The newspapers this time of year are invariably full of features about the ‘Best of the Year’. I have already seen loads of such space-filling articles about the best of this year’s books and as ever, they puffed up books that in nearly all cases I hadn’t read and would need several lifetimes to read. My personal favourite was in The Herald where one writer mentioned an obscure pamphlet some of her friends had written with the words ‘if you can find it’. I believe that is what Private Eye would call log-rolling, par excellence.
Anyway, this will be a ‘Best of 2016’ post but since this is a travel blog, we will be focusing on the best places I’ve been this year, like I did last year. The categories last year were:
Best art gallery
Best historic place
Best place to watch football
Best fish supper
Reviewing last year’s post, I noticed that at the end, I listed five places I wanted to get to this year – Dunnottar Castle, Tantallon Castle, Oxford, Bristol and Stornoway. How many of them have I reached? None. There’s always 2017. So, rather than recriminating, let’s get into those places that have enriched my 2016, beginning with the best museum.
Best Museum – Ulster Museum, Belfast –
Without a shadow of a doubt. This was a very easy choice. When I was in Belfast in August, I went to the UM three out of the four days, spending ages wandering about its history, science, natural history and art collections, as happy as a pig in some kind of manure. As much as the art was probably my favourite bit, kudos to the curator who had the bright idea of creating a replica of a pastoral painting featuring a dragon, in a tribute to Game of Thrones.
Post – Ulster Museum
Runner-up – The Ulster Transport Museum, Cultra, near Belfast –
Another Northern Irish choice, partly down to customer service (the person behind the counter could have charged me full whack to get into the Folk Museum up the road too) but mainly due to the incredible transport and social history collections, of old trains, buses, vans and a sedan chair.
Post – Trains and that
Honourable Mention – Science Museum, London –
A new visit for me this year but full of wonder and joy, including bits of lighthouses, lunar modules and Ada Lovelace’s early computer.
Post – An island light
Best art gallery – Kirkcaldy Galleries, Kirkcaldy, Fife –
My favourite art gallery in the land. I can easily spend an hour in its four or five rooms amongst its fine collection of mainly Scottish art, from the Colourists, Glasgow Boys and William McTaggart. It is an easy trip for me and necessary every few months for a top-up.
Runner-up – Fergusson Gallery, Perth –
I like JD Fergusson. This was mainly for the building as well as the surprisingly subtle and well-done exhibition about nudes I saw there earlier this year.
Post – Perth
Best historic place – Necropolis, Glasgow –
This was a hard one, another new place but one with incredible views and which can change your perspective on a lot of things too. I even felt some local pride when I encountered the tomb of John and Isabella Elder, who donated the money to build Elder Park Library in Govan.
Runner-up – Culross, Fife –
A place on my list for many years, 16th century architecture but firmly living in the 21st century, a conservation village with pragmatism about its selling points. In short, it’s sexy and it knows it, beautiful and historic. Looking forward to another trip soon.
Post – Culross
Best library – Any one I work in, obviously.
Runner-up – Marsh’s Library, Dublin –
Marsh’s Library is an old library behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. I left after an hour enriched by spending some time amongst its stacks and just being in the place. It doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Best three euros spent in a while.
Best place to watch football – South Stand, Hampden Park, Glasgow, on Saturday 21st May 2016 about 4.52 pm –
Still can’t believe it. ‘It’s Liam Henderson to deliver!’ ‘It’s been 114 years. Now it’s not even been 114 seconds!’ And so on.
Runner-up – East Stand, Easter Road Stadium, Edinburgh, on Tuesday 16th February 2016 –
The Hearts replay at Easter Road. Probably led to Robbie Neilson’s departure from Tynecastle as I write this in the dying moments of November.
Best fish supper – Cromar’s, Union Street, St. Andrews, Fife –
Another new entry and a very fine chip shop indeed. Absolutely mobbed when there in the summer but a fine scran. All the more memorable for the persistent mooching seagulls who would not leave the bonnet of the car despite being repeatedly shooed away.
Runner-up – The Tailend, Leith Walk, Edinburgh –
I had a fish supper before one of Hibs’ evening games at the end of last season, scranned sitting in Leith Links in the capital. Very, very braw indeed.
Best park – Queen’s Park, Glasgow –
For the view from the flagpole across this great city, on grey days and sunny days, on the 21st of May and on other days when wondering what to do.
Runner-up – Leith Links, Leith, Edinburgh –
For the parade on 22nd May, when thousands of Hibees saw what they dared dream about only rarely. For smiles that still haven’t quite dimmed and when it is always time for heroes.
Best beach – Belhaven Bay, near Dunbar, East Lothian –
‘The curve of the bay opens out into the Firth of Forth with the Bass Rock and the Isle of May out into the distance. A place full of memories but never fails to wash my spirit clean. Usually because it’s bloody windy.’
Last year’s entry still true and it’s still the best place on the face of the earth.
Runner-up – Kev’s Beach, near St. Abbs, Berwickshire –
Now, ‘Kev’s Beach’ is not what it’s called on the Ordnance Survey maps. It is near St. Abbs Head, in what I believe is called Horsecastle Bay, as you walk down from the cliffs that lead from St. Abbs to the Head. It is a little secluded bit with rocks at either side, a pebbly beach and cove. Short of it having an official name, I hereby declare it ‘Kev’s Beach’, for there are few better places on the planet to be than St. Abbs and to rest your tired feet in the water and listen to the waves and pebbles caressed by them as they come to shore.
Honourable Mention – Prestwick, South Ayrshire –
For the walk I had a few weeks ago in the sunset casting changing, gorgeous colours across the Clyde, Arran and the Ailsa Craig.
So, that’s the best of 2016. Who knows what next year will bring? We could hardly have guessed what this year has brought. Let’s hope next year, 2017, will be better for the world. My year personally has had many blessings and I am thankful for what I have been able to experience this year. Have a very lovely New Year.