Railway signs

There are some day trips when I take loads of photographs, others not so many. Only a fraction get used on this blog while others only exist to make me smile, to ignite a memory or as a reminder of an idea for later. One day trip last year when I took far more photographs than ever appeared here was the day I went to York. Being a details guy, I love signage and the National Railway Museum has absolutely loads dotted about the place, some more obvious than others. I have been there maybe seven or eight times and every time I see many new things. That particular day was great. I remember unsuccessfully trying to take a selfie beside the sign for the NRM’s library, which is wonderfully named Search Engine. (Serves me right for trying to take a selfie.) Anyway, here are some photographs of some of the very fine signs around the National Railway Museum in York. Hopefully I’ll be back there soon.

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Digest: August 2017

It doesn’t feel so long since I wrote the last one of these. I seem to have been here, there and everywhere in August. I spent the first part of it on annual leave then much of the rest of it in transit. August seems to have been spent either at work or in the east of Scotland, mainly Edinburgh, with not so much time spent actually writing here. As ever, I have my iPad in front of me with photos to help me remember what I’ve done this month so here we go.


1st August I went to Dumbarton Castle. I had been away to East Lothian the day before and a lie in was required after a busy day. I was in the house around lunchtime and decided on the trip across the Clyde. I’ve been to Dumbarton Castle quite a few times but not since I stopped working in the town in late 2015. The train journey up from Glasgow was surreal, familiar terrain but not covered for a while, remembering past commutes and people I knew when I worked up there. It was a pleasant day, well, mostly, since it started raining while I was there, but I enjoyed the walk around the Rock, looking up the Clyde to hills and sea lochs and across the landscape to city streets and the Vale of Leven.

The following day was my birthday and I went to my favourite art gallery, Kirkcaldy Galleries, and spent a wee while amidst the Colourists, MacTaggarts and Glasgow Boys paintings.


That Friday, I had a turn around Glasgow, deciding to take in some of the lesser-spotted interesting bits of this great city I call home. First was the Buffalo Bill statue in Dennistoun, put up by a housing company to celebrate the East End Exhibition Centre that once stood nearby, hosting shows by Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley in 1891-1892. This statue stands in a square in the middle of a housing scheme, a wee bit of the Wild West in the East End. It’s a nice touch, paying homage to a past glory and also to the side of every Glaswegian, even us adopted ones, who aspire to be Americans. I hadn’t been to Dennistoun before and it was fine, particularly the stunning library building. I walked back into town along Alexandra Parade, one of those Streets of Glasgow walks, and it was nicer at the eastern end, I have to say, even with the church that looked like a fortress. I also did a Streets walk along Cathedral Street, which I know fairly well, but thought more en route about the ever-changing city landscape, sort of channelling Edwin Morgan. When I reached Queen Street, I ended up doing another of those things I had been meaning on doing for a while, on the train to Anniesland, via Maryhill and Kelvindale. It is one of the city’s branch lines, only opened about ten years ago and I wanted to do it because I had head it announced on the PA at Queen Street so many times as I was en route somewhere else. It was a brief journey, only about 20 minutes, and I mainly just looked out the window at the city passing by. I ended up on a bus from Anniesland to the Botanic Gardens, which spawned another post about the old railway there.

That Saturday I went to see Hibs at Easter Road. We won against Partick Thistle 3-1.


The next day I was away with my dad to Aberdour Castle in Fife and Elcho Castle in Perthshire. Aberdour is a castle I know well and I was glad to wander around the gardens and to get a gander at the painted ceilings, a lesser interest of mine. Thereafter we walked down to the harbour, looking across the Forth to Edinburgh. As we walked down the road, we passed two laddies who had peeled off most of their clothes and were headed for the water. Brave boys. As we walked back, they were out and clad in a towel to warm up. It was a full day and we headed to Dysart for lunch and then to Kirkcaldy for my second visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries in four days. Never object to it, mind. Elcho Castle was a new one to both of us and I liked it, particularly the little design touches characteristic of later Scottish castles.

The following Tuesday night, I was at Easter Road to see Hibs horse Ayr United in the League Cup. Beforehand I dined at an Italian restaurant in Ocean Terminal and sat on the veranda in the gorgeous Leith sunshine reading my book.


