New Town psychogeography

I said in the post Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders that I would write some more about a walk I had after tea in the New Town of Edinburgh. A few years ago, I read a bit about psychogeography, the French Situationist concept that basically encourages alienated city dwellers to become closer to their surroundings by aimlessly drifting through the metropolis. At the time I used to go on regular day trips to Edinburgh. It was fairly close to home and it was also cheap. I used to practise some psychogeography in the streets of the capital, very often in the New Town, mainly below Dublin Street but sometimes as far as Stockbridge. I haven’t done it as much in recent years but I hope my Streets of Glasgow project sort of fits into the psychogeography mould, since it helps me feel closer to Glasgow.

Dublin Street

Keeping to tradition, I started by walking down Dublin Street, soon looking left and right and choosing to walk past the wonderfully named Karen’s Unicorn Chinese restaurant onto Abercromby Place, within moments looking and deciding to head down Nelson Street onto Northumberland Street and then Drummond Place, by its closed gardens. I chose to turn left onto Cumberland Street, mainly because I’ve been thinking about writing about its Glaswegian namesake for a while, and it was very pleasant with a few folk sitting outside pubs or otherwise milling around in the evening sunshine. It took me out at St. Stephen’s Church, probably my favourite New Town building and the type of church where it is readily possible to imagine a couple swishing out of it freshly married and being showered by confetti by their friends and loved ones. I did think about walking up Royal Circus but that would have taken me too far from Waverley and I was tired. Instead I ended up back on Northumberland Street. That day I had not only been in Northumberland but also at Dryburgh Abbey where Walter Scott and his biographer John Wilson Lockhart are buried. Randomly I was walking behind a couple who met a friend of theirs outside his house, which had a plaque on it saying that it was where one John Wilson Lockhart lived. I like serendipity like that. Everything’s connected. The walk soon finished on Dublin Street as I looked towards Waverley and home.

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It had been good to do a derive again. My rambles tend to be more rigidly planned these days so being able to just follow my feet and my instincts, especially on a beautiful night in a nice part of a city I know well, was just magic, a great end to a very varied day.

 

 

Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders

Robert Burns said it best that ‘the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’. I’m not sure if Burns had much time for day tripping between being a ploughman and getting his end away but I suspect the sentiment would have applied quite snugly. I had planned the trip to Berwick after I had been sent a photo of Bamburgh Castle on Facebook. No sooner had I seen it then I was on booking train tickets. Over the next few days I thought about where I would go from Berwick, whether to Bamburgh or Lindisfarne, Alnwick or St. Abbs. I packed no fewer than four Ordnance Survey maps and of course the time I needed navigational assistance I didn’t have the right one. The day took me from Berwick inland to Dryburgh Abbey near St. Boswells then up the Borders Railway to Edinburgh and home from the capital. The walk around the walls at Berwick was the only clearly planned bit of the day when it began. It was only on the pier that I ended up deciding on Dryburgh.

It got sunnier the further east I got. I had managed to snaffle a First Class ticket and I had a table seat to myself as the train left Central bound eventually for Penzance. Even the comfy seats would have been little comfort if I was going that far. From Edinburgh, the train soon hit East Lothian, crossing the fields as I smiled and reflected that it was good to be home, even just to pass through.


I always like to stop in Berwick Station. It was built on the site of the old Berwick Castle, one of the mightiest fortifications in these islands, with the great hall right where the platforms now are. Precious little survives, only a small bit of wall across the tracks from the station buildings. Luckily the walls are much more intact and I was soon up on them, looking down on the town going about its business in the sunshine. I hadn’t realised that from the bridge where the Marygate joins the Castlegate that it is possible to see beyond the Town Hall to Bamburgh and Lindisfarne. The views from the walls are cracking, even better from the pier designed by John Rennie of Phantassie, with the sea shimmering and the sunshine reflecting off the scaffolding currently gracing Lindisfarne Castle. There were lots of folk out walking or running, quite a few fishing by the lighthouse. I often fall asleep or sometimes even wake up to the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 and Berwick is the point in the Inshore Forecast where north the area stretches to Rattray Head near Peterhead and south to Whitby. The sea was gorgeous, calm and sparkly, not quite the scene on the Lowry trail board on the lighthouse but just right for the day. I hadn’t done this walk for a while. I used to do it every so often when I still lived in Dunbar and I had an Open University essay to write. I often went for a walk around the walls planning my essay out in my head. Then I took out my notebook. I relived those times and thought of future studies as well as the more immediate future and where I wanted to spend the rest of the day.

