Streets of Glasgow: Ingram Street

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Ingram Street

The fourth Streets of Glasgow post was also the first one that actually involved research beforehand. I had a training course in the city centre one morning recently. The day before, I had the notion to fit in a Streets of Glasgow on Ingram Street, which adjoins Brunswick Street where the course was. The Merchant City is a part of the city I know vaguely, mostly for eateries and walks to other places. Many of its streets are named after eminent Glaswegians of the 18th century, many of whom earned their fortunes from tobacco and slavery. I wasn’t sure if Ingram Street was one of them though I discovered that it was named after an Archibald Ingram, the Provost of the City of Glasgow in 1762 and 1763. He was a Tobacco Lord and seems to have been involved in various city businesses in his day. Whether slavery was involved somewhere along the line, I am not quite sure. The street was originally named Back Cow Lane, which seems splendidly unlike the Ingram Street that exists today, which is grand and houses some of the city’s dearer retail establishments. It is one of the most picturesque streets in Glasgow and I don’t find myself along it very often, usually just en route to training courses, since I have little business to do in Armani and Hugo Boss.

One of the reasons I started this project was because my head is always getting turned by some fantastic bit of architecture I had never seen before. Usually above my head. Ingram Street is looking up central. There was no real point in putting my phone back in my pocket for this walk since every few seconds it came out to snap another picture. It was a sunny and pleasantly warm afternoon, right at the height of the day, and around me were workmen and office workers out for lunch or otherwise taking the fresh air. I started the walk from the eastern end of Ingram Street, less rarefied than the end nearer GOMA with flats and a chippy on the corner of the High Street. I stopped almost immediately to admire some of the carvings on the doorway of an estate agent. By Albion Street was a car park, behind which was a mural, one of many fine examples around the city, though this one might possibly be my favourite since this one shows various animals, insects and plants through cracks and holes in the stonework. That description does it absolutely no justice but trust me, take a look.

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Part of mural
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Mural behind a small patch of green space

Across the road was the Ramshorn Church, now owned by Strathclyde University, after the church’s congregation declined and closed in 1982. It now houses a theatre group. I don’t normally do graveyards and I had already been in one that week – Edinburgh’s Grange Cemetery, in fact, as written about in the post Hibstory – so I passed by. On the church’s steps were a gaggle of workmen eating their pieces in the sunshine.

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Ramshorn Church

Facing the Old Sheriff Court’s pillared frontage was Wheatley House, an office block named after John Wheatley, a Labour MP who had a key role in putting in place the welfare state in the late 1940s. He later became Solicitor General, Lord Advocate and Lord Justice Clerk as well as leading a review of safety at sports grounds following the Ibrox disaster in 1971. Given that Labour no longer controls Glasgow and indeed Wheatley’s native Shettleston now has a Tory councillor, I wonder what he might have thought of the state of things in this city today, or indeed a company bearing his name owning the city’s housing stock.

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Hutchesons’ Hall and Wheatley House
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Hutchesons’ Hall

The Hutchesons’ Hall is easily one of the finest buildings in the city, once a hospital and now a restaurant, all white and topped with a tower. Two statues stand at either side of the front of the building, of George and Thomas Hutcheson, merchants and philanthropists who founded the Hutchesons’ Hospital in 1639. The present building came later in 1802, designed by David Hamilton. This part of Ingram Street is where the street gets stunning with railings atop Wheatley House and statues above the buildings on the corner of John Street. That’s not considering the old Trustees Savings Bank across the street, which is apparently ‘an interpretation of the Roman Baroque style’ with a dome on the top but not even above the level of the surrounding buildings. It now houses a branch of Jigsaw, a posh clothes shop, and I was tickled by the figure above the window surrounded by the one word ‘Frugality’, something it isn’t really possible to practise on Ingram Street, especially when not far away are Armani, Hugo Boss and other temples of Mammon, though there was an empty space where Agent Provocateur was until recently.

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Frugality. Seriously.

My walk soon finished outside the Gallery of Modern Art, once Stirling’s Library, before that the Royal Exchange and the Cunninghame mansion. A traffic cone inevitably appeared on the head of the Duke of Wellington outside GOMA. Ingram Street is only half a mile long and GOMA dominates for most of the way. It is not the only building that stands out, however, with the Ramshorn Church, Hutchesons’ Hall and the old Trustees Savings Bank just three of the buildings that compete for attention and that’s without considering the other architectural gems above the ground along the way. My walk lasted barely 15 minutes from start to end and I wasn’t even going that fast. It was, though, the most fulfilling of these walks so far, spending the entire time with my head aloft, very much in the heart of the city and its history, the best with Hutchesons’ Hall and perhaps the worst with many of the buildings around me built on the backs of slaves. This part of our city’s past is becoming more acknowledged with time, if not accepted. Ingram Street is a place of contrasts, at its western end full of privilege and money, offices and outlets of fashion houses, while at the east is less flashy and more humble, still nicer than some other parts of the city. It is amazing how a place can change within half a mile. I look forward to the next instalment of this series and what further insights can be found pounding the pavements.

