Saturday Saunter: The Engine Shed, Stirling and not writing about adventures

Good Saturday to you,

It is Tuesday night as I start this and it’s sunny outside with a wee bit of a breeze. I had all sorts of plans to write a fairly serious Saturday Saunter about mid-year burnout, Scottish Twitter and incels but I can’t be bothered with that. Instead I’m going to go free-form.

I don’t write about every adventure here. It’s partly time but also because writing about an experience can sometimes reduce it. Places and trips blend into one and I don’t like that feeling. Being busy sometimes means that life creeps up on you and the Zen, mojo, life that comes from a good adventure can be eroded quite rapidly. Writing can relive it but then the memory can sometimes be about the piece rather than the place. It’s a problem with writing a lot and wanting to write a lot. Sometimes you can run on empty, inspiration-wise. Last weekend I was very busy and went to East Lothian on Friday, Stirling on Saturday and around Glasgow looking at the Oor Wullies on Sunday. It had a lot of good moments but I don’t want to write about too many of them. Hopefully they’ll live on in my brain a wee while longer as a result.

Stirling was really about the football but I managed to have a wander before the game. I did the Intercity walk which appears here tomorrow and then I had a few minutes in the Engine Shed, a building conservation centre run by Historic Environment Scotland. There were displays about the various materials which form Scotland’s buildings and their makeup, scientific and historical but not too technical. There was also a display about the engineer James Watt, which was decent too. Most of all I liked the architecture of the building, a former train shed, and the big windows brought a great light in too. What was also wonderful was that they are well-up on accessibility, with a poster about the sensory/relaxed hour they had had earlier in the day. When I asked about it, the very helpful member of staff showed me into their sensory room, which had some toys, beanbags and mats scattered around. It made me happy as an autistic person as well as a history buff. I am both at the same time, of course.

What I also liked in the Engine Shed was the big satellite photograph of Scotland in the middle of the floor, with an insert to the left featuring St. Kilda and the top for Shetland. Rockall was posted absent, incidentally. I had such an urge to clamber all the way across it but I desisted, even though there wasn’t a sign. It probably isn’t becoming in a person soon to be in his thirties.

I think of Stirling as being a bit like Disneyland, a Scottish historical Disneyland. A lot of the buildings, the surroundings, every few yards there’s something important. It’s like Edinburgh but less busy. It was still busy the other day, mind. Even the walk to the ground, which is out-of-town and past a retail park and a derelict barracks, had its scenery. I could see the Ochil Hills and the Wallace Monument standing high on Abbey Craig. From my seat in the stand I could see wind turbines on the hills. On the way back, Stirling’s Old Town, and its castle, rose high on the landscape. I always like a trip there, even if the football wasn’t that great.

This is being posted as I am off to Edinburgh to watch Hibs. Underland will again be with me as I continue to work my way through it. I’ll finish it eventually. I’ll probably have a walk somewhere in the capital before the game, maybe the Botanics.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today, Saturday 20th July 2019. Tomorrow’s post is Intercity: Stirling. Wednesday is about my to-read pile. Thursday is about my commute. Whatever you end up doing, have a good weekend. Cheers.

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Intercity: Edinburgh II (Leith Walk)

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As I came back into Edinburgh, the rain kept falling. I had over an hour to kill before my train and I wanted to do an Intercity walk. I thought about my options. I didn’t want to sit at Waverley Station, fine place though it undoubtedly is, so I thought about where I might be able to buy an umbrella. It was beautiful and sunny when I left the house that morning and I didn’t even have a jacket. There’s a Tesco Express on Picardy Place and they had an umbrella stand right by the door. I bought the cheapest umbrella they had (still too dear at £7) and it was colourful, stripy, possibly eliciting a laugh and a whoop from a couple of women outside the shop. Then I was ready to do business.

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Leith Walk leads from Edinburgh city centre right down to the port of Leith. Leith was independent from Edinburgh until 1920 though there is a certain civic pride even today. I know Leith Walk quite well. I seem to have a habit of walking up Leith Walk on the way to Easter Road. It’s a street which always has a lot going on. It represents Edinburgh far more than the High Street with actual day-to-day life happening and the effects of gentrification felt far more acutely. Leith Walk is also a street which inspired Streets of Glasgow, another series I write for this blog. I wanted to know Glasgow streets as well as I do those in Edinburgh. And so it goes.

