Back in this blog’s early days, I was told that one thing that would improve it was photos. They would break up the text. Ever since I’ve kept to that and indeed I often take photos specifically for the blog, sometimes on spec for a potential future post. I would like to share some of my favourite photos from the blog over the last couple of years, giving some of the context behind them.
This first one was taken at the Science Museum in London, with what might be the Rocket in the centre of the shot and a lighthouse lamp from the Western Isles to the right of it. The Science Museum is excellent and it is stunningly arranged.
This was taken in the old Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow during a tour just before the current works to turn it into flats. You can almost see the nurses, doctors and patients moving along.
This is the old Winterfield Pavilion in Dunbar, now demolished. It stood abandoned for most of my lifetime though previously it was used variously as a performance space and public toilets. I suspect my interest in abandoned structures may have started there.
This is Kev’s Beach, not far from St. Abbs Head in Berwickshire. It is a little cove with a pebbly beach just off the path. It does have a name on the OS map but it felt like my own discovery, hence its unofficial moniker.
Dryburgh Abbey is a stunning place just by the Tweed in the Borders. I’ve only ever been there on gloriously sunny days, including this summer when I sat a while by the river and read. Blessed in that dawn to be alive.
This is the back of the old James Dunbar lemonade works, behind Easter Road Stadium in Edinburgh. The South Stand at Easter Road is still referred to as the Dunbar End, not because it is in the general direction of Dunbar, which it isn’t, but for the works.
Last one is Cathkin Park, taken a couple of weeks ago, a beautiful autumn day just to ponder and wander.
Some of these were taken with my camera, which is a Nikon Coolpix L340, though most of the more recent ones were taken with an iPhone 7. The last two definitely were. I haven’t taken my camera out all that often recently but since it has been a gorgeous autumn, I may just have to change that.
When I was at high school, I did a lot of reading. I worked through the senior section of the school library and read some of the classics of the Scottish canon, including Sunset Song, The House of the Green Shutters, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. I did it off my own back because I wanted to read, no other reason, becoming probably one of the few Scottish teenagers who wasn’t obliged to read Sunset Song while studying Higher English. (I didn’t anyway – I got The Great Gatsby when I did my Higher. Sunset Song is a beautiful book and every time I pass through the Mearns I think of it.) One book I read for the first time then was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, a thin volume but one filled with insight, wit and well-drawn characters. I remember when I read it, actually, after doing my Advanced Higher History prelim. My head was utterly mashed after the three-hour exam and as my brain raced, I got through The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in about an hour sitting in the sixth-year common room. I liked it a lot.
Every so often, I pick up a Muriel Spark novel. She wrote quite a few and I am nowhere near done. In fact I remember my excitement when a volume of Spark’s essays came out. I read it over a couple of days on the way to work. I almost cried out a few times with joy at some of the great phrases and sentiments expressed. That’s a common Spark reaction for me and I’ve had it a lot when reading her work, most recently the other day when reading The Finishing School. I bought a copy a month or two ago at the Edinburgh Book Festival, a nice reissue as part of Canongate’s Canon series, and it didn’t disappoint. The first page, which features a creative writing lecture, is great and it is worth the entrance money alone, as they say. A few pages later, one of the school’s students, Chris, is writing a historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, David Rizzio and Lord Darnley. He is asked why he writes and replies:
‘I want to see what I write.’
A sentiment I can certainly relate to.
I was told once that Muriel Spark’s books are a masterclass in creative writing, that they cover all the techniques, all the form that books should encompass and deploy if they should be successful. I tend to agree with that, with the best example A Far Cry From Kensington. I always get the title of that one confused, thinking it’s called Last Exit From Kensington, which would be funny if Muriel Spark had written the film script for Last Exit to Brooklyn. I do the same, I should point out, with the book I would take to a desert island, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, often having to describe it as ‘that brilliant book about the Cairngorms that I can’t remember what it’s called’.
Muriel Spark herself was an interesting person, with lots of drama and intrigue in her story. She is one of the many Scottish writers whose words have committed to the concrete in Lady Stair’s Close, outside the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, sponsored by the Muriel Spark Society. They read:
‘The transfiguration of the commonplace’
These were taken from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, where in the future Sandy writes a book of psychology with that title. I think they neatly cover the worlds Muriel Spark created in her novels, finely drawn and worked with immense loads of detail dispensed with in a few pithy phrases. The other day I went into work and ordered pretty much our entire Muriel Spark stock and I’m looking forward to working through them in the coming weeks and months, celebrating Spark’s centenary as we should celebrate all writers, by opening a book and starting to read.
