Craigmillar Castle

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Craigmillar Castle

I set out the other day with no other plan than to go to Edinburgh. The fatal flaw came when the train was passing through Princes Street Gardens and I didn’t have a clue what direction I would head in from Waverley. Notions of the Botanics or going across the Forth to Dunfermline vaguely appealed but not that much. Then I had the idea to go to Craigmillar Castle and within a matter of minutes I was striding up platform 13 and out of the station, bought lunch and on a bus. Within about twenty minutes I was getting off the bus at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which sits on the outskirts of the capital, just furth of the City Bypass. There’s a path from the ERI up to Craigmillar Castle but the problem was that the hospital had grown considerably since my last visit and the bus stops were at the other side of the site from then too. A world tour of the hospital later and I ended up on the right road eventually. At the road end for the castle, a gate separated me and where I should have been. I vaulted the gate only to notice that there was a path and a pedestrian crossing about 50 yards away. I do that sort of stupid thing often enough not to be too fussed – I wasn’t to know that.

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Gate, seen and conquered

Despite a moratorium on buying books (which continues, incidentally, and gifts of books will be looked upon negatively), I came away with a guidebook, bought from a very cheerful Historic Scotland steward who said that if I encountered a door, just try it and see what happens. A good metaphor for life, I think. As I walked along the path to the castle, there was a cracking view to the back of Arthur’s Seat, with the road neatly dissecting the hill in two. The summit, the Lion’s Peak and the Hellbank were in view and so was Salisbury Crags. The day was cloudy but still clear, as I was soon to see from the castle battlements. I have always liked the courtyard at Craigmillar, which is blessed by a tree and a bit of sunlight to go with the shelter afforded by the high curtain wall and the tower house. I had forgotten, though, how very complete Craigmillar is, since like Linlithgow Palace there are doors and stairs going everywhere. When I next came to the courtyard, I had been all the way round the rest of the castle.

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Courtyard

The views from the towers encompassed great swathes of the Lothians, to Blackford Hill, the Pentlands, Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh. Particularly impressive was that I could see as far as North Berwick Law, some 23 miles away, and the Hopetoun Monument high in the Garletons nearer Haddington. Edinburgh city centre was particularly prominent, the Castle, St. Giles, Old College and the Balmoral Hotel clearly noticeable on the skyline. Despite being close to the city and road noise from the City Bypass clearly audible, the bird songs and calls were loud and long too, particularly from the West Garden where I sat later on making notes and looking across towards the P for Preston laid out in the grounds below.

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Edinburgh
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East Lothian
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P for Preston
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View from under the tree

Craigmillar is like most castles in Scotland in that it has links with Mary, Queen of Scots. She came twice, with her ladies who ride in 1563 and in 1566 when ‘ill with depression’ after the murder of her courtier David Rizzio not so far away at Holyrood. Apparently it was at Craigmillar that some of her supporters decided to do in Lord Darnley, the Queen’s consort, who had allegedly instructed that Rizzio be killed. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, and so it goes. Craigmillar belonged to the Preston family and then the Gilmours, whose burial plot still remains to the eastern end of the castle. One of the more recent folk of that ilk put up an armourial panel in the courtyard marking the construction of the western part of the castle by his ancestor Sir John Gilmour, Lord President of the Court of Session, and his wife Margaret Cockburn in 1661. I doubt somehow that the present Lord President, Lord Carloway, has quite so stylish digs. The differently coloured stone visible from the western side of the castle, particularly around the foundations, show clear signs of the earlier buildings that once stood there. There are quite a few heraldic panels about the castle and they all speak of another time, of nobility and status symbols, as I suppose most castles and their architecture often were.

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Gilmour Panel in courtyard

I wasn’t alone in exploring the castle that afternoon. Indeed I jumped rather dramatically and accidentally into a French tourist’s photo as I clambered down from a seat in the hall. There was also a ginger cat wandering about the place, probably not a permanent resident but an urban wanderer on their rounds. My first encounter was when I jumped on hearing a meow come from just up the stair from where I stood in the hall. Historic Scotland allow dogs into most of their properties but I’ve never seen a cat before. Perhaps the pigeons that still live in some of the towers might be too tempting for a cat reluctantly used to Whiskas.

