Loose Ends: Stirling Castle

Stirling is like a Scottish historical theme park. The very streets of the place are teeming with history, from the station (which appears in a Glasgow Boys painting in Kelvingrove) up past the Tolbooth, Old Town Jail, Mar’s Wark and the Church of the Holy Rood towards Argyll’s Lodging and the Castle itself. The car park was busy as I walked up, including with a right few coaches. I got my membership card scanned and into the Castle I went, straight into the garden which I’ve always liked for a lot of reasons, not least the views over the ramparts and of the Palace. The introductory exhibition gave me a few ideas for future visits in this series, mentions of Alexander III taking me either to Haddington where he was born or Kinghorn where he fell off a cliff and snuffed it, talk of Balliol possibly to Sweetheart Abbey or whichever of Oxford and Cambridge has a Balliol College. Robert the Bruce got an early mention and I could go to Dunfermline or Melrose where various parts of his body are buried.

The Great Hall has a handsome hammerbeam ceiling and I like to spend a few minutes there each time I visit. The harling on the exterior of the Great Hall is very similar to that which lines Dunbar Town House, another possible connection for a future visit. I didn’t bother with the Stirling Heads this time, though I got to the Palace with its unicorn tapestries and folk dressed up talking about their weekend plans. I was mainly happy to be outside and look around at the views, of hills and peaks with snow, a mixture of clouds over a vista right across central Scotland, to the Ochils, Wallace Monument, Pentlands and Falkirk, amongst many other places. I also enjoyed exploring the little nooks and niches, surprising in such a big castle like Stirling. Big castles don’t do small so often.

At the northern end is an area with some old artillery stores and a tapestry studio. Also there is a small rocky outcrop. Stirling is one of at least three castles in Scotland which sit on a rock, Dumbarton, Edinburgh and Dirleton being some others. There’s others, Cardoness in Dumfries and Galloway being another, but Stirling is probably one of the best known, second only to Edinburgh. Luckily being prominent in Scottish history means that a lot of places have a connection to Stirling, for their topography, scenery or even just their history. One good adventure to Stirling down, another soon awaits.

This is the third of the Loose Ends series here on Walking Talking. The second was Linlithgow Palace, which appeared here two weeks ago.

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Digest: April 2018

April’s over and it’s featured snow and sunshine, not always at the same time. I’ve worn a thick jacket and shorts, though definitely not at the same time. So, it’s Digest time, beginning on the tres, tres cold Easter Monday. I took a train into town and as it stopped waiting for a platform at Central, I took a photo of a warehouse in the process of demolition. I stopped off in Edinburgh and managed to source a Stephen’s steak bridie or two for lunch before getting the train down to Dunbar, where it was cold and windy. It often is there though it doesn’t snow very often. Despite it being baltic, I felt in the mood for a walk and ended up walking as far as Tyninghame, sheltered for much of the way by the woods and then heading inland up a muddy track. At Tyninghame I grabbed a bus up to North Berwick where it was even colder. I got a bus into Edinburgh and headed home. It snowed as the bus headed along the M8 towards Glasgow. At least two blog posts have resulted from the Dunbar walk, namely Dunbar in the snow and Defences.

The following day Hibs played at night and I was there. It was wet, I think.

That Friday I had a Glasgow day, with two Streets of Glasgow walks. I had the notion to do a Streets walk on Firhill Road, partly because of the cool mural I had heard about at one end of Partick Thistle’s ground and also because I had featured streets near the grounds of Rangers, Celtic and Queen’s Park but not the Sizzle. The Firhill mural is excellent and I’m glad I got there. On the way across town, I decided to put Streets on hiatus, not because I don’t enjoy writing it but because I felt it was time for it to take a break. The last Streets walk was deliberately chosen, Addison Road, which is near the Botanic Gardens. It started to rain as I came the other way and I hid out in the Kibble Palace until it dried off a bit. From there I wandered up Ashton Lane and Cresswell Lane before walking into town along Woodlands Road and then Renfrew Street, which may feature in Streets when it starts up again. Owing to John Lambie’s death a couple of weeks ago, the Firhill Road Streets of Glasgow post has appeared on my football blog, Easter Road West, already. It will also appear here in sequence in a few weeks, with Addison Road appearing a week later.

The following Sunday found me out and about again though not with a great masterplan of where to go. When I was on the train into town, my eye fell on a poster advertising a Lego exhibition at Aberdour Castle in Fife, a place I like. I found myself trudging up to the bus station and then on a bus to Dunfermline, changing there for another to Aberdour. The Lego exhibition didn’t excite me a great deal as I would rather go and see places then see them represented in brick form. Aberdour is a cracking castle though with a painted ceiling and interesting gardens. It was also where the new Castle connections series was conceived – it’s since been renamed Loose ends, inspired by reading the poem ‘Scotland’ by Hugh MacDiarmid. The next post in that series will appear on Sunday 6th May. That day in Aberdour, though, I also walked down to the Forth and looked out towards Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Back to Fife the next Saturday as once more I didn’t have a grand plan. I found myself on a bus to St. Andrews though as I got closer to that fine town, I had a notion to check out a football match even though Hibs weren’t playing. My two options within distance were East Fife vs. Arbroath or Raith Rovers vs. Queen’s Park. The fact that St. Andrews was mobbed made the decision easier and I ended up on a bus out of there after a polite walk around the town streets. The bus to Leven, where I would have to change, had great views across the hills and then the Forth too as the bus came into Lundin Links and Upper Largo. I was bound for the San Starko to see Raith Rovers play Queen’s Park and I got into the Penman Stand just before kick off and in time to see Roary Rover, Raith’s mascot, dancing to Taylor Swift. Game finished 2-0, I wrote about it on ERW here. After the game I got the bus to Edinburgh, had a wander then had a very fine chippy sitting in the gardens on London Road.

