Sunday 29 January 2012

Glasgow.A Culture And History Tour

I don't go into Glasgow City centre that  much these days, not for shopping anyway. With out of town malls five minutes away it's too handy to go there and get everything I need under one roof quickly. Sometimes a year can  pass between visits on foot into the heart of Glasgow even though I live within the city limits. When I do go in it's to find more rows of charity shops, cheap, here today gone tomorrow, type outlets in the quieter, less frequented streets or upmarket stores and restaurant's I have no intention of going  anywhere near with my wallet unless I'm dragged into them by someone else. Same story throughout the UK I guess.
However one day, a couple of months ago, a  late autumnal weekend dawned where I fancied something different from hills. I thought I'd have a culture and history day instead and here it is.
My first port of call was the City Chambers in George Square. It's open for free guided tours to the public

Monday to Friday at 10.30 am and 2.30 pm. Tours with a guide last about an hour .It's usually overseas visitors that take advantage of this and a lot of Glaswegians have no idea what lies inside this iconic but fairly sombre exterior.
Glasgow was once the second city of the British Empire after London and in Victorian and Edwardian Times was one of the richest cities in the whole of Europe. Fortunately many of the buildings from that time of great wealth still survive scattered across Glasgow. The City Chambers is one of them. Inside it has more solid Italian marble staircases than even the Vatican in Rome. I have heard Manchester and Birmingham also lay claim to this second city title in  recent documentaries, they are certainly larger now and maybe out competed Glasgow later on but from the early 1800s right up until the 1920s  Glasgow was a powerhouse of Industry and commerce. No expense was spared in these heady times when this city produced 20% per cent of the world's shipping and also built the lions share of the world's locomotives in Springburn. It was not unusual for over 300 new ships completed in a year  to power down the River Clyde from the various yards dotted along its banks. 40 shipyards of every size at it's peak. "Clyde Built" was a term understood by the world's sailors of large ships for  meaning quality and craftsmanship. The great English port city of Liverpool would have been the only other serious rival but with that avenue already taken they developed profitable interests at sea in other directions,concentrating on trade and the mass migration of people rather than full scale ship building.
 In these uncertain times today  however the fact that you can  still explore this outstanding building for free is remarkable. They'd charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege in most other cities. 
Past the entrance hall, with its tile mosaic  of small domed ceilings you enter an anti chamber leading to two great staircases, both constructed of solid marble. On the one side is the white staircase, composed of the same great blocks of pristine Carrera marble that Michelangelo produced The David from along with many of his great works commissioned by the powerful Medici family in Florence.
On the other side leading to the opposite wing of the building is a similar but dark staircase composed of red marble with multi coloured veins  and  golden swirls creeping thought it. When Queen Victoria opened this building in  1888 even she must have been impressed by its scale and quality of workmanship.
The great banqueting hall lies above. Sometimes this is used for functions and meetings so check first to see if the tour includes this room if you are coming far for a visit. Even the numerous lesser rooms though are adorned with art works and scenes of Glasgow's  industrial past. One fireplace alone is valued at close to a million pounds.
The interior gets brighter the higher you climb, sunlight pouring in from several large dome windows (cupola's)  in the upper roof  section that are allowed to drop their illuminating bounty through the full height of the building. This is the highest point  the tour reaches. Through the glass dome above the central tower can be seen soaring upwards overhead to its lofty spire.(Just visible in the first photograph.) Yup ! No doubt about it this was far better than going round the charity shops.
Next we visited the debating chamber where the City Council decides which services they should lavish our poll tax money on and which ones will get an empty plate. Its well worth a visit and I've shown only a fraction of the secrets hidden within.
Five minutes walk away in Royal Exchange square sits the Gallery of Modern Art ( or Gallery of Modern Crap as some  local wits have unkindly dubbed it depending on what's on show inside) The exhibits change regularly. The story of Glasgow's great wealth began with the Tobacco lords ,the cities first Millionaires (by todays monetary values some would have been billionaires probably.) From 1707 and the act of union with England Scottish Merchants were able to compete with English rivals on a level playing field. By a stroke of luck though the famous trade winds just happened to be better  here and within  easy reach of Scottish ports first. Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh were on the wrong coast facing Europe. Bad luck for them. Even today Scotland remains the windiest country in Europe. There are still the ruins of an old inn visible  I've visited on the Island of Bute, popular and busy in the days of sail, half hidden under the bracken  in a  little  sandy cove at Glencallum bay near Kilchattan.
