Friday 24 February 2017

Dollar Glen. Bank Hill. King's Seat Hill. Dollar Academy.

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A view of the moon on a cold winter's night. Normally it has been grey and bleak this month but a rare fall of snow over the Scottish mountains and a couple of clear nights transformed the landscape.
As Saturday was the first day after Friday's dump of snow we didn't fancy floundering up a big mountain with no one ahead in previous day's to break trail through the new lying white stuff as these day's I'm into making life slightly easier for myself. Enjoyment not unnecessary sweat and toil. This is myself, Alan, and his dog passing through Alva and Tillicoultry in the car  with the Ochils gleaming white above then stopping for breakfast rolls and sausage in the latter town. Very tasty.
All the Ochil towns used to have mills in them during the industrial revolution and before as most of the glens on this side of the Ochil chain have fast running streams pouring down deep sided glens which was a handy source of power generation for industry. The Mill Trail runs along the bottom of this side of the Ochils visiting the necklace of small towns under the hills which still have the remains of  castles, old restored mills, and building infrastructure dating from those times. Dollar and Dollar Glen, (seen above) is probably the poshest of the five villages/ towns scattered out a few miles apart and the last in the line heading east. While the rest have comprehensive schools Dollar has 'an academy ' and very nice it is too. One of Scotland's largest independent schools. This is just the oldest building, seen two photos below, as it has several more modern extensions out of frame taking up room nearby in the grounds.
 How I first became aware of Dollar Academy was through the writing of Hamish Brown, who along with fellow hill walker Tom Weir introduced most of my age group in Scotland to the delights of the outdoors through numerous books and magazines in the local library when I was an excited teenager just getting into the hills. These two were the mountaineering superstars of that era with exciting adventures and photographs all over Scotland and abroad at a time when hill-walking over the Munros was an obscure and little known pursuit. Both contributed a lot to the popularity of Munros today with Hamish Brown being the first to complete them all in a single trip with his dog, which was also a mountaineering record breaker.

Dollar Academy and grounds.
The view from the school over the Ochils.
Once away from the town Dollar Glen turns into a steep gorge but a good path leads up both sides. We took the right hand one leading into the Burn of Care as I remembered it being impressive with several boardwalks and a nice deep trench higher up.
Path climbing higher with deep chasm below.
And nice waterfalls.
And boardwalks spanning the awkward sections.
This used to be my favourite, the deep slot leading up to the Burn of Sorrow which had a similar and more exciting boardwalk curving under steep cliffs but it was shattered by rockfall from above and never replaced due to health and safety issues about 10 or 15 years ago. The left hand path now climbs through the woodland slopes above the gorge but is not as much fun as the old route through the deep slot which was epic. A touch of danger is always more exciting.
At this point Castle Campbell comes into view, looking very much like the sinister monastery in one of my favorite films ' Name of the Rose.' An atmospheric and creepy classic detective crime thriller with thoughtful reason and logic up against blind faith in the eternal battle for truth. Still relevant today. Well worth seeing.... but fear not this is just a short clip that gives nothing away.

Castle Gloom was the old name for this remote stronghold of the powerful Earls of Argyll, later renamed Castle Campbell with the Burn of Care and The Burn of Sorrow flowing out from under its flanks so a good match for the film.

The castle from above.
From Bank Hill.
Fresh snow on King's Seat Hill.
Heading for King's Seat Hill.
Knock Hill motor racing circuit. Professional Scottish racers first learn the moves here on this popular upland track.
Looking across at Grangemouth.
West Lomond near Auchtermuchty and Falkland in Fife. An enjoyable day out. Around 5 hours as we came back to the car via a farm track and the Dollarbank balcony trail.

Friday 17 February 2017

St Mary's Cathedral. Water of Leith Walkway. Dean Village. Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. Edinburgh.

