Intercity: Glasgow II

Probably the latest walk I’ve ever done for this blog, almost 10pm on a June Sunday night as I killed time before my train home. I had to think of a street I could cover for Intercity that I hadn’t written about before. St. Vincent Place was the choice, near the stations and at the heart of the city centre. There were still a few folk going about and I heard a homeless person talking and the squeak of a rubber duck. A cyclist led an advert for a bathroom showroom on a trailer. Why would anyone out in Glasgow at 10pm on a Sunday night be looking for a new bathroom? There was an European feel with trees, restaurants and offices, the buildings twinkling and the eateries and pubs full even late on. The homeless person was giving directions to passers-by.

Looking up was an advantage, the railings, finials and details worth the lingering. The walk was just about done when I saw an advert featuring a woman’s face with the legend ‘My Eyes Don’t Hold Me Back’. I thought it was about eye contact, something I struggle with, but on closer inspection it was advertising eye drops, hay fever an even worse affliction this time of year. With that thought, stood by a closed public toilet, the walk was done, a mere 2-3 minutes after it began by George Square, a few hundred feet away. It was an interesting walk and one that yielded far more on a closer look.

Thanks for reading. Another Intercity walk follows next week. George Square, St. Vincent Street, Buchanan Street and Queen Street have all featured in the Streets of Glasgow series here so have a read at those. Links to other posts in the Intercity series can be found at the Intercity page, including the first Glasgow post, about the Broomielaw.

Saturday Saunter: Sunshine out my window

Hey, hey, it’s Saturday Saunter time,

I am starting this on Thursday morning. I work late on a Thursday and I couldn’t think of anything to write about last night plus I was tired. It is set to be very warm today, perhaps a bit cooler than in France, and already at c. 9am, it is sunny and everything has a light tinge. I don’t do well in the heat so I may need to tread carefully outside to avoid becoming even more of a hot, sticky mess than usual.

On Saturday night, after going to a wedding in East Lothian, I stayed in Portobello, which is a seaside suburb of Edinburgh. We got back fairly late and I went along to the shop for a bottle of juice. I looked down a street and the last light over the beach and the Forth was glorious.

It was cloudier on the Sunday morning. I woke up fairly early and took advantage of my surroundings to go for a walk. Armed with a notebook and some apples, I walked down along the Prom at Porty and along as far as Fisherrow Harbour. I wasn’t alone. There were a right few runners, rowers out in the Forth, walkers, families and lone folk just sauntering like me. It was joyful just to turn out of bed, get dressed and just be by the sea. The sea was calm and it wasn’t cold as I walked. The views were familiar since I know Porty and East Lothian well but they were reassuring, part of the wallpaper as I just tried to be in the moment. I had a great day trip later in the day with my friend to North Berwick where it was sunny and warm, though the cloudy morning walk did me a fair bit of good too.

On Thursday, in an hour or two’s time as I write this, I posted about Smailholm Tower, which is in the Borders, a part of Scotland I don’t know so far. I read a Facebook post recently by someone I know who had been in another part of the country I don’t know so well. Angus is the bit of Scotland between Dundee and Aberdeen. It was the centre of Pictland and has a fair few diverse, independent towns. I know it a little bit and I’ve been to Barry Mill and Arbroath Abbey. Two of the places that have long been on my to-do list are in Angus, Edzell Castle and the House of Dun. Edzell is a ruined castle with quite nice gardens, while the House of Dun is a big hoose near Montrose which I’m interested about mainly for its setting at the far end of Montrose Basin. Passing through Montrose is always nice because of the view across the Basin and over to the hills. Randomly I will be in Angus briefly on Wednesday but won’t have time to sightsee as I’ll be at the football. Maybe later in the year, maybe when I’m off at the end of July/beginning with August, I can take a trip up there and tick one or two places off the list.

Anyway, it’s the weekend. I’m working today and tomorrow I might end up on a bus or a train somewhere. On the blog tomorrow is an Intercity post from Glasgow while the June digest is on Wednesday. Have a very nice weekend. Peace.


