Reading more often

When I go to the football, I tend to travel light, usually preferring to carry a book or a notebook along with my iPod. My normal mode is to pick a book off my considerable to-read pile, though I don’t always get it read. I’ve been trying to finish a book review for months but I have carried the book to at least three games and it’s still not done. Sometimes, though, I have managed to read a book in its entirety on the journey to and from Edinburgh or wherever the game is. It helps that I am a quick reader, even if I don’t read enough.

I suspect I am not the only one. I spend too much time looking at my phone. Twitter musings and Facebook updates aren’t conducive to good concentration, sadly. Just being able to read and not bother to scroll every few minutes would improve my life considerably. I probably still read more than most – I give out books for a living, after all – but most of my reading happens on a screen rather than in print. I don’t think I read the same on a tablet. I flick between pages faster and my eyes dance over the screen rather than lingering on each printed word. The other day I re-read the latest Quintin Jardine novel because the first time I didn’t get a whole lot out of the experience. It’s still reading and still a better way to spend my time than spear fishing or watching Hearts or whatever but it is still a lesser pleasure than actually sitting somewhere nice reading a book.

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Leith Links
Recently I took a book with me and read it in full well before I headed home. I read most of it on the train – it was called #girlboss by Sophia Amoruso, incidentally – and was going to go up to Calton Hill to finish it until I remembered that I was in Edinburgh and sitting on a hill to read wasn’t happening with the wind. I still went up to Calton Hill, though, but sat for half an hour in Leith Links instead to finish reading it. I think the best reading moments happen when outside and I don’t do it often enough. I of course live in Scotland, though, so the climate doesn’t always suit al fresco reading even at the height of summer. A few years ago, I went on a day trip to Dumbarton Castle and sat at the bottom of the Rock finishing reading what is now one of my favourite books, Findings by Kathleen Jamie. It felt appropriate to have a sweeping vista of the Clyde before me as I read such a far-reaching book.

So far this current season, I’ve read three books travelling to and from the football. The trip to Alloa saw me reading the wonderfully warped Hings by Chris McQueer, or at least for part of the journey as I was laughing too hard to read any more of the book on the train. Game one of the season, against Partick Thistle at Easter Road, was a re-read of My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir, a reminder of past work and hopefully a prompt to future travels too. The League Cup game the following Tuesday saw me take the memoir of the music journalist Sylvia Patterson, I’m Not With The Band: A Writer’s Life Lost In Music. I even sat and read some of it while sitting on the veranda of a pasta restaurant in Leith, perhaps looking a tiny bit cosmopolitan along the way. Probably not, though.

I’ve read various stories lately about the sales of eBooks going down and conversely people reading less generally due to how busy life is. Planning just how to take time out takes up more time than the time out itself. Reading is a powerful insight into someone else’s world, whether it be biography or a novel. It is in essence a conversation between writer and reader and there are times, like in real life, when the conversation is loaded on one side or another. From the writer’s side, it can be because it isn’t sufficiently clear to make sense to someone else. The reader might be hindered by whatever they are feeling or thinking at the time, as much as how they read it especially if they are like me and in front of a tablet computer screen.

Having time to read is precious. I spend a lot of my life in transit and my life is enriched by being able to read even for a little part of it. Reading makes me a better person and certainly a better writer. Carrying a book is a natural part of my life though mainly they are books to put on a shelf. Being able to get a book for me and really sit down and read it is an ever rarer treat these days. Then again I also have a deep urge to write so a balance might have to come down somewhere in the middle. I might just have to wait for every second Saturday and use the travelling as my weekly or fortnightly reading time, hopefully not during the game itself.

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Names

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I like well chosen names, those folk have laboured long and hard over to get right. Unlike this blog with a name that took a minute and a half’s thought and takes the piss out of my East Lothian accent missing out the ‘g’s. Two of my current favourites are two Chinese restaurants in the Ibrox area of Glasgow, Wok This Way and One 2 Wan. Another good one is the barber’s I used to use in Dunbar, The Cutting Room, which is also the title of a Louise Welsh novel.

