Monday, 30 December 2013

Bathgate Hills. Linlithgow. The Kelpies. Grangemouth. Cockleroy. Cairnpapple hill.

I was going to call this post 'The Beauty of the Bathgate Hills' but I know from experience, search engines dump a poetic title to the end of a long queue and fewer curious visitors are the result.
Mention 'The Bathgate Hills' to any hill walker  and they either give you a blank stare before saying "What Bathgate Hills?" or they dismiss them with a smirk without knowing anything about them or even where they are. I first discovered them cycling through this area and although they are not high [ Cockleroy is 278 metres and Cairnpapple Hill just over  300 metres or 1000 feet ] they can form a delightful and interesting walk...or a challenging bike tour with many spectacular ups and downs starting from the handy base of Beecraigs Country Park.

Ron had never walked in this area before and as I had only discovered this route myself a couple of seasons ago I was keen to go back again. We parked in Torphichen village which lies tucked into a fold of the Bathgate hills where there is a choice of parking, next to the ancient Preceptory. From here a farm track heads north to Wester woodside and Craigend then along past Lochcote reservoir to Cockleroy.
This is it in the photograph. Although surrounded in the distance by Falkirk, Grangemouth, Linlithgow, Bathgate and Livingstone it's a surprisingly wild and beautiful area as for most of this walk these towns are all hidden from view, and only partly visible from the summits themselves. Also, surrounded by lower flat lands, with higher mountains briefly glimpsed in the distance occasionally, they can seem much higher than they are. The line of dots above Arthur's Seat, an ancient and much studied volcano, in the photo below, are actually geese flying past.

 It does feel like walking across the rooftop of Central Belt Scotland up here, yet sheltered enough if you pick your day to be warm in bright sunshine even in the winter months. A hazy view over towards Arthur's Seat, the City of Edinburgh and 'Shale Mountain', a man made pit Bing formed by red coloured waste hills dumped here after shale oil extraction to make paraffin, among other products, in high demand worldwide a hundred years ago. Scotland's very own Uluru when sunset or sunrise falls over the slopes. I met a local here a few years ago who had been out to Ayres Rock and he claimed this was better! Far easier to get to- no tourist's- no cars and bus parks or hotel chains to deal with- less flies, dust and heat :)
This area is famous for its Bings and some of them are spectacular mini summits in their own right. I've covered several of them already in this blog in previous years, including 'Shale Mountain'. I also notice that a couple of them are disappearing fast due to their commercial worth as road and infill products, presumably used in construction. The Bing near Philpstoun beside the canal is a diminished shadow of the one I explored years ago so see them all now before the lesser ones disappear by the truck load.
Binny Craig 220 metres, a steep sided volcanic plug above Uphall.
A zoom of Sheildhill ( Near the village of California, which lies just below it) and the mountains of Perthshire, Munro summits covered in fresh snow. A bitter day on the higher mountains with a strong wind chill factor but sunny and not too windy lower down on these hills which is why I suggested them as a good alternative outing. You've all heard of a comfort zone? Well, I prefer these days to find ways to walk within one if its possible rather than seek out the worst aspects of the weather. In my view, sunny days in Scotland are there to be savoured to their full potential and I try my best to do just that.
Linlithgow with its historic Palace, loch and iconic eye-catching spire, Fife hills in the distance.
A panorama of the Avon Gorge with the last of the autumn colours.
Cockleroy again, seen from Cairnpapple hill. Unusual hill names in this area and probably very ancient, named by the inhabitants who stretch all the way back into prehistory. Good links to the areas extensive past here and its buried treasures.  Cairnpapple Hill is one of the most important ancient sites in Scotland and a fantastic viewpoint with a hundred mile panorama. One of the interpretations of its name might be 'Cairn of the People' as it was used for important rituals and as a burial site through the Neolithic period then into the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages.
A view of the numerous bury pits, graves and post holes.
The path to the summit where the most important graves lie. In summer it costs money to reach here but it winter it's free:) You also feel closer to the past when its like this, empty and serene.
Ron and I reached here by descending Cockleroy to the visitors car park near Beecraigs then waking along the fairly quiet road to the Korean War memorial and then up over the Witches Crag.
A view of the huge Grangemouth petrochemical plant which supplies Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England with essential fuel. Seeing the gas flares in the distance I immediately thought of Andy Scott's latest project rising on the Forth and Clyde canal bank near Falkirk which we passed on the motorway on the way in. 'The Kelpies'. Two giant metallic water horse creatures from Scotland's mythic past. A fine work already, but just imagine if you were to connect one of the gas flare lines from nearby Grangemouth inside the horses. What a tourist attraction that would make.
 That sight would put even Smaug the Dragon's gas at a peep I think. Imagine the heat off that fiery breath over the top of tourist's alarmed faces and they could also cook their own hot dogs and burgers underneath simply by holding them skywards. A good video and all the details of one of the largest art projects in Britain here. (The Helix park and access to the sculptures up close opens to the public in Spring 2014.)
The new Korean war Memorial. The last time I was here I took a photograph of the original structure. Although this one is larger, more substantial and a nice piece of art I'm afraid to say it does not have the charm or the impact of the smaller enclosed pagoda. Although only a small garden shed affair it had atmosphere and real character about it and, more importantly, when you closed the door you came face to face with the Korean war, in loads of simple facts, scattered groups of poppies, little hand made wooden crosses and a list of the huge number of countries that took part in this frequently overlooked large scale war. This new monument, although nice as an actual artefact had no soul for me personally and contained only a third of the information of the smaller structure.  Probably cost a lot more too. I presume the reason for replacing the old one was that it could be used for sleeping in by the odd unfortunate without a bed for the night but that was one of the reasons it worked so well, as you could close the door and enter another world by doing so.
This open plan structure left me cold in more senses than one as it was freezing inside this wind tunnel and you didn't want to linger around it anyway as there was not much to read on its walls, compared to the old one. A real shame. Maybe they could put the old one inside the Helix Park if they still have it? Or somewhere where it can be supervised or locked up at night?
Farms, fields and mountains viewed from the Bathgate walk.
We returned via the obvious, almost traffic free, minor road that leads back to Torphichen by way of Gormyre. Even second time around it's a cracking walk that can also be extended to include a drive to Linlithgow followed by a canter around Linlithgow Loch. The beauty of the Bathgate Hills indeed.
In the photo above Torphichen Preceptory rises from the trees surrounding it. Former home of the 'Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in Scotland'. Try saying that after a few drinks at New Year. A brief history of these crusader knights in here who eventually transformed themselves through the ages into the St John Ambulance Association and Eye Hospital we know today.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

