Streets of Glasgow: Dundas Street

There are quite a few street names that Edinburgh and Glasgow have in common, naturally so since they grew and developed around the same sort of time. Of the 31 streets I’ve written about in this series so far, five have an equivalent in the capital, Buchanan Street (in Pilrig), Cumberland Street (New Town), Duke Street (Leith), the High Street (take a wild guess) and Dundas Street. Edinburgh’s Dundas Street is in the New Town, leading from the city centre to Canonmills. Glasgow’s is much shorter, split in two, going from Cathedral Street to West George Street. It is in the midst of redevelopment as Queen Street Station is being transformed into a glass-fronted transport hub as part of the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme. That means that Dundas Street is basically a building site and it is very narrow to accommodate the building works. The development means that it is possible to see through gaps to some of the city’s finer buildings, not least the City Chambers on one side and Buchanan Street on the other.

Dundas Street is also split by a narrow walkway leading from the shops to the railway station and Subway. It used to have an old sign which referred to Buchanan Street as being on the Underground, rather than the Subway. I like spotting things like that but it appears to have disappeared in the redevelopment of Queen Street. I had been at Queen Street a couple of days previously and in the midst of the works the Dundas Street entrance had moved again, this time to an even narrower gap by the entrance to the Low Level platforms. The barrier in front of the works meant that getting a good look at the buildings was difficult. As I am generally hurrying on Dundas Street, I wanted to look up there particularly. Above the temporary ticket office and Weir’s was an elegant building in red sandstone with a bay window on two of its levels. Next door, above Caffe Nero and RS McColls, was a more typical building for the city centre, still red sandstone but with lots of fussy details, some crests and a laddering-type effect between the windows.

My main impression of Dundas Street as I walked on this particular Sunday afternoon was the shops at the northern end of the street. Quite a few of them were shut but that revealed their shutters, quite a few of which were decorated such as the tattoo shop which had a pattern that I can’t quite place, be it pipes, leaves or human innards. Love Music was easier to figure out, the record shop featuring likenesses of various musicians around the door.

Dundas Street is one of the streets in this series that will change considerably in the coming years. By 2020, Queen Street station will be transformed into a glass-fronted transport hub. In the meantime it’s a bit of a riot but that’s okay. It’s interesting to document the change, to imagine what will come as well as what was once there. It’s always a lesson not to hurry by, that usually there’ll be another train soon if you just want to stop and look a bit.

This is the thirty first Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. Others nearby include Buchanan Street, Cathedral Street, George Square and Queen Street.

The next Streets of Glasgow post, Waterloo Street, will follow in two weeks time. Next week will be a Loose Ends post featuring Linlithgow Palace.

Books

I go through phases with reading. Sometimes I read loads, other times not so much. Last week I had an OU essay to write so most of my reading was about greensickness, melancholy and charlatans. Thankfully that’s out the road. In the last week I’ve managed to finish a grand total of three books, two of them started and finished within a couple of days, and the other started ages ago and finally finished on a 26 bus on Musselburgh High Street. Glamour. Those were Only The Dead Can Tell by Alex Gray, A Brush With Death by Quintin Jardine and East Lothian Folk Tales by Tim Porteus. I also read The Head Teacher of Football by Terry Christie recently but that was a re-read.

I’ve read crime novels for years and I eagerly anticipate the latest works by Alex Gray, Quintin Jardine, Stuart MacBride and Ian Rankin in particular. I have the new Peter May waiting for me at work that I might read over the weekend too. Ann Cleeves I like but I’ve only read the Shetland series. Stuart MacBride is class and DCI Roberta Tiberius Steel is cracking. I like how Alex Gray writes. Glasgow is very much a character in her novels, the changing cityscape a constant feature behind the plot. Lorimer is unlike most male detective protagonists in that he doesn’t drink or smoke, like Rebus for example, and his fellow characters, including Rosie the pathologist, Kirsty Wilson and Maggie Lorimer, all play prominent parts in the latest one. Quintin Jardine I like because Bob Skinner lives in Gullane and I can imagine some of the places that feature in the books. This particular one was good, particularly with the inclusion of Lottie Mann and Danny Provan, the Weegie detective duo, though it was a bit implausible in how Skinner got involved despite not being in the polis any more.