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Cat in the courtyard

For a while I got out of the habit of going to castles, not getting my Historic Scotland card dirty enough as I ventured instead into museums and galleries. Craigmillar was my second in a week, with Dunnottar last Saturday. I’ve been to Bothwell, Tantallon and Edinburgh in recent memory too. 2017 is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology here in Scotland and it seems to be becoming one for me personally too, visiting more of the historic places that dot our landscape, some new, others more familiar. Craigmillar was a bit of both – my last visit came about five years ago on a freezing January Saturday and it was brief for that reason. This time was brilliant for lots of reasons – the chance to properly explore and rediscover as if new the finer reaches of the castle and its surroundings plus also just to imagine what had once gone down there. I was struck walking through one of the cellars by learning how grain and other produce was once stored there in vast quantities, having been given as rent. Castles are often thought about in terms of the great and good who lived there, more than those who lived around them or who owed fealty to those who dwelled there. They are places to read the past and to imagine the future, in the words of the current Scottish Library and Information Council promotion available in a library near you. At Craigmillar, neither was particularly hard to do.

 

 

Worth it: being an autistic football fan

Recently I read an excellent book, Saturday, 3pm by Daniel Gray, a series of essays covering the essence of the football experience. I read a staggering amount about football in a given week, some of it well considered, thoughtful and measured, most of it really not. Saturday, 3pm I read on a day when Hibs were playing and I was 70 miles away, relying on social media for updates, constant refreshing of the screen to make sure I didn’t miss a single moment of the action as I also tried to do what I’m actually paid for. I have never read a book that gives such a good insight into what many of us feel on away trips or when the fixture list for the new season comes out, little things that mean a lot to thousands of people all across this land.

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Easter Road
About twenty years ago, I was in primary school. I went to primary school in the east of Edinburgh, about thirty miles from where I grew up. I was in a special needs unit which catered for children on the autistic spectrum, some high-functioning like me, others less so. In those years, we went on some amazing trips, including to the Scotland Yard Adventure Playground in the New Town with its bikes, slopes and sand pits, and Gorgie City Farm with sheep, pigs and cows, naturally enough. One of the most special, though, was to Easter Road, a place I was already very familiar with as the home of my team then as now, Hibernian FC. We had a tour of the Holy Ground, then half-complete with the Famous Five and South in their present form but the West and East still more rustic. I suspect I was one of the few that really enjoyed the short journey to Easter Road but I do remember one of my classmates, who was brilliant at drawing, sketching out a huge likeness of the then Hibs badge when we got back to school.

I was reading an interesting post on one of the Hibs forums about a dad whose lad is on the spectrum and how he is trying to get a sensory room installed at Easter Road, which is an excellent idea. I am fortunate that the sensory experience of football for me is mostly comfortable. Most issues I have at the football are more practical and anxiety-related, like will I find my seat okay or will someone ask me to move to fit their pal on the row or whatever. Most of my life I try very hard to be calm and I have pretty much mastered walking up and through a row of stewards towards a turnstile looking quite unruffled while internally willing myself forward. I have a system when I go to Easter Road. I usually make sure I have change in my hand for my programme and my Happy Hibee tickets, often counted out having paused on Albion Road for a moment. My motor skills aren’t the finest and it tends to be awkward when I’m all awkward scrambling about for change. A lot of folk are very understanding about that, though, thinking my fumbling is because my hands are cold. Usually by the time I reach the turnstile I have a programme in one hand and some change and my season card in the other. By the time I get to my seat, high up in the East Stand, I can have added a couple of pies and a juice to the mix, all balanced with a minimum of fuss.

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My seat
I go to the football partly because I like the crowd. I like being part of a common cause. It would be nice to know more people at the ground but I am used to being alone. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I tend to be at the ground early so I spend a fair bit of time watching the ground fill up around me, peering down to the warm-ups and across the city through gaps in the stands. The East Stand where I sit is blessed/cursed with a rubbish sound system. The music played over the tannoy is often muffled and quiet so I don’t always pick it up. I can still hear it but it’s more like a radio in the background. That is an unintended advantage, a reasonable adjustment on the part of the club that I greatly appreciate. When I was at Hampden the other day for the semi against Aberdeen, the PA was loud and boomed. The Hibs one doesn’t boom. I must be one of the few people in the stadium who is happy with our crap tannoy.

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Hampden. A good view of the clouds moving across the sky, if nothing else. Football isn’t meant to be played in bowls.
Until the end of this current season, the Easter Road singing section will be in the East Stand, a couple of sections along from where I sit. I quite like that – I like being near where the action is and that extends to being near where the songs start – and the drum doesn’t frighten me as much as it used to. It has the pleasing sound of a train going over tracks and that can be more soothing, especially when there’s a bit of distance. Next season, the singing section is moving to the Famous Five Stand, to the right of where I sit, about half the length of the pitch away, and I am sure it will be better acoustically. I am desensitised to the drum now and loud singing rarely bothers me either. In fact the only time recently I remember getting even vaguely overloaded was the game at Tannadice, which was also a night game and loud generally.