Anyway, the best place I’ve seen for names is Buckhaven in Fife. It isn’t the finest place I’ve ever been, indeed the neighbouring Leven and Methil never fail to lower my spirits, but some of the shop names are absolute crackers. Wax ‘n’ Relax is one; nearby is Mr Mechanic (Motor Factors), the brackets very important there, with the sign showing what looks like a villain from the Beano. I was on the bus or else a photo would swiftly have been snapped. A street name in the vicinity was Rising Sun Road. Undoubtedly top of the league is another hairdressers, Curl Up And Dye, which nearly made me collapse the first time I saw it.

Sometimes it is the little things that put a wee bit of sunshine in our day. They may be unique to us or universal but whatever works. At times the world can be a dark place. Life is too short to spend hypnotised by its complexity. There are times when, to quote Malcolm Middleton, we just have to laugh into the dark. That is at least until we curl up and dye.

Membership

Like most of the population, I carry several cards in my wallet for a panoply of purposes. Some financial, others retail. Two are there just in case I happen to be in a place to use them: membership cards for Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland. I have just renewed my membership for Historic Scotland for the eighth time – it is probably the easiest money I spend all year. The NTS card hasn’t been renewed as often, partly for financial reasons, also because I prefer ruined castles to the kind the NTS tends to manage. I bought an NTS membership again last year after a few years’ absence. I had recently visited the Hill House, the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed hoose high up in Helensburgh, and I decided to take the plunge and buy an NTS card, even if I might not use it that often. I have used it a few times over the piece, most recently at Alloa Tower in July. I also used it to get back into Brodick Country Park after popping into the gift shop.

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Hill House
My nearest NTS property is Pollok House, sat in the very fine Pollok Country Park. I can be there in half an hour. I haven’t been in for a few years – country houses really don’t float my boat though Pollok does have a very fine collection of Spanish art, as well as its magnificent grounds. Glasgow also has the Tenement House, a strange wee time capsule in Garnethill, a flat once belonging to a Miss Agnes Toward who kept the flat just as it was in the early part of the 20th century, and Holmwood House, which I went to last year some time. Holmwood is a pleasant house, in its own grounds in the south side not far from Cathcart Station. It was owned by the Couper brothers, local mill owners who donated the funds to build the Couper Institute, still the public library and community hub for the area, and designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson with all the characteristic stylistic touches that are his hallmark.

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Holmwood
Many of the NTS properties are in Ayrshire or Aberdeenshire. Ayrshire is fairly close to me though a fair few of the NTS properties there are only open seasonally. Even those tend to be Robert Burns-themed. I like our national poet, don’t get me wrong, I just need to be in the right mood for the Burns overkill that can sometimes ensue. My favourite NTS property in Ayrshire is Culzean Castle. I visited the castle about three years ago, getting the train down from Glasgow and then a bus from Ayr. The castle is in a stunning setting and as much as it is a fine house, the views are really more up my street. I walked in the country park one baltic day in February this year, thankfully sheltered a bit by the trees until we got back to Maidens and the wind hit.

Culzean Castle
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Barry Mill
My membership is up in October. I’m not sure to renew it yet. One reason that might sway me is that it might subsidise some of the smaller NTS properties, such as Preston Mill in East Linton and the wonderful Barry Mill in Angus. I am known to Tweet in praise of places I visit and in special circumstances to write to the organisation concerned to pass on my complements more directly. I went to Barry Mill about two years ago and the miller was doing an amazing job of showing folk around and passing on the skills and history of the place. It is in a very nice setting, between Carnoustie and Dundee, with trees and a burn passing nearby. The afternoon we had there stayed with me for a while. I wrote to the NTS in praise of Barry Mill, because if the management in Edinburgh don’t know the value of their outlying places then they might be lost. It’s why I will probably renew my membership, even while I might not necessarily get to all the places I want to see. It’s an investment to ensure other people can do so and enjoy them just as much if not more so than I ever would.

 

Cardonald

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Cardonald’s in the distance. Taken from Crookston Castle
I live in a part of Glasgow called Cardonald. If you don’t know it, you’ve probably passed by on the M8. It’s a suburb and it’s fine, I like living here. I’ve lived here four years now, which is amazing to me given I never thought I would leave Dunbar. Despite being here for four years, there are still places in the locality I have never been to. Just across the railway and the M8 from here is Cardonald Park. It is what was left after they built the motorway across the Fifty Pitches where once there were fifty football pitches. I pass Cardonald Park every day on the way to work but until the other day I had never been in it. It’s fine. I was walking across it on the way for a bus at the hospital. It seems pleasant enough to be in, with dog walkers and folks just passing by.

