Sunday 26 February 2012

Dumbarton.The Mud Walk.An Unexpected New Experience.

The first real walk I managed after getting knocked down by a van was this one a few weeks ago.Dumbarton has a number of good walks and one I have not done for a long time is this one starting at the large free car park on the left hand  bank of the River Leven.Its the one on the same side as Levengrove Park but there is another car park on the opposite bank for visitors and main street shoppers.Look for the  three orange and white hi rise buildings seen  in the picture above and turn left at the traffic lights beside Dalreoch train station.This takes you  right down to the car park beside the last bridge over the river.This is also a good walk to do by train as this train station,Dalreoch is an  Ideal starting point.Another walk /cycle from here is to go upriver along the Vale of  Leven Walkway to Loch Lomond side and Balloch park but the Vale although it has green parts is much more Industrial in places and not as scenic a walk  for a casual visitor.
On a beautiful sunny day walking along the Leven here downstream  is a delight for the eyes.These little boats take a hammering during bad storms though as the Leven is one of  Scotland,s fastest flowing rivers.It,s the only exit river draining mighty Loch Lomond into the sea so it carries huge volumes of water down its short length in wet weather.The Vikings managed to drag their long boats up it though and pillaged Loch Lomond,s communities and Islands gaining them access to a chunk of Scotland,s interior that had thought itself safe from sea raiders..Very determined boys the old Vikings when it came to bagging and bedding new lands and women.
Seen this guy looking for a meal over Levengrove Park, a lovely Riverside and shoreline park with lots of
 large mature trees and open meadows.Usual story throughout the Central belt this year though with loads of mature trees here snapped in half or blown over.I hope such severe storms aren,t a sign of things to come each winter or wind turbines and man made trees might be the only structures left sticking up in the landscape.When you leave the car park the best route is to walk straight down beside the River getting good views of Dumbarton Castle and the great  volcanic plug its built around. From the 5th Century onwards this was the power base of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde. The feared Alt Clut .Rock of the Clyde, known in  later Gaelic as Dun Breatann."Fortress of the Britons" from which Dumbarton gets is name.As I,ve said before It has possible links to King Arthur and Merlin and there are a few folk who have explored this in some detail,Welsh surprisingly having been a language spoken here at that time in a sprawling kingdom that reached down that far. Its not impossible that he was a real person based in this area and later became the legendary figure adopted throughout Britain.Several regions lay claim to them both without much actual proof of existence.There is certainly no  factual record of  a "King" Arthur anywhere,be it here,Cornwall or Wales.But this detailed theory does suggest a possible ruler that fits the bill.Well worth a mouse click.                          

