Glasgow Women’s Library

I’ve never met a library I haven’t liked. I’ve been in many of them, worked in more than a few too, and in each one I ever visit, I always feel the same sense of contentment in the presence of collected knowledge. I never feel anxious in a library but that might be because of my background working in them as well as the still sense of order in each one.

IMG_3960

Recently I went to the Glasgow Women’s Library, which sits in Bridgeton in the East End. The GWL has been on my radar for a while – what I heard of its work, from colleagues and library users, impressed me immensely. Libraries open up worlds for people that they didn’t know existed and the GWL has a very broad collection of works by female writers as well as museum and archive collections on politics, lesbian issues and the National Museum of Roller Derby. They also provide outreach sessions and workshops for women from all sorts of backgrounds on all sorts of things. All this I was broadly aware of before I walked into the place but what I was struck by was its friendliness. Within moments, my friend and I were welcomed, offered a cup of tea and whisked away for a tour. Many people have an image of libraries as rather forbidding, unapproachable sorts of places and those who work in them as much the same, a perception many of us are trying our hardest to change. The GWL lives up to its credo as expressed on the A-frame at the door: ‘We Are Open To Everyone’. Even me, the only guy in the place, a fact I only noticed well into the time we were there.

IMG_3961

The tour included the museum store, all climate-controlled as befits a collection which is recognised as a nationally significant collection by the Scottish Government. JA and I are both museum geeks so getting into a store with its boxes all carefully accessioned and labelled is a rare treat. The mezzanine level houses some of the older and rarer books, including one I spotted about Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the Victorian intellectual Thomas Carlyle and a writer and thinker in her own right. Jane hailed from Haddington in East Lothian, in fact the house where she was born is across a narrow close from the town’s library.

The main lending library was naturally where I had to be next, to look at their collection, which wasn’t organised by Dewey, rather by subject with Drama, Poetry and Politics rather than a series of numbers with a decimal point attached for good measure. The books were kept in place with blocks marked with the names of writers, though most poignantly the Politics section had a block bearing the name of Jo Cox, the MP who was assassinated last year. I saw lots of books I would have loved to just sit and read, including a biography of the very versatile and prolific Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison. Time, alas, precludes such pleasures.

IMG_3965IMG_3964IMG_3962

Nan Shepherd wrote that ‘it is a grand thing to get leave to live’. Libraries give us leave to live. One of the greatest pleasures of being in a library is having your mind blown by something you read. Even better still is working in a library because of the people you find there, the kind that boil the blood as much as those who become more like friends. Libraries are open to everyone and I have never failed to feel comfortable in any of them I’ve ever encountered. Not everyone feels that way and that must change. The Glasgow Women’s Library is a truly special place and I am proud that this city, my city, is its home. Their work in sharing literature and stories makes people feel part of something, a movement, a collective where no one is alone. Theirs is an open door in an often closed world. It must be cherished and celebrated, now more than ever.

Thanks for reading. In the next couple of months, I will be publishing the 300th post here on Walking Talking. To celebrate that milestone, I would like to open it up to suggestions. If anyone has any suggestions for the 300th post, put them in the comments box or contact me in another way if you know how. We have one suggestion already but I am open to others.

Ten days off

In about ten days time, I am off for about ten days. This is the longest period of time off I’ve had in ages at a time of year that doesn’t have Christmas involved. I am looking forward to it more than I can possibly say. I have exactly two things in my diary over the time, both Hibs fixtures, but beyond that I am a free man. I spent some time this morning thinking about a few ideas for day trip destinations since I haven’t really been on a big day trip in months, coming up with a few good contenders. Since working to a schedule is all part of working, I don’t intend to be too rigid about how I spend my time. If I want to have a lie in one day, I will. If I wake up and think ‘I want to go some place’ then that can happen too.