The 67 bus, operated by Perryman’s, must run on one of the most scenic routes in these islands, from Berwick eventually to Galashiels 40 miles away in the heart of the Scottish Borders. It took a good while to even cross the border, delving down farm tracks and lanes, eventually doing so at Coldstream just as I was about to doze off. Norham Castle, just on the English side, always looks imposing and impressive and one of these days I will need to go. Kelso looked lovely in the sunshine with its impressive mercantile buildings. Even more impressively there was a group of lads out playing and one of them had a Hibs top on, not something I see that often, certainly putting right the sight of Tynecastle earlier in the day. Anyway, as we neared St. Boswells, I was looking at my maps and trying to hatch a plan to get to Smailholm Tower but it turned out to be 5 miles from Dryburgh, not so easy when on foot. When I got to Dryburgh, I bought a guidebook for Smailholm, so at least I can read about it if not actually get there.


From St. Boswells I had a pleasant half-hour walk along the side of the Tweed to Dryburgh Abbey, stopping for a few moments en route at the Temple of the Muses dedicated to the Border poet James Thomson. The muses were worth a closer look, more modern and beguiling than the more conventional Greek ones in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. Dryburgh Abbey is in a stunning location right by the Tweed. It is ruined but what ruins there are! I particularly love the floral window at the end. I just wandered a while, admiring the architecture but just loving the peace and serenity. I sat for a wee while by the river and read and it was utterly lovely.

Owing to the sparsity of buses, I decided to walk to Melrose, around 4 miles, through woods and up a road which was closed off to vehicular traffic lending it an eerie feel. I half expected the crew of Top Gear to drive past me in a rally car or something. The first part of the path led me to Newtown St. Boswells though I was only certain of this when I went to the cash machine and the receipt told me where I was. Anyway, not long before I eventually reached Melrose, now in scorching sunshine, I stopped off at the Rhymer’s Stone, dedicated to the 14th century poet Thomas the Rhymer, who apparently fell asleep there and was met by the Queen of the Fairies who led him off for what he thought was three days but in fact turned out to be seven years, imparting wisdom and bestowing on him truth. I had not long left Dryburgh, the burial place of Sir Walter Scott and much of his family, including his biographer John Wilson Lockhart, and it reminded me of just how literary rich the Borders are. That’s before considering the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg.


I reached Melrose and decided to catch the bus up the road to Tweedbank, terminus of the new Borders Railway. I say ‘new’, it’s been open two years. It was new to me and I reached Tweedbank with a couple of minutes to spare and the train to Edinburgh waiting. The journey to the capital took just shy of an hour and passed through some stunning countryside, much reminiscent of the East Coast Main Line in Berwickshire with quaint villages and thick forest plantations for much of the route, and it was only nearer Midlothian that there were more signs of life, with the bonus of crossing the old viaduct just beyond Newtongrange.

It was still beautiful, sunny and warm in the capital and after tea I had a walk around the New Town. I’ll write another post about it soon since it was psychogeographical in nature but I wanted to share a random bit of serendipity. I was walking along Northumberland Street, a nice bit of symmetry considering where my day started, and a couple met their friend just outside a house. The house had a plaque on it declaring it was where one John Wilson Lockhart had lived, biographer of Walter Scott and buried in the same plot at Dryburgh Abbey where I had been only a few hours before. Everything is connected, even in the unlikeliest ways and certainly not planned, best-laid or otherwise.

 

Kilchurn Castle


Buses and trains from Glasgow to Oban pass through Dalmally, a village right in the middle of Argyll on the shores of Loch Awe. Either mode will reward the passer-by with an excellent view over Loch Awe towards a castle that sits on its edge. Kilchurn Castle is gorgeous and this being Scotland, its grey stone walls appear on countless books and tourist brochures. Unlike most other achingly photogenic castles in Scotland, Kilchurn Castle not only isn’t signposted but is absolutely free to get into, along a path from a small car park. I had never been and it was only when passing by one day recently that I finally managed to get there.

