I didn’t know where to go this Friday. I had been thinking about it all week, considering various options by bus, train and even plane. One option I had planned to the nth degree was to go to Lochranza Castle at the top end of Arran, which was inspired by seeing a photo of it in the paper, but the weather forecast of heavy thundery showers put paid to that. I ended up having to make a detour to Paisley plus the fact that I badly needed a lie in meant I wasn’t free to roam until about lunchtime. And I still didn’t have a plan of where I wanted to go. On my way to Paisley, I had been thinking of Newark Castle, which is in Port Glasgow up the Clyde a bit, but as I stood at the bus stop on Brediland Road starting to make my way back, the rain was again enough to put me off. Instead I headed down to Paisley Cross and ended up on the 38 into Glasgow. It was nice again by this point and I decided to head for Cathcart to another place I had never been to, Holmwood House. I had long meant to go. The fact I have been craving more Glasgow adventures lately tipped my hand as did the time since I probably couldn’t do a trip further afield justice.
Once I hit town, I had to decide how I would get out to Cathcart. I knew the area only by occasional days working at the Couper Institute, possibly the nicest (and quietest) library in the city, and from general researches, I knew that Holmwood was about 15 minutes from the Couper and from the train station. The bus route is familiar to me but the train wasn’t so I chose the train, putting names to stations I only heard on rhythmic PA announcements, Crosshill, Mount Florida and finally Cathcart, where I turned left and ended up taking a slightly slower route, following the White Cart Way. Soon I was on a quiet residential street that gradually became more leafy. It reminded me of walks along the Water of Leith walkway and particularly of Colinton Village in the south of Edinburgh. Both Colinton and Cathcart share a milling past and it was particularly evident on Snuff Mill Road and Snuff Mill Bridge as I crossed it. I stood a few minutes on the bridge looking up and down and listening to the river lapping below.
Holmwood sits in grounds above the Cart. As I walked up the drive, I could have been anywhere. I felt very far from busy, bustling Glasgow that I had not long been fighting through. The house, designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, was fine, I have to say. Since it is a National Trust property, I got the obligatory long spiels from the enthusiastic volunteers dotted about the place and I was grateful for them. I found out more about the Couper Brothers, who owned the house. They were mill owners who had worked their way up from nothing. They built the Couper Institute so that their workers and the local population could get an education for free. Many of the city’s libraries were built out of philanthropy, for example those funded by Andrew Carnegie, though the Couper came before most of them.
The NTS had done a good job in bringing out some of the other human stories about the house, including of one of the gardeners, whose name sadly escapes me, who came from Campbeltown in Argyll, married a girl from Luss and worked for many years at Holmwood before eventually becoming Head Gardener for Edinburgh Corporation, particularly focusing on Princes Street Gardens, where he lived in a tied house. What I also liked was that the NTS is slowly working to conserve the house so there are traces of disrepair and making do and mending, with a marble expanse in the dining room found in an outhouse, for example, and there is a conservation project to uncover and restore the frescoes and original decorative features lost over time. All that is a thoroughly good thing; I liked how the house was a living, breathing house. You could imagine people living there and the peeling paint and traces of original wallpaper and ceiling cornicing was more evocative and interesting than other NTS properties I have been to. Possibly because it is more recent and has more social history than perhaps a castle in Aberdeenshire. Not that castles in Aberdeenshire aren’t interesting, they are just better from the outside, in my experience.
I sat for a while in most of the rooms, looking up at the ceilings and reading each of the information panels in turn. My absolute favourite was the Parlour with its bay window where I could look out to the grounds. If the blinds had been open, I could have sat there for hours with a book, just chilling out. I left feeling utterly enriched, satisfied by the wealth of details and the further insight into the city’s past gained from walking around the house.
Rather than heading straight home, I decided to walk to Cathkin Park, which is fast becoming a favourite haunt. I headed back to Old Castle Road and then to Manse Brae, soon finding myself back in familiar terrain, in fact on the 34 bus route as it turns up to King’s Park and Castlemilk. Instead I headed left and recognised Mount Florida Primary School not so far away. I decided to walk around by Hampden, paying my respects after 21/05/16. As I walked, I was looking for turnstile 32 so I could get a wee photo of that result writ large on our National Stadium but they finished at 29 or something. Boo.
Cathkin Park was its usual quiet splendour. I walked down one corner of the terracing and sat on a bench for a while just watching and absorbing. I shared the place with a couple of people walking their dogs and that was fine.
I thought about walking up into Queen’s Park but it was getting showery again so I headed for home via Battlefield where I had one final stop. I spend such a lot of time in transit that I see things I always mean to check out and never do. Across from the bus stop on Battlefield Road are a set of gates with the date of the Battle of Langside on them. I discovered that they led to a little vennel with garden sheds along a well-kept path. One day soon, I will need to explore further. Rebecca Solnit has a book whose title sums it all up. The Faraway Nearby, it’s called, and I would recommend it. I read it a year or two back, while on a bus between Dumfries and Carlisle, as I recall. What is nearby to us is often furthest from our consciousness and that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Very often there is no need to venture further than a few miles to see another side to our world. Even if it is just to put places to names but sometimes you end up feeling just that bit better as a result of going the other way and seeing where it takes you.