Saturday, 27 July 2013

Pollok.Priesthill. Nitshill.South Nitshill.Darnley.Then and Now.

Let me say at the outset this post is a labour of love. I grew up in the Nitshill area of Glasgow and had an adventurous and happy childhood and young adulthood there during the early days of the great estate known as Pollok. Recently I went a cycle ride through the area and couldn't believe the changes in the various districts from what I remember them looking like last. It was a completely different world to the one I had left behind over 20 years ago.
Intrigued I had a roam around the internet to see what I could find history wise about the Pollok area, Nitshill pre 1950's, and the various housing estates mentioned in the title. There are some fine gems of information scattered around which got the memory juices flowing so I thought I would do this post primarily as a record of what I can recall personally before it fades away from me or I kick the bucket. You might disagree or it might be familiar to you but here goes.
To paraphrase a famous recent film.
 'Much has been lost or forgotten because no-one is left now who remembers it.'
I am sure there are many still around who remember these days as I'm under 60 myself but I'll stick down my impressions of the area anyway as it struck me that children growing up today in this area might want to know what it was like when they grow up themselves. All the photographs in this post are mine. I lived in the area then worked in it for many years. There is hardly a close in the district I haven't been in, during the day and often at night with just a work torch and an optimistic attitude for company and support.
Some of these areas could be intimidating to say the least as close lighting was not always an option due to gang activity and many resembled caves inside with various individuals and assorted cave bears lurking within. More appropriate graffiti might read 'Here be Dragons' above each close yet young local paper boys and girls used to deliver here as well back in the day.

Early years.
This is South Nitshill taken between1960 to 1964 showing Woodfoot Road. We came into the world together, this scheme and I around the year of our lord 1957. Both fresh out the shell and still soft to the touch. Bricks and skin new-born, fresh and innocent. This small estate built on a hill (a 134 foot drumlin) with fantastic panoramas over the city was one of the last housing schemes to be built as part of the massive Greater Pollok district. Pollok is the oldest and most diverse of the four big housing schemes to be built on the outskirts of Glasgow in preparation for the recommended slum clearances of the crumbling and overcrowded inner districts. There would eventually be one at each corner of Glasgow on former farm lands. The others being Drumchapel, Castlemilk, and Easterhouse , huge dormitory new towns in their own right, composed of mainly three and four story tenement clusters split into districts by natural features like woods, streams, swamps or low hills where a break in the closely packed lines of tenements had to occur. Unforeseen by the city fathers who envisaged a clean and healthy utopia rising from the countryside each separate area soon developed its own unique gang with it's own rules and ambitions.
Thank God for those natural features otherwise it might have been a sea of identical tenements without any spaces to play in. This is the green hillside separating high South Nitshill from the lower area known as 'the valley'  St Bernard's Catholic Church was built in 1963 to serve the scheme and stands open for residents to this day as does the Sky Dragon Takeaway beside it. This takeaway used to be a doctors surgery in the early days of the scheme. Both are well known local landmarks that have survived much upheaval and demolition around them. This is a recent photo July 2013. As you can see South Nitshill is and was a green and leafy place, full of trees and beautiful surrounding countryside. The Barrhead Braes just visible in the distance here.
I remember it being a great area to grow up in for me personally but after ten to fifteen years, when I was a teenager myself it turned rougher and had increasing problems with vandalism and gangs. In this Pollok mirrored the other giant estates built around that time. Few jobs or firms hiring people locally were created, once dominant heavy industry was shirking Scotland wide, very few facilities at the start, fewer shops and a real lack of a community central hub and meeting place that an actual town with history and tradition would grow up with and take for granted all played a part. In the 1970's and 80's unemployment was high and gang culture took over. Many of the houses also suffered from dampness, severe condensation and even flooding near the brock burn.