That week I had an OU essay to write. It got written and I was even under the word count.

On the Friday I decided to go to Linlithgow as part of the Loose Ends series. Linlithgow Palace, like Aberdour, appeared in Outlander. It is also one of my favourite places on the planet and I was glad to wander about for an hour in the pleasant April sunshine. I had my piece sitting in the great hall. What I did which I had never done before was walk under the buttresses at the Peel side of the Palace, a new perspective on a familiar place. From Linlithgow there’s lots of connections though I decided to find another I could do that day and found myself on a train to Stirling. Stirling Castle is my favourite big castle in Scotland and it’s linked to Linlithgow by being where Mary, Queen of Scots, born in Linlithgow, was crowned. It’s also managed by Historic Environment Scotland, as is Aberdour. I was happy just to wander about Stirling, not bothering with the Stirling Heads and instead just looking out across central Scotland and beyond to some mountains.

The following day I went to watch Hibs decisively beat Celtic 2-1 on a warm sunny afternoon in Leith. After that I went for a swift walk around Morrison’s Haven, just outside Prestonpans. The sunshine was beautiful, the surroundings even finer. It was great to be there, even briefly.

The next Saturday, last Saturday, Hibs were playing Kilmarnock and I headed through a bit earlier to sit up Calton Hill to think, look and remember.

On Sunday I went to Cumbrae. We parked in Largs then got on the ferry. Millport is a very pleasant town and the sunshine just made it and the views to Ailsa Craig, Arran and Lesser Cumbrae all the more spectacular. The Cathedral of the Isles and its labyrinth were particularly interesting. I’ll write a longer post next week about it. I managed to get sunburnt, keeping up the fine tradition I have of getting burned in the most exotic places, like last year on the ferry to Arran or a few years ago at Lochleven Castle near Kinross.

So, that’s us for April. A digest for Easter Road West appeared last night over there. Easter Road West is my football blog, almost exclusively about Hibs. As well as the Firhill Streets of Glasgow post which I posted up there recently, I particularly liked writing the posts there about my first football game, after I found the programme in a shop, and also the one about autism published on World Autism Awareness Day. There’s a post there tonight about the fast approaching close season.

I try to keep up with other blogs and last night I was on the way home and read a post on FiveThirtyEight, an American politics blog, about posts they wish they had written. I think they in turn had nicked the idea from Bloomberg. In the Books post last week, I recommended Wednesday’s Child‘s post about bookmarks. Alex Cochrane’s post from the other night about Grangemouth is also worth a look. I like the way they write and their subject matter particularly, which is usually about lesser-spotted places and sights, always insightful and showing another side beyond the obvious. This Digest originated from Anabel Marsh’s monthly digest, the most recent instalment of which appeared the other day. She features a Scottish Word of the Month and included a fair few synonyms for being drunk, including my personal favourite jaked. I drop in a few Scots words here – indeed I wrote a post in Scots here not so long ago – though the only one I can share off the top of my head is ‘fleein’ which can also mean drunk.

The next post here on Walking Talking is about the Northern Irish coast and that will appear on Friday. Loose Ends appears this coming Sunday with a post about Linlithgow Palace.

As I was revising this post last night, news came that the Glasgow Women’s Library, which I visited and wrote about last year, has been nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year, alongside Brooklands Museum, Ferens Art Gallery, the Postal Museum and Tate St. Ives. It is brilliant that GWL are nominated for this award. GWL benefits the city and the wider world by its mere existence, let alone the fine work it does. Hope they win.

Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers.

Posts this month –

Streets of Glasgow: Trongate

Some thoughts…

Digest: March 2018

Manchester and Liverpool

Streets of Glasgow: University Avenue

Dunbar in the snow

Defences

Walking across the Forth Road Bridge

Streets of Glasgow: Kelvin Way

Castle connections

Some blethers

Leith Walk the other way

Streets of Glasgow: Bath Street

Crossing the road

Books

Streets of Glasgow: Dundas Street

Manchester and Liverpool

The travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that he didn’t ever take a £20 note out of his wallet unless what he bought with it would be used for years. Whenever possible, I try to emulate that and that is no more true than with train tickets. Two of my favourite cities are Manchester and Liverpool, though reaching those places inevitably requires being creative with booking train tickets. It is invariably cheaper to split my journey in Preston, which is just as well since many options to get to Liverpool and Manchester involve changing there. Plus Preston station is properly old fashioned and keenly proud of its history. Changing at Preston, particularly to get to Manchester, avoids handing over as much of my hard-earned to my least favourite train company, Transpennine Express, who seem indifferent to comfort and human decency in their quest to maximise revenue in running inadequate trains. Virgin Trains aren’t perfect either – Branson runs a private healthcare firm that seems to be messing up the NHS in England, plus VT can be expensive – but they’re better than Transpennine Express.

