I’ve been reading a bit lately about why people follow blogs. As a blogger of nearly two years, I read a lot of other blogs. I didn’t used to until I started Walking Talking. I follow a grand total of 140 blogs and most of them I follow through my WordPress Reader. Some of them I get e-mail updates for weekly, a select few as soon as a post is published. There are some who say that people follow blogs to get traffic for their own blog. I don’t do that. When I used to post photos for the WordPress challenges, I got some new readers that way. Nowadays I get random likes for posts I’ve published, usually soon after they’re published. Some are familiar names, others aren’t. I decide which ones to read, like or follow (or all three) on a case-to-case basis. I have exactly one rule, namely, if I enjoy what I read, then I’ll read more. I don’t follow or like blogs to get other people to read mine. If people like what I write, great. If not, then there are other things out there on the Internet.
Looking through the blogs I follow, there is considerable diversity, blogs about football, Scotland, psychogeography, museums, autism, London, libraries, writing and plenty of other things besides. I spend a little time every day catching up with my Reader and like and follow based on my whims. Occasionally I get ideas from reading other blogs, for example with a recent post called ‘Introverted roads‘ which was inspired by the psychogeography blog Edinburgh Drift, or the monthly digests I nicked from The Glasgow Gallivanter. A post I wrote recently which mentioned a concept called ‘the urban imaginary’ came from a comment left by the blogger behind the very interesting lullueblog. I am a reader and new ideas excite me. Being a human being not all of my own ideas are winners; that’s why other people are worth listening to. That’s why they’re better.
We spend so much time in our days staring at a screen that having a filter is desirable a lot of the time. My sole yardmark is quality. It’s undefinable, for the most part, but most of what makes something good isn’t easy to describe. That’s fine with me.
In that spirit, then, I am off for the next 10 days or so and I’m taking a break from blogging over that time too. In the meantime go out and be in the world. If you can’t do that read a book. I intend to do a bit of both.
I didn’t know until recently that the Ailsa Craig, a big hunk of granite in the middle of the Firth of Clyde, is twelve times the area and three times as high as the Bass Rock, its doppelganger in the Forth. Having grown up in Dunbar, I am considerably more familiar with the Bass and so I always think of the Ailsa Craig as being the lesser relation, even though I now know the western version is much, much larger. Things always have to be bigger and better through here, eh? Anyway, it got me thinking about Ayrshire. Going down there is always exciting to me. I grew up at the other side of the country so the rolling coastline south of Ayr and Girvan is exotic, with an unfamiliar vista to the Ailsa Craig and beyond on a good day to Arran, Kintyre and Northern Ireland. The first time I went was when I was a kid and there was a brief stopover at Girvan en route somewhere else. I was entranced by the Ailsa Craig and bought a postcard of it to take home. (My main memory of that particular trip, though, was getting a can of Mango and Mandarin Lilt, which was my favourite and can never be found anywhere.) Ever since, I love being in that part of the country. When I went to Northern Ireland last year, I thought all the way down to the ferry at Cairnryan that even this journey was enough to see me for a while, let alone the trip across the North Channel. (For posts on that particular trip, please see (North) Channel crossing, Ulster Museum, Trains and that.)
The Bass Rock is far more familiar to me. When I see it, I have a similar response to when I clap eyes on the Ailsa Craig: I just smile, sigh and relax. I may have written before about how it looks different from different angles, whereas the Ailsa Craig looks remarkably similar from wherever you happen to see it. From Dunbar, the Bass looks craggy and intimidating while from North Berwick it is more of an island affair. Across the Forth in Crail, Cellardyke and Anstruther the Bass looks more like a tooth, a monolith as opposed to the bumpy land just beyond it in East Lothian. I’ve never actually been though I have been close. When I was a teenager we went out on a fishing boat and went quite close to the Bass, if not right up to it. It is one of the largest seabird colonies in the world and in the summer there can be thousands of gannets on it, turning the rock a bright white. I gather that the Ailsa Craig has quite a few gannets on it too but I’ve never quite seen that shade of bright, glossy white anywhere else.