My next trip out of the west was Edinburgh again and Easter Road again. Prior to the game, I decided to go a slightly different route to the ground, going round the back of Meadowbank Shopping Park to the old Dunbar’s lemonade factory just behind the stadium.

Guess where I was the following day? Yep, Edinburgh again, Easter Road again, this time though for a play about the early years of Hibs, from its formation in the Cowgate to good days and bad, ‘A Field Of Our Own’, produced by the Strange Town theatre company and staged actually in the stadium, more precisely the East Stand concourse. It was excellent, thought-provoking and emotional at times. I left with my faith in Hibs very much restored after the dire performance against Hamilton the day before. I love my club. I walked to spend a few minutes with my favourite trees, the sequoias in the Botanic Gardens, sitting scribbling, reading and thinking. The evening was to be cultural again, this time an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival about the new book Who Built Scotland, featuring essays on 25 of the most interesting and important Scottish buildings written by Alexander McCall Smith, Alistair Moffat, James Robertson, Kathleen Jamie and James Crawford. I am a big Kathleen Jamie fan but sadly she wasn’t at the event. Instead the other four authors were interviewed by the splendidly acerbic Ruth Wishart, who is an excellent chair of these sorts of events, with the various authors talking about some of their chosen buildings, with the four authors expounding forth on pre-fabs in Kelso, Cairnpapple Hill, Bell Rock Lighthouse, Innerpeffray Library and Abbotsford.


My next trip to the capital came on Wednesday night. I was supposed to be going to a poetry reading at the Book Festival but couldn’t be arsed. I left work early and decided to head straight out of Edinburgh towards Musselburgh, having a chippy at Fisherrow and wandering around the harbour in the warm sunshine. I walked as far as Joppa and as I sauntered, I realised I wasn’t in the right mood for poetry. I headed back into the city, spent a few quid in the Book Festival Bookshop then came home, feeling the benefit of the quieter train home and being in my bed a few minutes earlier.

The Saturday saw yet another trip to Edinburgh, again for the Book Festival, this time for Ian Rankin. I had never seen Rankin live before but wasn’t disappointed. I’ve fallen in and out of love with Rebus but Ian Rankin is on a good run of form. He’s also a very captivating and compelling speaker and held court talking about Rebus in various media, writing and Police Scotland. I had once more left work early and got to Edinburgh earlier than I perhaps had to. I ended up walking up Easter Road and sitting by the Water of Leith for a bit in the sunshine before I walked along the side of the river back into the city to get a chippy before seeing Ian Rankin.


Very early on the Sunday, and I mean early, I left for Dundee. Hibs were playing on the live Sky game at Dens Park. I had a ticket for the posh seats, a very new experience, surreal but not altogether unpleasant, as it happens. Hibs should have won but it turned out 1-1. I also had my first taste of beef bourguignon, which was far better than the football. On the way back into town, my auntie showed me a trail of various murals in some of the city centre’s closes. I haven’t written a post about them yet but I like the idea of using hidden city spaces in that way.

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Right, that’s August. Today, Tuesday, is also the second anniversary of when I started this blog. In the last two years, my confidence as a writer and as a person has grown considerably. Let the words flow. Thanks to all readers and followers. It’s been fun so far. Tomorrow, there will be a post. It’s one I wrote absolutely yonks ago about the National Railway Museum in York. In conclusion, I would like to share a particular place and quotation etched upon it I’ve shared here before but means a lot.

August posts –

Digest: July 2017

Dirleton, Seton and a coastal walk

Streets of Glasgow: Alexandra Parade

Stairs

Places that can’t be reached by public transport

Streets of Glasgow: Cathedral Street

The Dunbar End

In praise of being alone

The Botanics

Castles as cardio

 

Castles as cardio

Historic Scotland are very active on social media advertising their great variety of sites up and down this great land. I scroll through my Facebook feed or Twitter timeline and invariably see the latest missive advertising five sites perfect for visiting in the rain or alternatively in the sunshine. I like that, though, since invariably I start to daydream about where I can plan a trip to in the near future. What they haven’t done yet, as far as I know, is compile a list of those of their properties that give the best workout while walking or clambering around them. I was at the wonderful Kilchurn Castle in Argyll recently and the walk from the car park and then up and down the castle was more than enough to top-up. There are some HS properties, though, which are far more intensive and could rival a gym in their cardio workout possibilities. Not just Holyrood Park, managed by HS, where folk run, do yoga and climb, but the likes of Linlithgow Palace, Tantallon Castle and Craigmillar Castle, to name but three I’ve been to this year. Not to mention the big three, Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart.