The journalist Simon Jenkins recently published a book called Britain’s Best 100 Railway Stations, rating those stations on their architectural and other merits. Ten of those hundred – Aviemore, Edinburgh Waverley, Glasgow Central, Gleneagles, Glenfinnan, Pitlochry, Perth, Rannoch, Stirling, Wemyss Bay – are in Scotland, with the beautiful station at Wemyss Bay pictured on the cover. Of these ten, I have spent time in five of them, passed through Aviemore, Gleneagles and Pitlochry, and one day I would like to get to Glenfinnan and Rannoch.
My own top 10 would probably include Waverley, Central, Perth, Stirling and Wemyss Bay though I might add to the list Glasgow Queen Street, Leuchars, Linlithgow, Paisley Gilmour Street and Prestonpans, off the top of my head. On the subs bench would be Arbroath and Dingwall, probably Dunbar since it’s the station I’ve spent the most time on in my life. Haymarket’s recent revamp is rather fine too, managing to work in the handsome station house to the sleek modern glass and chrome affair that makes up the rest of the station. I’ve written about Waverley fairly recently – in Edinburgh Waverley – and Glasgow Central in the Streets of Glasgow post about Gordon Street. The others I’ve been to a fair bit, except Dingwall, which I’ve only been to once.
Perth Station is formed of two distinct sections, the shed I know best where the trains to Inverness and Edinburgh leave from while there are two bay platforms at the far end for trains to Dundee and Glasgow which I have come to know better in recent years. While Perth is huge, empty and rattly now, it strikes me as a place which has been bustly over time and it is quite atmospheric, resonant of past journeys and feeling far from anywhere else. The approach from Dundee is the best, passing across the Tay and Moncrieffe (or Friarton) Island along a bridge two storeys above street level into the station. It also passes near the Fergusson Gallery, which is situated in an old water tower right by the river.
Stirling is one of the few Scottish stations that appear in art, namely ‘Stirling Station’ by the Glasgow Boy William Kennedy, which currently resides in Kelvingrove. Stirling is smaller than Perth but quite pleasant in its way. The nicest feature is the main concourse with a curved glass roof sort of like the one at Wemyss Bay, though the main entrance with the jagged gable end is quite fine too.
Wemyss Bay is gorgeous, particularly the glass roof and its curves, the wooden curved walkway down to the ferry and the view outside. It’s well-tended and every time I’m there it feels like an adventure.
Glasgow Queen Street is in the midst of a refurbishment so it isn’t looking its best at the moment. I still always feel excited as I walk up the platform to the train, feeling palpably content under that elegant roof and walking on that polished floor.
Leuchars is an underrated pleasure. It is not on a direct route to Glasgow so I haven’t been there for a while. It has a single island platform sitting in the middle of a field, albeit one facing an army base. I’ve spent a fair bit of time there sitting looking out watching the world go by.
Linlithgow isn’t the most beautiful station but it has a great view from its platforms towards the Palace and St. Michael’s Church, particularly as the sun sets as it casts silhouettes.
Paisley Gilmour Street looks like a castle from the outside. It is fabulous for people watching. It is also an elegant big train shed, a bit like Perth, with trains to destinations across western Scotland coming in and out every few minutes. The new mural in the walkway is beautiful, fitting with Paisley’s hopes to become City of Culture in 2021.
Prestonpans is probably the least likely addition to this list. I like the murals painted on the outside of the old station buildings, including an image of Prestongrange’s Beam Engine and other allusions to the Pans’ considerable history including salt and brewing. There is also a very fine view across the fields to Bankton House.
The best bit of train travel is the travel itself, being on the train and seeing what is passed by on the way somewhere else. Stations make the whole experience better, well, some of the time and we are lucky in Scotland to have some very fine stations indeed. Writing this has encouraged me to spend some time this autumn exploring some of them, perhaps beginning with a return to Wemyss Bay and Perth. To the trains.