Manchester and I have an interesting history. The last time I was there was about two years ago when I was actually studying the city’s industrial history in an OU module. I spent my 22nd birthday there, plus I heard big, dramatic news a few years later while in Manchester, standing by the lift in the Museum of Science and Industry. I can also testify from that particular day that it is very possible to source Irn-Bru in the area around MoSI.

Whenever I go, I have my regular spots. I make a point of visiting the Alan Turing memorial in the Gay Village. There are many who believe that Alan Turing was on the autism spectrum and it is in that spirit that I go to the memorial. Also nearby was a mural of I also like a wee trip along to the Lowry plus a spin on the Metrolink. Plus MoSI is excellent, with each part of the place enlightening and inspiring even for a scientific dunce like myself. The People’s History Museum is also fabulous, with the red flag flying high there, really not a bad thing. The Central Library is a stunning building, domed and coiled like an onion inside. The National Football Museum is in Manchester, not far from where the Co-op is based, and while it only has two mentions of Scottish football in the whole place, both on a panel about the architect Archibald Leitch, it is quite decent too.

Liverpool is much more like Glasgow and I like it a lot. It’s full of museums plus it has similar architecture to Glasgow, as well as a similar history looking out to the world. If time is limited, it is possible to walk just a few minutes from Lime Street and spend hours on one row between the World Museum, Liverpool Central Library and the Walker Art Gallery. The Walker Art Gallery is nicely old-fashioned with a great modern British art room right next to a bit of French Impressionism. The last time I was there, there was a massive inflatable cartoon cat on the balcony at the Walker, which was slightly mental but good. Liverpool Central Library is glorious, a mixture of modern and beautiful, old-world wood and balcony with the Picton Reading Room. The World Museum is suitably varied with loads of interesting galleries, including the World History bit upstairs which is probably the finest and most diverse outside London.

The area around the Albert Dock is also tightly packed with museums, plus the Tate which usually houses good exhibitions. Some shite too, like, as happens with modern art places. The Maritime Museum is interesting. It has some interesting exhibitions including a bit about LGBT culture which amongst other things discussed Polari. On the fifth floor of the Maritime Museum is the International Slavery Museum. Liverpool, like Glasgow, like Bristol and London too, had a lot of trade with the Americas and the Caribbean, not a little of which involved the efforts of slaves. To their credit Liverpool doesn’t shy away from talking about slavery and the International Slavery Museum is a fascinating insight into black history and the history of the slave trade. The Museum of Liverpool is also worth a look, particularly for its insight into local industries, politics and football. The closest equivalent I can think of is the People’s Palace here in Glasgow.

I haven’t been to the north of England much in the last couple of years. The last time was to Durham, at the other side of the country. I’m due a trip to Hadrian’s Wall, Carlisle and a whole lot of places, not least Liverpool and Manchester. Maybe in the close season, I might manage a few day trips down there. Writing posts like these usually makes me book train tickets so it might be sooner than May. We’ll see.

Lighthouses

Fraserburgh is a long way north of here. I’ve been there a few times and it’s fine. It’s a seaside town, a fishing town, not so far from Rattray Head too. It has at least two claims to fame or at least two which come to my mind. Its football team played The Rangers recently in the Scottish Cup and got beat. Fraserburgh is also home to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, which includes an old lighthouse, Kinnaird Head. If you’re ever in the area, go to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. I grew up by the sea and for much of the time I lived in Dunbar, I could see two lighthouses from my house. By day, Barns Ness, by night St. Abbs Head. One of the earliest lighthouses in Scotland was on the Isle of May, also visible from Dunbar, and the remains of it are still there. Lighthouses are crucial for ensuring the safety of shipping around our coastline and some of them have been built with no little ingenuity and courage, not least the Bell Rock near Arbroath.

All of our lighthouses are automated now and they are controlled from the Northern Lighthouse Board offices in George Street, Edinburgh. For those who know George Street, the NLB offices are right next to Hollister. The NLB are a whole lot less subtle than Hollister’s energy-gulping screens in the windows, with a model lighthouse with a light above the door. The last time I looked, however, Hollister did at least have a loop of waves crashing to the shore playing though those waves were in California rather than North Ronaldsay or off Barra. Whenever I’m on George Street I always like to think of the huge distance in every sense from the city street to the lighthouses in isolated parts of the coastline.

My favourite lighthouse is the decommissioned Barns Ness, not far outside Dunbar. Seeing it from the train involves looking at the right moment between the quarry and Torness Power Station. The best way is to walk there, from Whitesands or Skateraw. That particular bit of coastline is geologically interesting, with limekilns and a whole lot of sediments happening. One of my ambitions is to learn more about geology. Not so far beyond Barns Ness is Siccar Point, Hutton’s uncomformity which helped to prove his theories of geological development. I still haven’t been though some time I will. The views from Barns Ness are good, though, to St. Abbs Head and back towards Dunbar, the Bass and the May. It is on the John Muir Link, a footpath which runs from Dunbar to Dunglass.