Hugh MacDiarmid wrote a poem which began ‘Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?’ Our country is a multiform and that is particularly evident when thinking of our coastline. Both sides of the country are rugged with lots of jagged edges that Slartibartfast of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be very proud of. Scotland isn’t very symmetrical but the Ailsa Craig and the Bass Rock make up for it, two lumps of rock in the sea at either side of the country, at either side of the Lowland Fault. For a Dunbar boy like me, the Ailsa Craig is still a tribute act, even if it is far bigger than I realised before.
Sources and further reading –
Haswell-Smith, Hamish, An Island Odyssey, 2014, Edinburgh: Canongate
When I reached Waverley, I didn’t have a clue where I was going to go next. I had vague notions of Dirleton Castle, maybe even Dunbar, but loud drumming I could hear from the top of Waverley Steps made me want to escape the city centre all the faster. It was a nice, sunny day and I decided to head for Newhaven Harbour by the Forth. Leith Walk was its usual traffic chaos, with the latest bit being dug up by Brunswick Road. At the foot, I thought about going to the Shore via Constitution Street or Parliament Street but I decided to walk up Great Junction Street instead. I hadn’t been up Great Junction Street on foot before. I know it best from primary school swimming lessons in Dr Bell’s school, one of the various Victorian primary school buildings in Edinburgh built with a swimming pool. Dr Bell’s is still there, looking in good nick from the outside. I gather that the building houses a family centre now though I can’t make out whether the swimming pool gets any use now. It was an old-fashioned space with white walls and changing cubicles at either side of the pool on two levels. In retrospect, especially considering how many generic leisure centres exist now, I was lucky to learn to swim at Dr. Bell’s and the pool at Broughton Primary, another sturdy old Victorian schoolhouse.
Great Junction Street is quite underrated. It is fairly run-down, particularly at the end nearest Leith Walk, but there are some very handsome buildings along it, the best of which is topped by a cupola and houses the Leith Bed Centre, of all things. It is quite reminiscent of the buildings around Tollcross at the other side of Edinburgh. I also admired a church further along at the other side of the Water of Leith, which appears to have been a bingo hall or a cinema, judging by its frontage.
At the junction of Ferry Road sits Leith Library, quite similar in design to Elder Park Library in Govan, with the Leith coat of arms above the door, even though it was built after Leith had been amalgamated into Edinburgh in the 1920s. As I walked towards the shore, I spotted another old school, this time just a plaque for David Kilpatrick School, now demolished with a small park in its place.
Newhaven is a fine old harbour, with a few fishing boats and a smattering of yachts. In place of the fish market, though, is a Loch Fyne oyster bar and some trendy eateries. It is still a fine place with views across the Forth to Fife and along the coast to the Forth Bridges. I sat down for a bit under the lighthouse and decided that since it was a nice day, I would walk some more of the coastline, perhaps even to Cramond, about 6 miles away. As I left and turned right, I reflected that as much as I love Newhaven, the actual Loch Fyne is probably a better place to sample their oysters.
This stretch of the Edinburgh coastline once saw a young Charles Darwin studying geology and some of the marine life thereabouts. I had forgotten about that but it’s a lesser-known part of Darwin’s life, with some of his education in Edinburgh, even while most of his work was in Cambridge and of course the Galapagos.
Towards Granton I enjoyed walking past Wardie Bay, handsome houses on the land side with a quaint village sort of feel and modern flats like at the Western Harbour jutting out into the Forth. Granton Square with its stout grey buildings led into an industrial estate that kept me away from the Forth for a bit. There was a nice red brick building with a lighthouse tower at the top but that was the sole interest for a bit. Further towards the coast there was an interesting elaborate stone archway behind a fence, which I gather was part of Caroline Park House, a private house a bit further through the trees.
Gates of Caroline Park House
Not so far away I crossed the road and joined the Edinburgh Coastal Path again, this time a wide path that eventually led to Cramond. I sat for a couple of minutes admiring the view to Fife and what I thought was Inchcolm but turned out to be the smaller islet of Inchmickery. I couldn’t see Inchcolm, with its abbey, until much closer to Cramond, since it is just to the left of Cramond Island with its spiked causeway. This part of the walk was much busier with other walkers, cyclists and families out enjoying the day. Towards Silverknowes in particular, the cafe was thronged with people and there were a right few people on the beach or even rockpooling. I sat on a bench for a bit, to rest my now-tired tootsies, then walked the mile or so to Cramond. The tide was right but I felt I had walked enough. I had a quick look at the yachts, took a few photos and then hoofed it to Barnton, since I soon discovered that Cramond isn’t well-served by buses on a Sunday. Why would it be when half the population seems to drive a Range Rover?
