The Silver Darlings, according to the blurb, is about herring and the Highland Clearances, a struggle with landlords and nature. I look forward to finally getting round to it. I’m off on leave soon so might get round to it then.

Incidentally, in the move, I discovered my original copy of The Living Mountain. I had bought a replacement a couple of years ago plus I have an eBook on quite a few different devices. I bought the original at one of the National Trust castles in Aberdeenshire, possibly Craigievar, and read it in my auntie’s conservatory in Aberdeen that night. It was very short but it made a lasting impression. I re-read it every so often, the last time on the way to the football earlier this year. Even though I’ve never been to the Cairngorms or even to the top of a mountain, reading Nan Shepherd’s words are usually just what I need, inspirational, life-affirming and just plain beautiful. I’ll hopefully get round to another re-read soon.

Well, that’s my book blethers for another week. Tomorrow there will be a post here about a recent walk I had along the Restalrig Railway Path in Edinburgh. I’m going to be trying a few things on Sundays in the next few weeks, maybe a new mini-series. Let me know what you think. Anyway, have a nice Saturday.

Streets of Glasgow: Glasgow Street

Yep, Streets of Glasgow finally came to Glasgow Street, just off Otago Street in the West End. It is one of the many West End streets that sits on a hill, leading eventually to Hillhead Street just up from the University. When I realised I was in the vicinity, it just had to be done, right after Otago Street and visiting a succession of bookshops. Glasgow Street is for the most part residential, lined with smart tenements in golden sandstone though Hillhead High School in its red sticks out. There are also lots of trees, the whole effect rather nice in the bright September sunshine. I walked quite happily, pacing myself for the steady inclines, looking up and down the lanes, sometimes seeing landmarks like the University Tower, other times the lanes winding off out of sight. It was a nice walk, not much to write about except nice to live in the present.

Thank you for reading. This is the forty sixth Streets of Glasgow walk here on Walking Talking. Other nearby streets featured in this series so far include Otago Street (which appeared here last week), University Avenue and Kelvin Way.

Loose Ends: Calton Hill

I had been to nineteen places since Aberdour Castle back in April and the twentieth was Calton Hill, one of Edinburgh’s seven hills stretching out like seven cats as Norman MacCaig wrote. It felt appropriate to conclude a series based on connections in a place with a synoptic view. As I walked up Hume Walk I looked across the Forth trying to pick out Aberdour, my eyes skirting like a pinball between the rocks and islands to make sure. As the view opened up, I could see right up from the Forth Bridges to the East Neuk of Fife, Inchkeith and Inchcolm, Easter Road and North Berwick Law, almost in one sweep of my head. I could see Gullane and all sorts of places that might have featured in Loose Ends at some point but for a whim taking me somewhere else.

It felt right to be on Calton Hill. I had been there many, many times before, chance glances leading me elsewhere on more than one occasion. The lines of verse that give this series its name, Scotland by Hugh MacDiarmid, are etched on a monument at the foot of the hill on Regent Road. I had just spent the day in and out of shops on a quest. Being out in the open, to have a big eastern sky above and a sweep of sea before me, made all the difference, calming and providing perspective, an escape from the busy city below as I could just stand and watch or just look beyond. Those loose ends of Scotland seen so far were a mix of the new and the dear and familiar, some clearly seen from this hill, others off over the horizon. I was led eventually from Aberdour to Calton Hill, its views leading me to buses or trains or off on foot. Sir David Gray lifting that Cup made me smile, North Berwick Law reminded me I was still to climb it, and I had words to write, tales of adventures had gathering those loose ends.

Thank you for reading. Something new follows next week.