The East Lothian Folk Tales book I had bought weeks ago and have taken to a couple of Hibs games to read on the train. Tim Porteus is a storyteller who lives in Prestonpans. He writes interesting tales which appear in the Courier every week. This book is a collection of tales featuring witches, ghosties and all sorts of creatures and folk from across the county, including the tale of Black Agnes and her granny from Dunbar Castle. As I said, I finally finished it on Saturday after the Hibs-Celtic game as I sat on a bus going out to Morrison’s Haven, appropriately enough in East Lothian.

My to-read pile is as big as ever. As well as the Peter May, I have a book about seabirds that I’ve had to read for months as well as a Hunter S. Thompson book that’s been in my backpack for ages. I also have a pile of Muriel Spark books that I bought one evening when my route home took me past Waterstone’s in Braehead. Near the top is How To Survive The End Of The World by Aaron Gillies, a book about anxiety and how to live in this world, a couple of books by Helen McClory published by the wonderful independent press 404 Ink, and I might also re-read Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit soon, a history of walking. Rebecca Solnit is a very good writer.

When I read some of these books, I will of course need to think about a bookmark. The Wednesday’s Child blog featured a very nice post the other day about bookmarks which you should check out. It seems a bit self-referential to reference a post which in turn mentions me but there you are. It was the kind of post that I wish I had written myself. Anyway, as for bookmarks, I tend to use whatever I have to hand, notelets, train or bus tickets, sometimes actual bookmarks. The Tim Porteus book I read recently had a bus ticket, incidentally.

While I have to know about new books for my job, I tend to ignore the bestseller lists for my own choices, going on recommendations or following my nose. The main time I get to read is when I’m travelling – like when I’m going to the football as I wrote about here –  and I would rather read something I’ll like rather than something which is popular. Popular books are often good ones though not always.

Tomorrow I will be off to Edinburgh to see Hibs play Kilmarnock. I haven’t decided what my travelling book will be though it’s between The Comforters by Muriel Spark and maybe one I have by Susan Calman. In the morning I’ll just lift it up and go and maybe it’ll be done by the time I return, maybe not. The book is part of the experience, enhancing it at the best of times.

Thanks for reading. Sunday’s post here will be part of the Streets of Glasgow series, this time Dundas Street. Easter Road West will feature a post from the archive tomorrow about listening to the football.

Crossing the road

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Edinburgh for the football. As usual, I was a bit early so I decided to take the scenic route to Easter Road. I walked up from Waverley across St. Andrew’s Square to Queen Street with not much of a plan beyond that except getting to the ground eventually. I waited at the traffic crossing planning to cross onto Dublin Street, looking down across the city. Beyond the bottom of Dublin Street, Edinburgh was a forest of trees until it hit the Forth, the next sign of humanity Burntisland Shipyard. It was a bright sunny February Saturday with a few clouds strewn across the sky. The whole vista suggested adventure, psychogeography even if I had more time, lefts, rights and everything else, even a trip across the Forth or at least to its shores.

I used to have a rule on day trips that I always waited for the green man at traffic crossings as I would invariably see more than I would if I rushed around. I tend to adopt it whenever possible now, particularly in Glasgow. As I stood at this one, I watched the traffic go past, even the Aberdeen team bus as it headed for Easter Road, regular service buses and folks heading for the New Town and wherever else. With the view, the cold sunshine and the city around me, it was a nice moment in time. Then the green man came on and I crossed the road, into the middle anyway, then soon onto Dublin Street and away.