I often slag Edinburgh Castle off. The view is pretty decent but not necessarily worth £17. It is also, though, gey steep, built on an extinct volcano and there are a lot of stairs and slopes about the place. There will be some who will get their year’s exercise in a couple of hours at Edinburgh Castle. All Historic Scotland need to do is add a few stretches and squats to the guided tour and the job’s a good ‘un. I’m not unfit but even I am knackered after a visit there. So, it isn’t all bad.


Linlithgow Palace is one of the more complete HS properties and it is possible to make a complete circuit of the building above ground level. There are also a lot of staircases and little nooks and crannies. When I was last there in January, I spent well over an hour wandering and pondering and it’s fair to say I got a workout along the way. Craigmillar is very similar. I was there in May and I know the benefit I got from being there wasn’t just intellectual or emotional. There was a physical gain too. This year is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and HS are missing a trick in not plugging their properties as keep fit destinations. Leap While You Learn might be a half decent slogan. Or History For Health. (There’s a reason I don’t work in advertising. Or healthcare, come to think of it.)

The Botanics

Some people won’t know that the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow were once served by a railway. It existed for a mere 68 years, from 1896 to 1964. The station in the Botanics closed in February 1939, though generations of Glasgow children remember climbing down where the trains once steamed through. It is now firmly fenced off, industrial archaeology to be observed, not walked in. The ventilation shafts are still visible in the Botanics and I go for a look whenever I’m there. I stood there the other day, imagining trains of Glaswegians decamping for an afternoon amidst the trees, but not seeing them, the buses I could hear along Great Western Road conveying visitors there now.


I was told recently of the concept of the urban imaginary, the different meanings and contexts that the urban can assume. (With thanks to lullueblog. I like this blog for intriguing discussions of what constitutes authentic travel.) The urban imaginary is quite similar to psychogeography, I gather, a way to help people make sense of often obtuse and overwhelming cities. Glasgow is one of those cities where it helps to look up and down whenever possible, to be aware of what is around. There is simply a lot going on here, architecturally and in every other sense. In a city which thrives on being stylish and friendly, it is nice to peek behind that exterior and realise there are parts of this city which have just been abandoned to nature. The Botanics is in the heart of Glasgow’s West End, one of the more desirable parts of the city to live and love in. Yet there’s an old railway station there. There are times when I like places to be ruined, to have embarked on a different phase of their life cycle than first intended. Yet there are times when looking upon a place that a reimagining and reworking is what comes to mind. I hope that one day trains run again in the Botanics, just as I hope to stand on the terracing at Cathkin Park and see league football. In the meantime, we have memories slowly fading but urban imaginaries slowly emerging too.

In praise of being alone

Sometimes I am inspired to write posts by what I read. The other morning, I was catching up with a couple of months’ worth of entries from Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin and came across one of the many cracking, succinctly-phrased lines from that magnificent volume:

‘Every now and again you find yourself slipping into a little pocket, a little envelope, of country that is unknown to anyone else, which feels as though it is your own secret land’.

Connections sometimes emerge between different things I read and what I have read previously. One of my favourite poems is ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W.B. Yeats and Roger’s words about secret lands remind me about that isle, being alone in a bee-loud glade and peace dropping slow. Then it occurred to me that Nan Shepherd had written in a similar vein in The Living Mountain, the book that rivals Notes From Walnut Tree Farm in being what I would take to a desert island. Nan Shepherd writes about a particular loch high in the Cairngorms and writes that its ‘inaccessibility…is part of its power…It is necessary to be sometimes exclusive, not on behalf of rank or wealth, but of those human qualities that can apprehend loneliness’.