For me going to the football is about focus. On a good day I can have a hyper-focus. I am there to watch a football game. I might be taking in the other details, the ad hoardings, the songs, the folk around me, but what I am really focusing on is the game itself. I am fortunate that my spot at Easter Road is in the centre of the stand about three-quarters of the way up, affording possibly the best view in the stadium of the action, high enough to see the whole pitch without any issue whatsoever. My preference where possible is to be side-on as opposed to behind the goals. I don’t mind being behind the goals – as in recent trips to Stark’s Park, East End Park and Cappielow – but I like to see the action, not squint into the distance. I think it’s about difficulties with filtering information. The National Autistic Society’s strapline of ‘Too Much Information’ is spot on. It’s about focus and if I can see properly, there’s less to filter and figure out. I remember being at games as a kid and on the way home checking the news to see who actually scored in the game I was at.

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Stark’s Park. For more Raith-related views, see The view from the McDermid Stand
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East End Park
I don’t tend to think about the business of actually going to the football as much as I do the being there. Being a Hibs fan is a key part of who I am. It helps me talk to people, particularly men, as football is common ground for many of us, even if our teams differ. Hibs have also given me some very good times, foremost among them Saturday 21st May 2016 when the Hibs went up to lift the Scottish Cup and the three times I have so far seen Hearts beaten and beaten thoroughly. As I write this, the season is about to end. I am excited about the next one – the other blog post today is called ‘The close season’ about the trips next season to Premiership grounds – though what has become a key part of my routine will be lost for a couple of months. Luckily there are museums to be visited and shorelines to be walked and soon it will be July, the season 2017-2018, back in the Premiership and maybe to win our Cup back too. It’ll be worth it.

Impulses

I’m not very impulsive. I usually think on things then never act on them. Occasionally I do but there’s usually a day trip involved somewhere along the line. A few weeks ago, I was in East Lothian for the day, a fine visit to my home county on a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon. We had just been to Tantallon Castle, possibly one of the finest castles on this great planet of ours, and were driving to Pressmennan Wood when on impulse I asked my dad to stop the car at a place called Pitcox, not far from Dunbar. The reason I did was because of an old signpost that stood at the road junction there, produced by East Lothian County Council at least before 1974. The signpost marked four directions, towards Stenton, Garvald, Gifford, Pathhead Farm, Halls Farm, Bourhouse, Spott and Dunbar. I can’t quite explain the attraction of the signpost beyond I just like the link to the old-fashioned way of doing things. East Lothian is still a very old-fashioned sort of place and there are a few of these signposts dotted around the county, including one in the very heart of Haddington on the junction of Station Road and West Road. In this age of sat-nav and Google Maps, navigation by instinct, knowledge and simple guiding seems to have gone by the wayside. The world is deeply complex and all we can do as people is find something to relate to, even if it might not be totally obvious. It’s the psychogeographer in me that made me stop. There are wonders to be found in the unlikeliest of places. The Impressionist Camille Pissarro said it best:

‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing’.

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I realise I haven’t written so much here about psychogeography. I became interested in it a few years ago after reading some articles on the subject by the novelist Will Self who walked from his house in west London to New York, or at least from his house to Heathrow then from JFK into Manhattan. I think Will Self is up his own arse – he tends to throw spanners into the dictionary and use a polysyllabic word when a decent, shorter one might do – but psychogeography struck a chord with me. It is a French Situationist concept come up with by a philosopher called Guy Debord, who sought to make sense of the anonymous big city by getting lost in it on what he called a derive or aimless drift. His big city was Paris. Mine was Edinburgh.

The capital of Scotland is a city I know very well. I was born there, I went to primary school there. I’m even going there tomorrow to see Hibs. One of the reasons I know it so well is because when I used to go on day trips, all I could often afford was to go to Edinburgh and explore. I often went on derives around the New Town, often starting on Dublin Street by the Portrait Gallery and seeing where I ended up. Waverley Station was inevitably my final destination but it was the getting there that made it interesting, following psychogeographical concepts and taking random left and right turns. I haven’t been on such a walk for a while but I still turn off on a tangent from time to time even when I supposedly have a fixed route in mind to follow. The other week I was heading to Easter Road and walked up Leith Walk since I was running early. I ended up taking a diversion through the New Kirkgate shopping centre (less said the better) and found Trinity House museum then ducked through the very fine and springlike South Leith kirkyard.

