Edinburgh’s promenade

When I reached Waverley, I didn’t have a clue where I was going to go next. I had vague notions of Dirleton Castle, maybe even Dunbar, but loud drumming I could hear from the top of Waverley Steps made me want to escape the city centre all the faster. It was a nice, sunny day and I decided to head for Newhaven Harbour by the Forth. Leith Walk was its usual traffic chaos, with the latest bit being dug up by Brunswick Road. At the foot, I thought about going to the Shore via Constitution Street or Parliament Street but I decided to walk up Great Junction Street instead. I hadn’t been up Great Junction Street on foot before. I know it best from primary school swimming lessons in Dr Bell’s school, one of the various Victorian primary school buildings in Edinburgh built with a swimming pool. Dr Bell’s is still there, looking in good nick from the outside. I gather that the building houses a family centre now though I can’t make out whether the swimming pool gets any use now. It was an old-fashioned space with white walls and changing cubicles at either side of the pool on two levels. In retrospect, especially considering how many generic leisure centres exist now, I was lucky to learn to swim at Dr. Bell’s and the pool at Broughton Primary, another sturdy old Victorian schoolhouse.

Great Junction Street is quite underrated. It is fairly run-down, particularly at the end nearest Leith Walk, but there are some very handsome buildings along it, the best of which is topped by a cupola and houses the Leith Bed Centre, of all things. It is quite reminiscent of the buildings around Tollcross at the other side of Edinburgh. I also admired a church further along at the other side of the Water of Leith, which appears to have been a bingo hall or a cinema, judging by its frontage.

At the junction of Ferry Road sits Leith Library, quite similar in design to Elder Park Library in Govan, with the Leith coat of arms above the door, even though it was built after Leith had been amalgamated into Edinburgh in the 1920s. As I walked towards the shore, I spotted another old school, this time just a plaque for David Kilpatrick School, now demolished with a small park in its place.

Newhaven
Newhaven
Newhaven

Newhaven is a fine old harbour, with a few fishing boats and a smattering of yachts. In place of the fish market, though, is a Loch Fyne oyster bar and some trendy eateries. It is still a fine place with views across the Forth to Fife and along the coast to the Forth Bridges. I sat down for a bit under the lighthouse and decided that since it was a nice day, I would walk some more of the coastline, perhaps even to Cramond, about 6 miles away. As I left and turned right, I reflected that as much as I love Newhaven, the actual Loch Fyne is probably a better place to sample their oysters.

This stretch of the Edinburgh coastline once saw a young Charles Darwin studying geology and some of the marine life thereabouts. I had forgotten about that but it’s a lesser-known part of Darwin’s life, with some of his education in Edinburgh, even while most of his work was in Cambridge and of course the Galapagos.

Wardie Bay
Towards Granton I enjoyed walking past Wardie Bay, handsome houses on the land side with a quaint village sort of feel and modern flats like at the Western Harbour jutting out into the Forth. Granton Square with its stout grey buildings led into an industrial estate that kept me away from the Forth for a bit. There was a nice red brick building with a lighthouse tower at the top but that was the sole interest for a bit. Further towards the coast there was an interesting elaborate stone archway behind a fence, which I gather was part of Caroline Park House, a private house a bit further through the trees.

Gates of Caroline Park House
Not so far away I crossed the road and joined the Edinburgh Coastal Path again, this time a wide path that eventually led to Cramond. I sat for a couple of minutes admiring the view to Fife and what I thought was Inchcolm but turned out to be the smaller islet of Inchmickery. I couldn’t see Inchcolm, with its abbey, until much closer to Cramond, since it is just to the left of Cramond Island with its spiked causeway. This part of the walk was much busier with other walkers, cyclists and families out enjoying the day. Towards Silverknowes in particular, the cafe was thronged with people and there were a right few people on the beach or even rockpooling. I sat on a bench for a bit, to rest my now-tired tootsies, then walked the mile or so to Cramond. The tide was right but I felt I had walked enough. I had a quick look at the yachts, took a few photos and then hoofed it to Barnton, since I soon discovered that Cramond isn’t well-served by buses on a Sunday. Why would it be when half the population seems to drive a Range Rover?