I am not a mountain climber. One day I would like to but it hasn’t happened yet. The last time I was in a place and felt I was in a secret land was when I was walking in the John Muir Country Park near Dunbar a month or two ago. I was amidst the trees and was back in the midst of my childhood, feeling entirely at peace in this place. Being alone there wasn’t a bad thing because I could think free about my time there long ago without being confined by words or sharing the experience with someone else. I spend a lot of my life putting things into words but sometimes there’s times when words aren’t needed. John Muir wrote once that ‘writing is a cold medium for heart-hot ideas’ and it’s true a lot of the time. Putting this idea into words has been harder than thinking it but that’s true most of the time, I think. Hedderwick isn’t a secret place. It’s near the A1 and many people walk there every single day. Some kids had a party to celebrate their exams finishing the other week. There is still a resonance and meaning there that is unique to me, for no one else has my particular set of life experiences and filters to see them through. It still felt like a secret land, particularly for much of the time I was there when I was alone with my thoughts in the dunes between the trees.

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There is a major difference between being lonely and being alone. I have known both. Being with someone else doesn’t mean you can’t fully appreciate a particular place. Indeed a shared thought can build a better insight. Being alone helps me recharge. That walk in John Muir was brilliant, in no small part because I was alone and able to think for hours, to be where I was, to enjoy that and process the last few months since I was last in Dunbar. I always think better when I’m a wee bit removed from life and being in a perpetual place only made it better that particular day. I can’t arise now and go, unfortunately, since I have a life and work and stuff like that. But I can do what Norman MacCaig did. He lived most of the year in Edinburgh but spent his long summer holidays in Assynt. When he reached Assynt, he ‘fattened his camel’s hump’ with inspiration and ideas to fill his poems for the rest of the year. I do the same whenever I travel and particularly when I am back in East Lothian. Even a glance across the Forth from Fife or on a webcam can satisfy any yearnings if my stores are low. It isn’t quite a secret land but it will do for me.

 

 

The Dunbar End

In going to the football every other Saturday, or whenever the TV people decide the game should be, I am generally consistent. I get a train to Edinburgh then walk to the ground, usually up London Road then Easter Road to Albion Road and round by the Famous Five Stand and in the East Stand. Sometimes, though, I like to mix things up and go a slightly different route. It keeps me from getting bored plus it satisfies the bit of me that just needs to walk as these diversions invariably take a wee bit longer. I was aware of a footpath at the back of the Meadowbank Shopping Park, to the south of the stadium, that led to the back of the ground through a fairly recent housing development called the Lochend Butterfly. In the spirit of research, I decided to go that way just to see where it took me.

Lawrie Reilly Place

The Meadowbank Shopping Park is just like any other retail park anywhere. It has a smattering of shops, lots of parking spaces, a fast food place and footpaths that take the pedestrian around the edges rather than directly through it. That was what I did, cutting around the side of Sainsbury’s. There were a few others doing the same thing so I drifted back behind them as this was new territory for me. The path was narrow anyway, surrounded by big boards keeping us out of the construction site. It led into some houses on the splendidly named Lawrie Reilly Way. Lawrie Reilly, who died in 2013 at the age of 84, was the last surviving member of the Famous Five, Hibs’ formidable forward line of the 1950s, formed, as any Hibee would surely know, of Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond. When housing developments tend to have generic street names, and generic houses to match, those names with local resonance make a small difference.

Dunbar lemonade factory

Over the railway, the road split. The right fork would take me to the back of the East Stand, which is where I sit, but I was running early so I followed it until I came to the back of a huge red-brick building bearing the words ‘JAMES DUNBAR’ in prominent white letters. This was the Dunbar’s lemonade factory, now artists’ workshops. I like ghost signs, or those advertising products and services that aren’t there any more. There are a few in Edinburgh, Leith Walk and George IV Bridge in particular, and the Dunbar factory is a cracking example.

South Stand with Norton Park to left

The Dunbar factory also gives its name to the South Stand at Easter Road, nicknamed the Dunbar End. I soon arrived at the back of the South, a part of the stadium I haven’t been in for a long time. A lot of my early Hibs games, back in the late 1990s, were seen from the top tier of the South Stand, where Hibs Kids were allotted seats for games a few times a season. I remember those games, handing over a ticket at the turnstile and getting a set of football stickers or a flyer for a show back. The view from the South was particularly good. This was the time before the West and East Stands were redeveloped so there was a brilliant view up to Leith and over the Forth, always useful if the game was dull.