If the winds were unfavourable for once ships would lie up here waiting  for the right conditions then use this express sailing corridor to reach America and the West Indies up to two weeks faster than their southern neighbours in England.Here they would import Tobacco, Sugar, Rum, Cotton and other goods in exchange for  materials these colonies required. They would then resell these imported goods to other cities making substantial profits .An idea of the Importance and power of these merchants can be seen here. Under the  later added embellishments of Greek columns, new roof and pediment (the triangular bit at the top of the pillars) lurks the large town mansion of one William Cunninghame, A Tobacco lord. In 1780 It took 10,000 pounds to complete his original building and here it remains, one of the few left standing in the city. Many visitors to the gallery however are unaware as to its original use and purpose. Although most of these great piles have long since passed into history the Mansions that used to stand on the ground and the names of the merchants that lived in them linger on in the streets that eventually grew up around them. Buchanan Street, Ingram Street, Glassford Street, Cochrane Street, and Oswald Street to name but a few are named after the great merchants and houses that originally stood there.Likewise Virginia Street, Jamaica Street, and Tobago Street all tell the tale of the areas they sailed towards  to collect their goods.
This was what awaited me today inside the GOMA.A giant orange mouse head. For me, as modern art goes it was certainly better than a few squiggles and lines under glass, or paint thrown over a blank canvas. It raised a few laughs anyway and got a few heads shaking. There is only so long you can contemplate a mouse head though and after a good exploration of its innards I climbed the stairs to the upper floors. More galleries lie above.
Now this was more like it! Part of the attraction of any art is how skilfully you interpret it. After careful consideration this is obviously a schoolteacher giving a wayward pupil the strap (you can tell that by the eye of learning in the pyramid above) I bet that hurt, serves him right. Nowadays however young folks might take a different meaning out of it as the belt is also history in classrooms now. With age comes wisdom I thought to myself. Another mysterious art puzzle solved :)
However, back to the tobacco lords we go as a few other relics of their time remain in the Glasgow of today.
Hidden halfway down Miller street is this more modest example of a merchants house. A lot of people pass by it taking the handy short cut between George Square and Argyle Street. To many people including me years ago it was just an odd old building sandwiched between taller structures in a fairly nondescript back street. The merchant city, now a trendy shopping and fine dining zone is full of magical buildings restored like this one shining a spotlight on the past.
Citation on Wilson Street. Although a restaurant now its name gives away its original purpose as the old sheriff court of Glasgow. The present modern sheriff court  lies across the river near the Gorbals, thanks to Glasgow youth's continuing love affair with the knife, it remains one of the busiest in Europe. Having said that Glasgow during the day is still one of the friendliest cities of its size in the UK for tourists. Any wild locals just tend to fight amongst themselves mainly but will stop to give you directions if asked :) On second thoughts ,like any other city, always ask someone normal looking that is not talking loudly or shouting. Tourists perceptions of overseas places they don't know can be bewildering however. Large cruise ships have been pulling into Greenock's deep water docks over the last  few summers as a sheltered short visit destination. The Tall Ships Race was an  obvious attraction. A few Russians refused to even step ashore one day though as they had read in advance about Inverclyde's reputation for violence and crime. The quiet resort town of Gourock was awash with gangsters to these Russian eyes. True I wouldn't walk about  hands in pockets dangling a really expensive camera around my neck there but then again I wouldn't advise doing that anywhere in a town or city. My parents used to take rolls and flasks of tea instead and spent a lifetime every summer strolling around Inverclyde's coastal esplanades  and parks waiting to be mugged. It never happened.
At the western  entrance of Glasgow Green sits this massive structure. The Mclennan Arch. Huge in its own right It was originally just a section of a larger building, the Assembly rooms in Ingram Street. A place where music, dancing and meetings were held. Gives you some idea of the size of the lost building when this is just a wee chunk left over from its demise
As a cultural self tour guide there is a good merchant city public art trail pamphlet normally available from the visitor information centre in George Square or  in the GOMA itself  which might have them. With plenty of pictures It gives you a route to follow around the nearby Merchant city and the Italia centre with its troop of rooftop Sculptures looking down.If you have not visited since its regeneration its well worth a stroll around the place.
If that's not enough and you want a longer thrill walk you could always  make a  full day of it and cut up through the Rottenrow gardens with its giant nappy pin sculpture where many generations of Glaswegians popped out of the maternity hospital that once stood here. I was one of them, squirted out into an empty birthing bin then set free into the big bad world. Proud to be rotten to the core :0) Says so on my birth certificate anyway. This is a good place to have lunch with seats and flowers, surrounded by the unusual and contrasting architecture of the University.
When ready climb up towards the gleaming  pin. This end takes you  onto level ground and through the campus of the University of Strathclyde. Just Follow the signs for campus village. After passing several more interesting sculptures you come  out the other end onto the honeypot cluster of Glasgow Cathedral, The Bishops Palace(Museum of Religion) the Provand's  Lordship (oldest house in Glasgow) and the Necropolis Graveyard with great views across the city. Yippee!. Also free!!!! .A long full day of culture as energetic as any hill day. With nightfall approaching I crawled back down the High Street to take a bus home. My only outlay of coin yet so many wonders. Call me mean but in these dark days of recession it doesn't hurt to stem the endless  flow of twenty pound notes from your pocket. I could live for a month on one of those in the good old days.Visit Glasgow. Its pure dead magic so it is.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Drymen.Gartmore.Port Of Menteith.Kippen Muir.Balfron Station.

