Friday, 9 December 2016

The Binn. Burntisland. Black Rocks. Kinghorn. Firth of Forth. Inchkeith.

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Fife this time... over on the East Coast across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh. Last Sunday's walk with Alan and his dog was really enjoyable. A very varied walk in excellent conditions that I've done a few times before over the years was improved even more by low tide occurring at 9:30am. We arrived in Burntisland's wide and spacious excellent free car park around 10:30am to be greeted with this view of the beach. A lovely sunny day and low tide levels with a view of the Black Rocks, a tidal lump of jagged dolerite sitting a kilometre out into the bay, and all around what looked like miles of empty sand. (You can also see the high level route back inland here.)
A curlew on the beach. Normally, on the other occasions I've been here to do this amazing walk, the mini mountain rising steeply above the town commands all the attention so I've headed for that first. Four hours later I've been over the Binn Summit, a volcanic plug at a mere 193 metres high (632 feet) but which appears far higher- like a tiny Rock of Gibraltar and then I've continued on down the spine of the lower hills into Kinghorn, a few miles further up the coast.
This time though we could actually see an easy clear path out to the Black Rocks and as neither of us had explored them we headed for there. It was a hazy pastel tinted morning as overnight temperatures had fallen below zero but the early mist, ice and fog should burn away by lunchtime, according to the weather forecast. Isn't science wonderful? I consult it all the time, as any intelligent person would you would think? As you can see here the rocks rise around 8 to 10 feet high next to this dog walker.
And this is them in the middle of the bay with the tide coming in and only the highest part visible. I'd imagine in certain conditions they would be washed over completely but I've always had a mad notion to spend a night out here. Potentially dangerous though I'd imagine, if not fatal in rough sea conditions. This is a view from the Binn summit, a steep volcanic plug with grass fields and rolling farmland on the inland side and plunging cliffs of eroded basalt on the other, seaward side. Judging by the level here it might well be over 8 foot deep at full high tide around the islands with strong currents to be taken into account as well. I tried to walk over to them once as a child on holiday, around 10 or 12 years of age, but the sea was coming in fast and I lost my nerve and turned back just short of reaching them.
A dream finally realized as although I've done this favourite five star classic walk around five times now, (usually in December as it's a real sun trap) it's always been Binn first, then Kinghorn then beach.... by which time it's been full high tide and an adventurous  boulder hop beside the railway line on the tiny strip remaining free of the waves in the near dark. Trust me... if you can get the tides right pick the beach and Black Rocks first! It's much easier. This is a view from the rocks over to the village of Kinghorn, around a mile and a half away. (or two kilometres) We would be heading there next but first we started walking out across the sands to the very edge of the Firth of Forth. This beach walk really is a cracker and not that busy... only a few dog walkers and a lone jogger so fantastic for photography. When any beach gets too busy it soon loses its appeal for me but this one was perfect. Those folk not keen on the full circuit over the ridge line could just do the low tide beach walk... then explore Kinghorn and return via the flat pavement on the A921 crossing over the railway by several available bridges... the last bridge being reached from the beach near another Kinghorn seafront caravan site to the west of that town. Three different walking options there and all equally enjoyable. Boots or wellies advisable to avoid wet feet and safe enough for children if they are with an adult.
A lone jogger on the edge of the Firth of Forth with Inchkeith (a remote and hard to reach island) in the distance. This was where we were heading next as nothing beats that feeling of being able to walk out into a major estuary at low tide as far as you can possibly go. A King Canute moment of stepping across the sands further and further out into the unknown where only mermaids should rightfully be.

Dog and oil rig platform. Firth of Forth.
Dead seal found at the Black Rocks. Judging by the neat cut line through the body this has been hit by a propeller of some sort or maybe sliced open for some reason with a blade to find out how it died. It did have a tag on it. Number 75258 for anyone interested. It seems too neat a cut to be natural.