The project I started a few weeks ago, Streets of Glasgow, has a psychogeographical dimension to it. I’ve lived in Glasgow for nearly four years but I still haven’t scratched the surface of it yet. Far from it. The walk on Buchanan Street was brilliant, a few snatched minutes in a lunchbreak from a training course, and I hope to get out some more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there are always new things to spot when looking the right way, like the ghost sign I spotted on Nelson Mandela Place walking back from the bus station the other week.

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Just shy of a year ago, I went to York, one of my favourite cities. One of the highlights was the National Railway Museum, which I always refer to affectionately as the most autistic place on Earth. In the Station Hall was a signpost which tickled me when I saw it then and sums up much of my outlook on life. One direction points ‘To the glorious and unknown’. It might be just a little bit impulsive but that’s all good with me.

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Before I forget, very soon, probably some time in June, will be the 300th post on this here blog. I like to mark these things, as with The things I love are not at home and Post 101: Talking, so for the first time, I am going to crowdsource what I write about for the 300th post. So, if there are any suggestions, based around what tends to appear here, please do let me know, either through the comments section or by other means if you know them.

 

Scotland’s national newspaper

Still on holiday so here’s an old post (from January) all about the Scotsman newspaper. Ironically since I wrote this, I’ve read more physical newspapers than I have read in about two years, usually sitting on trains. The Scotsman has been amongst them, incidentally.

Catching up with programmes on the iPlayer tonight led me to watch a documentary marking the 200th anniversary of The Scotsman, one of Scotland’s great newspapers. (It is available for just over three weeks on the BBC iPlayer here). It made me think of a childhood memory. I went to primary school in Edinburgh, more precisely in an unit specifically for autistic children. Each day we had a copy of The Scotsman though only I read it in much depth (I was always a weird boy). One of my classmates did usually look at the sport though. The Scotsman was and is the morning paper of Edinburgh and surrounding areas, just as The Herald is Glasgow’s, The Courier Dundee’s and the mighty Press and Journal of Aberdeen. It was only natural that the paper we got was published only a few miles away, at that point on North Bridge in the very heart of our capital though soon to move to Holyrood Road in the shadow of the then-new Scottish Parliament. I became deeply interested in the Parliament after I was encouraged to do a project on it and then I read of its doings and sayings each morning, sitting in my little cubicle ‘office’ in the Miller class flicking through The Scotsman.

The Scotsman of Saturday 21st January 2017, courtesy of Glasgow Libraries

I haven’t read The Scotsman in a long while, at least in paper form. I do read it, or parts of it, most days online, usually from links on Twitter. I might buy a copy once a year, perhaps if on a long train journey and it hasn’t changed much in a while. When I was a kid, it was a broadsheet while it has been a tabloid for quite a few years now. I never paid too much attention to its politics, which is probably for the best since when I read it regularly, it was a High Tory sort of paper. I would read it for the news, not bothering to stay for the views.

The stablemate of The Scotsman is the Edinburgh Evening News, or the ‘Evening Blues’ as I sometimes call it because it used to be exceedingly bloody miserable when I looked at it each day as it came into the library. Very often I buy a News if I am in Edinburgh, mainly to catch up with Hibs coverage. That stems back to a tradition of my boyhood. I got a taxi each day to school in Edinburgh and the driver and his wife always had a copy of the News, keeping aside the Monday sport supplement for me to read the latest affairs of Hibs over the weekend, catching up even if I happened to be at the game or indeed if I had read about it in the Pink on the Saturday night (blog post on that subject here). Courtesy of one of my relatives, I have a complete set of the News, including its special tribute edition, following Hibs winning the Scottish Cup last year. It felt right.

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One of the best things I’ve seen in my life, that headline
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Closely followed by this

When I was a teenager, I used to read The Herald, an unusual move for any teenager or indeed someone living in the east of Scotland. I now see The Herald at work and it is a friendlier paper than its Edinburgh rival in typeface, design and even its history. Then for lots of years I read The Guardian each day until I realised I read more of it online than in print. At one point I read four papers on a Sunday and two on a Saturday, one on a weekday. Now I buy a paper at best once a month, sometimes on a Sunday, sometimes if I’m travelling. I read my news online, like most people, and again like most people I don’t pay for it. That does give me a moment’s pause but I am also employed to give people books for free so I like free knowledge.