This is one of The Castle from Inverclyde showing parts of  the rampart walkways and the twin towers of the white flagpole peak summit and the  Gun Armoury.
 Another link to the remarkable  and stunning blog by someone who really knows this stuff well enough to comment on it.For anyone who couldn,t give a toss about King Arthur and Merlin  though and is only  interested in  a quick history of the castle this is also here below :)
This is the Flag pole Summit.The path up to it is fairly steep and rocky and goes up the ridge in shadow from left to right.A few years before he died I took my dad up here as a Birthday surprise when he was approaching 80 years of age and he loved it with a few rests on seats and a helping hand.He was really into the history of places and enjoyed it although he did complain he was starting to lose his head for heights.
Also took my sisters all Australian grandson up here when he was over on holiday a few years ago and he loved it too although as a teenager who has seen both The Lord of the Rings and 300 it was the imagined fighting, biting,stabbing and battles that inspired him with blood and bodies spurting and tumbling across the cliffs no doubt. Its around £5 pounds each  adult to get in,£3 for kids and concessions and well worth while if you haven,t been and can explore it fully on foot.It is steep in places but the paths have guide wires on the hardest, most exposed sections.I used to rock climb occasionally here at Dumbarton Rock years ago on the gloomy and seriously intimidating north facing cliffs and could never get off the ground it was so desperate with a friction free natural polish.Some of the hardest rock climbs in Britain are here on  these vertical and overhanging black walls.Its considered very bad form to belay off the cannons at the summit though no matter how tempting  or how much trouble you are in.:)
I never got up that high but luckily there are some great traverse lines around the rock lower down and the famous giant boulders full of classic problem test routes to grunt and struggle your way up.
Right.. Enough history. On with the main event.There is a walk in  some local Guide books called the Havoc Grasslands which I intended to do.From the western end of Levengrove Park It runs along a tarmac flat walkway past Kirktonhill,a Bearsden like suburb of Dumbarton full of  old Victorian mansions  sitting in spacious grounds with  stunning views over the Firth of Clyde.It then cuts up inland at the havoc football pitches through a tunnel under the railway then back through Dumbarton,s outskirts along Cardross road. The above photo was taken from Inverclyde as I still visit Greenock sometimes to see old friends. It was sitting with them on a hillside high above Auchmountain one day that first gave me the idea of a possible new walk when I noticed how shallow the bed of the Firth Of Clyde looked from this vantage point.(I know technically its still a river here though seven kilometres across at this angle)
This was taken at high tide above Greenock.The crosses roughly mark the route I,m about to do.The Mud walk,a low tide exploration on the bed of the River Clyde itself. As far as I know this has not been in any guide book I,ve read and its a wild and unusual experience.A mid estuary walk of great scenic beauty, in places walking almost two kilometres out from the shore line on a sand bar with snow covered mountains in the distance all around.
From  the western end of Levengrove Park I limped off the path and straight onto the beach.There was a new housing development  getting built beside the walkway and I didn't fancy walking beside reversing dumper trucks and guys hammering on the roofs anyway.
The tide was almost out and I walked across the wet mud straight towards the edge of the deep water channel I could just see in the distance in the middle of the Clyde.At first glance this walk looks as if it would be impossible to do.It doesn,t look like sand here. It looks like thick brown mud and as I know from my recent adventure on the opposite bank near here"The lower River Clyde" posted a few weeks ago that,s exactly what it is on that side.Deep, stinking and sticky.
Still ,God loves an ever willing heart and a bold approach to life.I limped off cautiously expecting to sink without trace at any moment. Near the shoreline you do tend to sink in a couple of inches,maybe too much for trainers to cope with but boots or wellies if you have kids with you should be fine.Further out what still looks like mud is actually firm sand underfoot with the mud just a very thin film on top.Not even reaching a quarter of an inch deep anywhere.The further out you go the better the actual sand gets.
You,d think there might be some quicksand out here as I,ve found plenty of that in the past around  other river estuary's elsewhere in Scotland but out here its just a new magical kingdom of big skies and wide horizons and a fantastic walk full of  assorted  busy waders,multicoloured shelducks,gulls and terns.
According to Chris Packham on Winterwatch recently British Mud is some of the world,s best for the amount of tiny creatures living in it, feeding vast numbers of migrating birds who come to these Islands for an annual winter feast.

If you take your time,as I had to anyway due to my injury,you can get good views of bird life without disturbing them too much, causing them to waste precious energy.If you come here its worth taking binoculars.There,s certainly plenty to see. I continued northwards weaving between bird clusters and long standing pools of water inland,always walking beside the markers for the deep water shipping channel ,feeling slightly surreal like I shouldn't really be out here.My  main concern being injured and still on strong co codamol pain killers for my leg, back and ribcage was that I could only shuffle along at a slow limping pace and would not make it to shore in time before the tide cut me off if it came in at speed along these channels now behind me.
This was not the case however and even half crippled me was fast enough to make it.For this reason I would say this is a perfectly safe stunning walk even for children as long as the adults with them made sure they were not getting cut off from behind.The tide does not come in very fast here and if you use basic common sense and are always aware of an easy escape route back towards dry land you can have three or four amazing hours out here alone.Honest its easy.Would I lie to you ?
This is near Pillar Bank almost two kilometres from dry land and in places nearer the Greenock shore line than the Dumbartonshire one.I found this idea that I could be so far out and exposed on these sand bars quite breathtaking as were these views up towards the Gareloch and the Ardmore peninsula.
High tide view of the same area from the Auchmountain hills. The small cross is roughly where I was standing at low tide in the middle of the channel  walking north up the Firth when I took the preceding picture.
I ended the longest limp yet  by continuing along to Cardross Station and getting the train back to Dalreoch and my car.One of the most unexpected and delightful walks I,ve done. I Still can,t  quite believe its possible to walk so far out here yet its so easy.Forget  those hard to reach beaches up north folks.I,ve been to desolate Sandwood bay and been disappointed by the number of cars trying to drive in along the worn and rutted access track then loads of summer tourists queueing up to see one of Scotland,s so called remotest beaches.Even in winter it has groups of visitors on it most weekends.Wilderness is all around us.
There was not another soul out here all day apart from bird life and cute little mud men.Probably because no one else was daft enough to think of exploring out here.God bless full strength codeine tablets and the power of positive thinking.Some locals must have been out here though...its just too good to miss.
"where a  lone gull can walk on a sand bar a fearless human may follow."
Pillar Bank....Its out there man!  Its also marked on the OS map sheet 63 Firth of Clyde.