I have relatively few traditions. Most of them pertain to football in some way. When I go to Easter Road, for example, I always use the same turnstile and exit. I invariably walk the same way to the ground as well, though not always. Since Hibs have been promoted, I have different grounds to go to so new traditions to build and maintain. Other than Easter Road and possibly Stark’s Park, the ground I’ve seen Hibs in the most over the last few seasons is Hampden Park. I am actually writing this the night after an unsuccessful visit to the National Stadium, this time against Celtic. (Don’t panic – this is actually a psychogeographical post. I’m not going to go all self-pitying about the Hibs. Football posts don’t tend to be popular here, for some reason.) Whenever I see Hibs play in a semi final at Hampden, I usually walk home. From Mount Florida to where I live in Cardonald is 4.8 miles, or about an hour and a half. The first time I walked it was after the Scottish Cup semi against Dundee United or the Conrad Logan game – more about the Polar Bear here. Hibs had the eastern or Celtic end of the stadium and even without that, there was a lot of traffic getting out of Hampden then Battlefield and Shawlands. As I got towards Battlefield Road and the old Victoria Infirmary, I realised I might be quicker walking as no bus would get through the cars and coaches all heading out of the area at the same time. I got home and collapsed in a heap. One year later, after the Scottish Cup semi against Aberdeen, same scenario. This time I just decided to walk it, since it had become sort of a ritual whenever Hibs played at Hampden that I would just hoof it home. In fact, since I had prepared myself for Hibs getting gubbed by Celtic anyway (we got beat but not that decisively), the walk home was actually something to look forward to.
My route from Hampden mostly follows that of the 34 (or 34A) bus, operated by First Glasgow, which runs from Castlemilk to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital or Govan. Usually, I am one of a great crowd streaming out of Hampden and crossing the road at Mount Florida Primary School onto Battlefield Road. After the Aberdeen semi last year, I was surrounded by Doric-accented folk with red scarves, definitely marking myself out by my green scarf and mostly east coast accent. Past the coaches, the mass of people thins out by the shops on Battlefield Road, definitely by Shawlands, only a few or none beyond there. By the time I get to the northern gate of Pollok Park, the supporters coaches tend to start passing, as proved yesterday when coaches, pretty much all with Edinburgh numbers on the side and green-clad folk aboard, started streaming along towards the motorway. After the Dundee United semi, I was actually over the motorway when the United coaches started passing. Invariably by Mosspark and Paisley Road West, I am the only indicator that a football match had been happening somewhere as people just dot around doing shopping and whatever.
The walk yesterday was brilliant, on a nice, cloudy-bright autumn afternoon. Battlefield was its usual, leafy elegance, with the exception that someone had just smashed the window of the Domino’s Pizza shop. I always like being in that part of the world and know it well from working there for two years. As I walked and thought over the game, my main impression was of the autumn leaves on the trees. Glasgow is a beautiful city at the best of times but very often it is best in the autumn. The trees are all yellow and orange at the moment and the route home from Hampden skirts the side of Queen’s Park as well as Pollok Park and Bellahouston for good measure. I had been along Mosspark Boulevard last Sunday en route to Cathkin Park and the trees were still turning and leaves falling. The game had finished around 2 and I got home around 3.30, having stopped only for a juice and a sandwich on Battlefield Road. I hadn’t been hurrying, just letting my feet guide me home, processing the game and thinking on future adventures. Pollok Park foremost amongst my priorities, given the wonderful autumn colours. It won’t be today, however, since I would rather be far away from the Motherwell-Rangers semi final at Hampden this afternoon.
Glasgow is an eminently walkable city. It can seem vast but it isn’t really. It is possible to cross the south side within an hour or two on foot, even a half-hour by bus. From Cardonald, it is possible to walk in any direction and end up somewhere. I can walk to Renfrew (and I have) or Braehead or Paisley (I’ve only done from Ralston home so far). Within Glasgow, I can walk to Govan or Crookston, Bellahouston or Pollok. Some of the Streets of Glasgow walks I have in mind are local ones, the long roads that pass through this part of the city – Paisley Road West and Govan Road are definitely ideas for the winter to come.
The walk from Hampden is a rare treat, like a visit to the National Stadium itself. I am lucky as a Hibs fan that I get to visit fairly regularly and even luckier that I can walk home in even less time than it takes some of my fellow Hibees to drive back to the capital, even if it might take longer to get over the game than just the walk home.
Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that certain places recur in posts here. Dunbar, where I come from, and Glasgow, where I live, foremost among them. Others include Edinburgh, Fife, Durham and Prestongrange. I’ve written quite a lot about locales located within these at one point or another. Cathkin Park is a place I’ve only been to in the last few years, since I moved to Glasgow and it has fast become one of my favourite places. It is like Prestongrange in the sense that it is a bit overgrown and sorry for itself, not quite doing what it has done before, even though there is a sense that it could be great again. Cathkin is an old football ground, still is, really, retaining the crucial components of grass, white painted lines and the occasional people to roll a ball across it. I make sure I get there a few times a year, though less so since I stopped working in that part of the city. I make a few circuits of the park then walk up onto one of the terraces to stand, stare and ponder awhile. Usually the same thoughts ensue. I try to imagine this place with thousands of people, thousands of bunnets, all around the terraces with a grandstand on the near touchline. I shiver slightly as I imagine my team going under, just as Third Lanark did in 1967. Apparently I am not the only one. Peter Ross wrote in his recent article collection, The Passion of Harry Bingo, of a Queen’s Park fan who thinks of the place like a church, a place to think. I do too, though usually I turn to happier images, like when Cathkin was the second Hampden Park and Hibs won the Scottish Cup for the first time, back in 1887 against Dumbarton. Sometimes there are other people around, like the other day when there was a mum and a boy walking their dog and a woman taking photos, who might have been an art student. It means different things to different people, a place to drink illicitly, maybe to reminiscence or to just to walk, with a dog, with family, friends or just alone. I’m just glad it isn’t so far away from my house, that I can be there in half an hour. One day, I think, I hope that Third Lanark play a league game there again, that these terraces are cut back and decent crowds stand or sit there, Bovril and pies in hand, watching the game and cheering just occasionally, because it’s Saturday and it’s Cathkin Park and that’s just what happens there.
Source and further reading –
Ross, Peter, The Passion of Harry Bingo, 2017, Dingwall, Sandstone Press
Now, this isn’t a League of Gentlemen thing, all about ‘local museums for local people’. In my years, I’ve been to more than a few museums, some big ones, the massive kind in big cities with security guards and Rosetta Stones and that, as well as smaller museums, the ones that fit into one room and have displays that might not have been updated in the last couple of decades. I try to take each one as I find them, seeking to be open-minded and curious even while I may not have much affinity with the place or with what is being displayed. Most towns and cities in Scotland have a museum, some, like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, have quite a few. The National Museums and Glasgow Museums get enough limelight. As much as I like traipsing around NMS, Kelvingrove, Riverside and the rest, I generally prefer the museums to be found outside of the Central Belt, even just outside Glasgow and Edinburgh. They tend to be less familiar and so have more to actually learn and absorb.
Every so often, a new local museum springs up. When I was off recently, I took a trip to Dunfermline, an old haunt of mine, to go to the brand new Carnegie Library and Galleries. Dunfermline already has a museum all about Andrew Carnegie, who was born in the town, and it is quite fine. Since Carnegie donated money to build libraries all over the place, including a fair few here in Glasgow, it was only natural that he bunged his home town a few quid to build a library, which opened in 1883. That building was refurbished and enlarged over the last few years with a suitably grand Victorian exterior on Abbot Street and a more modern wood, glass and boxy affair looking onto the garden and the Abbey beyond. Inside it is stunning. The library is agreeably old-fashioned looking with wooden shelving and the archive bit manages to combine wooden shelves and looking quite swish with a mezzanine level. It was filled with light and lots of gaps to see the light and the rest of the building at different points. The museum and gallery spaces were much more modern and the tone was set by the entrance to the building, which housed panels, some audio-visual, with images of Dunfermline and its prominent citizens and pursuits over the centuries, as well as a Vespa scooter. Not sure quite why but I liked it all the same. What tickled me was that the museum featured photos of well-kent folk from Dunfermline, including Jim Leishman, who is perhaps best known as a football manager for Dunfermline and Livingston, amongst others, as well as occasionally scribbling doggerel poems to inspire his teams. Referred to as the ‘Lochgelly Messiah’ in Ron Ferguson’s Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, Leishman is now a Labour councillor and the Provost of Fife, no less, and there is a plaque by the reception saying that he officially opened the place, as well as featuring in the exhibits. Legend. Another highlight was the video featuring local scenes, probably from the Scottish Screen Archive, though it featured a soundtrack of music by local musicians, including Barbara Dickson, Big Country and, wonderfully, Into The Valley by the Skids. I’ve written here before about one of the highlights of watching a game at East End Park in Dunfermline being the steak bridies made by Stephens. Another is hearing the Skids belted out at full volume as the teams come out. The video in the museum was originally playing in the background though cleverly it got louder as I walked towards it, sitting down in front of it on a comfy cinema-style seat. I could have sat there all afternoon, to be honest. The museum didn’t suffer from being quite bitty and thematic, as so many museums tend to be nowadays, going into some topics but not following a strict linear chronology. The architecture of the building, inside and out, was cracking and I just liked walking around it, looking out the window and down and up and through the place.