Looking towards the Forth Bridges
Fish sculpture by Ronald Rae
I had been meaning to walk this particular stretch of coastline for years. When I was in Edinburgh regularly, I had notions to walk from Cramond back towards Leith but it never happened. This was the right day for it, to be honest. It was an interesting insight into some of the less lovely parts of the capital but some of its lesser-spotted charms too, like the gate at Caroline Park House and of course Newhaven. The finest part of the walk, though, was just after Granton with the view to the Forth Bridges. I wondered if the designers of the new bridge had walked this path before since the three bridges were perfectly aligned with each popping up higher than the one before. Sometimes the best notions come when we walk, the result of putting one foot in front of another with impulses leading us further still.
In the recent Streets of Glasgow post about Cathcart Road, I forgot to mention that particular thoroughfare’s resonance in my own life. I grew up in East Lothian and visits to Glasgow weren’t all that frequent. It was after all the other side of the country. When we did we were usually passing through en route to Paisley, where one of my aunties lived. One time we came through was to go to the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park, Scotland’s national stadium. We got the train to Mount Florida and walked down to Cathcart Road, all brown tenements, the street absolutely jumping or so it seemed to my 13-year-old country bumpkin self. For a long time that was one of my main mental images of Glasgow. Even when I moved here, I knew how to get to Hampden and that was pretty much it.
I have written about Hampden before, including a visit last year to the Scottish Football Museum. Rather than repeat myself, I wanted to write about what Hampden means to me. I’ve been there three times to see the museum plus to see Hibs play five times. My Hampden scorecard is two wins, three defeats. That one of those wins was one of the greatest days of my life, 21st May 2016, brought about by the head of Sir David Gray, doesn’t bear repeating. I have a reverence towards any football ground, big or small, and the National Stadium strikes awe in me every time. I know it’s got many faults – the west and east ends are too far away from the action, food is ridiculously expensive, it’s a good 15,000 seats smaller than Murrayfield and that’s before mentioning those who manage the game from the offices there – but for better or worse it’s Hampden and it’s where the Cup Final happens. It’s a day for pomp and pageantry, for Sunday best and hopefully going absolutely radge come full time. As Stephen Watt said in his poem to celebrate Queen’s Park’s 150th anniverary, home is where the Hampden is. It’s a place for history, of great internations, of Puskas and the 1960 European Cup Final, of record-breaking crowds (149,515 against England in April 1937, even 122,714 for the 1973 Cup Final between Celtic and Rangers). The last time I walked by Hampden I tried to imagine that scale of people passing along these streets, just a sea of bunnets. And the roar of the crowd.
Not so long ago, the fixtures came out for the new season, emanating naturally enough from the SPFL’s offices at Hampden. The Premiership fixtures are more spaced out than those of the Championship, League 1 and League 2, and I looked at the fixtures for the lower leagues to see if there were some Saturdays I was off and when Hibs weren’t playing that I could get to another game. I would like to get to Palmerston Park where Queen of the South play, partly because I like the hurl to Dumfries, but also because Palmerston looks a nice, old-fashioned ground with terracing and everything. Edinburgh City is another one since they only came into the SPFL last season and they gave Hibs season ticket holders a discount. But I would like to see Queen’s Park most of all. The Spiders are 150 years old this year and make a virtue of being the last amateurs in the senior leagues in Scotland. They also play at Hampden to an average crowd of 645, some 51,000 fewer people than the ground’s capacity. It’s that which makes me want to go, as well as Hampden being a mere 4 miles from here. Plus it would back up that I’ve often said that Queen’s Park is my Glasgow team, owing to my deep dislike of Celtic and Rangers. I’ve checked and there are a grand total of two Saturdays this season when Hibs aren’t playing but Queen’s Park are at home, on 11th November against Arbroath and 6th January against Stranraer. Hopefully I’ll get there. I don’t imagine 645 people can roar that hard but I hope to be proven wrong.