Also good news  is that Spring has now arrived in the parks.After a drab,dull lifeless winter the sight of the yearly crocus explosion always brings a smile to any heart.Victoria Park has one of the best displays of these anywhere in Glasgow and I always try to catch them.
The birds like the onset of spring as well and have started to sing all through the milder nights again.I even had  to seal shut my garden facing window to get a kip they were making that much racket. "I,ve survived another winter and I need a new mate." Is what they normally sing in the trees in my garden all night long.

Me too in a manner of speaking :)  Alex is a driven man  these days with his intended Corbett bagging quota for this year already worked out.Can,t blame him if he wants to finish them ahead of the coffin sneaking up behind him.
I, ll probably go along for the more exciting ones Like Rum,the West Coast and any other islands if I,m (hopefully) invited but I,m not as keen as him if its foul weather or a really dull lump somewhere just so it can be bagged on a list.Maybe those days when he,s out in the rain and wind I,ll try to finish my second round of Munro,s off or wander along the floor of the oceans instead.
"Where a starfish can shuffle a human may follow". These really are the most excellent tablets!
So much to do so little time.....

Saturday 18 February 2012

The South West Pentlands.

As we have not had a hill post for a while due to me being out of action here,s a photographic  homage to an area I,ve long held in high regard.This balloonist must have had some view from the basket, air and land so still and frozen ice crystals were forming  in front of your eyes as you watched. The gentle breath of angels.
 While the Eastern Pentlands, close to the city of Edinburgh,are a compact bunch of linking ridges and shapely peaks well frequented by walkers in all seasons the South Western end of this range runs towards hills that are more spread out  and singular with an empty feel to them.Black Mount and Mendick hill,Mount Maw and the Petrifying Spring,Catstone and Fadden,Bleak Law and the Crane Loch.Names to give  Imagination wings.
In the right light and certain conditions, the wild lands between the River valleys of the Mouse Water,The Medwin,The Clyde and The Tweed possess a rolling pastoral and soft pastel beauty all their own.I,ve tried to capture something of the essence of this remarkable landscape in these pictures.
During the months of bitter cold days and long sub zero nights those animals and birds not lucky or small enough to live and hide under the sheltering blanket  of snow simply have to endure the conditions.Too much movement wastes precious energy so they wait and watch,alert to any movement or chance of a meal in a harsh white world.
A lucky few may  find comfort in the dual edged agreement that is the kindness of humans.
A good meal here for all.....In more ways than they can know.But for the moment they are cared for.Oblivious to the fate that awaits us all in one way or another.
In places mist hangs over the landscape and as night returns it creeps back into the low places and river bottoms like a spectral army.With it comes a new and intense damp chill. The world of the Frost hollows.
Here the temperature can be ten degrees colder than on the surrounding land as supercooled air from the heights drops down to lie deep in the valleys.In the distant past hard lessons were learned when in some places entire flocks perished, trapped in these Devil,s dimples. Some modern farmers new to the area sometimes change centuries old traditions and field structures then find out there,s a reason for that  weird escape route after all upwards to higher ground for the beasts.

The last of the light hits the peaks and animals huddle close.Another sixteen hour night approaches to suck the life from wool, fur, feather and bone.Humans wander back to cosy cave and tavern bright,sodium and neon,Coal,gas and furnace separating them from those who simply endure.
And so comes the night, its long shadow fingers touch and taste where sweet sun has lain but an hour ago, draining all memory of heat from this soft deep pillow where some unlucky few may find forever sleep by the morning.In cracks and holes in special warm trees the tiny birds who flock together,Sparrows ,Goldcrests,long tailed tits,wren and firecrest cram in together in  tight  packed balls of heat 20 strong hoping some at least in the middle will  survive the darkness.In hard winters a yearly sacrifice  played out unseen.( Almost two million goldcrests perished in the UK in the 2009- 2010 winter alone.)
In milder winters they bounce back though with a bigger clutch of eggs.Such fast and hard tiny life's. No Tinkerbell had a heart  beating so pure or strong within her breast.
    Looking towards the great  Southern Uplands Chain. Winter in the Pentlands at minus -21 overnight..

Saturday 11 February 2012

Tower Hill.Gourock.Firth Of Clyde.