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Looking towards GOMA

This post forms the fourth post in the Streets of Glasgow series, the others being Streets of Glasgow: Buchanan StreetStreets of Glasgow: Byres Road and Streets of Glasgow: High Street.

Sources and further reading:

The Glasgow Story – Archibald Ingram – http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSE00950

The Glasgow Story – Hutchesons’ Hospital – http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSA01086

The Glasgow Story – Industrial Revolution – 1770s-1830s: Buildings and Cityscape by McKean, Charles – http://theglasgowstory.com/story/?id=TGSCF

Ross, Donald M., ‘Wheatley, John Thomas, Baron Wheatley (1908–1988)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessible via http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40379?docPos=8

Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books

The University of Strathclyde – St. David’s Ramshorn Church, Glasgow – http://atom.lib.strath.ac.uk/st-davids-ramshorn-church-glasgow

 

 

 

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Hibstory

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Paul Hanlon and Dylan McGeouch holding the Scottish Cup, David Gray to the left

Just over a year ago, in the lead up to the Scottish Cup Final, I took myself off one Tuesday afternoon on a tour of the then two places where my team Hibernian had won the Scottish Cup, beginning at the ground where the Final was to take place the following Saturday, Hampden, then over the hill to the old Hampden, Cathkin Park, and to Celtic Park where Dan McMichael’s men lifted the trophy in 1902. On 21st May 2016, Hibs won the Cup after 114 years with a 3-2 win over The Rangers. A couple of days before the first anniversary of that magnificent day, I visited St. Patrick’s Church on the Cowgate in Edinburgh. It was in the church’s rooms that Canon Edward Hannan and Michael Whelahan formed what was to become Hibernian Football Club in October 1875, an occasion marked by a plaque in the church put up by the St. Patrick’s branch of the Hibernian Supporters Association. I had never been to the church before but thought when I was in the capital that day I would go take a look. It was a peaceful and pleasant place and I was glad I went, even for the wee fix of Hibs to help me through the close season currently in progress. Then I thought about the first anniversary of the Cup Final and I started to plan out a special historical walk in search of Hibs. Beginning at St. Patrick’s Church, the plan was to walk up to the Meadows, where Hibs played the first Edinburgh derby on Christmas Day 1875, then to the Grange Cemetery and the grave of Canon Edward Hannan. From there the plan was to follow the parade route of 22nd May 2016 when 150,000 folk lined the streets from Parliament Square to Leith Links, finally finishing with a detour to Easter Road itself. It felt the best way to mark Sir David Gray Day, and it was better as the train neared Edinburgh and the sun started to come out.

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St. Patrick’s Church, Cowgate, Edinburgh
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Plaque

It felt only right to start at St. Patrick’s Church, given its place in the history of Hibs. The Cowgate was known as Little Ireland, where the Irish community of Edinburgh settled in the later part of the nineteenth century. One of them was James Connolly, better known for his part in the Irish Home Rule movement and particularly for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. He was born in the capital and it is said he was a Hibs fan in his youth, even a ball-boy at some of the club’s games. There is a plaque to Connolly’s memory, short and factual about his role in Ireland, under George IV Bridge. Interestingly, just after I stopped, a guy in a Hearts jacket and his mate stopped too. We must do our bit to guide those less enlightened.

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Plaque to James Connolly on the Cowgate, Edinburgh

I walked up Candlemaker Row amidst various tour groups, on foot and on buses, though none of them was on a tour quite like mine. When I reached the Meadows, cricket and football games were in progress while other folks were just sitting on the grass. It was quite a muggy day but windy too, as is hardly atypical of the capital all year round.

The Grange Cemetery is in a very prim and proper part of the city. I walked through Marchmont to get there and with every step I felt the property prices going up. Impressively the Grange Association and the City of Edinburgh Council keep the cemetery well-tended with a leaflet box and a sign marking the notable people buried there, including the Labour politician Robin Cook and theologians Thomas Chalmers and Thomas Guthrie. Very swiftly, inevitably, I got lost and realised I was going the wrong way. Soon enough, duly corrected, I ended up in front of the Celtic cross that marks the grave of Canon Edward Hannan, the priest who was the first manager of Hibs as well as other virtues. His gravestone talked of his clerical but also his public service as a good citizen. I stood there for a few minutes and thanked him for his part in this story that led from Little Ireland to Hampden Park and beyond, to one of the best days of my life as well as some that might not have been as great.