Five minutes walk away is Craigton Cemetery. I don’t really do cemeteries normally; not because they creep me out but because they generally have little interest to me. The social historian in me tends to come out, though, as with my visit to the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh (as written about in Hibstory) or when I’ve been in the Necropolis just behind Glasgow Cathedral. Despite being in both of these places in the last few months, I still haven’t been to my local cemetery. Since at some point I will probably be a customer of the crematorium on site, I maybe should go while I’m alive. Like an increasing number of cemeteries, Craigton has a Heritage Trail, produced by Glasgow City Council. One of the more prominent people buried there is Bill Struth, one of the more successful managers of Rangers, who play just over the hill at Ibrox. Apparently it is possible to see the ground from Struth’s grave, which has an agreeable sort of symmetry, I suppose.

Not so far away is Crookston Castle, which I have been to, as written about here, but in that post I wrote about Rosshall Gardens, which I still haven’t been to.

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In writing this post I feel embarrassed that I have seen many fine places all across this land but places minutes away are still to be seen. To be fair, when I worked in museums, one of the things I heard most of all was ‘I’ve walked by for years and never been in’. You visit those places far away because of the journey. Even the streets I have written about so far in the city centre and the West End are far enough away to feel exotic. Even turning a different way, as I did in the park the other day, yields some insight, a sense of belonging, of being on my own turf even when where I step is unfamiliar. It might wait until the winter to do some more exploring of my area, perhaps when light is short and I just feel like going a short way rather than further afield. It will wait, though, since it’s all around me and I can just set out whenever it appeals.

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Rather lovely mural on Paisley Road West

Railway signs

There are some day trips when I take loads of photographs, others not so many. Only a fraction get used on this blog while others only exist to make me smile, to ignite a memory or as a reminder of an idea for later. One day trip last year when I took far more photographs than ever appeared here was the day I went to York. Being a details guy, I love signage and the National Railway Museum has absolutely loads dotted about the place, some more obvious than others. I have been there maybe seven or eight times and every time I see many new things. That particular day was great. I remember unsuccessfully trying to take a selfie beside the sign for the NRM’s library, which is wonderfully named Search Engine. (Serves me right for trying to take a selfie.) Anyway, here are some photographs of some of the very fine signs around the National Railway Museum in York. Hopefully I’ll be back there soon.

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Digest: August 2017

It doesn’t feel so long since I wrote the last one of these. I seem to have been here, there and everywhere in August. I spent the first part of it on annual leave then much of the rest of it in transit. August seems to have been spent either at work or in the east of Scotland, mainly Edinburgh, with not so much time spent actually writing here. As ever, I have my iPad in front of me with photos to help me remember what I’ve done this month so here we go.


1st August I went to Dumbarton Castle. I had been away to East Lothian the day before and a lie in was required after a busy day. I was in the house around lunchtime and decided on the trip across the Clyde. I’ve been to Dumbarton Castle quite a few times but not since I stopped working in the town in late 2015. The train journey up from Glasgow was surreal, familiar terrain but not covered for a while, remembering past commutes and people I knew when I worked up there. It was a pleasant day, well, mostly, since it started raining while I was there, but I enjoyed the walk around the Rock, looking up the Clyde to hills and sea lochs and across the landscape to city streets and the Vale of Leven.

The following day was my birthday and I went to my favourite art gallery, Kirkcaldy Galleries, and spent a wee while amidst the Colourists, MacTaggarts and Glasgow Boys paintings.


That Friday, I had a turn around Glasgow, deciding to take in some of the lesser-spotted interesting bits of this great city I call home. First was the Buffalo Bill statue in Dennistoun, put up by a housing company to celebrate the East End Exhibition Centre that once stood nearby, hosting shows by Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley in 1891-1892. This statue stands in a square in the middle of a housing scheme, a wee bit of the Wild West in the East End. It’s a nice touch, paying homage to a past glory and also to the side of every Glaswegian, even us adopted ones, who aspire to be Americans. I hadn’t been to Dennistoun before and it was fine, particularly the stunning library building. I walked back into town along Alexandra Parade, one of those Streets of Glasgow walks, and it was nicer at the eastern end, I have to say, even with the church that looked like a fortress. I also did a Streets walk along Cathedral Street, which I know fairly well, but thought more en route about the ever-changing city landscape, sort of channelling Edwin Morgan. When I reached Queen Street, I ended up doing another of those things I had been meaning on doing for a while, on the train to Anniesland, via Maryhill and Kelvindale. It is one of the city’s branch lines, only opened about ten years ago and I wanted to do it because I had head it announced on the PA at Queen Street so many times as I was en route somewhere else. It was a brief journey, only about 20 minutes, and I mainly just looked out the window at the city passing by. I ended up on a bus from Anniesland to the Botanic Gardens, which spawned another post about the old railway there.