I seem to write a lighthouse post at least once a year so apologies if I am repeating myself. Apart from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, I can also recommend a few other places to learn about lighthouses, including level 4 of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath and the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. Or you can go find one somewhere. Just look for the light and go, preferably the next morning.

View from the Lighthouse

The other Sunday, I visited the Lighthouse for the very first time. It sits in Mitchell Lane in the city centre featuring a diverse selection of exhibitions. It also has a tower from which you can see right across Glasgow. Today this view’s probably much more snowy. Below are some photos from that experience at the top of the shoogly staircase. They were taken as normal with my phone so nothing special. Enjoy.

I also write a series on this blog called Streets of Glasgow, which has featured many of the streets that can be seen from the Lighthouse, including Streets of Glasgow: Mitchell StreetStreets of Glasgow: West Nile StreetStreets of Glasgow: Renfield StreetStreets of Glasgow: Hope Street and Streets of Glasgow: Queen Street.

Digest: February 2018

So, that’s February then. We are nearly into the spring, the nights are drawing out all the time and that’s always a good thing. I wrote most of this post, including the first couple of sentences, as the month went on rather than in a burst, as I normally do. Today, Wednesday 28th February 2018, sees a red weather warning across the Central Belt for snow and ice, which extends into tomorrow too. Presently it is extremely cold outside, well below freezing, and not much adventuring is happening at the moment. Or much of anything else really. Heed the warnings, keep warm, keep safe. So, it’s a good time to run through where I got to in February.

Saturday 3rd February saw me visit London. It nearly didn’t happen because I slept in but a new ticket later and I was on the way to Euston. I walked across to the British Museum and had a very decent couple of hours working my way around the crowds to see that place’s many fine artefacts. The rest of my day was spent walking, from Kensington to Marble Arch through Hyde Park and then along the Thames from St. Paul’s to Westminster. The journey home was complicated by trains not running out of Euston, necessitating a train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh then changing, which worked out well in the end when I eventually got home about midnight. I left London at 5.30. Despite that it was a very good day, free-form and nice just to rove. I wrote about it here.

The following Friday I headed into town to do a bit of shopping. I then undertook three Streets of Glasgow walks in the cold February sunshine, on Duke Street, Gallowgate and Trongate. I wore shorts for the whole affair too, which was part of the 30 Before 30 list. It wasn’t as cold as it is today, around four degrees, which was greatly beneficial for my legs and other nearby parts of my anatomy. I am relatively self-conscious about how I look though in the end I came to not care at all as I marched up Argyle Street in my shorts, the only one in sight. I liked these Streets walks particularly because they were in largely unfamiliar terrain, though my favourite was Duke Street due to the considerable variety in architecture, modern, Victorian and Greek classical.

Saturday 17th February Hibs played Aberdeen. I got to Edinburgh a bit early and took the scenic route to Easter Road, via Leith Walk and Easter Road. Hibs won comfortably.

The next day I spent around Glasgow with my dad. Being out before anywhere was open, we headed first for a walk by the Clyde through Glasgow Green. The Green was playing host to a running race organised by an LGBT charity. When it opened, we went to the People’s Palace, which had a good display about Mary Barbour and the rent strikes. Thereafter we headed to the Lighthouse, which I had never been to before and enjoyed immensely, except the shoogly staircase up to the tower. There was also an exhibition about timber buildings, which I liked. We also went to Kelvingrove and the Botanic Gardens.

Beyond that, the rest of the month I spent living quietly, working mostly, reading, writing and keeping warm. Wednesday 28th February I was due to go watch Hibs play Hamilton at Easter Road but the bad weather happened and the game got postponed. That’s why I had time to tidy up this post and get it out tonight rather than the planned post of views from the top of the Lighthouse. That appears on Friday.

This month I also launched a new blog, Easter Road West, which is about Hibs, going to the game and the general experience. I like having the variety. The ERW posts this month were Welcome!Eastern CemeteryAway daysThe tellyGetting beatWhen the game is mince and Thoughts on the weather and the national team. The one I particularly recommend to the Walking Talking readership is the one about the Eastern Cemetery, which sits behind Easter Road.

One of the posts here this month, 30 Before 30, was about a list I’ve come up with of 30 things I would like to do prior to my thirtieth birthday, in about 18 months time. In each digest, I will update on how many I’ve achieved. In February, I achieved 4, three of them on the same day.

I also have an article coming out next month in the next issue of Nutmeg, about being an autistic football fan. It’s out in the middle of next month.

That’s the February digest. In March, I will be on some more adventures, definitely for Hibs games. Thanks to all readers, commenters, followers, particularly for everyone who responded to the 400th post, the one in Scots. Have a nice month.