Next to Hampden is Lesser Hampden, where Queen’s Park’s offices are. It is also a football ground, though mainly used for training. The Queen’s Park crest is etched into the wall outside Lesser Hampden and it’s a nice reminder that yes there is football here outside the Cup and when Scotland are around. What I didn’t know was that the pavilion building backing onto the Mount Florida Church and Cathcart Road was a farmhouse and barn, of Clincart Farm, in fact, only in 1923 turned over to footballing purposes. In a sprawling city like Glasgow, it’s good to remember that it wasn’t totally urban until comparatively recently.
I don’t know when I’ll be back at Hampden. Hopefully the Hibs will be there soon, obviously, but here’s hoping I make even one of Queen’s Park’s games, even for the novelty of sitting as one of very few when once this ground held hundreds of thousands. Still the same game, though, and that’s what matters.
Sources and further reading –
O’Brien, Ged, Played in Glasgow: charting the heritage of a city at play, 2010, Malavan Media
I said in the post Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders that I would write some more about a walk I had after tea in the New Town of Edinburgh. A few years ago, I read a bit about psychogeography, the French Situationist concept that basically encourages alienated city dwellers to become closer to their surroundings by aimlessly drifting through the metropolis. At the time I used to go on regular day trips to Edinburgh. It was fairly close to home and it was also cheap. I used to practise some psychogeography in the streets of the capital, very often in the New Town, mainly below Dublin Street but sometimes as far as Stockbridge. I haven’t done it as much in recent years but I hope my Streets of Glasgow project sort of fits into the psychogeography mould, since it helps me feel closer to Glasgow.
Keeping to tradition, I started by walking down Dublin Street, soon looking left and right and choosing to walk past the wonderfully named Karen’s Unicorn Chinese restaurant onto Abercromby Place, within moments looking and deciding to head down Nelson Street onto Northumberland Street and then Drummond Place, by its closed gardens. I chose to turn left onto Cumberland Street, mainly because I’ve been thinking about writing about its Glaswegian namesake for a while, and it was very pleasant with a few folk sitting outside pubs or otherwise milling around in the evening sunshine. It took me out at St. Stephen’s Church, probably my favourite New Town building and the type of church where it is readily possible to imagine a couple swishing out of it freshly married and being showered by confetti by their friends and loved ones. I did think about walking up Royal Circus but that would have taken me too far from Waverley and I was tired. Instead I ended up back on Northumberland Street. That day I had not only been in Northumberland but also at Dryburgh Abbey where Walter Scott and his biographer John Wilson Lockhart are buried. Randomly I was walking behind a couple who met a friend of theirs outside his house, which had a plaque on it saying that it was where one John Wilson Lockhart lived. I like serendipity like that. Everything’s connected. The walk soon finished on Dublin Street as I looked towards Waverley and home.
It had been good to do a derive again. My rambles tend to be more rigidly planned these days so being able to just follow my feet and my instincts, especially on a beautiful night in a nice part of a city I know well, was just magic, a great end to a very varied day.
Gordon Street is probably the street in Glasgow I use most often, invariably darting along it at considerable speed to catch a train at either Central or Queen Street. It is the street that helped to inspire this Streets of Glasgowseries since it is despite being a busy, thriving city thoroughfare also architecturally stunning. I finally got round to it one wet Sunday evening with half an hour to kill before my train home. I started from the Buchanan Street end and reached the Hope Street in barely 10 minutes, having spent much of the time looking up and noticing many more details and stunning architectural features than I had previously appreciated. The Royal Bank of Scotland was the first building to give me pause – with its various heads and finer touches. I wonder if the folk dining in the heated tent below ever look up. It’s worth it at every turn on Gordon Street for most of the buildings will reward a closer glance, layered and diverse with each bound along the way. A particular highlight was the building above the Co-op, which houses offices for the legal firm Harper Macleod, which is all glass and reflects the tops of its surrounding buildings.