Easter Road is surrounded by houses, some older than others, with a fair bit of history around too. I walked around by the Norton Park Conference Centre, an old schoolhouse that yesterday housed the Kids Zone, a place where bairns could be entertained before the game, complete with a visit from the Fire Brigade (planned, honest). Norton Park used to be a high school and it appeared in a film called The Singing Street, made in 1950, which recorded playground games and songs of the era. I always remember The Singing Street playing on a constant loop in the Museum of Childhood, a much-loved museum in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

I’m a big advocate of going a different way occasionally. It helps to keep the familiar from becoming too familiar. I enjoyed this little diversion yesterday and I will probably take it again at some point. The little bit of me that is superstitious may question that since we got beat yesterday though my rational side doubts very much that Hibs being mince had anything to do with me taking a different route to the ground. There are connections between most things, for sure, but some things can be chalked down to Hibs being Hibs.

Streets of Glasgow: Cathedral Street


I’ve written here before about Edwin Morgan, a poet who wrote about many things, most notably about Glasgow, the city which he called home. As I started onto Cathedral Street, I thought about Morgan’s poem ‘The Second Life’, which is a meditation of a man in his forties about the city changing about him, regenerating and growing anew.

‘Many things are unspoken

in the life of a man, and with a place

there is an unspoken love also

in undercurrents, drifting, waiting its time.

A great place and its people are not renewed lightly.’

Glasgow is awash with development right now. It cannot be denied, however, that there are still problems and places and people in this city which are not being renewed. Cathedral Street changes every time I see it, seeing new buildings springing up regularly as part of the City of Glasgow College and Strathclyde University. It is a part of the city which has waited its time, though, with old 60s concrete replaced by swish glass and colourful designs. At the moment it is a work in progress with cranes, boards and construction happening all around.


I started from the Cathedral Precinct, stopping to scribble notes from the previous Alexandra Parade walk and get my breath back. I paused by the statue of David Livingstone, a much far-flung sort of adventurer, which I hadn’t really paid much attention to before. I also noticed for the first time a plaque dedicated to those who perished in the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. I remembered the beautiful Piper Alpha memorial which sits in the Kirk of St. Nicholas in Aberdeen and I was glad that my city had a small but thought-provoking memorial to those 167 people who died in the middle of the North Sea.

As I neared the junction with Stirling Road, where the Strathclyde University Library is, I distinctly heard skirling pipes. Not a single piper but a full band. As I looked to my left, into the student accommodation, I could see there was indeed a full pipe band, not all in Highland dress but in T-shirts and kilts, playing in the quadrangle. Whatever gets them through the shift. The World Pipe Band Championships take place in the city in the coming weeks so they may have been here for that.


There were also pipes in the street, with much of the section between Montrose Street and North Hanover Street being dug up. This was genuinely interesting, seeing the layers of the street and what lies underneath. Archaeologists getting in there would have a rare old time.


At that point, new buildings came thick and fast, the new City of Glasgow College building sandwiched between two in progress, one for the College and the other for Strathclyde University. The City of Glasgow College building is massive, with a huge frontage with stairs leading up the side of the building and lots of glass facing onto Cathedral Street.


Cathedral Street ends at the junction of Buchanan Street and Bath Street. Bath Street, which continues heading west, will be for another time. This time I stopped to look at the vast glass arch of Queen Street Station. Where at the start I heard pipes, now all I could hear was the booming PA of the railway station announcing the latest service to Edinburgh. I was heading for a train, not for the capital this time, but first to finish the walk, under Buchanan Galleries, another modern development in a street full of them, a couple of generations worth anyway and changing with every day that passes.

Sources and further reading –

Morgan, Edwin – ‘The Second Life’, published in New Selected Poems, 2000, Manchester: Carcanet

Places that can’t be reached by public transport


Recently I visited Elcho Castle for the first time. It’s a fine place, just by the river Tay not far outside of Perth. Elcho had been on my list for many years but to be fair Elcho isn’t the easiest place to get to. I got there by car but I don’t drive. I don’t plan to either. There’s enough cars and enough motorists without me. Besides I’m a bit of a daydreamer so one wrong move and I would end up in the Clyde. That’s not an optimal scenario, to be honest, so I’ll keep to the buses and the trains. It’s only when places like Elcho are on the to-do list that I begin to reconsider it. Elcho is in a beautiful part of Perthshire, by a village called Rhynd. As far as I can see, Rhynd doesn’t have a bus service. Its nearest town, Bridge of Earn, is 4.6 miles away, a decent walk along a country lane. That’s 4.6 miles one way so if I wanted to get there by my own steam, a 9 mile round trip would be required on foot without considering the journey to get to Bridge of Earn and anything else I might actually want to do that day. Sometimes it’s worth going places with someone who drives.