This is the same block of houses seen on the extreme left of the third photograph. Spray paint cans were the new novelty toy in those days. Many a rattle and hiss was heard in all the schemes. Very popular and desirable accessories despite only a handful of people actually owning a car.
The rear of the same houses taken at the same time. This is next to the Sky Dragon takeaway for anyone who knows the area where the small wood separates Whitacres Road from the Valley.
How it looks today. This used to be the main road where the buses came up to the shops and roundabout. Now a dead end cul de sac separating the newly built bought houses from the original lower scheme of the valley. This estate still stands and has been renovated as it was mainly low rise two story tenements and cottage flats. Still Game Episode one series one (Jack's old house) was filmed here at the last house in the scheme and around the area.
Where Woodfoot Quadrant used to stand a new street of fairly posh houses has risen from the ashes of the old scheme. Children growing up here today will have no clue as to what it used to look like.
This is the same area around 2001 just before it was pulled down.
Woodfoot Road near the shops. The middle of the scheme where the roundabout and buses were.

Same thing had happened earlier in neighbouring Priesthill. This district of flat roofed tenements built in the early 1950's is reputed to have received its name after an unlucky priest was hanged here during the reformation. By the 1970's and 80's it was classified as the worst scheme in Western Europe... for unemployment, crime, poverty, deprivation and general bad behaviour. This is one of the better streets. It was a scary place at night yet I had some of my best times here. Wouldn't have missed it for the world. Pollok then held a kind of romantic decadence for me, decent citizens, monsters and angels living side by side with all kinds of vices, virtues and sins going on. It was certainly never dull. Children today cant buy that kind of adventure.  A farm and green fields had originally stood on this spot before Pollok grew up on lands formally owned by the Maxwell family and the Breton Knights since the 1100's. The name Pollok predates  that as the knights took it as their title when they settled here. The name was ancient even then.
2013. The same area. Close to Shilton Drive in Priesthill. Now an open landscaped meadow devoid of tenements which have been cleared. The rest of Priesthill has been given a makeover with nice new semi detached houses similar to the new builds in South Nitshill. The iconic square water tower has been pulled down as well leaving a parkland setting of walking and bike trails. The Victoria coal mine, once the deepest pit in Scotland, used to stand not far from here.
 Inside this great link  it gives you information on Nitshill as a small coal mining village in the 1800's, details of the infamous disaster underground, life in Pollok and many other fascinating accounts of times past. Well worth a look for anyone remotely interested in how we used to live. Fascinating stuff. Once inside see 'Local history' and 'Gallery'.