February posts –

Digest: January 2018

Streets of Glasgow: George Square

400: How Ah talk, written doon

30 Before 30

The London caper

Streets of Glasgow: Govan Road

Hamilton Mausoleum

Going underground

A day trip experience

Handwriting

Streets of Glasgow: Miller Street

Gazing across a map

Coming soon…

Robert Louis Stevenson

Streets of Glasgow: Queen Margaret Drive

Hamilton Mausoleum

Quite a few years ago, I used to work in a museum. One of my colleagues, now sadly gone, was once a countryside ranger in Chatelherault Country Park near Hamilton in Lanarkshire. We were talking one day about a feature on the news the previous night about a concert taking place in Hamilton Mausoleum, a building she knew well since it sits on the edge of Chatelherault Country Park. The Mausoleum, she told me, had the longest continuous echo of any building in the world and it was an incredible place to visit. I only got there a couple of years after she died, not long after I moved to Glasgow. I booked a ticket to go for the tour and got myself to Hamilton, a place I had never been to before. To be fair, a whole lot of the west of Scotland was still new to me at that point. The tour started from the nearby Low Parks Museum and lasted for roughly an hour and a half. It was brilliant with a very knowledgeable tour guide. The Mausoleum was the final resting place for the Dukes of Hamilton and sat in what was once the grounds of Hamilton Palace. The echo took 15 seconds to pass around the Mausoleum’s central chamber. I spent a fair bit of time not making a noise but looking up at the dome ceiling which somehow reminded me of both a church and a dovecot. What stuck with me was that due to mining nearby, the Mausoleum was no less than 18 feet lower than it was when it was built and I gather that it is also tilting as a consequence. I was glad I finally got there, after hearing about it years before and to visit such a fascinating, quirky place.

I was reminded of the Mausoleum recently when I read an article from The Skinny about Francis Macdonald, the drummer from Teenage Fanclub, who has composed ‘The Hamilton Mausoleum Suite’, an instrumental work inspired by the Mausoleum and featuring musicians from the Scottish Festival Orchestra. An album was released on 26th January and it will actually be performed in the Mausoleum on 19th February, a week tomorrow. I think that’s great. Every now and then, I think about the Mausoleum and the time I spent there. It is a weirdly fascinating place and it is inspiring, if downright creepy at times. I’ll have to give the album a listen.

The London caper

Oh, and it was a caper. I was in London the other day and if anything could go wrong, it generally did. I managed to sleep in, missing my train and necessitating buying another ticket, thankfully still at the cheaper price. Getting back to Euston, intending on going for something to eat before the train home, I discovered that there were no trains running due to a fatality. Within fifteen minutes, I was on a Virgin East Coast train out of King’s Cross to Edinburgh, which ended up into Edinburgh late. I went for the train to Glasgow and it was 25 minutes late due to some folk fighting on an earlier service, meaning I had to run (and I mean sprint) for the last train home from Glasgow Central. I left London at 5.30 and arrived back at my house in Glasgow just after midnight. Fun and games.

Rather than focus on the negatives, let’s go for the positives.

  1. I went to the British Museum and it was busy but manageable.
  2. I had two good long walks, exploring more of London at my own pace and in my own way
  3. Hibs won against Rangers while I was in London
  4. I managed to travel on both sides of the country on the same day
  5. A London Underground ticket machine took my Scottish tenner
  6. The Elizabeth Tower of the Palace of Westminster (the bit that houses Big Ben) looks like something out of a futuristic movie all daubed in scaffolding.
  7. I learned about Dreamland
  8. The Virgin East Coast train was excellent, quiet and with very friendly staff
  9. Durham Cathedral lit up at night is glorious
  10. The Thames was choppy and actually had waves
  11. Wading merrily through a puddle in a tunnel somewhere in Southwark as the southerners queued and walked gingerly through
  12. Walking by the Thames is good
  13. The very cheery busker with his guitar by the Thames
  14. Westminster is vastly improved by Big Ben not chiming

Thirteen is not bad. I arrived at Euston just after 12. My game plan was to go to the British Museum and see where I got to after that. There were protesters outside Euston gathering for the big demonstration to protect the NHS and some of them offered passers-by placards and leaflets. They shouted about privatisation and Richard Branson, which I broadly agree with, though since I live in Scotland where the NHS has thankfully evaded most of the privatisation and bad stuff that the English NHS has, I decided against joining them, despite joining a protest being one of the 30 things I should do before I’m 30. There was a significant police presence cutting about too. I walked through Bloomsbury and into the British Museum through the back way.

The British Museum is one of my favourite places on the planet. It is also incredibly busy and I had to work around the hordes to see anything. I spent a good two hours going around some of my favourite bits of the museum, not even seeing the Elgin Marbles or any of the Assyrian stuff. I got to see all the stuff I really like, including the Lewis Chessmen, which I still refrained from taking home to Scotland where they belong, as well as the life and death bit with its artefacts from the Pacific islands and Australia, including an amazing abstract painting created by Australian aborigines which tells the story of seven sisters making their way across the desert only to be followed by an unwanted, lascivious man. The women jumped from a hill into the sky, forming the Seven Sisters constellation. I was particularly interested this visit by the stories and artefacts of native peoples in North America and Australia, also by getting a few minutes to look at the Codex Zouche-Nuttall in the Mesoamerica gallery, a beautifully illustrated pictorial book depicting the life of a Mixtec ruler, Eight Deer Jaguar-Claw. I always think it looks like a Where’s Wally? book.

