Saturday Saunter: Dunure, trees and local places

Good Saturday to you,

Welcome to another Saturday Saunter, again being written quite a while in advance. This is probably how I will do this for a while and that’s fine. When I’m off, I’m quite busy so I’ll write when I can. I’m writing mid-evening and there was a golden sunset out there, the kind that shines through gaps in the clouds, usually on days when there’s been rain. There has today. I was down in Ayrshire, having lunch then going for a wander at Dunure. Dunure is a village at the bottom of a cliff, a little way south of Ayr, with a ruined castle and a harbour. We wandered around the castle, getting a great view over to the Ailsa Craig, then down to the harbour, the waves lapping up as we walked. The sun came out as we left and showers followed us up the road, not giving much of a view of Arran as we stopped at Seamill, hills and coastline peeking through clouds and rain. It was an excellent day nonetheless.

Dunure Castle: a ruined castle on a headland with rocks on a grey sea and grey clouds covering most of the sky.​
Dunure Castle: a ruined castle on a headland with rocks on a grey sea and grey clouds covering most of the sky.

I’m a firm believer that beauty can be found almost everywhere, in the most urban places as much as those which are a bit more remote. On my commute I pass a back road. It leads to a cemetery. It is also right by the motorway. The road is lined by trees, their tops overhanging. Right now it’s August and the leaves are green. Fairly soon, though hopefully not too soon, the leaves will turn. It’s only been recently that I’ve realised just how gorgeous it is, how it reminds me of a David Hockney painting. A few years ago I went to the York Art Gallery where Hockney’s massive Bigger Trees Near Warter where on display. Frighteningly, that was nearly a decade ago, in 2011, I’ve just discovered from Google. The scene on my commute makes me think of it, a little reminder every day to look the right way.

At a time when our movements may be less restricted than they have been this year, it is worth remembering that those local places which we roamed are still there and still worth going to even while we can go further. When I was off a couple of weeks ago, I walked to Pollok Country Park, about 45 minutes away. I’ve been a few times in recent months and seen parts of it I had never explored before. I sat and ate my lunch by Pollok House and it was busy with folk enjoying the day – it was the week before the schools returned – and then I plonked myself on a quieter bench and read my book. I walked there and back through my local cemetery while the journey to Pollok took me past Bellahouston Park, another place I really enjoyed being in recently.

I’ve been re-reading Tony Benn’s diaries in the last couple of days and I can’t help thinking how much we need someone like him now.

Unusually I don’t have a story about a different perspective to hand but I was reading a little while ago about threats made to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf. He’s my local MSP. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has rightly condemned these threats and the abuse he and another of our city’s MSPs, Anas Sarwar, regularly receive. Whatever our politics, and whatever our disagreements with those who practice it, this is not acceptable and neither should it ever be.

This week I read The Acid Test, the memoir of Clyde Best, who played for West Ham in the 1970s when there weren’t a lot of other BAME footballers around. His thoughts on racism in the game, then as now, are definitely worth reading, as is his compelling story of growing up in Bermuda and playing alongside many of the finest footballers of his day.

I also wanted to say thank you for kind words following this blog’s fifth anniversary, which fell on Thursday. I entirely forgot about it, which is about right. Inevitably a lot of what I’m posting here now is being written in advance – the next two Saturday Saunters are already written, for example – though it continues to be a nice diversion from an ever busy existence.

Well, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 29th August 2020. Thanks very much for reading, commenting and following. The very last Virtual Loose Ends will appear here on Wednesday. Another Saunter will be here next week. Until then, keep safe. A very good morning.

Virtual Loose Ends VIII: Statues and castles

Virtual Loose Ends time again and we paused last time at the Irish and Highland Famine memorial in Glasgow Green. We continue not so far away at the Hielanman’s Umbrella, which is under Glasgow Central Station on Argyle Street. Central featured in Loose Ends, though the Hielanman’s Umbrella has not. Traditionally it was where Highland people who had come to Glasgow for work and a better life often gathered to meet friends and family. Today it is a thoroughfare with shops, entrances to the station and a nightclub.