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Another trip through to Edinburgh to meet up with Belinda. For those wondering we are just friends  and it's purely platonic but it's always nice to meet new people you get along with and can exchange interests, passions and different influences you would never think of visiting yourself. Doesn't happen very often but when it does it's a delight. One of the reasons I've liked musical artists in the past like early period David Bowie, Cat Power, Kate Bush, Joseph Arthur etc is not only for their own music but also for the stuff that inspired them as very often it's artists or other musical tastes I've never experienced before but I'll find interesting myself. I have noticed over the years when people like a certain style of music or art it does tend to stay in the same ball park even though it might be across a wide spectrum. i.e. art rock groups, alternative indie, folk, blues, slightly cynical and edgy stuff in my case. For some others that might be Adele, power ballads, more mainstream artists in general. I've also noticed in interviews my own favourites tend to like each others work more often than not so generally that holds true. Even with Danny MacAskill bike videos (I put one on here last week) I've unintentionally found several new groups just through the music there on them and I've rarely heard a song used for his numerous videos I haven't liked in some way. The reason for this theme will become clear later in the post. Above is the William Gladstone Memorial in the West End of Edinburgh at Coates Crescent (Shandwick) just east of Haymarket where I jumped off the early morning bus to meet Belinda as arranged.
As well as being British Prime Minister a record four different times in the 1800s William Gladstone was also an MP for Midlothian for well over a decade which may explain this extraordinarily elaborate statue to him here. Most politicians are lucky to get a black marble bust in a corridor or a standing figure on a raised plinth but this is worthy of an emperor buried with his entire court of officials and admirers scattered around him. It is the only noteworthy statue on this length of road and really makes a dramatic statement due to its size and complexity. I have to admit I had no idea at the time why he was here in this seemingly out of the way place, although surrounded by a grand period crescent of the time. Edinburgh is full of unexpected stuff like this though which makes it such a delight to explore.
Above is the real reason why we were here. St Mary's Cathedral in the heart of the West End district.
Neither of us had visited this building before so we were keen to see inside.
I've seen quite a few churches and cathedrals on my travels but this one is definitely the best. Standing outside on the pavement  it's three spires really do seem to reach towards Heaven and as an example of bold statement architecture its hard to beat.

 Few other buildings I've seen in reality shoot upwards with such 'Jack and the Beanstalk' vigor  or effortless elegance yet strength. Just as Edinburgh's tenements are deliberately designed taller than average so too this cathedral looks like spires on high concentrations of steroids. You get dizzy just staring up at them.
Lovely building inside as well.
Unusual stained glass windows.
Beautiful carving inside and out.
A place that's well worth a visit and free for the public to enter unless there's a service or other event going on. I do always leave a small donation in free buildings but sometimes you go into places labelled 'free' then they have a prominent sign and 'suggested' expensive entry donation box just inside the door with an employee standing over you making sure you contribute before you continue inside. If it says free it should be. Thankfully, this was not like that increasingly commercial model. I know there's a huge upkeep but you should be able to put in what you can afford and some of these 'free' 'suggested prices' are for serious amounts of cash. We stuck in a pound coin each as we felt it was well worth that and were happy to pay it with no glaring employee staring at us as soon as we entered. Well worth a visit.
The other reason for coming here was this. Dean Village and the Water of Leith Walkway. I've done this before, both on foot and on a bike several times but for Belle it was all new ground and like every other person who discovers this place she was delighted and stunned in equal measure.
Some parts of the Water of Leith running through Edinburgh are quiet and sylvan with attractive wildlife like kingfishers and this dazzling male goosander, (a medium sized diving duck) while others are steep sided and urban. This reaches gorge- like proportions around Dean Village which was a former flour producing community using the Water of Leith to grind raw grain products in a scattering of different mills over centuries. The buildings that are left here are very picturesque but once housed workers, their children, and other self contained industries that flourished by being close enough to provide and supply but not a connected direct part of Edinburgh town.
Old carving on a building in Dean Village showing it's gradual merging into a district of Edinburgh as the growing city swallowed up its surroundings. Thanks to its unique location though this area still feels like a self contained island in the city due to its deep set nature.
The Dene, which means 'deep valley'.
Looking up from here Victorian and Edwardian Edinburgh seems as remote as Bioshock's 'city in the sky', the rooftops looming hundreds of feet above the floor of the gorge. The walkway itself is fairly flat though and easy going apart from connecting stairs leading to the city above. It's also popular so open to everyone and not as threatening in atmosphere as quieter parts of Glasgow's Kelvin walkway, which is similar in style and character....only without Dean Village.
Dean Village itself is extraordinary as it seems to hang over the small stream below it like a chunk of period European (German/ Dutch?) architecture transplanted into Scotland.
No matter how many times I come here it's still breathtaking and it does remind me, post Bioshock Infinite discovery, of that floating city in the air very strongly. Luckily, I also had a modern day  Elizabeth as my companion. It was Belinda that got me into games and 3d open world's in the first place but not to play them, as she intended, but for other possibilities and ideas contained within them. For example. There are 7.5 billion people on the planet right now and rising rapidly- 10,000,000 extra added since 2017 began. Tens of thousands born every single day. It took all of human history to reach one billion by the 1800s but 1.5 billion soon turned into 6 billion in one modern century alone. Current estimates plot 10 billion by 2056. The numbers are predicted to slow down but how can we possibly sustain that number of people at the current rate of consumer consumption, enticed to buy products we don't really need and will be deliberately obsolete every few years while we rip the planet apart searching for rare metals to build next year's smart phones or other unnecessary gadgets. It's not sustainable in any way when so many want a piece of the good life all around the planet yet our whole western economy is based around spending, buying more and more junk each year.
The Living Clock. Hypnotic in a way to watch those numbers climb so fast in real time... If you haven't seen this counter before.... Enjoy.... or maybe not...
The discovery of fractals and the astonishingly real looking world's in many modern 3d games where they have created entire planets and even entire galaxies to explore have inspired some of the more creative thinkers to speculate that if we were living inside a very elaborate game world right now or in the future, for purposes not revealed, playing out real time scenarios...  how would we know?
If this sounds ridiculous think of Disney cartoons in the 1930s then 3D computer generated world's now and project that advance in graphics into 2056 when 10 billion people might not have the resources, the space or lands available to satisfy their needs. What will we be eating then? Insects or Soylent Green for dinner anyone? Hop on any bus and people already spend all their free time looking at screens anyway. Our homes are already starting to be run by computers and getting digitally chipped, like your pet, to have a computer inside you is the next logical step in that advance. No doubt you will be persuaded it's for your own convenience. The best open game world's of 2017 are extremely detailed, lifelike and unbelievably vast in scale so think what they will be like 40 to 100 years down the line. Now you know why I'm interested in games and find them fascinating :o)

