Names

IMG_4425

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

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

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

Advertisements

Membership

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

dscn1926
Hill House
My nearest NTS property is Pollok House, sat in the very fine Pollok Country Park. I can be there in half an hour. I haven’t been in for a few years – country houses really don’t float my boat though Pollok does have a very fine collection of Spanish art, as well as its magnificent grounds. Glasgow also has the Tenement House, a strange wee time capsule in Garnethill, a flat once belonging to a Miss Agnes Toward who kept the flat just as it was in the early part of the 20th century, and Holmwood House, which I went to last year some time. Holmwood is a pleasant house, in its own grounds in the south side not far from Cathcart Station. It was owned by the Couper brothers, local mill owners who donated the funds to build the Couper Institute, still the public library and community hub for the area, and designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson with all the characteristic stylistic touches that are his hallmark.

IMG_0778
Holmwood
Many of the NTS properties are in Ayrshire or Aberdeenshire. Ayrshire is fairly close to me though a fair few of the NTS properties there are only open seasonally. Even those tend to be Robert Burns-themed. I like our national poet, don’t get me wrong, I just need to be in the right mood for the Burns overkill that can sometimes ensue. My favourite NTS property in Ayrshire is Culzean Castle. I visited the castle about three years ago, getting the train down from Glasgow and then a bus from Ayr. The castle is in a stunning setting and as much as it is a fine house, the views are really more up my street. I walked in the country park one baltic day in February this year, thankfully sheltered a bit by the trees until we got back to Maidens and the wind hit.

Culzean Castle
IMAG0280
Barry Mill
My membership is up in October. I’m not sure to renew it yet. One reason that might sway me is that it might subsidise some of the smaller NTS properties, such as Preston Mill in East Linton and the wonderful Barry Mill in Angus. I am known to Tweet in praise of places I visit and in special circumstances to write to the organisation concerned to pass on my complements more directly. I went to Barry Mill about two years ago and the miller was doing an amazing job of showing folk around and passing on the skills and history of the place. It is in a very nice setting, between Carnoustie and Dundee, with trees and a burn passing nearby. The afternoon we had there stayed with me for a while. I wrote to the NTS in praise of Barry Mill, because if the management in Edinburgh don’t know the value of their outlying places then they might be lost. It’s why I will probably renew my membership, even while I might not necessarily get to all the places I want to see. It’s an investment to ensure other people can do so and enjoy them just as much if not more so than I ever would.

 

Cardonald

DSCN0505
Cardonald’s in the distance. Taken from Crookston Castle
I live in a part of Glasgow called Cardonald. If you don’t know it, you’ve probably passed by on the M8. It’s a suburb and it’s fine, I like living here. I’ve lived here four years now, which is amazing to me given I never thought I would leave Dunbar. Despite being here for four years, there are still places in the locality I have never been to. Just across the railway and the M8 from here is Cardonald Park. It is what was left after they built the motorway across the Fifty Pitches where once there were fifty football pitches. I pass Cardonald Park every day on the way to work but until the other day I had never been in it. It’s fine. I was walking across it on the way for a bus at the hospital. It seems pleasant enough to be in, with dog walkers and folks just passing by.

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

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

DSCN0527

 

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

IMG_4504 (1)
Rather lovely mural on Paisley Road West

Walk this way

img_3031
Where it began: Buchanan Street
For the last couple of months, I have been writing a series called Streets of Glasgow, basically essays about walks along the full length of Glasgow streets, part-psychogeography, part-stream of consciousness. The last one I wrote (early summer), Ingram Street, was the one I enjoyed most and I feel I am getting into the stride, so to speak, of this project. Hopefully you find them interesting. Anyway, I wanted to write about the process of them, how I come up with the street and then what I do on the actual walk.

The street usually comes down to where I happen to be that day. Buchanan Street and Ingram Street were both near places I was on training courses that day, Byres Road is by a bus stop and High Street was a chance glance out a bus. I have a few contenders for the next few – Queen Margaret Drive, Wellington Street, Waterloo Street, St. Vincent Street and George Street – though as ever when I get down to them will come down to when I can fit one in. The walks so far have been brief, 15-20 minutes in length, and that’s not stopped the writing flowing, I have to say.