I can off-road it and have done quite a few times. One of the earliest was in 2010 when I went to Crichton Castle, about 2 miles from Pathhead in Midlothian. I got the bus to Pathhead then walked from there, along another of those country lanes out of the village and towards the hamlet of Crichton. I turned right and walked further down by the church and soon the castle came into view. Crichton is one of my favourite castles, in a dramatic setting high above a valley with precious little urban sprawl to be seen. I’ve been quite a few times though mainly by car. That day I remember for having walked along farm tracks to and from the castle and then going to see In The Loop, the Armando Iannucci film featuring Malcolm Tucker, now of course only the second best-known character portrayed by Peter Capaldi.

Another one that still eludes me is Kellie Castle, not far from Pittenweem in Fife. It is a National Trust castle so a building with a roof and generally jolly volunteers, as befits an NTS property. I’ve wanted to go for a while, partly because it is in one of my favourite parts of the planet but also because of the castle itself, which appears in two of the nicest paintings in Kirkcaldy Art Gallery by John Henry Lorimer, whose family also owned the castle. The NTS website advises me that there is a Flexibus that can be booked from Anstruther but being a person who doesn’t always operate to a plan and indeed often works on the hoof, booking a bus in advance might not work for me. According to Google Maps, it is a 3-mile walk from Pittenweem, taking just over an hour but with an ascent of 180 feet. Not one for a hot day then.

The one I really want to see is Hermitage Castle. I’ve wanted to go for years. It looks amazing, in the middle of a moor with a history of Border reivers and, inevitably, once visited by Mary, Queen of Scots. If a queen and her court could make it there in the 1560s, surely I could in 2017 with all the trappings of modern life. I have just been looking at the bus timetables to try and get there, which involve getting a train to Carlisle then a bus to Newcastleton or Hawick then another bus from there, and it is giving me a sore head, full of caveats and conditions that buses only run Mondays to Fridays or on Fridays during the school holidays. It will happen, I’ll make sure of it, but I am scunnered if I can figure out exactly how.


One place that is far easier, despite being a mile from a bus stop, is Dryburgh Abbey in the Borders. I was there in July, having got the bus to St. Boswells and walked along the Tweed to the Abbey. I remember the first time I went. I was with my auntie and we asked the bus drivers at St Boswells for directions. Bad move. They didn’t have a clue, being people whose legs had four wheels on them. Luckily I now know better and the walk is part of the experience, a part of the day I look forward to rather than just being just a means to an end.

I am always excited to visit new places, particularly those which have involved the most effort to be there. I am writing this post in mid-August and at time of writing, I have a few ideas of places I want to get to this year but require a bit of a hoof. Two are in my native county of East Lothian and not so far from each other, the Hopetoun Monument in the Garleton Hills just above Haddington and Chesters Hill Fort near Drem. Drem is on a train line (but has very few buses) and is about a half-hour walk from Chesters. The Hopetoun Monument can be done from Drem but is easier from Haddington or better still the road end, which is infrequently served by buses. Amazingly I haven’t been to either of these places before, despite having grown up not far away. The OS maps have been consulted and I am pretty much waiting for the right day to go about it. I like to walk and it clears my head as well as being good exercise. 9 miles is pushing it, mind, and it’s why some places are just not possible by public transport, as much as I would like them to be.