A Christmas Card From Scotland.

A Merry Christmas from the snowy highlands. An Teallach mountain ridge from Dundonnell.
And a merry Christmas from Glasgow. George Square and the City Chambers.
Christmas Greetings to you all from Dunkeld. Perthshire. Near the excellent fish and chip shop.
The Christmas view from Stirling.
 Best wishes from the Clyde Auditorium.
Stirling's Thistle Centre.
And Glasgow's Hydro.
From Nelson Mandela Place. Glasgow. And from St George's- Tron Parish Church in the city centre.
A festive greeting from Aviemore, outside their excellent fish and chip shop. There's a food theme developing here. Well, you cant have Christmas without a full table of grub in front of you and turkey's so last year isn't it? We always stop in either Dunkeld or Aviemore at night for sustenance on our trips up north to see the reindeer in the Cairngorms.
Best Wishes From Sauchiehall Street to everyone, everywhere.
Aviemore Centre lights. I guess we should have an appearance from Santa now. A wise guru dispensing gifts to the masses. Missed the real guy so Graeme will have to stand in.
 The Smiddy Hut at Dundonnell.
Inside Santa's Grotto. Can you spot the little Ghost of Christmas Past in the Photo?

I suppose at Christmas we should also celebrate the original message. It's not just about presents and the ever increasing cost every year.
Is it about Jesus then? Well ,yes, but it's also about his message isn't it? That's the real reason why families gather round the table at Christmas, even if sometimes, when it's over, you are glad to see them all leave again and regain some peace on earth after the washing up :o)
I missed the three wise men so maybe these three travellers will do instead. Well, They have beards.
All over the world families meet up at Christmas and it should be a time of satisfaction and joy but in many cases, with expectations soaring so high, a few tears are also inevitable.

Family ties are what really matter though, when all the commercial hype is unwrapped and emptied into the bin for another year.
Canada Goose sitting on eggs. Protecting and looking after the things you value most are what it all boils down to in the end. Presents and cards are just the smoke and mirrors show we've all been increasingly conned into accepting to make other people wealthy. The game we all play. Earning money just to spend it again on possessions we don't really need, yet are stripping our planet bare as we sleepwalk into the future. Real riches come from within as everyone knows.
Remembering the simple things in life are what matter most in society. Fun, somehow making opportunities to get back in touch with our increasingly distant and suspicious community at large without jeopardizing anyone's safety, sharing good times together.... building memories that last longer than a few years. ' It's a wonderful life?'  Well, an isolated or unhappy childhood creates more monsters than a united one, that's for sure. Empathy is the key to laying the foundation stones in any human tower of babel, without which it will fall.
That must be what its all about for everyone? To feel a part, to be loved in some way, and to feel you have a meaningful place in the real 'Big Society.' Best wishes for 2014.