I had to stop outside Central Station and look back along at what I had missed. Even the building on the corner that houses Greggs is gorgeous, with a cupola on the top. Quite a few Greggs branches in Glasgow city centre are in nice buildings, like the one on Queen Street and the new one on Argyle Street next to Waterstone’s. The red sandstone building above the new Sainsbury’s, Standard Buildings, is also very handsome and detail-laden. I also stopped by the Citizen Firefighter sculpture outside the Grand Central Hotel. I didn’t know until I looked it up just now that the sculpture was designed to pay tribute to the firefighters of Glasgow, past and present. With the fire at Grenfell Tower in London still fresh in our minds, I can’t help but admire those who brave these conditions every day to protect us all. It is fitting and works with its surroundings too.
Of course the walk finished at Central Station, quite handily since it was where I had to get my train home. Central Station is the biggest and busiest station in Scotland and it is certainly the most architecturally interesting, with the possible exception of St. Enoch Subway nearby. As I walked up for my train, a CrossCountry express pulled up, bound for Newcastle. For a few moments, I was tempted to jump on it but that would have been too far for one weekend. Gordon Street manages to combine a lot in not a lot, roughly 300 yards to be precise, and it’s always worth looking up to find yet more, just like on a departure board when impulse wants to take you further. Another time, certainly, but I was happy where I was, awestruck once more by the beauty of this city, hidden in plain sight.
Last weekend I walked from Dryburgh Abbey to Melrose, about 4 miles or so, and part of the route took me on a road that was closed off at either end. It had clearly once been a public road with the road markings still there but fading. I walked for about half an hour entirely alone, slowly climbing, trees on one side and fields on the other. Plus hills. I was reminded of it earlier when I read a post on the blog Edinburgh Drift, which was about a walk along Turnhouse Road, not far from Edinburgh Airport. It had one of the best lines I’ve seen in a while, which was ‘If a road could be introverted, this would be it.’ This was one of those roads, being slowly reclaimed by nature, once busy and bustling with cars, now only trodden on by walkers shuttling between Border abbeys. Or horses, as shown by the frequent smatterings of their leavings along the way. There should be more introverted roads.
Robert Burns said it best that ‘the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’. I’m not sure if Burns had much time for day tripping between being a ploughman and getting his end away but I suspect the sentiment would have applied quite snugly. I had planned the trip to Berwick after I had been sent a photo of Bamburgh Castle on Facebook. No sooner had I seen it then I was on booking train tickets. Over the next few days I thought about where I would go from Berwick, whether to Bamburgh or Lindisfarne, Alnwick or St. Abbs. I packed no fewer than four Ordnance Survey maps and of course the time I needed navigational assistance I didn’t have the right one. The day took me from Berwick inland to Dryburgh Abbey near St. Boswells then up the Borders Railway to Edinburgh and home from the capital. The walk around the walls at Berwick was the only clearly planned bit of the day when it began. It was only on the pier that I ended up deciding on Dryburgh.
It got sunnier the further east I got. I had managed to snaffle a First Class ticket and I had a table seat to myself as the train left Central bound eventually for Penzance. Even the comfy seats would have been little comfort if I was going that far. From Edinburgh, the train soon hit East Lothian, crossing the fields as I smiled and reflected that it was good to be home, even just to pass through.
I always like to stop in Berwick Station. It was built on the site of the old Berwick Castle, one of the mightiest fortifications in these islands, with the great hall right where the platforms now are. Precious little survives, only a small bit of wall across the tracks from the station buildings. Luckily the walls are much more intact and I was soon up on them, looking down on the town going about its business in the sunshine. I hadn’t realised that from the bridge where the Marygate joins the Castlegate that it is possible to see beyond the Town Hall to Bamburgh and Lindisfarne. The views from the walls are cracking, even better from the pier designed by John Rennie of Phantassie, with the sea shimmering and the sunshine reflecting off the scaffolding currently gracing Lindisfarne Castle. There were lots of folk out walking or running, quite a few fishing by the lighthouse. I often fall asleep or sometimes even wake up to the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 and Berwick is the point in the Inshore Forecast where north the area stretches to Rattray Head near Peterhead and south to Whitby. The sea was gorgeous, calm and sparkly, not quite the scene on the Lowry trail board on the lighthouse but just right for the day. I hadn’t done this walk for a while. I used to do it every so often when I still lived in Dunbar and I had an Open University essay to write. I often went for a walk around the walls planning my essay out in my head. Then I took out my notebook. I relived those times and thought of future studies as well as the more immediate future and where I wanted to spend the rest of the day.