One idea was to visit one of my favourite parts of the world, Lochaber. The bus trip to Fort William alone will be worth the trip, passing Loch Lomond on the way out of Glasgow then up by Arrochar to Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Rannoch Moor and Glencoe. I am an atheist but even I would consider Glencoe an argument for a divine being. From Fort William, I intend to head west a bit to Glenfinnan at the mouth of Loch Shiel. Glenfinnan is where the Jacobite standard was raised by Charles Edward Stuart’s forces after he landed in Scotland in 1745. There’s a muckle monument dedicated to that so I’ll go there, not out of any great sympathy but because it is beautiful, sat right on the shore by the loch. Not so far is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, as seen in the Harry Potter films, and also a contender for best loch in Scotland, Loch Eilt. I’ll spend a couple of hours and then make my way back to Fort William, eat then go home, hopefully contented. That’s a long day but hopefully I will get the weather right. Then again Fort William is one of the wettest places in the country so I will be taking a big kagoule, just in case.

Another contender I was thinking about this morning was Manchester. I’ve been there a few times but the motivation was put in my head by one of my friends who I saw on Friday night. We’re both library geeks and there’s a brilliant one called Chetham’s, which is brilliant and worth seeing, I’m informed.

Similarly I have been thinking about London, heading down overnight on the Sleeper then back up the following evening on a Virgin Pendolino. I am not the hugest fan of London but a wee trip to the British Museum and maybe out to Greenwich wouldn’t be bad.

Apart from that, there are some other ideas kicking around. I haven’t been to Dunbar in ages (save for a toilet break when in the area a fortnight ago) so my home town probably needs a visit. I looked up the exhibitions in Inverness Museum and the Maritime Museum in Aberdeen but they don’t strike my fancy. Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven, is one I have wanted to get back to for ages, only intensified after being at the similarly beautiful Tantallon a couple of weeks ago. I wrote in a post last week about the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride and I might just have to head out there. It is on a bus route from Glasgow, I think, so you never know.

I am off the week after the school holidays finish, which is a great advantage in visiting any of these places. In my experience, when the schools go back is also when the weather gets better, which is another undoubted bonus. I know with absolute certainty that I won’t get to all of these places when I’m off. But it’s fun planning anyway, almost as much as the actual travelling in my experience. I will write up where I get to here. Any suggestions in Scotland or northern England will be gratefully received.

 

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.

100_3513
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.

 

Cambridge tumbling

For a while, this blog had a spinoff on Tumblr, which I used quite like Twitter, as a place to share but more often to read what others have put on. I deleted it because keeping up with this blog was hard enough. Anyway, recently I was scrolling through Tumblr posts and encountered a few that featured particularly flattering photographs of Cambridge, a place I have now been to twice, in October 2015 and February 2016 – the posts about Cambridge are Bus stop sighting, RememberingSightsBooks and thatMore holiday thoughts – museums and Lighter side. The photographs, which featured Silver Street, the Fitzwilliam Museum, the area around King’s College and the River Cam, made me pine and want to go back again. It’s not the first time that has ever happened – I see photographs of many places and think ‘I need to be there as a matter of urgency’. Usually, it is a fleeting moment of thought. The place is either visited very promptly or about two years later. Cambridge probably won’t be visited too soon. It’s nothing personal against the place – it is beautiful and ancient and I would be back there in a heartbeat. It is a matter of practicality, Cambridge is 355 miles from here, reachable by air and train, certainly, but I can’t do trips down there every week or even every month, as I can with Edinburgh or wherever. Oxford is higher-up on the list despite being harder to reach because I have never been there before.

So, in the meantime, here are some photographs of Cambridge just to make me more keen to go back and to remind us of why it is such a cool place.

DSCN0322
Near the Cam

DSCN0426
Fitzwilliam Museum

DSCN0444
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

DSCN0423
Fitzwilliam Museum

DSCN0432
Fitzwilliam Museum

DSCN0439
Cambridge
 

The view from the McDermid Stand

Yesterday I went to watch Hibs play Raith Rovers in Kirkcaldy. Hibs were mince but hopefully they will raise their game in a significant way for Hearts on Wednesday and more importantly for the league beginning with Dunfermline at home on Saturday. I was in Kirkcaldy for the football, really, but combined it with a few minutes in the art gallery too. The last time I was there was the day I got offered my job so emotionally I was over the place and didn’t really pay much attention to the art. Yesterday I managed to actually see the pictures. I particularly enjoyed the McTaggart paintings. They really cheered me up. Not that I was particularly unhappy, the experience of being myself in an art gallery elsewhere hasn’t been one I have had lately, if I’m honest, and it was good to be out in the world outside the west in a place I like doing something I like.

