Sunday, 30 November 2014

Firth of Clyde Estuary. Pillar Bank. Of Ships, Mermaids and Madmen.

I've not quite given up the idea of writing books just yet and have started my third one so this is both an account of an unusual walk across the floor of the Clyde Estuary at Dumbarton and also a plug for my new photo littered guidebook A Guide to Walking and Cycling around the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde. The sunken Sugar Boat from Roseneath Point. I have left out the usual small maps common in most guidebooks and just used inspiring photos and detailed descriptions of routes instead as the maps require a lot of effort and space when you should always have the relevant OS Map with you anyway. In this case it is Sheet 63 Firth of Clyde. Due to this omission I have over 80 routes described instead of the usual 20 to 30. Therefore, it is probably the most comprehensive guide to walks and cycle rides around the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde as I threw the kitchen sink at it in terms of number of enjoyable walks and easy bike runs.
It is hard with so many guidebooks and free online routes out there already to come up with something different or new but fortunately I have been different my entire life so it shouldn't be a problem for me :o) I have included the Pillar Bank walk in the book but it is always a fine line between revealing new, lesser known walks or cycles and the very real possibility of them gaining popularity to such an extent that they ruin the very thing that made them special in the first place. The only photos I could find on the internet of anyone ever being out onto Pillar Bank were my own so I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. Obviously, local folk must have ventured out here for generations and just haven't talked about it online before but I've still got some reservations as the few times I've been out here there hasn't been a single soul in sight on the sands and part of me would like to keep it that way for my own personal pilgrimage to these areas. I was so disappointed with Knoydart the last time I was there as it was heaving with people and seemed to have lost its "Last Great Wilderness" tag a long time ago. So different from my first visit there and the original guide book writers description of the place. Any social media site these days is a double edged sword as it gives you a voice but you have to give a piece of yourself away every time to make any impact and I don't really like doing that. I have deliberately left a few short but treasured places out the book as they are far too valuable to me or are sensitive to more visitors impacting on them and would get ruined easily as anything that gets posted online now becomes common knowledge and is liable to get replicated elsewhere. There should still be some secret places left in the world.
Maybe the surface covering of thick mud near the shoreline puts most people off trying to walk over it, something similar to the "Flat Earth" view held in earlier centuries until someone actually sailed over the edge of the known world and proved it wasn't an edge after all... just more sea.
When you walk over this landscape at first your initial impulse is that you are just going to sink up to your waist in mud but apart from a few deep pockets it is perfectly safe as firm sand lies under a thin surface coating of sticky mud. Boots are required. I have only found evidence of quicksand in a few places around the mouth of the River Leven but these are obvious danger areas anyway to any seasoned mud skipper and the rest of it seems perfectly safe.
                                                                          Happy Face
I set off on my own from Dumbarton as I was researching this walk for the guidebook and had never been over the track inland from Dalmoak to Cardross which looked as if it might have good views.

The beautiful ornamental gardens at Levengrove Park, Dumbarton and the start of the walk.
A tractor climbing a steep hill in the fields near Cardross.
I bet farmers love the company of gulls as these ones were making a constant jarring racket around his cab when they should have been looking for grubs and worms, like the crows.
After a jaunt up and over the hill to Cardross with good views over the River Clyde Estuary I found I had timed it to perfection as the tide was receding to its lowest limit leaving the huge immensity of mud and sand that makes up Pillar bank, dry, safe and exposed. The first time I came out here was a couple of winters ago after I had been knocked down by a van at Christmas and I could only do flat walks at a limping crawl. The pain was so bad then some days on the return journey if I attempted too much, even with full strength painkillers, that I briefly entertained the notion of just waiting out here until the tide came in and covered me up. At some point in everyone's life they wish that the sea or land would just swallow them up as fertilizer.
 No doubt the roaming mermaids, as sweet daughters of Phorcys, would find me half buried in the sand and suck out then swallow down my eyes as they are a delicacy in these parts much savoured by sea creatures. Similar to dying or dead sheep's eyes are for hooded crows on land and packed with vitamin C. I don't know about you but I've always fancied being inside a mermaid.... one way or another. Think of the secrets you could find with them as a guide under the waves. I already knew the area could be walked on as I came out here on the mud with a companion, briefly, 30 years ago so it's strange, to my mind at least, that it's still so empty of people. I hope I haven't let the cat out the bag for the bird life on the estuary but as I say, to get noticed you have to swing on a wrecking ball at some point.
creating a Mud trail on a bike.
To save time on the jump over from Dalmoak to Cardross I'd taken my bike for the farm tracks but it didn't prove so helpful out on the mud flats and time in the saddle was limited. It felt good though racing across the flats and jumping pools on the edge of the ocean a full mile out from the land on a bike.( smooth tyres on a hybrid as mountain bike chunky tyres would not work here) Anyone who knows me well has always maintained I,m slightly mad at the best of times and they are probably correct. Even I think I'm mad at times but you should see my world from the inside looking out. That's really scary.
Greenock with what looks like a cruise ship and a container ship at the docks.
The container ship Jana leaving Greenock and the free French memorial on Lyle Hill. Cross of Lorraine. Most of the goods arriving come by container ship these days so this is the real Santa delivering Christmas and not a reindeer in sight. I'd hitched a lift on a mermaid's back for these two taken near Kilcreggan on a previous visit. You can also walk at low tide well out into the sands from Dumbarton to Helensburgh via Pillar Bank which is another walk in the book as is the Kilcreggan walk or cycle.( Like most of the walks in the book I actually completed them by bike to check they were still OK detail wise and it saved me a lot of time, so I know they can be cycled, with some off the saddle sections.) Pillar Bank is as far out into the Firth of Clyde Estuary as you can probably go without a boat so it had to be included in the guidebook as the sense of huge skies, remoteness and scale of this place is impressive but I hope I haven't given any secrets away and ruined it's isolation for future visits. The Firth of Clyde estuary is the largest and deepest enclosed estuary in the British Isles and this is as far as you can travel into it's bare immensity on foot. Scotland doesn't have many completely flat kilometres so this is a special walk with Netherlands or Kansas like skies and views.
Approaching Dumbarton and a distant view of Dumbarton Rock from a mile out into the estuary. Obviously, when the tide comes in you don't want to be here as it's all submerged.
The Inverclyde and Renfrewshire shoreline is actually much closer at this point than the Dumbartonshire one which is just visible in the distance but a deep dangerous channel cuts it off, seen here. You would probably stick in the mud and drown if you tried to swim across to Renfrewshire as there is quicksand here on the sloping banks under the surface and my madness has its limits.
Swans, terns and gulls came over to say hello.

