Thursday, 18 July 2019

Bellahouston Thunderstorm. Growing up within the Great Forest.

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It's not always easy when you have been exploring the outdoors for as long as I have- over 55 years- to find new or interesting places to visit. Traveling into the mountains usually costs money, which I do not have much of at the moment, or inclination as a solo trip, but fortunately I have many other outdoor interests nearer home I am equally content with at present- great beach walks- city walks- cycling-kayaking, ( risky sport on your own though) micro worlds- history of places and architecture. So loads to choose from.
 But my first and greatest passion has always been woodlands, farms, (cattle and horse dotted fields), streams, waterfalls, and rolling ridges. Pastures and Parkland settings mainly. I consider myself very privileged indeed to have grown up in Pollok/Nitshill ( apparently the original area was pronounced Nuts-hill, named after a long gone hazelnut wood not itchy head-lice or angry local bams.) on the southern outskirts of Glasgow, as, although I grew up within a fairly rough council estate it was, in Mr Weir's words ... " very easy to escape from." Above is a view over Pollok Country Park from Bellahouston Park with the Kennishead hi rise flats in the distance. A much loved lookout and park in my case. Mature deciduous woodlands stretch south for miles in a wide unbroken realm which also includes  Haggs Castle Golf Course, Pollok Golf Course, Cowglen Golf Course, Crookston Wood, and the well preserved ruins of Crookston Castle, former home of Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots, where they were reputedly matched up in the mid 1560s before getting hitched, even though neither were actually from Scotland in heart or mind. An early version of the 'dream team.'  Lord Darnley was born in England apparently (Yorkshire), his father having large estates in both countries originally but the Scottish ones were stripped from him after he backed the wrong side, a common occurrence during that troubled period meaning he'd only returned to Scotland after decades in exile.

 Lord Darnley did have a claim to the Scottish and English thrones as did Mary, Queen of Scots, an extra political incentive to get married. Although born in Scotland, after the age of five Mary spent her childhood in France only returning here as a recently widowed adult, so she did not really know or remember Scotland much either. Although they left an indelible mark on the nation's consciousness and in local place names it could be argued neither enjoyed their short time here very much with early death and long imprisonment just around the corner a few years after they arrived on Scottish soil.
By way of contrast, I, and several generations before and after me, enjoyed in full the golden years of this great estate. Why? Well... going back several generations from when I was born in the 1950s it was mostly private land, ordinary children had far less free time to play before adulthood, often going down the local coal mines from a young age until retirement, ill health or death.... and at the other end... 1990s to the present day, children have far less freedom outdoors without adult supervision. We had little in the way of toys, wealth or material possessions but we were rich in other ways.

From around the age of six or seven we, my friends and I, began exploring this wonderful kingdom every weekend, setting a template for my later outdoor life. Before that age we were largely confined to a few streets, usually within spotting or shouting distance of the house but after that age the pull of a vast unexplored region on our doorstep proved too strong as fields, woods, streams, ponds, grasslands and ridges lived five minutes walk away from my house. And at that period of time in history we were free to explore it all on our own, all day long, as long as we returned for dinner or before darkness descended, usually 4:00pm in winter- 7:00pm in summer... if dry. An almost unimaginable concept now in this internet age of instant tracking and minute by minute child- parent contact but perfectly normal then. Indeed, if we arrived back early from a local wander with pals, turning up at the house after only a few hours on a sunny day that's when our parents got concerned. ' 'Did you have a fight with your friends?' ' Aw, could you find no- one to play with- are you bored?'

