Loose Ends: Portobello Community Garden

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The last instalment of Loose Ends involved a look at Meadowbank Stadium in the process of demolition. This time began a mere 40 minutes later, along in Portobello, a seaside enclave of Edinburgh. I had just had a bite of lunch (small steak pies from the baker’s, since you ask) and thus refuelled I walked along the Esplanade until I came to some chimneys which I had seen before and felt might be a good addition to this series. I couldn’t remember anything about them except they had interesting carvings. The three pillars, I soon learned, came from a garden nearby, press-moulded blocks of Coade Stone. The chimneys at Dalmeny House at the other side of the city had a similar design to the smaller pillars. They always have a tinge of exoticism to them, maybe more likely to be found somewhere warm rather than by the beach in Porty. I got a few photos then turned round, getting a great view across the Forth towards North Berwick Law, Hopetoun Monument, the Pans and Musselburgh.

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Again, I had decided the next destination, but I could have gone to Dalmeny House, which I had been to a few years back, or to any one of the places I could see. Even though it was baltic, I was glad to have had a good look at these pillars. They connected well with Meadowbank Stadium, a place now getting demolished though with a distinct, though very different architectural style, and the thought occurred to me that while a couple of connections recently have been about death, this one was about renewal. Life, death and the resurrection, to go all Biblical. Those deep thoughts done with, I walked on, ready for the next.

Thanks for reading. The next Loose Ends adventure follows next week.

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Words, salt and sauce

In the Saturday Saunter post yesterday, I wrote that if I didn’t get the Intercity Aberdeen post written in time, something else would appear here instead. Well, this is it. I managed to do the Aberdeen post but also wrote this just in case. In a departure from routine, I thought I would post this anyway, some musings about being an east coast exile living in the west of Scotland.

I am writing this on International Mother Languages Day, 21st February, and the Scottish Book Trust have been sharing various examples of Scots and Gaelic on their social media pages. The SBT do these things very well and hopefully as the day goes on, their pages will be awash with contributions of the diversity and wonder of our nation’s languages. I love delving into the vernacular whenever possible. There are times when I can’t help it and mostly it is still east coast, East Lothian or Edinburgh type words that I use. Occasionally, only very occasionally the odd Glaswegian word will sneak out but generally I am a product of my upbringing on the right side of the country. That was further shown by a Dialect Quiz which appeared the other week on, of all things, the website of the mighty New York Times. The words I use put me as either being from Edinburgh, Dundee or Ayr, apparently, suggesting the geographic spread of where I’ve lived fairly accurately.

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Edinburgh and Leith: the heart of salt and sauce country

Another indicator of my east coast-ness comes from my choice of condiments. I should explain to any non-Scottish readers that in central Scotland there is a dividing line between those who take salt and vinegar on their fish and chips and those sensible folk who choose salt and sauce. The salt and sauce part is generally east of Falkirk while vinegar prevails in the west, where I live. Ironically, as the Edinburgh Evening News pointed out the other day, chippy sauce (essentially watered down HP Sauce) is actually made here in Glasgow, even though it isn’t widely available here. One of my local chippies here in the Weeg sells bottles of it so usually I have a supply though I always mean to pop into a chippy in the east and buy a big bottle of madeup stuff and smuggle it back home. Nothing beats salt and sauce on a sausage supper, or a king rib or a chip steak. A fish supper deluged in the good stuff is what dreams are made of.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy what’s left of your weekend.

Intercity: Aberdeen

Intercity Scotrail train at Aberdeen

The last instalment of Intercity started, fittingly enough, on a train. An Intercity train, no less, the inspiration for this series. I started from Dundee and trained it up to Aberdeen. It was a bright morning and the coastal views by Montrose and Stonehaven were braw, the white-topped waves lapping against cliffs and over sandy beaches. The train approached Aberdeen by the river Dee, not always the most welcoming of approaches surrounded by industrial premises and offices. The train pulled in and I got a photo of the Intercity motif on the loco. Then I got a selfie with an Aberdeen sign behind me, just to have some sense of occasion.