Anyway, in between these often wild estates Pollok is leafy and rural and always has been. A forest within a city as this photo shows.
 A view over central Pollok which is mainly trees. The wild urban forest. This is looking towards Crookston wood and Castle from Priesthill where Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley viewed the fields and lands of Pollok during their time here. If they were around today they would still find familiar landmarks everywhere.
Holding between 25 to 40 thousand citizen's each, every one of these vast schemes can feel intimidating and claustrophobic places for the outsider to find themselves in. They cover large chunks of the landscape but Castlemilk and Pollok benefitted the most I would say having more open and exciting features around them. Castlemilk is built on a rising slope with woods and gentle ridges separating the various districts. It feels fairly leafy as does Drumchapel to a lesser extent also built on a hillside. Easterhouse probably fares the worst for views being completely flat though it does have green fields, lochs and open grasslands all around it.
A recent view facing the other way taken across the moss roof of 'The Wedge.' Modern Priesthill is the cycle track on the left leading up to the now demolished concrete watertower. South Nitshill is the new build housing development on the ridge behind. Fifteen years ago three and four story tenements would have dominated this view, including this one below.
South Nitshill before the end. The back of Woodfoot Quadrant.
Corkerhill, one of the last districts in Pollok to lose its flat roofed tenements. The other being Craigbank next to if not within Nitshill.( I always thought of it as being a part of Nitshill but it was also a separate estate in its own right. Gowanbank primary school which I attended is in this area and is being demolished as I type in July 2013.
This area remained fairly decent and pleasant for a long time but eventually it too succumbed like a cancer spreading through each of the branches of the tree.
 One by one they fell under the bulldozer and the wreaking ball. Pollok being the oldest was the first but the same thing has taken place in all the main tenement council housing estates in Glasgow.
This post could also be called 'The Disappearing city' as huge areas of Glasgow lie empty now either awaiting redevelopment or landscaping.
This is Craigbank today. Only the lampposts give a clue where Newfield Square, Drumbeg Drive, Prestwick Street and Glenlora tenements once stood. Pollok is gradually returning to the open meadows of old and Nitshill is slowly reclaiming it's village status. In each of the big four estates mentioned the population has roughly halved in size. Around the late 1800's to the 1930's Glasgow was the 4th largest city in Europe after London, Paris and Berlin. Over one million residents attracted to the shipyards, the engineering works and the manufacturing industries. Now it's population stands at under 600,000 within the city boundary.
Ironically, over a million people now inhabit the surrounding region of the Greater Glasgow Conurbation. This is Southpark near Darnley, a new estate of bought houses eating into former green belt protected margins beside the Dams to Darnley Country Park. On the other side of these trees Newton Mearns grows ever larger, expanding to gobble up more green fields and land.
Few it seems want to live in houses built on brownfield sites, i.e. reclaimed land like those shown above but less and less pristine wilderness remains.
In the photograph above this is the start of Renfrewshire. An area of woods, farms, rugged drumlins, reservoirs, lochs and meadows that is totally unique in character. Pollok  and Nitshill used to look like this before 40,000 people moved in. They too were once scenic jewels in rural Renfrewshire before they became part of Glasgow's ever expanding outskirts. There is nothing else like this landscape anywhere in Scotland and if we cover it in houses it should be a monument to our everlasting shame. Some National Parks I've been in have far less interesting characteristics than this area. It should be an informal nature reserve. Protected from development forever. The whole lot from here to Stewarton and from Malletsheugh to Johnstone. Explore it at its best while you can.
Although I grew up in this environment I always escaped into the surrounding countryside at every opportunity and I was lucky in having a truly amazing landscape on my doorstep. Not Peter Pan, not Winnie the Pooh, not Famous Five, not Swallows and Amazons, not Oor Willie, not Rupert the Bear. I enjoyed those stories as a young child but I envied none of them as I had all that they had and more. Far more.
Beyond this long high wall, a modern equivalent of the one to keep out King Kong; beyond this last row of tenements on Parkhouse Road, South Nitshill  below stood a great frontier. Even when I couldn't see it, obscured by buildings, litter and graffiti I knew it was there. Always waiting, 200 paces away from my doorstep.
A golden realm.... and it was all mine for the taking. Each and every weekend and school holidays.
Fate had placed me down here on this spot and I would not have wished to be anywhere else in the world growing up. It was perfect for me and my kind.
In part two I'll show you why :0)

Update. Thank you to everyone who commented on South Nitshill and Pollok. This post has proved to be one of the most popular in eight years of writing the blog so I really appreciate the interest. Over 35,000 visits! For the last two years I've been writing a book which is part autobiography, part novel, part travel guide, and part unusual love story. As I obviously grew up here it starts in South Nitshill then switches to Arrochar, Loch Lomond, Glencoe, and many other scenic parts of Scotland. It is written as a tongue in cheek comedy about a Glasgow hillwalking club, their relationships, love affairs, falling outs, and adventures on weekends away. Think Oor Wullie, The Broons, Para Handy, meets a youthful Still Game then imagine they all take up rock climbing, kayaking, island hopping, and caving which is what I did in reality. It's on e book kindle and the first few chapters are free to read on your computer. If you like what you see it's only 0:98pence to buy the whole thing, 500 plus pages - Cheaper than a scratch card but more chance of a laugh, though hopefully it wont get tossed in the bin afterwards if it's not to your taste. I've tried to make it as funny and entertaining as possible throughout and it's an adventurous romp across the wildest parts of Scotland and Europe on budget trips and holidays over three decades. Every chapter is illustrated by photographs like the one above (56 in total) to give readers an idea of the landscapes and situations I'm describing. If nothing else clicking on this link gives you a free extra chapter on Nitshill and Pollok. Cheers everyone.