Alan walking out to the furthest edge of the land. Burntisland was once a major shipbuilding town and also important for coal and shale oil deposits in the past. It still has a semi industrial feel about it in places and has an important engineering and fabrication yard for the oil and gas industry still operating at the docks to this day which is maybe why three oil rig platforms could be seen offshore in the Firth of Forth and also several large ships. Either that or they are static here due to the downturn in the oil industry at present. The East Coast has a completely different feel to the Scottish West Coast, different landscapes and look about it- half the rainfall levels- a great deal more sunshine- and I've always loved coming here. Burntisland itself is an interesting place for day trips with lovely beach walks, historic D.I.Y town trail, many unusual buildings, a nice park, and of course the Binn.
A view of the main street from the car park and meadows area. Ladies and gents toilets are just to the left of this photo and a decent chip shop sits across from the car. All you really need for a great day out.
A fine church in Burntisland viewed from the beach front. Sheltered seating and a short but enjoyable concrete promenade walk here. The path up the Binn can be found on the A909 at Silverbarton where a signposted hole in the wall is found just past the last house on the upper left side of the town's outskirts.
A Redshank, a small wading bird usually found on beaches and estuaries in the winter months when the ground inland is frozen hard and no use for finding worms and grubs with its long probing bill.
We also noticed on the walk across the sands to Kinghorn the remains of hundreds of wooden posts sticking out the ground in long rows. Only the tips of these were visible, heavily eroded and we speculated they might be low tide piers of some sort or even medieval fish traps. After talking to a local however he informed us they were built during the war to stop German planes landing on this flat expanse of sand. Any plane landing when they were at full height might have had their wings chopped off running along the beach.
A very different walk and my new favourite place. All my photographic guidebooks on Kindle tend to be areas of Scotland like this, unfashionable but really scenic and unusual, off the beaten track, so with Christmas coming they might be worth a couple of quid as a present as they all highlight a range of unusual places to visit in Scotland, like this one. Welcome to the Fife Riviera.
From Kinghorn, which is an interesting wee place as well, we walked up through sunny streets named after kings and great locals then passed glorious beaches like this one. Both Burntisland and Kinghorn lie on the route of the long distance Fife Coastal Path which is a gem in itself. Many years ago, after finishing the Munros, I started collecting beaches all over the UK... 'Captain Coastwalk' was my somewhat derogatory nickname then, bestowed by my amused mountaineering friends who showed no inclination to join me on my travels... long before that in my teens (as hinted at in my first book Autohighography) I collected humans... again from all over the UK... before that, in childhood, I was an egg collector... at least the eggs stayed put where I placed them- people prove much trickier as a rule. In short, I've always swam against the tide and popular trends, by inclination rather than any design, going my own way and picking my own pursuits.
At Kinghorn we headed inland up through this small town to the golf course then up through that and a caravan park on a right of way track past a farm (dogs on lead here) to walk past The Bents and Grangehill (on OS Landranger map 66 Edinburgh) As we climbed higher up the ridge great views opened out over the Firth of Forth but the scenery inland was not too shabby either. This is a view of Kinghorn Loch, above.
And one of a rapidly shrinking sandbar from the hillside caravan park and the beach where we walked at low tide a mere two hours before.
Ships and oil platforms moored out on the Firth of Forth near Kirkcaldy, one of the largest towns in the Kingdom of Fife, which in turn is a large hand shaped peninsula lying on the East Coast just north of Edinburgh. Shale gas ship seen here in full screen view, probably coming from or going into Grangemouth oil refinery.
A distant view of Kirkcaldy gleaming in the sunshine as viewed from the Binn.
One of Inchkeith. A scattering of wonderful islands lie out in the Firth of Forth- all of them individual, well spaced apart, and uniquely different. Unless you have a private boat or you are a sea kayaker with experience in a group for safety they are hard to reach although a ferry does go out to one from Queensferry to Inchcolm in the summer months. I've visited a few, including Inchcolm, but not Inchkeith which is too far flung and dangerous for my own inflatable kayak to reach. An island I've always wondered about though. A fascinating history and map of the island in this link including its use as an early quarantine outpost for syphilis and other unfortunate human conditions including the extraordinarily cruel James IV's linguistic experiment which is worth a read and mind boggling.
The rolling Fife landscape behind the Binn. Although it was warm and toasty down on the suntrap sands and over most of the rising ridge line these slopes here were still in deep shade and the turf underfoot was frozen solid with no sign of a thaw.
The rocky cliffs of the Binn on the seaward side.  Rock of Gibraltar comparisons? Well, when you are up here in sunshine looking down, if a few Barbary Macaques appeared on a boulder below your feet they would not seem out of place at all.
It's hard to tell you in words how good this fantastic walk is... just try it for yourself. 4 to 6 hours depending on fitness, tea-breaks and speed. We took 5 hours as it's so good it's not one to rush. Around 10 to 12 kilometres full circuit.

