Saturday, 18 May 2013
The wind vane above is a perfect example of that. It sits on top of Renfrew town hall, so high up that its finer details are practically invisible to nearly everyone passing by on the streets below yet someone has taken an obvious pride in its construction knowing its merits would remain largely unsung. The main centre of Renfrew, an ancient riverside royal burgh and barony on the wide banks of the River Clyde, has had a million pound makeover and transformation recently. It has a real life Baron. Guess who? Believe it or not Princes Charles is the current 'Baron of Renfrew' as it,s a hereditary royal title. You couldn't make it up. He's also the current Duke of Rothesay and 'Lord of the Isles' a title originally given to Somerled, who held sway over much of Western Scotland with his prodigious fleet of fast moving war galleys in the 12th century. He was defeated and killed between here and Paisley during the battle of Renfrew around 1164. Renfrew itself as an entity came into being when lands here were granted to Walter Fitz Allan for the purpose of defence against Viking raiders and the threat of attack from the land grabbing and much feared Somerled who dominated and held the entire west coast in his life time from the far flung Outer Hebrides as far down as Cumbria and the Isle of Man. In the present day, against all the odds, Renfrew has held onto its own independent local dairy, its local character, shops and the last remaining passenger ferry across the River Clyde. Which is why I was here. I needed the ferry as my short cut into history.
First stop after Renfrew was the cycle track up onto Saucel Hill near Paisley Canal railway station. This viewpoint has a great panorama over the whole town. For many generations Paisley was the largest town in Scotland, a title now fought over by new towns East Kilbride and Livingstone.
From the trig point its still obvious where the money and power in the town once came from. Two great mill buildings catch the eye. The photograph above is the Abbey mills business centre complex, formerly the Anchor mills. This is a side on view of one gable end. Length wise it's much more impressive.
Nearby stands the equally massive Coats thread factory. Clark and Coats are two family names at the heart of Paisleys growth and lasting legacy. When they became a partnership and joined forces it created the worlds largest thread factory that went on to dominate the British, American and overseas markets for decades, employing over 25,000 people at its height. Coats are still a major worldwide brand and actually employ over 35,000 people now but the work force in Scotland has shrunk dramatically as cheaper labour markets and business conditions in places like India make it far more economical to work from there.
Some of the main employers now in the town are connected to service industry providers like the University of the West of Scotland seen above which has a large scattered campus throughout the town and the Renfrewshire council buildings which are situated beside the historic abbey and scenic central plaza with its colourful flower beds which are always a delight in spring and summer.
Here we get to the crux of this post. Although some parts of Paisley are run down and dilapidated and money for any improvements is tight in the current financial climate I always think Paisley as a tourist attraction has so much untapped potential. Its high street has seen the usual hard times and closing shops, not helped by the massive Braehead retail park sucking footfall away but it has a beautiful river flowing right through its centre and has some incredible historic buildings that are worth saving for future generations. The Abbey is a gem. Seat of the Royal Stewarts and resting place of Robert the Bruce's eldest daughter. This central open plaza around the Abbey is a fantastic peaceful feature with the White Cart Water snaking through its heart.
Looking in the opposite direction you see the much loved Hammils, the spot where the river tumbles over this volcanic sill beside the mill where in the early days of weaving two large waterwheels on both banks here once used to power the cottage industry set up beside them. From tiny acorns...
I always remember I was fascinated by this place and a trip here to the pictures to see Disney's 'Song of the South' or 'The Jungle Book' was a magical adventure. Popular Tourist towns like Annecy in France have capitalized on a similar, water rich central district, with less historic interest yet are rightly busy with visitors and holidaymakers.
It must be a lack of money, vision, market forces, our poor, unpredictable, weather and a despondent
general outlook to blame. There is so much to admire here yet on my cycle around I observed many once great buildings lying empty and abandoned to their fate that in more money rich areas ( like Edinburgh's Dean Village say) would be saved and converted into stylish riverside apartments. I know we cant save them all but it just seems so wrong to tear them down or, although listed, let them fall into decay. The photographs shown are the ones that have been saved or are safe at present but many more not shown here are in limbo, awaiting an uncertain future.
Incidentally, The American singer Prince is reputed to have named his hit single 'Paisley Park' and his own recording studios after the distinctive Paisley pattern motif which became very popular during the swinging psychedelic 1960's. Paisley in turn was inspired to create this iconic, twisted teardrop, design on shawls, table clothes, fabrics and wallpaper by studying Indian and Iranian craftwork of the period.
A detail of the ring of walrus heads. This is Paisley's answer to Glasgow's Doulton Fountain in Glasgow Green outside the Peoples Palace, a fountain which also lay dry, derelict and unused for many years but which is now restored.