The fact I know Dunfermline fairly well probably affected my response to its museum. If it had been a place I know less well, the museum may not have resonated as much with me. A couple of days previously, I was in Perth. I like Perth – it’s a douce, prim sort of town, a traditional market sort of place. Its highlights for me are the Fergusson Gallery, dedicated to the work of Colourist artist JD Fergusson, and Huntingtower Castle, which sits just at the other side of the A9 at the edge of the city. This time I went to the Fergusson, where there was a good exhibition linking Fergusson to Charles Rennie Mackintosh (on until 29th January 2018, incidentally) and for a daunder along the Tay. On the way back, I hit Perth Museum and Art Gallery, which sits in an elegant building with pillars and an atrium just up from the river. The first time I went to Perth Museum was a few years ago and I remember being struck by how dated its displays were. Some of the displays about the local area were produced in 1990. This was well into the noughties. I was born in 1989 and at that point I could vote and everything. Thankfully, it has been spruced up since then though it is about to shut for a refurb again. The natural history and geology bit, which is much the same age as I am, was fine though it was hard to get into. It was a lot of reading, which is fine, though not knowing Perthshire very well or much about its geography or wildlife, I was a bit lost. The current exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science (on until 4th November) was great, with lots of taxidermy on show as well as good, absorbing exhibition panels about the society’s activities. I go to enough exhibitions to know when a curator has had fun putting an exhibition together and the curator at Perth had clearly been loving their work, displaying all these stuffed animals in such a way that really stood out.
Scotland is far more than Edinburgh and Glasgow. Or indeed more than Loch Ness or Stirling Castle. It is those places that aren’t always obvious. One of the best museums in the country is the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath, another is Broughty Castle Museum in Broughty Ferry, just outside Dundee. The other day I was thinking about being at the opening of the museum in Musselburgh a few years ago, which manages to combine a whole lot of the history of that fine burgh in a space about the size of a newsagents. There are still loads I haven’t seen. For years, I’ve been meaning to go to the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright, which is apparently from a bygone age, and indeed to the Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura. It’s a fairly difficult part of the world to get to, Dumfries and Galloway – as written about a wee while ago in Awkward – so it will probably be a while until I get there. I still haven’t been to Eyemouth Museum, which has a good collection about fishing, despite it being fairly close to Dunbar, where I grew up.
This is why I am in no particular hurry to travel abroad. Where I live, or near to it, is interesting enough already. The museums especially.
The idea to do another Streets of Glasgow came on the train into town. I was due to go somewhere else but I had 40 minutes to kill before the train. Then the deliberation over which street to do. In the proximity of Central Station, I had already done Gordon Street, Buchanan Street and Queen Street, but that leaves quite a bit of choice. I ended up walking out of Central and happened to look left. I thought ‘hey, Renfield Street’. For those who don’t know, Glasgow city centre is arranged on a grid. On a map, Renfield Street is vertical, going from Union Street through the town up into Cowcaddens. From the junction at Union Street, I could see the top of Renfield Street, the offices of the Herald up there and all the traffic and people in between.
It was lunchtime on a weekday so naturally Renfield Street was very busy. I had to take particular care not to get in anyone’s road as I looked up or snapped away. My main impression of Renfield Street was of its scale. From street-level, the buildings seemed medium-sized, only growing towards the top, particularly when all the buildings are dwarfed by the massive Cineworld, which may well still hold the record for the tallest cinema in the world. The street seemed to be a hodge-podge of different styles, some red sandstone buildings with finials and stylistic touches, others more modern with advertising on the corner (Yorkshire Building Society at Gordon Street, Tennants Lager at Sauchiehall Street), still others grey office blocks. I also had a sense of a few more derelict buildings, including an old cinema which may well become offices. Given that Glasgow once had a very high number of cinemas and picture houses, it seems grimly ironic. Also on this walk I passed by the old BHS shop feeling sorry for itself and Sauchiehall Street, which always seems down-at-heel compared to Buchanan Street and Argyle Street.