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The walk began by Picardy Place amidst the roadworks. The usual down the street photo taken, I started to walk. Despite the rain there were a few folk sat under the trees at Gayfield Square, always a scene of serenity in a chaotic city. The walk as far as McDonald Road and Brunswick Road was full of little bits of interest. The old-fashioned lettering on the side of the mini market. The skin spa advertising dermaplaning which strikes me as pelting some poor soul’s skin with water. The handwritten notices threatening folk with the Council if they don’t stop putting their rubbish in Slumdog’s bins. (Slumdog is a restaurant, incidentally.) Graffiti on a bin showing a Wi-Fi symbol with the legend ‘Radiation kills’. Then Harburn Hobbies, a shop which sells model trains. I always like looking in the window, though I’m not a model train person, at the precise replicas of local buses and old coal wagons. Randomly Harburn Hobbies sits right next to a sex shop. Whatever gets folk through the shift. Apropos of nothing, my gaze then fell on a pub up the street which had an advert for Innis and Gunn beer. I don’t like beer but the advert said it was ‘Brewed with Naked Golden Oats’. The mind boggles.

It being teatime, there were quite a few food smells, including pasta, pizza and Indian food. I came to the junction with McDonald Road and Brunswick Road and stopped at the crossing. It is traditional when I’m on a walk to wait for all signals so I see more. In this case, though, I crossed earlier. Though I was dry, it was still raining pretty heavily. I did look across at McDonald Road Library, which has turrets, and a handsome building across the road which had a tower. A classically Edinburgh looking block. There was also Tribe Yoga. I’m not sure if they would wage wars or anything.

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There was a beautifully drawn artwork on the ground, with unicorns in the middle and a Celtic ring and the words ‘We [heart] Scotland, We [heart] Leith, Persevere’. It bore the legend ‘From Canada We Love’ and I realised it has a twin, or had a twin, which sits on the corner of Jamaica Street and Clyde Street in Glasgow. I saw it on the Subway walk last year. The rain brought out the colours beautifully. Nearby was what used to be called the Boundary Bar, which separated Leith and Edinburgh. Until Leith was subsumed by Edinburgh, there were different licensing rules and it was possible to drink for half an hour longer in one side of the bar as a result. Near enough across the road was a Hibs pub called the Harp and Castle. As I walked up, unbidden came a song celebrating Hibs defender Paul Hanlon and his memorable equaliser at Tynecastle on the way to the 2016 Scottish Cup. ‘We had our day at Hampden and it’s all because of you!’ That always makes me want to jump up and down but I desisted and moved on.

As I got further towards Leith, there was evidence of the campaign to stop gentrification with the efforts to stop a cafe closing on a block destined to be levelled and rebuilt as more student housing. It even featured an almost Biblical quote: ‘Let there be Leith’. Nearby were a couple of murals, one featuring a colourfully dressed young woman and the other featuring a saltire with Arabic script. The latter reminded me of some street art near the mosque on Annandale Street. It brings to mind a line from a Proclaimers song. ‘We’re all Scotland’s story and we’re worth just the same’. Talking of celebrity Hibees, I soon came to the Central Bar, housed in part of what used to be Leith Central Station which in its derelict state was depicted in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. Choose life, folks.

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Random graffiti near Leith Central Station. Quite existential.

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Anyway, I came to the foot of the Walk with the statue of Queen Victoria and a ghost sign above what used to be Woolies. It was still wet but I didn’t care. It was a great walk, varied, unique and different, even if I had to balance photo-taking and an umbrella.

Thank you for reading. Another Intercity post follows next week, this time in Stirling. Other Intercity adventures can be found through the Intercity page. The first Intercity walk in Edinburgh featured the High Street. A bonus walk on Easter Road appears here on Thursday.

Intercity: Paisley

Paisley is the fifth largest urban settlement in Scotland and the largest town. It can also be on my way home so doing an Intercity post there is pretty easy, or it would be if I could pick a street. I associate Paisley with a few streets and I did consider walking the length of Glasgow Road, from St. Mirin’s Cathedral right the way to the border with Glasgow, but that would have been too much. Instead I chose Gilmour Street, which leads from the similarly named railway station to Gauze Street, next to the Town Hall and where the buses go. I was going home so that helped.

