Its been many years since I`ve been round the magical Rosneath Peninsula on a bike,the first pinkie of land jutting down into the waters of the upper Firth of Clyde just past Helensburgh.Why forgotten? Well, unless you know how good it is already or live or work here there is a tendency to overlook this fine chunk of land as it doesn`t actually lead anywhere and has no prominent hills or main towns for the bagger to visit.
It is however a splendid area to explore on a bike or even on a leisurely circular drive with a wealth of important architecture, stunning ever changing views round each corner,and a few notable stop off points.
Forget the ruins of Angkor Wat in the steaming jungles of Cambodia or visiting Beverly Hills and Hollywoods real estate canyons or hiking the increasingly popular Inca Trail.We have our own version right here and its far easier and cheaper to get to the starting line.You can rise late,pack in a full days exploration and be back in time to catch a good film on TV in the evening.
Arrived in Helensburgh to the sounds of the shows starting up,a run of several consecutive days of fine weather pulling out the tourists.(This was three weeks ago now as we have a slight backlog again.Damn this endless sunshine!)
Helensburgh is a fine town popular with day trippers as it has several streets of attractive shops,a wide coastal esplanade stretching all the way towards Rhu, a prosperous feel and good views over the Clyde towards the three large towns facing it .From this distance they also look pretty and prosperous :) It also has a large free car park down by the water if you park up at the far end.
Off I traveled on my bike.The road was fairly busy at this point until I arrived in Rhu where the traffic slowed to a trickle but there is still a traffic free cycle route to here for folk unsure of cars or with children.Bike lanes tend to be slower though and I stuck to the main roads.The Faslane Peace camp was reached.This is still open with its half hidden line of rustic caravans in the trees but the residents have tried to make it colourful as you can see. Its purpose here is supposedly to protest against the Faslane MOD base nearby, home to the nuclear submarine base.
I was not too bothered either way politically until I got a puncture in my back tire right outside the uphill mile of razor wire fencing round the base whereupon I protested loudly and bitterly to the watching security cameras.
"Its always the bloody back tire! Why me God! Crap bloody surface!" or different words to that effect.
Half an hours sweaty labour later I had a new inner tube replaced and the gears set back in order.
Up to that point I had been enjoying the run but a man on a touring bike no matter how heavy or big of belly cannot flatten down newly scattered loose chippings.I noticed they were only laid down before and after the main road leading towards Faslane hence the outburst.
With roads and views like this though I couldn`t stay upset for long.In the 1970`s I was an admirer of the early visionary art work of Gage Taylor,Bill Martin,Cliff McReynolds and Joseph Parker.Paintings that often took years to do.Not to everyones taste though.And I certainly don't like all the images or thoughts expressed in here. A lot of it is hippy guff but when its good and closest to the natural world its very special indeed.Pick your own favourites,if any. http://www.billmartingallery.com/
Coming out of California and Mexico it was grounded in ordinary natural surroundings but layered with a minutely detailed explosion of tiny images, exotic trees ,animals and spectacular hyper bold sunsets that deliberately heightened and mixed reality with things that could never exist in the real world or were placed outside of normal settings.A forerunner perhaps of some of todays more sophisticated elaborate computer games and films only this was conceived back then in oils.(avatar springs to mind here)
My favourite is South Aquaria.A bright circular painting covered in exotic trees,animals,steeply wooded cliffs,waterfalls and paths leading down to a little cove and beach covered in ornate seashells. A girl stands beside the beach,arms folded, her back to a cave as if waiting for a visitor.Its an intoxicating window into a land of perfection which can never exist..I`ve still got a copy of it hanging on my wall nearly 40 years later.Its still my favourite.Its not depicted in any of these links by the way . That would be too easy :o)
The only reason for mentioning it now is this.Nowhere else in the world have I came as close to seeing its real life equivalent than on the wooded slopes and old red sandstone cliffs of the Firth of Clyde Estuary.
I`m not envious of this kind of moneyed manicured beauty at all as I`m only too aware of the effort, upkeep and maintenance required to keep it at this pristine level.I have enough trouble maintaining my own little shoebox as my natural inclination on a free dry day is to go outside somewhere and watch other folk grafting away while I sail past giving them a cheery wave.I do like scenes like these though.Art works come to life.From artists sitting surrounded by the giant redwoods of California to me sitting here on my bike admiring rows of transplanted cousins on the Firth of Clyde. Giant redwoods and monkey puzzle trees grow as well on the damp mild hillsides of western Scotland as in their native lands.
So...if you like grand architecture sticking out from the surrounding slopes and forests which contain hundreds of exotic trees and shrubs carefully placed there by Victorian pioneers who made these fjord like inlets their playground away from the grim, smoke filled metropolis then this is the place for you.Forget Angkor Wat... too many snakes, insects and hours sitting in planes and airports.Forget Hollywood with its annual canyon rim fires,smog and heat. Its all right here,mansions of the rich and famous, old red sandstone cliffs and numerous quiet coves with secret delights in store for the visitor.
The King Tut stone.This is one of the famous painted boulders scattered around the Firth (the boy kings tomb still being big news at that time) originally painted I suppose to give the steamer tourists a visual attraction on the shoreline and get them spending their cash in Kilcreggan.This is one of the lesser known ones repainted several years ago by pupils at the local Cove art school under the guidance of their art teacher.There are others...the more famous Crocodile rock and Gowk Stone on Great Cumbrae,Jim Crow at Kirn and the Maids of Bute near the Kyles and Burnt Islands.They were originally painted at a time well before the days of political correctness.