Argyle Street and Argyll are pronounced the same, even if they aren’t spelled the same. In Argyll is Kilchurn Castle, one of the most scenic and thus most photographed castles in Scotland, positioned at the head of Loch Awe. It is a fine ruin and is well worth a detour on the road to Inveraray. Kilchurn was the home of the Campbells of Glenorchy and also served as a garrison prior to being abandoned in the 18th century.

Another castle in Argyll, and also managed by Historic Environment Scotland, is Rothesay Castle. It is a motte and bailey castle, quite a rarity in Scotland with only one other example off the top of my head. Rothesay features an exhibition about the 1263 Battle of Largs with Norway, fought just across the Clyde.

The Rothesay ferry comes into Wemyss Bay. Wemyss Bay has a combined railway station and ferry terminal. That underplays it. Wemyss Bay Station is glorious, an elegantly curved station designed in 1903 by James Miller. The curve was designed to assist passenger flow through the station, avoiding bottlenecks as people came from the train to the ferry or indeed vice versa. Rather cool retro railway posters have been put in the entrance to the station, which I rather like.

James Miller also designed extensions to Glasgow Central Station. Outside Central is a statue of the Citizen Firefighter, a figure of a firefighter placed there in tribute to the fire and rescue services who keep us safe. It is the work of sculptor Kenny Hunter and it is one of the best statues in Glasgow.

Cumberland Street in the Gorbals has quite a few examples of public art. A particular favourite is a statue of a girl with a backpack, signifying that the Gorbals, like Glasgow, like Scotland, is a place built on immigration and the contributions that those who weren’t born here have made. Another statue on the very same street will feature here next week.

I forgot until earlier that tomorrow is this blog’s fifth anniversary. Thanks to all readers, commenters and followers for your support over that time. I intend to be here for a wee bit longer yet!

Next week will be the very last of Virtual Loose Ends. It will have a couple of links here in the west before concluding at the V and A in Dundee. Until then, keep safe. Bye just now.

Saturday Saunter: History and comedy snobbery

Good Saturday to you,

Welcome to another Saturday Saunter, this time being written almost a full week in advance. In my ears as I scribble this into my notebook is ’99 Red Balloons’ by Nena.

I only wrote the last Saunter two days ago but plenty of ideas are in my inbox that I could write about. The most recent was about the links the National Trust have found connecting many of their properties and the slave trade. I don’t doubt there will be quite a few with the National Trust for Scotland’s properties too – I seem to remember the NTS doing some research into that in recent weeks. It’s well worth remembering that communities up and down the land benefited from slavery with few not affected in some way.

Joe Hullait, the creator of Scot Squad, wrote an excellent article in the Radio Times talking about snobbery in television comedy, saying that he had been encouraged to downplay parts of work that had only been seen by viewers in Scotland. He replied that this work was what put him in that particular television commissioner’s office. As a Scot, and a person with a sense of humour, I am disgusted that such attitudes persist. My attitude is that if something makes me laugh then great and I could not care less where it has come from, whether northern England, France, Hollywood or even the hallowed halls of Oxbridge. Thankfully Scot Squad is hilarious, shown most recently by Chief Miekelson’s guide to the new normal, where he discourages Scots from shaking hands and encourages supporters of Scottish Championship outfit Heart of Midlothian to send postcards from Alloa when football with an audience eventually resumes.

As this is posted, I will be travelling to work. I hope to have had a few adventures in between times and may well write about some of them in the coming weeks.

There’s not much been read in recent days. I’ve been reading a fair bit about railways but that’s nothing new. The next book I hope to start is an history of Italian football I bought a couple of weeks ago. I think that will happen in the coming days. I’m in a non-fiction mode right now.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 22nd August 2020. Thanks as ever for commenting, reading and following. Virtual Loose Ends returns on Wednesday for its penultimate outing. Until then, keep safe. A very good morning to you all.

