Monday, 28 November 2011

Renfrewshire.Quarrier,s Village.History and Imagination.

                                                 "Fairest of Scotland,s thousand parishes
                                                        Neither highland or lowland
                                        But undulating,like the sea in sunset after a day of storms
                                                 Thou art indeed beautiful as of old."

These are the words of Christopher North ( 1785-1854 ) a writer,poet and professor of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University. More importantly he came from Paisley and went to school in the Mearns.He knew East Renfrewshire well and in later years those memories of  youthful explorations here came back to him.I don,t think anyone has managed to capture the special essence that is Renfrewshire better in so  few short words     .
This is worth a look if only for the Robert Pollok link halfway down, a poet and friend of Christopher North(Christopher,s real name was John Wilson and his friend went on to write a best seller of the day inspired by Milton,s Paradise Lost.) It made him famous.
What,s so special about that I hear you ask? Well.......It was three and a half thousand verses long! And it was a best seller! Clearly they liked something to get their teeth into years back to pass those long winter nights beside the fire.
I came across this( thankfully) shorter verse months ago on the internet but the image has never left me as I too have been smitten by this magical kingdom since childhood..I,ve known it since my earliest memories yet even after 50 odd years of exploring its depths it still has the power to move and excite me.There is no other place quite like it.

                      This is Glanderston dam near Neilston. The top photo is Castle Semple loch.
Why is it so special? I,ve often wondered that myself.It has no major hills,no outstanding places of great merit,no famous landmarks or Iconic visitor attractions for the tourist.But to anyone who knows  this landscape well it  leaves its mark on you forever. If I die and my ashes get scattered I can,t think of a better place to lie than Renfrewshire.
My original ambition for this post had been to do one great  bike ride of homage round the entire kingdom from Eaglesham to  the outskirts of Port Glasgow.I may have been able to cover that distance in my youth... but not now on winter roads and short days.This therefore is two journeys blended into one.
The first tour was Barrhead  past Neilston Pad  along the edge of the  Lochliboside hills past Uplawmoor on minor roads to Dunlop then back along the winding Harelaw dam  minor road,wild and empty of cars,visiting the weird Totherick in mild calm conditions.
A very enjoyable outing.This is Neilston Pad one of the high points of this tangled bedspread of a landscape before it flattens out into high open moorland beyond.And that in a nutshell is its charm.
When the  Ice age retreated glacial deposits were left all over the central bowl including Renfrewshire.
Edinburgh is a city built around the sides of ancient volcano,s and stumpy lavas , Glasgow is a city built over Drumlins,a multitude of them , mostly  between fifty to a couple of  hundred feet high.Its what gives both cities their different character.You only have to look at an OS map of Glasgow to see the large number of kettle lochs on it dotted on the outskirts left by stadium sized blocks of melting ice  from that time. I,ve spent many happy years exploring every one.

