Best of 2020

Happy Boxing Day,

Every year, I write a post like this one with the best places I’ve been to during the year. Some years it’s easier than others. This year, despite the pandemic and resulting restrictions, I’ve managed to have some very cool experiences, some life changing, even. We have the usual eight categories this year, which are:

  • Best museum
  • Best gallery
  • Best historic place
  • Best library
  • Best place to watch football
  • Best fish supper
  • Best park
  • Best beach

This year we have two defending champions winning again and four new entries romping home with their categories. There’s even an unlikely winner coming up. Let us begin.

Best museum – London Transport Museum

London Transport Museum - looking down into a museum hall with a tram and a bus amidst museum display cases.​
London Transport Museum – looking down into a museum hall with a tram and a bus amidst museum display cases.

A new entry and the London Transport Museum was excellent. The Hidden London temporary exhibition was tremendous and very well designed. The London Transport Museum is very thorough, with particularly excellent displays about design.

Runner-up – V and A Dundee –

The V and A in Dundee, 2018’s winner, is good and I enjoyed visiting a couple of months ago to wander about the Mary Quant exhibition and being able to wander a very quiet Scottish Design gallery.

Honourable mention – Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow –

Astonishingly, Kelvingrove has never featured in any Best Of. My first visit post-pandemic was excellent, well laid-out and it felt very safe.

Best gallery – Trongate 103, Glasgow

Last year’s winner in this category because of the same exhibition, Oscar Marzaroli. I’ve been at least four times, once post-lockdown, and it’s a superb exhibition.

Runner-up – Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow –

Another post-lockdown visit for a place that’s never featured in a Best Of. The thematic approach to their collection was well-done, including a cool black and white photograph of the old Yankee Stadium in New York.

Honourable mention – Kirkcaldy Galleries –

Kirkcaldy has won this category twice. I was there in February and it did the job. Hopefully I’ll get back there again next year.

Best historic place – Dunblane Cathedral

Dunblane Cathedral - a church surrounded by a graveyard, a bell tower to the left.​
Dunblane Cathedral – a church surrounded by a graveyard, a bell tower to the left.

Dunblane Cathedral is a new entry. It’s a beautiful, interesting church. Go, if you can.

Runner-up – Scone Palace, near Perth –

Another new entry. A guided tour post-lockdown and it was excellent, a good tour and beautiful grounds.

Honourable mention – Dunure Castle, Ayrshire –

New entry again. Dunure Castle is a cool ruin on a cliff in Ayrshire. The setting makes it.

Best library – Any library I work in

Obviously but I can’t think of any other libraries I’ve been in this year.

Best place to watch football – Easter Road Stadium, Edinburgh

Sigh. I particularly remember the atmosphere the night Hibs played Inverness in the Cup. Games are behind closed doors right now so no live football since March. Easter Road has won three times.

Runner-up – Rugby Park, Kilmarnock –

This one is included because of matchday catering, before and after the match. Dinner was in a French restaurant in Glasgow.

Honourable mention – Tannadice Park, Dundee –

My last visit to Tannadice was in January and the sunset was beautiful on the walk back into Dundee city centre.

Best fish supper – Giacopazzi’s, Eyemouth

Purely and simply, the best of this year. I like Eyemouth and the food was superb.

Runner-up – Merchant Chippie, Glasgow –

A new entry and a very decent fish supper, the produce sourced from Pittenweem.

Best park – Pollok Country Park, Glasgow

Pollok House - looking through a doorway to a three-storey country house with topiaries in front of it.​
Pollok House – looking through a doorway to a three-storey country house with topiaries in front of it.

Another new entry but one of the finest parks in Scotland and within walking distance of the house. A fairly regular haunt during lockdown and after. A visit to Pollok House was an autumnal highlight.

Runner-up – Bellahouston Park, Glasgow –

A new entry and another place I have come to know well this year, also within walking distance.

Honourable mention – Greenwich Park, London –

The views across London from Greenwich are incredible, one of the best views of the metropolis.

Best beach – West Bay, North Berwick

West Bay, North Berwick - a harbour with a bay in front of it, a beach curving to the right.​
West Bay, North Berwick – a harbour with a bay in front of it, a beach curving to the right.

I was last in North Berwick in March and it was a cold, bright day. The sand blew with the wind.

Runner-up – Belhaven Beach, Dunbar –

Belhaven is a frequent winner though North Berwick edged it because it was such a perfect day.