It was the start of July and the weather was changing by the minute, the sun appearing then hiding behind the clouds. A jacket was a good bet. We parked in a glorified layby and only realised we were on the right road when we saw a small sign on the ground in Historic Scotland style with an arrow below the words ‘TO THE CASTLE’. Just beyond the gate was a red railway bridge that I recognised as on the West Highland Line to Oban. Around us were fields of grass and hills beyond. Along the shoreline on both sides were tents housing anglers and other campers braving the Scottish summer in all its glory. We soon came to the castle and despite being in the middle of Argyll, there were a good few folk about, tempted by its location possibly, maybe some others familiar and here on purpose. One was a family with a wee boy, not long on his feet by the look of him but merrily toddling around nevertheless.


We had been to quite a few Historic Scotland castles and some much less substantial than Kilchurn. We were impressed. It was ruined but we liked that. There was a tower house with a range that would have housed kitchens and apartments on the northern side. It was very easy to walk around and imagine what had once stood there. What made it, though, was the location. Through every window there was an incredible view, up the loch or across to mountains. We wandered for a while then decided to start south. We weren’t the only ones. When we left the castle, we heard a train approaching up the side of Loch Awe, heading for Glasgow. It probably arrived here much the same time as I did but those on board hopefully looked the right way and saw this castle and wondered and planned a visit here, one day finally coming to fruition.

Bothwell Castle

There’s not so many castles in Scotland I haven’t been to at least once. Bothwell Castle, by the Clyde not so far out of Glasgow, is one I have been to more than once but it is also one of those places that doesn’t disappoint on a repeat visit. This post is actually being written on a bench in the courtyard at Bothwell Castle. Right now, probably many weeks before it actually gets posted, it is a gorgeous sunny and warm Bank Holiday Monday. There are a fair few other visitors, a bustle rather than a hustle, with children’s voices pretty much the only human noise interrupting the gentle chirruping birdsong. I’ve wandered about the castle and I’m content just to sit awhile and look about me at birds chasing each other about the donjon or around at the ruins, hazarding a guess at what fitted where.

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I only left the house around lunchtime, having spent ages working out firstly which direction I wanted to go in then what was there after that. I fancied being out of the city. Castles were in my head but I couldn’t be bothered with a tour guide or I would have gone to Dundonald, down in Ayrshire. I like to form my own impressions of places like these. The decision made, I got the train into town, found some lunch then got on another train bound for Uddingston. The 25-minute walk took me along Uddingston Main Street, home to the only funeral directors I’ve ever seen with a community noticeboard in the window, then along Castle Avenue past some very posh hooses with fancy cars parked out front. One had no fewer than three flash motors in the drive. Another had a big front gate facing the road and more defences than this castle will have had in its pomp with the English bearing down on it.

I gather that this is one of those castles which served as a quarry for a century or two, a source of good quality stone for the townhouses up the road. Bothwell’s built out of red sandstone, much like some of the buildings in Dunbar, and I guess the stone is local too, with red soil on the ground into the bargain.

Bothwell is one of the more picturesque castles in Scotland, set high above the Clyde. The photo most often seen of this castle shows the south-eastern tower, just behind where I’m sitting on the left. Facing me is the huge donjon, less photogenic but the heart of the operation where the great and good laid their head at night. From the top I could see across the trees to the tower blocks and pylons of Glasgow’s East End, the great Clyde below, still a flowing river with fish and plantlife before it shortly reaches the big city. The donjon is subtly designed with arches and curves to be found in the unlikeliest places like on the stairs and even in the basement. Down there is a decent example of castle graffiti from 1786, in the reign of George III and predating the French Revolution and the US Constitution. It’s not the oldest I’ve seen – Crichton Castle has that distinction with a mark from a passing visitor from 1745 – but it’s good enough for me.