Looking towards the Forth Bridges

Granton

Cramond Island

Fish sculpture by Ronald Rae

Cramond
I had been meaning to walk this particular stretch of coastline for years. When I was in Edinburgh regularly, I had notions to walk from Cramond back towards Leith but it never happened. This was the right day for it, to be honest. It was an interesting insight into some of the less lovely parts of the capital but some of its lesser-spotted charms too, like the gate at Caroline Park House and of course Newhaven. The finest part of the walk, though, was just after Granton with the view to the Forth Bridges. I wondered if the designers of the new bridge had walked this path before since the three bridges were perfectly aligned with each popping up higher than the one before. Sometimes the best notions come when we walk, the result of putting one foot in front of another with impulses leading us further still.

Sources and further reading –

Canmore, ‘Edinburgh, West Granton Road, Caroline Park Avenue, Caroline Park House, Gates’, https://canmore.org.uk/site/122248/edinburgh-west-granton-road-caroline-park-avenue-caroline-park-house-gates

The University of Edinburgh, ‘Charles Darwin’, http://www.ed.ac.uk/biology/about/notable-alumni/charles-darwin

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.

St Stephen’s Church
New Town
Cumberland Street

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.

 

Digest: June 2017

This month I haven’t been terribly far. Just working a lot, living life, all that jazz. I’ve had to look at the photos on my phone to see where I’ve been that’s worth noting. On 2nd June, I was at the dentist. Just before I went in for my scale and polish (no fillings required), I had a wee turn around Elder Park, donated to the people of Govan by Isabella Elder. I have written a post about Elder Park, which will be published on the blog in late July, I think. I don’t get down that way as often as I used to, even while it is barely a mile away.

Elder Park

The following night I went out to dinner in Glasgow city centre. I had time to kill before my train home so undertook one of the Streets of Glasgow walks down Queen Street. It wasn’t my favourite of the series but I particularly liked the building above Greggs.

Billy Connolly mural by Jack Vettriano in Dixon Street, Glasgow

Friday 16th June I went on the trail of the Billy Connolly murals. I went on the bus into the town, along Paisley Road West as I sometimes like to do, just observing the city going about its business. I liked the Billy Connolly murals immensely, particularly the Vettriano one. I walked from the third mural, the Rachel McLean one on the Gallowgate, and down through the Gorbals to start another Streets of Glasgow walk, this time down Cathcart Road. I just felt like walking and I enjoyed watching the world change past my feet. I sat in Cathkin Park a while and noticed that it was looking very overgrown, though some of the posts have been painted green and white for some unknown reason. Third Lanark played in red so goodness knows. After that, I did the second Streets of Glasgow walk of the afternoon, this time along Battlefield Road, which despite being familiar was enjoyable and yielded a lot of interest – post appears sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Cathcart Road

That Sunday was the day of the Open Day at Easter Road and it got considerably warmer and sunnier as I travelled eastwards. Easter Road was mobbed but it was good to be back. I wrote about it the other day. Afterwards I walked up to Ocean Terminal, changing into my new Hibs top as my T-shirt was drenched in sweat. It was really too warm. I got a bus to Elm Row and then another out to Prestongrange, my old work, where I wandered about Morrison’s Haven before sunbathing for a bit. I then headed over the way for a walk around the site, reliving old times and trying to imagine what had once happened there. A real Carlsberg sort of day.

 

Easter Road
Prestongrange

Most of the rest of my photos for June reflect that I worked nearly all of the rest of the month. When I was walking home one night, I stopped on the flyover at Cardonald and noticed how I could see for miles across the city, to the University, Park Circus and the riverside at the Science Centre. I like a view like that, not quite synoptic but good enough.

View across Glasgow to Science Centre

Today I was in Dunfermline, really just for lunch, then went home via Edinburgh. It was nice to be out of the routine, even for a little while.

View from Dunfermline to Forth Bridges

July looks set to be interesting. I am away for the day tomorrow and football starts again so I will be out and about across the country. I have a few days up for grabs and I have annual leave at the end of the month too. Maybe a Streets of Glasgow walk or something else. We’ll see what happens. Until then, thanks again to all readers. Post on Sunday is about the greatest band in the world, The Proclaimers. Stay tuned.