Streets of Glasgow: Bath Street

Bath Street had long been on the list for Streets of Glasgow and it became the 30th walk in the series as I crossed the motorway by the Mitchell Library. The city’s book lenders were in the midst of Aye Write and big posters extolling the virtues of Glasgow Libraries were up on much of the street. I also found out as I walked by the King’s Theatre that this year’s panto is Aladdin, advertised with a picture of Elaine C. Smith looking suitably jolly. It doesn’t feel so long since panto season finished (oh, yes, it does). The King’s is a handsome building in red sandstone with a golden lion atop a dome on the corner. I hadn’t noticed it before and liked it immensely. There’s probably a theatrical reason behind it.

From the motorway, Bath Street leads eventually up and down through the city centre to Buchanan Street, where it becomes Cathedral Street leading to the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis. It has some modern buildings, particularly closer to the city centre, though it also has some elegant golden buildings, with one of the most striking housing a World Buffet and an Italian on the corner of Renfield Street. Bath Street is full of restaurants, with a few auctioneers and offices scattered amongst them for good measure. This walk being on a Sunday, I paid particular attention to one restaurant’s sign which advertised an all-day breakfast for £9.95 including your choice of Irn Bru, Bloody Mary or tea or coffee. Not being much of a drinker or indeed hungover, I pushed on. Nearby was the seemingly punning Pie and Brew, promising beer, music and pies, probably satisfying most of humanity’s needs in that part of the world. I also liked the lousy joke on the Buff Club’s sign shown below. Bath Street also has a bit of history with a plaque by a cafe marking that it housed the first BBC radio studios in Scotland, opened on 6th March 1923. Further down by the Hotel Abode was a plaque marking that it had once been the home of Liberal Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The plaque declared him to be ‘a radical, a peacemaker, a good man’. The only thing I know about him is that he made great virtue of changing his stationery from wherever, North Britain to wherever, Scotland, quite unusual in those turn-of-the-century times of Empire and Britannia ruling the waves.

This particular walk was on a very cold day, a biting wind whistling up Bath Street, so I didn’t linger. I made sure I regularly stopped to look up and down the street as it rose and fell as it undulated through the city, the people, traffic and buildings passing before me close and into the distance. Bath Street is particularly good for that, fully benefiting from the grid layout of the city centre. It is also good for looking up, particularly nearer Buchanan Street with a few cracking doorways and buildings in that bit of the town, a good reminder of the mercantile past and indeed present of Glasgow.


This is the thirtieth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. Others are available, including the nearby Buchanan Street, Cathedral Street, Hope Street, Renfield Street, West Nile Street and West Regent Street.

Last week’s Streets post was Kelvin Way. Also featured on the blog this week: Leith Walk the other waySome blethers and Castle connections

Leith Walk the other way

I invariably get to Edinburgh far too early for the football. (Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those posts – go to Easter Road West for my football blethers.) I usually take the scenic route to Easter Road, usually up Leith Walk and then around by Leith Links and Easter Road the street to Easter Road the ground. Urban walking isn’t exactly a problem for me and usually I get to Edinburgh and feel happy to be there, eager just to wander rather than heading straight to the stadium. Hence I go up Leith Walk, looking in the shop windows, always mentally noting the point at Pilrig where I leave Edinburgh and enter the ancient burgh of Leith.

When I was in Edinburgh for the recent derby, I got there even more bloody early than I needed to, partly to avoid the peak ticket restrictions on the train but also to enjoy as much of my day off in the March daylight as I could. I hadn’t been out of the west for a while due to the snow and of course work. I walked as far as Restalrig, paying particular attention to the old water tower on Restalrig Drive I wrote about here recently, then by the ground and up to Leith Links where I sat and read my book for a bit. At that point I decided to head back into the city centre to get some food, walking down Leith Walk the wrong way. On the way to Leith Walk I came across an information board which I hadn’t seen before as normally I walk the other way, which mentioned St. Triduana, Leith Academy which is across the roundabout, and also Hibs and Leith Athletic, the football teams of the parish. On the Walk itself, the different perspective was nice. Heading south the city buildings are on the skyline, St. Giles and the Balmoral Hotel, which is a nice perspective, quite similar to the one from Holyrood Park where the city centre seems to be sitting on a slight straight-edged slant.