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Canon Hannan’s grave

As ever when I am in a cemetery, I thought as I walked about the frailty of life and how it should be cherished each day. A powerful reminder of this was when I came across the grave of a child only a few months old, which featured the heartbreaking line about how this poor boy was a ‘star who shone too bright’.

Back on the Meadows, I read of that first Edinburgh derby, where boys kept the best of the pitches for the game and tape was used to mark the goals. The game finished 1-0 to Hearts – not an outcome that has happened in a while, admittedly, since Hibs have been unbeaten in eight derbies. Hibs changed in a nearby school while Hearts donned their kit in a pub. I like that distinction but wouldn’t dream of remarking further. When I reached Parliament Square, just a little bit before 3, I found out that Hearts had failed to stop Celtic finishing the Premiership season unbeaten. Parliament Square was where the victory parade started after a civic reception. I decided to wait there until 3, about 15 minutes away and exactly a year from when the game began. It started to rain then but it didn’t last long and I sat in front of St. Giles watching a tour group and lots of others pass by. The High Street was the usual mass of humanity as I walked slowly down through the crowds. Unusually I stopped a moment to enjoy some of the street entertainment, in the form of three fiddlers who were whirling up a storm. On North Bridge, it was just after 3 when I stopped and smiled as I realised that a year ago to the moment Anthony Stokes had just scored the first goal.

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Parliament Square
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The High Street
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Fiddlers
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North Bridge
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North Bridge again
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Looking up Leith Walk

As I reached Leith, though, the game would have been 1-1. It was being shown as if live in the Harp and Castle as well as at least one other pub in the area. At the Harp and Castle, there was a list outside showing the football matches being shown in the pub that week, ending with the Final, with the words of the title of the DVD and the banner held across the North Stand at Hampden as the game began: Time For Heroes. On a nearby lamppost was a sticker of the James Connolly Hibs Supporters Club, based in Dublin, a link to the club’s past as our future forms ever more. I was beginning to tire as I reached the foot of Leith Walk and looked back up towards Edinburgh. I stood under Queen Victoria’s statue and imagined 150,000 people there a year ago, some still drunk from the night before, others drunk on sense of occasion. I only saw the start and finish of the parade, at Parliament Square and Leith Links, and it was to the Links that I proceeded to collapse on the hill looking to where the bus parked and that great Cup was paraded.

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You Are Now Entering Leith…
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James Connolly again
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Leith Links

A year later, I still can’t believe that Hibs won the Scottish Cup. I was at the game. I’ve held the trophy. I even have the winning goal on the mug I drink out of. Every time I see the highlights, particularly the winning header from Sir David Gray, my arms are aloft. It never fails to cheer me up. There’s things you think you’ll never see. Green and white ribbons on that trophy, after 114 years, after all those great teams who tried but didn’t succeed, that’s something. I am proud that I was there. Hibs are a major part of my identity, even while I now live at the wrong end of the country, and I can’t imagine my life without them, without that day in May.

As I walked down Albion Road, there was birdsong. Only moments before I passed a pub where loud singing about the Rangers player Andy Halliday emanated forth. It was only 4.20 and at the time the game was 2-1. It was therefore a little premature to look to the side of the Famous Five Stand and see the mural that depicts David Gray and Lewis Stevenson above the word ‘Persevered’. Two goals were still to come but it was a valuable reminder that it really did happen. There was one stop before I headed for the train, Bothwell Street, now normally the route home for away crowds but once where our ground was, Hibernian Park. Drum Park became our ground following the club’s return from the brink of oblivion in 1893 and it became Easter Road, even though it isn’t actually on the street that bears that name. Bothwell Street is now houses on both sides, grey tenements on one side and new flats on the other nearer the old railway.

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Albion Road

On London Road as I rested my aching feet it was 2-2. All day I had memories of where I was and what I was doing the previous year. In Marchmont I thought about my journey to Hampden, standing outside the South Stand before heading through the turnstile. At 2-2, I remember my auntie, who put me onto Hibs when I was a kid, saying she couldn’t watch. I could, though, but the nerves came back. As I reached the corner of London Road and Royal Terrace, I looked up into the sunshine and realised a year ago to the moment David Gray headed that ball Liam Henderson delivered right into Wes Foderingham’s net. By the Playhouse it was exactly a year since Steven McLean blew the full-time whistle and 114 years were no more. A year had passed since that incredible moment. It only felt right to spend the first anniversary learning more about the club that gave us that day, to walk back into history and go on a journey back to a time when the men of the parish needed a distraction and a way to integrate into a city and when their descendants lifted a trophy that ended a hoodoo and started us off on another pursuit, back into the Premiership and to write another story.