Smailholm Tower

Smailholm Tower

I’ve been a member of Historic Scotland for just shy of eleven years now. While I use it a bit less than I used to, my card gets dirty a few times a year. I have been to most of the staffed properties by now and a few of the non-staffed ones so a new property is a rare pleasure indeed. At this point the only staffed properties I haven’t been to are in Orkney, Shetland, the Outer Hebrides and the deepest, darkest Borders. Plus Edzell Castle, which has eluded me for far too long. I don’t drive so usually I need someone who does to get to the far-off places. Smailholm Tower fit that bill and I finally got there the other weekend.

All I knew about the place was that it was a tower on a hill and it had something to do with Walter Scott. Considering that Sir Wallie was buried a short distance away at Dryburgh and he wrote a lot of books, that’s probably not surprising. I didn’t go to that part of the Borders until I was in my twenties despite growing up relatively close by in East Lothian – public transport again – so I didn’t know what a column in the distance was. (I asked the Historic Scotland mannie as they tend to know their stuff – it is the Waterloo Monument, which is near Jedburgh on the Lothian Estate.) We drove off the road and along a farm track, some with puddles and craters that wouldn’t look out of place on the moon. Gratifyingly there were a couple of other cars there, one with a personalised Hibs number plate just pulling out. We took the scenic route around the crest of the hill. Even from the base of the tower, the views were incredible, right over towards Jedburgh and the Cheviots. Important in Reiving country.

Smailholm Tower was built in the 15th century for the Pringle family, changing hands in the centuries following into the ownership of Walter Scott’s ancestors. It was a home rather than a fortified structure, for the most part, though they suffered at the hands of Reivers coming from the east in 1544 who got away with hundreds of cattle and horses. Scott described the tower as ‘standing stark and upright like a warden’. The Borders and their history ran right through Scott’s work and some of those tales were depicted in diorama form in the various rooms of the towers. The interpretation boards were very informative, particularly the one about the Border ballads. The dioramas were from 1983, a bit dated, maybe, and ever so slightly unsettling, but whatever works.

View north over the Lammermuir Hills
View east towards Berwickshire
View east towards Berwickshire with farm in foreground
View towards Cheviot Hills and Northumberland
Eildon Hills and view west towards Melrose
View south towards Jedburgh. It isn’t so clear but the Waterloo Monument is in this picture, on the right in the middle

What I came for was the views. I’m a fan of what Patrick Geddes called the ‘synoptic view’. It was a clear day and from the top, it was possible to see right across southern Scotland, to the Eildon Hills above Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh, Northumberland and the Lammermuir Hills. Notwithstanding the cars, buses and wind turbines, this view might not have changed much in the last couple of centuries. If it wasn’t for the time marching on, I would have stayed up there for hours, picking out details. It wasn’t hard to imagine Reivers marauding across the fields nor to conjure up tales from thousands of years of human history in that part of the world. I wish I had brought binoculars.

Dryburgh Abbey

We had been to Dryburgh Abbey just before Smailholm. They were setting up for a rememberance service – it being the burial place of Earl Haig – and it was fairly busy, though we managed to escape and snaffle one of the finest benches in Scotland with a view across the Tweed. The Border Abbeys are individual and historically interesting in various ways but Dryburgh is my undoubted favourite, since it requires a bit of effort to get to. If you don’t drive, there is a mile’s walk to St. Boswells, along the shores of the river Tweed. Smailholm was more remote than that but those places that require more dedication tend to be the best. At the end of tracks we find what others don’t bother with, and it’s usually good.


Streets of Glasgow: Prince Albert Road

Another unplanned Streets of Glasgow walk, chosen because of its proximity to Clarence Drive and its interesting name, one part a link to Victoria Road covered in this series and the other because I’m juvenile. I had neither seen or heard of the street before and as I walked I passed modern flats. A guy was shouting to his pal about just being back from spending the day in the sunshine in Helensburgh. Soon I was passing some very posh houses, most detached, many behind walls and gates. A few joggers passed. The cars that lined the street weren’t old either, most sleek, silver and modern. I had found a nice wee enclave, very leafy as so much of the West End is. Soon I reached a junction and this brief interlude ended, the city resuming with more traffic and more noise.

Thanks for reading. This is the sixty ninth Streets of Glasgow walk here on Walking Talking. Other nearby streets featured here include Clarence Drive and Byres Road.

