Sunday 26 May 2013

Glasgow Spring. The Parklands. Say it with Flowers.

Imagine for a moment that we lived in a perfect world. A 'dream team' scenario of exquisite elements combining to make a perfect place to live in. Then imagine we called that place Earth and it had seasons, each unique and different in turn.

Some of the people that live on Earth create grand houses and gardens while the majority have to make do with smaller squares of land to call their own.

 But that's ok because everyone has the right to share the seasons. Parks were built in every town and city to let the masses savour Nature's gift as well.

Would that not be Utopia?
A world of colour and beauty for all. Free to enjoy.
If the sun became unbearable you could always escape down shady paths filled with the scent of wild garlic.
 In this world even humble weeds had a pattern that mirrored the constellations above.
 It was an Eden then.                                                                                      
This world was filled with animals, birds, butterflies, fish, reptiles and insects. A few made their homes with us and became our friends. We ate them last.
'What happened Daddy?'
'We ran out of food Tabitha. I lost my own children as I didn't have enough money to feed them. Food was scare then. Even rats were in short supply. As you know you are genetically engineered from the house-hold cat. You don't need meals to survive.'
'Yes, but what happened before that?'
'We messed it up. It was only a perfect world for so long, then, gradually, we used up all the resources under the ground to build  things we thought we wanted. By the time everyone decided they could live without them it was too late. We had already created Pandora and she had the power to alter events everywhere in ways we didn't foresee and that we struggled to reverse. For every correction we made she changed a hundred more every day. Things started dying but we were too busy with Pandora and sleepwalked ourselves  into a slow decline.'
'Seduced by a machine of our own creation that could prolong life, predict previously unforeseen events and  hypnotise the masses we took our eye of the ball and consoled ourselves with the thought that we could recreate all that we'd lost.'

'Our only problem was we had no place left to put them so they stayed on ice.'
'By the time all the countries in the world agreed that the only sensible course of action was to limit population growth it was too late. Nature fundamentalists had created a stealth control pandemic which made ninety nine per cent of the population infertile. We found out later it was irreversible which is why I saved you child and gave you a few human characteristics from my first born. You were all I could have after it went off. Everyone old died, disease spread rapidly, but plants were re-fertilized and new lands colonised on the rotting corpses of the stricken. Very good for the ground when used as ash. This also solved the immediate problem of food as fresh 'Donations' could be stored for many decades. Burning flesh would have been a waste of precious coal and wood. Oil and tallow candles were obtained too for the fruitful among us to hoard.     'Bones will grow our future'    'Donations are a lasting legacy' became common sayings for my generation.'
'Now the world is fresh again and we have enough to eat once more. We will colonise the landscape again with cyber animals like you until the few real ones we managed to save can increase in numbers.'
' I have left the window open as this will be my last day of Spring. It is my turn to donate.
Shut it behind you when you leave. You will find others of your kind beyond the wall. All is good.'

Saturday 18 May 2013

Paisley. Past,present,future? The Paisley Witches.Renfrew.

This is a post about history, a lasting legacy, changing times, fortunes made and spent, and what we should keep, ignore or throw away in the future.
The wind vane above is a perfect example of that. It sits on top of Renfrew town hall, so high up that its finer details are practically invisible to nearly everyone passing by on the streets below yet someone has taken an obvious pride in its construction knowing its merits would remain largely unsung. The main centre of Renfrew, an ancient riverside royal burgh and barony on the wide banks of the River Clyde, has had a million pound makeover and transformation recently. It has a real life Baron. Guess who? Believe it or not Princes Charles is the current 'Baron of Renfrew' as it,s a hereditary royal title. You couldn't make it up. He's also the current Duke of Rothesay and  'Lord of the Isles' a title originally given to Somerled, who held sway over much of Western Scotland with his prodigious fleet of fast moving war galleys in the 12th century. He was defeated and killed between here and Paisley during the battle of Renfrew around 1164. Renfrew itself as an entity came into being when lands here were granted to Walter Fitz Allan for the purpose of defence against Viking raiders and the threat of attack from the land grabbing and much feared Somerled who dominated and held the entire west coast in his life time from the far flung Outer Hebrides as far down as Cumbria and the Isle of Man. In the present day, against all the odds, Renfrew has held onto its own independent local dairy, its local character, shops and the last remaining passenger ferry across the River Clyde. Which is why I was here. I needed the ferry as my short cut into history.
Renfrew town hall with its weather vane. With the changeable weather recently its been a pick and mix bag of rain, wind, snow, and sunshine most days. A couple of Saturdays ago it was raining all morning but then brightened up around 1:00 pm. Not wanting to waste the sunshine I decided to cycle along the canal then take the Renfrew ferry across to here with the intention of exploring Paisley by bike.