Sources and further reading:

Hibernian Historical Trust – http://www.hibshistoricaltrust.org.uk/heritage/

Grange Association – http://gaedin.co.uk/wp/new-history/cemetery

Lusk, Kirsty and Maley, Willy, Scotland and the Easter Rising: Fresh Perspectives on 1916, 2016, Edinburgh: Luath Press – stocked by Glasgow Libraries, Renfrewshire LibrariesEdinburgh Libraries and Dundee Libraries.

St. Patrick’s RC Church leaflet, Our Story, available from St. Patrick’s RC Church, South Gray’s Close, 40 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TQ – http://www.stpatricksparish.co.uk/st-patricks-home-of-the-hibs/

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Road

 

Sitting by the river

In May 2008, I went on the first of a great many solo day trips. I wrote a little about it in the recent post Durham Cathedral, as a matter of fact. Why I am mentioning it again was that a couple of weeks ago I had to do a factory reset on my tablet, where I store a fair whack of my photos, and start again. I uploaded photos from my cameras and my phone, and slowly but surely I’ve managed to get a fair few memories back onto my tablet to flick through whenever I please. One of the photos I found on my old Kodak camera was of that day, taken by the Wear, sitting on some steps right on the edge of the river. I sat there for ages and I’ve sat there quite a few times since, sometimes with other folks sitting nearby, other times entirely alone. I have been there in all seasons, including in the winter when the higher river level claims the steps temporarily.

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I’ve written before about how absolutely life-affirming that day was. I’m not normally one for sitting for long distances – there’s too much to see and do whenever I get away – but that day I sat there for quite a while watching the rowers on the river and folk pass by on the path behind me. It was quite a cloudy day, as I recall, but there was a little sun, which passed through the leaves in a way that never fails to make me thrill and love the world just a tiny bit more. I think I will need to get back to Durham soon – that’s usually the problem when I look through photos, I get pangs that lead me to journey planning. Never normally a bad thing, I hasten to add, just as sitting by a river, even for a seaside person like myself, can soothe the soul just about as much as a wave can.

Paisley 2021

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Paisley Town Hall

The race to be the UK City of Culture in 2021 is currently underway. There are a grand total of eleven areas bidding, including two in Scotland, Paisley and Perth. Some place called the Hundred of Dewisland is also bidding, which I gather from a quick Google search is in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Every day is a school day. Paisley is a place I have come to know well over the last couple of years and there have been quite a lot of different things going on in support of the bid. One is that St. Mirren FC’s ground was renamed the Paisley 2021 Stadium. Another is the emergence of various murals around Paisley town centre. On the way to a work thing today, on a scorching hot afternoon, I took a detour down Causeyside Street and took in three of them, one celebrating the 30th anniversary of St. Mirren winning the Scottish Cup, another slightly psychedelic and the third showing a girl wearing a pair of sunglasses reflecting the Paisley skyline and a top bearing the words ‘Spread your wings’. Anything showing the Scottish Cup is fine by my book, even though it is no longer calling Easter Road home. Chick Young of BBC Scotland also appears, since apparently he’s a St. Mirren fan. I liked the one on Storie Street a lot more, the one with the girl with Paisley in her eyes. It depicts a real girl, Eva Rose Ross, who was chosen after a public competition. Other murals appear around Paisley town centre, including a few on gable ends, and at some point I will share some more here. But in the meantime, if you are in Paisley, go have a wander. There are some very handsome buildings and some even better art on show.

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For more information on Paisley’s bid to be the UK City of Culture, please see http://www.paisley2021.co.uk/.

 

Streets of Glasgow: High Street

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This walk was utterly unplanned. It was inspired by passing Glasgow Cross on the way back into the city. Seeing the Tolbooth Steeple reminded me that the street that lies to its north is the city’s High Street, no less. It being a beautiful sunny afternoon, it was all I could do that I got off the bus at George Square and walked along George Street past Strathclyde University and its many murals towards the top of the High Street. With the Cathedral and the Necropolis in the background, I set off, stopping within a matter of moments to admire a mural on the gable end of one of the buildings, showing a beardy guy with birds around him. The avian kind, I should add.