Anyway, back to Dean Village. Well worth a visit and a wander round here. Loads of period buildings to explore, although people do live in them so the houses are private, obviously.
A very interesting day out.
This sign down in the gorge reminded me I hadn't visited the Gallery of Modern Art and it wasn't far away. Belinda was up for that as well so we headed there.
A striking building on the outside but I have to admit neither of us were very impressed by the art work inside. Maybe it's just me but I've never felt that 'wow' factor of enlightenment, wonder, astonishment, pleasure or anything else for that matter, in years of exploring modern art in galleries.Some of it is alright but I can't think of a single work in a gallery I was completely bowled over with or stunned in any way so here's my modern art exhibits that have done just that. (not by me of course but fan made videos put together spontaneously with all the warmth, creativity, love and sheer devotion that seems to be missing in so many pretentious modern art pieces today. I would proudly hang either of these videos up on a wall in a gallery. For me, this is modern art at its finest.

or if you don't fancy that one how about this much quieter pastel delight. Forget that it's Kate Bush as its the amazing art work and short story that's the star in this one from Dutch film maker Micheal Dudok De Wit. Beautiful art work and a touching message about life and death that will make you think.

In the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art I'm afraid the best thing we found to really inspire us was the toilets. Although we can admire pastels we both love primary colours the best.
WOW!!!     imho, easily the best thing in the building.
Tile mania certainly works for me.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Queensferry. North Queensferry. Forth Road Bridge Walk. Inch Garvie.