Update no 2. I have just completed my new guide book which is A Walking and Cycling Guide to the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde and describes over 80 routes in Lanark, Glasgow, Paisley, Inverclyde, Dunbartonshire, the holiday islands of Bute, Arran and Great Cumbrae and travels down as far as Girvan and the Ailsa Craig. It is fully illustrated with 146 colour photographs which should entertain armchair readers who may have lived in Glasgow or along the Clyde at some point or walking and cycling beginners through to experienced veterans. I have deliberately picked a wide range of lesser known routes to suit all tastes from a few hours flat walking in semi urban but green places to day long adventures in remote  areas.
At £1:99 to download from Amazon's kindle bookstore it may be a good Christmas present for someone who wants to explore the area or who just likes a photographic over view of the length of the River Clyde from its source in the Lowther Hills to the expansive waters of the Firth, which is the largest enclosed estuary in the British Isles.
Link here to preview what's inside.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Millport. Walks on Great Cumbrae.

Great Cumbrae is a small fertile island in the Firth of Clyde near Largs. It's about an hour's car or bus ride from Glasgow. With prolonged heat wave conditions, no breeze inland and the mercury nudging 30c degrees a trip to the coast was always on the cards for the next outing.
I've always been of the opinion that Scotland and the UK as a whole has a near perfect climate.
We get properly defined seasons; we get very few droughts or wildfires, infrequent heat waves that  occasionally last weeks not months, abundant rain to keep things green and glorious year round and fairly mild winters which are just cold enough at present to kill off any of the really nasty bugs.
Our insects and animals may bite and scratch but apart from sheep ticks carrying a potentially fatal disease we have no natural born people killers in the great outdoors. Even adders, are seldom seen by the public and will only bite if threatened. The venom of the UK's only poisonous snake is mild compared to other toxic snakes in other parts of the world and is only dangerous to the very young or elderly.
So what have we really got to complain about when it comes down to it? We don't get swallowed whole if we swim in the sea ,get chewed pulpy by big predators if we travel away from urban areas and we don't normally find our loved ones halfway down a monster reptile when we return from the shops. No bugs here start eating us from the inside out as we are having breakfast by a tropical lagoon. Maybe we just like a good moan but a spell of unaccustomed heat here can help to put things like that into perspective. Would you really like it hotter than this, or for several weeks longer every year while at work? We would need air conditioning just to survive the summer.
Ron and I decided to get the ferry across from Largs to Great Cumbrae in the hope of  some sea breezes. It was too hot to rush up mountains so a sedate stroll round this beautiful and lush island
was our goal. Alex was asked if he wanted to come... 'no Corbetts on Great Cumbrae'... blah, blah, blah. So he stayed in his dark box in the toy cupboard sheltering from the heat. Bad teddy! It's more fun with three.

Once on the island we let the bus full of day-trippers heading for Millport depart then set off on foot from the pier, following signposted tracks over Horse Hill to reach Ballochmartin farm and then The Glaid Stone, reached via the yellow minor road. An alternative easier route is to stay on the main coastal road then head up the obvious minor roads to reach the same place. Honeysuckle and elderberry flowers adorned the hedgerows all the way up this scenic strip of tarmac. At any time of year its one of the prettiest surfaced roads anywhere. This leads up to the highpoint of the island at 127 metres with a trig point and observation viewfinder in the form of a circular disc. And what a view. We were glad we had thought of having an early start as it had not turned 11:00 am yet. Sea breezes arrived just when we needed them and the walking across the island was excellent. The neighbouring island of Arran was buried in sea mist when we arrived  but a few hours later it had burned off to leave just a few weird doughnut shaped clouds draped over the sharp peaks of its mountainous interior.

The meandering walk down into Millport itself, the island's only town and tourist resort is always a delight.