Saturday

Aye, it’s Saturday morning again and I am in the nice position of being able to write this live. It is a bit gloomy and grey outside my window as I start this about 7.20am. I’m off to Edinburgh later and the weather says it is to be sunny in the capital. It was pleasantly sunny and autumnal there yesterday. I was off yesterday too and just had the notion to go somewhere. For the last two weeks, due to domestic stuff and working full-time and that, I hadn’t been out of the west of Scotland, Linwood the furthest I had been. This needed a swift remedy and as I walked along to the station, I decided on Edinburgh since a trip there requires no great thought to put together. The sunshine stayed with me all the way to Edinburgh and on the train I thought about either the Botanics or Prestongrange for a wander. The 13 minute wait for a 26 from York Place made the Botanics the winner by default. I proceeded down Broughton Street to the sound of bagpipes, an unusual soundtrack in the New Town. It turned out that there was a wedding on in the Mansfield Traquair Centre, a building I have meant to visit for years due to the beautiful design by Phoebe Anna Traquair. During a wedding might not have been the best moment, though, so I walked on. There was a wedding on at the Botanics too, with a car driving past me on the path as I headed in the East Gate. Their soundtrack was classical, which was probably some lovely concerto but I recognised as the music they play when on hold to my doctors surgery. I repaired to sit under my trees, the grove of Sequoias dedicated to John Muir just up the way, and ate lunch. Thus fuelled, I had a good wander around the Botanics, enjoying the sunshine and its effect on the leaves, trees and the Edinburgh skyline. I always maintain that Edinburgh Castle only ever looks threatening from the Botanics. There weren’t many fallen leaves to scuff my way through, unfortunately, with my inner 5 year old a bit troubled by that.

I walked uptown and ended up in the Portrait Gallery. I’ve been going there for years just to sit in its beautiful mezzanine level, revelling in the light and the overwrought Victorian renderings of Scottish historical scenes. Usually I have it to myself but that day every other seat was taken, including by a lady who was scribbling into a notebook, a couple having a conversation and another woman who was doing as I was, just looking around. I wasn’t really in an exhibition mood but I decided to take a turn around what was there, beginning with the Victoria Crowe portraits exhibition, which I just loved. The portraits were varied, with a few of the same person, but what really struck me was how she combined a likeness of the sitter with other objects, words or symbols to represent their life’s work, like guidebooks for the Duke of Wemyss and March and a supernova for astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burrell. The transportation photography display was also rather fine, including a famous one of a plane flying over Edinburgh city centre in the 1940s and another of Glencoe albeit with the road edited out. I’m going to try and get back to both of them soon. To save anyone asking, the Victoria Crowe exhibition is on until 18th November and Planes, Trains and Automobiles finishes on 13th January next year. See the National Galleries website for more details.

There’s a bit more blue sky out my window now. The SeaWindowCraster photo this morning has a bit of sunshine though with a few darker blue clouds atop the shot. Even when I’m off, I rarely sleep after 7am and that’s okay. I often just lie in bed and read or listen to a podcast. This morning’s soundtrack is the Scotland Outdoors podcast, incidentally.

Talking of listening, of interest to some readers here will be a programme on Radio 4 this coming Monday (8th October) at 4pm entitled ‘The Art of Now, Women Who Walk’, which is about women who have incorporated walking into their art, including a bit of psychogeography. It sounds very interesting and I will be making sure I catch up with it since I will be working when it’s on.

I’m not sure what my travelling book will be today. I have a few options, despite a recent drastic reduction. One contender is a book I’ve got from the library, the autobiography of tennis player Maria Sharapova, Unstoppable, which is an unusual choice for me though given recent controversies attached to her, it could be an interesting read. I also have a magazine I bought recently in Edinburgh. It’s more of a journal than a magazine, a football magazine called Glory, including a whole bunch of articles about football in one particular locale. I came across it in a shop in Edinburgh called 6 Yard Box, which sits in one of the arches on Market Street. I had intended picking up a physical copy of the Scottish football periodical Nutmeg but Glory tempted me more, with this issue about football in Ireland and beautifully illustrated. Even though I’ve written more about Glory, the Maria Sharapova book might end up coming with me.

Most of my reading in the last week has been digital, mostly Harry Potter. I’ve reached book number 6, Half-Blood Prince, and Harry’s just been allowed to study Potions because Snape doesn’t teach it anymore. I also managed to finish re-reading The Road to Little Dribbling, a travelogue by Bill Bryson around Britain, which wasn’t half bad at all. Next Saturday’s post will delve into books but I am also hoping to re-read the Lewis trilogy of crime novels by Peter May soon, prompted by a Scotland Outdoors podcast featuring presenter Mark Stephen and Peter May himself going around some locations which appear in the books.

Anyway, good people, that’s all I’ve got this particular Saturday. Easter Road West also has a post this morning about Hibs and that. Tomorrow’s post here will be the last (for now) instalment of Loose Ends, which finishes up on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. Have a nice weekend, thanks for reading.

Digest: September 2018

September digest time here on Walking Talking and it was one hell of a busy month. Thankfully October should be a bit calmer.