The 67 bus, operated by Perryman’s, must run on one of the most scenic routes in these islands, from Berwick eventually to Galashiels 40 miles away in the heart of the Scottish Borders. It took a good while to even cross the border, delving down farm tracks and lanes, eventually doing so at Coldstream just as I was about to doze off. Norham Castle, just on the English side, always looks imposing and impressive and one of these days I will need to go. Kelso looked lovely in the sunshine with its impressive mercantile buildings. Even more impressively there was a group of lads out playing and one of them had a Hibs top on, not something I see that often, certainly putting right the sight of Tynecastle earlier in the day. Anyway, as we neared St. Boswells, I was looking at my maps and trying to hatch a plan to get to Smailholm Tower but it turned out to be 5 miles from Dryburgh, not so easy when on foot. When I got to Dryburgh, I bought a guidebook for Smailholm, so at least I can read about it if not actually get there.
From St. Boswells I had a pleasant half-hour walk along the side of the Tweed to Dryburgh Abbey, stopping for a few moments en route at the Temple of the Muses dedicated to the Border poet James Thomson. The muses were worth a closer look, more modern and beguiling than the more conventional Greek ones in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. Dryburgh Abbey is in a stunning location right by the Tweed. It is ruined but what ruins there are! I particularly love the floral window at the end. I just wandered a while, admiring the architecture but just loving the peace and serenity. I sat for a wee while by the river and read and it was utterly lovely.
Owing to the sparsity of buses, I decided to walk to Melrose, around 4 miles, through woods and up a road which was closed off to vehicular traffic lending it an eerie feel. I half expected the crew of Top Gear to drive past me in a rally car or something. The first part of the path led me to Newtown St. Boswells though I was only certain of this when I went to the cash machine and the receipt told me where I was. Anyway, not long before I eventually reached Melrose, now in scorching sunshine, I stopped off at the Rhymer’s Stone, dedicated to the 14th century poet Thomas the Rhymer, who apparently fell asleep there and was met by the Queen of the Fairies who led him off for what he thought was three days but in fact turned out to be seven years, imparting wisdom and bestowing on him truth. I had not long left Dryburgh, the burial place of Sir Walter Scott and much of his family, including his biographer John Wilson Lockhart, and it reminded me of just how literary rich the Borders are. That’s before considering the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg.
I reached Melrose and decided to catch the bus up the road to Tweedbank, terminus of the new Borders Railway. I say ‘new’, it’s been open two years. It was new to me and I reached Tweedbank with a couple of minutes to spare and the train to Edinburgh waiting. The journey to the capital took just shy of an hour and passed through some stunning countryside, much reminiscent of the East Coast Main Line in Berwickshire with quaint villages and thick forest plantations for much of the route, and it was only nearer Midlothian that there were more signs of life, with the bonus of crossing the old viaduct just beyond Newtongrange.
It was still beautiful, sunny and warm in the capital and after tea I had a walk around the New Town. I’ll write another post about it soon since it was psychogeographical in nature but I wanted to share a random bit of serendipity. I was walking along Northumberland Street, a nice bit of symmetry considering where my day started, and a couple met their friend just outside a house. The house had a plaque on it declaring it was where one John Wilson Lockhart had lived, biographer of Walter Scott and buried in the same plot at Dryburgh Abbey where I had been only a few hours before. Everything is connected, even in the unlikeliest ways and certainly not planned, best-laid or otherwise.
Buses and trains from Glasgow to Oban pass through Dalmally, a village right in the middle of Argyll on the shores of Loch Awe. Either mode will reward the passer-by with an excellent view over Loch Awe towards a castle that sits on its edge. Kilchurn Castle is gorgeous and this being Scotland, its grey stone walls appear on countless books and tourist brochures. Unlike most other achingly photogenic castles in Scotland, Kilchurn Castle not only isn’t signposted but is absolutely free to get into, along a path from a small car park. I had never been and it was only when passing by one day recently that I finally managed to get there.