After a month and  a half confined mainly to the house,garden and local park where I doggedly limped around the easy flat sections building my leg up again,surrounded  by ...well... er... dogs and their owners,I discovered two things.
One.Folk shout a lot when they have a dog or dogs.If you want to raise your voice in public a lot and get away with it then a dog will do the trick ,preferably one that does not pay any attention to you when its off the lead.After a week I got to know them all by name...the dogs that is....but the owners seemed to take great exception when you give them a hand ,shouting out at the dogs as well.  Hey! Get your own hound if you want to shout like me!     the usual dark look imparted in my direction seemed to suggest..
By day ten I was well bored and dotted with muddy paw marks (I was a pounced upon  new best friend by this stage)  but kept at it determined to get the mobility back into my body
Two.I,ve  discovered I,m not one of these people that can go to the same place every day and still enjoy it.A time share apartment in one town,no matter how nice would have me pining for fresh views after a while.
Eventually the great day arrived.I had processed sufficiently well that I thought I,d try a minor walk uphill.What better place to go than Gourock,only 30 minutes in the car from my door yet filled with uphill walking potential.One of the best short walks starts from the seafront car park below the main street.Next door is the famous open air saltwater pool,one of only two left in Scotland.Heated of course,not many willing to swim in freezing seas these days without a wet suit.
Incidentally,Henry "Birdie" Bowers (one of Captain Scott's Ill  fated Antarctic Expedition team) was a Scot  growing up in Greenock and Bute.I remember reading an article  that he did used to swim in the sea here in all seasons of the year......even  over to Helensburgh and back.In the depths of winter.They were bloody tough then though. Mind you I had a German freind who did the same thing in Loch lomond A few years back.Both ways,also in winter and not at the narrow part either.I prefer a boat myself.
My objective was slightly less adventurous alas but I was still doubtful of  full completion.If I didn,t make it to the top I could always cut it short without a problem getting back,one of the reasons I,d picked here.
Tower hill is the far away green area behind the white Hi Rise in the first picture above.I don,t  throw these photos in just for the hell of it you know:)  Oh No. Every picture tells a story as Rod Stewart use to say.
Anyway, from the car park, walk up to the main road and turn right in the direction of the Western ferries (red in colour) slipway.You soon pass a row of tenements on the right.On the other side of the road here,watch out for a steep narrow path  leading straight up between the buildings.This takes you  past gardens,some of which need a ladder and rope to maintain them which brings you out onto a higher street.Already the settings are stunning,the Firth of Clyde opening up with views across to the mountains,more often than not at this time of year,early February,covered in snow.
Interesting things may be seen in these waters.I think this might be a Trident nuclear submarine heading home to its sea loch base.Two small rapid assault craft as an escort anyway with what looked like heavy weapon machine guns attached to them.Very old looking though for a nuclear submarine.
I was delighted to see this,just struck it lucky with the timing I guess.As If on cue the sun came out and the air temperature increased a couple of degrees to just above freezing.
Once on this upper but level road a broad street lies straight in front of you, also level,heading inland.follow this til you come shortly to the  big blue sign for Tower hill on the right.Follow this spiral path through park like surroundings up and up til you reach the top.This is a fantastic viewpoint.A small tower  on the summit gives the hill its name.(If you want to find The GKS  then turn left on this initial first street past the bowling club and the church spire til you see the sign)
It was a busy old Firth of Clyde.This is a wind turbine ship near Dunoon.Shows the size of these things when this is just one turbine by the looks of it.At the moment Scotland has only half the intended amount of Turbines Installed so this is a common sight here these days.
Just a few days  after seeing this sail by I watched a recent TV programme "The cost of going green" which made some very interesting points.Seems its yet another way for the rich of this country to make even more money at the expense of people who have less ( What,s new about that then I hear you ask.) Lucky Landowners and householders who can  afford to splash out £15,000 to £20 thousand pounds to get solar panels installed on their roofs or wind turbines erected  on their land not only get cheap power and subsidies for the next 20 odd years but we (the average taxpayer) then have to pay them money every time they generate too much that the grid cannot use because its at full capacity.
Some of the time they don,t turn at all.... then when they******** do******** turn  and its too much the rest of us ******** pay them! You couldn't make It up! The future of Scotland.Clearly as usual its only a recession for some.  But Hey we are all born equal and its a level playing field and all that other guff we used to get taught at school.
I remember as a street postman during the Thatcher era delivering big share envelopes to large houses during the great sell off with the names of household cats and dogs on them,even a budgie once.If you had money to invest in shares then it was also a golden time to print your fortune while a large chunk of Scotland,s infrastructure crumbled around you.
Obviously happy days are back again.( I don,t normally have a rant on here but some things deserve real ******** anger)           Maybe limping for miles over hills makes me less easy going.
Anyway I made it to the top of  Tower hill then descended again in the direction of the park.Up here there was still a lot of evidence of  severe storm damage from a few weeks ago,Roofers, Slater's,Builders and Joiners working flat out as some poor ********s  didn,t even have a roof left to put anything on ,never mind ********solar panels( I don,t  really blame the ones that put these on by the way,its human nature to work the system as best you can for your family if you have the resources available its the poxy institutional  blatant unfairness of it all under the convenient banner of  so called "saving the planet". Hit the average punter in the pocket yet again to pay for a rich man,s solar toys.     **** the ******** planet!  Let the******** billionaires ********save it as they are  the ones who always get the most out of it anyway!  Self serving greedy   ***** !    Manipulative tight fisted   ****     ***** ********     ******************************!!!!!            And  biggest bunch of ********""""""**********::::::::********!!!" in the universe!   ****!   ****s