It’s good to see families dotted about the place. In this age of the iPad and instant entertainment, being out in the sunshine and running about is brilliant, even if they might not necessarily learn very much in the process. That’s not the point of the exercise, more being out in the world and being bright-eyed and curious for what’s around them, ducking in and out of doorways and climbing up and down stairs. I’m going to have another wander around before I go, to see what I’ve missed the first time and survey the kingdom from up high before I go back down amongst it. There’s a lot worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Proclaimers Live

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Leith
Since this post was written in May, BBC Scotland have broadcast a documentary marking the 30th anniversary of This Is The Story, the Proclaimers’ first album, narrated by David Tennant. It was a very well-done insight into the band’s career and the resonance their songs have for so many of us. It will be on the iPlayer for a wee while for those within the British Isles.

I saved it especially. A new Proclaimers album, even just a live one. It deserved special attention. So, as my train crossed the Mearns after a day trip to Dunnottar, I clicked through and found the album, recorded last year far off in California. (Live At The Belly Up is the title.) Soon Sky Takes The Soul, once my ringtone, came through my ears and I knew it was good. As the train moved south, more than once I mouthed the words and moved my head to the music as thankfully the train was quiet at that point. Yellow fields were out the window as I slid further down the seat to the tunes of Letter From America and Over And Done With. A broad smile shifted my facial muscles nearer Arbroath with Spinning Around In The Air, words of Sam Cooke’s voice and quipping of old Boston as out the window were sand dunes and the Fife coast beyond. Sean, from the Sunshine on Leith album, starts with simple guitar chords, just right for a sea as the sun set, dark, moody.

Appropriately Cap In Hand, all about an independent Scotland, came on passing through Angus, an SNP heartland, and past Buddon Ness with its signs denoting use by the Ministry of Defence. Through Dundee came the newer Rainbows and Happy Regrets, quite appropriately for the City of Discovery, and then Misty Blue as the train got busier and the light slowly left the sky, dark clouds and darker arches of the Tay Bridge as it coursed towards Fife.

Then came Sunshine on Leith, even though I was still by the Tay. The Proclaimers are both much older than they were when it was first recorded in 1990 and the older voices suited the more soulful and subdued feel. ‘While I’m worth’ was softer, the words ‘tears clear my blindness’ emphasised more than the original, making it more of a ballad in this version. Sunshine on Leith is still the best song ever written, especially with the refrain played on a mandolin instead of a fiddle in the original, and it made me gasp and tears just about came into the bargain. Wow. It felt appropriate for my mood at the end of a long day, more chilled but still unspeakably beautiful.

Hate My Love For You struck up and I sat back up in my chair, a reminder that Perthshire fields were still out the window and I had a while until the train hit Glasgow. I’m On My Way was as ever loud and celebratory, hopefully of the moment when louder folk out on the piss were to alight at Perth. As the train passed close to the Tay again, there were nice reflections of the trees on the river in the twilight. Then I Met You was more urgent and faster than normal but had a nice guitar riff. The loud folk duly left the train as the train got to Perth.

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) is the best-known Proclaimers song so invariably it is left until nearer the end. I always say there are better Proclaimers songs but this one isn’t so bad either. Indeed I was still nearly jumping about the train even through the tiredness which was hitting me ever more as the train moved steadily south. Again Craig and Charlie sounded older but it was a nice twist on it with a softer guitar and also without the ‘da-da-da-da-da’ bit coming in too early from the crowd, a common theme through live Proclaimers performances, particularly here in Scotland.

The curtain call came with Make My Heart Fly, a gentle number from the first album ‘This Is The Story’, a gentle air with the guys in harmony, a bit of piano instead of the flute, which suited it. Life With You is always reliable, especially with added electric guitar. Then the guitar strum which led into the finale, ‘The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’. What the Californian crowd would make of mentions of the Hibees, Wishaw and Kilmarnock bonnets, one can only speculate. It was awesome, more upbeat than the original but still a song of the night. As the guitar struck up, my hand hit my notebook in time more than once. The Proclaimers turned into rock gods at this point too, with the guitar leading into a loud crescendo, as frenzied as they get as the song and the set drew to a close. I was still in Perthshire but it was an incredible way to spend a train journey, with my favourite band in my ears and some of my favourite songs rendered anew. I certainly didn’t want for anything.

Sunburnt on Arran

This is a rare Thursday morning post since I still have a backlog of posts and I want to write some new stuff! Here’s a story about an adventure to Arran a few weeks ago.