Posts published this month –

Digest: May 2017

Walking in cities you don’t live in

Seaweed

Streets of Glasgow: Queen Street

Clipboards

Edinburgh Waverley

Sir Billy

Real men

Suggestion box

Streets of Glasgow: Cathcart Road

20 years on from the Philosopher’s Stone

Wallace and Gromit

Easter Road

 

Easter Road

Lego version of Easter Road

Recently, the Hibernian Historical Trust had an Open Day at Easter Road. The Trust opened the ground to hundreds of us as part of the Leith Festival, laying on exhibits and trails and all sorts. I have done the tour before – it was a Christmas present a couple of years ago – but I never like to pass up a trip to Easter Road, especially since it’s still the close season and I am starved of football, or at least football played the Hibs way. I had been humming and hawing about making the trip, especially on a Sunday when normally I can’t be bothered to venture far. But still I did and when I reached Albion Place and turned towards the West Stand where the tour started, the queue was almost up to the Ticket Office. Soon, though, I was inside and going up the stairs into the stadium. The queue didn’t let up pretty much the whole way around the West Stand and the Players’ Lounge was absolutely stowed out with people. There was a danger of getting overwhelmed for most of the time I was there and so I took my time going around the exhibits as the crowds slowly faded away. This was particularly helpful when I reached the Gallery and I read the panels about the early days of the club. There is a guy who has been making Lego models of most of the football grounds in the UK – he’s on Twitter at @brickstand if you care to look. Anyway, he has made one of Easter Road, which the Club had on display, and it was fantastic, with lots of details that made me marvel about how dedicated people can be. Or absolutely bonkers, depending on your view.

East Stand
Famous Five and East Stands
Blankets

A later part of the route led me into the Boardroom, which has some interesting exhibits including a new display about the Scottish Cup Final. I didn’t get much chance to look as it was still mobbed and I decided to take full advantage of the next stop being the Director’s Box and take a breather. On the way I took particular delight in spotting the heavy tartan blankets gathered carefully in a basket by the door. Those of us who slum it in the East Stand don’t get those, that’s for sure. The Director’s Box is right in the centre of the West Stand and their posteriors are treated well there, not only with blankets but soft black leather seats. I sat for a while at the edge of the Director’s Box and looked across the stadium, watching the steady line of people pass along the touchline. I also just liked being at the ground again. It’s not even been two months but when a very consistent part of life isn’t there for a while, it’s hard. Being able to just sit there, look out and catch my breath was immensely enriching and valuable, to keep myself enjoying my day and to be in one of my favourite places.

Yup, it really happened
That’s me
Between the West and South Stands
Easter Road

The Hibernian Historical Trust do very good work. I drew on some of it for the recent post Hibstory. They have worked closely with the club to make the very modern Easter Road more steeped in the club’s history. The press room has a display about the Hands Off Hibs campaign, when Hibs nearly merged with Hearts back in 1990. Each of the other rooms in the West Stand is stuffed full of Hibs memorabilia and they made an extra special effort for the Open Day, including my personal favourite artefact, the Persevered banner that bedecked the open top bus the day after the Cup Final, signed by the full squad. This I saw on the way to the dressing room, which is quite cosy and basic, then to the TV interview room with one of those lovely ad boards where I got a selfie. Then out the tunnel to the dugout to get a good look from the player’s point of view to the hallowed turf. Ever more people were around me but I still managed to get to be on my own to get photos of the stadium from different angles. I love architecture and once I wanted to design football stadiums. That’s not what I want to do as a grown up now but I retain an interest.