The Scotsman is now produced in a drab office block on Queensferry Road in Edinburgh, to be fair with quite nice views across the north of the city. Its previous homes on North Bridge and Holyrood Road are both beautiful in their ways – the former dominates a fair bit of the city centre, stood high up on North Bridge and hitting the ground outside the station on Market Street, while the latter is a modern building in the shadow of Salisbury Crags. One is a hotel, the other, ironically, housing new media in the form of a video games company. Undoubtedly The Scotsman has seen better days. Whether it is on the right side of political opinion now, as it often was in the past, foremost in the campaign for Home Rule, who can say? Particularly in these times of Brexit and Donald Trump, we need a free press and we need The Scotsman, and every other paper, just as much as ever to keep the powers, princes and potentates honest, in Edinburgh and a lot further afield.

Some popular places

Last week I wrote about the latest visitor figures for the country’s leading attractions, with the National Museum of Scotland top of the pile north of the border, closely followed by Edinburgh Castle. In that post I wrote about the places on the list I hadn’t been to, all five of them. In this post, which could be a lot longer, I will write a wee bit about the ones pictured in the BBC News story and some of the others higher up the list, beginning with the National Museum.

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh:

NMS is quite simply the best museum in Scotland and a place I’ve spent many happy hours over many years. I know people who go to spin the prayer wheels or to see particular objects but nothing else. For what it’s worth, I make a point of seeing the Millennium Clock, even though it’s now a bit more hidden away than it used to be. When I go, due to the sheer size of the place, I plan to see one floor or one section at a time. Any more and I get a sensory overload. My last visit was on a busy January Sunday and my best moments were in the quieter Scottish section, in the midst of steam engines, lighthouses and Pictish stones.

Posts here that have mentioned NMS include Capital wanderArthur’s SeatBeing autistic in a museum and Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh:

I have a love-hate relationship with Edinburgh Castle. It is always absolutely jumping and is also done to death by our tourism industry. There are nicer and more interesting castles in Scotland, even in Edinburgh. But it’s the location. It is home to the Crown Jewels, the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum. It also has a fine cafe where I used to sit and study, taking advantage of my Historic Scotland membership to get one of the best views in town.

Stirling Castle, Esplanade, Stirling:

I like Stirling Castle a lot. It is still quite touristy but it is far and away the best big castle in Scotland. It is, like Edinburgh, made by its setting. The view is stunning from every angle for on a good day you can see for miles to mountains, lowland towns and much else in between. It also has the Palace with its fine sculptures, a Great Hall with yellow harling and the Chapel Royal. Mostly it has the best perspective over central Scotland. Argyll’s Lodging, formerly a military hospital, is just down the hill and is worth a look too. You can get a tour from the Castle.

Another Stirling-related post from the blog archives is the handily-titled Stirling.

Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit:

Urquhart has a tower house and some ruins. Anywhere else in the country it wouldn’t be of much interest. But it is right by Loch Ness and so it is mobbed year round. It is beautiful, mind, and I love ruined castles so it would never be bad. The last time I was there a fighter jet flew low overhead and I instinctively ducked, owing to the massive sensory overload I was getting and also as it was extremely low. Some Germans laughed.

Skara Brae, Sandwick, Stromness:

I first heard about Skara Brae when I was in first year at high school. It is a prehistoric village with some houses built around 5000 years ago. It was lost for centuries until it was revealed by a particularly bad storm in the 1850s. Orkney is amazing but Skara Brae even more so, revealing how earlier societies lived and how they weren’t so dissimilar to us, even while some of the details remain obscure.

Orkney-related posts here include Museum of You and Hordes.

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Skara Brae

National Museum of Flight, East Fortune:

East Fortune is about 12 miles from Dunbar so I know it well. There was a market on the airfield each Sunday which I visited often as some of my relatives ran a snack van. The Museum of Flight is interesting. It isn’t a place I would visit every year but it has a lot of intriguing exhibits, including a Concorde. My one East Fortune story is when they brought the Concorde up from Heathrow. They brought it on a barge up the Thames then up the east coast of England, landing it at Torness. It was brought along the new A1 then across the fields to East Fortune. It made the national news, this exciting spectacle, though famously the never knowingly overfilled East Lothian Courier said it would only cover the Concorde ‘if it had space’.

At some other point, I will write up wee reviews of some of the other places lower down the list, the likes of St. Andrews Castle, Culzean, Fort George and Gladstone’s Land. We are blessed in Scotland by how many interesting places we have on our doorstep, or near enough our doorstep. I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with more than a few of them and getting to know some new ones along the way.