Very often I have to walk up part of the street to get to an end of it, as with Ingram Street and High Street in particular. On that part, I am not thinking so much about what I’ll see, though I might spot something and file it away to look properly later. When I get to the start, I switch into full-on psychogeographic mode, looking all around and keeping alert for the sights and sounds of the street. So far I have relied on my memory and also iPhone photos. It has sort-of become a tradition that all SofG photos are phone photos since they are more spontaneous, a reaction to a moment in time. All of these walks so far have involved good weather, impressively, and there have been some interesting overheard conversations – Byres Road being particularly good for that. As I walk, thoughts might come about how the blog post will form, though usually that all comes later, usually at the end of the walk when I sit down and scribble a page or so of notes of thoughts and observations. This is a bit I particularly like as it tends to involve sitting on a bench somewhere pleasant – Byres Road led me to the Botanic Gardens, Ingram Street I sat outside the Gallery of Modern Art.

Later that day or the following day I sit here and the words appear on the screen. I liken writing to crossstitching, in that lots of patches and bits are brought together to create a greater thing than the words itself. Hopefully.

Streets of Glasgow has been enjoyable because it is on-the-spot and instant, the impressions I get would never be the same on another day. It is portable and also quite a bit educational, as with Ingram Street and the research I did to make sure I could write something worth reading about it. I never know when the next one will come but I am averaging one or two a month at the moment. Hopefully it will be soon, even while I am not sure where it will be. It has helped me understand Glasgow better and that is no bad thing, even while some people go their whole lives and never understand a place. I am getting there, though.

Digest: August 2017

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Screenshot 2017-08-29 at 21.02.55

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

August posts –

Digest: July 2017

Dirleton, Seton and a coastal walk

Streets of Glasgow: Alexandra Parade

Stairs

Places that can’t be reached by public transport

Streets of Glasgow: Cathedral Street

The Dunbar End

In praise of being alone

The Botanics

Castles as cardio

 

The Botanics

Some people won’t know that the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow were once served by a railway. It existed for a mere 68 years, from 1896 to 1964. The station in the Botanics closed in February 1939, though generations of Glasgow children remember climbing down where the trains once steamed through. It is now firmly fenced off, industrial archaeology to be observed, not walked in. The ventilation shafts are still visible in the Botanics and I go for a look whenever I’m there. I stood there the other day, imagining trains of Glaswegians decamping for an afternoon amidst the trees, but not seeing them, the buses I could hear along Great Western Road conveying visitors there now.


I was told recently of the concept of the urban imaginary, the different meanings and contexts that the urban can assume. (With thanks to lullueblog. I like this blog for intriguing discussions of what constitutes authentic travel.) The urban imaginary is quite similar to psychogeography, I gather, a way to help people make sense of often obtuse and overwhelming cities. Glasgow is one of those cities where it helps to look up and down whenever possible, to be aware of what is around. There is simply a lot going on here, architecturally and in every other sense. In a city which thrives on being stylish and friendly, it is nice to peek behind that exterior and realise there are parts of this city which have just been abandoned to nature. The Botanics is in the heart of Glasgow’s West End, one of the more desirable parts of the city to live and love in. Yet there’s an old railway station there. There are times when I like places to be ruined, to have embarked on a different phase of their life cycle than first intended. Yet there are times when looking upon a place that a reimagining and reworking is what comes to mind. I hope that one day trains run again in the Botanics, just as I hope to stand on the terracing at Cathkin Park and see league football. In the meantime, we have memories slowly fading but urban imaginaries slowly emerging too.

Streets of Glasgow: Cathedral Street


I’ve written here before about Edwin Morgan, a poet who wrote about many things, most notably about Glasgow, the city which he called home. As I started onto Cathedral Street, I thought about Morgan’s poem ‘The Second Life’, which is a meditation of a man in his forties about the city changing about him, regenerating and growing anew.

‘Many things are unspoken

in the life of a man, and with a place

there is an unspoken love also

in undercurrents, drifting, waiting its time.

A great place and its people are not renewed lightly.’

Glasgow is awash with development right now. It cannot be denied, however, that there are still problems and places and people in this city which are not being renewed. Cathedral Street changes every time I see it, seeing new buildings springing up regularly as part of the City of Glasgow College and Strathclyde University. It is a part of the city which has waited its time, though, with old 60s concrete replaced by swish glass and colourful designs. At the moment it is a work in progress with cranes, boards and construction happening all around.