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Me at Aberdeen station, just proving I actually go to these places
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Demonstrators on Castle Street, Aberdeen, in front of Mercat Cross and Salvation Army
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Aberdeen Sheriff Court and Tolbooth, Union Street

My choice for Aberdeen was Union Street, named after the 1801 Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland and created to link the main routes into the city. I could have picked Pittodrie Street, leading of course to the football stadium, but when I thought of Aberdeen, it had to be Union Street. I started by the Mercat Cross and there was a group gathered there with flags and banners, the flags possibly South American. Sadly I didn’t have time to investigate more. (It turns out they were Venezuelan.) What I hadn’t noticed about the Tolbooth as I walked along was the sundial about half way up the building. It might be why one of the buses that passed declared it to be part of the Sunshine Line, a notion which deeply amused me in such a grey city as Aberdeen. There was also the Platinum Line but I doubt it was as exclusive or lavish as the name suggests. It sounds like a strip club, to be brutally honest, or a place to buy posh fishing gear.

There were quite a few empty shops along Union Street, far more than in the oil boom, and a few had been repurposed. Esslemont and Mackintosh was now a steakhouse, for example. There were also a few beggars, including one on the steps of a church, which was too ironic for me. The place was busy, in the midst of the Saturday lunchtime bustle, and I found it hard to get stopped to take photos on the narrow city pavement, particularly outside the Music Hall, which has just recently been redone. An interactive display featuring Eddie Izzard caught my eye as I walked past. It struck me how it would be a good psychogeographic exercise for someone to walk along Union Street regularly to capture it in different weathers and different moods. It won’t be me, though.

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Aberdeen Music Hall, not with Eddie Izzard as I didn’t get my phone out in time

Architecturally Union Street is a blend of traditional granite buildings and more modern, mostly 1960s, jobs. My favourite bit was the colonnade outside St. Nicholas’s Kirk, designed by local architect James Smith, right next to a narrow close wonderfully named Correction Wynd. Later I found out there was some good street art down there too.

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Correction Wynd

Towards its western end Union Street got quieter and also a bit nicer. Those things were not necessarily related but it didn’t hurt. I was taken by the regular presence of clocks on the buildings but of the three I saw, only one showed the right time. Luckily I had a phone with the time built in. As I came to the end, where I knew there was quite a beguiling mural (shown below), I heard very loud revving engines. I stood at the traffic lights and saw a long line of motorbikes, some with sidecars, a lot of them Harley Davidsons. I stood and watched them go, or at least the first lot before the traffic lights turned red. It was a nice end to Intercity, showing some of the wonderfully random things one can see in Scotland’s cities, the beautiful and the downright bizarre.

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Mural at end of Union Street
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Motorbikes

Thanks for reading. I have also written a post just in case I didn’t manage to get this one done in time. It’s about dialect and it’ll be here tonight. I liked it so felt it was worth doing a bit extra. Next week here will be the February digest then after that the welcome return of Streets of Glasgow the week after.

Saturday Saunter: 23rd February 2019

Good Saturday to you,

Our Saunter today comes as I’m on a train to Aberdeen. I was in Dundee last night watching the Hibs beat Dundee 4-2 and stayed over after the match. As you read this I have just had a decent walk around Dundee city centre, had fruit for breakfast because allegedly it’s good for you and I’m ready to rock for the journey up to Aberdonia. While there I will do the last Intercity walk and have lunch with relatives. Then I’ll get the hell out of Dodge and come right back to civilisation.

My view as I edited this post, by the V and A Dundee

The Intercity series has been good fun to write. I can confidently say that today’s instalment won’t be my favourite. The nicest to do was Perth in the cool January sunshine while the best to write was Inverness, which I did on the bus home. At some point I might come back to it, maybe doing a second street in each city or covering some of those places which have cathedrals. In the meantime, Streets of Glasgow returns in two weeks time and I’m glad. I don’t like it when the blog gets too far from Glasgow. Pure dead brilliant, by the way.