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The High Street represents a lot of Glaswegian stereotypes – red tenements, closed shops and it is a bit rough, a lot more so than Byres Road, the last street which featured in this Streets of Glasgow series. Also like much of Glasgow, however, it has many fine buildings – it is always worth looking up. On the first stretch leading down to George Street, I not only appreciated the mural but also some fine finials, carvings and statues in the space of maybe 300 yards. I crossed the road by a solicitor’s office and was rewarded by looking up to see an elegant building, apparently part of a City Improvement scheme in the late 1890s, complete with curved windows and towers at the top. Across the road, though, was the first incongruous building, namely 220 High Street, the headquarters of Glasgow Life, which is a modern office block which looks like it’s composed of a box of ice lollies the wrong way round. In short, it’s part of the ‘middle finger’ school of modern architecture so I gladly passed by. The High Street has a mixture of old and new buildings, as most of Glasgow does, though there was a fair bit of empty ground across from the station which yielded a good view towards the Merchant City and Strathclyde University’s many murals.

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Unlike on Byres Road, there were few folk walking the whole way like I was. There were a mixture of commuters despite the Bank Holiday and students heading in and out of the halls of residence further down the High Street. Across the road from the halls was a good reminder of how multicultural our great city is with an eastern European food shop next to a Russian food shop which sat next to a bookies.

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Only a wee while later, I found myself back at Glasgow Cross, at the end of another walk. The Tolbooth Steeple dates from 1623 and sits like an island in the midst of a busy road junction. Or an archipelago really, since there’s also the Mercat Cross and the ventilation grilles of the old Glasgow Cross railway station around the junction. The steeple is, I read, the only surviving part of the Tolbooth which was once the centre of Glasgow’s civic life before being demolished in the 1920s. I noticed, though, that the plaque on the steeple, marking it as a city landmark, was not only on the road side with no pavement but also high above where anyone could see it without craning their neck. This walk was another around this city when I did that a lot. It is always worth looking up in Glasgow, wherever you are, but this walk was a great insight into this city, more so than Byres Road, a real, diverse, interesting Glasgow.

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Craigmillar Castle

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Craigmillar Castle

I set out the other day with no other plan than to go to Edinburgh. The fatal flaw came when the train was passing through Princes Street Gardens and I didn’t have a clue what direction I would head in from Waverley. Notions of the Botanics or going across the Forth to Dunfermline vaguely appealed but not that much. Then I had the idea to go to Craigmillar Castle and within a matter of minutes I was striding up platform 13 and out of the station, bought lunch and on a bus. Within about twenty minutes I was getting off the bus at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which sits on the outskirts of the capital, just furth of the City Bypass. There’s a path from the ERI up to Craigmillar Castle but the problem was that the hospital had grown considerably since my last visit and the bus stops were at the other side of the site from then too. A world tour of the hospital later and I ended up on the right road eventually. At the road end for the castle, a gate separated me and where I should have been. I vaulted the gate only to notice that there was a path and a pedestrian crossing about 50 yards away. I do that sort of stupid thing often enough not to be too fussed – I wasn’t to know that.

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Gate, seen and conquered

Despite a moratorium on buying books (which continues, incidentally, and gifts of books will be looked upon negatively), I came away with a guidebook, bought from a very cheerful Historic Scotland steward who said that if I encountered a door, just try it and see what happens. A good metaphor for life, I think. As I walked along the path to the castle, there was a cracking view to the back of Arthur’s Seat, with the road neatly dissecting the hill in two. The summit, the Lion’s Peak and the Hellbank were in view and so was Salisbury Crags. The day was cloudy but still clear, as I was soon to see from the castle battlements. I have always liked the courtyard at Craigmillar, which is blessed by a tree and a bit of sunlight to go with the shelter afforded by the high curtain wall and the tower house. I had forgotten, though, how very complete Craigmillar is, since like Linlithgow Palace there are doors and stairs going everywhere. When I next came to the courtyard, I had been all the way round the rest of the castle.

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Courtyard

The views from the towers encompassed great swathes of the Lothians, to Blackford Hill, the Pentlands, Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh. Particularly impressive was that I could see as far as North Berwick Law, some 23 miles away, and the Hopetoun Monument high in the Garletons nearer Haddington. Edinburgh city centre was particularly prominent, the Castle, St. Giles, Old College and the Balmoral Hotel clearly noticeable on the skyline. Despite being close to the city and road noise from the City Bypass clearly audible, the bird songs and calls were loud and long too, particularly from the West Garden where I sat later on making notes and looking across towards the P for Preston laid out in the grounds below.