It started with going to Livingston to see Hibs get beat. I managed to leave my ticket for the game at home, necessitating heading back and missing the bus that would have got me to the Tony Macaroni Arena well ahead of time. I had to get a train instead to Livingston North, a good half hour from the ground, but got a taxi since I had done the trudge before and had no desire to repeat it. Livingston is horrible and the bus terminal is really badly laid out.

The following day I went to Northumberland with a very fine walk around the walls at Berwick followed by a saunter along the beach at Embleton. I made sure I got a Sea Window Craster-style shot when in Craster.

The next Thursday and Friday I was on a quest looking for a book. On the Friday I went to the West End, managing a couple of Streets of Glasgow walks, before I ended up in Edinburgh, going to many, many more bookshops as well as cramming in no less than three Loose Ends adventures. It was a great day, even if I ultimately had to order the book on Amazon.

Sunday that week saw me go for a walk in Edinburgh along the Restalrig Railway Path. I think a post about that should appear here soon. I also managed a Streets of Glasgow walk on John Street.

The following Friday I ended up at Tantallon Castle, a dear, familiar place, and it was brilliant. I wrote a bit about that in one of the Saturday morning posts.

Saturday 22nd September was Dundee day. I was there to see the Hibs play at Dens Park and also managed a wee look into the brand new V and A Museum of Design, a stunningly beautiful building shown off to best effect in the sunshine. (I appreciate that the V and A usually has an ampersand in its name but I don’t like ampersands.) Then I went to see the Hibees play, followed by dinner and another quick wander around the exterior of the V and A. More about that in the V and A post from a week or so ago.

The next day I had a Glasgow adventure including a wee spin to Govan for the Govan Stones and Mary Barbour statue as well as a turn around the Necropolis.

Saturday 29th September I went the three miles to see Hibs play at St. Mirren. They won 1-0.

That’s the digest for September. Easter Road West, my football blog, has featured a few interesting posts this month, including one about my little footballing superstitions and one of those gallimaufry football posts.

This blog has also expanded into a rambling discursive post on a Saturday morning. The first one was quite well-received (thanks for all comments and views for that) and I decided to make it a regular feature. It has tended to be about books so far though it might just be a massive blether. I hope to be able to write something live on Saturday morning, perhaps delving into psychogeography and an interesting looking programme on Radio 4 next week, but it might have to be written ahead of time. We’ll see what happens.

I sometimes like to share posts from other blogs that I’ve liked this month. Just now I’ve read a really good post from Alex Cochrane about his father, his ancestor and Pablo Neruda. I’ve saved it to read more later. I also liked Jessica’s post at Diverting Journeys about the American Sign Museum in Ohio – it strikes me as an incredible sensory experience. One of the rare pleasures of blogging, particularly in the last week as I haven’t had time to write much myself, has been looking through my WordPress Reader and reading what other people write. It is not inconsiderable.

Anyway, that’s us. Have a nice October, y’all.

Posts this month –

George Street mural

Digest: August 2018

Streets of Glasgow: Cochrane Street

Loose Ends: The Necropolis

Streets of Glasgow: Albion Street

Saturday morning thoughts

Loose Ends: Ramshorn

Streets of Glasgow: Otago Street

Weekend update

Loose Ends: Makar’s Court

New museum

Saturday morning thoughts, again

Loose Ends: Wild West

Loose Ends: Wild West

The last Loose Ends adventure took me to Makar’s Court by the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh. A very loose link from John Muir, who settled in the west of the United States, led to a little piece of the Wild West tucked behind the prim and proper streets of Morningside. It was built in the mid 1990s to complement a furniture showroom that operated out of there, though it is a wee bit sorry for itself now. I had known about it for years though it was only when I had business in the area that I finally managed to get there. The street featured a Cantina, jail and assortment of suitably Western-looking businesses, though up the road was a very much 21st century Edinburgh garage with cars instead of horses and John Wayne cutting about. I hung around for a few minutes, looking in slight disbelief at the quirky signs, my favourite being the Western font used to ask folk not to block Morningside Library’s fire door. It felt like being on a film set and I could imagine cameras, actors and directors around instead of the blare of a radio and the very familiar local accents. It was a bit otherworldly but I was glad to get there, very much a hidden gem and much more worthy of a visit than the obvious tourist places uptown.

The next connection was set by this point though I may have considered a wee look at the Buffalo Bill statue that graces a quiet bit of Dennistoun or indeed the Bud Neill cartoon characters with monuments at Partick railway station and Woodlands Road back in Glasgow, all a testament to the lingering impact of the Wild West on these shores far off.