Growing up on the east coast of Scotland, it isn’t very often that the sun is warm enough to get yourself burnt. I was an indoors sort of person anyway so my skin turning any colour apart from its usual pale pastiness or acne-infused red was a very rare event. If I have been sunburnt, though, it has usually happened in the most unlikely of places. A few years back, I had a day trip doubleheader one weekend in May, to York on Saturday and Lochleven Castle on the Sunday. I came back from Kinross, of all places, bright red. The morning after I was on Arran recently, I looked in the mirror and saw that my forehead and nose were roughly the shade and hue of your average postbox, not at all expected when heading off some place on a CalMac ferry.

I had been to Arran once before, a couple of years ago, randomly enough on Easter Sunday. That day was beautiful and sunny though naturally I came back just as pale as normal. We had walked out of the ferry terminal at Brodick and turned right along the front, ending up just below Brodick Castle before we headed back and on the ferry again. This time I had ventured the view that perhaps we would turn left instead of right and see where we ended up. This was promptly changed as the ferry drew closer to Brodick by the left side bearing a couple of builder’s yards while to our right were Goatfell and a generally idyllic mountain/woodland sort of scene. We turned right, onto a street that we could walk down, and soon ended up by the golf course looking back towards the mainland and the ferry already coursing back to Ardrossan.

Before this trip, I had been looking at my OS map and thinking up possible ideas for our 3 hours or so on Arran, including a trip up to the north end of the island to see Lochranza Castle, since it was a castle and it was there. Three hours isn’t enough to do much more than wander and follow our noses, especially as we ended up in the grounds of Brodick Castle, sat on a bench looking down across the gardens and Brodick Bay below. Brodick Castle was shut but we weren’t fussed – it is a National Trust castle with a roof and everything so not our style – so we just sat and pottered about the grounds, up to a sequoia tree and to a reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse, following the trails and admiring the flora before making our way back to the boat.

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In retrospect, it might have been sitting on the ferry in the middle of the Firth of Clyde that gave me the sunburn. More likely the way over since the return leg was cloudy and cooler, the Ailsa Craig not visible as it was on the way out. It seems a small price to pay to just be on a ferry and set sail, to watch the land grow faint on the horizon then disappear as a new mass comes into view. I like ferries wherever they are – even the Renfrew Ferry, across the Clyde to Yoker, has its effect – for the feeling of adventure, of being on your holidays, even temporarily. Even being in a ferry port, like Oban or Wemyss Bay with its Victorian splendour, can do that to me. Thankfully the sunburn doesn’t come with every trip or I might have to deny myself the pleasure of one of CalMac’s fine vessels sailing across the sea somewhere interesting.

Edinburgh Waverley

‘This train is for Edinburgh Waverley. This train will call at Croy, Falkirk High…’

I hear this refrain with considerable regularity, the voice of Fletcher Mathers relayed across the Scotrail service I’ve just boarded bound for the capital. Waverley is the main railway station in Edinburgh, sitting in Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of the Castle and much of the city centre sitting high above. At the end of the platforms facing towards Glasgow, you can see Princes Street, the National Gallery and the Bank of Scotland offices. If heading south, you get a view of Governor’s House, the last remaining part of the old Calton Jail that once sat where St. Andrew’s House, the Scottish Government premises, are now. Governor’s House isn’t visible from Regent Road – it is the tower that sits on a rock, pretty much only visible from the eastern end of Waverley Station. An underrated perspective you get from Waverley is when you step onto Market Street. Facing you is the old Scotsman building, now a luxury hotel. The printing presses would have been juddering to life and producing the public prints just across from the station.

The first glimpse of the capital that many get on leaving Waverley is walking up Waverley Steps towards Princes Street. Many folk of course take the escalator that was recently installed when the station was tarted up. The Steps were covered over since the top was the windiest place in Edinburgh, the product of walking up from a valley onto a busy, bustling city street. At the top of Waverley Steps, look left then right. Left you get a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle high up on its rock and Princes Street stretching out with buses, trams and all else; right you get Register House, Leith Street and up to Calton Hill, the Nelson Monument and the folly. There is also the Balmoral Hotel just right there.