This is the first Saturday in a few which hasn’t involved a trip to Edinburgh to see Hibs. As much as I love our nation’s capital, it’s nice not to be on the way there today. Sometimes I combine going to the game with a walk somewhere, usually with this blog in mind. It’s good not to do that all the time. There can be a tendency to use every little morsel of life for fodder and material and that can mean there’s very little room to savour adventures for what they are rather than turning them into words on a screen. John Muir once wrote ‘Cold writing can be a feeble medium for heart-hot ideas’ and I’m a big believer in that. Keeping them hot is the trick but not all the time.

Last weekend I was in a restaurant. That happens from time to time. The restaurant was fairly busy with lots of surfaces for noise to bounce off. It was a branch of a popular chain and I’ve been in different ones without an issue but this one was hard to bear. The room had a low ceiling and I don’t think that helped. My food was fine but it was a wee bit of an overload all the same. It’s strange because I’ve dealt with all sorts of loud sensory environments in recent weeks without issue. It might have been the pitch and frequency of plates, knives and forks that did it. My big old autistic brain can be a mystery sometimes.

Yoga is becoming less mysterious and I’ve been doing a wee bit most days. I think I mentioned here recently that I’m working from a book but only one book. I’ve looked at a couple of others but they left me a bit confused. One source of information works for me. Establishing a filter. Anyway the yoga poses are divided into three sections and I’ve started in the second part, now being fairly au fait with the first bit. I’m not very well-coordinated anyway but I think the yoga’s helping. I feel physically and mentally better after I’ve done it, plus physically I seem to be looking better, which is definitely a bonus.

I’ve recently changed around my to-read pile, doing away with some library books that don’t tempt me as much as they once did and replacing them with others. This weekend’s travelling book is Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime by Dan Hancox, something I picked because I don’t know anything about that particular genre of music. Still on my iPad is The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney, which I started on the way to Inverness but deferred to read something else.

Hopefully on the way home tonight I’ll manage to write up the Intercity Aberdeen post which should appear here tomorrow. If it’s something else, you’ll know that I couldn’t be bothered typing it up when I got in. Loose Ends is back on Wednesday and it’s in Porty. Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. Cheers just now.

Loose Ends: Meadowbank Stadium

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I was in Edinburgh a bit early and decided to have a wander in the very cold sunshine. My intended destination was the Craigentinny Mausoleum, linking it with death and the Greyfriars Burial Ground in Perth, forgetting I had been to the John Witherspoon statue in Paisley since. Witherspoon went to the University of Edinburgh, though, so anything in the capital would do. Then I came past Meadowbank Stadium, which is in the process of being demolished in order to build a brand new sports centre in its place. There has been a local campaign appealing to Edinburgh City Council not to cut down the trees that line the street outside the stadium. Some of the trees bear banners and knitted decorations in support of the campaign. The words ‘Don’t Kill Our Trees’ summed it up well. The stadium was built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and the stand was Brutalist in style. When I looked up from the trees, I realised that there was a big hole where most of the stand used to be, only two small sections left at either side. Since I love old football grounds and particularly their architecture, it was a particularly beguiling sight to see the stand in the process of demolition. In front of the stand, aside from those trees, were boards bearing graffiti as part of a wider art installation, including a drawing by local school children. It was good to get a look at all that street art but I was so glad to have caught the stand in mid-demolition.

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The next connection came about 40 minutes after this unexpected joy though it could have connected with any semi-derelict structure, maybe even St. Peter’s Seminary in the woods outside Cardross, or Cathkin Park, featured in this series previously. Meadowbank is also a place I went on a school trip, being near where I went to primary school, so any place I went to with the school could have worked. This was a good few minutes just looking at imagining what will come next and enjoying Meadowbank in its current state of change.

Thanks for reading. Another Loose Ends adventure follows next week.