First stop after Renfrew was the cycle track up onto Saucel Hill near Paisley Canal railway station. This viewpoint has a great panorama over the whole town. For many generations Paisley was the largest town in Scotland, a title now fought over by new towns East Kilbride and Livingstone.
From the trig point its still obvious where the money and power in the town once came from. Two great mill buildings catch the eye. The photograph above is the Abbey mills business centre complex, formerly the Anchor mills. This is a side on view of one gable end.   Length wise it's  much more impressive.
Nearby stands the equally massive Coats thread factory. Clark and Coats are two family names at the heart of Paisleys growth and lasting legacy. When they became a partnership and joined forces it created the worlds largest thread factory that went on to dominate the British, American and overseas markets for decades, employing over 25,000 people at its height. Coats are still a major worldwide brand and actually employ over 35,000 people now but the work force in Scotland has shrunk dramatically as cheaper labour markets and business conditions in places like India make it far more economical to work from there.

Some of the main employers now in the town are connected to service industry providers like the University of the West of Scotland seen above which has a large scattered campus throughout the town and the Renfrewshire council buildings which are situated beside the historic abbey and scenic central plaza with its colourful flower beds which are always a delight in spring and summer.

Here we get to the crux of this post. Although some parts of Paisley are run down and dilapidated and money for any improvements is tight in the current financial climate I always think Paisley as a tourist attraction has so much untapped potential. Its high street has seen the usual hard times and closing shops, not helped by the massive Braehead  retail park sucking footfall away but it has a beautiful river flowing right through its centre and has some incredible historic buildings that are worth saving for future generations. The Abbey is a gem. Seat of the Royal Stewarts and resting place of Robert the Bruce's eldest daughter. This central open plaza around the Abbey is a fantastic peaceful feature with the White Cart Water snaking through its heart.

Looking in the opposite direction you see the much loved Hammils, the spot where the river tumbles over this volcanic sill beside the mill where in the early days of weaving two large waterwheels on both banks here once used to power the cottage industry set up beside them. From tiny acorns...

I always remember I was fascinated by this place and a trip here to the pictures to see Disney's 'Song of the South' or 'The Jungle Book' was a magical adventure. Popular Tourist towns like Annecy in France have capitalized on a similar, water rich central district, with less historic interest yet are rightly busy with visitors and holidaymakers.
It must be a lack of money, vision, market forces, our poor, unpredictable, weather and a despondent
general outlook to blame. There is so much to admire here yet on my cycle around I observed many once great buildings lying empty and abandoned to their fate that in more money rich areas ( like Edinburgh's Dean Village say) would be saved and converted into stylish riverside apartments. I know we cant save them all but it just seems so wrong to tear them down or, although listed, let them fall into decay. The photographs shown are the ones that have been saved or are safe at present but many more not shown here are in limbo, awaiting an uncertain future.
Which bring me to this. I only discovered this marvellous hidden treasure a couple of years ago on a previous cycle trip. The Coats Fountain which sits in the middle of Paisley's oldest park, The Fountain Gardens, near the Wee Barrel pub, donated to the people by Thomas Coats himself and now lying largely ignored but not forgotten in a down at heel suburb in one of the older parts of town. In its heyday with the jets working and the surrounding pool filled with foaming water this must have been something to see as no expense was spared in its construction. Walrus, sea lions, cherubs, aquatic plants and herons adorn its many levels as it sits here forlornly awaiting a time when it can be restored or relocated and then revealed in all its former splendour but for that to happen the surrounding district would need to be transformed and gentrified first or it would just be vandalized.

Incidentally, The American singer Prince is reputed to have named his hit single 'Paisley Park' and his own recording studios after the distinctive Paisley pattern motif which became very popular during the swinging psychedelic 1960's. Paisley in turn was inspired to create this iconic, twisted teardrop, design on shawls, table clothes, fabrics and wallpaper by studying Indian and Iranian craftwork of the period.