Looking back it seemed almost a crime not to stay out all day as a youngster when you left at breakfast as it usually meant you had to be entertained, looked after, and fed by grown ups. Most parents would chase you out the house unless it was pouring with rain, a collective UK mindset at that time even though bad things did happen, especially in the rougher council estates. The difference was it was mostly word of mouth communication about any dangers in those days... radio, early black and white TV, and newspapers having far less dominance or influential in most folks life's or thinking processes. Especially children who only read the cartoon page in newspapers and watched very little TV then. With no gadgets or fridge freezers in the house, bigger families, and a lack of labour saving devices, housewife's seemed to be constantly active then anyway... either cleaning, washing, shopping daily, or cooking... with little time to look after children.
But for us, growing up, free time was always an adventure to be truly savoured... outdoors. Egg hunting, jumping streams, playing with newts and tadpoles, finding conkers, mushrooms and berries in autumn; Raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries, brambles, rhubarb, and apple hunting in season sprouting in the hedgerows and abandoned orchards. With little in the way of snacks or money any free treats we could get off the land provided us with extra energy, juice to quench thirst, and the satisfaction of the quest. The area had once been a well tended grand estate but now, mostly donated to the public, we could wander anywhere- large sweeping meadows, old buildings, fields, large reservoirs, old orchards... and none of it out of bounds.
A slice of Pollok, Nitshill and the Brownside Braes above Barrhead and Paisley in this photo above. The Misty Mountains of my own personal 'Shire'. Renfrew-shire that is- fairest of a thousand kingdoms reputedly and I truly believe that.
It wasn't all paradise back then however and it certainly had its dangerous elements- places where children and teenagers could easily find themselves captured and tortured by rival gangs or malicious strangers, beaten up or killed, dangerous surroundings where one wrong step could plunge you from a height or suck you under and things that looked innocent and benign but weren't. At that time, 1960s to 1980s, gang violence in the various estates was pretty bad all over Glasgow and many of the streets in Pollok, built during the war years, had seen better days. The earliest constructed of the big four estates/ schemes in Glasgow with mainly flat roofs.  It was far rougher and more threatening then than it looks today with long rows of older tenements crawling over the ridges of a 30 thousand strong population council district,  many streets already half abandoned and listed for demolition by the late 1980s by my twenty something years. An interesting, fairly exciting place to grow up though and I did not find it dull at all :o)
Pollok late 1980s. Not a place to play in unless you lived here but certainly my happiest working experience- every day exiting, filled with adrenalin, and completely unique. Much better than working in an office or a factory as we often covered all Glasgow's council schemes city wide. I was even paid to go into these areas at night- a wild education. A 1980s version of the Wild West.
Yet 30 minutes walk from my front door in the other direction, heading away from Pollok and Glasgow, I also had this. The pleasant peaceful water world of The Barrhead Dams. Variety in abundance. I would not trade my childhood and teenage years for anything as I don't think I would get anything better than this.
Anyway, back to where I was at present- which was Bellahouston Park in summer. Beautiful photographic light as a thunderstorm was predicted. Having completed my own blog challenge of going ten years outdoors in Scotland without a rainy day I decided I could treat myself to a downpour. This was one occasion when I did want rain on a walk and loads of it.
Leverndale Tower during heavy rain. I did get my wish an hour later with both thunder and lightening over the distant ridges and forests, bad weather and dark skies gradually approaching my position on top of a hill. I stayed dry under a tree when the rain hit then moved slightly downhill when the lightening flashed overhead.
Really enjoyed it as everyone else scurried for shelter out the park, leaving it empty of humans. A lot of water splashed down very quickly in a summer burst of humid energy. Although intense and tropical in nature it did not last long and 30 minutes later the sun made a watery appearance. Being under a mature deciduous broad leaved tree for that time I was still comparatively dry- judging the shelter time perfectly between rain first hitting tree tops and ending before the delayed drip effect trickled down to when it was time to be in the open again away from the wet branches which would soak you long after the rain had passed.
It also gave me a chance to examine the new wildflower borders, planted in many UK parks as an aid to insects ( butterflies, bees etc) to try to reverse their dramatic decline. The strange thing is... looking at the rough council estate photo above... in the 1960s to 1980s period of heavy industry, still smoking chimneys, a busier river, crumbling housing stock, and closing factories the world still seemed a vast, underpopulated place to its inhabitants. Now, on the surface, it looks much better visually, what houses around there are look scenically attractive- if not always affordable, but the world, its forests, it's natural resources, climate, and wildlife are no longer limitless. And it's not really climate change that's the biggest problem- that's just one immediate danger ahead on a long motorway. The main elephant in the room is human population growth competing for the remaining fresh water, land, minerals, food, living space, money and possessions. One thing about being poor is that you soon realise you do not need very much to live a comfortable happy life- just enough money, food, water and shelter to get by without the added stress of chasing the latest available technology, a new car, a bigger house, more promotions at work, etc which is in itself a familiar reliable recipe but now stretched to breaking point at this particular period in human history.
Pansy display. Walled Garden.
House for an Art Lover. Bellahouston Park.
Outside panel detail. More wife/artist Margaret Macdonald than Charles Rennie Mackintosh here I suspect as she went in for female figures in groups throughout her designs. As I've said before, many years ago, when I first discovered Mackintosh designed buildings in Glasgow in my early 20s it took a while for the penny to drop that all the finest creations that left a lasting impression on me belonged to her.
Without the panel decoration this back elevation would not have much going for it.
Walled Garden view. There are only a handful of parks in Glasgow that have these treasured enclosures.
Flower mix.
Sun- flowers.
Big Foot.
Red Roses.
A delicate display of colour.
Mosspark view.
Looking South over Mosspark towards Darnley. He left behind a tree he took shelter and rested under as he was feeling unwell, tended by his royal wife, and a place name as a legacy of his time spent in this district. Wonder if he enjoyed his woodland realm as much as me? Probably not as he was ill during this flying visit on horseback and dead by the age of 21. Murdered. Nae luck at all. Partly self inflicted through drink, bad temper, arrogance, and doing dodgy stuff with women of ill repute, other than his wife.
Blood on the leaves.
Entering the realm between the seen and the unseen now. Multiverse creatures appear. Beware of falsehood ahead.
And again.
Do we even live in reality any more?... and how can we tell?... look closely at the bench...


Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Fountainbridge. Murals. Tollcross. Edinburgh.

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A solo bus trip to Edinburgh from a while ago. It was a trip to the Union Canal termination where it stops at Tollcross in an attractive basin. Just up the canal from its end point you come to Fountainbridge, a district of Edinburgh that's undergone massive redevelopment.
When Sir Sean Connery grew up here in the 1940s and 1950s I'd imagine it all used to look like this. Part of the traditional street layout still untouched in 2019. Back in the 1950s it would have been busy streets of chimney soot stained tenements, some factories, a large brewery with teams of heavy horses pulling beer wagons to various pubs and clubs and the usual sights associated with heavy industry, including a still working canal with supply barges. The barges are still here but converted into house boats or used for tourist trips.
I was puzzled as to what this old building was used for until I worked it out from the golden panels.
The local lending library, still in use today.
This period detail made me laugh. The Square 'Bunnet' of Education. "After five years of study you have earned the right to wear the square bunnet of education my boy. Carry it on yer nut with pride. Dinnae ever disgrace the square bunnet!"
Tribute to the old Fountainbridge Brewery and its workers. (wearing the traditional round bunnet or flat cap of the 1950s working class.)
What caught my attention however in this district, travelling through it on a local internal bus, was the sudden burst of vibrant colours on both sides of the main road - like going from black and white into Disneyland on a previous Edinburgh trip with Anne. On that occasion, after a full walking day already, we didn't stop, so I had to come back to explore it properly. On one side of the road is the new school.
And right across from it a play complex.
Colourful mural on the nearby canal. I wouldn't swim in it myself but there you go. I prefer cycling along it which is very enjoyable... or you can hire a barge or kayak up it, heading out past leafy suburbia. As the mural shows there used to be a big American owned rubber factory in Fountainbridge making  hot water bottles, wellie boots, car tyres, and rubber gloves alongside dozens of other products, sold across the world, employing thousands of workers.  See info link at the end of this post.
The new architecture here is interesting and colourful. New school just visible on far left.
I'll call this complex beside the Union Canal 'Five Shades of Tasteful Grey.'
Another view of it from the Fountain Park Entertainment Complex. Never spotted a fountain though, only the usual fast food outlets, cinema multiplex, wallet draining gaming/gambling amusements etc...
Mural wall leading down to the Telfer Underpass ( a tunnel running under a main road connecting a district of housing cul de sacs- the tunnel was fun....
finding my way back out of the maze of dead end streets in what turned out to be an unexciting area... not so much. Only went that way as I was still looking for the illusive fountain.
but it gave me another chance to see the large mural...
It's not a large district but it has some interest. Tollcross Fire Brigade building.
Back in Princes Street  I noticed this ornate cross beside a church.
It was the panel detail that caught my eye.
For a religious theme the female figure here is a tad racy to my mind. More bare breasted Lara Croft than demure angel. And right beside a church as well. Tisk tisk. No wonder she has a loyal following of male admirers. No square bunnet necessary for her.