Where was I ? Ah yes. Gourock and indeed Greenock can be surprisingly leafy,peaceful and tranquil places.From Tower Hill I limped down  past a couple of streets lined with 1960,s style tenements to reach the top end of Gourock Park.This is not large but wonderful as it used to be the grounds of a large posh mansion, Gourock House,.Before that stood  the imposing Gourock Castle in the 1700,s.both long since demolished. Some of the lesser features from that time can still be found however hiding in the woods nearby.From the flat red pitches of sport and tennis courts the park descends gently through ornamental shrubs and monkey puzzle trees.A damp lush glen on the left is a tumbling delight.At the bottom it levels out again to a back wall lined with small bird and animal enclosures.
A while ago,eyeing the noisy squawking parrots I asked a guy whose job it was to clean these out."Do you have any problems with the inhabitants then? Is it messy when you finish.? "
"I always get  space on the bus" He replied dryly. I noticed then that several of his fingers and one ear had plasters on them. Nothing,s ever the easy stress free job you think it is.
At this point I,m going to deviate into summer.Being my first real outing I was content to limp downhill here and stay within  Icy Gourock itself. For those wishing to see a continuation of this green oddessy though this is Coves reservoir , Inverclyde hospital and its waste burning stack then Hunterston Power Station Chimney acting like a weird mirror image.You can link these lush ribbons of green throughout Greenock and Gourock to make an interesting roller coaster walk that would tax the fittest of hill walkers ending up on Lyle Hill under the Cross Of Lorraine .Greenock after all is  supposedly derived from The Gaelic for sunny place.Another line of thought says its a version of "Green Oak" .Hence the name of the local shopping centre.