That’s the 2020 list, the sixth Best of list so far. Despite the pandemic, I’ve been very lucky to visit some incredible places and have amazing experiences this year. Who knows what 2021 will bring? It’s been fun assembling this list as ever. Until next time, cheers just now.

Saturday Saunter: Trams and museums

Good Saturday to you,

Welcome to another Saturday Saunter, in fact the last one of 2020. Next Saturday, Boxing Day, will be the Best of 2020. The one shockeroonie of this year’s Best Of is that North Berwick, of all places, won one of the categories. A shocking state of affairs. This is the last post I’m writing this year as I take a festive break until 2nd January.

This year has been life-changing in many ways. A lot of things I took for granted at the start of this year, like going to the football or going on a train at the spur of the moment, aren’t possible right now. I’m watching last weekend’s Hamilton Accies-Hibs match and in different circumstances I might have been there. The only fans are peering in through a gap in the stands. This year has seen many of us finding new ways to live and to be with people. A lot of people have suffered this year and when all is said and done, the pandemic will have a long impact. People are now being vaccinated and other vaccinations are being developed. This time next year, the world will be different again. Whether we will see scenes like in China or New Zealand, where life has reached a semblance of normality, we can only hope.

Riverside Museum, Glasgow, taken one summer when the Govan Ferry was in operation - looking across a river to a busy scene, in front of an angular museum building is a tall, galleon ship. To the left, sailing towards a pontoon, is a small blue and white boat.
Riverside Museum, Glasgow, taken one summer when the Govan Ferry was in operation – looking across a river to a busy scene, in front of an angular museum building is a tall, galleon ship. To the left, sailing towards a pontoon, is a small blue and white boat.

A few weeks ago, we were at the Riverside Museum, the fairly new transport museum which sits by the Clyde. It has its detractors but I have come to like it. My favourite part is the recreation of an early 20th century Glasgow street with a pub, shops and Subway station. One time I was there it had posters about the rent strikes in Govan led by Mary Barbour, apposite for the setting and the fact the Riverside is just across the river from Govan and the Mary Barbour statue. The Riverside’s predecessor, the Museum of Transport, which used to be in the Kelvin Hall, also had an old street and it was possibly even better with the Subway feeling just like the Subway used to be up until the 1970s with signs displaying the stops that could be reached from either side of the island platform. It is immortalised in an episode of Still Game called ‘Shooglies’, if you’re interested.

Glasgow had a fairly extensive tram network though it’s pretty much a memory, the remnants found on a few buildings and in the Riverside Museum. Modern trans are a bit space-age and when they’re done right, as in Manchester and Dublin, they’re incredibly useful. I haven’t been to Manchester for a couple of years but I like a turn on the tram, sometimes skating along city streets, others coursing just like a train on tracks behind a fence. I’m thinking about MoSI, the Museum of Science and Industry, which is a particular favourite in Manchester, its engines and displays not only about the past but the present and future. The city’s history gets a good airing and I’ve always liked that they combine more traditional museum displays of stuff and modern interpretation techniques. Their 3D printing exhibition a few years ago was excellent and made the complex seem relatively simple, a difficult art indeed.

I don’t really plan these posts and I certainly didn’t plan to blether about trams and old Glasgow streets! I’m going to draw this to a close with thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers, new and old. The blog will be back next Saturday with the Best of 2020. Until then, have a very Merry Christmas if you celebrate; if you don’t, have a very nice week. To all, keep well, keep safe. A very good morning.

Inbox stuff

It’s Wednesday so here’s a post of stuff that’s been clogging up my inbox in the vain hope it might appear here at some point.

When I was a kid, one trip took me to the Grampian Transport Museum in Alford. Transport museums are usually good value as places of social history, not just big sheds full of buses and trains. Not that big sheds full of buses and trains are bad either, mind. In the days before mobile phones, the AA and the RAC had call boxes across the country for the use of their members to call for assistance. The museum in Alford has one, already a museum piece in the late-1990s. Only 21 AA boxes remain across the UK and indeed three in Wales are listed buildings, including one near Crickhowell, which is cool.

Dunnottar Castle: a castle with a ruined keep to the top right, a roofed building below and a stone wall to the left, all surrounded by cliffs.​
Dunnottar Castle: a castle with a ruined keep to the top right, a roofed building below and a stone wall to the left, all surrounded by cliffs.