A bit further down were some railway arched buildings, quite like those along Cumberland Street in Glasgow, though now this bit of Leith doesn’t have any trains. I also like the neat building down Smith’s Place, which it turns out belongs to Raimes Clark and Co., a pharmaceutical company affiliated to Lindsay and Gilmour, a chain of chemists around the east of Scotland. Every day’s a school day.

The only thing about walking towards Edinburgh was that I didn’t get the right perspective of the mural on the side of one of the shops and also the church at Pilrig which marks the historic boundary between Leith and Edinburgh. I still enjoyed the walk though, a new insight into a familiar street that I could still explore more.

Some blethers

About eight years ago, I took the plunge and signed up for the first of several Open University courses that will hopefully form the basis for an history degree in the next couple of years. I’ve had a few gaps in between time, including last year when a new job meant I had vastly less mental and physical energy to continue with my module. The OU are great to deal with and they let me continue with the module this year with the assignment marks from last time banked so I didn’t have to do them again. The reason I’m telling you this is that I’ve just finished the first assignment I’ve written in a year and strangely I quite enjoyed the experience. The actual product isn’t brilliant and was basically thrown together, mostly written last night and submitted this morning, but the actual writing bit, the getting the material together, but it was a valuable reminder of how studying is actually really good. My OU experience is principally sitting with my iPad skimming textbooks so being able to sit down and do some proper work was quite refreshing. I have another TMA next month, on the Enlightenment of all things. The Enlightenment should be interesting as I can bring in plenty of Scottish examples and rake some of my books out of the cupboard. Then it’s the exam at the start of June then A223 Early modern Europe is out of my life.  Two modules after this one and I’ll have a degree at the grand old age of 30. Sounds easy when you say it quick enough.

I wrote this post this morning and it’s an exercise in just writing and seeing what happens. Or if you’re less generous, just letting my belly rumble. One thing I’ve been thinking about this week is body image. I think the BBC iPlayer is one of the best inventions in the history of humankind. At the moment my downloads consist of a cracking Northern Irish series about that part of the world’s obsession with country and western music (Seriously, it is the funniest programme on TV. Watch it. It’s called Keepin ‘er Country. It is awesome.) as well as some music, Countryfile and Only Connect. The other night I found a short series from BBC Three about tattoos and how they have changed some folk’s lives. It featured various people who have chosen to get a tattoo to cover various things for various reasons, including self-harm scars, old Satanist tattoos, mastectomy scars and those from acne. I have acne and indeed I have acne scars on various parts of my body. I go to the gym a couple of times a week and as part of that, I change clothes with lots of other guys about. That doesn’t bother me that much any more but I realised that I truly couldn’t give a hoot if people saw the acne scars on my shoulders and back. I’m more bothered about the spots that appear on my face even though I also have some grey hairs. I don’t think I would bother with getting a tattoo to cover them up. All power to the guy who did, he clearly felt brilliant after, but it wouldn’t be for me.

I listen to a fair few podcasts too and since I wrote about podcasts here a few months ago, I’ve added a few more. As well as The West Wing WeeklyOff The Ball and the usual staples, I’ve been avidly listening to the Scotland Outdoors podcast from Radio Scotland, Fighting Talk from Radio 5 Live and also Gilmore Guys. Don’t judge me but when I was underemployed a few years ago, I often watched daytime telly and Gilmore Girls is better than Jeremy Kyle. I could script Jeremy Kyle. ‘Just put something on the end of it!’ That features at least once a show. Anyway, podcasts. They help me sleep and over the coming weekend I have a few to listen to during my waking hours, including Colin Murray’s music panel show Blood on the Tracks and the latest West Wing Weekly. This morning I listened to the Nutmeg podcast, which this time features Archie Macpherson and publisher Martin Greig talking about their lives in football.