All I know is that I like the three towns..Love them even. As I knew a few folk I used to come here as a teenager at weekends,escaping from the always in your face encounters of Glasgow.Before the age of computer games and  multi media information overload, vivid and esoteric shocks to the senses were simple and  few and far between. For that reason bold new ideas,sounds and images meant a lot more then. I was a huge fan  of the Velvet Underground.A new york experimental band powered by a raging wall of sound and Lou reed,s dark poetic lyrics of  lurid street life in Central Park and Manhattan and John Cale,s Avant Garde musical  Innovation. Even today no band  has matched that combination of insightful intelligent writing and ferocious driving power. Now generally acknowledged as the second most influential band in rock music history after the Beatles according to the music press. Whatever .At that time though the only people I knew that liked them all lived in Greenock  Compared to what was going on in the schemes of Glasgow  it seemed a preferable, suitably exotic location to capture a young boys imagination.  Hi Linda and Susan.
I had just engaged on a five year apprenticeship however and could not fly off to New York ,as I didn,t have the necessary green stuff to obtain a ticket.I was on the then princely sum of £8 pounds a week. Besides...that would be to follow someone else,s dreams and experiences of growing up..and that's always going to be a disappointment.I,d be a fish out of water.Lost and Jobless wandering down the Avenue of the Americas or living rough in the South Bronx.
For some mad reason I picked the three Inverclyde towns to be my personal New York to discover instead.Maybe its the way they climbed the hillsides behind them,The numerous spires soaring upwards with the  great dome of Victoria Tower coming close to 300 feet in height,The then wild and unknown housing estates, clinging to the sheer drops of the escarpment like limpets.Who knows.
Anyway it was a lucky choice and I had many happy times and adventures in these vertical canyons when exploring new areas,climbing everything in sight and  jumping between  buildings was just called having a laugh instead of "Parkour".With my bold and gymnastic sweet sisters I explored this new and thrilling kingdom.More Importantly,when I was with them I didn,t get my head kicked in by rival gangs :)
.Whatever, I was hooked and more importantly it removed me from South Glasgow at a difficult time when teenagers get most peer pressure heaped upon them and decisions are made that can change the rest of your life.
For an insight into this world I can recommend Peter Mullan,s excellent recent film Neds,an accurate and fairly graphic account of growing up in one of the large Glasgow estates in the 1970,s.In this case Pollok,the largest and oldest of the big four city schemes with an original population of 50,000 souls living on top of each other in cottage type houses and  three and four story tenements that looked in some cases as though they had been built by the Romans on an off day.(Most have now gone which is why it was shot elsewhere)
Instead of paint or tiles some of these  entrance closes had  plain, unadorned bare brick walls At night it was pitch black going up them  apart from a few dim bulbs placed far apart and,most of these had been removed.It was like entering caves.An unnerving experience even if you knew the area and the tribe that may be lurking within.
.No expense spared.I remember just entering  these closes as a young apprentice at night made a big impression on me,like my first sight of family homes within with no real  furniture or carpets.Just pallets or a battered sofa to sit on ,a couple of tea chests for tables ,beds, one small electric fire, light  bulbs in only three rooms and bare boards ten years after they moved in.And folk today think they have it hard.That was fairly normal back then.( I,ve been in houses like this recently come to think of it .)
Peter Mullan also directed the equally intense but heartfelt The Magdalene Sisters in 2002.
There,s been many films and plays set in Greenock as well over the years. My favourite film set in Greenock however is the wonderful,quirky and gentle Dear Frankie starring Emily Mortimer and Jack Mc Elhone.Its a delightful  mum and  young son story that deserves far greater acclaim.In my opinion  its right up there with Gregory,s girl and Local Hero for its charm and  use of its backdrop location and streets ahead of the overrated and dull in places The Full Monty.
Greenock Cemetery Is worth  a visit if In the area.You can park in the street by the entrance then walk up into an unexpected land of riches.More Monkey puzzle trees grow here than anywhere else I,ve visited in Scotland.A range of interesting and rewarding paths lead up through yet another of the areas wooded  hillsides, a cornucopia of historical tombs ,family crypts and headstones catching the eye in all directions.
Greenock was once a  very wealthy area,with its shipbuilding ,Tate and Lyle sugar refineries and  busy port.You can see that by the number of large Gothic mansions that still line the  streets to this day.
Like the notation on this headstone though.Wonder if it was true! On the highest slope of this leafy ,ancient and very beautiful oasis stands arguably the two most famous characters attached to the town.
 James Watt,a local man whose  inspired modification of the then puny steam engine into a thing of reliable power and efficiency kick started the  Industrial Revolution which went on to sweep the world... and Robert Burns   Highland Mary (Mary Campbell) A girl from Dunoon he might have spent his life with had she lived.They both rest here a short distance from each other ,the king and queen of  this  oldest and prettiest part of the cemetery.It covers a surprisingly large area and has good views.
Meanwhile I was on a Limping quest of my own.Still in Gourock I was looking for one of the oldest objects in the town.                                       The Granny Kempoch Stone.
Found half way up the hill above the Railway station This sign suggests its like a cross between Walt Disney and Peter Pan we are looking for.This Bronze age standing stone was formed from the restless ground millions of years ago. Erected, feared and revered as various ages and civilisations grew up, peaked then passed from memory before her, legends and rituals evolved both on and around this  humble stone , good and bad. The mysterious Druids just a distant page from history now.Blood from offerings long washed off. Now she sits forlorn and mainly forgotten,except to curious children and the older generation passing by to secretly pat her as the centuries drift over her cold heart like  falling leaves in a pond,each a fleeting  brief memory when measured against the static time frame of her lifeless existence.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Glasgow.A Culture and History Tour. Part Two.