The Last bike run I managed before Christmas and my secret Santa appointment with a moving vehicle was this one.I decided I should give myself a proper fitness test on a bike,given good weather of course and had my eye on a fantastic tour from Drymen out via Gartmore then the main road to Aberfoyle Then Port of Menteith Then Arnprior...up over Kippen Muir,Round By hill of Balgair,Balfron then Balfron Station,Gartness and back to Drymen.
I had cycled a variation of this tour once before many years ago and knew it was a cracker with exceptional views and empty roads.It mainly uses minor and B roads with two short sections of A road from Aberfoyle to Lake of Menteith then near the end  from Balfron Station To Gartness.
A fine Sunday dawned at last.The hills were bare of snow again after days of mild weather and constant rain.Now it was Sunny and cold,lots of early morning ice on the roads.For this reason I left it til  after 9.0 clock am to set off,arriving in Drymen car park around 10 o clock am. Although the days were short  at this time of year I thought I could be back by 4 o clock pm and avoid cycling in the dark.Even with lights on the bike I consider night cycling on busy roads an easy invitation to the delights of hospital food so they stay in the cupboard normally.I used to cycle to work  in the dark every day long ago and the memory of frequent near misses and  the occasional direct hit still haunts me.I once slid 20 feet on my knees then on my back along the road at Bearsden Cross when a Morton,s roll van  kindly separated me from my bike.Luckily I had thick trousers and waterproofs on due to the downpour of rain at the time and both helped to save me from  major damage.Its always an adventure on a bike.

The metal steed  in question was quickly got ready and I was off up the minor road towards Bat a Charchel ,the highpoint of the first climb at 230 metres from a start of 45 metres in Drymen.(around 600 feet of ascent)It was a good way  to get warm as I panted and groaned my way up the incline.Suddenly I heard a familiar sound in the distance and looked up to see wave after wave of geese approaching.Maybe they were delayed over in Eastern Lands or held up down south by all the storms and bad weather but they were now airborne in vast numbers,Skein after skein of them..They soon filled the sky from horizon to horizon,many thousands strong.I felt very privileged  and lucky to be a witness to this mass flight northwards,In all my years walking outdoors I ,ve never seen anything like as many geese before in the skies above Scotland and I doubt I will again.It took them around a full five minutes to pass overhead before the last stragglers disappeared, honking loudly in protest as if to say " Hey! Slow down at bit, wait for us!" Hard to capture a clear image as I think the auto focus was put off by the trees in both shots.