Another thing Aberdeenshire has in abundance is castles. Fergus Mutch, an SNP candidate, is part of a group which is floating the notion of turning some castles and historic places into hotels, like the paradores which they have in Spain. The theory is that they would bring jobs and tourism while preserving historic buildings. I’m in two minds about it. I like castles. I like ruined castles particular. Pastiches of buildings can be awful and more like a theme park than something that fits into the landscape and works with the fabric of the building. It’s an interesting idea and we’ll see what comes of it.

I haven’t used a train in a good few weeks. I live near the railway so I know that trains still exist at least. The charity Leonard Cheshire has said that 46% of Scotland’s 361 railway stations are not accessible for disabled people. That doesn’t surprise me at all – there are quite a few stations in Scotland which require stairs to access at least one of the platforms. One of my local stations is one of them, despite being in suburban Glasgow and near a hospital. Transport Scotland has said that it is working to remedy this at six stations around Scotland though it will seemingly take until 2070 at current levels to make every station in the country fully accessible. That is nowhere near good enough. Public transport is supposed to be for all the public and so it should be. There will hopefully come a point, after the pandemic has passed, when people use trains and buses and everything again, and making them more accessible will only bring in more people.

In recent months, I have been doing my best to use independent bookshops and suppliers rather than a certain big company. You know the one I mean. Wonderfully, in the midst of lockdown, bookshops have reinvented themselves in order to deliver books to the masses, including one here in Glasgow by skateboard and, as the Guardian wrote a week or two ago, a bookseller traversing the streets of Milan by bike. Luca Santini has done this since 2013, which in itself is remarkable, making a mobile shop work better than a physical presence in an actual building. My favourite quote features Luca Santini’s thoughts on Amazon: ‘I practically do what they do, and often I’m faster than them’. Quality. Less carbon emissions too. Better for the environment.

That’s my inbox a bit less cluttered, at least for a wee while. The last Saturday Saunter of 2020 appears here on Saturday so stay tuned for that. Until then, cheers just now. Peace.

Saturday Saunter: Psychogeography, trains and Christmas

Good Saturday to you,

I’m writing this as the light is slowly draining from the sky on Friday afternoon. To be fair there hasn’t been a whole lot of light today – it’s been a bit wet, grey and dismal, though it’s been possible to get a walk and stay relatively dry. This is being posted earlier than normal because of work.

Hanover Street, Glasgow: a street view with older buildings to the left and more modern buildings to the right. A bus crosses at a junction in the middle of the street.
Hanover Street, Glasgow: a street view with older buildings to the left and more modern buildings to the right. A bus crosses at a junction in the middle of the street.

I haven’t managed very much psychogeography recently. The level 4 restrictions might have been a good time to try and find a new spin on familiar walks but it didn’t feel right. Hopefully I can try and get out for a meander soon. One thing that I saw that interested me was on Twitter. Students on the contemporary archaeology course at Durham University have been out doing psychogeography around Durham, an excellent city to drift in, looking at how the urban landscape and shops have changed due to the pandemic. I found when I did my first Streets of Glasgow walk for a while at the end of August that I behaved differently and perceived the environment differently too, noting the precautions and changes around the place and taking extra care to be distant.

Last week the Office of Rail and Road released statistics about railway station usage over the 2019-2020 period, finishing at the end of March this year. London Waterloo remained the most used railway station in the UK at 86.9 million entries and exits while the least used was Berney Arms in Norfolk which had just 42 people use it, this admittedly being hindered by being shut for most of the time. Glasgow Central was again top of the charts in Scotland at 32.4 million with, as far as I can tell, Lochluichart in the Highlands propping up the table at 198 people for the year. Obviously next year’s statistics will be very, very different due to the pandemic though these numbers are particularly interesting to illustrate how things were prior to March.

One unintended benefit of restrictions has been that, until this weekend, background music has been banned from pubs and restaurants here in Scotland. The Scottish Government has specified that music can be played at a low volume, which is better than nothing. I can’t really function in places with blaring music and part of the joy of eating out is to be with the person or persons you’re with, not necessarily to listen to the tunes. It will be interesting to see what the Government deems an acceptable volume.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas. The day itself, the time off, the time spent with loved ones, even if it might be on FaceTime: that’s all good. It’s the commercialisation of it that bothers me, plus the incessant cheesy tunes, though this year that has bothered me less, for some reason. We were in the car earlier and I heard Wizzard and I didn’t even grind my teeth. My home town, Dunbar, takes Christmas seriously. For many years there have been over-the-top, even garish lights strewn up and down the High Street but it works. This year, there’s a Christmas tree made of creels down at the harbour. I’m not going to be able to see it in person but it’s actually really nice. It’s imaginative and clever, plus it would probably be seen for miles out to sea, which is a particular advantage in that part of the world.