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Edinburgh
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East Lothian
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P for Preston
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View from under the tree

Craigmillar is like most castles in Scotland in that it has links with Mary, Queen of Scots. She came twice, with her ladies who ride in 1563 and in 1566 when ‘ill with depression’ after the murder of her courtier David Rizzio not so far away at Holyrood. Apparently it was at Craigmillar that some of her supporters decided to do in Lord Darnley, the Queen’s consort, who had allegedly instructed that Rizzio be killed. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, and so it goes. Craigmillar belonged to the Preston family and then the Gilmours, whose burial plot still remains to the eastern end of the castle. One of the more recent folk of that ilk put up an armourial panel in the courtyard marking the construction of the western part of the castle by his ancestor Sir John Gilmour, Lord President of the Court of Session, and his wife Margaret Cockburn in 1661. I doubt somehow that the present Lord President, Lord Carloway, has quite so stylish digs. The differently coloured stone visible from the western side of the castle, particularly around the foundations, show clear signs of the earlier buildings that once stood there. There are quite a few heraldic panels about the castle and they all speak of another time, of nobility and status symbols, as I suppose most castles and their architecture often were.

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Gilmour Panel in courtyard

I wasn’t alone in exploring the castle that afternoon. Indeed I jumped rather dramatically and accidentally into a French tourist’s photo as I clambered down from a seat in the hall. There was also a ginger cat wandering about the place, probably not a permanent resident but an urban wanderer on their rounds. My first encounter was when I jumped on hearing a meow come from just up the stair from where I stood in the hall. Historic Scotland allow dogs into most of their properties but I’ve never seen a cat before. Perhaps the pigeons that still live in some of the towers might be too tempting for a cat reluctantly used to Whiskas.

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Cat in the courtyard

For a while I got out of the habit of going to castles, not getting my Historic Scotland card dirty enough as I ventured instead into museums and galleries. Craigmillar was my second in a week, with Dunnottar last Saturday. I’ve been to Bothwell, Tantallon and Edinburgh in recent memory too. 2017 is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology here in Scotland and it seems to be becoming one for me personally too, visiting more of the historic places that dot our landscape, some new, others more familiar. Craigmillar was a bit of both – my last visit came about five years ago on a freezing January Saturday and it was brief for that reason. This time was brilliant for lots of reasons – the chance to properly explore and rediscover as if new the finer reaches of the castle and its surroundings plus also just to imagine what had once gone down there. I was struck walking through one of the cellars by learning how grain and other produce was once stored there in vast quantities, having been given as rent. Castles are often thought about in terms of the great and good who lived there, more than those who lived around them or who owed fealty to those who dwelled there. They are places to read the past and to imagine the future, in the words of the current Scottish Library and Information Council promotion available in a library near you. At Craigmillar, neither was particularly hard to do.

 

 

Streets of Glasgow: Byres Road

There are some streets which as important as they are invariably seem less interesting than what lies around them. Byres Road, at the heart of Glasgow’s West End, often feels one of them, surrounded as it is by Ashton Lane and other lanes bearing markets and restaurants, plus the University and the Botanic Gardens. It is one of those streets that is quintessentially Glasgow, stylish, lined with red and golden sandstone buildings for most of its length. Glasgow is of course a complicated place, full of contradictions and imperfections, and Byres Road is one Glasgow of many. It is very different from the other side of the river or even a short distance in Maryhill, more prosperous and vibrant than elsewhere, not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

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I walked onto Byres Road around 3pm, straight from the Subway at Kelvinhall. My plan was to walk the length of Byres Road, sit in the Botanics for a bit and see where I got to after that. As I set off, I dawdled a bit, looking around me towards a car advertising the nearby TriBeCa cafe bar, not quite the New York taxi cab or the police car that often sits on Dumbarton Road. Glasgow has an American feel at times – I often feel it in the city centre looking towards the high buildings lining the straight streets – though it is quintessentially Scottish too, particularly when walking up Byres Road and looking towards the old school building in red sandstone with the Boys entrance clearly marked as in so many Victorian schoolhouses across the land. Byres Road, though, is very much in and of the West End and there are things there that would be seen nowhere else in the city, including a trendy chippy, a clothes shop with a jumper over the shoulders and a bulldog tied to a lamppost wearing a green neckerchief.

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As I waited to cross the road at the junction with Highburgh Road and University Avenue, I just stood and tried hard to take in what was happening around me. Two guys walked to stand beside me, one offering the advice that ‘What you need is some public affection’, though what that form that affection would take was lost to the winds when the lights turned green. There were parents and kids heading home from school, one child earnestly discussing what she had learned that day about Hitler. Sometimes when walking alone you cannot help but listen, not from a want of company but to understand other people and the world just that little bit better.