The five I’ve not been to

Once a year, a news story appears which says in slightly different words than the year before that Edinburgh Castle is a popular place to visit and so are the National Museum of Scotland and Kelvingrove. This year’s appeared the other day. NMS is the most visited attraction in Scotland, with 1.8 million visitors last year, only a few thousand above Edinburgh Castle. I’ve written about NMS before and I’m not really fussed about the figures – they merely confirm what most Scottish folk know to be true. Why I’m writing about them is because of what appears lower down the story on the BBC News website, namely a list of Scottish visitor attractions that appear lower down the list of the most popular visitor attractions in the UK, and of those 47, I have been to all but five of them over the years. They are:

171. National Museum of Rural Life

181. Inverewe Gardens

184. Provand’s Lordship

223. Brodick Castle and Country Park

238. Glasgow Museums Resource Centre

At some point, I will write a bit about those places I have visited but of those five, three of them are not far from where I live, indeed one is about 3 miles from here. I think GMRC even follows me on Twitter, randomly, and I still haven’t been.

The National Museum of Rural Life is just outside East Kilbride, not far from Glasgow. I haven’t felt any great urge to go – farming doesn’t interest me hugely and I’m never sure whether EK and all its concrete is the best place for such a museum. Randomly I saw an advert for the museum on the telly tonight when I was eating my tea. The last time I passed, though, I did think vaguely about going but since it was on this list, I will jolly well have to.

Of the five, by far and away the hardest to get to is Inverewe Gardens, which is in Wester Ross, well up north. It looks a stunning place. I spent about twenty minutes yesterday planning a trip up there, realising that without a car it could be very, very hard since I gather Poolewe only gets buses from Inverness on a Monday and a Wednesday, making a day trip even from Inverness, let alone Glasgow, absolutely impossible. It was nice to try, though. The 70-odd miles from Inverness to Inverewe Gardens covers a great swathe of the country I’ve never been to before, including Assynt and Gairloch, which would be great to see. As it is, it might not happen any time soon. It’s nice to dream, though.

The Provand’s Lordship is the oldest building in Glasgow. It is open to the public, managed by Glasgow Museums. It sits across the road from St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art, a building I haven’t been in for a while, come to think of it. It is also very near Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis. I haven’t missed it out for any particular reason. Perhaps, like the National Museum of Rural Life, it is just that I’m not overly bothered but that isn’t true. I am fascinated by history and by this city’s past. It just hasn’t come high enough up my list. At the earliest opportunity, I will have to make it right, perhaps as part of a Streets of Glasgow walk down the High Street.

Brodick is on the island of Arran, in the middle of the Firth of Clyde. The castle sits a little way out of Brodick, which is also the island’s main ferry port from the Scottish mainland. I have only been to Arran once, a few years ago on a beautiful and sunny Easter Sunday when we walked along the coast a little way, sitting for a while on a harbour not so far from the castle. The castle still eludes me though I am a member of the National Trust of Scotland who own it so I have less excuse as I wouldn’t have to pay £12.50 to get in. I gather, however, that only external tours will operate at Brodick Castle this summer but I am overdue a trip across to Arran so I might just go anyway, if only to get a picture of a RBS £20 note (which bears a picture of Brodick Castle) with the real thing.

Last but not least Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, also run by Glasgow Museums. Clue is in the title. They operate tours of the museum stores every day of the week, usually themed around a particular topic. GMRC is in a warehouse in Nitshill, an unglamorous part of the city about 3 miles from here, It really isn’t difficult to get to, a bus then a wee bit of a walk, but as ever other places have taken precedence. I will keep an eye on the tours and see if there’s one that strikes my fancy. I have been in a few museum stores in my time and I have not met one I haven’t liked or wanted to spend my life exploring. This being Glasgow, GMRC will no doubt be bigger and better than any other.

Writing posts like these makes me want to get out and explore, even if I am writing them (as tonight) after hours. I am off in a couple of weeks for about 10 days so I will hopefully see one of them, at the very least. Stay tuned.

 

Around the Holy Ground

As part of an occasional series of ‘what else you see at football grounds’ posts, I thought I would share what else I can see from my seat at Easter Road, that is, of course, apart from the holders of the Scottish Cup. For those who don’t know, Easter Road is in the east of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. The ground is made up of four large, modern stands. I sit in the newest of them, the East, built in 2010, and it’s a fine place to watch the game, affording an excellent view across the whole pitch, high enough up to see everything that’s going on without being able to actually distinguish which players are which. I just paid a considerable sum to be able to sit there next season too, hopefully watching Premiership football every other Saturday. Can’t wait.

