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.

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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.

Intercity: Stirling

Stirling is Scotland’s sixth city, created by the Queen in 2002 for her Golden Jubilee. It is a place I’ve been to many times and for this Intercity series, I decided to write about the street or streets I associate with Stirling, namely the walk to the castle. Usually when I visit Stirling, I come by train and so it was this time, walking out of the station that wet and dismal afternoon and taking the well-trodden path. I turned up Friar’s Street, usually a place of strong sensory experiences, sometimes loud music from Europa Music, today pleasant garlicy food from one of the various eateries. Stirling has quite a few independent businesses, even on the back streets that lead up to the castle, though as many tattooists as anything else. On this occasion I refrained and walked on.

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The many informative plaques that dot Stirling city centre informed this walk, particularly about the many buildings designed by John Allan, like the Tudor-esque building up Baker Street with the Stirling seal on the front, which I had never noticed before despite passing it many times over the years. It was raining a little but I wasn’t bothered, lingering a little to look around. I didn’t know that the cannons on Broad Street, facing down towards me as I walked, were installed in 1904, surplus to requirements up the road at the castle. Wonderfully, the War Office offered them to the council but neglected to mention that the council was to pay for them. Hence instead of the 12 the War Office wanted to offload, the cooncil bought four, two there and two nearby. I paused under the Mercat Cross, topped by our national animal, the unicorn, very appropriate as I visited on St. Andrew’s Day.

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At the top was one of my favourite streets in the country, probably the most historically interesting, Edinburgh’s High Street excepted. I made sure I stopped by Mar’s Wark, home of the Earl of Mar, built to be near to the castle of which he was keeper in the 1570s. It felt like the Prime Minister being in Downing Street to be near Westminster. The frontage is magnificent, even if it is ruined, and I always like to look and imagine it in its day. I walked up by Argyll’s Lodging, the old military hospital, and up the stairs to be met by my first sight of Stirling Castle, my favourite of the big castles in Scotland, not least for the magnificent views, even from its Esplanade towards the Ochils, the mountains and the Wallace Monument, fields, towns and all else. It feels you can see all of Scotland from there and it is always nice to be there, even in the rain. It was only manners to finish this walk, go up to the castle, cross the drawbridge and in.

Thanks for reading. This is the second instalment of the Intercity series on Walking Talking. Glasgow came last week, another of Scotland’s seven cities follows next week.

Intercity: Glasgow

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The Intercity series began with the heavens opening. I had chosen the Broomielaw for the Glasgow instalment since I hadn’t written about it before. It had been raining on and off (but mostly on) for days and I had headed into town hoping for a gap in the weather. I started at the junction of Jamaica Street and Clyde Street, walking underneath the bridge. Water dripped heavily in the tunnels under Central Station, man-made caves bringing the forces of nature into the heart of the city. The rain started with a trickle then a deluge as I crossed Oswald Street, rain, hail, wind, the kind of rain that shocks the system and opens the eyes. I nearly abandoned the walk, stopping in a bus shelter for a couple of minutes to let the torrent die down a bit.

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Despite the rain, there were loads of people about. It was the middle of the day and office workers went out for lunch, stopped in doorways for a draw of a cigarette or maybe even went for a run, as quite a few did. The Broomielaw is part of the financial district of Glasgow, full of modern office blocks and temples of capitalism. It feels like any city centre only the mighty Clyde flows by. Liverpool and Dublin were just two cities I thought of as I walked, their waterfronts similarly smartened by sleek glass-fronted developments a far cry from the history that happened there in years gone by. There was not much sense of a past of ships leaving for far-off shores or even going doon the watter to Largs, Rothesay or Dunoon. One of the glass office blocks, to be fair, did have a lintel from the old Seaman’s Mission that once stood on the site, a smart galleon.

I walked as far as the Kingston Bridge, when the street had become Anderston Quay, and crossed the road to walk by the river on the way back. Under the bridge was a smart mural depicting a guy swimming, painted for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, one of many around the city, including at the southern end of that very bridge. Nearby was a plaque commemorating a horrific fire at a whisky bond in Cheapside Street in 1960, with 14 firefighters and five salvage workers killed. Next to it was a mosaic produced by local school children to mark the bravery of those who lost their lives that night.

As I walked back into town, I had an abiding sense that there should be a memorial to those emigrants who left from Glasgow for far-off shores. The Broomielaw is a very different place from what it would have been even twenty years ago and in the midst of all those office blocks it would be easy to forget what once happened here. We shouldn’t live in the past but it is worth remembering it, not to repeat mistakes and to consider the legacy from those who left to those who remain today.

All around me were people out for their lunch, passing across the bridges or along the riverside, some like me bound for the city centre, others back to their offices and another few hours’ toil. I came back to the bridge, as trains passed overhead, and the Broomielaw walk was finished. The weather had put paid to much standing and staring but I had plenty to think on as I trudged through the wind and the rain, of the work done there then and now, the world opening up with ship after ship lined up on the quayside as much as the tapping of computer screens and keyboards that defines it today.

Thanks for reading. The next instalment of the Intercity series, featuring Stirling, will follow next week.