  We visited The Cathedral of the Isles first, the UK's smallest cathedral at 100 seats, though it always looks impressive enough inside, then descended further into the town itself. There was a sign up on the door of this building.   'Please close door behind you, swallows will come into the cathedral and may injure themselves if you don't.'  The peaceful vibe of island life.  We could hear their soft twittering voices on the power lines above us so different from the bold piercing scream of the swift. The skies above Great Cumbrae had both birds in abundance.
This is the view looking towards the much smaller, harder to access, island of Little Cumbrae. Great Cumbrae itself is only six kilometres long by three wide but it packs a lot into that area. A beautiful rural gem. Surprisingly, even in heat wave conditions on a Sunday, during a school holiday period, with only a £5:40p outlay required on the ferry to get here and back it was not that busy.
I've mentioned before on this blog about certain fashionable, so called 'remote areas' being really  crowded at peak times compared to how I remember them but Bute and  Great Cumbrae never fail me. Only two folk met walking across the hills, a young couple, and an older couple with a car at the trig point who were having a week long holiday here. That was it.
More folk were scattered around the beaches of the town with youngsters and families enjoying the great weather. Some youngsters, as you can see from this picture if you click on it full screen, had kayaks out in the bay, others had hired bikes to cycle round the safe, almost traffic free roads on the island, others just sat on the beach. There was even a big family group enjoying fish suppers for lunch on the sands.
Although there were plenty of folk on the island it was nothing like the numbers I expected  given the weather conditions and the atmosphere was sedate, special and peaceful with none of the oppressive feeling too many tourists in one place can bring. Yet as you can see from these photos both Millport and Rothesay ( Main town on neighbouring Bute) have so much to offer families for a day trip or even a few days. For entertainment and for easy scenic walks. The bouncy castle was in action, as was the crazy golf and small fairground and all were doing some trade but it certainly wasn't hectic. Maybe it's the short ferry trip and additional family fares or it's just not in peoples minds anymore as a  holiday destination but it's perfect for young children. Safe and friendly.
What a stunning backdrop for a walk along the boulders. You can keep Benidorm and beach resorts abroad  A fiver gets you this. Heaven for me at any time of year. Instant regression to my own childhood store of happy memories I've had here. It's an island built for families to enjoy.
Simple pleasures are sometimes the best. The Indian Face Rock. A good friend of the Lion Rock and the Crocodile, also seen as you walk or bike round the island. We reached this by going up past the Caravan park on another minor road out of Milllport which leads to a signposted right of way across cattle dotted fields to Fintray Bay where there is a sandy beach and cafe. Here we discovered a few mixed groups of Italian teenage tourists who were cycling round the island on bikes and really enjoying themselves. Boys and girls that age always do though. Haven't a clue why so many Italian youngsters were here but they seemed to think it was fashionable enough for a trip.
We must have passed about 40 all speaking Italian along with two Spanish couples, a young polish family and, I think, Belgian? Anyway, maybe it's just we Scots who seem to have forgotten how nice, quirky and unique this small island still is?
Love the fact they cant get the E in here :) A well known front door in the centre of Millport. The sunken Garden in Millport was also looking resplendent in the heat. Tropical looking with its flowering palm trees and quaint circular ponds. Old fashioned is what Millport does best and it should never change that too much as that's a big part of its charm.
Back at the ferry terminal we congratulated ourselves for having the bright idea of coming here. Sunny with just enough breeze to make walking round the island a real pleasure.
Spotted this thrush digging up worms as we sat on the grass waiting for our return back to the mainland. It obviously had hungry chicks nearby.
View of the mainland hills above Largs.
Twin Kayak takes on the ferry to see who is top dog of the bounding millpond. Ferry wins.
Unusual doughnut shaped wave caused by a jet skier as we approached Largs. Unlike Millport, Largs did have the heaving holiday crowds, the noisy music shows and the flashing light arcades. Don't get me wrong, I really like Largs at any other time but on a hot crowded day like this one you cant beat an island retreat. A fantastic day out. Great for a sunny day at any time of year. It's in the title.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Damsel Days. Away With The Fairies.Damselflies and other insects.