fullsizerender-4

I walked to Stark’s Park after that. On previous visits, I had sat lower down the stand though this time I was right at the back. I prefer to be higher up anyway when I watch football but the McDermid Stand has the added bonus of a smashing view across the Forth to East Lothian. I was there early so immediately after eating my pies I spent a while looking across the Forth trying to place what I was seeing. Without a pair of binoculars, I couldn’t be sure and it wasn’t the clearest day but I think I was seeing the Hopetoun Monument, Aberlady Bay, Port Seton and the Lammermuir Hills. I have written here before about the fine views the Fife coastline has towards East Lothian, particularly at Dysart and along the East Neuk, and when the game was boring I chanced a look across the Forth and it made a frustrating game all the better.

img_2914img_2916img_2917

Kirkcaldy is a two-hour bus ride from Glasgow and on the way there and back I read and chilled out. On the bus ride back, I was sitting in front of two Raith Rovers fans who had just been at the game I was at and were rather happier with the result than I was. I couldn’t help hearing what they were blethering on about. One of them had been going to watch Raith for 52 years and had seen some great games in his time. He still went despite being elderly and needing care a lot of the time. It reminded me of an article I had read on the way over to Kirkcaldy by Peter Ross about the dedicated fans that lower-league teams in Scotland have, those who go week-in, week-out, very often with little reward. Even as I was discontented about my own team’s fortunes, there are always people worse off than me. Still, there have been worse trips and it was good to be away.

 

Kirkcaldy

Friday day trips are strange creatures. I am usually working until 8 the night before and as a consequence my timings are all over the place. I invariably like a lie in and thus don’t end up going terribly far. Sometimes I wake up about 8 and think about going far and wide but four hours later I am still in bed and not moving any time soon. There are other times when I just want to go somewhere and I can pull my carcass out of bed early enough to get somewhere a wee bit further from Glasgow. A few Fridays ago, I was up early and thought about St. Andrews or somewhere like that but of course I wasn’t out of bed until about 10. I had a good idea for somewhere to go, however.

My favourite art gallery in Scotland is not Kelvingrove or the National or even Portrait, fine places though they are. Rather it’s the one in Kirkcaldy, recently refurbished to include an expanded museum, cafe and central library but with the art gallery bit delightfully unchanged in style and contents. Kirkcaldy has a fine collection of 19th and 20th century Scottish art, from William McTaggart through the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists, all favourites of mine and all in the one place. I visit at least three or four times a year, usually as a result of a notion like I had a couple of weeks ago just to be there. This particular visit, though, was different as just before I went in, I received some happy news which meant that I was looking at the art through a haze of tears and general heightened emotion.

img_2411img_2413

Like in many things, I have a routine when I visit Kirkcaldy. I start in the first room, currently containing a John Bellany amongst others, then work through each room in turn, finishing at the far end where the McTaggarts are then work my way back through each one again, invariably stopping for a seat and a ponder once or twice along the way. Usually I am entirely alone but there were a couple of folk dotting around plus the normal loud-footed attendants clomping through at regular intervals to make sure we weren’t nicking anything. Particular favourites in the second room were two of Kellie Castle, near Pittenweem, by John Henry Lorimer, showing the castle and its surrounds with spring flowers and shadowy light. They must have been pulled from the museum stores recently as I only became aware of them recently and every time I go, I think I must get to Kellie Castle, even while it is a bastard to get to by public transport. Of the Scottish Colourists, I was drawn as usual to the Iona paintings by Peploe and Cadell, the best looking towards Ben More and Mull. Again, another enticement to visit a place far-off. And the McTaggart has a few crackers, not least the one of a glen near Roslin and the just plain braw painting of a wave crashing to shore on a grey day. I also paid particular attention to two quite esoteric sculptures by Martin Rayner, whose brother I used to work with, strangely enough. I thought a little about him and tried to work out the symbolism of these richly allegorical works.

My brain was all over the place this time, looking at the art with heightened affection while trying not to dance about the place with happiness. I must have looked a right mess.

Before I left, I made sure I got to the temporary exhibition about the Forth Bridges, showing art and objects relating to the best bridge on the planet and the road one next to it. The new Queensferry Crossing will open in September so there was a bit about that. The art was by Kate Downie and was rather fine with drawings, etchings and paintings depicting the bridges, my favourites charcoal drawings of the crosses and angles of the Rail Bridge. For the person that will invariably ask me when it’s on rather than looking it up on Google or the Kirkcaldy Galleries website, the exhibition finishes on 25th February.