Mercat  and Tolbooth Steeple. Glasgow Cross. The Steeple was built around the early 1600,s
Seeing as how I've already taken the photographs and walked the rest of this post I thought I'd keep all of Glasgow's attractions together for any visitors coming to the city to look up. I was asked yesterday by my sister to look up the best Edinburgh attractions for some Australian friends she has who are visiting soon for a few days in the Capital and was struck by the difference between the two cities. Don't get me wrong, I love Edinburgh and I'm through that way all the time. Arthur's Seat, The Hermitage and Blackford Hill, the history and the landscape are world class and free .I've done quite a few posts out that way already. Surprisingly, this is the first collection about Glasgow city centre and  its attractions for the tourist.
The main difference I was struck by was the price.
Edinburgh castle.£15 pounds to get in (adult prices).Mary Kings Close £12 pounds (worth it though)Dynamic Earth £12 pounds. Edinburgh Dungeon £16 pounds. Edinburgh Zoo £12 pounds. The list goes on.
A average family group of two adults two children could easily fork out  over a £100 pounds during a days sightseeing. .Edinburgh for its size is probably richer than Glasgow these days....I can see why. Hence this timely triptych on Glasgow's mainly free assortment box of attractions.

After Leaving Glasgow City chambers I Turned into John Street with Its magnificent double archways. Most Glasgow folk will know this as the place where they arrive to clear up any  rent disputes. John street being the gateway to the councils utilities and services HQ covering our little metropolis and its citizens. From here go right one block along George Street and turn left into Montrose street to behold Rottenrow Gardens, a steep but green and leafy little oasis which finds itself bang in the middle of  The University Of Strathclyde. A fine spot for lunch so I did take heed of the rumbling. Country slices and ginger beer went down well. Munch munch Slurp slurp.

This was the site of the Old  Rottenrow maternity Hospital  now long gone as I've said. Maybe they had Level floors in the hospital I hope so. Given the steep angle of these gardens though they could just as easily have had a long room here where the babies slid right out of the mothers towards the waiting doctors and nurses under gravity. I noticed the pond here was shallow and tiny. Any bigger and it would  start to roll downhill as well.
The University of Strathclyde Is Scotland's third largest University, also one of the oldest founded in 1796 Its a right mish mash of old and new buildings though. Some very old and regal but a lot like here typical late 1950,s 1960s bold slabs of concrete and glass. I must admit I quite like the contrast. Like walking though a Thunderbird's set or  a Tomorrows world idea of what our future would look like.
Its as valid a relic of its time as the merchant city is I suppose. It's also one of the largest post graduate providers in the country and has an excellent record for quality professors and teachers turning out bright students. It has had several name changes in the past. It used to be the Royal college of Science and Technology... then it merged  in the 1960s with the Scottish college of Commerce. Not long ago It linked with Jordanhill College Of Education, giving it a second campus there. Maybe because of all this expansion and change compared to the University of Glasgow's period style architecture  and unmoved history secure on its hilltop to the west  there exists a friendly rivalry between the two.
I remember a while ago seeing a University of Strathclyde white van with its black lettering  proudly initialled on its sides.It was parked just off Byres road, An enemy stronghold popular with nearby University of Glasgow students.
Underneath someone had added a wry comment with a finger on the winter dust that coats vehicles  in the space of a day's driving here." Bollocks! Yer still just a jumped up Poly!" ( Short for poly technical college I presume) Hopefully done by a student and not a U of G rival professor. I must admit it made me laugh.
They also used to call all the Strathclyde guys and gals "The techies" in dismissive fashion but now that there is a third city centre rival in the nearby Caledonian University that phrase is dying out.(Where are all these brainy people coming from, I cant keep up! What are they feeding them these days!)
At the top of the gardens a level path between 1960s buildings and various "Oh  my god what's that thing" sculptures takes you out near the top end of the high street.
I must admit, never having walked along here before, the little white  signs..." this way to campus village" conjured up images of  Scottish versions of Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley sitting beside rose covered terraces  happily chatting on the lawn about pop bands and fit teachers.
 It was a warm autumnal  day and  I'd recently watched the excellent and heart-breaking film that is .. Never let me go.
(a five hankie job ladies... even stone hearted me had to brush a bit of man grit from my eyes at the end )
Anyway.. warm sunshine... blue skies....rows of student live in apartments....not a soul around. Zilch. Not even a Carry oot Hooligan or Vera Swerveawayfromme anywhere in sight. As a guy with both eyes, a pulse and most of my own teeth I was really disappointed. Beastly bad luck once again!