Anyway, the main view from the centre of my universe is provided through gaps between the stands. To the south the Pentlands are in view as well as David Hume Tower, part of the University, and the church just up from the Meadows. Between the West and the Famous Five, it is mainly chimney pots and Corstorphine Hill in the distance, though I only noticed on Saturday that also prominent on the landscape is the tower of Fettes College, one of Scotland’s more elite private schools and alma mater of one Tony Blair. Less said about him the better, except Fettes is probably more of a rugger sort of place since after all it breeds the right sort of chap. Aye, right. Reminding us it comes to us all eventually, though, is the nearby chimney of the Western General Hospital.

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Fettes is the spike to the right

On my way to the ground on Saturday, I proceeded to take the longer route since, as ever, I was running early, walking the full length of Leith Walk. At the Foot, I was still well ahead of time and considered either walking down to the Water of Leith or along to Trinity House, choosing the latter option as it was only the other side of the New Kirkgate centre. Trinity House is a maritime museum, managed by Historic Environment Scotland though it’s only open by appointment. It was shut as I came up to it though hopefully I will get there soon. It’s been on my radar for years – someone I used to know worked there – but not quite encountered yet. It’s a very fine mercantile sort of building, a very pleasant contrast from the concrete shopping precinct that surrounds it.

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Trinity House

Across the way from Trinity House is South Leith Parish Church. I’m not usually a fan of cemeteries – the last one I was in was Glasgow’s Necropolis, which is beautiful in its way – but I enjoyed the few brief minutes I spent in the kirkyard, reading some of the grave inscriptions, and realising that it’s now spring judging by the crocuses and daffodils shooting up. There was also a nice bit of sculpture and a plaque commemorating all those buried in Leith without a marker or a gravestone to distinguish them.

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From there I headed for the ground though I took care as I headed down Easter Road towards Albion Road to look towards Salisbury Crags, one of Arthur’s Seat’s peaks, as it rises high above the old Abbeyhill school and the city streets below. Often the football, particularly when drawing against Dumbarton, becomes secondary to what’s around you and the walk definitely becomes the main event.

 

Atop

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The cover of the Proclaimers’ album Sunshine on Leith shows Charlie and Craig standing with their backs to the camera looking out over a cityscape. The photo was taken on Calton Hill, one of Edinburgh’s hills ‘stretching out like seven cats’ as Norman MacCaig said. To quote the Proclaimers themselves, there are times when being on Calton Hill feels like you are ‘sitting on top of the world’.

From the top of Calton Hill, there are excellent views across the north and east of the capital, to the Forth Bridges, Fife and East Lothian, to the Forth islands and pretty much to where the Forth joins the North Sea. The photograph above shows Leith, including Ocean Terminal, as well as Inchkeith and the Fife coast beyond. To the left of the photograph you can see Kirkcaldy in the distance, as shown by the flats to the east of the Lang Toun.

The photograph was taken in November last year, on a day when I just felt like coming to Edinburgh and walking. Never a bad thing, especially atop Calton Hill.

Thank you for visiting. I tend to write essays about any topic that strikes my fancy – recent topics have included Dundee, my adopted home city of Glasgow and walking up Buchanan Street and observing, talking about being autistic, a sculpture of creels and other things besides. Please do have a read.

Mr Incredible

I try not to write too much of the trials and tribulations of Hibernian Football Club on this blog, honest – there are enough other people who write on the various messageboards and some other blogs about our team without my input. I wanted to write a little something, though, about Conrad Logan. Conrad Logan played for Hibs at the end of last season. He now plays for Rochdale in England’s lower leagues. Now, that’s the boring summary. He came to play for Hibs after our first-choice goalkeeper got himself booked and thus suspended for losing his contact lens. After no competitive football for 16 months due to injury, he was between the sticks for our Scottish Cup semi final last year against Dundee United. Quite honestly, watching him warm up didn’t fill me with much confidence. He was, to put it charitably, not looking in the best shape. Then the game started. The game was not the finest Hampden has ever seen. After 90 minutes, and extra time, it was still goalless, due in no small part to the role of Conrad Logan. Then the penalty shootout came. We left the National Stadium with a spot in the Final. Logan saved again and again, not by a fluke but great motions across the goal to deny United. Unaccountably, Alan Stubbs dropped Logan for the next game in the league, which was the following Wednesday against The Rangers (score: 3-2 in the glorious Leith sunshine, just as a few weeks later down Mount Florida way), though he featured in most of the rest of the games last season, including on 21st May.