That Saturday I went to see Hibs at Easter Road. We won against Partick Thistle 3-1.


The next day I was away with my dad to Aberdour Castle in Fife and Elcho Castle in Perthshire. Aberdour is a castle I know well and I was glad to wander around the gardens and to get a gander at the painted ceilings, a lesser interest of mine. Thereafter we walked down to the harbour, looking across the Forth to Edinburgh. As we walked down the road, we passed two laddies who had peeled off most of their clothes and were headed for the water. Brave boys. As we walked back, they were out and clad in a towel to warm up. It was a full day and we headed to Dysart for lunch and then to Kirkcaldy for my second visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries in four days. Never object to it, mind. Elcho Castle was a new one to both of us and I liked it, particularly the little design touches characteristic of later Scottish castles.

The following Tuesday night, I was at Easter Road to see Hibs horse Ayr United in the League Cup. Beforehand I dined at an Italian restaurant in Ocean Terminal and sat on the veranda in the gorgeous Leith sunshine reading my book.


My next trip out of the west was Edinburgh again and Easter Road again. Prior to the game, I decided to go a slightly different route to the ground, going round the back of Meadowbank Shopping Park to the old Dunbar’s lemonade factory just behind the stadium.

Guess where I was the following day? Yep, Edinburgh again, Easter Road again, this time though for a play about the early years of Hibs, from its formation in the Cowgate to good days and bad, ‘A Field Of Our Own’, produced by the Strange Town theatre company and staged actually in the stadium, more precisely the East Stand concourse. It was excellent, thought-provoking and emotional at times. I left with my faith in Hibs very much restored after the dire performance against Hamilton the day before. I love my club. I walked to spend a few minutes with my favourite trees, the sequoias in the Botanic Gardens, sitting scribbling, reading and thinking. The evening was to be cultural again, this time an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival about the new book Who Built Scotland, featuring essays on 25 of the most interesting and important Scottish buildings written by Alexander McCall Smith, Alistair Moffat, James Robertson, Kathleen Jamie and James Crawford. I am a big Kathleen Jamie fan but sadly she wasn’t at the event. Instead the other four authors were interviewed by the splendidly acerbic Ruth Wishart, who is an excellent chair of these sorts of events, with the various authors talking about some of their chosen buildings, with the four authors expounding forth on pre-fabs in Kelso, Cairnpapple Hill, Bell Rock Lighthouse, Innerpeffray Library and Abbotsford.


My next trip to the capital came on Wednesday night. I was supposed to be going to a poetry reading at the Book Festival but couldn’t be arsed. I left work early and decided to head straight out of Edinburgh towards Musselburgh, having a chippy at Fisherrow and wandering around the harbour in the warm sunshine. I walked as far as Joppa and as I sauntered, I realised I wasn’t in the right mood for poetry. I headed back into the city, spent a few quid in the Book Festival Bookshop then came home, feeling the benefit of the quieter train home and being in my bed a few minutes earlier.

The Saturday saw yet another trip to Edinburgh, again for the Book Festival, this time for Ian Rankin. I had never seen Rankin live before but wasn’t disappointed. I’ve fallen in and out of love with Rebus but Ian Rankin is on a good run of form. He’s also a very captivating and compelling speaker and held court talking about Rebus in various media, writing and Police Scotland. I had once more left work early and got to Edinburgh earlier than I perhaps had to. I ended up walking up Easter Road and sitting by the Water of Leith for a bit in the sunshine before I walked along the side of the river back into the city to get a chippy before seeing Ian Rankin.


Very early on the Sunday, and I mean early, I left for Dundee. Hibs were playing on the live Sky game at Dens Park. I had a ticket for the posh seats, a very new experience, surreal but not altogether unpleasant, as it happens. Hibs should have won but it turned out 1-1. I also had my first taste of beef bourguignon, which was far better than the football. On the way back into town, my auntie showed me a trail of various murals in some of the city centre’s closes. I haven’t written a post about them yet but I like the idea of using hidden city spaces in that way.