Moments like this make it all worthwhile.I think they were barnacle geese.Didn,t have my binoculars with me alas,saving some weight on the bike.
Inspired by this sight I soon  reached the road highpoint and stopped to have this surprisingly close view over the Luss hills from the wild and empty heights of Moor Park.Unbelievably I,d been passed by two keen racing cyclists while standing watching the geese, heads down ,powering uphill at a fast rate.Distance and miles mattered more to them I guess.They only glanced up once."Geese "said one.The other just grunted. Whatever turns you on I suppose :)
I wouldn,t make a good racing cyclist as I stop for photographs all the time or curiosity gets the better of me if I pass anything of interest.That,s the whole point of any journey for me though.Finding out about things.
After a breakfast of  two boiled eggs, mature cheddar cheese cubes and seedless grapes I put my jacket on for the downhill run into Gartmore,Itself fairly Isolated at 60 metres on its open ridge.Although there was almost no wind up here the air temperature remained below freezing for most of the day.Thankfully the sun had melted much of the ice on the road and there were only a few shaded patches and weeps to watch out for in  deep dips and around corners.I did not fancy departing from my handlebars and saddle at speed again.That tends to be very painful no matter how warm the day.
Gartmore is a quiet village only a kilometre away from the busy A81 leading to tourist hot spots Callander and Aberfoyle.As its higher than this road and largely hidden from sight most car drivers are unaware it even exists.Its not got the draw of these bigger destinations being a sleepy wee place but it does have its quieter,less obvious surprises.
One of these is this belter of a view of Ben Lomond,looking very regal from this angle.The other is a village green monument to an extraordinary Scottish Adventurer who went by the  name of Don Roberto.A real life 19th century cowboy and South American Gaucho who had lands here and connections to Dumbarton ,having been brought up there and on the Finlaystone estate in Renfrewshire.He was high born into what could have been a comfortable life  but he obviously had a wild streak in him that would not be denied.Instead of sitting in a mansion as a Scottish  laird with brandy and cigars he spent  his early years galloping across the vast plains of Argentina on horseback.His  favourite horse which was with him for many years touchingly gets equal billing on the monument to him.He then attempted to build up a cattle empire in South America and is remembered there to this day.A street in Buenos Aires bears his name . He also found time to become an expert in fencing..Even into his 80,s he was out horse riding daily.When he died,fittingly in Argentina, his body was brought back to Scotland.He lies buried with his wife on Inchmahome Island on the Lake Of Menteith.In later life he became an MP  here and became the first one to be suspended from the House of Commons for swearing.
His amazing life story here. ( Be aware though I have found a couple of minor discrepancies in this otherwise excellent biography  when compared to other articles.Wikipedia is not always 100 percent accurate in its research yet but it does update when it receives new facts on a subject so its getting there. More like 98 percent.)
Here he,s remembered on former Graham lands. The Impressive Gartmore House nearby once belonged to the Grahams. This is also the minor road into the village just pedalled  from the cycle highpoint on the moors.
As the A81 looked  fairly quiet  I biked along this.There is a  traffic free cycle track here along a dismantled railway to Aberfoyle but these things tend to be slower and below road level for much of the time,limiting the views of the  surrounding countryside.The turn off away from Aberfoyle was soon reached and I was off along the rolling section of the A81 to Lake of Menteith.Here a much quieter road was taken, the B8034  hugging the shores of this famous fishing and curling Lake with its island Priory (Don Roberto,s last resting place) and  ruined castle,before passing Nick Nairn,s cook school then Arnprior sitting pretty on its ridge.
This marked the second long hill climb.a rollercoaster of rising ground leading up to the final ridge in the distance where the steep wall of the Fintry Hills loomed.I enjoyed this section for the scenery and views it offered but it was tough going.Somehow I,d  lost my lowest two gears by this point so it was even more of a challenge.Panting up the green middle section in this photograph I was overtaken by a twenty something girl as if I was standing still.It wasn,t even a racing bike she was on but an average tourer like mine which made it worse.I,m not  usually competitive but having sand kicked in your face by a women does something to the male psyche. I,m  always happy to accept them being smarter  than me(Lets face it.. that wouldn,t be difficult) but to be squashed so easily in a physical battle is much harder to take.With my pride wounded I put on an increased burst of speed up the hill but she was so far ahead by this point she didn't even notice my effort.Eventually I gave up and consoled myself with a sausage. Its tough getting old.Having said that I,m now re -reading  and re- inspired  by one of the finest travel book writer,s  I,ve ever stumbled across.Josie
Dew - The wind in my wheels.Travel guide books to a certain place are different.You need them to know what,s out there and where the best places are if you are setting off there Travel writers however can sometimes tend to be of the variety.... I went there ...I  visited here.Bill Bryson  and Josie Dew for me stand apart as they can be enjoyed by anyone.Creative,funny and informative, even if you never intend to go to any of the places they are descibing .Multi country adventures in uplifting,always  funny and unique insights into different lands.She and her game but unsuspecting boyfriends,s /girl companions abroad  take the kicking so I don,t have to.I,ve enough lumps and bent bones from cycling in Scotland thanks..She is completely different class though. A Rare individual who didn,t just dream to going somewhere exotic and far away but made it happen and slogged it out on the ground inch by inch on a bike..A modern day Don Roberta on a metal horse.You will not be disappointed.Like a couple of forces of nature I,ve met in my life though Its  far safer to enjoy her from a distance on the page than be involved in one of her adventures methinks:)