If the lesser animals can do it and live in harmony together... why cant we? Enough food to eat, a warm shelter and an inclusive, friendly community if you behave yourself within it. Deep down that's all humans really need to thrive. It's not rocket science is it? How come we struggle so hard to get it right then? Here endeth the Christmas Message:)

In this increasingly cynical world sometimes I try, just for the hell of it, to conjure up an air of wonder, mystery, beauty, unexpected surprise or just present a different view of everyday surroundings in this blog.With or without success as that's for you to judge. This video from a Hungarian band seeks a similar path. It's never an easy thing to get the balance right between whimsy, folklore and pagan themes, while capturing a real mood of something special and unique as any number of embarrassing recent big budget films prove, and there's a couple of images in this video I'd leave out personally myself but overall a great deal of thought, effort and imagination is apparent in each of the frames to create an atmosphere that I cant imagine a more image conscious and harder edged western band achieving somehow. There's a large gothic folk revival going on in eastern Europe at the moment with a lot of unusual talented bands appearing on the scene. Not exactly a Christmas theme but enchanting and very different in its own way. Beautiful and memorable music as well. What more can you ask? A violin can be a very expressive instrument for creating a mood put in the right hands.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Scotland Street School. Glasgow. C.R Mackintosh.

Just for a change I decided a couple of weeks ago to pay a visit to the Scotland Street School Museum. It's free of charge to get in yet it's one of the most interesting museums anywhere and full of nostalgic exhibits for anyone old enough to remember.
First day at school and not happy! Always makes me laugh seeing this. At our school, kids on their first few weeks usually got their head rammed down the toilet and flushed. That certainly washed behind the ears so maybe he had good reason to escape. Never happened to me due to being tall so I have no idea what it feels like.

The front of the school. Built by Charles Rennie Mackintosh between 1903 and 1906 it served Tradeston and the inner city wards for 100 years until falling populations in the surrounding tenements forced its closure as citizen's were decanted from the slums to new houses on the outskirts.
Mackintosh was reputedly inspired by two older Scottish buildings. Rowallan Castle near Kilmarnock and Falkland Palace, both strongly connected to Scottish royalty.You can see the resemblance in all three buildings as circular towers are a major feature although obviously an architect of Macintosh's pedigree put his own unique stamp on the design. Although a school it's
basically a modern castle and was far more ambitious and over budget than the city fathers had envisaged.
Two vital components of the old school system. The Jannie and the School Nurse. Discipline was strict in the old days and if you gave any cheek back to these two you either got a broom handle over the head or something very unpleasant to swallow in the nurses office from a large dark brown bottle.  The contents of these bottles seemed to be used as both a cure and a punishment as making it taste nice never occurred to the manufacturers back then.
Counting at a junior level was helped by the aid of these coloured blocks. I seem to remember the small white cubes were the lowest ranked number.
Old classroom with inkwells.
A design feature to the back of the building.
Old mangle and drying horse. Very useful in Scotland with its ever present damp climate.
A window looking down from the top floor of the tower.
 The view from Tradeston across to the city centre.
A modern building next door. Although it's just a multi level car park it certainly makes a statement of its own.
Old classroom. Note the wartime list for children fleeing the city.
Another back elevation feature. This is my favourite Mackintosh building as I'm not really a fan of his domestic properties in white concrete like Hill House in Helensburgh. I do like his use of glass and huge floating windows in his commercial properties though. Glasgow School of Art has similar windows to let acres of light flood into the interior of the building. Prolific American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was also influenced by Japanese art and ideas although his own output far exceeded the Scottish CV of Macintosh as the Scot often struggled for commissions in  the UK during a more austere business climate.

Byres Road Subway Station. The hill walker bears some resemblance to Cameron McNeish. Or is that just my notion?
A rattle under the city by Glasgow's 'Clockwork Orange' subway trains. Forgot how narrow the platforms down here were, built in the days before health and safety. With trains approaching fast on either side with gathering roars, sometimes a scream of metal, and a busy packed platform of waiting passengers, only eight foot wide with open access down to the exposed live rails on both sides it feels surprisingly claustrophobic and that's something I never normally feel as I used to crawl under floorboards at work for a living. Maybe Byres Road has an unusual design as you stand on a middle platform right between the train lines.
Five minutes away on the other side of the river you pop back up into the daylight again. Shields Road subway is only a stones throw away from the school which is visible as soon as you leave this station.
Highly recommended and a fun way to pass a few hours. Don't be surprised if you meet Cilla Black in the school. That's not a joke. She's here every day. A young version.

Pinched this video from Alistair who showed it to me ages ago. So good it still makes me laugh every time. A few swear words but a very funny sketch by Eddie Izzard.
Lego Star Wars Canteen on the Death Star. Enter Darth Vader....