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Right, that’s August. Today, Tuesday, is also the second anniversary of when I started this blog. In the last two years, my confidence as a writer and as a person has grown considerably. Let the words flow. Thanks to all readers and followers. It’s been fun so far. Tomorrow, there will be a post. It’s one I wrote absolutely yonks ago about the National Railway Museum in York. In conclusion, I would like to share a particular place and quotation etched upon it I’ve shared here before but means a lot.

August posts –

Digest: July 2017

Dirleton, Seton and a coastal walk

Streets of Glasgow: Alexandra Parade

Stairs

Places that can’t be reached by public transport

Streets of Glasgow: Cathedral Street

The Dunbar End

In praise of being alone

The Botanics

Castles as cardio

 

Castles as cardio

Historic Scotland are very active on social media advertising their great variety of sites up and down this great land. I scroll through my Facebook feed or Twitter timeline and invariably see the latest missive advertising five sites perfect for visiting in the rain or alternatively in the sunshine. I like that, though, since invariably I start to daydream about where I can plan a trip to in the near future. What they haven’t done yet, as far as I know, is compile a list of those of their properties that give the best workout while walking or clambering around them. I was at the wonderful Kilchurn Castle in Argyll recently and the walk from the car park and then up and down the castle was more than enough to top-up. There are some HS properties, though, which are far more intensive and could rival a gym in their cardio workout possibilities. Not just Holyrood Park, managed by HS, where folk run, do yoga and climb, but the likes of Linlithgow Palace, Tantallon Castle and Craigmillar Castle, to name but three I’ve been to this year. Not to mention the big three, Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart.


I often slag Edinburgh Castle off. The view is pretty decent but not necessarily worth £17. It is also, though, gey steep, built on an extinct volcano and there are a lot of stairs and slopes about the place. There will be some who will get their year’s exercise in a couple of hours at Edinburgh Castle. All Historic Scotland need to do is add a few stretches and squats to the guided tour and the job’s a good ‘un. I’m not unfit but even I am knackered after a visit there. So, it isn’t all bad.


Linlithgow Palace is one of the more complete HS properties and it is possible to make a complete circuit of the building above ground level. There are also a lot of staircases and little nooks and crannies. When I was last there in January, I spent well over an hour wandering and pondering and it’s fair to say I got a workout along the way. Craigmillar is very similar. I was there in May and I know the benefit I got from being there wasn’t just intellectual or emotional. There was a physical gain too. This year is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and HS are missing a trick in not plugging their properties as keep fit destinations. Leap While You Learn might be a half decent slogan. Or History For Health. (There’s a reason I don’t work in advertising. Or healthcare, come to think of it.)

Places that can’t be reached by public transport


Recently I visited Elcho Castle for the first time. It’s a fine place, just by the river Tay not far outside of Perth. Elcho had been on my list for many years but to be fair Elcho isn’t the easiest place to get to. I got there by car but I don’t drive. I don’t plan to either. There’s enough cars and enough motorists without me. Besides I’m a bit of a daydreamer so one wrong move and I would end up in the Clyde. That’s not an optimal scenario, to be honest, so I’ll keep to the buses and the trains. It’s only when places like Elcho are on the to-do list that I begin to reconsider it. Elcho is in a beautiful part of Perthshire, by a village called Rhynd. As far as I can see, Rhynd doesn’t have a bus service. Its nearest town, Bridge of Earn, is 4.6 miles away, a decent walk along a country lane. That’s 4.6 miles one way so if I wanted to get there by my own steam, a 9 mile round trip would be required on foot without considering the journey to get to Bridge of Earn and anything else I might actually want to do that day. Sometimes it’s worth going places with someone who drives.


I can off-road it and have done quite a few times. One of the earliest was in 2010 when I went to Crichton Castle, about 2 miles from Pathhead in Midlothian. I got the bus to Pathhead then walked from there, along another of those country lanes out of the village and towards the hamlet of Crichton. I turned right and walked further down by the church and soon the castle came into view. Crichton is one of my favourite castles, in a dramatic setting high above a valley with precious little urban sprawl to be seen. I’ve been quite a few times though mainly by car. That day I remember for having walked along farm tracks to and from the castle and then going to see In The Loop, the Armando Iannucci film featuring Malcolm Tucker, now of course only the second best-known character portrayed by Peter Capaldi.