What views though.This is looking towards Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich from the minor road near Jennywoodston,a new road tick for me and a belter of a bike run.
Looking across at the Glen Artney range of Hills.Mor Bheinn ,Meall Reamhar and the like.Suberb flat  balcony trail along here.All too soon though it was back to the climb up Kippen muir,legs burning to the highpoint just short of 200 metres again.Another wee break for a photo opportunity.
Even in a car its a lovely place to stop and admire the scenery but on a bike after putting a shift in to get there it feels like the roof of Scotland. Now I hoped it would be all downhill on empty minor roads past hill of Balgair to Balfron.A new road for me.Not only was this a twisty little number though it was also up and down,Hill of Balgair living up to its name.
Good views over to Meikle Bin, Dungoil and the Campsies though.By this time I was getting worried about daylight or the lack of it. The sun was starting to slide out of view and in another half hour it would be dark.Forcing myself to increase the pace I slogged on.The only time I,d  really stopped  moving so far was for photographs or food or geese or to visit something interesting off route with several  minor walking explorations away from the highway.It was a poor time by keen cycling standards but I was now rather knackered.Its only a 30 odd mile trip this one but fairly up and down.I decided I didn,t  really have enough time to go via Gartness before it got dark.
Last of the sun just before Balfron,looking over at Corrie of Balglass and Sir Archibald,s Plantation.As I was running out of time I turned onto the main A 811 after Balfron Station and raced back in the gathering  dusk towards Drymen.By the time I entered the home straight the lights were on  in the village and  proper darkness had arrived but I,d made it just in time.A memorable day for my last bike ride of 2011.For those keen on cycling who have not done this route yet its a real classic tour.With all the ups and downs its probably close to 2000 feet of ascent..A fantastic day.
I was fairly pleased with my level of fitness given my age.There,s an old saying though" What,s for you will not go by you".How true! Little did I know what was in store for me  just around the corner.After a month of  cabin fever, shuffling about the house or limping round the shops for messages my  hard won fitness is gubbed.Ah well .... Life is an unpredictable game of  up the ladder and down the snake at times.Back to square one again.At least I,m still here to reclimb that ladder.That,s the main thing.

Saturday 14 January 2012

The Lower River Clyde.

This is a companion post to the Kilpatrick hills post just past. There are a number of  good bike rides from my house that run along the Forth and Clyde canal in both directions. Two of the best explore the banks of the lower River Clyde. The first goes via Anniesland out past Clydebank and here at  Bowling Harbour, through the Vale of Leven to Loch Lomond side. From there a network of Minor roads in the rolling country north east of Jamestown (Balloch) lead you round past Croftamie and Blanefeild back to Glasgow. A fairly long day but highly enjoyable.
This is Bowling harbour. It used to be a major stop off point for the many steamers going up and down the Clyde, a shipbuilders yard and a busy working  harbour After a long decline its now a smashing little place full of quirky interest and has regained something of its former glory. Dumbarton is another place that is often overlooked but it has a great park (Levengrove) a very dramatic Castle and a scenic walkway/cycle track leading along the Firth of Clyde from this park towards Cardross and the Havoc Grasslands.