Good video here showing some of the other islands in the Firth of Forth. This gentleman has a collection of other interesting kayak videos on You Tube. Few things beat the feeling of an island reached by kayak.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Scottish Borders Gallery. An Exotic Mixture.

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As it was a two day weekend trip to the Scottish Borders I had enough photos for a second set. This is a Rhea, a large flightless bird from South America and like all its ilk it packs a powerful kick with its sharp claws. Some have escaped from farms in Germany and are now running wild there with a breeding population of over 100 birds- which is an ever present danger threatening the world today with plants, animals and spores getting everywhere they shouldn't now that travel between countries is so easy and fast, with few restrictions.
Having said that, I , like most folk, like to see the exotic and they don't come much better than this meadow in a secret location I will not name here. Rheas, Alpacas, Donkeys and Geese sharing the open ranges in a landscape not that far removed from their original homeland territories. They all seem to get on ok here together apart from the odd clumsy mishap.
Rhea eggs with one broken. Probably a hoof rather than a predator.
Not the culprit on this occasion as it was already smashed when we arrived but a likely cause given the proximity of the eggs to the fence and folk arriving to pat the donkeys and see the animals up close. I've since learned rheas can lay up to a dozen eggs and deliberately sacrifice a few to predators while guarding the rest on a concealed nest but these rheas didn't appear to be sitting on anything elsewhere. It was November and very cold so maybe too late in the season. Also there didn't appear to be an actual lined scoop to keep the eggs insulated from the cold wet ground so they would chill down very quickly even with a bird sitting on them.
Lovely markings on this donkey.
Road sign and autumn colours.
Museums in Bigger. Although a small town/village it has several interesting museums including a puppet theatre and an old gas works that supplied the area in the past. Not many of them left in the UK.
Village in the hills. Late autumn colours.
Broughton. Not much in this small village for tourists but a favourite for interesting cycling trips with lovely scenery and several fine cycling or driving loops passing through either here or Biggar.
What the surrounding countryside looks like. Either pleasant rural farms, small woods or....
high rolling hills and moorlands...
leading up onto even higher hills with giant hog back summits and a real feeling of big wide skies and far flung horizons...
Donkey and Geese Meadows lower down.
Sheep Country.
In a bothy. Crossword puzzle.

A bothy fire.
The Southern Uplands.

Perceptions and opinions. I've been a fan of Kate Bush since we were both teenagers as I'm roughly the same age as her and I used to drive past her family house in London when I visited friends nearby and I'm well aware she came from an upmarket middle class area. Her house was one of the largest on her street even before she was famous and she has always had money and a certain privileged lifestyle, albeit with a bohemian outlook. It came as no surprise to me therefore to find she supports Theresa May and thinks she is a credit to the UK. It would be more of a surprise to find she supported anyone else given her background and it does not diminish her obvious talent in any way for me personally. What it does highlight is the gulf in thinking between those who have little and those who have a very comfortable lifestyle. A decade of ongoing austerity means nothing to them and they naturally have a very different view of the world to those on the bottom rungs. Recent soundbites from the Conservative party show that very clearly. Despite bad results in the UK and America voting for dangerous loose canon outsiders they still appear completely oblivious, re-branding themselves 'the caring party' but still implementing the usual austerity cuts wholesale to services and people telling us 'they get it' and grudgingly saying they now understand how 'we' feel. My question is- How can they when they live such a very different reality to the rest of us? It's like me saying I understand what it's like to be homeless. I live in a house at the moment so I don't.