I started from the Cathedral Precinct, stopping to scribble notes from the previous Alexandra Parade walk and get my breath back. I paused by the statue of David Livingstone, a much far-flung sort of adventurer, which I hadn’t really paid much attention to before. I also noticed for the first time a plaque dedicated to those who perished in the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. I remembered the beautiful Piper Alpha memorial which sits in the Kirk of St. Nicholas in Aberdeen and I was glad that my city had a small but thought-provoking memorial to those 167 people who died in the middle of the North Sea.

As I neared the junction with Stirling Road, where the Strathclyde University Library is, I distinctly heard skirling pipes. Not a single piper but a full band. As I looked to my left, into the student accommodation, I could see there was indeed a full pipe band, not all in Highland dress but in T-shirts and kilts, playing in the quadrangle. Whatever gets them through the shift. The World Pipe Band Championships take place in the city in the coming weeks so they may have been here for that.


There were also pipes in the street, with much of the section between Montrose Street and North Hanover Street being dug up. This was genuinely interesting, seeing the layers of the street and what lies underneath. Archaeologists getting in there would have a rare old time.


At that point, new buildings came thick and fast, the new City of Glasgow College building sandwiched between two in progress, one for the College and the other for Strathclyde University. The City of Glasgow College building is massive, with a huge frontage with stairs leading up the side of the building and lots of glass facing onto Cathedral Street.


Cathedral Street ends at the junction of Buchanan Street and Bath Street. Bath Street, which continues heading west, will be for another time. This time I stopped to look at the vast glass arch of Queen Street Station. Where at the start I heard pipes, now all I could hear was the booming PA of the railway station announcing the latest service to Edinburgh. I was heading for a train, not for the capital this time, but first to finish the walk, under Buchanan Galleries, another modern development in a street full of them, a couple of generations worth anyway and changing with every day that passes.

Sources and further reading –

Morgan, Edwin – ‘The Second Life’, published in New Selected Poems, 2000, Manchester: Carcanet

Streets of Glasgow: Alexandra Parade


Of all the streets in this city, there aren’t very many Parades. There can be parades on them, certainly, but not many bear the name ‘Parade’. Alexandra Parade was chosen for this walk because I happened to be going to Dennistoun anyway and it was a quick and simple route back into the city centre. It starts by Cumbernauld Road in Dennistoun and ends about a mile later by the Royal Infirmary at Castle Street. Unlike some of the streets in this series, Alexandra Parade was entirely new to me, only a name I had heard others speak about or that I had seen on the map. It was also the first street where I had the sweet smell of beer wafting through my nostrils, blowing up from the Tennents Brewery. Not altogether unpleasant, as it happens, despite that I don’t like beer that much.


James Miller designed some very fine buildings in his day, not least the Grand Central Hotel in town and Clydebank Town Hall. St. Andrews East Church isn’t one of them, looking very austere and just like a fortress. Apparently, according to my Pevsner guide, it is ‘an Arts and Crafts interpretation of the late Perp style, with a prominent Westwerk facing Alexandra Parade’. As a connoisseur of castles myself, it looks like it should have gunholes, archers and a portcullis about the place. It may have been the greyness of the day but it just looked grim. The church hall next door, which is now the proper church, looks a bit more appealing, thankfully.


Alexandra Park faces onto the Parade and I admired the flowerbeds around the gates as well as the cherubic figure sitting under a canopy at the park entrance. Glasgow seems to have a few of these kicking around; there’s another at Govan Cross, for example, and this one was painted in red, gold and black.

Much of the walk took me past fine tenement blocks, most in red but some in more yellow sandstone, some with very handsome roof features, domes and finials. As I walked further towards the city centre, I began to imagine this street bustling with people and lined on both sides by staunch, old-fashioned tenements. Not far along was Alexandra Parade Primary School, another handsome Victorian schoolhouse, this one with prominent Art Nouveau style lettering denoting the school’s name and that it was operated by the School Board of Glasgow. At the end of the playground was a decent sized house that may well have housed the school headie or the jannie at one point.


Closer to the city centre the landscape became a bit more modern with office blocks and industrial premises at either side. One of the office blocks, City Park, was previously a tobacco factory, one of quite a few in and around Alexandra Parade at one time. City Park is a colossal building, housing quite a few different companies. It also has some intriguing statues outside it, a male figure on one side and a female figure on the other. I also liked how an old cinema had been turned into a tyre garage. The only clue of its past use was the bold colours and curves on the front of the building, with the garage operating from the side.