Thank you for reading. The final (for now) instalment of Loose Ends follows next week.

Saturday morning thoughts, again

Happy Saturday! As this is posted I will hopefully still be in bed. The Hibs are playing today but in Paisley, a mere 15 minutes door-to-door from my home to the Simple Digital Arena, home to St. Mirren FC. That means there won’t be a travelling book today since surely to goodness I can just scroll on my phone for the 11 minutes the train journey will take. Most of my books are in boxes after a house move but I can talk about what I read last weekend. On the way to and from Dundee, I read The Life and Death of St. Kilda by Tom Steel, a refreshing and unsentimental insight into the life of the people of St. Kilda before and after their evacuation in 1930. It was a sober and serious book but eminently readable, not flinching from discussing the difficulties of life 100 miles out into the Atlantic for the islanders, missionaries, nurses and people who sought to supply or govern them, with an interesting aside about the role of the archipelago as a missile testing range.

Last Friday I went to Tantallon Castle near North Berwick. On the way I managed to finish two books that were sitting in my bag waiting to be finished, The Hidden Ways by Alistair Moffat and Call Them By Their True Names, a book of essays by Rebecca Solnit about Trump, America and the relationship between truth and authority. Alistair Moffat’s book was good too, a selection of walking routes across Scotland, including the Herring Road between Dunbar and Lauder. It was an interesting contrast between those two, one more serious than the other while both are relevant to these times. We need to know about our past but also to walk and be in the landscape from time to time lest we get too far up our backsides. In a brief sojourn in Edinburgh, I ended up with a football magazine called Glory which had a special about Irish football. It is more of a coffee table thing but I look forward to reading it eventually. Also coming home with me was We Only Want The Earth by Sandy Macnair, a telling of the first season with Hibs back in the Premiership. A lot of it is very recent in my brain but reading about it is no great hardship, especially since I haven’t yet reached the gubbing by Aberdeen just before Christmas.

I am writing this a bit ahead of time so I will also say that as part of the house move, I came across a few books I bought ages ago but haven’t yet read. That’s why my travelling book for the football on Tuesday was The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It seems a seminal book in the canon but I haven’t read it so it came with me to Easter Road on Tuesday. Some time soon I will let you all know what I thought of it.

Tantallon Castle was great, one of my favourite places anyway. I had left Glasgow late so my time there was curtailed a bit. Plus I walked the three miles to and from North Berwick, the return leg at full speed to catch the train back to Edinburgh. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and the East Lothian countryside was looking braw. I spent most of my time just gawping at the Bass Rock and down to the Lammermuirs, Doon Hill and St. Abbs Head, a pleasure to be in a dear, familiar place, however briefly. Randomly the HS steward was someone I used to work with in Dunbar years ago, which was a nice surprise.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday morning post. Tomorrow is Loose Ends and it will be in Edinburgh again. A post will also appear on Easter Road West this morning too. Have a nice Saturday. Cheers.

New museum

On Saturday I managed a wee peek into the brand new Victoria and Albert Museum outpost up in Dundee. It being the second weekend of opening meant everybody and their granny had the same idea, with a big queue just to get in the door let alone to get into the permanent galleries. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny Saturday by the Tay and getting to stand and stare at the fine Kengo Kuma design was absolutely no hardship. Eventually we got into the foyer and it was beautiful, all wooden boards with portholes giving views over the Tay. That was worth the queuing alone, as was the staircase with yet more porthole windows and the fine display of contemporary Scottish design including pencil and pen grips produced by the Galgael Trust not so far from here in Govan. Wee bit of civic pride there. The queue for the Scottish Design galleries showed no sign of dissipating and we resolved to come back in a few weeks once the novelty had worn off. Before heading off, we headed out to the terrace for a very fine view across the Tay Road Bridge and down the river towards Broughty Ferry.

We came back later as the sun was setting and managed to look at the building for a bit longer. The moon peeked between the arches of the building but eluded the perfect photograph. A photo is but a pale imitation at the best of times and it couldn’t have been truer at that moment. The building was enough that day, the architecture the main attraction since I couldn’t get near the actual exhibits but that was no problem whatsoever. I have the feeling I’ll be back regardless, to see the exhibits and do the cultural thing but I was really in Dundee that for the football so the V and A was a bonus, the stunning building good enough for me.

Thanks for reading. Streets of Glasgow returns next week.