                            Chalk message in an underpass frequently used by rough sleepers.
Actually, they still haven't a clue why people really voted for Brexit against all the predictions or best common sense and seem to have no inkling about the growing levels of genuine anger over inequality in this country and other places around the world where the poor have steadily became poorer year on year and the greed of the rich elite has only increased and been rewarded. In the 5th richest country in the world ( the UK actually climbed two places higher during and after a so called recession) it now costs far more in infrastructure and wages to sanction and punish the people on the bottom rungs than if you just gave them all a basic minimum universal income to live on, no questions asked, and cut out all the complicated levels of bureaucracy and stigma involved in the benefits system which is blatantly cruel, unfair, and hasn't worked properly for years now. I watched a film the other night that suggested we are rapidly going backwards as a society from even the period of 20 years ago where the ordinary folk that make up the supporting pyramid numbered roughly around 80 percent to a 20 percent top tier- which in monetary terms wasn't all that far above the masses. It's now a staggering one percent of the elite that owns more money than the other 99 percent of the population combined so something has to change. At the risk of appearing a leftist nutter, which I'm not as I can't stand politics normally and steer clear of politically motivated people in general but I've been banging on about this since the blog started, on and off.
Here's a more educated view on this same subject and a warning. Worth a read.

Anyone got any appetite for World War III ?  Many historians believe it is coming. But will people listen in time? Did they ever listen before in the past? History gives us the answer to that as well :o(

Friday, 25 November 2016

Autumn in Bellahouston Park. Glasgow. A Gallery of Colours. Trends in Social Housing.

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As I have a backlog of photos all the way back into early summer I thought I'd stick another post up before they get lost or I forget which external drive they are stored on. It's another park-lands post as I have many parks I'm fond of visiting within Glasgow, a city renowned in the past for gangland culture, giant housing schemes, teeming hi rise slums and violence but also one covered in beautiful park-lands, many laid out in Victorian and Edwardian times. This is Bellahouston Park taken from the central hill in the middle looking out over Mosspark, one of Glasgow's early council schemes/ estates and still a desirable area to live in. Many of the houses here are now privately owned. In contrast many of the later tenement and hi rise estates built after that time in the 1950s-1960s and 1970s have been totally flattened and are no longer there. My questions are -Was it the people or the architecture to blame... or a combination of both? And which model of housing works out cheaper in the long run.