This post is part of a series. Links to every part of the Streets of Glasgow series appear on the Streets of Glasgow page.

Intercity: Linlithgow

It was only when I got to Queen Street that I realised there were engineering works. I was bound for Edinburgh, bound for an adventure, and the train would only take me to Linlithgow. I had the option of the slow train via Airdrie but I took the executive decision, for the sake of my sanity, to go to Linlithgow instead and make my way from there. On the way I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and cover Linlithgow for Intercity while I waited for my alternative transport to arrive.

Linlithgow is a Royal Burgh, known as being the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, James V and Alex Salmond. I know Linlithgow very well. My primary school took us there a few years in a row and I was there a fair bit as a kid. As an adult I tend to be there a few times a year and my visits tend to end up in the Palace and around the Peel, the park that surrounds the Palace. Sadly I didn’t have much time so the Palace wasn’t an option this time. What I could do, however, was walk the route I associate with Linlithgow and I left the station and followed the steady trickle of people heading down the hill to the rail replacement bus. I didn’t get on the bus, instead I walked along the historic High Street, stopping by a statue of St. Michael, and then by a plaque marking the site of Scotland’s very first petrol pump, installed in 1919. The Riding of the Marshes was imminent (it happened on Tuesday) and the traditional proclamation hung in a shop window, surrounded by suitably noble-looking meerkat toys. As you do. Bunting hung over the street, a familiar sight in every Scottish town celebrating a Gala Day in the summer time.

I stopped by the fountain and looked at the rather fine Burgh Halls, which used to house a Tourist Information Centre and is now a community building. The fountain is quite similar to the one in the Palace, if a little less elaborate, the Mercat Cross and centre of the burgh. According to Canmore, the Cross Well is a replica of an earlier one built in 1620. The replica was erected in 1807 so it isn’t exactly an IKEA knockoff. I had my usual good look then walked up the hill. I had been looking around more than usual and I had noticed how prominent the spire of St. Michael’s Church was from the High Street.

To my right as I walked up the hill was a chronology of British monarchs from Mary, Queen of Scots to the present. I was walking the wrong way, back in time so first came the present monarch, noted as Elizabeth II even though she is only the first by that fine name to have ruled in Scotland. What was less controversial was the rather fine archway featuring the crests of the four orders of chivalry that James V was a member of, the Orders of the Garter, Thistle, Golden Fleece and St. Michael. Above stood the 1960s-vintage crown of thorns spire of St. Michael’s Church. I’ve always quite liked it but I read it was very controversial when it was first put up. It’s quite unusual but it strangely fits with the older church and the 500-year-old Palace across the way.

I came through the archway and found myself outside the Palace. Even though the Palace is prominent from the train, it isn’t in the town itself and you only see it when you’re up to it. It is a handsome structure, fairly complete minus a roof, and it is probably my favourite Historic Environment Scotland property, because of my personal history with the place as well as the actual past. I only looked for a moment then turned my gaze back down the hill and headed away. It had been a brief but immensely historical walk in one of my favourite places in Scotland, an unexpected joy only possible because I hadn’t checked that there were engineering works. Sometimes the best adventures happen when we mess up.

Thanks for reading. Another Intercity adventure follows next week. The Intercity page features links to the other parts of this series.

Saturday Saunter: Fruit, podcasts and walking

Good Saturday,

Unusually, this post is being started on Wednesday night. Normally it gets written on a Tuesday but I couldn’t be arsed last night. It’s about 8.30 at night as I start this and it’s quite cloudy tonight. I have my lamp on even though it’s nearly 2 hours until it’s supposed to be dark. In my ears is a new podcast I was told about earlier tonight. It is called ‘These Are The Days’, presented by Ronny Costello. His guest is Paul McNicoll and they are talking about music at the moment though I believe it will go on to talk about raising his son who has a disability. The first couple of minutes are interesting, going into the early days of The View, a Dundee rock band. This came as a suggestion so any podcast or telly suggestions, please send them my way.

