Prestwick update

Sitting at Prestwick Town station now, waiting for the train up the road. I just sat on a sand dune for an hour watching the world go by, letting my fingers lap through sand. There was a low sun and visibility wasn’t too good. I could see the outline of the Ailsa Craig and Arran but not many specifics, which suited me fine, to be honest. There were little sailing boats all in a group out in the bay when I sat down though by the time I left, most were back in harbour at the other end of the promenade. There wasn’t much wind but some waves, a constant low rumble. A Ryanair flight came overhead at one point, bound for the airport at the other side of the golf course. The train home’s coming and I wish I could stay longer. I’ve got the journey home, though, a seat facing backwards with the coast right out the window most of the way. The bottom layer of clouds are cirrostratus, I think, wispy and like a Monet painting if he ever made it down Ayrshire way.

I feel better for having come down here, my brain is a little smoother and emptier, my nerves soothed just by a couple of hours out of the city.

Last day of the season

The following two posts were written yesterday on trains in deepest Ayrshire:

When I used to work in museums, I would dread this time of year. Autumn to me was the end of the good times, the times of work and relative plenty, to be replaced by the cold, long winter with less work, less money and less life. The end of the season doesn’t affect me any more, thankfully – I have work all year round and sometimes I work even more in the winter than I do the rest of the year – but I still feel little tinges when I see end of season notices put out by the likes of Historic Scotland and my old colleagues at East Lothian Museums who see many of their properties shut for the season on Wednesday. Now it makes me think of all those places I wish I had gotten to over the year but didn’t quite manage. There’s always next year, thankfully.

I like visiting places outwith the season. Wintry light in Scotland is even more enriching than glowing, sultry, summer sunshine plus it’s colder so I can often be in a castle or walking along a beach entirely on my own. I’m writing this on a train down to Prestwick and I know it won’t be empty today. It’s a pleasant, sunny September day, after all. If I’m down here in December, though, with a biting wind and while wearing several more layers, I’ll be the only person to be seen, walking along the beach, ‘washing my spirit clean’, as John Muir put it.

Another compensation of the changing of the year is the autumn colours. The trees by the train line as I pass through Kilwinning are yellowing now. When I was walking along the Fife Coastal Path to Dysart on Friday, there were leaves underfoot, perhaps shaken loose by the ever-present winds in those parts. As I’ve said, I used to dread autumn but now I look forward to it each year, enjoying the colours, the changing lights and the lengthening shadows that result.

My rovings tend to be that bit more limited as the year goes on. Aside from my trips next month to Cambridge and London, autumn this year will be spent by the coast or in parks or gardens. I make a point of going to the Botanics in Edinburgh to stomp through the piles of leaves though it was too early for all that when I was there a week or two ago. The next day I can I’m going to the Glasgow Botanics or Pollok Park to find some leaves. Summer days are great but autumn’s better for the soul.

Getting close to Prestwick now – I’ve taken to Ayrshire in a big way since I first came down here a few years ago. It’s a fine stretch of coast and the Ailsa Craig, Arran and Kintyre are endlessly interesting, enticing me forth on new adventures soon. Again, there’s always next year.

Demolition and renewal

I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of days about demolition and renewal. It all started when I came across an old photograph of the Citizens Theatre from the late 1960s, I think, when Gorbals Street looked like countless others in the city, all red sandstone tenements, shops, cars, buses and bustle. It’s not like that now. There are token older buildings around there now but even the Citz has a modern exterior. Thankfully, though, the interior is much older. I was there last night for an adaptation of Lanark by Alasdair Gray, which was strange but compelling, well staged and incorporating Gray’s unique illustrative style to the set dressing. The Citz is about to undergo extensive refurbishment though at the moment it has a cosy, not to imposing sort of feel, which I like.

The Citz and Lanark are a good fit. The story is set mostly in a post-Apocalyptic world where nothing is quite what it seems. The Gorbals landscape is certainly not Apocalyptic but it is a hotchpotch of ’60s grey Brutalism, the Mosque, modern offices and tenements, with open spaces where tumbleweed is readily imagined to, well, tumble. It’s very different to the photograph I saw the other day and the Oscar Marzaroli photographs I saw on a documentary recently, but different doesn’t always mean bad.

This morning I went to my local Morrison’s where there seemed to be a lot of folk standing about in the car park, all facing towards Paisley Road West. After I had been for my messages, I came back out to see even more people and decided to stop, wondering if there was about to be some sort of solar eclypse or alien invasion. There was a helicopter flying overhead, not that uncommon around here given our proximity to the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, but there was also a loud siren and then a quiet explosion. This was soon followed by one of the tower blocks behind Lourdes High School falling in on itself and down to the ground in a great plume of dust. They were doing about four one after another, I discovered, but after this one, the rain started pretty much immediately. I liked that sudden landscape change and then the rain, as if to move people along in a ‘nothing more to see here’ kind of way. All that thought came as I walked back home but at the time I was just a testosterone-driven bloke thinking the explosion was pretty bloody cool.