Naturally the Coats Family are well represented up here too. The Observatory is still in action today with current weather reports being used by the media and a local night sky appreciation society. The Coats Family are also responsible for the masterpiece in stone that is Dunselma, their former sailing lodge that still overlooks Strone Point near Dunnon and looks like something out of a gothic fairy-tale. Coats Land in Antarctica is also named after them as they sponsored a prominent expedition there. Clark and Coats were the Rockefeller,s and the Vanderbilt,s of Paisley.
Enthusiasm and a positive outlook will get you far in life and he had both.
At the other end of the street is a second notable domed building, The John Neilston Institute, once a fee paying school now converted into upmarket prestigious apartments. On the left hand side of this is a steep cobbled lane leading down off the hill towards St Mirren football club's ground.
From up here you can also look west across the roof tops towards the Gleniffer Braes.
The reason I bring this up is I've been watching Mary Portas with interest and her attempts to save the nations High Streets recently. So far she has offered some good innovative ideas but its going to be a tough struggle to reverse the decline, as she admits herself, because few individuals have the time, patience or inclination to go round separate shops in a high street setting nowadays. Especially with city centre parking restrictions compared to the relative ease that out of town shopping facilities offer. Paisley was also the original home of a childhood favourite of mine. As a young child I had a treasured collection that is now considered out of favour. Don't remember where they actually disappeared to but being innocent of any underlying issues involved I loved them deeply and just though of them as wonderful works of art. Probably nicked by my youthful mates as we all collected them avidly back then along with football cards and bird's eggs.
Its a shame the high streets are fading because it does rip the heart out of any town or city centre if all you see are boarded up shop fronts. Paisley has been hit like a lot of similar sized towns, especially as it is so close to neighbouring Glasgow and Braehead. Even Glasgow's famous Style Mile is not immune to the relentless bulldozer advance of the mega store.
Rediscovered Paisley? You betcha! Discovering the history and odd corners of towns and cities is as much fun for me nowadays as discovering new mountains.
Below is one of the strangest and most infamous periods in Paisley's long history. I read a local book on this many years ago. Isabel Adam's excellent book 'Witch hunt.' The last collective burning of witches in Western Europe. Were they guilty? You decide. Worth a read for its grim depiction of human nature and mutual class distrust as its worst in a climate and era of superstition so alien to us now in these enlightened times.
Or are we?
Even today if you're rich, famous or powerful your word seems far more likely to be believed by the courts than the poor in society. A horse shoe still seems to hold power as even in recent times it was replaced, just in case, to keep their malice at bay. But whose malice? Or did the real culprit live on to become an upright citizen and creative designer in the town.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paisley_witches. A cautionary tale of burnings, spite and ignorance.
Enjoy... and be really grateful you did not live or die then. Or steal a drink of milk from a rich family.
Wednesday, 8 May 2013
We headed for Tinto and a very early start to beat the crowds as this is a popular hill at weekends. Nice to see some lambs at last.
I did this hill from Wiston to the south the last time a couple of years ago with Alex and never met a soul on the ascent, climbing steeply up to the Pap Craig on a very faint path. Part of the reason for this is the lack of parking spaces on this southern side and we ended up stopping outside a YMCA type building with a huge wooden climbing frame which did seem as if it was meant for private parking but luckily it was deserted and all we could find.
From this side its safe to say its not a faint path. Never been up this way before. Only the third ascent of this fine hill in 40 years, each time by a different route.
Video this week is a cracker that everyone should like. 'Hebrides. Islands on the edge' has been getting heavily plugged on the BBC recently. What stunned me most though was the brilliantly evocative song they used to promote the trailer. I just had to look it up.
Its Finlay Quaye, Beth Orton and William Orbit combining to create a slice of pure heaven on earth.. This short video for his classic song is as good as the hour long Hebrides first episode itself.
Well worth a look in glorious full screen HD. Enjoy.
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
As I've been writing my memoirs recently my thoughts turn back to the beginning. Where it all started. Sweet Springtime and my first visit up Ben Narnain. Last of my original three Munro's.
Slioch and Beinn Eighe were my first two but Beinn Narnain was my third and I've since been up this mountain over thirty times although the last was 15 years ago when JB and myself squeezed into the depths of Jam-Block Chimney and Engine Room Crack in a buttress below the summit to find ourselves being led up these fine subterranean rock climbs by a heavily pregnant female. As our bold leader thrashed and grappled in this vertical slot above our heads I had visions of her waters breaking with the effort involved and us drowning in this latter day parting of the red sea but she completed them in good style then hauled us up the routes. This was very early on in our rock climbing career and she was our most experienced leader. The baby was nothing to do with us I hasten to add. We found her like that. Honest! In time little Moses was delivered safely into the radiant sunshine within a climbing harness, not a basket in sight.
Above is the summit of Beinn Narnain with the wonderful Spearhead Buttress in profile. Both rock climbs can be found deep inside the base of this cliff so I can truthfully say I've not only been up Beinn Narnain but through it as well. No other Munro has had anything like this many ascents from me so it must have some strange, intangible power that draws me back.