This Saturday I am going to a wedding reception tonight in East Lothian. The bride is an old friend of mine and I know a fair few folk who’ll be in attendance. Unusually for me I’m not too nervous about it. I normally get a bit uptight before social things but I think being busy in the last couple of weeks has helped take my mind off it. There is a vintage theme and I will be dressed as a rocker. I don’t particularly mind dressing up – it’s all decent craic. There won’t be photos here. You will have to take my word for it.

I haven’t been reading much lately. My brain has been elsewhere, to be honest. My travelling book for the weekend, even though I won’t get much chance to read it, will be another recommendation, The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong, a South Korean thriller. Most of what I’ve been reading has been online articles or my own notebooks. Occasionally I sit and read through my stories and scribbles. I need to get myself into gear with my reading.

I’m on a bit of a health kick at the moment. Most readers won’t know what I look like. I’m a fairly tall, fairly slim kind of dude. I also have acne. I came to realise recently that I eat too much chocolate, which may be affecting my skin and probably my general health. I’ve replaced the chocolate (well, pretty much all of it) with fruit and I’m on the apples and oranges. A lot of the folk who know me have been amazed by the transformation, the fruit appearing instead of chocolate and crisps. I’m trying to resist a lot of the sugary treats that are around me (libraries tend to run on sugar) and I’m mostly, mostly succeeding.

Walking to work is probably helping the health kick, even unintentionally. I’m not good in the mornings and I often run late. To get to work on time, due to the vagaries of public transport, it is often faster to walk and I’ve been doing that a lot in the last few weeks. It isn’t the most scenic walk, taking me through an industrial estate and across the motorway, but it’s all right. The view from the bridge to the hills and the cityscape could be a lot worse.

I’m starting this post again on Friday. A campaign was launched this week by the Jo Cox Foundation to try and solve loneliness. Let’s Talk Loneliness happens this weekend and that’s good. Being lonely is one of the worst things in the world. I’ve felt it and it isnae nice. It is possible to be lonely and be surrounded by people all day, every day. People of all ages, all backgrounds, feel lonely sometimes. There is no shame in feeling lonely. I don’t know how to solve it. For myself, this helps. I have a busy life and while it isn’t perfect, and it can be more solitary at times than I might like, I’m better off than a lot of people. Just talking about it makes a difference.

Today has also been a busy day in the football world. The fixtures came out for the Scottish football season this morning and within ten minutes, I had my annual leave sorted out. Hibs have launched their new kits, sponsored by the club’s charitable arm, the Hibernian Community Foundation, which is good and a bit more socially conscious than being sponsored by a bookies or a drinks company. I also sat and watched an interview with Hibs’ new signing, Scott Allan, who talked about using yoga as part of his regimen. I had lapsed but I think after finishing this, I may need to get my shorts on, my mat rolled out and get into a pose.

Anyway, that’s us for today. Intercity returns tomorrow and it’s Linlithgow, one of my very favourite places. Streets of Glasgow is back on Wednesday and there might be something on Thursday. Have a very decent weekend, whatever you end up doing.


Walking rules

I’ve been quite busy recently. This has impacted on my plans for the blog. Instead of going to the end of a few lines, I’m going to be visiting a few more towns and cities, many places I would be anyway, as part of Intercity, a series I started earlier this year. That starts on Sunday with a walk in Linlithgow (pictured below).

Intercity is like Streets of Glasgow in that I go for a walk along a street and write about what I experience along the way. It is a way to try and make sense of the places around me, my interpretation of psychogeography, a French Situationist concept originally practised in Paris to stop folk feeling alienated in cities. I’ve done it for years, first in Edinburgh then Glasgow and further afield. I used to go on derives around the New Town, aimless drifts based on a whim, turning left and right as I desired, eventually figuring out a destination along the way. Streets of Glasgow came about as I sought to explore and make sense of my adopted home city. Intercity is that on a national scale.

It follows Streets of Glasgow rules, only differing in that Intercity can involve more than one street, as with Stirling, Inverness and Dundee last time. I walk along a street or streets, paying close attention to what I see, hear, smell, taste or otherwise comprehend. Photographs are taken with my phone as that’s more spontaneous. I cross the road only when there is a green man signal, in case I miss anything. Notes are scribbled when the walk is done. I also work from photographs, though sometimes I write entirely from memory. It is a record of a moment or moments in time so I tend not to write about places that aren’t open at the time. I do these walks alone though if anyone would care to join then discretion may be possible. Unless needs must, I do the walk in one go. Those are the only rules and they’re quite easy to stick by.