Anyway, there will be another post here tomorrow night, which is about walking the wrong way along Leith Walk. Sunday has a Streets of Glasgow which will be Bath Street this time. The series still goes on hiatus after the end of May though I hope Castle connections will replace it for a bit. Easter Road West features a post on Saturday about the business end of the football season. I also posted there earlier about going to a football match as a neutral.

Before I go, the blogger in me is quite excited because it is only April and I’m already on course to beat the number of visitors and views from 2016. 2017 doubled it and change so 2018 being at that stage by this point in the year is nice. Thanks for reading, commenting and all that stuff. I randomly have readers from all parts of the world, including my favourite the other day: the European Union. Have a good night.

Castle connections

This is the first of a brand new occasional series here on Walking Talking, Castle connections. It will hopefully get a better title but it will have to be alliterative. The idea came one Sunday when I was at Aberdour Castle in Fife. The notion to go to Aberdour had come on the train into town. As I got off, my eye rested on a poster advertising a Lego exhibition at Aberdour Castle. In that moment an aimless day was changed with a walk up to the bus station bound for the Fife riviera. I’m a firm believer in things being connected, keeping in mind John Muir’s credo that ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe’. A lot of historic places in Scotland are connected, by their owners, geography or events. This series will go from place to place, finding a connection between one place and another, started on a train in suburban Glasgow and ending somewhere as yet unknown.

Aberdour could set off a few connections. The dovecot in the orchard could take me to another place with a dovecot, like Dirleton, Tantallon or Phantassie in East Lothian, while I know there’s an orchard at Elcho Castle in Perthshire. The painted ceiling in one of the upstairs rooms could send me to Huntingtower Castle near Perth, which has a cracking one, or even to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The ceiling is incidentally best viewed by lying on the floor and Historic Environment Scotland to their credit provide torches and blankets to assist in that endeavour. Another connection can be drawn through the TV series Outlander which I still haven’t seen. A board described Aberdour’s use as a filming location in the series, along with Blackness Castle, Doune Castle, Linlithgow Palace and Glasgow Cathedral. I also know Craigmillar Castle was used, since a photo from this very blog ended up in a guidebook for Scottish Outlander locations the other month.

I am a big history buff, even trying to find time to study it through the Open University, and I’ve been going to historic places since I was a kid. There’s not many castles I haven’t been to in Scotland, though there must be some. I passed one in Fife just the other day that I had never seen before. I hope that in this series I’ll be able to get to a few new interesting places and not a few familiar ones too, finding whatever makes them tick and what will take me on another adventure thereafter.

Update: The series has since been named ‘Loose ends’. That was inspired by reading the poem ‘Scotland’ by Hugh MacDiarmid, which has the lines:

‘So I have gathered unto myself

All the loose ends of Scotland,

And by naming them and accepting them,

Loving them and identifying myself with them,

Attempt to express the whole’.

Streets of Glasgow: Kelvin Way

I start each of these posts with a photograph of the street sign. More often than not, I make it one of the first things I do on starting the walk. On Kelvin Way, it looked set that it wouldn’t happen. I reached Sauchiehall Street and no street sign to be seen. Luckily there was one a little way past the crossing so the conventions could be met.

Kelvin Way is an elegant tree-lined thoroughfare leading from University Avenue to Sauchiehall Street by Kelvingrove. I like it a lot because of the views to Park Circus, Kelvingrove and along the river Kelvin. Some people would argue that it doesn’t have much interest, certainly not from a psychogeographical point of view. Luckily I knew otherwise, making sure I stopped by the Suffragette Oak, a tree planted just shy of 100 years ago by women’s suffrage groups to mark the granting of the vote to some women. The tree was damaged by a storm last year and the Council had to cut it back a bit. The bits that had been cut off ended up in the hands of the Glasgow Women’s Library who intend to use them in a way that celebrates those women who worked so diligently to gain the ballot. The GWL had nominated the tree for Scotland’s Tree of the Year award in 2015 and it won, beating off lots of others across the country in the popular vote. I’ve passed it numerous times and seen it bedecked in purple, white and green ribbons. It will grow back and stronger too. As Patrick Geddes said, ‘by leaves we live’.