After a couple of hours, I was beginning to lose concentration. I decided to get the Underground over town to the Science Museum. I walked down to Holborn and got on the Piccadilly line to South Kensington. South Ken was mobbed with lots of young people dressed for some reason in animal costumes or other elaborate fancy dress. Not sure why. There were more around Westminster later too. I walked along towards the museums though there were long queues outside the Natural History Museum and the V and A. Though the Science Museum didn’t have a queue, I decided against another busy museum experience and since the rain was a drizzle, barely registering on the Glasgow rain scale, I decided to walk instead. I walked up past Imperial College and by the Jamaican High Commission towards the Royal Albert Hall, a building I’ve always liked. I decided to head up towards Hyde Park, maybe towards the city centre that way, though I ended up crossing into the Park. I had never been in it and admired the fine wrought gates. I walked up towards the Serpentine, a place I knew because of the Christmas swims that happen there, and then I had a whole path to myself as I got towards Bayswater Road. Having been amongst thousands at the BM not so long before, being on my own in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world was weird, though a nice weird.

I reached Marble Arch, which is fine and quite like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I had to turn to the map to find Speaker’s Corner, a place in the Park where people can stand up to make speeches, though it was disappointingly empty. I had a notion to walk by the Thames on the south bank and I boarded the Tube at Marble Arch, onto the Central line to St. Paul’s. I had been resisting the urge to check the Hibs score but succumbed in the lee of St. Paul’s Cathedral. They were 1 up at Ibrox and thus I wandered around the side of the stunning Sir Christopher Wren designed Cathedral absolutely overjoyed and singing ‘It’s A Grand Old Team To Play For’. St. Paul’s is a stunning looking church and at some point I’ll have to go in. I walked down towards the Millennium Bridge and across the Thames, stopping at regular intervals to get photos up and down the river. It was busy and a big tour group had stopped right in the middle of the bridge, blocking anyone from getting past. I always feel comfortable by water and even by a great big dirty river like the Thames. As I walked I also imagined the not-in-the-book bit of one of the Harry Potter films where the Death Eaters flew through London and knocked the bridge down as they went.

I walked along the south bank from Tate Modern to Westminster. It was busy though I was comfortable, stopping at regular intervals to check the football score and look up and down the river at the skyline. I got to Westminster and got on the Tube, bound for Euston, taking the Circle line one stop to Embankment and then the Northern line to Euston. On one of those Tube trains I was sitting in the carriage and enjoying just being where I was, in the moment. I was on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line and I was tickled to hear the announcements that the next stop was Mornington Crescent. As a fan of old radio comedy and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue in particular, Mornington Crescent has a particular resonance. I was interrupted by my reverie by some quick-thinking to get me home.

I tend to visit London on weekdays so it shouldn’t have been a big surprise that it would be busier in the museums on a Saturday. Everywhere is busier on a Saturday. It was good to be in the British Museum, though, to wander and graze around the place and I also really enjoyed just walking in London, seeing places I had only heard about or just looking up. I was walking along High Holborn towards Holborn tube and I could have been sidetracked on a derive, just looking up at the buildings, their architecture and ghost signs. The freewheeling side of this day trip made it work, as did some swift thinking to get round the train issues. Still I got home, I had a good time and the Hibs won. It was quite a day.

Digest: December 2017

December gets forgotten as a month in the whole whirl of Christmas. I myself was focused on getting done with work. Still I managed to be out in the world a wee bit over the time, even with the ice, with a few rovings shoehorned into an otherwise busy existence.

Friday 1st December I went to see a friend who was over in Edinburgh for the weekend. We’ve had many good adventures over the years, usually involving loads of good chat too, and this time was no exception. We went to the Portrait Gallery, a good favourite place of both of ours, and there was a nice exhibition of portraits of modern Scots, including a fair few writers, poets and folks of all backgrounds. The Portrait Gallery cafe also does good cake. We also headed out to Portobello where we had lunch, went to a few shops and wandered along the Prom. After we parted, I went on a long urban ramble from the Botanics to Waverley Station via Leith.

The following day Hibs were playing at Partick Thistle, only a few miles across the river from the house. I didn’t have to leave until 1, getting the bus to Dumbarton Road then walking up Byres Road from there. It was a nice sunny afternoon so I dawdled the mile or so to Firhill, stopping on Queen Margaret Drive to look up and down the Kelvin. I also paused not far from the ground to look at one of the Stalled Spaces that have emerged to try and make artworks or gardens out of forgotten corners of our cities and towns.

That Sunday, instead of staying in bed like a sensible person, I was to be found on my way to Kirkcaldy to my favourite art gallery. It felt like an art gallery sort of day and I wandered around my favourite rooms and sat by my favourite paintings. I also took a few minutes to walk down to the sea and felt refreshed after being witness to the stunning sunset over the Forth, particularly looking towards Edinburgh. That day I also undertook two Streets of Glasgow walks, which will appear here later in January, I think, Hope Street and Nelson Mandela Place, the latter in the dark.

The following Sunday Hibs were playing Celtic at Easter Road. It was cold, very cold. After the game, which was at lunchtime for the benefit of those watching in the pub or their hoose, I walked along the Water of Leith as far as Canonmills. The Water was frozen over at several points, including by the Shore in Leith. It was a beautiful walk all the same, all the better, due to the cold. I took a bus across town from Canonmills to George IV Bridge, managing to get a sneaky peek at the new Muriel Spark exhibition at the National Library of Scotland, which was marvellous, arranged chronologically telling the story of Spark’s life through manuscripts, images and text. NLS also had a cracking display of documents out relating to the Reformation.