On Saturday, the chimneys at Cockenzie Power Station in East Lothian are to be demolished. I have a bit more affinity with Cockenzie because I grew up in East Lothian and must have passed those chimneys thousands of times. They loom over the county’s landscape, visible from the centre of Edinburgh, North Berwick and the East Neuk of Fife, usually the only thing to blot the landscape from whatever angle. Given that Cockenzie was one of the biggest polluting industrial sites in Scotland not so long ago but lots of folk lost their jobs when the power station closed, I have decidedly mixed feelings, aside from the sense that they’ve always been there and now they won’t be.

I know they haven’t been, not really. East Lothian is an exceedingly historical and geologically significant area with landmarks like Traprain Law, North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock all once volcanoes. A power station built about half a century ago isn’t as venerable nor as significant, obviously, but they have always been there in my lifetime. It will be strange the next time I am through not to see them, looking but not seeing that particular sight as I pass on the train.

Sadly I won’t be able to get through on Saturday. In this digital age, I will be brought up to speed by shaky videos uploaded to the social network of my choice. Seeing with my own eyes that high rise get levelled today was amazing. It gave me a sense of wonder at the demolition just like that in a cloud of dust but it made me think, dream even, of what will come next. It’s life and it goes on but not quite as we know it.

Passing places

Tonight’s post was to be about the Glasgow Subway and how travelling can sometimes be stressful for me. It won’t be. Instead here’s one about the places I pass in my day. I wrote here recently about the Southside here in Glasgow, an area I largely know because of work. My other job is in Dumbarton, definitely not in Glasgow, as proven by the real genuine countryside and hills to be seen occasionally on the journey.

A few months ago, work took me to Bowling, which up until that point I had passed twice a day but never stopped. I was there because of the Forth and Clyde Canal, which flows into the Clyde at Bowling, and on that glorious afternoon in the sunshine, I could have been anywhere in the world. Being originally from the seaside, passing Bowling harbour with its sunken boats made me feel less homesick in the early days, the river opening up fooling me just for a second that it was the sea after all. Bowling is a pleasant place and I was particularly struck when I was there by the owl and woodland creature sculptures dotted around the quayside. There was just a glimpse, as I squinted into the sun past the Dunglass Monument, of the Firth of Clyde opening up and distant hills plus of course the much closer Dumbarton Castle and Inverclyde at the other side of the river.

I once got a job by delivering a short talk about the bus route between Dunbar and Haddington. I talked about the interesting things that could be seen en route, personally and historically significant, and it was all based on the fact I sit and stare out the window a lot of the time when I’m travelling. It’s how I discovered that my commute to Dumbarton is much more interesting than it seems on first thought. The section from Old Kilpatrick (terminus of the Antonine Wall too) to Milton is my favourite, for sure, but I also like the bit from Charing Cross to Partick. There is a section with steep walls on either side before the river side, with the Science Centre, BBC, SECC and Hydro all coming thick and fast beside the steady stream of traffic on the Expressway. Then it’s Govan and the Riverside Museum close by on the other bank with the masts of the Tall Ship rising behind. It cheers me up in the morning but for best effect it has to be approached from Partick with the full beam of the city lights. It’s a compensation of the nights drawing in, as they surely are, and I’m looking forward to it in a few weeks.

Departure boards

I like departure boards. I like to see where trains and buses are going and the variety of their destinations. I live in a big city so there are lots of onward connections available by train and bus across this great land of ours. The bus station has Penilee, Perth and Pollok one after another while Central earlier tonight had London Euston next to Wemyss Bay, Cathcart and East Kilbride.

Sometimes I can’t decide where to go. I usually go on impulse because otherwise I will sit for hours with timetables and maps in front of me before ending up going nowhere. Even when I go, it can still be open for change. Last week I had a round trip to Galashiels because I fancied a run down to the Borders, the decision made as I had seen a bus and decided to jump on it. I’ve ended up in Aberdeen when I’ve meant for Dundee, York when the plan said Durham. For a while, most day trips tended to end up in Carlisle, then St. Andrews recurred for a bit. What those two places have in common are good travel links and a nice road home – across the border on a tilting Virgin Pendolino or across the Fife fields then through Dunfermline.

There are limits on my impulses. That can be weather, time, money or date. I usually go on Mondays when many cities don’t bother opening their museums. It’s why I don’t often go to Perth or Aberdeen, for example, fine places though they are. But usually I can think of somewhere. When in doubt, it’s Edinburgh, another city where I don’t often have to think of what to do. It’s torture when I can look but not go, hemmed in by work and obligations. But just scanning the board and picking one is what keeps me going. The excitement comes in not knowing quite what is coming next, around the next bend or on the next departure board.

One way or another

I like maps. Always have done. I’m autistic and we tend to have special interests so maps was one of mine for a while. It still is, in a way – on my bedroom wall I have schematic maps of the New York subway, London Underground and Edinburgh’s bus network as well as a stylised rendering of the island of Arran, plus this year I’ve bought a pile of Ordnance Survey maps covering great swathes of Scotland. (This was meant to be the summer of exploring, of going out into the country rather than just being in cities – it hasn’t quite panned out that way, unfortunately.) I have Google Maps on my phone and it is, with Traveline Scotland, incredibly helpful in planning day trips or routes on the hoof.