Another one that still eludes me is Kellie Castle, not far from Pittenweem in Fife. It is a National Trust castle so a building with a roof and generally jolly volunteers, as befits an NTS property. I’ve wanted to go for a while, partly because it is in one of my favourite parts of the planet but also because of the castle itself, which appears in two of the nicest paintings in Kirkcaldy Art Gallery by John Henry Lorimer, whose family also owned the castle. The NTS website advises me that there is a Flexibus that can be booked from Anstruther but being a person who doesn’t always operate to a plan and indeed often works on the hoof, booking a bus in advance might not work for me. According to Google Maps, it is a 3-mile walk from Pittenweem, taking just over an hour but with an ascent of 180 feet. Not one for a hot day then.

The one I really want to see is Hermitage Castle. I’ve wanted to go for years. It looks amazing, in the middle of a moor with a history of Border reivers and, inevitably, once visited by Mary, Queen of Scots. If a queen and her court could make it there in the 1560s, surely I could in 2017 with all the trappings of modern life. I have just been looking at the bus timetables to try and get there, which involve getting a train to Carlisle then a bus to Newcastleton or Hawick then another bus from there, and it is giving me a sore head, full of caveats and conditions that buses only run Mondays to Fridays or on Fridays during the school holidays. It will happen, I’ll make sure of it, but I am scunnered if I can figure out exactly how.


One place that is far easier, despite being a mile from a bus stop, is Dryburgh Abbey in the Borders. I was there in July, having got the bus to St. Boswells and walked along the Tweed to the Abbey. I remember the first time I went. I was with my auntie and we asked the bus drivers at St Boswells for directions. Bad move. They didn’t have a clue, being people whose legs had four wheels on them. Luckily I now know better and the walk is part of the experience, a part of the day I look forward to rather than just being just a means to an end.

I am always excited to visit new places, particularly those which have involved the most effort to be there. I am writing this post in mid-August and at time of writing, I have a few ideas of places I want to get to this year but require a bit of a hoof. Two are in my native county of East Lothian and not so far from each other, the Hopetoun Monument in the Garleton Hills just above Haddington and Chesters Hill Fort near Drem. Drem is on a train line (but has very few buses) and is about a half-hour walk from Chesters. The Hopetoun Monument can be done from Drem but is easier from Haddington or better still the road end, which is infrequently served by buses. Amazingly I haven’t been to either of these places before, despite having grown up not far away. The OS maps have been consulted and I am pretty much waiting for the right day to go about it. I like to walk and it clears my head as well as being good exercise. 9 miles is pushing it, mind, and it’s why some places are just not possible by public transport, as much as I would like them to be.

 

Dirleton, Seton and a coastal walk

This whole day trip came about because I slept in. I had booked train tickets to Durham but of course I fell back asleep, waking up just too late to get myself up, ready and out the door for the train to Central to take me down south. I did think about getting another ticket, maybe even going via Carlisle as I sometimes like to do, but as the morning went on, I decided on another plan. East Lothian is an easy place for me to go to. It’s where I grew up and over the 24 years I lived there I must have covered most of the county. I had been having notions to go to Dirleton Castle for a wee while and I was soon on the way into the town. I decided to get the bus to Edinburgh, something I do occasionally when I’m not in a rush. The bus was fairly busy and I sat and read most of the way. When I reached Edinburgh, I walked up to Waterloo Place for the North Berwick bus. I still wasn’t quite settled on Dirleton and if the Dunbar bus had come first, I might have been on that. As it was, three East Coast buses came along in quick succession, for North Berwick, Dunbar and Haddington, so I got on the 124 and sat back. The East Lothian buses take probably the nicest route out of the city centre, along Waterloo Place and then Regent Road, past St. Andrew’s House and then the old Royal High School. To the right is the Old Town and Arthur’s Seat beyond. It was a stopping service and the new snazzy East Coast buses announce each stop over the PA system. There were a lot by the time I reached Dirleton since the 124 goes through Portobello, Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry, Aberlady and Gullane. By far the nicest bit of the journey is the stretch from Longniddry to Gullane, hugging the coastline with its gorgeous views over the Forth.