A detail of the ring of walrus heads. This is Paisley's answer to Glasgow's Doulton Fountain in Glasgow Green outside the Peoples Palace, a fountain which also lay dry, derelict and unused for many years but which is now restored.
The Coats Memorial Church. A gothic extravagance that can hold 1000 worshipers inside. Thankfully still in use today. This stands opposite the University.
Directly above it on a hog back hill is one of the oldest districts and its well worth a visit climbing up here for the views and the buildings. This is the view uphill towards Oakshaw Trinity Church which towers above its surroundings high above the more frequented Museum in the street below. Once you get up here you find a quiet flat street running along this summit with a variety of old buildings and houses either side.

Naturally the Coats Family are well represented up here too. The Observatory is still in action today with current weather reports being used by the media and a local night sky appreciation society. The Coats Family are also responsible for the masterpiece in stone that is Dunselma, their former sailing lodge that still overlooks Strone Point near Dunnon and looks like something out of a  gothic fairy-tale. Coats Land in Antarctica is also named after them as they sponsored a prominent expedition there. Clark and Coats were the Rockefeller,s and the Vanderbilt,s of Paisley.
A view of the flat street. I met a guy in a mobility scooter up here from Blackpool who was exploring the history of the area too which was intrepid stuff given that it,s still cobbled streets in many places.
Enthusiasm and a positive outlook will get you far in life and he had both.
At the other end of the street is a second notable domed building, The  John Neilston Institute, once a fee paying school now converted into upmarket prestigious apartments. On the left hand side of this is a steep cobbled lane leading down off the hill towards St Mirren football club's ground.
From up here you can also look west across the roof tops towards the Gleniffer Braes.

At the other end of the street you can look east back towards the abbey and the clustered spires of churches and town hall tower. The 4:15 pm clock is the right time by the way. The other is not.
Paisley is a fascinating town with a long history. I used to know it fairly well as I grew up a short bus ride away and was taken on mid week and Saturday shopping expeditions here by my mum in the days before large supermarkets and family cars when it could often take half a day just to obtain half a weeks messages by the time you'd worked your way round all the shops. From what I remember, going back 50 years to my childhood, mostly it was the men of the household that worked full time then as the married women with kids needed more time just to obtain groceries in a thriving busy high street. After standing in queues to be served in butchers, bakers and candlestick makers  they then had to rush home to cook the ingredients and provide a meal for the hungry workers and children coming in at night from school and factory. I was drafted in aged five to twelve as a welcome extra bag carrier around the shops and on the bus during school holidays and weekends. When ordinary folk started getting cars and out of town supermarkets grew up, the same weeks shopping could be done in under an hour. All under one roof.
The reason I bring this up is I've been watching Mary Portas with interest and her attempts to save the nations High Streets recently. So far she has offered some good innovative ideas but its going to be a tough struggle to reverse the decline, as she admits herself, because few individuals have the time, patience or inclination to go round separate shops in a high street setting nowadays. Especially with city centre parking restrictions compared to the relative ease that out of town shopping  facilities offer. Paisley was also the original home of a childhood favourite of mine. As a young child I had a treasured collection that is now considered out of favour. Don't remember where they actually disappeared to but being innocent of any underlying issues involved  I loved them deeply and just though of them as wonderful works of art. Probably nicked by my youthful mates as we all collected them avidly back then along with football cards and bird's eggs.
Its a shame the high streets are fading because it does rip the heart out of any town or city centre if all you see are boarded up shop fronts. Paisley has been hit like a lot of similar sized  towns, especially as it is so close to neighbouring Glasgow and  Braehead. Even Glasgow's famous Style Mile is not immune to the relentless bulldozer advance of the mega store.

 Another iconic building near Saucel hill and Paisley Canal Rail Station.  Russell Institute. Ground breaking architecture at the time and still a magnificent building decorated with numerous sculptures like this one here with an angel holding two infants. A Deo Salus translates as 'Health comes from God' as its original purpose was as a clinic for children and its still used for health care to this day.
Rediscovered Paisley? You betcha!   Discovering the history and odd corners of towns and cities is as much fun for me nowadays as discovering new mountains.