So far, I’ve done three Intercity walks, which will appear here in the coming weeks. The seven cities may return, maybe not Inverness or Aberdeen because they’re quite far away. I was inspired standing in the foyer of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Around the balcony are stylistic scenes from Scottish history and below is a frieze of eminent Scots and the crests from cities and burghs. The seven cities appear, as do prominent Royal Burghs, Linlithgow, Dunfermline, Jedburgh, St. Andrews and Kirkwall. I’m going to try to get to all of these, except Kirkwall, which probably won’t be possible. I’m substituting Paisley instead, which will be the third one in this next series. Linlithgow comes first, this coming Sunday. I hope you enjoy it.


Streets of Glasgow: Clarence Drive

After Great Western Road, you would have thought that I would have had enough Streets of Glasgow for one day. It was a warm Friday evening. You would of course be wrong. I decided to get off the train at Hyndland and cover another street I had long been meaning to cover for this series. Clarence Drive leads from Crow Road to Hyndland Road. It is residential with a few shops. As I joined it, there were flats on the corner with a golden cockerel finial on top. The walk sloped down past flats on either side, the railway crossing the road ahead. The bridge was a fine example of a ghost sign, advertising a car company.

There was a hill leading up from there. What I had recently discovered was that a few streets in the area bore the name Lauderdale. In my home town, Dunbar, there is Lauderdale House and Lauderdale Park, after the Earl of Lauderdale who owned land in the burgh. The Duchy of Clarence used to be a minor Royal title, I knew, though Clarence meant reporting road issues, at least on road signs in the east of Scotland. There were nice shops further up, beyond the school which bore the legend of Govan Parish School Board, reminding me that until the late 19th century Govan stretched across the river and it and Partick were independent of Glasgow. The houses were tenement-style, red sandstone and they were high here. As I reached the end of the walk, at the top of the hill, I got a photo and looked at the smart cupola across the road. I decided on the next walk and proceeded away.

Thanks for reading. This is the sixty eighth Streets of Glasgow walk here on Walking Talking. The only nearby street featured here is Prince Albert Road, which appears here next week.

This post is part of a series. Links to every part of the Streets of Glasgow series appear on the Streets of Glasgow page.

End of the line: Milngavie

Scotland is the best in many respects, not least in place names that are pronounced much, much differently than how they are spelled. Off the top of my head, there are Cockburnspath (Co’burnspath or Co’path), Athelstaneford (Alshenford), Strathaven (Straven) and the daddy of them all, Milngavie (Milgui). Milngavie is a small town a wee way north of Glasgow. It is known for being the southern end of the West Highland Way, which stretches 96 miles all the way to Fort William (pronounced Fort Wilyum, incidentally), and also for being quite well-to-do. It is the kind of place that has a Waitrose, for example, the mark of somewhere with a lot of Range Rovers. I had never been there before and I decided one very warm April Bank Holiday to change that.

‘This is Glasgow Queen Street Low Level. This train is for Milngavie…’ went the train. Milngavie is quite well served by trains and I could get there from either Glasgow Central or Queen Street. Indeed the train I got from Queen Street had come from Edinburgh. I was going to wait for the Central train but Glasgow was mobbed and I wanted out – summer had arrived with a vengeance. As I write this, it’s cool and wet outside but this day wasn’t. I sat by the window and watched the city pass by, most of the journey via Charing Cross, Partick and Hyndland very familiar, a shadow on the grey Riverside Museum roof, the river shimmering with the unfamiliar sunlight. From Westerton it was all new, houses on either side, some very red people sunbathing in their gardens. These quickly gave way to dearer brick and stone houses. ‘They’ll tell I’m working class’ came the unbidden thought. No wonder I ended up humming ‘The Red Flag’ on regular intervals on my walk.