The station rose above the street and the White Cart river. I stopped under the railway to get a photo up the street. Boards stood outside the station, featuring a map of the town and some colourful painted flowers and fishes. A wooden deer sculpture stood outside the Piazza centre, part of a street art trail around Easter time. The Piazza looked run-down at that end, under a 1960s office block that had seen better days. Commuters passed across County Square and folk sat on benches. Some guys stood outside the pubs. I tried to ignore the slightly self-conscious feeling as I snapped photos, looking up at the roofs and the bank crest on the Bankhouse pub, some fine doorways worth a look on a street I so often pass by in a hurry. There was a decent smell of Chinese food, which I resisted as I headed home for macaroni cheese.

Gilmour Street was a decent choice for Intercity, It combined architecture – good and bad – with people, art and convenience. Looking up was worth it, as ever, and I got a few extra insights along the way.

Thanks for reading. Another Intercity post follows next week. A post about Paisley Gilmour Street station appeared here last year.

 

Digest: June 2019

It was only on Sunday that I remembered I hadn’t written this digest yet. Usually I write it over the course of the month, rather than doing it in one big burst. Now, then…

The first photographs of the month are from Saturday 8th June, the day I attended an Open University history day in Edinburgh. Later in the year I will be going back to my degree and the day had a few lectures on emigration, the French Revolution and Islam, and talks about the current crop of OU modules. Afterwards I had a walk around the New Town in the rain, thinking and planning and not giving a toss.

On Friday 14th June, I went to see a friend at Prestongrange. I had a good wander around the site before and after.

Sunday 16th June I spent the day in the Borders. We met in Linlithgow due to engineering works (allowing me to do an Intercity post) and then we went to Dryburgh Abbey, Smailholm Tower (as written about here) and Bamburgh beach. A rich full day with history, views and waves, the last of which were particularly appreciated.

The following Tuesday I went into Paisley after work to do the Intercity walk there, which appears here on Sunday.

That Saturday saw me at a wedding reception in the east. It was great to catch up with old friends and acquaintances.

The following morning saw me have a walk along the prom at Portobello as far as Fisherrow Harbour. Then my friend and I took a bus down to North Berwick for a daunder in the sunshine.

On Friday, I went to New Lanark and the Falls of Clyde, neither of which I had been to before. I thought with the considerable heat that being by the river and waterfalls might help. Not really. The surroundings were gorgeous, though, more about walking than sampling any of the history. I think I will do New Lanark again on a winter’s day. A post about this adventure appears here tomorrow.

That’s the rundown of where I went in June. July is to be busier. I am in Arbroath tonight to see Hibs play their first preseason friendly and I will be travelling around the country for football over the next few weeks. It feels like no time has passed since last season ended against Aberdeen. Plus at the end of the month I have a week off, which will be very welcome indeed. At that point the blog will take a break from Saturday 27th July until Wednesday 7th August.

The digest usually covers where I’ve been over the month. It doesn’t delve into the finer details. This month has personally been busy with a wee bit of sadness, one or two happy days and a big personal step. I don’t know how that last one will end yet. What I’ve come to appreciate with ever more intensity is that life’s too short. I’m an humanist and I believe that we have but one life. It is up to us to make the best of it. The best words I can find are from my favourite book, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. ‘Love pursued with fervour is one of the roads to knowledge’. It’s true.

Our Scots word of the month is ‘hansel’. It was used in Jackie Kay’s poem at the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament on Saturday. I’ll be mentioning it in the Saturday Saunter this coming Saturday. Hansel, or handsel as the Dictionary of the Scots Language has it, is a good Scots word meaning to inaugurate, to begin. It could also mean a gift to mark such an occasion.

Finally, in popular culture I have enjoyed this month, I haven’t read so much this month but what I can do is talk about a couple of podcasts I’ve enjoyed. David Tennant’s discussions with various folk he knows, including Michael Sheen, Samantha Bee, Tina Fey, Jon Hamm and Jodie Whittaker, are particularly good and got me through a fairly sleepless night recently. I like conversations between two people and a new podcast came my way recently called These Are The Days, presented by Ronny Costello. The first episode, featuring a discussion with Paul McNicoll, was particularly insightful about raising a child with a disability as well as just being a right good blether about growing up in Scotland and Dundee in particular.

Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. There have been some nice conversations recently so thanks for that. Over the next few weeks here will be some more Intercity adventures and a few more havers about places I’ve been recently. Tomorrow’s post was written on location at New Lanark so have a read at that. Have a very nice July.

Posts published this month –

Digest: May 2019

Loose Ends: Bearsden Bathhouse

Streets of Glasgow: West Graham Street

Glasgow amidst the art

Saturday Saunter: Studying, writing and reading

Loose Ends: Queen’s Park

Streets of Glasgow: Great Western Road

Mackintosh and Kingsley

Saturday Saunter: Poetry, statues and lighthouses

End of the line: Milngavie

Streets of Glasgow: Clarence Drive

Walking rules

Saturday Saunter: Fruit, podcasts and walking

Intercity: Linlithgow

Streets of Glasgow: Prince Albert Road

Smailholm Tower

Saturday Saunter: Sunshine out my window

Intercity: Glasgow II

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.

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.

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.

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.

Intercity: Dundee

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From the Royal Mile to somewhere entirely different but no less interesting. I began at the bus station on the Seagate and proceeded along and up through the city along a route I’ve come to know quite well. Since I was six, with a few lapsed years in between, I’ve been a Hibs fan and one away trip I went on a few times as a kid was to Tannadice, home of Dundee United. Tannadice is on the same street as Dens Park, the ground of United’s deadly rivals, Dundee. Naturally as a football fan I came to associate Dundee, the city of the three j’s, of Oor Wullie, Jocky and Lorraine Kelly, with one street in particular and it’s why Intercity’s Dundee visit started on the corner of Tannadice Street and Arklay Street one Saturday lunchtime.

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Dundee United were playing Partick Thistle that Saturday and the build up was getting going. Yellow cones lined the roads, yellow jacketed stewards were positioned and as I passed Tannadice there was a definite meaty smell that might have been the pies or the offering for the folk in the dear seats. This was matchday, so early the last game might just have been over. In the meantime, all was quiet on Tannadice Street, a dude in a Partick Thistle dugout coat stood in one of the entrances blethering in Weegie to his pal and a couple of stewards outside Dens were putting the world to rights too. I didn’t see anyone on the allotments that sit behind Tannadice’s Eddie Thompson stand, even with it being a Saturday morning.

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Roughly two hundred yards separate Tannadice and Dens Park. I didn’t measure it, that was Wikipedia, but it is the shortest distance between any two football grounds in the country. There are all sorts of cool links between the two clubs including the same folk who sell programmes and operate the turnstiles at the two grounds. My favourite one is that the same person does commentary for blind and visually impaired people and Tannadice and Dens. As I walked the few paces past the Shed, Dens Park was right on me. Dens has an Archibald Leitch main stand, one of the few left in the country, and it is unusual because the stand isn’t sheer against the pitch, its two ends meet in the middle then go at an angle to reflect the road behind it, Sandeman Street. I’ve been to Dens and I’ve even been in that stand. What I hadn’t noticed before was the art-deco stylee ‘DFC’ over the main entrance. By the time I passed the shop at the Bobby Cox Stand end of Dens, it was possible to get a cool view over the stands with the Tannadice floodlights behind.

Before I finished my eye turned to the Rough and Fraser shop on the corner. I’ve since discovered that Rough and Fraser are a well known Dundee bakery and I passed another branch on my way up to Dundee Law. The thought struck me that Rough and Fraser could either be a fearsome defensive partnership or a detective duo, a Scottish Dalziel and Pascoe or whatever. Ironically I had read a crime novel on my way up to Dundee which featured a detective called Fraser who got killed. I won’t tell you which novel in case you happen to pick it up. Anyway, I digress.

So far, Intercity has featured four cities and four very different places. The first one when I thought I might struggle to fill the post was Dundee, ironic since this might be the longest post yet for a walk that didn’t even last ten minutes. Funny that. This one couldn’t have been more different to Edinburgh and the High Street but I think they played to different parts of me, the historian and the football fan who still gets excited in the vicinity of a stadium. Both were happy with this one.

Thanks for reading. The January digest will appear here next week while another Intercity post follows the week after.