When I reached the Pavilion Theatre, I looked at the listings, including a play about Paul Gascoigne and, since we’re marching through October, the Christmas panto. Over the door of the Pavilion are the words ‘Scotland’s National Theatre of Variety’, which I like as a selling point. About books, I’m of the school that as long as people are reading, it doesn’t matter what they read. On theatre, I am much the same. There are people who look down on variety theatre, just as there are those who think plays and productions staged at the Tron or the Citizens Theatre are not for the likes of them. As long as people enjoy it, then the job’s a good ‘un, as they say. The Citizens Theatre, which is in the Gorbals area of the city, does good work reaching out to its community, providing discounted tickets and running initiatives for folk in the Gorbals and beyond to get involved in drama. All too often we get hung up on these things without trying them. Whatever works.
At the top of Renfield Street are the offices for the Herald newspapers. Next door used to be STV until they moved to Pacific Quay, the site now occupied by Tesco Bank. From outside the Herald offices, a bit higher up, there was a great view back down to Union Street. I stood there for a few minutes watching the city move back around me. Right by the Herald offices is what I thought was a war memorial, looking quite like a mercat cross, topped with an unicorn. though it turned out it was a drinking fountain donated by the merchant and publican William Annan in 1915. It used to stand elsewhere in Cowcaddens until the whole place was levelled. Drinking fountains were once prevalent across the city with others in Townhead, Govan and Alexandra Parade, that I’ve seen.
I have had an interest in the media for a long time and I’ve noticed lately how a lot of newspaper offices in particular have been scaled down with the demise of print sales. The Herald offices also house advertising and web businesses, as do the Daily Record premises by the river. I noticed, however, that the front of 200 Renfield Street advertised that it was the home of The Herald, Sunday Herald and the Evening Times but there was no mention of The National, another of the Herald and Times Group’s newspapers, launched in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. I am unsure about what I think about Scottish independence and writing this in the week following the horrific events that surrounded the Catalonian independence referendum, I am quite firmly of the view that all views should be represented and listened to. The National fills a void since only its stablemate the Sunday Herald is also sympathetic to independence. Our politics is more polarised than ever before with a complete lack of empathy or listening. People get their news in a great variety of ways but their views still often come from their newspapers, or rather the way the news is framed in the case of online. Pluralism isn’t a bad thing.
Renfield Street was very busy when I was there, with constant traffic, cars, buses and people out on their lunch. It is one of Glasgow’s urban canyons, a long narrow street lined by tall buildings though not as claustrophobic as Hope Street, in my experience. It has a lot more to it than it seems, just like every other street in this great city, with more to be gained from looking in at what stands there as much as looking up. Not bad for a notion stood at the traffic lights.
Given a choice, I don’t tend to do much on Sundays. It is one of the easiest days just to say no to the world and not go out. Sometimes I do, occasionally venturing to Kelvingrove or the West End. A couple of Sundays ago, I was watching one of the All The Stations videos on YouTube and I had a notion to go to Wemyss Bay. Luckily, one of my local stations, Hillington East, has a direct service to Wemyss Bay on a Sunday and despite the rain, I found myself tootling along to the station and on a train along the coast. The Inverclyde line is quite underrated. Beyond Bishopton, the line hugs the coast for much of the route, with an excellent view across the Clyde to Bowling, Dumbarton, Helensburgh and Kilcreggan. Towards Wemyss Bay, Bute comes into view though on this particular Sunday the Clyde was choppy and grey with low rainclouds shielding Rothesay from my gaze. Thankfully Wemyss Bay station was its usual splendour, all glass, curves and hanging baskets. I wasn’t tempted onto the ferry this time, instead just looking down the curved walkway to the ferry for a moment before stepping outside. I looked across to Bute and Rothesay through the wet and gloom before swiftly deciding to catch the waiting McGills bus down the coast to Largs, following the coast road with its curves and view to Bute and Cumbrae.
Despite having grown up by the sea, unaccountably I hadn’t been near waves for a little while. I swiftly put that right by setting off along the coast at Largs. Soon, though, the wind and driving rain was doing its job to wash my spirit clean, even while one side of my face was much colder and wetter than the other. There came a point that I decided to call it quits and I ended up heading for a coffee shop to warm up.