Towards the end the M8 was beside me for much of the way, with constantly bustling midday traffic making their way through the city. I soon came to the Royal Infirmary, realising swiftly just how vast a complex it is, with boxy buildings at the eastern side to augment the grander edifice facing onto Castle Street. The hospital was busy too, with folk shuffling in and out and ambulances with their loud caterwauling wails never far away.

Soon I came to Castle Street, the point where Alexandra Parade ended. And, naturally, the rain started, as if just waiting for the walk to be finished. I sheltered for a wee while under a tree in the Cathedral Precinct, scribbling thoughts and reflecting on the walk just undertaken. It was good to be in an unfamiliar part of the city, discovering new architecture and making connections between names and places at last. The contrast between swish Dennistoun and Townhead with the constant whir of traffic made it all the more interesting but in all Alexandra Parade was a good choice, leading me back into the city and another wander about to begin.

Source and further reading –

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press

Digest: July 2017

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

Benmore
Loch Awe
Kilchurn Castle

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

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

Berwick
Temple of Muses
Dryburgh Abbey
Introverted road
Dublin Street

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

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

Bridgeton Burns monument

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

Newhaven
Wardie Bay
Granton
Cramond

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

Tynecastle

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

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

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

Dirleton Castle
Seton Collegiate Church
Prestongrange

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

Posts published this month –

Proclaimers Live

Streets of Glasgow: Battlefield Road

Bothwell Castle

Kilchurn Castle

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

Introverted roads

Streets of Glasgow: Gordon Street

New Town psychogeography

Hampden Park

Edinburgh’s promenade

The Bass Rock’s doppelganger

Following

The Bass Rock’s doppelganger

Ailsa Craig
I didn’t know until recently that the Ailsa Craig, a big hunk of granite in the middle of the Firth of Clyde, is twelve times the area and three times as high as the Bass Rock, its doppelganger in the Forth. Having grown up in Dunbar, I am considerably more familiar with the Bass and so I always think of the Ailsa Craig as being the lesser relation, even though I now know the western version is much, much larger. Things always have to be bigger and better through here, eh? Anyway, it got me thinking about Ayrshire. Going down there is always exciting to me. I grew up at the other side of the country so the rolling coastline south of Ayr and Girvan is exotic, with an unfamiliar vista to the Ailsa Craig and beyond on a good day to Arran, Kintyre and Northern Ireland. The first time I went was when I was a kid and there was a brief stopover at Girvan en route somewhere else. I was entranced by the Ailsa Craig and bought a postcard of it to take home. (My main memory of that particular trip, though, was getting a can of Mango and Mandarin Lilt, which was my favourite and can never be found anywhere.) Ever since, I love being in that part of the country. When I went to Northern Ireland last year, I thought all the way down to the ferry at Cairnryan that even this journey was enough to see me for a while, let alone the trip across the North Channel. (For posts on that particular trip, please see (North) Channel crossingUlster MuseumTrains and that.)

Bass Rock
The Bass Rock is far more familiar to me. When I see it, I have a similar response to when I clap eyes on the Ailsa Craig: I just smile, sigh and relax. I may have written before about how it looks different from different angles, whereas the Ailsa Craig looks remarkably similar from wherever you happen to see it. From Dunbar, the Bass looks craggy and intimidating while from North Berwick it is more of an island affair. Across the Forth in Crail, Cellardyke and Anstruther the Bass looks more like a tooth, a monolith as opposed to the bumpy land just beyond it in East Lothian. I’ve never actually been though I have been close. When I was a teenager we went out on a fishing boat and went quite close to the Bass, if not right up to it. It is one of the largest seabird colonies in the world and in the summer there can be thousands of gannets on it, turning the rock a bright white. I gather that the Ailsa Craig has quite a few gannets on it too but I’ve never quite seen that shade of bright, glossy white anywhere else.

Hugh MacDiarmid wrote a poem which began ‘Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?’ Our country is a multiform and that is particularly evident when thinking of our coastline. Both sides of the country are rugged with lots of jagged edges that Slartibartfast of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be very proud of. Scotland isn’t very symmetrical but the Ailsa Craig and the Bass Rock make up for it, two lumps of rock in the sea at either side of the country, at either side of the Lowland Fault. For a Dunbar boy like me, the Ailsa Craig is still a tribute act, even if it is far bigger than I realised before.

Sources and further reading –

Haswell-Smith, Hamish, An Island Odyssey, 2014, Edinburgh: Canongate

MacDiarmid, Hugh, ‘Scotland small?’, accessible via http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/scotland-small