East Stand
Arthur’s Seat
East Stand concourse

If Easter Road has a fault, it is a very boxy ground, with the stands pretty much identical. Aside from where I sit and possibly the upper section of the Famous Five Stand, there isn’t much of a view. From the back of the East Stand, though, the top of Arthur’s Seat soon came into view and even with the heat of the day, there were still loads of people climbing up the hill. I walked up the East Stand and it was there that I felt like at last I was at home. Later in the day I went to Prestongrange, where I used to work, and I had the same feeling of utter contentment of being in the right place as I did being back in the East. I sit in the middle of the East so I don’t normally see the bits of the concourse at either end. There is an elaborate drawing of the club’s badge, with the harp and castle, at the southern end, and also some prints of the programmes of important Hibs games around the walls. In the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, the East concourse is being used to host a play called A Field Of Our Own, about the early days of Hibs, produced by Strange Town in conjunction with the GameChanger Public Support Partnership. It is a massive space and I look forward to going along to see how it’s used to its best effect for the play, as well as to enjoy the play itself.

From there I went along into the Famous Five Stand and through the concourse into the club shop. Along the way there was another great queue for folk to get photographs with the Championship trophy as well as those recently won by the Hibs Ladies team.

For many people, football stadiums aren’t fun places to spend a Sunday afternoon. Fair enough. It is the people who make a place. I was thinking earlier about how I have become more of a Hibs fan since I moved to Glasgow. It is a deep link to my identity, to my roots as a person, to my family and places I don’t visit all that often any more. It’s why the other day when the fixture list for the upcoming season came out, within minutes I had my diary marked up and annual leave booked and the whole works, the next year of my life planned by the whim of the SPFL computer. It’s why I went to Edinburgh on a Sunday and went around a football ground in the close season, because it’s Easter Road and it’s Hibs and that’s just what had to be.

 

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.

Clipboards

I feel bad. This post was written absolutely yonks ago, well back in January, and it has been pushed back and pushed back as other things have been written and jumped the queue. So, I am publishing this tonight and another post I wrote ages ago tomorrow night. I have a great backlog of stuff to go up and at this rate I could publish it all and not write anything until September, which isn’t going to happen. Without further ado, here’s a post about a museum visit.

The other day I was reading a post on a museum blog entitled ‘I Really Hate Clipboards’, which brought back a powerful childhood memory. I went to primary school in Edinburgh, in a special needs unit, and we were taken one day to the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, particularly to the bit that had just recently opened on the corner of Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. (I still think of this part, which used to be called the Museum of Scotland, as the ‘new’ bit despite the fact the bit formerly known as the Royal Museum, the ‘old’ museum, has now been redone and is now very much newer.) We were issued with clipboards with questions and prompts of things to look out for. I remember being in the Beginnings section in the basement, the bit with lots of dioramas and taxidermy just before it gets interesting with Pictish stones and torcs, and being bored out of my skull clutching this clipboard and a pencil. Afterwards my teacher asked me what I thought of the day and I said I hated it because of this wretched clipboard, to which she replied that she thought I would like it and it had been done partly for my benefit.

Even back then (I was 9), I was bright and curious, happy just to wander and take in what was there. A clipboard completely changed how I saw the museum. I am of the view that a learning experience, such as it is, can happen anywhere. I can think of more history I learned stomping about castles and museums than I did in a classroom. I know that schools have experiences and outcomes to meet, bits to tick off forms for the benefit of school inspectors, councils and the government, but the world is beyond the wit of the Curriculum for Excellence or 5-14 as it was when I was a boy. I have worked in museums and I know that museum education is an artform. Many people do it very well, including National Museums Scotland. They know how to engage people and clipboards aren’t the answer, for kids like I was or anyone else.

Walking in cities you don’t live in

DSCN0840
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…

Hibstory

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Paul Hanlon and Dylan McGeouch holding the Scottish Cup, David Gray to the left