The train back up the road took me up another of the nicest lines in Scotland, particularly the bit from West Kilbride to Saltcoats looking over the Clyde to Arran. The road is beautiful, the train is even nicer, a little higher up. The sun peeked over the cloud though Arran wasn’t entirely visible. Having lived in the west of Scotland for four years, I realised on the way north how many of the stations I passed through had some sort of resonance in my life, either through work or other travels. They have become more than just names on a map. It was a nice, brief sort of adventure, a good Sunday kind and hopefully to be repeated some time soon.
The other day I was in Dunbar. Remarkably it was my first visit to my home town in about six months, not out of avoiding the place but just life intervening. Earlier this year, I had received an e-mail from the Dunbar Shore Neighbourhood Group, or as I like to think of them ‘the Shories’ after I had written about the Creel Loaders sculpture which sits on Victoria Street. The Shories had furnished me with a press release about their project redeveloping Lamer Island or what I know as the Battery, which is at the other side of the new harbour. I had been planning a trip through anyway but I particularly wanted to see the Battery. I had seen photos of it on Facebook but wanted to see it in person.
Dunbar is famous for being the birthplace of the conservationist John Muir but it is also notable for being the site of the first Methodist church in Scotland and where Robert Wilson came from. Wilson came up with the screw propeller and a sculpture of a propeller sits on the way down to the harbour from the Pool. I’ve always liked it. Anyway, the harbour was fairly quiet save for a few folk working on their boats and some walkers. Since my last trip, the Harbour Trust had put up lots of information boards telling of the history, wildlife and what you can do at and around the harbour. My personal favourite was the one explaining about the numbers boats carry. For those uninitiated, fishing boats are required to display a number based on their port of registration, for example KY120, which indicates that the vessel was registered in Kirkcaldy. The nearest customs house to Dunbar is now Leith, however I gather that Glasgow is one too, though in my extensive harbour visiting experience, I haven’t see any GW boats.
The bridge was down so I walked over to the Battery, up a shiny new path which had various notable dates and events etched onto it. On the way back down, I tried to think of another event in each year and managed most of them. It’s a geek thing. The first thing I saw through the archway was a set of new wooden steps which bore the names of the various Sea Areas which appear on the Shipping Forecast, or at least those in the east of Britain. Anything after Portland (Plymouth, Biscay, FitzRoy, Trafalgar, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes and South East Iceland, incidentally) was nowhere to be seen, which is probably about right given Dunbar is quite firmly in the east. It didn’t stop me reciting the rest of them as I walked round to see the rest of the Battery. I began at the side where I found an interesting information pillar about the shipping disasters that had happened while there was a fever hospital on Lamer Island. Also present and correct was the inevitable quote from John Muir, an apposite one from the very beginning of The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, all about Muir’s very beginnings up the street.
Up the steps were a set of glass cubes, which reflected nicely on the grass. Their sculptor was Donald Urquhart, also behind the landing light pillars in Dysart, which I like a lot more to be honest. Over the wall was an incredible view towards St. Abbs Head. Rather wonderfuly, by the views to St. Abbs Head, the Bass Rock and the Isle of May was a plaque with a poetic or otherwise traditional quote about each place. My particular favourite was the one pointing towards the May, which read:
‘Boys come from the Bass Rock and girls from the Isle of May’
I hadn’t heard that one for years. I have been to the Isle of May but had forgotten that it was also where girls come from, not Venus.
The part of the Battery nearest the entrance had some hardy scrub with blocks bearing more interesting facts. I was very impressed by the job that had been done over there by the Shories, providing a good insight into the Battery as well as into the history and lore of Dunbar, with some interesting art thrown in for good measure. I hadn’t been over there for years but I was glad that while work had been done, the ruined nature of the Battery was still there, meaning it didn’t feel completely alien to a Dunbar escapee like myself who had grown up about ten minutes away. The harbour was looking good with a few folk dotting around even on a brisk October afternoon. We can never forget where we have come from, even while we may now live far away. Since I came from the Bass Rock, apparently, it’s only natural that, like its resident seabirds, I get called back now and then.
September was a fairly quiet month, travel-wise, with most of my forays out for football. My first trip out of the west in September didn’t come until Saturday 16th September, when Hibs played Motherwell at Easter Road. I took a diversion on the way to the ground to the Eastern Cemetery, to visit the grave of Dan McMichael, the manager of Hibs when they won the Cup in 1902. McMichael’s grave wasn’t marked until 2013, made right by the efforts of the St Patrick’s Hibs supporters club. He had died during an epidemic of Spanish flu in 1919 and due to the numbers of folk succumbing, graves weren’t being marked. It’s an interesting story and I’ve written a post which will appear in the coming month about that walk.
