End of the line: Milngavie

Scotland is the best in many respects, not least in place names that are pronounced much, much differently than how they are spelled. Off the top of my head, there are Cockburnspath (Co’burnspath or Co’path), Athelstaneford (Alshenford), Strathaven (Straven) and the daddy of them all, Milngavie (Milgui). Milngavie is a small town a wee way north of Glasgow. It is known for being the southern end of the West Highland Way, which stretches 96 miles all the way to Fort William (pronounced Fort Wilyum, incidentally), and also for being quite well-to-do. It is the kind of place that has a Waitrose, for example, the mark of somewhere with a lot of Range Rovers. I had never been there before and I decided one very warm April Bank Holiday to change that.

‘This is Glasgow Queen Street Low Level. This train is for Milngavie…’ went the train. Milngavie is quite well served by trains and I could get there from either Glasgow Central or Queen Street. Indeed the train I got from Queen Street had come from Edinburgh. I was going to wait for the Central train but Glasgow was mobbed and I wanted out – summer had arrived with a vengeance. As I write this, it’s cool and wet outside but this day wasn’t. I sat by the window and watched the city pass by, most of the journey via Charing Cross, Partick and Hyndland very familiar, a shadow on the grey Riverside Museum roof, the river shimmering with the unfamiliar sunlight. From Westerton it was all new, houses on either side, some very red people sunbathing in their gardens. These quickly gave way to dearer brick and stone houses. ‘They’ll tell I’m working class’ came the unbidden thought. No wonder I ended up humming ‘The Red Flag’ on regular intervals on my walk.

Milngavie station, with its low hanging roof, was quite busy with young folk heading for the beach or wherever. I felt quite old walking through them, not quite old enough to be their faither yet, but certainly an older brother. The underpass to the town centre was rather fine with a series of murals about the area’s history and the West Highland Way. To my surprise, given Milngavie’s reputation, the town centre was fairly run down and wonderfully the West Highland Way, that well-kent footpath, began right by Greggs. I desisted from buying a steak bake this particular day and started off for Mugdock.

I walked up past some quite posh houses and soon reached the banks of Mugdock Reservoir. I had never been there before and it was rather fine on that gorgeous sunny day, the water calm, the vista pretty perfect. Lots of people were out walking, running and enjoying the sunshine. I knew only that this was where my water comes from. Loch Katrine in the Trossachs is a major source of Glasgow’s water and it gets piped through 26 miles of tunnels and aqueducts to end up at Mugdock and Craigmaddie Reservoirs. This was one of those wonderful Victorian innovations designed to solve a major public health crisis in the city and the design of the gauge basins were enough to remind of a grander civic age. As I walked, I forgot I was so close to Glasgow – indeed I could see some of its high buildings – and I sat by the reservoir, ate my sandwiches and read a book. It was brilliant.

After a fashion, covered in a couple of Loose Ends posts recently, I walked back down into Milngavie, only heading the short distance to Bearsden for a Roman diversion. I was glad finally to have reached Milngavie, the source of much amusement over the years, and to be able to put a place to a name. I think I’ll go back on a colder day, the kind of winter day where the sun is intense but bitingly baltic, to see the view to its best effect. It was pretty fine that day, to be fair, another end of a line and the beginning of another.

Thanks for reading. The Loose Ends posts featuring Milngavie and surrounding districts are John Frederic Bateman monument, Craigmaddie Gauge Basin and Bearsden Bathhouse.

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End of the line: Gourock

Glasgow has a considerable railway system, probably the best outside London. Every so often I walk through Central Station and I think about how many of the stations on the big departure board I’ve actually been to. It’s quite few. I’ve been to London Euston and Manchester Airport, Edinburgh, Stranraer, Ayr, Largs and Lanark, amongst others, but not Neilston, Newton, Larkhall or Milngavie. I took a picture once of the board, intending to go to every destination on it, but I just haven’t got round to it yet. I seem to remember Birmingham New Street was on the board as a terminating station and I’ve still not been to Birmingham, despite being told it has great museums.

Most embarrassingly up until recently I had never been to Gourock by train. Gourock is a town by the Clyde and it is where the trains that go my way end up. All I knew about it was that it had an open air swimming pool, a prom and ferries to Dunoon. One beautiful Saturday afternoon, I decided to go there, just to scratch that itch. I rocked up to my local station and a Class 314 train rolled up. I call them ‘rollerskates’. They don’t tend to have much elegance and I seem to have been on more of them since Scotrail announced they were taking them off. Anyway, class 314 away and absolutely everywhere is improved by sunshine. The train crossed rolling fields at Arkleston and into Paisley where the roof crosses and trusses were reflected on the buildings and the floor with the bright sun. The train was fairly busy, mostly with families, and later as we neared Greenock some kid was singing about someone called Sally and their various stages of life, which steadily got more tragic. She might have ended up a zombie, as I recall.

It being Saturday, there was quite a bit going on outside the window, including football at St. Mirren and Morton, which was strange being by a football ground when the game was on and not being there. There was also rugby later nearer Langbank. I am on this route fairly often and going past Paisley Gilmour Street felt strange. Going past Bishopton was downright revolutionary. The M8 was to the right and the airport soon came into view. Later the urban gave way to a great view over the Clyde to Dumbarton and Bowling, Ben Lomond and the Argyll hills, crannog posts sticking out the riverbed at low tide. It is one of my favourite stretches of railway in Scotland and it was familiar up to Greenock, where the line divides with one branch off to Wemyss Bay, the other unfamiliar towards Gourock. Old stone walls rose high at Greenock Central and the wonderfully named Fort Matilda had suitably old-fashioned railway buildings.

Then came Gourock. The station was all glass, giving great views to the Clyde that sat behind it. The route to the Dunoon and Kilcreggan ferries led along the platform under a glass canopy, not as nice as Wemyss Bay but still all right in the sunshine. Gourock sits on a point sticking out into the Clyde where it turns down south. I left the station and walked along the front. It was rather lovely, sunny but cooler than Glasgow being that bit closer to the sea. There were quite a few others walking along and I walked most of the way to McInroy’s Point, stopping at regular intervals to stand, stare and take photos. The views were great towards Cowal, Kilcreggan and Helensburgh. I always say that north of Dumbarton is where Scotland really begins and that was really evident looking north over the Clyde from Gourock. The bit I was in was quite fine, though, with flowers, yachts in the water and on the lampposts. The open-air swimming pool wasn’t open yet but I saw where it was and I could see ferries going back and forth to Dunoon. The high street was all right, a few local traders mixed in with the usual supermarkets, charity shops and off licences.

I was back on the train home about an hour later, just in time to get Partick Thistle fans heading back from Cappielow and guys from Greenock heading out on the piss in Glasgow. My earphones were in but the Partick Thistle fans were actually all right, quite civilised as you would expect from the mob who gave us Kingsley, the only football mascot designed by a Turner Prize winner. The train, unsurprisingly, was a class 314. Scotrail did promise they were taking them off, honest. They even mention on social media when they do their last run. Anyway, the views were still beautiful in the sunshine in reverse, my book was even better and I ended up back home, glad to have finally reached the end of the line.

Thanks for reading. Streets of Glasgow returns next week.