Dirleton is a place I know fairly well. It is prim and proper with a village green and everything. As the late Linda Smith said, it is the kind of place where nothing happens louder than a scone being buttered. Its castle is one of the best in Scotland, a favourite of mine and I’ve been a right few times over the years. I like Dirleton Castle because it is big yet subtle, with lots of good architecture to go with the history and the gardens. It also has some very nice views across East Lothian, to Traprain Law and the Garleton Monument as well as towards North Berwick Law, Fidra and the Isle of May. I spent a good hour there, wandering around and dodging out of the rain. I also managed to find the only bench in the gardens that was completely shaded by a tree, handy when it was beginning to rain pretty heavily.


It was only about 3.30 so I decided to head for Seton Collegiate Church, another Historic Scotland property about fifteen miles down the coast. I had been there only once before, about 7 years ago. I remember it being a muggy summer’s day and I sat for a while in the grounds reading Around The World In Eighty Days (I was in a classics mode at that point, clearly). It was brilliant, insanely peaceful and beautiful despite the rain and the family doing a treasure hunt around the church as I was there. There were all sorts of little touches that made it a pleasure to be there, not least the little handwritten quotes about the plants and water flowing through, plus the toilet which even had reading material. And not just any reading material: the National Geographic. Plus some books. The church was the main event and it was amazing, with stunning architecture and peace seeping from the stonework. The doorway was also an outstanding place to stand to watch the rain for a few minutes, feeling at one with my surroundings in the stillness.


The rain went off as I walked down towards Port Seton, where I had planned to get a 26 bus back to Edinburgh. Instead I walked along by the harbour, now bathed in sunshine as much of the coastline around me looked like it was getting another downpour. I decided to walk on a bit, inhaling food smells from chip shops then a Chinese takeaway as I hit Cockenzie. It was the first time I had been down there since the Power Station was demolished and there was just a crater where once stood a mighty turbine hall and two chimneys that always seemed like they could be seen from space. (Or at least from much of eastern Scotland). I came to Prestonpans and stopped to admire the Burns monument and then the sculpture right by it. I was getting hungry so ended up getting a chippy and sitting down to eat it at Morrison’s Haven, looking over the Forth which now looked less stormy. I had enjoyed the walk from Seton Church, paying close attention to Prestonpans’ murals and remembering local history as I tootled along. It was tinged with some sadness as Cockenzie felt a little lost without its power station, once a major employer in these parts. Now there was only demolition crews doing their work in a vast empty space. At the moment there are no definite plans for what will take the power station’s place. At one point they were talking about establishing a cruise ship terminal, which would certainly make a considerable difference economically. Greenock has one and it has helped the Inverclyde economy no end. Alas not to be.


The best things happen without a plan. The best day trips certainly do. This particular day was carrying on and I wasn’t quite sure what the next step would be. At Dirleton I decided on Seton. At Seton I decided to walk to Port Seton. From there I walked and walked until I came to Prestongrange, at which point time was against me and so were my feet. As much as I love Durham, I was glad I slept in.

 

 

Digest: July 2017

July has been busier with work than most months though I am now on leave so can slow down and travel more. I am starting this post on day one of my time off and in the diary I have football in Alloa and a day trip to Durham and Newcastle before the month officially finishes. The blog is even on hiatus until mid-August – this is the first post back – but I will probably be writing a fair bit while I’m off. Not too much, though.

Benmore
Loch Awe
Kilchurn Castle

So, to the month that was, and July began with a day trip with my dad to Argyll, taking in Benmore Botanic Garden near Dunoon and Kilchurn Castle that bit further north by Loch Awe. It was wet and grey at Benmore but we didn’t care, wandering amidst the trees and up to the shelter at the very top. The sequoias that form the entrance at Benmore are utterly gorgeous and the trip I’ve wanted for many years to Yosemite and Muir Woods in California was being mused about all the more under those fine trees in Argyll. We drove past Inveraray to Kilchurn and managed to park in a lay by just up the road. Kilchurn has long been on my list and it is in a stunning setting at the head of Loch Awe. It was well worth it. Read about this visit here – Kilchurn Castle

I spent an hour or two that week wandering about Glasgow’s West End in the rain, going to Kelvingrove and then to the Botanics, not for the first time pausing by the old railway and wondering what else lies under these city streets. Last week I was watching a documentary about the new Crossrail project in London and it was interesting to hear about what had been found about life in that great metropolis in centuries past.