Below is one of the strangest and most infamous periods in Paisley's long history. I read a local book on this many years ago. Isabel Adam's excellent book 'Witch hunt.' The last collective burning of witches in Western Europe. Were they guilty? You decide. Worth a read for its grim depiction of human nature and mutual class distrust as its worst in a climate and era of superstition so alien to us now in these enlightened times.
Or are we?
 Even today if you're rich, famous or powerful your word seems far more likely to be believed by the courts than the poor in society. A horse shoe still seems to hold power as even in recent times it was replaced, just in case, to keep their malice at bay. But whose malice? Or did the real culprit live on to become an upright citizen and creative designer in the town. A cautionary tale of burnings, spite and ignorance.
Enjoy... and be really grateful you did not live or die then. Or steal a drink of milk from a rich family.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Tinto. Dawyck Botanic Gardens.

A spur of the moment, last minute decision, on Friday Night saw me heading over to Ron's Saturday morning as a good  forecast was predicted for sun in selected parts of The Borders but cloudy with rain elsewhere. Alex was off Corbett bagging near Bridge of Orchy but he had a sunny day too.
We headed for Tinto and a very early start to beat the crowds as this is a popular hill at weekends. Nice to see some lambs at last.
I did this hill from Wiston to the south the last time a couple of years ago with Alex  and never met a soul on the ascent, climbing steeply up to the Pap Craig on a very faint path. Part of the reason for this is the lack of parking spaces on this southern side and we ended up stopping outside a YMCA type building with a huge wooden climbing frame which did seem as if it was meant for private parking but luckily it was deserted and all we could find.
This time we parked at the large purpose built car park at Fallburn near Thankerton but, although early to arrive, it was amazing how quickly it filled up with walkers. Jam packed an hour later. As Tinto is the highest hill in Central Scotland at 707metres or 2320 feet its a popular choice for a sunny day out at weekends. Much quieter mid week.
From this side its safe to say its not a faint path. Never been up this way before. Only the third ascent of this fine hill in 40 years, each time by a different route.
Its an easy and pleasant way up though and we met  loads of other walkers heading in the same direction. There had been a heavy and prolonged over night hailstone storm with a white blanket a couple of inches thick around the summit.

With a strong overhead sun throughout the day though this soon melted. The top photo with the lambs was taken on the way back and the hail had disappeared by that time.

As its an isolated summit on the southern edge of the central belt Tinto has great panoramas on a good day. Massive skies above that seem to stretch on forever.
Spotted this colourful Male Wheatear on the way down. A  much loved summer visitor that breeds here on the upland slopes but winters in Africa. Newly arrived in Scotland from its long annual journey where it hunts for insects, surrounded by the feet of elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and wildebeest. That's back in Africa by the way, not up Tinto.
After the hill we headed for the nearby Dawyck Botanic Gardens which lies in an upland bend of the River Tweed near Drumlzier. I actually thought we would be too late for the Spring display of flowers here in this wonderful sprawling garden but due to the unseasonal arctic temperatures and lingering snow on the mountains all around, Spring hadn't really sprung yet and not many daffodils and other early flowering plants were out. Very disappointing as it was £5.50 to get in. Gutted. Wah!!!!!
One of the few decent splashes of colour were these... Lords and Ladies. Slightly sinister plants that resemble  miniature triffids in some ways. Some parts of these are highly poisonous and attract flies and other insects to pollinate them. They have a host of peculiar names and have been responsible for the accidental poisoning of curious children for centuries. They have berries that look like beautiful luscious sweets straight  from Willie Wonka land but if you happen to swallow any of these berries children you will not be happy bunnies.

The old rustic chapel high on the hillside at Dawyck.
A microlite pilot. Anytime I see one of these I always think of the film and bouncy song 'Those magnificent men in their flying machines...they go up up up then they come down, down,  down....' And also the mysterious professor that lived in a high tower in Rubert the Bear stories who was always flying off over the woods and villages in a tiny plane. Great fun if the engine doesn't cut out :)
One of Boclair House in Bearsden on the way back. No real Spring happened but Summer is here at last. Seen the first house martins, butterflies and swallows flying around.

Video this week is a cracker that everyone should like. 'Hebrides. Islands on the edge' has been getting heavily plugged on the BBC recently. What stunned me most though was the brilliantly evocative song they used to promote the trailer. I just had to look it up.
Its Finlay Quaye, Beth Orton and William Orbit combining to create a slice of pure heaven on earth.. This short video for his classic song is as good as the hour long Hebrides first episode itself.
 Well worth a look in glorious full screen  HD. Enjoy.