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Like on most of this city’s great streets, it is always worth looking up to imagine what once was. Above Nardini’s are the words ‘1876 Victoria Cross’, apparently a reminder of an old dispute when the city fathers wanted to rename the street after Queen Victoria, which didn’t ever quite happen. The back of the Western Infirmary, on the corner of Church Street, with crests and finely worked details around the windows, is also worth looking at, particularly when waiting at the traffic lights waiting to cross the road, invariably the best time to pause and look around and very often up.

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Byres Road isn’t a street I am massively fond of. It isn’t the prettiest in the city, neither is it the most historically or architecturally interesting. It can be hipsterish in many respects, incurably and insufferably middle-class, which makes it so much harder for me to relate to the place. But I don’t dislike it. It has some great music and book shops, plus it is very close to some of the best places in the city, Kelvingrove and the Hunterian, the Botanics, plus it also has some very interesting inhabitants. Walking its length was an insight into a Glasgow I don’t see very often, with its infinite varieties of people, shops and entertainments, in short a city of kaleidoscopic difference. It brings to mind the quote from Peter McDougall, which I have by my bed as I write this:

‘Glasgow is not a geographical site; it’s a state of mind’.

After this walk, Glasgow very much remains my state of mind, today as four years ago when this first became my geographic site. It will hopefully remain for a long time to come.

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Dunnottar Castle

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Dunnottar Castle

There is a wonderful resource called the Dictionary of the Scots Language providing definitions for thousands of words from all across the country. Its definition of ‘haar’ is:

‘A cold mist or fog, gen. used on the east coast for a sea-mist’

When I left Glasgow yesterday morning, it was cold, wet and drizzly. It was the first rain I had seen in a fortnight so my reaction wasn’t downcast rather to point out to my family the strange wet stuff coming out of the sky. As the bus got further north towards Aberdeen, it became foggier and foggier, particularly when we reached the point when the A90 begins to hug the coast nearer Stonehaven. A haar and no mistake. That was the point when I could have changed my mind, stuck to Aberdeen and supposedly less dismal pursuits. But I didn’t. I persevered anyway. I had travelled 130-plus miles and I wasn’t going home without first paying a visit to Dunnottar, even if I couldn’t see 30 feet in front of my face.

From Aberdeen, I got another bus to take me back south again to Stonehaven. The bus did go to the road end at Dunnottar but I felt like a walk. Plus Stonehaven is a handsome seaside town, particularly the bit by the harbour with its stout stone buildings. Even with the haar, there were bairns playing in the water as the waves lapped up to the shore and folks sitting on benches watching and looking out. I ducked up a wynd and a steep slope towards the coastal path. I wasn’t the only one, meeting a steady stream of other people heading in the other direction. One reason why they were was the fact I could see absolutely fuck all, not even the War Memorial that sits high atop the hill facing the castle, but I could still hear the waves, proper pebbly waves, and that intensified their power. In the absence of much other visual stimuli, my perception and appreciation of them was intensified too and it was truly beautiful. I grew up by the sea so a thick haar is hardly unfamiliar to me. I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty in the dimness. The waves down below were just visible and they were fierce, whipping up a broth of foam as they crashed over the rocks.

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War Memorial, post-haar
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Your actual waves

When I reached Dunnottar, I walked down the steps though I could barely see the rock and nothing else. It made it more dramatic, particularly the Whig Vault, where Covenanters were imprisoned following a revolt in 1685, 122 men and 45 women. In there a large window gave a view across huge rocks bedecked with seabirds and an even stormier broth of a sea. The castle was still surprisingly busy as I walked around, different accents and languages, even some Scots, still present even with the mist. Dunnottar is also where the Honours of Scotland were fought over in 1650 during the brief rule by Cromwell and the English Parliament. The Crown, Sceptre and Sword were taken from Edinburgh Castle but eventually hidden in Kinneff Kirk up the road until Charles II assumed the throne and Cromwell got posthumously hanged for his trouble.

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The view from the Whig’s Vault
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Whig’s Vault

After a bit, I looked up and saw the sun trying to force its way through the haar, looking for all the world like a brighter, shinier moon. I proceeded to walk back around the castle again as I was able to see more of the cliffs and surroundings around me, even that war memorial on the hill, seemingly intentionally incomplete. The thought had occurred to me already to come back again regardless but it was nice to get the balance of the haar and the hazy blue sky that soon came.