Knightswood, certain parts of Pollok, Riddrie, Carntyne, and several others built during the 1920s- 1930s are also still intact and in much the same condition as the day they were built, maintenance and visual aspect wise.  Modeled on the garden suburb formula they contain an attractive mix of different housing types,  semi detached, terraced, or 2 to 4 in a block cottage style with back and front gardens. if you look at the photo in the Mosspark link above you will see they actually improve with age as the trees mature and grow over the decades.
As this model was supposedly unsustainable, expensive, and used up large tracts of land for a limited number of residents later schemes/ estates built during the Second World War and after consisted of long rows of tenements, or hi rise living or a new trend -deck access estates. Due to huge numbers pouring into the cities during a time of social upheaval and unrest, resources were stretched, overcrowding and outbreaks of infection/disease required houses to be built on a much bigger scale and fast. The first garden suburb estates generally catered for the upwardly aspirational working classes on decent incomes, whereas the later estates were open to all. Much brighter folk than me are still debating why it all went so wrong in these later estates/ schemes but I know from experience it' s much easier to keep your own property in a decent condition if you have fixed boundaries built around it. (i.e. a garden with a fence or a hedge, even if small in size)  You also soon see where any anti social properties exist in estates like these rather than everyone, good or bad, getting tarred with the same brush in the open tenement or hi rise version. There is a reason for this train of thought at the end.
I had a feeling the best autumn colours might be around the 'House For an Art Lover', a fairly modern construct erected in the 1990s in the park, it was built using Charles Rennie Mackintosh's original never used competition designs from the early 1900s along with his wife, Margaret Macdonald, who contributed greatly to the look of the interiors. I much prefer this view of the back of the building rather than the front aspect. Much cleaner and warmer lines as for me personally many of his concrete creations in white seem austere and lack a certain warmth or a 'we are at home, honey' feeling. I'm more of an Alexander Thomson or the very underrated William Leiper type. Both these architects are well known in Scotland of course and I see examples of their work everywhere on bike rides but world wide they don't seem to enjoy the same acclaim as Mackintosh.
Front aspect of the same building. For me this doesn't have any 'Wow' factor and is bordering on ugly.
The gardens at the back though are beautiful and this is where I found the best colours. I think these are types of Maple trees.
Red Romance. Vivid red was one colour I had failed to capture this autumn in nature until I spotted this maple. Seems to be a hybrid variety though.
A fallen leaf from the same tree. Canadian and American maples seem to have five or seven points to each leaf though and a straight trunk with a broad crown. Japanese maples have seven usually as a general standard but this has six as you can see. Japanese maples also have twisting trunks usually and rarely gain much height straight upwards. Still guessing it's a maple but an unusual variety... unless someone knows better? I'm keen to find out.
Same trees from a distance.
The back garden. House for an Art Lover.
One captured at the height of summer. Pollok Park from the nearby Bellahouston Park. This is taken in the middle of Scotland's largest city yet it looks completely sylvan in aspect. Pollok Park is Glasgow's largest park and the only one, because of it's size and wooded nature, you can get genuinely disorientated/ lost in... if only temporarily, by following the network of tiny back trails through the dense forest. Even after 30-40 visits over the years if you disappear into the wooded heart on minor animal trails you are never quite certain where they will come out which is part of its charm as it doesn't have as much colour contrast in autumn or ornamental tree displays and flowerbed interest.
'Elephant in the Room'   Bellahouston Park.
Nice mix of ornamental trees picked and planted for an autumn display
Colour blend in Bellahouston.
Looking across at Moss Heights and South Cardonald District. Glasgow.
Animal Life in Bellahouston Park. October 2016.

Social Trends in Housing? I found this video a while ago on You Tube and found it fascinating. Although I can understand the architect's point of view to some degree I grew up very close to a similar deck access hi rise estate like the one featured and it went downhill very quickly without any sectarian elements involved whatsoever as did most of the others scattered throughout Britain. The ones that survive today have been extensively redesigned and mainly cater for young professional types or other folk without children. They are not suitable for families in any way and many had dampness, condensation, security and antisocial issues built in from the start. I personally believe, from first hand experience, that deck access estates were never the way forward for ordinary low income communities as they were scary places at night to walk through with a thousand hidden corners and a feeling of menace, isolation and unseen danger everywhere... even in daylight... and that was definitely as much the fault of the design as any input from locals. Most sensible people stayed in and bolted their doors at dusk unless they had a good reason to go out. Flat roofs are never a great idea in UK buildings with the levels of rainfall we get, especially in the north, and you would need a well paid job to afford the massive heating bills to keep these concrete rain soaked tombs warm in winter where the wind howls at speed through the elevated corridors rattling the letterboxes. A very interesting historical look back at the most infamous of the deck access projects in the UK and really worth seeing in full here. Everyone will have a different opinion of course.. they always do :o) Just maybe, if they had built the more expensive low level garden suburb type estates at the start, and kept going, even with cheaper materials, they would still be around today in reasonable shape and work out far cheaper in the long run when you factor in decades of unrest, ongoing repairs, security funding, stress,illness, drug, drink, depression, less job prospects, and other issues... not to mention the cost of demolition then re-building and re-housing most of the tenants still alive. These estates took a heavy toll on people... not just in Ireland but in communities throughout the world... and unbelievably they are still being built today. Estates like these, more than anything else at the time, helped to break up the old social communities and values politicians like to bang on about restoring.