Something  slightly different happened in Renfrewshire though,maybe more  low hills  got in the way causing deeper wrinkles in the carpet of ice.
Whatever happened it created this fantastic bumpy part of Scotland.A landscape similar in many ways to parts of inland Dorset,the South Downs,The Sussex Weald.A softer southern patchwork  of gentle ridges and dips, each  hollow might be filled with beech woods,waterways,fields, farms or a village.Its a land built for joyful exploration, every new view containing a multitude of hidden treasures waiting til you stumble across them.Although I grew up just over the border on the outskirts of Glasgow twenty minutes walk over the fields took me into the start of that magic land.Both feet and mind were always going to be pulled in that direction.
The next run saw me park at Castle Semple in the deep trench filled by three separate lochs, the liquid heart of the area.Here,s a view across one of them...The middle one.... The Barr Loch.
The hills above are the start of Clyde Muirsheil Park,the largest regional park in Scotland stretching over
high, empty moors to Largs and Wemyss Bay.Although the modern boundary between Inverclyde and Renfrewshire weaves along rivers and around the edges of small towns like Kilmacolm and Quarrier,s village
I,ve always thought of it  in simple terms as this...Rolling valley and pasture lands...must be Renfrewshire. Higher open moors and hills...Inverclyde or Cunninghame.This is as much a landscape of the mind and as old maps show boundary lines are always changing anyway while the basic characteristics  of the countryside remain.
A magical tower if ever there was one,purpose built here as a Children,s Cathedral. Quarrier,s was laid out as an orphanage village with its own shops, fire station and ornate stone annexe buildings Now,in this day and age the complex has been adapted into smaller units.A mix of private development,care homes for the elderly,social work etc. From a distance and even up close it retains most of its original features though. Mount Zion Tower can be seen for miles around.Long may it stand over the valley to delight each new pair of eyes that beholds it for the first time.Never seen it on any calendar or postcard.It must be an invisible landmark?'s_Village
This is looking north towards the lofty spire of Kilmacolm and the Luss hills across the Clyde.The River Clyde was where I was now heading,intending to cycle along a balcony trail high above the water.The great beauty of this area is the network of minor roads that cross it in every direction.Once there the landscape changes again with different views on show.
Dumbarton Castle on its volcanic plug of rock.Always a great sight from here.I have limited myself to a few of the best shots to try to capture what attracts me so much to this land but on each ride I could have used a hundred more photos almost as good.Yet its such a quiet area with few walkers or tourists.Another of its charms.
From a misty morning it had gradually changed to darker skies and bright bursts of sunshine.I wasn't complaining though.I could even cycle without gloves.Unheard of in late November an hour from darkness.

All in all another satisfying day out and I hope I,ve captured a little of the essence of this place myself in picture form.November has been a very mild month and great for cycling jaunts at the tail end of the year.I did hardly any  bike trips all summer.Making up for it now with Alex busy in hibernation mode.I though I was the one that didn,t like the winter :) Guess what November is best for though.......

Memorable sunsets................... like this one over the Firth of Clyde.


Anonymous said...

This makes me realise I know sod all about this part of the world Bob. I've never walked there and I think I could count on one hand the number of times I've driven through.

That shot of Dumbarton Castle was quite a revelation.

The Glebe Blog said...

You paint a good picture and narrate a good tale Bob, have you done any 'After Dinner' talking ?
I should be taking a look around this area.My dad worked for Babcock and Wilcox for a number of years and I only ever pass through Renfrewshire.Maybe I'll be a bit more adventurous in 2012.
Nice to see some of our cattle up there.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Ken.
I feel very lucky because its always just been a bike ride away.
Must have something going for it as I never seem to tire of it.All those ups and downs are really hard graft on a bike though nowadays :)

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Jim,
No I haven,t.Alex Is the natural people person and raconteur in a hut or pub as he has a quick mind.I,m better as a writer on the page then it just flows.This was the third version of Renfrewshire.The other two were much longer and completely different.
Maybe I was inspired by that poem with 3500 verses.
If you are ever up here A fine walk you might like goes from Largs up the go go water along a gorge into the hills past a chasm then onto the Hill Of Stake,the highest point of Muirsheil.Bit of a trek from Newton Stewart though.

andamento said...

I think you feel about Renfrewshire the way I feel about Angus (northern half mostly) - must be something to do with exploring these areas at a certain time of life (teenage years for me) that makes them special.

Anonymous said...

Great post of another area I know very little of. Some super ladscape photos of the steeples, towers and especially the one of Dumbarton castle.

Top stuff


blueskyscotland said...

Very true Anne.
Any worthwhile area you grow up in or visit repeatedly on holiday as a child and have great times in holds a place in your heart forever.The glens of Angus and Strathmore are indeed lovely in all seasons.I,ve not been up there enough recently.
I did however leave out fifteen pages of other links to back up my claim about Renfrewshire being a one off in Scotland as far as landscape formation patterns under ice sheets Vs conflicting geology.
Thought too many links would be a turn off.My first attempt at this post ran to both sides of six A 4 sheets. I,ll write a 3500 verse poem about it yet :)

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy.
Most of this area is under water at the moment.We,ve had a lot of rain recently.The town of Greenock is now an Island til the floodwaters go down.