One night during the recent heat wave when sleep didn't happen I opened my bedroom window and sat looking up at the moon. No wind alas. A tiny moth smaller than my pinkie nail fluttered into my view then came and sat quietly on my knee. Once I'd squashed it flat ( they eat clothes you know) this got me thinking of other things. Would it be that easy to find and squash fairies? What do we actually know about fairies? Do they actually exist or are they just a myth? How do we find them? I decided to find out. I would use strict logic in my quest.
Looking through the internet for clues on how to find fairies I discovered that there are many different types. Fairies change their appearance depending on where you are in the world. In the Northern Celtic Nations however of which the UK is a part they are usually drawn as small winged
humans, usually young and female.
Does any creature living now or back then in the days when people still believed in fairies resemble this profile? Maybe they were the inspiration for fairies perhaps?
Let's examine the evidence. I typed in 'Fairy' into the internet then picked 'view images'. My goodness readers, there certainly are a lot of strange and unusual sites out there!
The images I wanted however showed fairies playing, always in the same settings. Woods, orchards,  meadows, grasslands, usually near ponds, waterfalls or pools of still, clear water.
Their wings might give us a clue. Nearly all had the same stylized pattern. They were not usually depicted with butterfly wings I noticed.

Like this Green Veined white butterfly seen here. I observed them mating, sticking my nose into their affairs. When they mated there was nothing extraordinary or 'Fairylike' about them. You could not confuse them with small flying humans.
When they had sex it was usually facing away from each other. Not very magical or profound.

I ruled butterflies out of the equation... like this Ringlet Butterfly above.
Fairies were nearly always depicted with transparent wings. Maybe this hoverfly was the inspiration?

On closer examination I ruled this out too. After careful dissection I could discover no sign of  hidden arms or legs. They did not cry out with human words when pressed with a finger.
Some books suggested Crane flies might be responsible but examining this specimen close up it looked too plain and angular to have inspired anything as beautiful as fairies were reputed to be.
They were said to be gorgeous, enchanting little creatures, the colours or the rainbow, with wings you could see right through, always laced with delicate patterns like a spiders web effect. All the books and paintings described this fact.
Bewildered I sat down in a sheltered hollow beside a small waterfall.. and then they found me.
 How do you find Fairies? Easy. In high summer, especially during heat wave conditions, which they love, you will find them near water and streams. In places of genuine beauty just like all the books describe. It's no use chasing after them as they are shy creatures and just dart away but if  you sit down quietly, in a spot they like, and introduce yourself to them in a soft calm voice they will come to you and will slowly learn to trust you, revealing details of their private life.
Once you have their confidence they will happily eat beside you. They might offer you some but all the books warn of the dangers of eating fairy food. It is bewitched. So just say no to bugs and aphids then. Politely decline.
More will gather round you of different types and sex. This is a blue tailed variety.
Gradually long forgotten secrets unfold. This is a pair getting to know each other. First the male holds the female in position. If she likes him she will reciprocate in kind by bonding to create a circle.
Sometimes ,when the male hangs from a flower or a branch, this creates a perfect heart shape.
This would have been a common sight to folk in medieval times working all day in the meadows and fields. The origin and inspiration for the human heart motif perhaps? See what you think? I'm convinced. We have forgotten so much information about fairies as we lead such busy hurried lives these days. We no longer sit down and talk to them anymore. They existed long before humans. They might survive after us if we don't forget them. The beautiful demoiselles.
The old French word for a pure young girl incidentally was damoisle, which mutated into its English form as 'Damsel' A word not much used today.
Put the two together and you have Damsel flies = Fairies. Puzzle solved?
With the word out that I was now a friend more and more little flying creatures settled round me in a ring. A Fairy Ring. The old books were true.
A larger green species whose wings sparkled like fluid glass in flight. Emeralds in fact. If you were a medieval peasant lying in a field after a couple of jugs of mead you might well see little flying females hovering around you and start talking to them. Away with the Fairies.
Too far fetched?
Dozens more arrived including some who were not so welcome.
Clegs had found me down in my hollow. When I arrived back in my house I found I was indeed 'transformed' as my arms and legs were covered in bumpy bites. That was also true. Converse with fairies and there's always a price to pay. Everything in 'Fairy Tales' was coming true for me.
Just when I thought I had discovered all the secrets and solved the mystery the damsels took me by the hand to where the real fairies lived.
 They hide in flowers, have perfect camouflage, and are extremely shy of humans.
When it rains they hide in foxgloves and are wary of bees. There are many different kinds. If you click on this you can see them along with the marks left by the scratchy feet of bees.
When one dies however all other wildlife attends the funeral to mourn although some misbehave.
I'll always remember the long magical day I was 'Away with the Fairies.'