Virtual Loose Ends VII: Bridges and memorials

Welcome to another instalment of Virtual Loose Ends. This whistle-stop tour is a virtual connections adventure around Scotland. We left off last time at Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. We will continue, by dint of geography, at the Hunterian Museum, part of the University of Glasgow. The nearby cloisters featured in the post last week but I was clever enough to be specific about the place. The Hunterian Museum is one of the oldest museums in Scotland, the collection of William Hunter featuring art, anatomy and geology amongst other things. The Hunterian is particularly old-fashioned in its design with a balcony and I’m fond of its old-school anatomy charts. There is also the Art Gallery across the road, which has an excellent collection of Scottish Colourists.

Cramond Island is an island in the Firth of Forth, accessible depending on the tide over a causeway. It has some World War II-vintage defences including triangular defences across the causeway. I’ve been there a couple of times though always make sure I look up the tide times lest I be cut off. It happens a lot.

Considerable views can be had from Cramond Island towards the north of Edinburgh, Fife and along the Firth of Forth, including to the Forth Bridge. There are three bridges at Queensferry, the new Queensferry Crossing, the Forth Road Bridge and the real thing, the Forth Bridge. It is one of my favourite structures in the entire world, metal and overdesigned but gorgeous. Sadly I don’t cross it very often any more but I always feel my spirits rise when I see it or indeed cross it.

On the same railway line is the Tay Bridge, opened in 1887. It was the second railway bridge to cross the Tay, of course, with the first washed away in a storm in 1879, which, as William McGonagall noted, ‘will be remembered for a very long time’. From the Dundee end it is possible to see stumps from the old bridge, running almost parallel to the 1887 bridge. It winds across the Tay from Wormit right to the centre of Dundee. On a particularly long train it is possible to see the other end of the train out the window as the train turns into Dundee.

The Clyde Arc is rarely called that in Glasgow, instead being called ‘the squinty bridge’ because it looks like an eye. It passes from Cessnock to Finnieston, near the BBC and STV on the southern side, the SEC on the north. It was built in 2006 as part of a continuing redevelopment of the riverside area in the city. The Arc is a handsome structure and adds considerably to the cityscape.

Along the Clyde is the People’s Palace, the museum of the people of Glasgow. Its displays about how people lived and thought are excellent and the video of Glaswegian comedy is always worth a look, particularly for Parliamo Glasgow.

Outside the People’s Palace is a more recent addition to Glasgow Green. Our city and country was changed utterly by migration, particularly because of famine in Ireland and the Highlands. An upturned boat and plants stand amidst some interpretation boards and the names of families and places on the path.

That’s another instalment of Virtual Loose Ends done. Next week we will continue a little way away and continue towards some castles. Until then, keep safe. Bye just now.


Saturday Saunter: Books, Culross and editing

Good Saturday to you,

Welcome to this Saturday Saunter, this time being written late on Thursday night. It’s been warm and sunny for much of this week, a complete contrast to last week when I was off and it was wet and miserable for quite a bit of it. On in the background tonight is a YouTube compilation of clips from QI, which is pleasant enough to be going on in the background. 

There’s been quite a lot happening since I last wrote one of these posts. Quite a bit in the football too but I’m not in the mood to dwell on that, especially since Hibs have been deposed from the top of the Scottish Premiership. I was in Culross for the day a couple of weeks ago. It was a birthday trip for a wander around that stunning village before a slight detour to Musselburgh for some fine ice cream at Luca’s. More recently, last Thursday, I walked to Pollok Park, a place I’ve been to a few times in the last few months. It was a nice day and naturally the area around Pollok House was mobbed but I managed to find a quiet corner to read my book for a while.