Just over a year ago, in the lead up to the Scottish Cup Final, I took myself off one Tuesday afternoon on a tour of the then two places where my team Hibernian had won the Scottish Cup, beginning at the ground where the Final was to take place the following Saturday, Hampden, then over the hill to the old Hampden, Cathkin Park, and to Celtic Park where Dan McMichael’s men lifted the trophy in 1902. On 21st May 2016, Hibs won the Cup after 114 years with a 3-2 win over The Rangers. A couple of days before the first anniversary of that magnificent day, I visited St. Patrick’s Church on the Cowgate in Edinburgh. It was in the church’s rooms that Canon Edward Hannan and Michael Whelahan formed what was to become Hibernian Football Club in October 1875, an occasion marked by a plaque in the church put up by the St. Patrick’s branch of the Hibernian Supporters Association. I had never been to the church before but thought when I was in the capital that day I would go take a look. It was a peaceful and pleasant place and I was glad I went, even for the wee fix of Hibs to help me through the close season currently in progress. Then I thought about the first anniversary of the Cup Final and I started to plan out a special historical walk in search of Hibs. Beginning at St. Patrick’s Church, the plan was to walk up to the Meadows, where Hibs played the first Edinburgh derby on Christmas Day 1875, then to the Grange Cemetery and the grave of Canon Edward Hannan. From there the plan was to follow the parade route of 22nd May 2016 when 150,000 folk lined the streets from Parliament Square to Leith Links, finally finishing with a detour to Easter Road itself. It felt the best way to mark Sir David Gray Day, and it was better as the train neared Edinburgh and the sun started to come out.

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St. Patrick’s Church, Cowgate, Edinburgh
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Plaque

It felt only right to start at St. Patrick’s Church, given its place in the history of Hibs. The Cowgate was known as Little Ireland, where the Irish community of Edinburgh settled in the later part of the nineteenth century. One of them was James Connolly, better known for his part in the Irish Home Rule movement and particularly for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. He was born in the capital and it is said he was a Hibs fan in his youth, even a ball-boy at some of the club’s games. There is a plaque to Connolly’s memory, short and factual about his role in Ireland, under George IV Bridge. Interestingly, just after I stopped, a guy in a Hearts jacket and his mate stopped too. We must do our bit to guide those less enlightened.

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Plaque to James Connolly on the Cowgate, Edinburgh

I walked up Candlemaker Row amidst various tour groups, on foot and on buses, though none of them was on a tour quite like mine. When I reached the Meadows, cricket and football games were in progress while other folks were just sitting on the grass. It was quite a muggy day but windy too, as is hardly atypical of the capital all year round.

The Grange Cemetery is in a very prim and proper part of the city. I walked through Marchmont to get there and with every step I felt the property prices going up. Impressively the Grange Association and the City of Edinburgh Council keep the cemetery well-tended with a leaflet box and a sign marking the notable people buried there, including the Labour politician Robin Cook and theologians Thomas Chalmers and Thomas Guthrie. Very swiftly, inevitably, I got lost and realised I was going the wrong way. Soon enough, duly corrected, I ended up in front of the Celtic cross that marks the grave of Canon Edward Hannan, the priest who was the first manager of Hibs as well as other virtues. His gravestone talked of his clerical but also his public service as a good citizen. I stood there for a few minutes and thanked him for his part in this story that led from Little Ireland to Hampden Park and beyond, to one of the best days of my life as well as some that might not have been as great.

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Canon Hannan’s grave

As ever when I am in a cemetery, I thought as I walked about the frailty of life and how it should be cherished each day. A powerful reminder of this was when I came across the grave of a child only a few months old, which featured the heartbreaking line about how this poor boy was a ‘star who shone too bright’.

Back on the Meadows, I read of that first Edinburgh derby, where boys kept the best of the pitches for the game and tape was used to mark the goals. The game finished 1-0 to Hearts – not an outcome that has happened in a while, admittedly, since Hibs have been unbeaten in eight derbies. Hibs changed in a nearby school while Hearts donned their kit in a pub. I like that distinction but wouldn’t dream of remarking further. When I reached Parliament Square, just a little bit before 3, I found out that Hearts had failed to stop Celtic finishing the Premiership season unbeaten. Parliament Square was where the victory parade started after a civic reception. I decided to wait there until 3, about 15 minutes away and exactly a year from when the game began. It started to rain then but it didn’t last long and I sat in front of St. Giles watching a tour group and lots of others pass by. The High Street was the usual mass of humanity as I walked slowly down through the crowds. Unusually I stopped a moment to enjoy some of the street entertainment, in the form of three fiddlers who were whirling up a storm. On North Bridge, it was just after 3 when I stopped and smiled as I realised that a year ago to the moment Anthony Stokes had just scored the first goal.