Before I left, I walked down to the waterfront. Kirkcaldy has a big road right next to the Forth but I crossed over it all the same and looked across in the twilight to Edinburgh and East Lothian, sorting my fix of the sea and waves for a bit. Quite a few places in Scotland ruin their rivers by having big, nasty roads right next to them (I’m looking at you, Dundee, for starters) but sometimes you just need to shut out what’s around you and just look out. I did the same when I was in Dundee, strangely enough, a couple of weeks before and it was strangely quite joyful. This time, I stood a while then headed back to the bus, plugging in some music and reading my way back to Glasgow, another Friday well spent.

img_2421

 

Great British Railway Journeys

Invariably the programmes I want to watch on TV aren’t on when I can watch them. That used to be a problem but not so much when the iPlayer and other catch-up apps exist. I download programmes to watch either in dinner breaks or just in bed or on the move. While I was on holiday in Northumberland, I caught up with two episodes of the Great British Railway Journeys, the Michael Portillo train travelling yarn, travelling through my native East Lothian as well as County Durham and Edinburgh. Portillo was also in Craster about a mile from where I was sitting at the time. He is a ham actor par excellence and some of what he gets up to (and wears) makes you cringe. But they are compulsive viewing, especially when the places he’s in are so familiar. Indeed some of the people on them were familiar too, including my first boss, interviewed in the Glebe in Dunbar.

Craster was an unexpected surprise, one of the most beautiful places anywhere and seeing Portillo sitting on a bench looking across the harbour made me smile and want to be there. He went to visit the smokehouse across the road from where I had lunch on Monday. The smokehouse smelt beautiful, incidentally.

dscn2212
Craster

Dunbar was the main interest. As well as learning about John Muir, he also fannied about on a coracle in the Biel Burn, just as it passes the dump road in its haste to join the sea in Belhaven Bay. He was assisted by Junior Rangers, teenagers who assist the park rangers, but not even they could stop him acting like a choob and nearly falling in.

dscn0560
View from the Glebe

He also went to Haddington, East Lothian’s county town, and learned about Samuel Smiles, born in the High Street, who coined the term ‘self-help’ and wrote about it in the fine Victorian tradition. Portillo stood on the Victoria Bridge on the way to my dad’s house and then on the Nungate Bridge by St. Mary’s talking about Samuel Smiles. Luckily he got a beautiful day, showing off Haddington and the fine kirk of St. Mary’s to best effect.

imag1105
Haddington

I am hardly a fan of Michael Portillo’s politics. His programmes, though, are easy watching and don’t delve too much into specifics but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If they encourage people to look beyond the end of their noses and go out into the world then I’m a happy guy. So, go watch them. They are on the iPlayer for the next three weeks or so. Then get out a map or a computer and plan a trip someplace. If you want to go to East Lothian, wonderful. Ask for recommendations. Right after this, I’m going to plan a trip myself. Not sure where, all I know is a train will be involved, if not a galoot in pink breeks and a yellow blazer.

Dundee

Very often, I have a backlog of posts I want to write here. I have adventures that don’t appear here just as I have ideas that flit out of my brain before some words hit the keyboard. In the last couple of weeks, I have neglected to write about a recent trip to Dundee. I was really there to watch Hibs. As it turned out, they got beat but that wasn’t the most important bit to take from that trip. I have been to Dundee a fair few times before, at least three times this year, and I quite like the place. It’s no Glasgow but it’s fine. It has a deep history and it is like Liverpool and indeed Glasgow because its history is defined by the sea and what lies across it, with whaling and jute only but two facets of the city’s past.