I was reading Alphabetical by Michael Rosen that day, an history of the 26 letters of the alphabet, and I managed to break the back of it sitting on a picnic bench at the front of Pollok House. I’ve managed to read quite a bit the last couple of weeks, including a book about the history of the BBC in Scotland, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff and The Library Book, a collection of essays about libraries, naturally enough. The last two were gifts, incidentally, so they jumped the queue over many other books trying to make demands on my time. Near the top is a book I bought last week about the history of Italian football, as well as an anthology of writing about Scottish nature, edited by Kathleen Jamie.

WordPress have changed the editor again so I have no clue how many words I’ve written so far. It’s changed between Sunday and today. On Sunday I was writing up some brand-new Streets of Glasgow walks, which I had done that day in the city centre. They will be here in September, all being well. It was weird to be doing psychogeography after so long, especially in very different circumstances than the last time I did a Streets walk, in the spring of 2019. The big hand sanitiser outside Brewdog was different for a start.

Our change of perspective for today is an intriguing article from the Guardian by Angela Saini about how scientists should know their history and then avoid bias based on ethnicity.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 15th August 2020. Thanks very much for reading. The blog returns on Wednesday with the second last Virtual Loose Ends. I will be right back here next Saturday. Until then, a very good morning.


Virtual Loose Ends VI: Winching statues, harbours and museums

Welcome to another Virtual Loose Ends, the sixth instalment which will once more criss-cross the country in an entirely virtual and socially distant way.

Riverside Museum: looking across a grey river towards a tall ship and a museum with a spiked roof.

We left off two weeks ago at the Mary Barbour statue in Govan. It connects geographically to the Riverside Museum, Glasgow’s transport museum, which features cars, trains, buses and social history of many kinds. My favourite part, as with the old museum in the Kelvin Hall, is the recreated street, which last time I was there had posters about rent strikes, another connection with Mary Barbour. The street has a pub, cafe, shops and a Subway station.

Summerlee: looking through a gate with Summerlee written in capital letters towards industrial buildings and tram lines.

Another transport museum, and place with recreated streets, is Summerlee, in Coatbridge. Summerlee is excellent with exhibitions about the local area and its industries as well as local life, sport, religion, leisure and much else besides. The last time I was there they had an exhibition about Albion Rovers, the local football team, with some cracking black-and-white photographs chronicling life at Cliftonhill.

Morrison’s Haven: looking through weeds towards the outline of a harbour filled-in and now covered in grass.

The Summerlee company also owned Prestongrange, a mine, brickworks and many other things in East Lothian. The nearby harbour, Morrison’s Haven, has since been filled in though boats took coal, bricks and other products out to the world, once busier than the port of Leith a wee bit further up the Forth. Morrison’s Haven was filled in when Cockenzie Power Station was built in the 1960s and it is a particularly fine place to walk, as I like to do when in the area.

Kirkcaldy Galleries: an elaborate sculpture of a tower with doors and fish sticking out of them. Behind are paintings of pastoral and seaside scenes.

From Morrison’s Haven it is possible to get great views across the Forth, to Edinburgh and Fife. Kirkcaldy can be seen and a must whenever I’m there is Kirkcaldy Galleries, the museum, art gallery and library, which has an excellent art collection particularly, with Glasgow Boys, Colourists and William McTaggart represented. It also has locally made Wemyss Ware on display, linking to the industries on the other side of the Forth, made at Prestongrange, Macmerry and Portobello particularly.

Wincher’s Stance: a statue of a man and a woman in a romantic embrace, set amidst a bus station.

To get to Kirkcaldy from Glasgow requires a bus, passing through Buchanan bus station in the heart of the city. In the bus station, apart from buses, is a statue by John Clinch of a couple embracing after a long separation. It is called the Wincher’s Stance, winching being Glaswegian for kissing. I suspect lots of similar gatherings have taken place there at one time or another.

Glasgow University cloisters: pillars with a curved roof above.