My OS maps have come in handy, though. I went to Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer the other day and number 82 (Stranraer and Glenluce – The Rhins) came with me and was helpful not only in getting our way from the bus to the Garden but in orientating ourselves in Stranraer. For those who haven’t been there – and I wouldn’t especially encourage it – Stranraer is situated at the bottom of Loch Ryan with land on either side leading up to the mouth of the loch. My dad and I weren’t sure what land we were seeing ahead of us in the distance though we gathered that it was possibly the Ailsa Craig, granite quarry and Bass Rock lookalike.

I was more sure of myself on my last great Scottish adventure, back in May. Every year I take the last Saturday off in May to mark the anniversary of my going on day trips on my own. This year I had hoped to be going to the Scottish Cup Final that day but Hibs got themselves knocked out in the semi final. So, instead, I spent weeks trying to decide where I would go. I rarely get Saturdays off so it was a big decision to be made. For a while it was to be Culzean Castle with a walk from there along to Maidens but I felt like going somewhere more familiar, on the right side of the country. I ended up in Anstruther, on the East Neuk of Fife. Definitely the right move.

Anstruther is justly famed for the Fish Bar, a rather fine chippy where you are guaranteed to spend at least 40 minutes in the queue for a fish supper on a summer’s night. (I also saw Santa there in a surreal incident just before Christmas last year but that’s another story.) It is also the birthplace of Thomas Chalmers, who led the Disruption to split the Church of Scotland in 1843, and the place to get a boat to the Isle of May. I like it for the view. As an East Lothian native, I like seeing my native county from across the Forth, with an amazing panorama starting from St. Abbs Head past Torness, Portlands, Dunbar, the Bass, North Berwick Law, Traprain, the Garleton Hills, the soon-to-be-demolished Cockenzie Power Station all the way to Edinburgh and the Pentlands. I have a photo on my wall, beside all the maps, that I took from the other side of the harbour in Anstruther about five years ago, showing a little sailing boat, a coble, I think, with the Bass, the Lammermuirs ad North Berwick Law in the background, a strand of cirrostratus clouds the only shading on an otherwise bright blue sky. The only view I like more is from the other side of the Forth, overlooking Belhaven Bay, but this one was where I wanted to be that day and so I went on the bus to St. Andrews and then on another down to Anstruther, ready to set out on a wander.

I have an unerring trend on summer days of turning up somewhere when there is a gala day, fete or wedding in full flow. Anstruther’s gala day was, naturally, in progress as I stepped off the 95 so I took a turn around the harbour then set off for Crail, as I planned but a little earlier. The walk, of about four miles, is along the Fife Coastal Path, hugging the coast most of the way with that view, right the way over to East Lothian, in full prominence. It was all the better that day becauae the sun was out, as so rarely this summer. I had never done it before but at least knew the way to Cellardyke and had an OS map for the rest.

Cellardyke Harbour was the busiest I’ve ever seen it with two sea anglers on the harbour wall, some walkers and folks at the pub. The drying green on the harbour was even full of clothes. It was still blissfully quiet with a big sky and usual dramatic setting, with the feeling of great distance from anywhere only augmented by the old buildings along the way on James Street harking back to an earlier time, sure, but were still very much homes for folk. Every time I’m in the area, I take a few minutes to stop in Cellardyke and sit with my thoughts, gazing into the distance over the Forth.

As it turned out, OS Landranger 59 (St. Andrews, Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes) wasn’t really needed except to give me an inkling of what came ahead. Hermit’s Well was one example, a geologically interesting cave that probably housed and otherwise aided smugglers over time, I imagined. I just walked with my thoughts and the view, stopping every so often to take a photo or just to take the load off. I hadn’t done a walk like that for a while and I felt enriched from the experience, even while walking through cows and sheep grazing on the shoreline was a new one on me. (I just walked round them. I didn’t fancy doing the matador bit or worse having the livestock think I was a shepherd and leading them all the way back to Glasgow.)

Looking back at the OS map tonight and thinking about that day in May leads me to think about another favourite walk in the Kingdom, from Kirkcaldy to Dysart. That was a random discovery one day a few years back and one I try to return to at least once a year. Dysart has a whole row of fine 16th century houses and is also blessed with that view across the Forth though Edinburgh with its seven hills is much more prominent, with Leith, Newhaven, Granton and Cramond particularly emphasised on the capital’s waterfront. I have a great love of art and Dysart has a cracking set of sculptures on the shoreline, six or seven posts all painted different shades of blue and grey according to the colours of the sea at particular times of the year.

I looked out my maps tonight and ideas are playing about my head, possibly for travels tomorrow or Monday. I’m thinking Fife or Blackness Castle or the western end of East Lothian. I’ll let the maps sway my decision, one way or another.