Since the start of the season, football teams in many parts of the world have taken the knee before games in the continuing efforts against racism. It’s been in the news about booing at Millwall and that has been widely and rightly deplored. There have been reports of racist and homophobic language at games this week too, which shows how far we need to go to make our game truly open to all. This is expressed very well in this video, which was on A View From The Terrace last week, featuring Kaela McDonald-Nguah who plays for Motherwell. She talks very well about racism in football and wider society.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 12th December 2020. Thanks for reading. The last Saunter of the year appears here next Saturday. The inbox clearing post will appear on Wednesday. Until then, keep safe, keep well. A very good morning to you all.

An Edinburgh walk

Arthur's Seat from Calton Hill: looking towards a hill with a curved summit and ridge to the right. In the foreground is a cairn on a raised section of grass. A road is to the left.
Arthur’s Seat from Calton Hill: looking towards a hill with a curved summit and ridge to the right. In the foreground is a cairn on a raised section of grass. A road is to the left.

Originally today, I was going to post with interesting things I’ve found in my inbox but I’m going to do something different. The photo above shows Arthur’s Seat and part of Calton Hill, two of Edinburgh’s hills. I decided to write about Edinburgh after reading about the Royal visit to the capital earlier this week. When I next get to Edinburgh – and I’m not sure when that will be possible for a lesser mortal such as myself, resident in Glasgow – I’m planning on a walk. There’s probably too many places that I want to see so I might not manage them all in a single visit. Arthur’s Seat would be a contender, at least St. Anthony’s Chapel because I’ve seen a few cool photographs taken from there recently. The Botanic Gardens would be an absolute certainty. I’ve missed the autumnal colours of the Botanics this year but it is rather fine in all weathers and at all times of the year. Reading The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst has given me the notion to walk along George Street and stop outside the headquarters of the Northern Lighthouse Board with its model lighthouse shining. Calton Hill and its perspectives out across the city, Forth, Fife and East Lothian is a favourite and I have craved standing there for a few short minutes. Inside, the Portrait Gallery would be a great idea, possibly the National Gallery. Even just being on a train coming into Waverley, through Princes Street Gardens and under the castle, would be enough. When restrictions permit, I’ll do my best to make it happen.

Saturday Saunter: 2020 books

Good Saturday to you,

Welcome to another Saturday Saunter, this time being written on Monday night. My plan over the next few days is to have posts ready for the rest of the year so here’s hoping I can manage that. The rest of the year looks set to be busy so blog matters will be a low priority, sadly.

The other night I wrote the Best of 2020 post, my annual look back at the year and where I’ve been. That will appear on Boxing Day and there are a few new entries, a surprising state of affairs since venturing opportunities this year have been limited. Last year I did a Best Books post but this year I won’t bother. This might need to do.

I’ve looked through what I’ve read this year, reviews, apps and all the rest, to try and come up with a list of books I’ve read and appreciated this year. I came up with ten. A Tomb With A View, Peter Ross’s book about cemeteries and all matters death, comes high up the list for its social history, local interest and just how interesting it was. Imagine A Country, an anthology of writings edited by Val McDermid and Jo Sharp, was a valuable insight into how our country could look with the right ideas. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall managed to talk geopolitics without condescension or agenda, a remarkable feat.

A lot of the books I’ve particularly cherished this year have been about the sea in some way. Peter Aitchison’s history of the 1881 Eyemouth fishing disaster, Children of the Sea, went far beyond that tragic event, into the history of Eyemouth itself and the fishing industry that sustained the community and much of the east coast. I had a tear in my eye as I read the chapter about the day of the disaster itself. In March, I was supposed to go to an event at Aye Write about Seashaken Houses: A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet by Tom Nancollas but it was cancelled, naturally enough, since it’s 2020. I bought it in Stanford’s in London when I was down there in February, a place as far from lighthouses as it is possible to be in these islands. It’s a decent book, with chapters about many of the most impressive or isolated lighthouses around the British and Irish coastline. There isn’t a lighthouse on Lindisfarne but it is seen as a spiritual place, as Alistair Moffat wrote about in To The Island of Tides, following in the footsteps of St. Cuthbert by walking across the Borders to Holy Island.