Approaching Levengrove Park across the mud flats. A beautiful sunny day and not another person in sight yet the park was busy and very hot and airless, it being mid summer. Maybe they are scared of mud and dirty boots these days as the estuary had a nice refreshing breeze wafting down it.?
Near the mouth of the River Leven. This area does have some steeply sloping banks into the river but you would need to deliberately walk into the current to get into trouble here. Cycling in any city or town is far more dangerous than this mud walk if you have any shred of common sense. It's a great feeling being so far out from the land but as a previous companion on another estuary trip remarked...

" Not everyone would want to do a walk like this one anyway so go ahead and publish it before some other person beats you to it and then you will kick yourself for not putting it out first." I have never seen this enjoyable and unique walk in any another guidebook but I don't read any current guide books anyway these days and just did a basic check online before posting so I may be wrong about that. I am prepared to stand corrected... yet again :o)

The lovely but derelict shell of Cardross Church. I think this was bombed during the Second World War and has never been restored although the graveyard is lovely. Brambles are a problem here.
Dumbarton Rock and castle, famous climbing area with overhanging cliff face and the scattered bouldering boulders, both of which contain some of the hardest graded climbs in the UK.
And journey's end back in Dumbarton.  My guidebook has over 80 walks and cycle rides in it, many lesser known like this one, along with 146 colour photographs like these and at £1:99 on Kindle should be of interest to anyone who likes walking and cycling around the Glasgow, Paisley, Motherwell, Hamilton or Firth of Clyde area. Or anyone who is feeling nostalgic to take a visual journey around these areas from the comfort of an armchair if you live overseas... or just don't fancy the mucky reality in person. (Not me!... the mud walk) I know you can get printed walks free online these days which is another reason for using photos rather than maps and I may be biased here but it's a good cheap extra Christmas present if you have a colour image kindle kicking around the house and if I had this guide years ago highlighting the best routes over a wide area it would have saved me numerous other expensive guidebooks and many years of half aborted journeys into the unknown trying to find the best walks in my local district to suit my tastes.
I dedicate this post to my "DID." muse in the last chapter of my novel "Autohighography" by Bob Law. also available on kindle. The last chapter seems to baffle people slightly judging by feedback, hence this extra clue...but who exactly is it?
" I am legion... for we are many." quote- unquote.
Type 45 Destroyer HMS Duncan and escort on the River Clyde at Partick for the recent Commonwealth Games.
Side view of HMS Duncan returning to Glasgow for the first time since her departure down the Clyde in early 2013 as she was built at BAE systems yard in Scotsoun. Her home port is now Portsmouth Naval Base, the last of six new warships completed for the MOD.


Neil said...

Hi Bob,

I'm looking forward to reading your book; I've got it but haven't started it yet. It's a good area to visit in the shorter days when I can't be bothered to drive too far. I'm sure that I'll find lots of ideas that interest me.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
I hope you enjoy it. The one way trip at low tide from Dumbarton to Helensburgh taking in Pillar Bank is a special walk in a unique area with plenty of bird life and interest and it doesn't cost much to get the train back a couple of stops to Dumbarton. Not so enjoyable in the rain though. Pick a dry day :o)

The Glebe Blog said...

Another enjoyable post Bob.
Regarding the gulls, most tractor drivers I've come across recently were wearing headphones. I think all new tractors now come with the most sophisticated up to date stereo systems. Got to keep the farm hands happy these days.
Good luck with the guide, the Amazon preview looks good.
I'm 75% through 'Autohighograph', it's bedtime reading for me which is why it's taking a while. Not being a climber, I'm enjoying the different characters and personal relationships. I've a feeling that not all have happy endings.

Carol said...

Glebe Blog beat me to it - I was going to inform you that tractor drivers only hear music or the radio - they don't hear nature any more! :-( I suppose it does get a bit boring driving round and round and just listening to gulls all day every day though...

The look of the mud would put me off Pillar Bank - not from a mucky point of view but I'd be worried I was going to sink and never re-surface if I saw that!

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Jim,
When I started writing the book I wanted the characters and relationships to come alive for the reader and help drive the story along as much as the scenery as the best novels I've admired are character driven throughout and it's these individuals that stay in the mind the longest. Many of my favorite fictional people are obliquely referenced in each chapter.
Hopefully, it all makes sense in the end... it did to me anyway o)

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Carol,
Nonsense, where a seagull can walk a careful person can follow the line. It is only a few inches of mud in places and the rest is firm sand further out. I may even be the first to cycle across it, though I doubt it somehow.Great mini adventures can happen in ordinary places as well:)

Carol said...

I'm sure you're right - I was just saying it would put me off seeing it looking like that.

My Dad used to cycle across part of the Solway Firth :-o He stopped after his front wheel sunk dramatically once and tipped him off over the handlebars into the sinking stuff...