The second bike run veers south and crosses the Erskine Bridge then runs along the other side of the Clyde via Erskine all the way out over the hills and moors to reach Inverclyde. This was a run I did in the late Autumn just passed. From high up on the bridge the Kilpatrick hills look almost  flat here.  After such a poor wet summer I was determined to make the most of any good weekends and chase the sun wherever it landed. Today was a perfect example. Going by the forecast It was a gloomy,wet cloudy day anywhere over the mountain regions within a two hour drive away but in Glasgow and the lower Clyde area the sun was out all day. The city with its heat and concrete often punches a hole through the murk and I had just the ride to take advantage of this. Despite its proximity to where I live I had never fully explored the Marshlands of the Lower River Clyde before. It should be good for wildlife, photography and make an interesting outing I thought.
In places, as here near Newshot Island The River is at its widest, looking more like the Nile or the Amazon than the tame city River further inland. Here it meets the White and Black Cart Waters flowing out of Paisley which help to swell its volume considerably It actually narrows again after this point, squeezed tighter by the  landscape and the great  northern wall of the Kilpatricks looming above. This was after five days of heavy rain and storms and entire mature trees were floating past out to sea, eroded from the crumbling banks upstream. It didn't feel like the usual urban river. While researching this post I came across this link to a site showing what the Clyde looked like in its heyday. Many of the photos in here are stunning. Its another world. When I was a child being taken around Glasgow in the late 1950s early 1960s I Just caught a last glimpse of this powerhouse age before its final demise. For anyone too young to remember it this is an eye-opener compared to the empty scene now. Well worth a look and a lot of work to collect so much lost history and images.
A fine easy bike/walking trail leads through the grounds of Erskine Hospital  past the  new Golf course and sandy beaches with fantastic views of well known places across the river but now seen from a different angle entirely. On the OS Map of Glasgow however it looked possible to go from here all the way along to Longhaugh point and the M8 leading to Greenock. I didn't know anyone who had been along here and had never seen it in any guide. That was enough for me. Sometimes I don't need to go into the true wilds for fun and adventure. You can find wilderness nearby in the unlikeliest places imaginable. I also found where some of the floating trees ended up.
Only a few miles away over the higher mountain ranges rain and murk prevailed. In the words of Austin Powers..."That's not my bag baby!" If I have a choice I prefer a walk in day long sunshine. Which is just as well as it turned out to be one of the hardest, most desperate walks I have attempted anywhere. There is a  very good reason its not  in any guide.
Dumbarton Rock seen from the marshlands. It was around this point I had to ditch the bike hiding it in the reeds on the edge of the marsh. Walking was becoming difficult by now. Unseen holes, some of them three feet deep and filled with stagnant river water lurked every second step underfoot. What solid ground there was to step on was of the spongy tussock variety or deep sticky mud. It was worse than any hill I'd thrown myself up, even darkest, deepest Galloway which has some of the biggest tussocks and holes off the main walking paths anywhere. There and back It was under six kilometres of white unmarked ground. A blank on the map. It was up to me to fill in that blank on the map for curiosity sake alone. I rose to the challenge ..or rather sank, swam and crawled.
It did have some interesting Highlights though. This is the monument between Milton and Bowling. It's an area that  has intrigued me as its off limits to the general public with a manned guardhouse and no way in except for those with the right password. On the Map there is a lot of potential interest though with the remains of the ancient  Dunglass Castle marked, built in 1380, this monument, several piers and an offshore island (Milton island).An interesting boat  trip methinks. Its off limits because its the site of the old Esso Bowling facility and  fuel storage reserve but if it was decommissioned and opened to the public it would give Bowling another much needed tourist asset to complement the harbour. A nice walking/bike trail could be landscaped here linked to the harbour area. It would certainly be better than the side I was on.
Muddy  and soaked beyond belief I crawled and jumped my way across this hideous swampy void then returned to my bike. Due to the terrain it had taken a lot longer than expected. By now it was getting dark and very cold. A magnificent full moon was out above Clydebank as I zoomed along the canal, still dripping mud, intent on getting back home before I froze to death from hypothermia. It is not a walk I feel I can fully recommend therefore unless you are keen to do battle with several thousand, hidden jaggy edged freezing  mud baths. Waders and birdlife seem to love it though. Come to think of it waders would be just the right equipment for this place. Boots were sadly no match for the sucking ferocity of this overlooked wildlife gem and came up short in more ways than one. Never have the  backstreets of Glasgow looked so beautiful to my eyes on my return.
Everyone needs a cosy cave to come home to. It's what makes us human. I certainly realised this point after falling, splashing and crawling on all four limbs for hours. Who would have believed such wild adventure could be found so close at hand. What an epic. What a great find. The Scottish equivalent of a mangrove swamp.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Kilpatrick Hills.Duncolm.The Magic Escarpment.