Near to the bus station is Glasgow Caledonian University. Another higher education institution, Glasgow University, used to be based in the city centre before moving to the West End. Its buildings are Gothic and grand, the cloisters like being in a cathedral. I particularly like to stand in them for a wee while whenever I’m in the area.

Kelvingrove Park: a view across a park with brightly coloured, autumn trees towards a tall tower.

The University of Glasgow overlooks Kelvingrove Park. Kelvingrove Park stretches through the West End of Glasgow and has high and low parts. The views from Park Circus, high towards Charing Cross and the city centre, are particularly outstanding, a perspective right across the city and beyond.

Well, that’s another Virtual Loose Ends done. Thanks so much for reading. Next week we will continue in the West End before venturing forth once more. Until then, keep safe. Cheers just now.

Virtual Loose Ends V: Harbours and statues

Hello again,

Welcome to another Virtual Loose Ends, connections when we can’t travel. We left off at Neptune’s Staircase by the Caledonian Canal.

Barometer, Old Harbour, Dunbar: a monument featuring meteorological equipment at a harbour with a grey and orange sunset behind.

The Kingdom of Neptune is the sea. To sail the sea requires knowing about the weather, for which a barometer might be useful, such as the one at the Old Harbour in Dunbar, dedicated ‘to the fishermen of Dunbar to whose perilous industry the burgh owes so muh for its prosperity’. It was put there in 1856 and stands at the head of the harbour.

North Berwick Harbour: a series of yachts and dinghies with a curved building and a curved hill above it and a town.

Weather instruments also sit at North Berwick harbour. I was last at North Berwick in March and walked to the edge of the harbour to look out to the islands of the Forth, Fidra, Craigleith and the Lamb as well as the Bass Rock. It was bright but cold.

Anstruther: looking by a harbour wall across a sea with hills in the distance under a blue but slightly stormy sky.

Anstruther is in the East Neuk of Fife, a place known for picturesque villages and fishing. It is also right across the Forth from North Berwick, about 11 miles to be precise though by road it is much longer. What I would give for a fish supper sitting on a bench at Anstruther Harbour, looking back over the Forth.

Edinburgh city centre in the twilight: a city skyline including churches and a castle. A building with two towers is lit up in the centre, the Assembly Hall.

Thomas Chalmers was one of the instigators of the Disruption, a schism in the Church of Scotland which begat the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. Ministers walked from the Assembly Hall on the Mound in Edinburgh to Tanfield and formed their own church. Chalmers was born in Anstruther and connects quite dandily to the Assembly Hall. The Assembly Hall is one of the more prominent Edinburgh buildings, also housing New College, the Divinity college of Edinburgh University. From 1999 to 2004 it was the meeting place of the nascent Scottish Parliament prior to its move down the hill to Holyrood.

Princes Street Gardens: a tree-lined park with a castle and rock above.

Also close to the Assembly Hall is Princes Street Gardens. The Gardens are regularly used for big events, like the Hogmanay party and concerts during the Festival. I personally find walking through the Gardens a much more pleasant experience than navigating Princes Street.


Robert Louis Stevenson statue: a statue of a moustachioed man in a grand building with lights behind.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote extensively about Edinburgh, the city of his birth. A grove of trees bears his name in Princes Street Gardens. A statue of him stands in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, a dapper figure set in the splendour of Kelvingrove. It’s particularly fine.

Mary Barbour statue: a statue of a woman leading a march of people behind her. Behind the statue is a bus terminus with a bus sitting.

Mary Barbour was an activist who led a rent strike in Govan in 1915. A statue of her leading her people stands at Govan Cross, by the Subway station. It is a fitting tribute to her and a long-overdue one at that. I can’t think of any other connections between Mary Barbour and Stevenson except that both are statues in Glasgow.

That’s another Virtual Loose Ends. We will continue a week on Wednesday just across the Clyde. The blog goes on hiatus until then. Until then, keep safe. Cheers just now.