Milngavie station, with its low hanging roof, was quite busy with young folk heading for the beach or wherever. I felt quite old walking through them, not quite old enough to be their faither yet, but certainly an older brother. The underpass to the town centre was rather fine with a series of murals about the area’s history and the West Highland Way. To my surprise, given Milngavie’s reputation, the town centre was fairly run down and wonderfully the West Highland Way, that well-kent footpath, began right by Greggs. I desisted from buying a steak bake this particular day and started off for Mugdock.

I walked up past some quite posh houses and soon reached the banks of Mugdock Reservoir. I had never been there before and it was rather fine on that gorgeous sunny day, the water calm, the vista pretty perfect. Lots of people were out walking, running and enjoying the sunshine. I knew only that this was where my water comes from. Loch Katrine in the Trossachs is a major source of Glasgow’s water and it gets piped through 26 miles of tunnels and aqueducts to end up at Mugdock and Craigmaddie Reservoirs. This was one of those wonderful Victorian innovations designed to solve a major public health crisis in the city and the design of the gauge basins were enough to remind of a grander civic age. As I walked, I forgot I was so close to Glasgow – indeed I could see some of its high buildings – and I sat by the reservoir, ate my sandwiches and read a book. It was brilliant.

After a fashion, covered in a couple of Loose Ends posts recently, I walked back down into Milngavie, only heading the short distance to Bearsden for a Roman diversion. I was glad finally to have reached Milngavie, the source of much amusement over the years, and to be able to put a place to a name. I think I’ll go back on a colder day, the kind of winter day where the sun is intense but bitingly baltic, to see the view to its best effect. It was pretty fine that day, to be fair, another end of a line and the beginning of another.

Thanks for reading. The Loose Ends posts featuring Milngavie and surrounding districts are John Frederic Bateman monument, Craigmaddie Gauge Basin and Bearsden Bathhouse.

Saturday Saunter: Poetry, statues and lighthouses


Now and then, I like to clear my inbox and share some ideas which I might have written about but haven’t bothered with. One line that tickled me was in an interview with Simon Armitage, the new UK poet laureate (the equally wonderful Jackie Kay is the Makar here in Scotland, incidentally). On the morning of the interview, Armitage had been able to walk over London ‘”utterly incognito”. There’s something about poetry “which is about leading from the back”, he says’. The leading from the back is an amazing notion. I think that’s a pretty good summary of what a writer does, to be fair. Certainly it would be how I would try and lead anything.

The complete opposite of leading from the back is being very forward. Antony Gormley is an artist who has his fans and detractors. The Angel of the North is a cracking piece of sculpture. He created six human figures which were installed in the Water of Leith in Edinburgh in 2010. They were put there by the National Galleries of Scotland at various points along the Water of Leith heading out to sea. Apparently the intention was for them to be gauges of the river level. They were howked out in 2012 due to issues with their tilting mechanism, according to the Herald, and have just been put back. Personally, I don’t like them. I like sculpture but I don’t think they should be in rivers. The Water of Leith is beautiful enough and it is a living habitat. We impose too much on the landscape as it is. It’s also my argument against padlocks on bridges, cairns on mountains and just generally adding to the landscape as you go. Bringing art into the wider community is the National Galleries’ argument, maybe, but not in the bloody river.

Eilean Glas lighthouse lamp, from the Science Museum, London

In a nicer vein, BBC News featured some incredible photographs from Scott Tacchi of lighthouses captured in his work as a lighthouse technician. My favourite is an image from the Lizard lighthouse of the inside of an optic. It looks incredible. A few years ago, I went to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh, which includes a trip into the old Kinnaird Head lighthouse. Being in the light room is slightly disorientating but wonderful. This picture reminded me of that. Lighthouses are great, feeling very far away from the city suburb I live in but very close to where I grew up and vital to mariners and seafarers everywhere.

The train company GWR, which runs from London to south western England, has done a lot of work recently developing autism awareness training for its staff, I read recently. I am very fortunate that I have fairly few issues travelling, beyond sometimes getting a bit flustered and an occasional overload. Anything helps and I personally like that some of the intercity train companies, like Virgin, LNER and CrossCountry provide maps of their trains, which is useful for planning a journey.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 15th June 2019. Tomorrow will be a post about my recent trip to Milngavie. Wednesday will be Streets of Glasgow. Thursday, who knows? Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. Have a nice weekend.