Ross Fountain detail. As Anne noticed and remarked on a previous visit to Edinburgh. " How come all the women depicted here always have their bits hanging out while the males are fully dressed? "
And I'd replied. ( patting her on the head sympathetically...- not!) " That's classical art my dear... I could explain it all to you but you just wouldn't understand. :o)"    There was a well in the 1700s- hence the name- now long gone. That clears that up. Doh!

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Loch Lomond. River Leven. Balloch Country Park.

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Got a phone call from Anne earlier in June that she fancied a park walk and the news that daughter Belinda was free as well for a few hours was an unexpected bonus. It was during a week of rainy days and occasional heavy thunderstorms so I racked my brains to think of someplace they had not been with plenty of interest yet shelter to keep them from getting soaked. A and B are not keen on hill-walking or tramping around in a downpour usually so Balloch Country Park was a good choice with plenty of mature woodlands and meadows with the added bonus that they had not been in it before.... or visited it in the distant past...they couldn't remember which it was.
Balloch itself is a 20 minute drive from where we live in Glasgow's West End so handy to get to with a large car park, bus station, and railway station right beside the park gates. In spite of this it's never that crowded winter or summer compared to other Highland/ Lowland tourist hot spots yet is fairly scenic.
Balloch Railway Station- The end of this particular branch line coming from Glasgow.
The last time I was here was in Autumn a couple of years ago so this colourful new mural on a prominent gable end in the town's High Street was a total surprise. Ben Lomond, Scotland's most Southerly Munro, Loch Lomond, and the paddle-steamer Maid of the Loch... all depicted behind the proud owner of the local restaurant. Adds a real splash of colour to the town and is an additional visual asset for visitors wandering around as well as a clever promotion for the business. This is the view you get from an elevated position above the town although as far as I'm aware the Maid of the Loch is still stationary, based at Loch Lomond Shores pier, though visitors can explore the interior of this vintage paddle steamer at close quarters.
The late local climber and TV broadcaster Tom Weir once famously said 'the best thing about Balloch is that it's easy to get out of ' but although a funny throwaway line that is doing it something of a disservice I've always thought. Sure it has a few rough housing schemes on the outskirts- or did have in his day- but these have been largely upgraded and the small town itself, the only bit the tourists visit, can be really scenic. Main Street above.
Any place with a river as pretty and interesting as the River Leven, seen here, running through its centre, filled all year round with small boats, is a place worth a visit. Certainly seeing it through first time eyes impressed them both with the scenic variety. (Anne did remember a long ago visit when she walked around this river section briefly- but decades previously) . You can also travel here by car, bus, or train then walk/cycle down the length of the River Leven Walkway into Dumbarton and the Clyde Coast estuary mud flats or.... explore the substantial Balloch Country Park, which is what we intended to do now.
Built in the early 1800s Balloch Castle and the landscaped grounds surrounding it once belonged to the Earls of Lennox, (older castles have adorned these slopes dating back to the 1100s, ) then changed hands over the centuries  to the Darnley Stewarts,( Mary, Queen of Scots husband Lord Darnley being the last of them), then Glasgow District Council, then leased to West Dumbartonshire. Although work to restore this building seems to be ongoing, at the moment it remains closed to the public, which is a shame as it is the centrepiece of a lovely park.
 Another attractive circular walk of a few scenic miles duration that can be done separately or added on to the park outing runs from Balloch via the Lomond Shores complex on the opposite bank of the River Leven, then up the lochside to Cameron House and Duck Bay via a good path network, returning to Balloch slightly inland near the parallel A 82 but still wooded, rural and interesting. This combination of estate parkland then Lomond Shore loch side trail is a classic 5 star outing with great varied scenery. Suitable and interesting at any time of year and in any weather due to its sheltered nature.
Balloch Castle Clock Tower.
A view from the castle looking down towards Loch Lomond and Luss. Modeled on the grand estates of the past, Capability Brown style, large mature trees complement short grass vistas and sweeping meadows and the first swifts and swallows could be seen and heard cruising across the lawns. A pleasing occurrence. A regular sight all my days and almost taken for granted as a background canvas every Scottish summer in the parks until recent years.  I've not seen as many in places like this that you would except to find them. My local park used to zing every summer evening with the scream of hunting swifts flying above my house up until a few years ago but it's a very rare sound now over largely empty meadows and urban rooftops... in my district anyway.
Balloch Castle and assorted dog walkers. Luckily, the rain had abated by the time we arrived. We had little Snapper with us dancing around on four paws and after hearing another strange and inappropriate dog name shouted out across the lawns by an owner it gave me an inspired idea. This particular dog, a large no nonsense breed, had a daft soft name- lets say it was "Clancy" for the purposes of this post... or 'Buttons.'
" Poor dog." says I. "It must curl up in embarrassment  every time that gets shouted at it."
This led to a discussion of weird celebrity children's names.
" You should call your children Syphilis and Chlamydia when you have them." I cheerfully informed Belinda.  "I've always thought they were pretty names for girls... or ancient female Greek philosophers... or exotic flowers. Take your pick. Be the first to remodel, recycle, and re-appropriate them. Think out the box."
"Hey! Don't give her any weird ideas. She's got plenty of her own, thank you. Thrash him with a stick. " Anne scolded, pointing to a fallen branch nearby. " Hit him really hard." She turned to the dog. "Bite him boy! "
" You really need a double act," I continued undeterred. "Sooty and Sweep, Pinky and Perky, Ant and Dec. Something catchy and memorable like that.  A wee female companion for Snapper perhaps. Snapper and Sarcophagus... Snapper and Sepsis... Snapper and Sargasso.. Snapper and Synchronicity....
Although we didn't get any rain in the park itself during our visit- over the surrounding mountains it still remained dull and drizzly so it was a good choice of venue to avoid a soaking. The sun even made an appearance. The 3000 foot plus Munro, Ben Lomond, stayed buried in thick mist and clag throughout.
The Sea Life Centre and Aquarium at Lomond Shores. Folk on the upper terrace here, taking in the view.
A rich carpet of treasures. I think this is 'milky way,' a Chinese Dogwood Tree. Beautiful spread of flowers.
A view over Loch Lomond to Duck Bay Marina and Hotel Complex.
The 'Big House' The former Youth Hostel and fictional home of the lady laird in the long running Scottish TV series 'Take the High Road.' Screened 1980s to early 2000s and very popular in its day set around the village of Luss. River City, filmed at nearby Dumbarton is its modern TV series equivalent. Due to changing tastes and times a few of the Scottish Youth Hostels have closed but this was certainly one of the most spectacular ones. Amazing Interiors. Probably a private residence now. Can't find out much about it but it was up for sale years ago.
Link here for photo interiors. Wish I'd stayed there, even for one night. Too late now :o(