That Wednesday Hibs were playing The Rangers, again at Easter Road. I took the scenic route to the capital, travelling from Central via Shotts and Livingston rather than the usual Queen Street via Falkirk and Linlithgow route. I like a change of scenery. This one was notable for a delay getting into the East Stand at Easter Road due to ice. Apparently Hibs, Edinburgh City Cooncil and the polis had forgotten that the slope that leads from Hawkhill Avenue to the stand would be very icy. So, those of us who get to the football early were treated to a formation of Edinburgh’s finest with shovels and salt bags in their hands gritting the slope. It was a formation, something that wouldn’t have gone amiss on a battlefield. Better than the football, as it turns out.

That Friday I was in Edinburgh again. On my way back from my shopping, I walked up Regent Road and in the low winter sun the view across Edinburgh city centre was gorgeous.

The following day, Hibs were playing at lunchtime in Aberdeen. Aberdeen. ABERDEEN. Yep. I was there. I left Glasgow at an agriculturally early hour and made it to the frozen north in time to slide across the ice to Pittodrie in time to see Hibs get absolutely gubbed. The pies were decent, though. Rather than hang about, owing to the cold, ice and foulness of my mood, I went to buy a bus ticket straight home. I have never been happier to see Glasgow. I have nothing particular against Aberdeen as a place. It was just baltic, beautifully so as you will see below, and my faith in my fellow humanity had been shaken just a bit too.

I wasn’t well for much of the end of December. My first trip out, besides work and Christmas family stuff, was a spur-of-the-moment trip for a wander at Fisherrow Harbour. On the way back through, I went the long way, via the Forth Road Bridge and Dunfermline, bopping around on buses, just watching the world go by.

On Saturday 30th, Hibs played Kilmarnock. I was there. Before going to the game, I walked via the New Town, down Dublin Street and along East London Street to Gayfield Square, a nice saunter through the lesser-spotted bit of the New Town.

In blog business, I had three spurts in numbers in December. The Streets of Glasgow posts about Ingram Street and Edmiston Drive were particularly popular in December, as was the Books of 2017 post, which ignited a fair bit of interest. Nearer Christmas, the Best of 2017 post got shared a bit owing to its mention of the Glasgow Women’s Library.

So, that’s the December digest. I have a post backlog again so Wednesday will be a two-post day too. The morning one will be about natural light this time of year, the evening one about the trains stopping but one day a year. It’s nice to be back.

Posts this month –

Digest: November 2017

Streets of Glasgow: Edmiston Drive

Paisley!

Why the south side is the best side

Clearing out my inbox

Books of 2017

The turn of the year

The places you end up caring about

Power

Ice, ice baby

The Living Mountain

The Harbour

Best of 2017

Best of 2017


Yay, it’s Christmas time! In this time of repeats and newspapers full of filler material, here’s a blog post written a fair bit ahead of time with the highlights of my year travelling around this fine land. Like last year and the year before, this post sums up my 2017 with some awards for the best experiences I’ve had this year. There are eight categories:

Best museum

Best art gallery

Best historic place

Best library

Best place to watch football

Best fish supper

Best park

Best beach

2016 was a very busy year for me. I also covered more ground than this year. I went to England a lot more and also to Ireland. This year I haven’t been that far. Far enough but not enough to earn Airmiles, if such a thing still exists. I have been very busy with work. I now work full-time. I am also studying and writing a lot. In between all that, I go to the football and try to live a rich and full life, occasionally succeeding in that regard. This year has been a consolidation of those things I am and enjoying those places I love, occasionally getting to new ones along the way.

Best museum –

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh –


The National Museum of Scotland is a place I know very well, having visited regularly since I was a kid. I’ve been known to slag it off but my recent visits have brought me back in love with the place and its great and varied exhibits. I am always due a return visit but that’s always the case, even if I’ve only been there the previous day or week.

Runner-up –

McManus Galleries, Dundee –


A very fine place. It has art in it too but I think of it more as a museum. Very fine it is too, with a clear sense of Dundee and its place in the world as well as giving a broad appreciation of its local area, in its history, science and nature. The hall upstairs with artefacts from various societies is glorious, while the room downstairs about the modern history of Dundee is excellent, with the cases on local politics a particular highlight. Go to the McManus, if only for the cafe and of course the architecture.

Best art gallery –

Kirkcaldy Galleries, Kirkcaldy, Fife –


My favourite gallery on the planet. I have that in common with Jack Vettriano, the Leven-born artist who lists his two favourite art galleries as the Uffizi in Florence, and Kirkcaldy.  I went there on my birthday this year. I tend to get there at least three or four times a year, never getting sick of the 19th and 20th century art in its rooms, including the glorious McTaggart paintings and those by the Colourists and Glasgow Boys. McTaggart’s wave painting is endlessly soothing, while those of Iona take me back to that wonderful island. The Glasgow Boys exhibition at Kirkcaldy this year was excellent too, a selection of Fife’s own collection, creatively put together.