 

Intercity: Inverness

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When I got off the bus in Inverness, it was quite bright. Most of the journey up from Glasgow had been wet and dismal, the weather shifting not far out of Aviemore. Naturally after I had my lunch it got wet and horrible again, thankfully clearing up as I got closer to my destination. Of Scotland’s seven cities, Inverness is the one I’ve been to least but coming up with a walk for Intercity wasn’t hard. It had to be by the river between two bridges.

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Bill Bryson once wrote that he could never live in Inverness because of two horrifically bad concrete buildings right in the heart of the city. They’re still there, under Inverness Castle by the bridge, and I can confirm that they just aren’t very bonny at all. Thankfully Inverness itself is generally pleasant and that included the river I passed as I walked up to start in the shadow of a Free Church of Scotland. The lane separating it and an older, brown Church of Scotland was pretty and I looked forward to exploring it later. In the meantime I crossed to the middle of the suspension bridge, noting its manufacture by a local foundry, and looked up and down the river. The Ness flowed fast, helped no doubt by the rain. I walked by the river for a bit, looking at the poetic verses about various mountains scattered along the wall. The other side had a few churches and some perfectly fine offices, until at least the junction with the main road where the really honking ones are.

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Neatly avoiding these, I continued by the river. Above was Inverness Castle, red, mock-baronial, on the site of various proper castles over the years, the first built by Macbeth. Today’s castle houses Inverness Sheriff Court, at least until a new justice centre gets opened by the A82. It tickled me that nothing much has changed in Inverness and in 2019 justice is still dispensed in a castle, just as these things were done in the days of feudalism.

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It all got quieter and more suburban. The river was still beside me but it felt that the city was now behind. Outside yet another church was a statue of Faith, Hope and Charity which once atop the Association Buildings on the corner of High Street and Castle Street. These houses the local branch of the YMCA when built in 1868, later housing warehouses before being demolished in 1955. The statues were bought by a collector from Orkney, ending up back in Inverness in 2011 after Highland Council, helped by the local Common Good fund, bought them back. They’re all right, a bit austere but that was in keeping with the times. The church next to it, of the Church of Scotland, had a nice frontage but interestingly the entrance was not at the front, rather at the side. Also of interest along this stretch was a monkey puzzle tree in the grounds of one of the hotels.

The walk finished at another white suspension bridge and I stood in the middle, once more looking up and down the river. This end of Inverness was familiar as I had camped nearby once. I looked back over the cityscape and it was nice, the castle and even the concrete carbuncles looking good in the cool February sunshine. As I walked back along the other side, pausing only to scribble a few notes, I thought how like Perth this was but more relaxed, gentle even, maybe not my favourite walk in this series but high up there.

Thanks for reading. The final instalment of Intercity, featuring Aberdeen, will be here next week.

Saturday Saunter: 16th February 2019

Happy Saturday,

Before I start, thanks for all the kind comments after my impromptu post on Thursday night about the places I love. It was a nice post to write and it cured my Valentine’s Day grumpiness.

Our Saunter today comes as I’m about to head to Edinburgh to see the Hibs for the umpteenth Saturday in a row. Thankfully there’s no rugby on today so the trains will be considerably quieter on the way to the capital and I can leave later. This is actually the last Saturday for a while that Hibs will be playing at 3pm with a few fixtures on midweek evenings at 7.45pm on the horizon. It is also the first game with Paul Heckingbottom in the dugout so interesting times.

Last Saturday I had a bit of an interesting day. I was of course in Edinburgh to see Hibs and the trains were busy with the rugby. They were also delayed because of a broken-down train at Haymarket. Happy days. I had a decent walk as far as Ocean Terminal then went to the ground. I managed to be back in Glasgow earlier than I expected before going to the Theatre Royal with my work colleagues to see Abigail’s Party. It was all right with a lot of references going over my head. It was the kind of thing best enjoyed with a drink in me. Thereafter we went out on the town and a few new experiences were had. Good ones.