Most of the hillwalking guide books suggest tackling this Munro from the col between the Cobbler and Narnain by following the well used tourist path up to the Narnain Boulders under the Cobbler then heading right from the Bealach a Mhaim. Good. That keeps the masses away from the real prize. This is a very boring route to the summit which is why Beinn Narnain is unjustly underrated. Its actually a fantastic hill when you climb it direct from Succoth by following the right hand side of the Allt Sugach burn on a faint, steep path beside, and sometimes actually in the trees, which leads you up into a superb hidden corrie nestled between Cruach nam Misseag and A' Chrios. If you climb Beinn Narnain from this direction you will treasure its ascent and mountain pedigree every bit as much as I do.
They must have had two cars as they took off near here then drifted away into the far horizon over Loch Lomondside until they disappeared from sight roughly 6000 feet up. Beautiful to watch. Omens of the end of days flying towards the sun? So high I couldn't get a clear shot even with a zoom as there was nothing for the camera to focus on apart from sky and tiny shrinking dots. Were they consumed by solar flares or did they land over the rainbow... or maybe just in Callandar village?
Beinn Narnain. Its a magic mountain. Enjoy.
In keeping with the nostalgic theme here's another man looking back at life. A great reworking of an already classic song about love, redemption and regret for failures in the past. When this video was recorded both Johnny and his wife June knew they were ill. Its their epitaph. They both died a short time later.
Written by nine inch nails, singer/songwriter- Trent Reznor.
Saturday, 20 April 2013
A different option however lies to the right of this farm where the last of the houses end. We took this. A descending track runs down through woods in a deep gorge until it meets the Gogo water then runs along beside it, still on the left bank, past a green iron bridge, into the hills. Although a good broad track at first it gradually becomes harder to follow and turns into a grassy path with fallen trees, large boulders and some muddy bits to negotiate. Its very wild and scenic though which is why we went this way.
Keep following the river until you leave the woods behind and come out into a rocky open meadow area which often has sheep grazing on it. Here there is a faint path leading diagonally upwards across grass slopes on the side of the gorge until you come to the meeting of the Greeto and Gogo waters. Follow the Greeto water upwards past tumbling waterfalls, deep pools and smooth waterslides, many of which resemble well known beauty spots in the Peak district and Yorkshire dales. Although only half a kilometre long this tumbling area of falls is a beautiful and exiting section. Quiet and peaceful usually as is the entire walk.
Away from the outdoor centres at Cornalees and the Castle Semple and Muirshiel hill HQ above Lochwinnoch this must be one of the least visited areas in the UK which is why I like it. An empty jewel of lonely, remote summits hidden in full view.
http://www.clydemuirshiel.co.uk/ Bags more information here on the official site including maps, videos and pictures of the area.
This walk has long been a favourite of mine and I've been coming here for many decades. Since I was a teenager.
Upsteam from here the energetic can continue across the moors seen in the above photo to the distant and lofty Hill of Stake. At 1712 feet or 522 metres its the highest summit in the entire park and a Marilyn and a hump. After two consecutive hard days out however I wanted a far easier day this time so we cut down to the lower summit of Castle Hill where there is a seat, this small cairn, and a large circular 'Mountain and landmark finder' telling you what it is you're looking at.
Incidentally a week of rain has cleared most of the snow off Scotland's Munro's and they are now in prime walking condition.
Nice spot, sadly looking a bit run down probably due to the usual teenage nightly escapades of bad behaviour under cover of darkness and council budget cutbacks. Flowers were stunning here though.
Maybe they need a few of these to keep the peace. Nothing like a pair of sharp fangs in the darkness I find to keep folk under control. Always works for me.
A couple of you long time viewers may have already seen this video before but its one of my favourites so I'm posting it on here for the first time. The stunning Coco-Rosie. A sister act not afraid of original ideas in music. Cant see them ever being hugely successful but they are certainly very different from the pack.
Putting creative ability before commercial appeal they will probably be highly influential some day and another act will make a lot of money out of their ideas.
Head David Bowie's new Album. Unimpressed by it. Meanwhile the stunning, earlier 'Heathen' is still vastly under rated and jam packed with great songs. Hype, a long absence, and a 'living legend' tag will get you to Number one it seems . Be interesting to see what the reviews are for his latest CD five years down the line though.
Anyway I've always thought this video might be inspired, in part, by the Bronte sisters and their troubled brother Branwell who incidentally died standing up at the family fireplace I believe. He was heavily addicted to alcohol, married ladies and small bottles of laudanum. An unusual way to go but I'm sure he had fun. They created an imaginary world for themselves as children where terrible adventures happened but it had a strict set of rules, which, if crossed, merited punishment. A south seas mythical kingdom of two warring islands. Gondal.and Gaaldine