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I have spent a lot of time in Waverley in my life. One of my most vivid childhood memories is from when I was a kid. I was diagnosed as being autistic when I was 6. It required several trips to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (otherwise known as the Sick Kids) in Edinburgh. On one of them we were standing at the door of an intercity train when we were delayed because one of the roof tiles had smashed above us. I have memories of when my school class used to go to the outdoor education centre in Linlithgow and walking up the platform for the train, looked after by one of the older girls in the class. We also went on a magical mystery tour to Dunfermline, which I think I’ve written about here before, and came to Waverley the week before to sort the tickets.

As a day tripper, Waverley soon became even more familiar as most Saturdays, then most weeks, I darted from a (normally late) train from Dunbar across the station to a train some place else. When I started going to the football again, the spirited walks from Easter Road to Waverley in time for the train started too, this time late at night to catch the last train I could get for my connection back in Glasgow. Scotrail, naturally, put on engineering works later at night on that line last year meaning that the last train I could get back to Glasgow was not only 10 minutes earlier but went via Bathgate and Airdrie, taking longer.

The quickest, though not always the easiest, way to get from Dunbar to Edinburgh was by train. Trains were infrequent, mostly every two hours in both directions, though of course the last year or so I lived down there saw Scotrail introduce a more regular service. The last train to Dunbar on a Saturday night from the capital used to be 7pm. It is now about 10pm, I believe, though for many years, my day trips usually had to be curtailed by 7 so I could catch the last train home, an intercity train invariably full of folk heading for hen or stag dos in Newcastle. Or home from hen or stag dos in Edinburgh. Either way there were loads of drunken Geordies. Nice.

Regardless how often I’m there, arriving into Waverley gives me a great thrill every time. It’s a combination of being in a dear, familiar place, the hustle and bustle, the brightness from the glass roof and just the spirit of adventure even if my reasons for being there are prosaic and dull. The appeal continues even while I sometimes grate my teeth at the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ emblems that appear within the station. Waverley is one of very few railway stations named after a novel and to be fair they have acknowledged it well with loads of Walter Scott quotes, hence the hearts. The quotes are great, the endorsement of Ian Cathro’s mob really isnae. I think Network Rail has realised this and some of the station’s signs are now green, just to sate those of us on the side of the angels.

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Edinburgh is the city I was born in so I have a special relationship with the place, even while I call Glasgow, its great rival, home and contentedly so. Undoubtedly the best way to enter our capital is by train, so you can walk up Waverley Steps and hit Princes Street, even if you might want to be off it pretty rapidly. Any station named after a novel is fine with me, especially one where you can go pretty much anywhere in the country with not much difficulty and definitely one which shows off its city to its best effect from whatever angle.

Walking in cities you don’t live in

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Footdee, Aberdeen
Scotland has seven cities – our capital Edinburgh, Glasgow (where I live), Dundee, Aberdeen (above), Inverness, Perth and Stirling. The Queen makes new cities every so often so I imagine we’ll have an eighth one at some point – probably Paisley or Dunfermline (which already advertises itself as such on the road signs going into the place, despite not having a cathedral). I know all of them to varying degrees and I can generally find something to keep my attention in all seven.

Recently I was in Aberdeen. I have family there and it was indeed business involving that particular relative that led me to get up at an agriculturally early hour one Saturday to go for a bus up the A90 to the Granite City. Our lunch venue was a little way away from the city centre and Aberdeen isn’t like Perth or even Edinburgh where most things are concentrated in the one place or are near to it. Still I decided to walk, since I had been sitting on a bus for three hours and so I could clear my head before the social stuff later. I walked out of the bus station and towards Union Street. It being a Saturday lunchtime, the place was busy with folk milling about shopping or heading off some place else. As so often, I had a tune in my head but not one I could sing out loud. The week before, Hibs had played Aberdeen in a Scottish Cup semi final and Hibs got beat. One song sung from our end of the ground referred to the alleged tendency of folk from the north east to enjoy carnal relations with sheep. That cheery stereotype-laden ditty went through my head as I walked up to the crossing at Union Street, thankfully not with images attached.