Book reading this week was fair to middling. I managed to get through Night Falls On Ardnamurchan by Alasdair Maclean which was interesting in talking about his family crofting but less so when it went into his own stream of consciousness. On a better note, I also read another of the Denzil Meyrick Kinloch crime novel series. I’m taking Fingers In The Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham with me today. I’ve been meaning to read that one for years, the autobiography of the naturalist and all round good guy. His speech in support of Alan Turing on BBC Icons recently was amazing and inspiring and I urge everyone to seek it out.

My soundtrack was Grace and Frankie on Netflix, incidentally, then the episode finished so now I’ve shifted to The Chase on catch-up. Only on the first person so not sure who it is today. The first contestant is a floppy-haired English guy who looks like he could have been in David Cameron’s cabinet. The Chaser is Anne. Happy days. A good ambassador for autistic people too.

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Dysart, sculpture by Donald Urquhart

Tomorrow is a rescheduled trip to Fife and I’m looking forward to it immensely. I would imagine Dysart will be on the cards, possibly Cellardyke too, definitely fish and chips for tea, served with salt and sauce. There might be a castle involved, more than likely Kirkcaldy art gallery.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today. Intercity returns tomorrow and it will be Inverness. Loose Ends will be back on Wednesday and that will be down in Porty. Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. Have a very nice weekend. Peace.

The places I love

Good evening,

I haven’t written a post out of the usual Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday run for ages but I was spurred into action by reading a post on another blog that struck home. It’s a post from the Books and Guts blog with a love letter to a museum and as a former museum assistant and current customer-facing gadge, I agree with every word. I heartily loathe Valentine’s Day. I believe love should be celebrated every day of the year and that a Hallmark holiday shouldn’t be rammed down the throats of those of us who find the whole process of human interaction hard enough without having to try and find love too. Hence this particular day tends to make me angry, ranty and a little sad.

Rather than dwelling on this, I wanted to write something a bit more positive this Valentine’s night. It was either do this or yoga and I’m in a writing mood. Here’s a rundown of some of my favourite places.

My favourite place on this earth is Belhaven beach, near where I grew up. It has all sorts of personal resonances with me, lonely school lunchtimes, walks with family and dogs lolling about in the surf. It is a place I associate with good times and with people I dearly miss. I go there to think, celebrate and sometimes shed a tear. Belhaven is like a reset switch to me. Even though I now live in a city, I am by nature quite a solitary person and I like nothing better than walking along a beach, the winds and the waves doing their stuff to wash my spirit clean.

I’ve lived in the city for just about six years and I love it dearly. Every time I come home from a trip away, I feel I am coming home. Dunbar was home and I’ll always be attached to it but I am a Glaswegian now and that’s fine. Stepping off the bus or the train, I know I’m in the right place. I cannot claim to have scratched the surface of this city yet. That’s why I do all these walks around the city, Streets of Glasgow and the rest, and why I have a list as long as my arm of places still to see. Glasgow fascinates me. It has an incredible history and architecture like you wouldn’t believe. It is the hidden corners that get me, those little nooks and niches that yield such power and beauty.

In the last few years I have come to quite like Dundee. It is on the up-and-up, of course, with lots of fine street art as well as the new V and A and much else besides. I’m there next week, mostly for football, but I hope to get a wander plus a wee turn around the Scottish Design Gallery at the V and A, which is fabulous and deserves a second look. It’s quite like Glasgow in a lot of different respects, including its rich and diverse history, some of it hidden in plain sight.

In the comments the other day, we were talking about Northumberland and York. Northumberland is quite near Dunbar so I know that stunning part of the world well. One of my most treasured memories was driving late at night to stay at a cottage in Embleton for the weekend. We left Edinburgh in busy traffic and arrived in Northumberland with clear roads and the starriest sky I had ever seen. I wish I had taken some photos but it was freezing and I was knackered after a very long day. Northumberland is gorgeous. Thankfully also nearby is Durham with its mighty Cathedral, the very finest building on this planet. Durham Cathedral is beautiful and endlessly fascinating with details for days. I never fail to feel peace there, even as a committed heathen. York is also very fine, an historical Disneyland, plus it has the National Railway Museum. The last time I was there I went to the Minster and enjoyed just walking around, the splendour just about worth the lavish admission fee.