Before I posted this I had to look back at  our previous entry list trying to find out if I,d posted this walk before as I couldn,t believe this was the first time for it on this blog.Our only other entry on the Kilpatrick's however was in  June 2009 at the Western edge. Dumbarton castle.Lang Craig and Doughnot Hill. Unbelievable! High time then these vastly underrated hills get another  mention.Of all the hill ranges in Scotland this is probably the one most central belt west coast outdoor folk  pass most as they zoom along the bottom on their way to higher,damper hill groups further north.Many don,t even look up.
I  should know.... I used to be one of them.
This all changed around thirty years ago ,when I first moved over to this side of the river from the oh so easy to reach open fields and farmlands of my youth.Would I find  a playground over here as good as the Barrhead Dams,Gleniffer Braes and high moors of East Renfrewshire for local walks between trips to the greater ranges?It was a serious question.Walking and exploring nature is my life and always has been.I,d be lost and empty in a place without scenic distractions.
I need not have worried.A bold,exhilarating kingdom awaited me on these, my newly adopted local hills. This is the farm track leading up into the Kilpatricks starting from just above the Erskine Bridge at Old Kilpatrick village itself. I think one of the main reasons these hills remain undiscovered by the majority of walkers must be the lack of obvious parking in the area.Once you know where to park however that is not a problem.
For those without a car trains run every 30 minutes or so from Glasgow city centre(Queen street)past Partick to Kilpatrick Station.From here Five minutes gentle walk uphill  under the  A 82 at the Erskine Bridge brings you past a little Gas facility to the start of the farm track which is signposted" Loch Humphrey."Follow this up onto the escarpment then across the rolling uplands to the rocky crown of Duncolm.The highest point in the Kilpatrick range.The weather here is usually better than even ten miles further west and north.Blue cloudless Skies throughout the year are common.
For car drivers follow the A82 til the Old Kilpatrick cut off which is on the left just after the Erskine Bridge slipway.Once down in the village there are several discreet parking places in quiet streets nearby where you are not in front of anyone,s house or driveway.Then walk up Station Road.Alternatively two suitable car parks for visitors are available right beside the road at  nearby Bowling harbour.This is also worth a foot tour round afterwards anyway as its an interesting place full of liitle boats,wooden sculptures of animals and canal berths.There is a tiny three car layby at the start of the farm track itself right beside the gas facility which I use but I would only park my own car here for a short time.It,s up to you.The other places feel much safer if slightly further away.There is also large safe street parking available around Mountblow both in bays below the three grey high rise flats (West Court is the first or on quiet streets higher up nearer the hills.) I,ve parked here many times.
The reason I,m taking the time to  mention all this information is simple.This walk into the Kilpatricks is stunning and contains one of the finest balcony trails anywhere in Scotland. This is Glasgow,s answer to Arthur,s Seat in the heart of Edinburgh.  ie.... a mountain range surrounded by a city.  I,ll never forget the first time I explored this surprisingly wild upland area starting from the Queens View after getting a lift on a scorching summers day,walking through the deep damp slot of the Whangie then continuing past Burncrooks Reservoir, over Thiefs Hill and lonely Saughen Braes to stand on top of Duncolm.It felt as remote as any mountain wilderness but had  far less hillgoers.I never met a soul  all day til I arrived at the edge of the escarpment above Glasgow and Clydebank then looked down at this view from above.After 10 kilometres of fighting across empty moors and flowing  grasslands up to my waist at times in small, springy meadows alive with roe deer ,jumping hares and buzzards  it took the breath away to suddenly confront a city spread below like a living 3D  map.Its an image I,ll never forget.
Even greater range loving  Alex when I persuaded him to go a walk up here (Duncolm was on his list of ticks needless to say) expressed amazement at how good it was.A real five star day out.
The balcony trail  to end all balcony trails can be found by  following this faint path  due south from the summit cairn of The Slacks to the edge of the escarpment.From here it weaves down through little crags and  mixed trees then turns right,above a cottage(Craigleith), to join the same  farm track seen above in the second picture.Its seldom used except by a few knowledgeable locals.A real hidden wonder.Enjoy.
Try to get it on a sunny blue sky day like this and it will not disappoint. Loch Humphrey.One of many lochs up here.
A view standing high above Dumbarton Rock and the silver ribbon  of the River Clyde.