It was the start of July and the weather was changing by the minute, the sun appearing then hiding behind the clouds. A jacket was a good bet. We parked in a glorified layby and only realised we were on the right road when we saw a small sign on the ground in Historic Scotland style with an arrow below the words ‘TO THE CASTLE’. Just beyond the gate was a red railway bridge that I recognised as on the West Highland Line to Oban. Around us were fields of grass and hills beyond. Along the shoreline on both sides were tents housing anglers and other campers braving the Scottish summer in all its glory. We soon came to the castle and despite being in the middle of Argyll, there were a good few folk about, tempted by its location possibly, maybe some others familiar and here on purpose. One was a family with a wee boy, not long on his feet by the look of him but merrily toddling around nevertheless.
We had been to quite a few Historic Scotland castles and some much less substantial than Kilchurn. We were impressed. It was ruined but we liked that. There was a tower house with a range that would have housed kitchens and apartments on the northern side. It was very easy to walk around and imagine what had once stood there. What made it, though, was the location. Through every window there was an incredible view, up the loch or across to mountains. We wandered for a while then decided to start south. We weren’t the only ones. When we left the castle, we heard a train approaching up the side of Loch Awe, heading for Glasgow. It probably arrived here much the same time as I did but those on board hopefully looked the right way and saw this castle and wondered and planned a visit here, one day finally coming to fruition.
There’s not so many castles in Scotland I haven’t been to at least once. Bothwell Castle, by the Clyde not so far out of Glasgow, is one I have been to more than once but it is also one of those places that doesn’t disappoint on a repeat visit. This post is actually being written on a bench in the courtyard at Bothwell Castle. Right now, probably many weeks before it actually gets posted, it is a gorgeous sunny and warm Bank Holiday Monday. There are a fair few other visitors, a bustle rather than a hustle, with children’s voices pretty much the only human noise interrupting the gentle chirruping birdsong. I’ve wandered about the castle and I’m content just to sit awhile and look about me at birds chasing each other about the donjon or around at the ruins, hazarding a guess at what fitted where.
I only left the house around lunchtime, having spent ages working out firstly which direction I wanted to go in then what was there after that. I fancied being out of the city. Castles were in my head but I couldn’t be bothered with a tour guide or I would have gone to Dundonald, down in Ayrshire. I like to form my own impressions of places like these. The decision made, I got the train into town, found some lunch then got on another train bound for Uddingston. The 25-minute walk took me along Uddingston Main Street, home to the only funeral directors I’ve ever seen with a community noticeboard in the window, then along Castle Avenue past some very posh hooses with fancy cars parked out front. One had no fewer than three flash motors in the drive. Another had a big front gate facing the road and more defences than this castle will have had in its pomp with the English bearing down on it.
I gather that this is one of those castles which served as a quarry for a century or two, a source of good quality stone for the townhouses up the road. Bothwell’s built out of red sandstone, much like some of the buildings in Dunbar, and I guess the stone is local too, with red soil on the ground into the bargain.
Bothwell is one of the more picturesque castles in Scotland, set high above the Clyde. The photo most often seen of this castle shows the south-eastern tower, just behind where I’m sitting on the left. Facing me is the huge donjon, less photogenic but the heart of the operation where the great and good laid their head at night. From the top I could see across the trees to the tower blocks and pylons of Glasgow’s East End, the great Clyde below, still a flowing river with fish and plantlife before it shortly reaches the big city. The donjon is subtly designed with arches and curves to be found in the unlikeliest places like on the stairs and even in the basement. Down there is a decent example of castle graffiti from 1786, in the reign of George III and predating the French Revolution and the US Constitution. It’s not the oldest I’ve seen – Crichton Castle has that distinction with a mark from a passing visitor from 1745 – but it’s good enough for me.
It’s good to see families dotted about the place. In this age of the iPad and instant entertainment, being out in the sunshine and running about is brilliant, even if they might not necessarily learn very much in the process. That’s not the point of the exercise, more being out in the world and being bright-eyed and curious for what’s around them, ducking in and out of doorways and climbing up and down stairs. I’m going to have another wander around before I go, to see what I’ve missed the first time and survey the kingdom from up high before I go back down amongst it. There’s a lot worse ways to spend an afternoon.