This does however bring you out at another tourist honeypot. The triple whammy of Provand's Lordship(oldest house in Glasgow. 1470,s) ... the St Mungo Museum of Religion(far more interesting than it sounds as it includes examples of many faiths and religions from around the world)and Glasgow Cathedral. The Necropolis looms above. This is the ancient heart of Glasgow,where it all began over one thousand four hundred years ago. St Mungo (Kentigern was his birth name) founded a church here in the 6th century in a little meadow beside a stream. A dear green place The birth of the city.
Maybe that was why Glasgow Cathedral survived intact when so much else in Scotland was destroyed during the dark days of the reformation in the 1560,s when rampaging mobs were held at bay repeatedly by an armed ring of citizens intent on protecting it from harm. It's supposed to stand on the site of St Mungo's  original church.
The Museum is a reconstruction built in keeping with its surroundings. A Bishop's Palace or Castle used to stand  near here until the ruins were levelled to make way for the foundations of the Royal Infirmary, now looking itself like an ancient relic of the past but still serving the inhabitants of Glasgow's east end and northern Suburbs as a busy city hospital.
St Mungo's is a  modern phoenix  therefore, risen anew to take its place. All three are free entry, Glasgow having the donation,s box approach where before or after your visit ,if you wish ,you can place what you feel is appropriate for  upkeep and maintenance.(No silver buttons or washers please no matter how shiny they be.)
All three buildings are worth a visit then its time (in daylight only if you want to keep your hair and trousers) to walk up the hill to the Necropolis, The Oldest  burial Ground in the city and a shrine to the great, good, bad and famous figures of the past.
Not only is it a fascinating place and a green garden  of  many tall pillars, tombs and stone obelisks its also a great view point over the city.
Which brings us neatly to Glasgow Green, The cities oldest park from the 15thcentury onwards where generations dried their salmon and trout fishing nets on the grass, washed and bleached linen, grazed assorted  livestock and had happy family picnics watching the public hangings that used to take place. Sing while they swing was a popular event back then :).
The stone spire seen in the above photograph is Nelson's Monument standing in the heart of the park. 44 metres high it was the first in Britain to be built to mark Nelson's Victories. Work started around 1806-7 funded by public subscription from Glasgow's proud citizens. At that time the city could lay claim to a lot of firsts just like oil rich Dubai today has some of the biggest, boldest and tallest buildings in the world.
Thankfully  modern tastes are different and Glasgow Green still hangs on to its claim to have the world's largest terracotta (ceramic) fountain. "The Doulton" from the 1880,s when Glasgow was at its height. The People's Palace and glass Winter Gardens behind this building date from that time and are still a great asset to the city, providing displays of how the ordinary folk of Glasgow lived and worked during hard but also happy times and a nice place to relax and have a cup of tea and a  creamy scone admiring the palms, flowers and tropical ferns above and around you.
Sunny and warm even on the dullest day. You even have the backdrop of the former Templeton carpet factory looming over the park's eastern boundary inspired by the Doge's Palace in Venice, its colours and patterns an elegant advertisement for the quality wares produced within.
There's even a quiet stroll or cycle to be had along the banks of the nearby River Clyde, lush and green flowing through the park at this point and home to the Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club, still going strong after 150 years and running events and training circuits  throughout the year up and down the River right in the beating heart of the city
A dear green place? I think not. Cheap as chips and twice as tasty. Salt and vinegar on Glasgow if you please. Good enough to eat ...Why not try a helping if you are in the vicinity.
Extra  Addition. (While looking up a list of  links to a half remembered but excellent book of Nigel Tranter's on the birth and early life of  St Mungo I wandered onto this amazing site. The early history of Scotland starting from the first dark age inhabitants of Drumchapel. This is the real deal in information terms. What a joy to discover such a wonderful window into our dim and distant past. Stick your X factor and  plastic celebrities where the sun don't shine! A shark that swam in a sea where Glasgow now stands, its ribs uncovered and its story told in a suburban street in modern Bearsden. Now that,s worth a mouse click. The Idea that King Arthur may have come from The stronghold of Dumbarton Rock instead of Wales or England has been proposed several times. Scotland has more links to an Arthurian legend than anywhere else in the UK in terms of ancient place names alone. Camelon, (a round tower that stood near Falkirk) and Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Down countless centuries history has always  been changed and rewritten by the victorious nation or the side with the most influence that's altered then eroded  the past. Even 19th and 20th century descriptions of Polar exploration and new discovery show the record books are not always to be trusted. The person who did the deed or discovered it first is not always the one who gets remembered.

Time is the great magician of facts because everyone who was there to set the record straight eventually dies and the  real truth fades away with them then disappears altogether. Does it really matter? Well ...Hell Yes! Too right it does!