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Conrad Logan retains an affection amongst many Hibs fans, myself included. There is even something called the Conrad Logan Hibs Supporters Club, which I believe is based in West Lothian. Their flag has appeared prominently at our recent away games against Dundee United and Raith Rovers. Members of that august group went down to see Rochdale play a few weeks ago but sadly Conrad was on the bench. The previous Saturday, unfortunately, Rochdale had got gubbed in the FA Cup and our hero was in goal.

There is a film out just now called Logan. I have absolutely no clue what it’s about, only I know it isn’t about Conrad Logan. The Hollywood movie hucksters have undoubtedly missed a trick. A few weeks ago, Manchester United Tweeted an advert for the film and wonderfully Hibs replied, in a vaguely trolling kind of way, with a picture of Conrad with the movie’s strapline. Every time I see the adverts on the sides of buses, I think ‘no, his time came last year at Hampden’.

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Tweet from Hibernian FC. Conrad Logan is wearing the lurid green top.
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It certainly has.

As this post is published, I will be watching Hibs play, this time in beautiful downtown Paisley. We have an excellent goalie just now by the name of Ofir Marciano, who was our best player against Dunfermline the other night. Our goalkeepers tend to have random stories. Mark Oxley, the goalie who lost his contact lens, once scored in a game against Livingston, his goal kick assisted by the wind as it found its way from one end of our ground to another. Marciano is married to a supermodel and now lives in Musselburgh, a very unsupermodel type of place, as fine though it is. But undoubtedly my favourite of recent times has to be Conrad Logan, Mr Incredible himself, for his time, unlikely as it was, became one of heroes.

Two

The plan yesterday was to finish work a bit early in time to get through to Edinburgh and along to Easter Road to watch Hibs play Dunfermline. It was a late kick-off, since it was on BBC Alba (I’ve written about the Alba experience in the post Raw, published in November), and even though I could have watched it from the comfort of my own home, I also had a seat in the East Stand that would have been empty and that wouldn’t have done. In the end up, I arrived in Edinburgh just over two hours before kick-off but on the train through I had thought about going for a walk up Leith Walk. That was what I did but with an edge. Recently I wrote here about a project called Streets of Glasgow that I would like to work on, whereby I walk from one end of a notable city street to another and record what I find. I haven’t had the chance to do that yet, sadly, but I practised walking up Leith Walk, just being more aware of my surroundings and those around me. I looked into shop windows and paid attention to different accents and voices I heard. I heard one guy standing in a bookies’ doorway arguing with a woman who was walking speedily away from him. It was just generally excellent. Walking often has a nice meditative element, focusing on the steps one in front of another rather than anything else, and I felt better after just walking from one end of Leith Walk to another, thinking pretty much only about what was going on there where I was.

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Mural just off Leith Walk

As I reached the Foot of the Walk, I still had loads of time to get to the ground so I went up Constitution Street, looking across to the South Leith Church’s pillared kirkyard, then turned right at Leith polis station to Leith Links, where I decided to cut across its northern edge, which was entirely new to me. There were smart offices in grand, old buildings and a cricket club as well as a community orchard. I found the start of the Restalrig Railway Path that went up onto a ramp – some point I will follow it – just as the Links ended just shy of Seafield Crematorium. Seafield is an unglamorous bit of the capital – it’s where Edinburgh’s sewage goes, for starters – though the houses at the edge of the Links were rather fine. Seafield is also where the Eastern General Hospital was, just at the other side of the cemetery, and it was where I was born. I didn’t linger to see if there was a plaque.

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Looking up Easter Road to Arthur’s Seat
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Edinburgh City Centre

The game was frustrating, to put it mildly. Usually after a game, I walk down Easter Road and then along London Road towards the station. Since I had a little more time before the train home, I decided to cross London Road and head up Abbeyhill to Regent Road. I can’t remember if I’ve written about Regent Road before. It is one of the nicest throughfares in Edinburgh, with great views across Holyrood Park and much of the city, including to the city centre, which was certainly the case last night with the twinkly lights of Waverley and the city all in evidence. Regent Road also has the Burns Monument and the Royal High School, some of the city’s grandest architecture, and even in the eveningtime, there were tourists floating around. Our capital is a beautiful place and this is true even, and especially, of its more unsung parts. I never tire of being there even if I close my eyes and doze on the train home after another long day.