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A trip this time to Queensferry, the small historic town lying on the south bank of the Firth of Forth just west of Edinburgh. Some of the buildings and structures here date back to the 1600s and 1700s along with several others on the North Queensferry side. An ancient ferry dating from medieval times used to cross this wide expanse of water from here to connect and link two large and important areas of Scotland together, namely the fertile farmlands and capital city of Edinburgh with the equally fertile and venerated Kingdom of Fife. As such it was a vital crossing point, saving a long and tiring detour inland which made it the busiest crossing in Scotland at its peak. This ferry, in various forms, ran from the 11th century to the mid 1960s according to the info boards near the waterfront car park.
You also get a magnificent view of the Forth Railway Bridge from here which was built in the late 1800s and is one of the most famous bridges in the world from the moment it was constructed along with San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge. It has featured in the classic thriller film The 39 Steps.
The small island of Inch Garvie, which was heavily fortified during both world wars with gun emplacements, suffered the same fate as the other nearby rocky islands in the Forth, being near the capital city and therefore a very handy location to strand infected people and other undesirables. Through the centuries it has been a defensive fortress, a prison, a quarantine hospital,and a plague island. Even today it has a lonely, haunted appearance although much loved by assorted gulls and other seabirds due to its relative, people free, isolation.
After a wander around the interesting and historic town of Queensferry and a look at the various shops, myself and Alan decided to walk across the nearby Forth Road  Bridge which is for car traffic but also has a dedicated cycle track and pedestrian walkway along both outer edges. This would take us to North Queensferry on the Fife side and also give us great views of the area and the two other large bridges here.
Walking across the Forth Road Bridge, high above the water below, with the adjacent cycle lane clearly visible. From this elevated vantage point the incoming tidal sea is a few hundred feet straight down with the Forth Rail Bridge to the right and the new road bridge being built and nearly completed to the left. It was a murky day with rain and wind in the west but at least it was dry and fairly settled here on the east coast, 10 miles from Edinburgh.
Assorted craft on a zoomed photo passing under the bridge.
A look at the new Forth Road Bridge which is due to open very shortly in May 2017. Kayakers paddling towards North Queensferry.
A distant view of the new bridge from a hillside above Linlithgow.  This is currently the world's longest 3 tower, cable stayed, bridge. The new bridge is also the tallest bridge in the UK thanks to the height of its support towers and the other road bridge we walked across, built in the 1960s, was Europe's longest suspension bridge at that time.
Usual internet driven padlock craze which is damaging and defacing bridges world wide. The first time I noticed this occurring I thought it was fairly harmless and cute but since then I've seen it on practically every interesting bridge and structure across Scotland, even in highly inappropriate places well out from civilization in remote nature.... similar to thousands of unnecessary additional cairns built by individuals all over the countryside and in mountain areas. Some lucky folk must have a lot of spare money to toss away as good padlocks aren't cheap but it also highlights the strong pull of the human herd mentality who instinctively feel a need to always band together into tribes where-ever they go. This explains our inbuilt fear throughout history of other different tribes entering our space and the illogical way certain politicians can so easily tap into those primitive instincts over countless generations to create any perceived 'enemy' they wish-  be it 'Islam' 'Muslims' 'Immigration' 'Red Indians' 'Communists'  'Chinese' 'Jews' or 'Catholics'. Often the real genuine threat lies elsewhere. Well... it would, wouldn't it.
North Queensferry. Smaller than (South) Queensferry but no less historic and interesting with a low tide coastal walk which took us round this bay to the seal centre and Scotland's biggest Aquarium, Deep Sea  World.
We didn't go into that as I've been before a few years ago (£15 per adult in 2017 for D.S.W.) but we did visit the small adjacent pools and flooded quarry above it where they look after rescued and damaged seals until they are well enough to be returned to the Firth of Forth which has colonies of grey and common seals.
Adult common seal here I think, in yawning pose.
A more active juvenile in the water in one of the rescue pools.
The Rosyth to Zeebrugge (sea port in Belgium) ferry. A direct link to Europe for both cargo trade and passengers that started up a couple of years ago on a trial basis but echoing this coast's former strong and lucrative sailing connections with various European ports on the other side of the North Sea.
A much smaller craft out for a training run. The Queensferry rowing crew in action on a cold winter day.
Coming into land at the start of evening light with a growing winter sunset over the Pentland Hills.
The railway workers bothy high up on the Forth Railway Bridge, only available to official maintenance crews sadly, via a long ladder and gangways, as the public are not allowed to walk on this one.
Port Edgar marina from the road bridge.
Road Bridge tunnel leading back to the car. An interesting and unusual walk. 3 to 5 hours duration  but you could easily extend that further by continuing along the signposted North Queensferry coastal path into Inverkeithing then returning along the B981 for a very varied circular route.
Heading back along the motorway to the west coast with a burning winter sunset above Glasgow.

Keeping with the East Coast theme here's bike adventurer Danny MacAskill going from Edinburgh to Skye taking in Inch Garvie, The Firth of Forth Bridges, east coast fishing towns,  and other famous sights around this area in a visual extravaganza. You don't need to be into cycling to enjoy this stunning short video journey. Best watched full screen.