Runner-up –

Fergusson Gallery, Perth –

The Fergusson is always a favourite, even just for its building, an old water tower by the river Tay. It is like Kirkcaldy in that it is clear the curators are on the ball, putting together each exhibition with a great deal of thought and care. I was there a few weeks ago and enjoyed the exhibition about Fergusson and his friend, the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Best historic place –

The Battery, Victoria Harbour, Dunbar, East Lothian –


This was the hardest category this time. It could have been about three different castles or the walls at Berwick. In the end I picked the Battery because it is a place at the heart of my own history as well as being steeped in the history of where I grew up. The Dunbar Shore Neighbourhood Group has done an excellent job developing the Battery, putting in some apposite and beautiful art installations as well as interpretation boards about the surrounding harbour, sea and history. It was truly brilliant to be there and I long to be back again.

Runner-up –

Dryburgh Abbey, near St. Boswells, Scottish Borders –


I tend to get to Dryburgh once a year and usually it is on a beautiful summer’s day. This year’s certainly was and I loved just wandering around the stunning ruins and sitting awhile by the Tweed, reading and pondering. Scottish and British history intertwine at Dryburgh with the Abbey being the burial place of both Sir Walter Scott and Earl Haig. Even without the history, it is one of the great places of Scotland. Thank goodness it is a wee bit hidden away and it isn’t more crowded. Plus it sells ice cream.

Honourable mention –

Seton Collegiate Church, near Longniddry, East Lothian –


A return visit to Seton, which I had only been to once previously. Worth it for the peace, architecture, book-stuffed cludgie and little, apposite quotes dotted around the site.

Best library –

Glasgow Women’s Library –


Libraries are sacred places and the GWL particularly so. It nestles in a fine Carnegie library building in Bridgeton, recently restored, and houses a considerable archive and museum collection, in addition to a fair few books into the bargain. A truly amazing place, plus they offer you a cup of tea when you walk in.

Runner-up –

The National Library of Scotland –

Purely for the exhibitions. NLS do good exhibitions, most recently the one about the Antarctic. It’s always worth going to the Treasures gallery, usually housing manuscripts and books about authors, including Hugh MacDiarmid recently.

Honourable mention –

Any library I work in –

Well, obviously. The people make the place, ken.

Best place to watch football –

Easter Road Stadium, Edinburgh –


No Scottish Cup Finals this year. I just have to settle for the two derby victories I had the pleasure of witnessing from my very lovely seat high up in the East Stand.

Runner-up –

East End Park, Dunfermline –

Purely for the steak bridies. Never mind the football.

Best fish supper –

Tailend, St. Andrews or Edinburgh –

The Tailend is one of the finest chip shops in the nation and they have two branches, one in St. Andrews, the other on Leith Walk in the capital. A very decent fish supper can be had there, best consumed on a bench nearby.

Runner-up –

Giacopazzi’s, Eyemouth, Scottish Borders –

One from my youth. I’ve been there a couple of times this year and they do a very decent fish supper, best consumed looking over the harbour.

Best park –

John Muir Country Park, near Dunbar, East Lothian –


I had a particularly good walk in this dear, familiar place in April, ending up at Hedderwick before turning back towards Dunbar. The walk was varied, with views across the Tyne towards Tyninghame, the Bass and the May, as well as old WWII-era bunkers and of course loads of trees. It washed my spirit clean, in the best possible sense.

Runner-up –

Benmore Botanic Garden, near Dunoon, Argyll –


I was there in the rain but it was still amazing. The walk amidst the sequoias is braw.

Honourable mention –

Lochend Park, Edinburgh –

I often sit in Lochend Park before Hibs matches, most recently a few weeks ago working through a book with a fly often thwarting my progress. It is an urban park but one with a view to Arthur’s Seat and of course the Holy Ground.

Best beach –

Embleton Beach, near Embleton, Northumberland –


I was there in January. The beach is in a beautiful setting, overlooked by Dunstanburgh Castle. The path goes on for a fair few miles, running along the beach from Low Newton eventually to Craster. It is hard to successfully encapsulate how wonderful a place Embleton is. Go. Look at a photograph if you can’t go. It is one of those places.

Runner-up –

Bamburgh Beach, near Bamburgh, Northumberland –


Again, there in January, overlooked by a castle, though with incredible views to Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands. Cold, very bright day, blessed in that baltic afternoon to be alive.

Honourable mention –

Belhaven Beach, near Dunbar, East Lothian –


Where else? My favourite place on the planet. I couldn’t not mention it here.

So, that’s 2017. After I wrote the historic place section, I realised I didn’t mention two of the best places I’ve been to this year, namely Kilchurn Castle in Argyll and Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven. Both in very dramatic settings and with fascinating histories. Of those places I hoped to get to in 2015 and 2016, I managed to get to Dunnottar and Tantallon this year, still not to Oxford, Bristol and Stornoway. In 2018, I hope just to be able to travel anywhere. In an ideal world, I would love to get back to Northumberland but also finally to make it to Shetland. This year has been a rollercoaster ride, busy but worth it for the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met.

As ever, many thanks to all readers and followers for reading, commenting and everything else. It has been a privilege. If you celebrate, a very Merry Christmas, the best of wishes if you don’t, and a very peaceful and prosperous New Year when it comes. See you in January.