From Kelvin Way, it is possible to get stunning views to much of the west of the city, to Park Circus and to the much closer Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the cupolas and spires of that fine building seen at their best from by the river. The sun cast a nice silhouette over Kelvingrove, darkening the red of the building into a black. I particularly liked looking at the statues which sit on the bridge over the river, a splendidly posh touch that makes me normally forget for a moment that it’s 2018 and think of horses and carts and folks in Victorian garb rather than the cars which lined either side of the road.

The trees were regaining their leaves and daffodils and crocuses were coming up nicely as I walked by the park. Unlike the University Avenue walk of a few minutes before, this one was a little more sheltered by the trees and the sun came out for a few moments. It was still bitingly cold, however, but it was still worth being there, to see the Suffragette Oak and be in one of the most stunning streets in the city, surrounded by some of its finest buildings as I walked.

This is the twenty ninth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. There are quite a few other posts in the series, including the nearby Byres Road, Sauchiehall Street and University Avenue, which appeared here last week. The Firhill Road walk, post thirty four in the series, appeared on Easter Road West on Wednesday, since it was partly about Partick Thistle. It will appear here in sequence in June.

Streets is going on hiatus shortly, in fact at the end of June, though will be replaced by something hopefully as interesting.

My other blog, Easter Road West, also has a new post today, a match report from going to see Raith Rovers beat Queen’s Park yesterday.

Walking across the Forth Road Bridge

Quite a few years ago, I was in South Queensferry one Saturday and had the notion to walk across the Forth Road Bridge. I got to the bridge and only got so far, indeed I was still over land, when I decided to chuck it. The height might have had something to do with it, possibly the constant traffic. All I knew is that I couldn’t do it and off I went for a bus back into Edinburgh.

Fast forward to the other week. I made a list of thirty things to do before my thirtieth birthday, which is in 16 months from now. Most of the items on the list are little personal touches, places to go, things to do. I achieved four in fairly quick succession though it’s not a great rush at this stage. I was talking about the list with my dad and I mentioned that one of the targets was to walk across the Forth Road Bridge. He was up for that and thus it was that one bright spring Sunday morning we were on a bus out to Queensferry.

Since the last attempt, the Forth Road Bridge had been supplanted by the shiny new Queensferry Crossing a little way west. The new bridge now carries the majority of traffic, the old bridge mainly the preserve of buses. This made walking up by the old Forth Bridges Hotel quite eerie, some punningly-named gritters parked by the road. I still felt anxious as we started to walk. It was a bright morning with very little wind. I knew that nothing much could happen to me save some freak event right out of a disaster movie. The path was one of those dual-purpose ones with separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians. The cyclists got more room, which as a committed pedestrian I grudge. I felt safest roughly in the middle and that’s pretty much where I stayed the whole way across. I had some jitters and went very quiet just before our feet left dry land. Some deep breathing and keeping my eyes straight propelled me forward.

What also helped was the location. We were on the eastern walkway which was closest to the greatest bridge on the planet, the Forth Bridge, the original and best. As we walked on, I could see both the Fife and Lothian coastlines, Edinburgh and beyond to North Berwick Law. In the other direction, though I tried not to look that way too often due to the slatted gap between the walkway and the road, was a clear view up the Forth, including to Blackness Castle cradling its promontory a few miles down river. I got more comfortable the further we got, grateful for the good conditions and that the bridge was perfectly still throughout. That there were loads of joggers, walkers and cyclists going in both directions gave me precious little comfort. Below the central towers of the bridge were lots of padlocks that people had left to signify their love or whatever. It only made me think the force of all those locks must be doing the bridge some damage. I’m of the ‘leave only footprints, take only photographs’ school of travelling though I balked at taking a selfie as some signs suggested.