Sunset across Renfrewshire and  the Erskine Woods.

Looking across towards Inverclyde,Langbank and Port Glasgow from the farmstead.
Last of the sunset.Standing above the twinkling carpet of Paisley and The Erskine Bridge illuminations.A magical adventure in a remote area yet so close to Scotland,s largest centre  of population.How do you hide such a wondrous, dazzling exotic gem for so long? By placing it in full view of course.

Monday 2 January 2012

An Assorted Festive Collection.

Just a few Christmas Photographs taken before I was confined to the house.Glasgow,s George Square was Looking very colourful this year in a bid to attract shoppers into the city centre and away from the out of town shopping complex,s that are killing most high streets UK wide.

This year they have invested in fairground style rides.Unfortunately the weather over the festive period has been so poor,almost three weeks of constant rain and winds, that it has only highlighted the benefits of having all the shops under one large roof.Its not much fun spinning round in gale force winds and rain so I doubt if these children friendly rides made much of a profit this year.Shame.Even the big curling event in the Square had to be cancelled due to warm temperatures after two years of sub zero winters previously.Just  goes to show though...You can never predict  mother earth,only roll with the punches:)
"Footfall" in Glasgow city centre.Notice how all these buzz words seem to get imported from America.How every shop assistant  in a large store now says "see you later" (It,s that family thing to show we really care) Most bank people ask "Doing anything interesting today?" or words to that effect (because they are looking for an opening to sell you something else)Businesses say  "get you out of your comfort zone"(ie. it,s something new we are bringing in, you wont like it but hard luck we,ve picked you to do it"
Whatever happened to that old favourite" Not fit for purpose" I wonder?Maybe the saying itself is....
Argyll Strret lights.Compared to years gone by this street was looking fairly empty in the days leading up to Christmas.
Its probably the best I,ve seen George Square looking though.The big wheel really caught the eye.

Glasgow City Chambers.Home to the Council and The Lord Provost of Glasgow.May his gold chain never rust!
Under the Golden Mesh. Royal Exchange Square.This Is The GOMA. Gallery Of Modern Art ....which sometimes  has interesting and thought provoking exhibits.... and sometimes not.
Same Place Showing the style shops and restaurants.Never been in any of them,don't eat out...never been in more than a dozen hotels in my life,prefer camping....only buy what I need and always have done..Rarely put my heating on in winter....Only use credit under protest when they wont accept cash  .Yes Sir...the UK economy is safe in my hands :)
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.Looking very spooky at night.One of Glasgow,s best loved buildings and still free to enter.Generations of people have taken their sweethearts,children,parents,relatives,and assorted others here.Always entertaining.Great way to pass a few hours on a wet day.
Some of the shops at Ballater taken on a recent visit before Christmas.A town that has thrived since Victorian times due to  the Balmoral estate and the Royal family highland residence being close by.Most of the shops in this town have a" By royal appointment " ornamental crest above the doorway.Shopkeepers strive to have Royal biscuits,Royal tablet,even Royal napkins appeal to the taste buds or eye of these famous castle dwellers up the road.This in turn attracts hordes of tourists every summer keen to "shop like a Queen."
                         When you think about it....This is where the entire cult of celebrity first began.

                                 Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a happy year year for 2012.
            My new years resolution? Get back on those hills again. I.m starting to get cabin fever!