 

Stairs


I recently turned 28. It’s not as easy to find good things to say about being 28 compared to being 27 (which is the age a surprising amount of rock musicians have died) or 26 (the number of letters in the alphabet). Indeed I read the other day that 28 is the age that people decide to ‘grow up’, whatever that means. I don’t plan on it, to be honest, and while I am content to be 28 and be all grown-up, I’m a taxpayer and I have a pension fund and all that stuff, I also don’t want to completely lose the wide-eyed curiosity that makes my life worth living. So, whenever possible, I look at puddles and wonder at the little circles the raindrops make. I walk on low walls and all these things that adults forget to do sometimes. The biggest one is whenever I am near the Royal Scottish Academy building, which sits at the junction of Hanover Street, Princes Street and the Mound. The RSA is in a fine neoclassical building with pillars and steps at the front. There is a section of pavement between the RSA and the street and to my knowledge I have never walked on it. Each and every single time I am there, I make a point of walking up the steps, under the roof and down at the other side. I could say that it is an excuse to see the fine view up Hanover Street to the statue of George IV. It may also be the case that I might be checking out what art exhibitions are on at the RSA. But that wouldn’t be true. I just like walking up stairs and back down them again. It’s like people do in Philadelphia when they imitate Rocky but it’s in Edinburgh and involves about 12 steps in two stages. I notice other people doing it too, for whatever reason, and it gives me a small tinge of hope about the world. Especially now I’m 28 and old.

Streets of Glasgow: Alexandra Parade


Of all the streets in this city, there aren’t very many Parades. There can be parades on them, certainly, but not many bear the name ‘Parade’. Alexandra Parade was chosen for this walk because I happened to be going to Dennistoun anyway and it was a quick and simple route back into the city centre. It starts by Cumbernauld Road in Dennistoun and ends about a mile later by the Royal Infirmary at Castle Street. Unlike some of the streets in this series, Alexandra Parade was entirely new to me, only a name I had heard others speak about or that I had seen on the map. It was also the first street where I had the sweet smell of beer wafting through my nostrils, blowing up from the Tennents Brewery. Not altogether unpleasant, as it happens, despite that I don’t like beer that much.


James Miller designed some very fine buildings in his day, not least the Grand Central Hotel in town and Clydebank Town Hall. St. Andrews East Church isn’t one of them, looking very austere and just like a fortress. Apparently, according to my Pevsner guide, it is ‘an Arts and Crafts interpretation of the late Perp style, with a prominent Westwerk facing Alexandra Parade’. As a connoisseur of castles myself, it looks like it should have gunholes, archers and a portcullis about the place. It may have been the greyness of the day but it just looked grim. The church hall next door, which is now the proper church, looks a bit more appealing, thankfully.


Alexandra Park faces onto the Parade and I admired the flowerbeds around the gates as well as the cherubic figure sitting under a canopy at the park entrance. Glasgow seems to have a few of these kicking around; there’s another at Govan Cross, for example, and this one was painted in red, gold and black.

Much of the walk took me past fine tenement blocks, most in red but some in more yellow sandstone, some with very handsome roof features, domes and finials. As I walked further towards the city centre, I began to imagine this street bustling with people and lined on both sides by staunch, old-fashioned tenements. Not far along was Alexandra Parade Primary School, another handsome Victorian schoolhouse, this one with prominent Art Nouveau style lettering denoting the school’s name and that it was operated by the School Board of Glasgow. At the end of the playground was a decent sized house that may well have housed the school headie or the jannie at one point.


Closer to the city centre the landscape became a bit more modern with office blocks and industrial premises at either side. One of the office blocks, City Park, was previously a tobacco factory, one of quite a few in and around Alexandra Parade at one time. City Park is a colossal building, housing quite a few different companies. It also has some intriguing statues outside it, a male figure on one side and a female figure on the other. I also liked how an old cinema had been turned into a tyre garage. The only clue of its past use was the bold colours and curves on the front of the building, with the garage operating from the side.

Towards the end the M8 was beside me for much of the way, with constantly bustling midday traffic making their way through the city. I soon came to the Royal Infirmary, realising swiftly just how vast a complex it is, with boxy buildings at the eastern side to augment the grander edifice facing onto Castle Street. The hospital was busy too, with folk shuffling in and out and ambulances with their loud caterwauling wails never far away.

Soon I came to Castle Street, the point where Alexandra Parade ended. And, naturally, the rain started, as if just waiting for the walk to be finished. I sheltered for a wee while under a tree in the Cathedral Precinct, scribbling thoughts and reflecting on the walk just undertaken. It was good to be in an unfamiliar part of the city, discovering new architecture and making connections between names and places at last. The contrast between swish Dennistoun and Townhead with the constant whir of traffic made it all the more interesting but in all Alexandra Parade was a good choice, leading me back into the city and another wander about to begin.

Source and further reading –

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press