I had thought about journeying to Dundee via Fife, perhaps the East Neuk, but a lie in put paid to that so I took the Citylink bus instead, enjoying the journey up past Stirling Castle and through Perthshire. It was nearing dark and I headed straight to the McManus Galleries, Dundee’s big public museum and to my mind one of the finest in Scotland. I spent about an hour wandering its halls, focusing particularly on its natural history, Pictish and art galleries. Taking each of those in turn, I have always liked to quote the wonderful line from The Blue Guide to Scotland, that it is always better to travel to Dundee than to arrive there. It’s true and particularly passing by the Tay with its great variety of bird and wild life as you go towards Dundee in any direction. Dundee is near the south of what was once Pictland and the McManus has three cracking Pictish stones on display, including some bearing Z-rods. No one has a clue what they mean but they are no less beautiful as a consequence. The art galleries upstairs in the McManus are particularly fine, with lots of 19th and 20th century art, including a few crackers by James McIntosh Patrick and William McTaggart. I always feel better every time I go there, inspired by the range of collections and the history of Dundee. For instance, Winston Churchill’s reputation in history mainly comes from his speeches and actions during the Second World War. A lot of folk don’t know he got absolutely horsed in an election in Dundee in 1922 by a Prohibitionist candidate. img_2283img_2305img_2291img_2292

After I left the McManus, I still had a little while until the game so even though it was dark, I went for a walk down by the Tay, nearly as far as the Rail Bridge before turning back to get some food. I walked down past the RRS Discovery, lit up in lights to try and compensate for the massive construction sites next door (the V and A) and across the road (the new railway station), and spent much of the walk gazing across the Tay to the lights of Newport, Wormit and Tayport. It was commuter time but short of the steady stream of cars passing on the nearby duel carriageway, it wasn’t too obvious. The path was quiet that time of night. I like walking along waterfronts in cities and Dundee’s honestly getting better. It was cold but the twinkly lights had a nice effect as I walked, not thinking all that much except beginning to drift towards the football later in the evening.

The walk back to the bus station was quick but downhill so I managed to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. The bus ride to Glasgow was a fight to stay awake with some fine music. I don’t remember much except Stirling Castle wasn’t lit up, unfortunately. Stirling will be back on the calendar soon – like Linlithgow and quite a few other places in the Central Belt but there are other places higher up the list. Dundee might be saved for a repeat visit in a wee while, though Broughty Ferry with its fine castle museum might be one for next year. That night, though, I fell asleep and didn’t really mind that Hibs had been beat, for once, since my day hadn’t been half bad and that I can live with, if not the hoofball my team were playing.

Best of 2016

The newspapers this time of year are invariably full of features about the ‘Best of the Year’. I have already seen loads of such space-filling articles about the best of this year’s books and as ever, they puffed up books that in nearly all cases I hadn’t read and would need several lifetimes to read. My personal favourite was in The Herald where one writer mentioned an obscure pamphlet some of her friends had written with the words ‘if you can find it’. I believe that is what Private Eye would call log-rolling, par excellence.

Anyway, this will be a ‘Best of 2016’ post but since this is a travel blog, we will be focusing on the best places I’ve been this year, like I did last year. The categories last year were:

Best museum

Best art gallery

Best historic place

Best library

Best place to watch football

Best fish supper

Best park

Best beach

Reviewing last year’s post, I noticed that at the end, I listed five places I wanted to get to this year – Dunnottar Castle, Tantallon Castle, Oxford, Bristol and Stornoway. How many of them have I reached? None. There’s always 2017. So, rather than recriminating, let’s get into those places that have enriched my 2016, beginning with the best museum.

Best Museum – Ulster Museum, Belfast –

IMG_1206
Ulster Museum

Without a shadow of a doubt. This was a very easy choice. When I was in Belfast in August, I went to the UM three out of the four days, spending ages wandering about its history, science, natural history and art collections, as happy as a pig in some kind of manure. As much as the art was probably my favourite bit, kudos to the curator who had the bright idea of creating a replica of a pastoral painting featuring a dragon, in a tribute to Game of Thrones.

Post – Ulster Museum

Runner-up – The Ulster Transport Museum, Cultra, near Belfast –

DSCN1473

Another Northern Irish choice, partly down to customer service (the person behind the counter could have charged me full whack to get into the Folk Museum up the road too) but mainly due to the incredible transport and social history collections, of old trains, buses, vans and a sedan chair.

Post – Trains and that

Honourable Mention – Science Museum, London –

DSCN0410

A new visit for me this year but full of wonder and joy, including bits of lighthouses, lunar modules and Ada Lovelace’s early computer.