My route was worked out early on Google Maps, up by His Majesty’s Theatre onto something called Rosemount Viaduct then onto Beechgrove Terrace and finally King’s Gate where the hotel was. A viaduct is a bridge so I wasn’t sure whether Google Maps was about to lead me onto a dual carriageway well out of my way but I decided to see where I got to anyway. On my right soon came Union Terrace Gardens. Aberdeen City Council is perennially skint and it decided to raise a few quid by selling off Union Terrace Gardens, a perfectly nice park with floral arrangements, to property developers. Morons. Thankfully, the gardens are still there though plenty of other building work was happening around me, including the refurbishment of the Aberdeen Art Gallery. Next to His Majesty’s Theatre is the city’s Central Library, which from the outside looks much the same as Edinburgh Central Library aside from being cast in granite. I like libraries with cupolas and turrets – like indeed my old work at Langside in Glasgow.

Rosemount Viaduct turned out to be a fairly busy normal street leading into a residential area. I passed some eejit with a broad Aberdonian accent but wearing a Celtic top. The Old Firm were just about to start their game back in Glasgow and this galoot was trying to locate his pals so they could hit the pub to watch the Gruesome Twosome fight it out or rather Celtic horse The Rangers 5-1. Aberdeen has a perfectly good football team, FFS, even if they win semi finals by flukey goals.

Not so far from the hotel was an opportunity for sightseeing. I take an interest in the media and when I realised I would be walking along Beechgrove Terrace, I knew immediately that it was the location of the BBC’s Aberdeen offices, where the Beechgrove Garden and Radio Scotland’s Out Of Doors are produced. The phone was duly wheeched out the pocket and a snap was taken for posterity.

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BBC Scotland’s Aberdeen HQ
As I walked through Aberdeen, it wasn’t like my normal city wanderings in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I realised just now that it was because my surroundings were much less familiar. Glasgow is where I live and despite the fact there are many parts of this city I don’t know, it is still sort-of my home turf. Same with Edinburgh. I know Aberdeen fairly well but it isn’t a city I like all that much. It’s grey and always bloody baltic. It has some charms, like the art gallery, Footdee and the University area, but not too much else besides the beautiful part of the country around it. Even Dundee raises my spirits more than Aberdeen but that’s probably because it has a statue of my style icon Desperate Dan right in the middle of it.

I spend a lot of my life travelling around so I have become familiar with a lot of towns and cities up and down the UK and Ireland too, come to think of it. There are towns it is hard to warm to. Glenrothes is one, Cumbernauld, Galashiels, Falkirk, Penicuik. But folk still live in them. There are many folk who don’t like Glasgow. They’re deeply mistaken and misguided (especially if they live in provincial cities with Desperate Dan statues) but they’re entitled to their view nevertheless. We can’t like everywhere. There’s good in everywhere, though, even if it’s just library cupolas and seeing where they film The Beechgrove Garden.

Digest: May 2017

May 2017 has been busy with work and life but I have also managed to cram in quite a few interesting adventures along the way. Some of them have been written about here, some haven’t, but I’ve decided to start writing a monthly digest of my doings, beginning with May. I seem to be so busy with stuff that being able to sit down and reflect has become difficult. Almost immediately I seem to have one experience then straight onto the next. I get like that with blog posts too and indeed more than once I’ve looked at the stats and seen a post getting read a few times and I’ve had to think which one it was. The idea came reading another blog, The Glasgow Gallivanter, which had something similar. Hopefully she won’t mind me shamelessly appropriating the idea.

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Bothwell Castle

1st May was a public holiday so I had the day off. It was a bright sunny day and as ever I pissed about the house all morning trying to firstly get out of bed then decide where I wanted to go. The winner was Bothwell Castle, not far out of Glasgow in Uddingston, which I have been to a few times but was particularly good this time since castles often blend into one for me and there are architectural details I notice anew each time. I also wrote a blog post about it while actually there, scribbled into my notebook, and that post appears in June, I think. Rather than get the train back, I decided to go by bus instead and on the way through the East End, the bus came to Glasgow Cross and the idea came to do a Streets of Glasgow walk the length of the High Street. That walk was one of my favourites of that series so far, particularly for the phrase in that blog post describing an office block as being of the ‘middle finger school of modern architecture’. Each of the posts gives me an ever greater understanding and appreciation of this great city I call home and High Street was particularly valuable in showing the contrasts in architecture, demography and everything else that exists here.