The following day was Doors Open Day in Glasgow and my dad and I went to various places across this great city. The first was an unexpected surprise, a curious step into a memorial garden dedicated to the victims of the Arandora Star sinking in 1940. Scotland is a very multicultural country and particularly over the last 200 years, we have seen people come here from all across the world. Many of them were Italians. During the Second World War, however, Italy and the UK were at war and many Italians living in Scotland were interned or sent off to Australia or Canada. Some of them were on the Arandora Star, which was sunk by a German vessel off the coast of Donegal. The garden featured tall mirrored glass pieces around a water feature. This was to symbolise the elegance of the liner and the torpedo coming in to sink it. The glass featured various apposite Biblical and poetic quotations. Around the walls of the garden were plaques about Catholicism in Scotland as well as about the Arandora Star. On Doors Open Day, there was a mannie there talking about the Arandora Star and he was excellent. The garden is open every day and I urge people to go have a look. We walked along the river to the Riverside Museum, a fine place but absolutely mobbed since it was a nice Sunday in September. As we came past the SECC, we could see and hear lots of sirens from the Riverside. Given that the Parsons Green bomb had been left on the London Underground only a couple of days previously, we could be forgiven for being on edge but it turned out that the emergency services were at the Riverside as part of Doors Open Day. After lunch, we went across town to Provan Hall, in Easterhouse, a couple of manor houses dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, now managed by Glasgow City Council. Stevie, the tour guide, was amazing, giving an incredible tour which brought the place alive and it was a true Horrible Histories-style tour, probably the best I’ve had in a long while. Back across town to the Botanics and we had a wander there before dinner.
The following Tuesday night I was back in Edinburgh for football. I travelled through a bit sharper and had a meander around the New Town. I stopped for a few minutes to admire the sphinxes on top of the Royal Scottish Academy on the Mound, which I hadn’t really looked at before. I took a turn around Charlotte Square, now recovering from the Book Festival, and towards Northumberland Street, Broughton Street and Forth Street. On a whim I decided to go along Annandale Street to see where the Lothian Buses depot is, which is a series of big sheds with the logo of the various Lothian companies on the front of one of them. On the way was an Islamic centre with various interesting quotes etched on the side.
That Saturday Hibs were playing Ross County in Dingwall, a place I had never been to before. I got a bus to Inverness and had a walk along the river before getting the train to Dingwall. I’ve been watching a YouTube series called All The Stations recently (more about that in the upcoming posts about Wemyss Bay and also the one called Stations) and that stretch of line, including Beauly which has a very short platform, was quite familiar to me from that with the Cromarty Firth to the right as the train moved to Dingwall. Dingwall itself is a nice market town though the football seemed to be the main event in the place. The bus ride back to Glasgow was very long but pleasant just to read and write.
I was off that Monday so I decided to go off to Edinburgh. On the way, I decided to take a diversion via ferry. Over the summer, the Govan Workspace was running a free ferry shuttle from Govan to the Riverside Museum just across the Clyde and to my discredit, I had not been on it despite bunging them some money. I decided to put that to rights and I enjoyed my 30-second journey immensely, despite the grey and the gloom. I got a train from Partick to Queen Street then another to Edinburgh, where I had decided to go for a walk in Holyrood Park. I am not a climber so Arthur’s Seat was not on the agenda. I decided instead to walk up to Dunsapie, up the back of Arthur’s Seat, familiar to me from walks from my primary school, which is about a mile away. I sat there on a rock for a while before heading back down. I got a bus from Meadowbank back into town and spent a very enjoyable hour in the National Museum of Scotland, lightly grazing and wandering rather than getting bogged down in one display in particular. NMS is one of those places where I can only concentrate for so long since it has a lot of stuff. I had forgotten how good NMS is in its breadth and depth.
On Saturday, Hibs were playing at Celtic Park. I walked there from Central Station, particularly liking being around Glasgow Cross with its tolbooth spire and high buildings.
So, that’s September. I was off for the start of October so a few posts have resulted from those adventures which will appear in the coming days. Thanks again to all readers for their comments, likes and follows. Toodle pip.