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Parliament Square
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The High Street
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Fiddlers
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North Bridge
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North Bridge again
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Looking up Leith Walk

As I reached Leith, though, the game would have been 1-1. It was being shown as if live in the Harp and Castle as well as at least one other pub in the area. At the Harp and Castle, there was a list outside showing the football matches being shown in the pub that week, ending with the Final, with the words of the title of the DVD and the banner held across the North Stand at Hampden as the game began: Time For Heroes. On a nearby lamppost was a sticker of the James Connolly Hibs Supporters Club, based in Dublin, a link to the club’s past as our future forms ever more. I was beginning to tire as I reached the foot of Leith Walk and looked back up towards Edinburgh. I stood under Queen Victoria’s statue and imagined 150,000 people there a year ago, some still drunk from the night before, others drunk on sense of occasion. I only saw the start and finish of the parade, at Parliament Square and Leith Links, and it was to the Links that I proceeded to collapse on the hill looking to where the bus parked and that great Cup was paraded.

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You Are Now Entering Leith…
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James Connolly again
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Leith Links

A year later, I still can’t believe that Hibs won the Scottish Cup. I was at the game. I’ve held the trophy. I even have the winning goal on the mug I drink out of. Every time I see the highlights, particularly the winning header from Sir David Gray, my arms are aloft. It never fails to cheer me up. There’s things you think you’ll never see. Green and white ribbons on that trophy, after 114 years, after all those great teams who tried but didn’t succeed, that’s something. I am proud that I was there. Hibs are a major part of my identity, even while I now live at the wrong end of the country, and I can’t imagine my life without them, without that day in May.

As I walked down Albion Road, there was birdsong. Only moments before I passed a pub where loud singing about the Rangers player Andy Halliday emanated forth. It was only 4.20 and at the time the game was 2-1. It was therefore a little premature to look to the side of the Famous Five Stand and see the mural that depicts David Gray and Lewis Stevenson above the word ‘Persevered’. Two goals were still to come but it was a valuable reminder that it really did happen. There was one stop before I headed for the train, Bothwell Street, now normally the route home for away crowds but once where our ground was, Hibernian Park. Drum Park became our ground following the club’s return from the brink of oblivion in 1893 and it became Easter Road, even though it isn’t actually on the street that bears that name. Bothwell Street is now houses on both sides, grey tenements on one side and new flats on the other nearer the old railway.

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Albion Road

On London Road as I rested my aching feet it was 2-2. All day I had memories of where I was and what I was doing the previous year. In Marchmont I thought about my journey to Hampden, standing outside the South Stand before heading through the turnstile. At 2-2, I remember my auntie, who put me onto Hibs when I was a kid, saying she couldn’t watch. I could, though, but the nerves came back. As I reached the corner of London Road and Royal Terrace, I looked up into the sunshine and realised a year ago to the moment David Gray headed that ball Liam Henderson delivered right into Wes Foderingham’s net. By the Playhouse it was exactly a year since Steven McLean blew the full-time whistle and 114 years were no more. A year had passed since that incredible moment. It only felt right to spend the first anniversary learning more about the club that gave us that day, to walk back into history and go on a journey back to a time when the men of the parish needed a distraction and a way to integrate into a city and when their descendants lifted a trophy that ended a hoodoo and started us off on another pursuit, back into the Premiership and to write another story.

Sources and further reading:

Hibernian Historical Trust – http://www.hibshistoricaltrust.org.uk/heritage/

Grange Association – http://gaedin.co.uk/wp/new-history/cemetery

Lusk, Kirsty and Maley, Willy, Scotland and the Easter Rising: Fresh Perspectives on 1916, 2016, Edinburgh: Luath Press – stocked by Glasgow Libraries, Renfrewshire LibrariesEdinburgh Libraries and Dundee Libraries.

St. Patrick’s RC Church leaflet, Our Story, available from St. Patrick’s RC Church, South Gray’s Close, 40 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TQ – http://www.stpatricksparish.co.uk/st-patricks-home-of-the-hibs/

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Road