Berwick
Temple of Muses
Dryburgh Abbey
Introverted road
Dublin Street

The following Saturday I ended up in Berwick. Wandering the walls and looking into the distance was utterly ideal. I went to Dryburgh Abbey, read by the river then hoofed it the five miles to Melrose. The Borders Railway took me to Edinburgh where I had a psychogeographical meander before finally heading home. It was a brilliant, brilliant day. Posts – Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders and Introverted roads

That Sunday saw me at Easter Road for Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial. On the way back, I managed an impromptu Streets of Glasgow walk along Gordon Street, probably the finest and underrated thoroughfare in the city.

Bridgeton Burns monument

Saturday 15th July I was at a conference for radical library folk. It was held at the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton, and I walked from Central to Bridgeton and back, the return leg catching up with a friend who was at the conference too. Bridgeton has a memorial to Robert Burns, which I hadn’t seen before and liked immensely.

Newhaven
Wardie Bay
Granton
Cramond

Edinburgh is my go-to place when I can’t think of anywhere else to go. I didn’t have a plan that Sunday and on the way out of Waverley I decided on a walk up Leith Walk towards Newhaven. My feet finally stopped at the Barnton Roundabout, having walked all the way along the Forth via Granton, Wardie and Cramond, the last bit due to the buses not being that regular. My feet are sore just remembering that one but it was great just to look and see another side to our beautiful capital. Post – Edinburgh’s promenade

Tynecastle

My next trip out was to Edinburgh again one Tuesday after work. Hibs were playing but I got through to Edinburgh early. On the spur of the moment, I got off at Haymarket and walked along Dalry Road, all the way in fact to Tynecastle where I wanted a nosy at the new Main Stand currently being built by the Hearts. The big office bit at the back didn’t inspire me, to be honest, quite reminiscent of an out-of-town office block or something to be found in Cumbernauld or Livingston. I walked back into town via Murrayfield, where I paused by the war memorial (shown below), which is surprisingly subtle and elegant. I don’t normally pay much heed to war memorials, not out of any disrespect, but it gave me pause. As I reached Haymarket not long afterwards and the clock that stands there (shown below) as a memorial to those Hearts players who died in the two World Wars, I was thinking about how there are always things more important and before we consider rivalries, sporting or otherwise, there must always be empathy and respect for our fellow people who have gone out and made the ultimate sacrifice.

Hibs won in Alloa, as it turns out. I also managed to find time to get to Alloa Tower, a National Trust property which sits in the town centre. I liked it more the longer I spent there. I’ve been to a lot of castles in my time and too many of them have been built-up ones that were home to various entitled folk. But I liked it immensely, particularly the grand hall on the middle level, which had a gallery. The views from the top were fine, mainly across urban central Scotland towards Falkirk, Grangemouth and Stirling though also across to the nearby Ochil Hills, which were mostly shrouded in low cloud when I was there due to the often driving rain.

The day trip to Durham and Newcastle became a day trip to East Lothian instead. I slept in and missed the train to Durham, necessitating a change of plan. I had the idea to go east and ended up doing the whole thing by bus. I reached Edinburgh and got the bus to Dirleton Castle, one of the nicest castles in the country. The rain wasn’t too bad and indeed I sat for a while under a tree looking at the gardens, while it rained. It got nicer for a bit as I headed back down the coast to Seton Collegiate Church, one of the nicest, most peaceful places around. It was wet there too but dried up as I had a walk the few miles through Port Seton, Cockenzie and Prestonpans to Prestongrange. It was a great day, entirely unplanned at each stage, the best kind.

Dirleton Castle
Seton Collegiate Church
Prestongrange

Well, that’s the July digest. This is the first post back after the break and I have a few new posts ready to go. This week there will be posts on Thursday and Sunday. Thursday’s will be about the day trip to East Lothian while Sunday will be a brand new Streets of Glasgow post about Alexandra Parade. Thanks so much for reading as ever.

Posts published this month –

Proclaimers Live

Streets of Glasgow: Battlefield Road

Bothwell Castle

Kilchurn Castle

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

Introverted roads

Streets of Glasgow: Gordon Street

New Town psychogeography

Hampden Park

Edinburgh’s promenade

The Bass Rock’s doppelganger

Following