That Friday I met a friend who was over from Ireland. I had some ideas but she suggested we go somewhere I had never been before. A surprisingly short time later, we walked in the door of the Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton. A month later, I am still inspired by having been there. Earlier today, I was thinking about the block in their politics section dedicated to the late Jo Cox. Civility and decency in politics would be a great blessing round about now. I wrote a blog post about our visit to the GWL and it generated a fair amount of blog traffic as well as some very lovely comments from the GWL. After we left the GWL, we went to the Necropolis, a beautiful and beguiling cemetery full of the city’s merchants and eminent folk, then to Glasgow Cathedral. Provand’s Lordship I hadn’t been to before but I was impressed by its displays showing the history of the city around this one house.

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Glasgow Women’s Library

Dunnottar Castle was the following Saturday and I did write about that on the blog. I still can’t believe I walked along the coastal path in a thick haar but I’m glad I did for the effect when the sun came out.

Craigmillar Castle came the following week and words have also appeared here about it, as also about my walk two days later in the footsteps of Hibs.

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Craigmillar Castle and my attempt at modern art

Last Saturday, I went on a day trip to Fife. I got a bus to Kirkcaldy and the tale of a seagull and a steak bridie that transpired there has since appeared in the form of an entry to the Scottish Book Trust’s Nourish competition. I walked around the coast to Dysart, through the rain that soon stopped, and enjoyed a few minutes looking at the wonderful Landing Light sculptures and across the haze on the Firth. Since the day wasn’t up to much, I got on a bus to St. Andrews, passing through Methil, Leven, Lundin Links, Pittenweem and Anstruther along the way. Anstruther was absolutely jumping, it being a nice day again plus being the day of the Harbour Festival. A few years ago, I was in Anstruther that day and promptly did a walk along the Fife Coastal Path to Crail, which was brilliant even though I almost had to shepherd some cows. When I reached St. Andrews, I was soon on the bus back to Glasgow, which was fine with me since sometimes I like just watching the world go by, covering great distances but not venturing too far on foot.

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Crichton Castle
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View from Soutra to the Hopetoun Monument and Haddington
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Jedburgh Abbey

This also helped since the following day, Sunday, I was out again, this time in Midlothian and the Borders with my dad. We went to Crichton Castle, a rare sunny day to see that place at its best effect since invariably it is moody and gloomy with the cloud. The courtyard at Crichton is magnificent, the product of the fifth Earl of Bothwell’s trips to Italy in the later part of the 16th century. We ventured down the A68 to Soutra, stopping off at the Aisle which was once a monastic hospital. It has some very fine views across East Lothian, to Edinburgh, Fife and even Perthshire. Stop off there, if you can. Jedburgh Abbey was where we ended up, a fine abbey, the biggest and boldest of the Border Abbeys in my view but still rather fine. Jedburgh is a pretty town with a distinct character, a very Borders sort of a place.

So, that’s the tale of my May adventures. Thanks to all readers and particularly to those new readers who have come this way lately. Until next time…

Sitting by the river

In May 2008, I went on the first of a great many solo day trips. I wrote a little about it in the recent post Durham Cathedral, as a matter of fact. Why I am mentioning it again was that a couple of weeks ago I had to do a factory reset on my tablet, where I store a fair whack of my photos, and start again. I uploaded photos from my cameras and my phone, and slowly but surely I’ve managed to get a fair few memories back onto my tablet to flick through whenever I please. One of the photos I found on my old Kodak camera was of that day, taken by the Wear, sitting on some steps right on the edge of the river. I sat there for ages and I’ve sat there quite a few times since, sometimes with other folks sitting nearby, other times entirely alone. I have been there in all seasons, including in the winter when the higher river level claims the steps temporarily.

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I’ve written before about how absolutely life-affirming that day was. I’m not normally one for sitting for long distances – there’s too much to see and do whenever I get away – but that day I sat there for quite a while watching the rowers on the river and folk pass by on the path behind me. It was quite a cloudy day, as I recall, but there was a little sun, which passed through the leaves in a way that never fails to make me thrill and love the world just a tiny bit more. I think I will need to get back to Durham soon – that’s usually the problem when I look through photos, I get pangs that lead me to journey planning. Never normally a bad thing, I hasten to add, just as sitting by a river, even for a seaside person like myself, can soothe the soul just about as much as a wave can.