Kilcreggan with its pier and passenger ferry over to Greenock (car park,some shops and easy coast walks) was passed then the road got really quiet.The section past Cove and Ardpeaton is the best bit of the trip.Three castles sit high above the road at intervals, one of them reputedly built on the ruins of a viking stronghold.
This isn't it.This is Craigrownie Castle built by Alexander Thomson around 1854.He doesn't get as much credit as C R Mackintosh but for my money he`s the man.This is worth a read.
This is his only castle and fell into disrepair some years ago,almost beyond saving with the roof open to the elements when an intrepid individual with the right skills and money stepped in to restore it .http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/3322873/From-crumbling-ruin-to-a-castle-for-keeps.html
Although famous in his day and a more prolific architect than Mackintosh a lot of Thomsons projects fell under the bulldozer during the great slum clearance of the 60 and 70`s when if it was old in Glasgow it was bad,many more were damaged during the second world war.He only rose to belated prominence again a few decades ago, his work being cited by those capable of judging these things as a supposed influence on both Macintosh himself and that grand master of American architecture Frank Lloyd Wright.Next generation Mackintosh actually won a scholarship set up to remember Thomson, allowing promising architects to study buildings abroad something Thomson himself never achieved in his lifetime.All his work was here in the Roseneath peninsula,around a dozen villas and the castle,a varied range of buildings all over Glasgow including mansions,warehouses, villas, stairs , three churches.and one house on Bute.He was inspired mainly by classical lines,Greek, Italian and Egyptian structures,hence his nickname of "Greek" Thomson.There is a weekend coming up in September (17th and 18th) 2011 when many of his buildings will be open free to the public along with many others you don't normally get a chance to see. Its the yearly Doors Open day.
Mackintosh was a fine interior designer of houses,both himself and Lloyd Wright influenced more by Japanese styles just filtering into Europe and America around that time.Trouble is he`s far too popular in Scotland at the expense of many other fine architects who were also working here,his designs on everything from tea towels to coasters.Although they always sell well to overseas visitors and the fashion conscious I,m completely over saturated with his designs along with many other folk I suspect.
Also,apart from the Willow tearooms and the Glasgow School of Art the exterior of his buildings leave me cold.None of them make my heart beat faster in the same way as the wonderfully turreted Dunselma, (the nearest we have in Scotland to the fairytale Neuschwanstein),a baronial confection floating above the wooded Strone point,built as a sailing lodge for the famous Coats family of Paisley.And it was built by Rennison and Scott who don't even get a look in! Neither do William Leiper (the local architect working out of Helensburgh who designed a decent chunk of it) John Honeyman ( Knockderry Castle),James Sellars (Cove Castle) James Carrick (Rothesay Pavilion) and James Smith (the magnificent Overtoun House above Dumbarton which always seems to hang above its abyss, both literally and financially.And dozens of others who built dreams out of stone,wood and marble. Unfortunately it takes vast wads of cash to keep these vast piles going.
The road here is a delight,empty of cars with little bays and grand houses dotted above the shore.Cove is lovely, no other word to describe it. It has a couple of tiny lay bys ,a few seats down by a grassy open esplanade and that's it.
The stopping point here for me is always Linn Gardens,a brilliant rambling place with ponds,terraces, a tiny steep gorge,waterfalls and bridges all hanging onto the sides of a hill.A couple of quid in an honesty box lets you into a lush oasis clinging to the slope with a long thin water feature at the top and a main house being slowly swallowed by all the vegetation around it.A strange but fabulous place.Well worth a visit in season.
Next was the run out towards Ardpeaton and Coulport where a large chunk of the Kibble Palace Greenhouse in the Botanic Gardens came from donated by James Kibble (among many other things he was a glasshouse designer and constructor who had it as one of his two Conservatories.That shows you the size of the properties around here.The area was home to Victorian industrialists,captains of industry,wealthy inventors,scientists and the great and good of their day.Ironically its only now we are really reaping the benefits visually as when they planted out the often bare slopes around their grand homes and castles with thousands of trees and shrubs they never saw the fully mature results.Same with all the Victorian parks around the world we just take for granted most of the time now.In their own day looking at old photographs in books they always look a tad empty with newly planted miniature woods not yet grown to the full splendour we see today.
Next up was the steep but short grind over the Cove pass but the views made it all worthwhile at the top.This is looking down Loch Long towards Strone point and Dunoon.A heat haze was building up by this time in the afternoon but the freewheel on the other side was good for a cooling breeze then it was back onto familiar roads round past the pretty village of Garelochhead. Nearly everything is pretty round here though.
and the millionaire enclave of Stuckenduff and Rhu.
I arrived back in Helesburgh as kids were getting thrown around on the show rides,laughing and mock screaming to the sounds of the Kinks. Lazy Sunday Afternoon then Britney Spears Do you wanna Piece of Me? with its hook line "Lifestyles of the rich and famous,Oh my God that Britney is shameless." Very apt dontcha think :o)
A great day out .A feast for all the senses and its left me with a few other ideas for adventures in this area.Will Alex Come?.I seriously doubt it. Flying pigs and all that.