Intercity: Edinburgh

The third instalment of Intercity involves our nation’s capital, Edinburgh, the city of my birth and my primary school years, a place I still spend a lot of time in despite living in Glasgow. In thinking about an Edinburgh street for this series, I went through a few contenders but in the end I chose the street I associate most with Edinburgh, for good or ill. Most people know it as the Royal Mile but I refer to it the same way as the Royal Mail does: the High Street. The High Street, as most Scots could probably tell you, leads from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a distance of roughly 1,600 yards, funnily enough. I was in Edinburgh one bright and cold Sunday morning in December and decided to take advantage of the nice weather and the time I had to kill by getting this over and done with. I avoid the High Street as much as possible. It is invariably crowded and saturated in tartan. The best time to give it a bodyswerve is normally August, at the height of the Festival circus, but in recent years, it hasn’t dissipated much across the year, even on a baltic Sunday in December.

I walked up the Esplanade, dodging every second person who had a phone in their hand and every third one of those in selfie mode. Edinburgh Castle isn’t my favourite castle in Scotland, it isn’t even my favourite castle in Edinburgh but to be fair it does look the part. I focused my attention on looking left and right, into the sun towards Arthur’s Seat and the other way across to Fife. As I processed down Castlehill, nearly taking to the road to dodge the phone cameras, I went into psychogeographic mode, appreciating the architecture and quietly observing the masses as they passed. It being December, the kilt count was impressively low, the owner a young blonde guy with a beard. He looked like a tour guide so it was probably work attire. There were a lot of people with tartan somewhere on their person. For once I was one of them, since I was on the way to the football and my Hibs scarf is a tartan one. By the Assembly Hall an older gent was singing, the Skye Boat Song, as it happens, not unpleasantly with an accent which reflected more diverse origins, possibly Cornwall.

A few selfies were happening by the David Hume statue. What he would have said about this whole spectacle, I wonder. A quick Google uncovered this quote: “Reading and sauntering and lounging and dosing, which I call thinking, is my supreme Happiness.” Meanwhile I was struck by the sight of a huge Saltire flying over Parliament House. It might even have been bigger than the monstrosity that flies outside Trump Turnberry and that’s saying something, an unusually ostentatious gesture from Edinburgh’s legal establishment. I looked fleetingly at the Adam Smith statue further down and longer at the City Chambers and the buildings around it which house City Council offices with their fine carvings and features. As I walked further down I paused frequently to look at the many informative plaques, including one marking part of the Elsie Inglis heritage trail, and the many showy older buildings on that stretch of the High Street, stopping longest by John Knox House.

I find the part of the High Street furth of the World’s End pub most interesting, mostly because it is lived in and not as touristy. Mostly, for since my last trip down there, offices belonging to the homelessness charity Streetwork had turned into a hotel. (Streetwork does also have premises on South Bridge and near Holyrood, incidentally, but the irony was not missed.) The High Street is what a lot of people associate Scotland with and it leaves me slightly nauseous. It is one facet, one very commercialised part of a much more nuanced picture that also includes Govanhill, Ferguslie, Raploch, Lochee and many other places. This might have occurred to the architects of the Scottish Parliament, an institution which makes much of being closer to its electorate than many other legislatures. I often like to read the quotes on the Canongate Wall by the Parliament and on this occasion one from Mary Brooksbank felt most apposite:

‘Oh, dear me, the warld’s ill-divided,
Them that work the hardest are aye wi’ least provided,
But I maun bide contented, dark days or fine,
But there’s no much pleasure livin’ affen ten and nine.’

 

I think I was also grumpy because I had clocked a Celtic scarf being sold outside a tartan shop but gratifyingly a Hibs one was also there. My walk down the Canongate had included encountering a man with his arm around the Robert Fergusson statue, deep in selfie mode, and passing the traditional Royal Mile Primary School, a sense of a community in these surroundings, a day-to-day beyond the hype.

Psychogeography interests me because it involves looking at the urban in greater depth, looking beyond the obvious. Edinburgh is a city of hidden depths, a mad God’s dream, to quote Hugh MacDiarmid, a place which combines wealth and poverty, substance and lots of stories and legends barely skating the surface of what actually happened. The High Street is the Royal Mile, some bits the Lawnmarket, others the Canongate. In one street it conveys a lot of how people see our country, tartan, historic, romantic. Scotland is all of these things but many more besides, to be experienced by walking on and beyond this street, this city, this coast sometimes. Life is beyond.

Thanks for reading. This is the third instalment of the Intercity series here on Walking Talking. The first two involved Glasgow and Stirling. Another will follow next week.