We then headed for the Walled Garden, which is colourful at any time of year, except bleakest mid-winter. Balloch Country Park and its wilder network of upland back trails stretch for miles along Loch Lomondside, providing a full day out and it's certainly big enough for first time visitors to get temporarily lost in but the main features, like the Walled Garden and Castle are signposted.
Approaching the Walled Garden.
Flowers inside this sheltered oasis. Doctor to worried patient. "You have a nasty case of Blue Delphinium in your lower border, I'm afraid. We will need further tests."
 See- certain words are easily transferable.
Just as detailed photography of subjects can soon morph into art painting.
Flower detail with Bumble Bee inside.
The intensity of natural form.
Walled Garden view.
Flowering overhead trellis.
Tree parade.
The often overlooked Japanese Garden, sitting just a stones throw above the Walled Garden.
Vibrant colours and a glimpse of blue sky.

Small tree with large dangling globe shaped red/pink flowers- like a cross between a cherry and a fuchsia bush.

Also found in the Japanese Garden. Not a clue but I'll find out later hopefully.
Ornamental year round foliage to complement the more seasonal blooms.
We returned along the River Leven, seen here, which has several small sandy bays. The tourist passenger boats Silver Marlin and Silver Dolphin, moored at Balloch, use this short river section to enter Loch Lomond for an hour long cruise. Smaller boats from Luss traverse the inland islands further up the loch- 23 in total. One of the great delights of owning kayaks decades ago was exploring these wooded treasures for the first few times- as wonderful as any new mountain trip abroad and a fabled kingdom to explore.
A cracking outing of a few hours duration that rescued what might have otherwise been a soggy day. Much to my great disappointment Belinda has not popped out any children yet or bought another hound so my fine suggestions for unusual baby names may alas be forgotten and consigned to history....