Post – An island light

Best art gallery – Kirkcaldy Galleries, Kirkcaldy, Fife –

My favourite art gallery in the land. I can easily spend an hour in its four or five rooms amongst its fine collection of mainly Scottish art, from the Colourists, Glasgow Boys and William McTaggart. It is an easy trip for me and necessary every few months for a top-up.

Runner-up – Fergusson Gallery, Perth –

I like JD Fergusson. This was mainly for the building as well as the surprisingly subtle and well-done exhibition about nudes I saw there earlier this year.

Post – Perth

Best historic place – Necropolis, Glasgow –

This was a hard one, another new place but one with incredible views and which can change your perspective on a lot of things too. I even felt some local pride when I encountered the tomb of John and Isabella Elder, who donated the money to build Elder Park Library in Govan.

Runner-up – Culross, Fife –

dscn1662
Culross

A place on my list for many years, 16th century architecture but firmly living in the 21st century, a conservation village with pragmatism about its selling points. In short, it’s sexy and it knows it, beautiful and historic. Looking forward to another trip soon.

Post – Culross

Best library – Any one I work in, obviously.

Runner-up – Marsh’s Library, Dublin –

IMG_1167

Marsh’s Library is an old library behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. I left after an hour enriched by spending some time amongst its stacks and just being in the place. It doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Best three euros spent in a while.

Post – Dublin againWalking down a Dublin street

Best place to watch football – South Stand, Hampden Park, Glasgow, on Saturday 21st May 2016 about 4.52 pm –

img_0298
This was after David Gray scored but when it was still uncertain. The guy in the foreground is saying it all.

Still can’t believe it. ‘It’s Liam Henderson to deliver!’ ‘It’s been 114 years. Now it’s not even been 114 seconds!’ And so on.

Runner-up – East Stand, Easter Road Stadium, Edinburgh, on Tuesday 16th February 2016 –

The Hearts replay at Easter Road. Probably led to Robbie Neilson’s departure from Tynecastle as I write this in the dying moments of November.

Best fish supper – Cromar’s, Union Street, St. Andrews, Fife –

Another new entry and a very fine chip shop indeed. Absolutely mobbed when there in the summer but a fine scran. All the more memorable for the persistent mooching seagulls who would not leave the bonnet of the car despite being repeatedly shooed away.

Runner-up – The Tailend, Leith Walk, Edinburgh –

I had a fish supper before one of Hibs’ evening games at the end of last season, scranned sitting in Leith Links in the capital. Very, very braw indeed.

Best park – Queen’s Park, Glasgow –

For the view from the flagpole across this great city, on grey days and sunny days, on the 21st of May and on other days when wondering what to do.

fullsizerender-2

Runner-up – Leith Links, Leith, Edinburgh –

img_0356

For the parade on 22nd May, when thousands of Hibees saw what they dared dream about only rarely. For smiles that still haven’t quite dimmed and when it is always time for heroes.

Best beach – Belhaven Bay, near Dunbar, East Lothian –

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

‘The curve of the bay opens out into the Firth of Forth with the Bass Rock and the Isle of May out into the distance. A place full of memories but never fails to wash my spirit clean. Usually because it’s bloody windy.’

Last year’s entry still true and it’s still the best place on the face of the earth.

Runner-up – Kev’s Beach, near St. Abbs, Berwickshire –

dscn1617
Kev’s Beach

Now, ‘Kev’s Beach’ is not what it’s called on the Ordnance Survey maps. It is near St. Abbs Head, in what I believe is called Horsecastle Bay, as you walk down from the cliffs that lead from St. Abbs to the Head. It is a little secluded bit with rocks at either side, a pebbly beach and cove. Short of it having an official name, I hereby declare it ‘Kev’s Beach’, for there are few better places on the planet to be than St. Abbs and to rest your tired feet in the water and listen to the waves and pebbles caressed by them as they come to shore.

Honourable Mention – Prestwick, South Ayrshire –

For the walk I had a few weeks ago in the sunset casting changing, gorgeous colours across the Clyde, Arran and the Ailsa Craig.

So, that’s the best of 2016. Who knows what next year will bring? We could hardly have guessed what this year has brought. Let’s hope next year, 2017, will be better for the world. My year personally has had many blessings and I am thankful for what I have been able to experience this year. Have a very lovely New Year.