After about 45 minutes or so, we came back over dry land and we were duly welcomed to Fife by the inevitable road sign. Remarkably the first wobbly bit I had was walking down steps from the bridge towards North Queensferry. We ate lunch under the Light Tower. I had only been to North Queensferry for Deep Sea World, a muckle aquarium which sits by the Rail Bridge, though I knew that the village itself is pretty, not least the Light Tower designed by Robert Stevenson in 1817. A ferry ran across the Forth for eight hundred years until the Forth Road Bridge opened in 1964. The Light Tower was built to aid mariners and travellers in that endeavour. It was poky inside but I could get up to the light itself. Right by the light was a pair of binoculars, left by the local community to aid nosy visitors who might want to look out to sea. I desisted as I was happy to geek out being in a real-life lighthouse.

Now and then it’s good to do things that scare you. If we didn’t keep a sense of adventure, life would be horrendously dull and this blog would be about my collection of cats. (I don’t have any cats. I don’t like cats.) Having said that, I’m in no great hurry to walk over the Forth Road Bridge, or any other big bridge, again any time soon. I’ve done it. The views were great. I didn’t piss my pants. It’s all good. But I’m happy to travel across it on the bus in the future, content in the knowledge that even if I did walk it again, I and the bridge would both survive the experience.

Defences

The east coast of Scotland always seemed to be on the receiving end of bother, be it from Vikings, Germans or just the English. Dunbar, where I grew up, had a castle which was besieged numerous times, including the time when Black Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, dusted down the battlements with a handkerchief after the English fired cannonballs at them. Across the Victoria Harbour is the Battery, built on Lamer Island on the threat of a Napoleonic invasion which never materialised. Not so far away is Lauderdale House, once a noble residence, later part of a barracks. Much of the coast towards Edinburgh, and indeed all the way up towards Aberdeen and Peterhead, is scattered with concrete anti-tank blocks and guard huts dating from the Second World War. Inchgarvie, the island which sits right under the Forth Bridge, was fortified from the 16th century and to this day still looks like a fort, with its last military use in the Second World War too.

The tank traps always fascinated me. John Muir Country Park near Dunbar still has loads of them, on the tide line and deeper into the woods at Hedderwick. I recently walked through the Country Park as far as Tyninghame – story of that here – and the tank traps survive right up to the path, with one or two abandoned guard huts along the way, uniform in red brick as the blocks sit in austere grey concrete. When I was a kid it made far more impact on me than the inevitable modern history pish I got at school. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should learn about the First and Second World Wars. We should know about the Holocaust and everything else, particularly in this political climate. We are bound to repeat our mistakes if we don’t learn from them. But history teaching should go beyond the Victorians and Hitler, far beyond. It should also be beyond the classroom, in museums and just walking around, embracing the local, national and international.

My love of history came, and still comes, from my surroundings. I grew up in one of the most historically significant areas in these islands. I went to primary school in a part of Edinburgh near the port of Leith and itself interesting for a castle, a factory water tower and a mausoleum. I live in a part of Glasgow that was farmland until not so long ago and has a castle nearby. The city itself has thousands of years of past to explore. History not only helps us learn from past mistakes but gives us a rounder picture of the present too, how we got here and how we carry ourselves. I study it too and even while my current OU module on early modern Europe is dry as anything, I can still glean enough interesting nuggets from it.

In history, as in all things, context is key. The tank traps that are scattered along the coastline are now well-weathered from a few decades worth of rain, snow and the ever constant wind. More than a few are life themselves, covered in moss and lichens. The peacenik in me rather likes that.