Iona is another place I truly love. I’ve been there a couple of times and it is gorgeous. Being far away also helps and there is a true feeling of distance from the world’s cares.

That’s just a few places off the top of my head. On this as every day we should celebrate the people we love but also the things we love, which hold us and sustain us on darker days when we have to trudge on. Anyway, enough from me for tonight. Whatever you’re doing tonight, or whoever you are with, I hope all is well. Night night.

 

Loose Ends: John Witherspoon statue

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Presbyterianism led me to the next place in the Loose Ends cavalcade, the statue of John Witherspoon outside the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley. Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister who worked in Paisley before going off to America to found Princeton University and sign the Declaration of Independence, one of six Scots to do so. Like the best people, though, Witherspoon came from East Lothian originally, even if it was Gifford and he went to high school in Haddington.

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The statue is the work of Alexander Stoddart, sculptor of many prominent statues including those of David Hume, Adam Smith and James Clerk Maxwell in Edinburgh. Stoddart is the Queen’s Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland and works from a studio in Paisley. I always like the thoughtful details in his work; the volumes of Cicero, Principe, Locke and Hume at his feet in this case.

Many connections can arise from Witherspoon’s statue, not least the May Donoghue ‘snail in a bottle’ statue along the road or indeed any of Stoddart’s other works around the country. Witherspoon comes from Gifford so I could go there or anywhere in East Lothian, maybe the Giffordgate in Haddington where John Knox was born but that might be one religious connection too many for now. He was also educated at the University of Edinburgh, which might be another destination or through its alumni lead elsewhere. I was passing the Witherspoon statue on the way to watch the football so another connection would have to wait until another day.

Thanks for reading. Another Loose Ends adventure follows next week.

Intercity: Perth

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I’ve never been sure what to make of Perth. It is a pleasant enough place, for sure, convenient to get to, culturally blessed and generally quite perjink, prim and proper, for the most part. Perth might not be as vibrant as Edinburgh, Glasgow or even Dundee but it is not bad. It strikes me like it would be an all right place to live, even if supporting St. Johnstone would be a step too far.

The train arrived and I headed straight along the South Inch. The sun was out and everything, a pleasantly mild January afternoon, and I was bound for the riverside. I associate Perth with that stretch by the Tay between the Fergusson Gallery and Perth Bridge, a contrast of civic buildings and a real, no-fooling-about river with wildlife and everything. As I came round by the Fergusson Gallery, a train was going across the bridge, one of the Scotrail Intercity trains, no less, and there was a man across the road just looking up at it. I looked for a moment then headed over the street to begin.

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Two people were stood at the other side, deep in conversation as the river water lapped up. The river was strong, the result perhaps of snow earlier in the week. A bird – I’m never sure of my ornithology – sat up and took flight, skipping across the water and up into the air. I walked along and stopped by the little creature sculptures which sit on the wall. I knew they related to a poem by local poet William Soutar and I’ve always liked them. The figures looked like ones I used to collect out of chocolate eggs when I was a kid but none the worse for that. The riverside had lots of art, sculptures of birds, a bench with leaping salmon shapes cut-out, plus all the poems and history carved into the wall.

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This was quite unlike any walk I had been on in this series so far. It was urban but with clear hints of the country beyond, away from the human and the cares of our busy world. Walking along the riverside took me away from the traffic and I thought a bit about the history too. Perth Bridge dominated the skyline, a fine, historic structure amidst the modernity. The red stone looked particularly fine in the lazy January sunshine and it tempted me to go across, even to write about it. I had no great plans for my time in Perth, a turn around the Fergusson Gallery the only real goal, and I just wandered for the rest, over the bridge and around a graveyard too, a neat little ramble in the Fair City.

Thanks for reading. Intercity returns next Sunday. Loose Ends continues on Wednesday.