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Coat of arms to mark marriage of the 7th Earl Marischal to Elizabeth Seaton
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Sundial
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This alone was worth the trip

Dunnottar Castle is justly one of the most prominent castles in Scotland. When I was talking about this visit, several people had spoken about their past visits or how they longed to go. It is a beautiful place, though one with a lot of substance too. I have been to a lot of castles in my time and there are some that are beautiful and insubstantial – Edinburgh comes to mind, since as fine a place though it is, the best bit is the view to other places. Urquhart might be another. It is a fine ruin though its location on Loch Ness makes it much more popular than it might otherwise be. Dunnottar combines its incredible surroundings with a formidable past. It suited my mood, since the 17th century is one of the most interesting to study of Scotland’s story, of the Union of the Crowns, Charles I and Cromwell, Darien and the lead up to the Union. Plus of course the Covenanters seeking religious freedom. Visiting places like Dunnottar made me interested in history in the first place and it’s why I will be going back to my degree next year to get it finished and learn some more along the way.

I took my time walking back up the steps from the castle, trying to find the best angle for a photograph of the castle on the cliff and one where I wouldn’t have people in the shot. The headland to my right had about five or six folk with cameras doing the same thing. I decided not to join them. From the bus stop I could still just see the castle, low on the horizon over the fields. As I got on the bus and it powered towards Stonehaven, I was rewarded with one last view across to the War Memorial with the castle peeking behind, another reason why it’s worth just going anyway, even if at first the weather doesn’t fit.

 

Glasgow Women’s Library

I’ve never met a library I haven’t liked. I’ve been in many of them, worked in more than a few too, and in each one I ever visit, I always feel the same sense of contentment in the presence of collected knowledge. I never feel anxious in a library but that might be because of my background working in them as well as the still sense of order in each one.

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Recently I went to the Glasgow Women’s Library, which sits in Bridgeton in the East End. The GWL has been on my radar for a while – what I heard of its work, from colleagues and library users, impressed me immensely. Libraries open up worlds for people that they didn’t know existed and the GWL has a very broad collection of works by female writers as well as museum and archive collections on politics, lesbian issues and the National Museum of Roller Derby. They also provide outreach sessions and workshops for women from all sorts of backgrounds on all sorts of things. All this I was broadly aware of before I walked into the place but what I was struck by was its friendliness. Within moments, my friend and I were welcomed, offered a cup of tea and whisked away for a tour. Many people have an image of libraries as rather forbidding, unapproachable sorts of places and those who work in them as much the same, a perception many of us are trying our hardest to change. The GWL lives up to its credo as expressed on the A-frame at the door: ‘We Are Open To Everyone’. Even me, the only guy in the place, a fact I only noticed well into the time we were there.

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The tour included the museum store, all climate-controlled as befits a collection which is recognised as a nationally significant collection by the Scottish Government. JA and I are both museum geeks so getting into a store with its boxes all carefully accessioned and labelled is a rare treat. The mezzanine level houses some of the older and rarer books, including one I spotted about Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the Victorian intellectual Thomas Carlyle and a writer and thinker in her own right. Jane hailed from Haddington in East Lothian, in fact the house where she was born is across a narrow close from the town’s library.

The main lending library was naturally where I had to be next, to look at their collection, which wasn’t organised by Dewey, rather by subject with Drama, Poetry and Politics rather than a series of numbers with a decimal point attached for good measure. The books were kept in place with blocks marked with the names of writers, though most poignantly the Politics section had a block bearing the name of Jo Cox, the MP who was assassinated last year. I saw lots of books I would have loved to just sit and read, including a biography of the very versatile and prolific Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison. Time, alas, precludes such pleasures.

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Nan Shepherd wrote that ‘it is a grand thing to get leave to live’. Libraries give us leave to live. One of the greatest pleasures of being in a library is having your mind blown by something you read. Even better still is working in a library because of the people you find there, the kind that boil the blood as much as those who become more like friends. Libraries are open to everyone and I have never failed to feel comfortable in any of them I’ve ever encountered. Not everyone feels that way and that must change. The Glasgow Women’s Library is a truly special place and I am proud that this city, my city, is its home. Their work in sharing literature and stories makes people feel part of something, a movement, a collective where no one is alone. Theirs is an open door in an often closed world. It must be cherished and celebrated, now more than ever.

Thanks for reading. In the next couple of months, I will be publishing the 300th post here on Walking Talking. To celebrate that milestone, I would like to open it up to suggestions. If anyone has any suggestions for the 300th post, put them in the comments box or contact me in another way if you know how. We have one suggestion already but I am open to others.