Berwick Lighthouse: a lighthouse tower with a red top, white middle and dark red base. It is at the end of a pier with a wall around, with the sea on the right.​
Berwick Lighthouse: a lighthouse tower with a red top, white middle and dark red base. It is at the end of a pier with a wall around, with the sea on the right.

I have read a few football books this year but most of them were re-reads. The Acid Test by Clyde Best was one of the best, read this summer when Black Lives Matter was at the forefront of the news.

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan was a resume of books read and savoured over a lifetime, some tallying with my own. I wonder what she would have thought of the last book I read, which was actually for work, The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig, a decent children’s book about elves, Father Christmas and Amelia Wishart who do their bit to keep hope alive. It makes this list because it was decent. In more grown-up reading, I particularly laughed at Miracle Workers by Simon Rich, which was wonderfully darkly funny.

A different perspective for this week comes from a Geoff Marshall video on YouTube about accessibility on the railway, featuring Dominic Lund-Conlon.

Right, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 5th December 2020. Thanks for reading. If you want to sample any of these fine books, see if your local library has them, in person or online, if that’s an option. Another Saunter will follow next Saturday. Hopefully something else on Wednesday. Until then, keep safe, keep well. A very good morning to you all.

A picture triptych

A picture triptych for us tonight, three pictures from the blog archive of past adventures and hopefully inspiring future ones too. We begin in Perth, possibly the night Ofir Marciano got sent off…

McDiarmid Park: a floodlight tower shining light on an otherwise black sky with two football stands on either side.
McDiarmid Park: a floodlight tower shining light on an otherwise black sky with two football stands on either side.

There are times I miss going to the football. I was going to cut back anyway, even before the pandemic, but watching a game on the telly just isn’t the same. It’s so easy to glance at a phone and miss a moment, plus the sensory experience, the sights, sounds and all else, cannot come through the TV screen. Plus when your team has drawn when they should have won, or they’ve just gotten gubbed, the journey home helps to soothe and bring perspective, a lot harder when you’re in the house already and it’s time to make the tea.

One of my favourite away trips is McDiarmid Park, Perth, home of St. Johnstone. The long trudge to McDiarmid is usually preceded by a decent dinner, thankfully, especially before a night game. Even in the cold, high floodlights shining down are an incredible sight. Saturday at 3 is when football should be but a game under the lights can be special too.

Statue facing Bass Rock: a statue of a man holding a pair of binoculars facing out to sea with a white island in the centre of the image.
Statue facing Bass Rock: a statue of a man holding a pair of binoculars facing out to sea with a white island in the centre of the image.

The Bass Rock looks different from every angle. From Fife, the Bass is a rotting molar; Dunbar, curved cliffs with a lighthouse. It’s closest to North Berwick, where the lighthouse can be seen but the rock faces the other way, out to sea. By the Seabird Centre in North Berwick is a statue of a man with binoculars looking out. It’s only been there for a few years and I like it. Some people find being by the sea oppressive and limiting but I really don’t. The sea is what’s beyond the horizon, not just the horizon itself. It’s birds, fish, all manner of wildlife, boats and what passes by, trade or folk on cruises, maybe. I grew up by the sea but I now live in a city and I miss it. It’s pictures like these that make me smile and plan a trip, even if it can’t materialise quite yet.

Train signs in National Museum of Scotland: curved signs for railway stations. From top to bottom are Dalmally, Garve, Carstairs, Barassie (which is obscured), Stonehaven, Addiewell and North Berwick.
Train signs in National Museum of Scotland: curved signs for railway stations. From top to bottom are Dalmally, Garve, Carstairs, Barassie (which is obscured), Stonehaven, Addiewell and North Berwick.

North Berwick also features in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, in the form of a train station up the stairs on the object wall. It’s the only one of the stations I’ve actually stopped at – life hasn’t taken me to Dalmally, Garve, Carstairs, Barassie, Stonehaven or Addiewell, at least not to get off a train in these places. The urge to go on a train somewhere far has receded over the last few months. My last big trip was London in February. Train videos on YouTube suffice for now. Hopefully there will soon come a time when we can travel once more without restriction, even without a face mask. Until then, it’s YouTube for me.

That’s our triptych. An inbox clearing post will be here next Wednesday and the Saturday Saunter returns this coming Saturday. Until then, cheers just now. Peace.