Monday 20 March 2017

Wanlockhead. Leadhills. Lowther Hill. Green Lowther.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
(Sorry for the delay in putting up a post or commenting on other blogs. Alas, I changed broadband provider to a cheaper deal but due to the set up in my house- master telephone socket in gloomy living-room downstairs which never gets any sun- office and computer upstairs in a spare room, via a telephone extension line, which always receives plenty of sunshine, winter and summer, and is a much cheerier and warmer place to write and think up ideas in...I now have a problem. This set up worked perfectly well under Sky and I never had any problems but since changing to Talk Talk a couple of weeks ago I've been off line and have had no phone for well over a week then slow patchy broadband and/or no phone at all- a situation which is still ongoing. I thought it would be a simple matter to change providers and save some money but apparently not so in my case :o(

Anyway, a Sunday outing with Alan and dog took us down to Leadhills and Wanlockhead, two pretty villages now, situated in the Lowther Hills, west of Moffat in the Southern Uplands, but once heavily industrialized with large scale mining for Lead, Zinc, Copper, Silver and Gold.  These two remote villages are the highest in Scotland and sit snugly at over 1,400feet above sea level situated in a remote upland region of Dumfries and Galloway.
Conditions for the miners proved hard and brutal in the 1700s with many parts of Scotland sending children underground from the age of seven or eight until they died around 40 or 45 years of age, still grafting hard in the mines. I recently read an excellent book on the working conditions for these 'white slaves' toiling underground in the mid 1700s when they could be sold to any new owner as essential commodities along with any necessary machinery and mineral deposit rights. It was a book I thoroughly enjoyed - A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett,  a well written, historically accurate account of coal mines in Fife, conditions in London, America and other places, during an age of slaves ships transporting people across continents.

Buzzard on a spoil heap. The highest vantage point around. Anyway, this book helped to give me  greater insight into life at that time as well as being a cracking story and romantic drama set in places I've actually been to in an effort to check out the details in the book myself. Where I grew up, Nitshill in Glasgow, the landscape was similar to here in many ways with beautiful rural scenery entwined with abandoned mines, coal and lime works, brick quarries, railway cuttings and flooded holes. A dangerous but highly exciting place for children to go exploring but we never thought much about what went on in past times to give us such a great playground.
In spring sunshine, as it was now, both villages are enjoyable places to explore and Wanlockhead has a visitor museum, car park, toilets,  a small underground mine to go down, miners cottages, and a delightful network of paths weaving between all the attractions.
As it was too early in the season to be open yet the mine, cottages, museum and toilets were closed (open every day 1st of April to end September) but that didn't bother us as we were here for the walking possibilities. A steam railway runs every weekend from Easter to September between both villages but a circular path runs from Meadowfoot past Wanlock Dod into Leadhills then returns between Mine Hill and Stake Hill. At around 8 to 12 kilometers, depending on  paths taken, it provides an interesting walk around the area at lower levels through the various passes.
As Alan had never been here before we were more interested this time in climbing the highest hills in the region, Lowther Hill, 725 metres and Green Lowther, 732 metres, the latter seen here. A fresh fall of snow made a stark contrast between winter conditions above and warm spring below. Pleasant green paths are still a feature of Wanlockhead, a sight that used to be common in Scotland but is much rarer now due to increased visitor numbers, hill-walkers and mountain bike use trashing most of them in the last 20 years. Maybe wetter climate conditions have not helped but I've noticed many of my former favourite walks in city parks, rural countryside or on small hills have degenerated into muddy ruts for most of the year when they used to resemble this path in the photo below. 
Grassy path network around Wanlockhead. Hopefully they will still look like this in another 20 years time.
The paths around Wanlockhead village which also boasts the highest pub in Scotland, the second oldest subscription library in the British Isles (beaten by Leadhills which is the oldest recorded, in 1741) for the miners to improve their education and knowledge of the larger world around them.
Even today few trees grow in this pleasant hollow but on really warm summer days (we don't have that many sadly) the sheltering embrace of the surrounding hills and a lack of wind can produce oven like temperatures where it's not difficult to imagine yourself in one of the hotter mining countries like the American old desert states or the greener parts of mining Australia.
For us though the great white golf ball on the summit of Lowther Hill beckoned. This is the Civil Aviation authority radar station tracking aircraft positions over Southern Scotland, Northern England and the edge of Northern Ireland.
A DIY ski tow at a basic level (i.e for locals and guests only) runs a short distance uphill between both summits. For many decades proper ski facilities have been proposed here but a shifting local population (many part time holiday homes in both villages) unreliable snow conditions, or young folk simply leaving to find work elsewhere as they grow up means this never happened on a larger scale. It does have good cross country and downhill skiing potential though with a hardly used tarmac service road across the plateau between both summits providing an easy run away from the bumpy tussocks and gullies.
After a winter without much snowfall it felt really good to be up here, especially on a day of bright sunshine, zero winds and terrific cloud formations in the dazzling skies above.
A view across to Green Lowther.
The snowy plateau between summits.
A cracking day out. Wanlockhead Village from the snow slopes. Very few other walkers or visitors about apart from three cross country skiers and a few low level sightseers in the villages. If you have never been here it's worth a visit. A good half day exploration on low level flat paths or a full day walk with the hills included. A tarmac service road leads to both summits from Wanlockhead so not much navigation required. 6 to 8 hours to see everything on a long hike taking in both high summits and both villages in a circular outing. OS LANDRANGER MAP SHEET 78. Nithsdale and Annandale.

Spring frog selection in local Glasgow ponds. I'm a daddy again to thousands!!!
Froggie went a courting....

More frogs.
Watching me, watching you, ah ha! An Abba moment.
War memorial. Wanlockhead.

A video this week produced by two friends (Brian and Martina) that used to be in our old mountaineering club for many years but have since moved up to the Inverness postal district, beside the coast, and have taken up sea kayaking. A cracking and colourful compilation of their travels around their local district. The Skye segment is the amazing Loch Bracadale and its islands, which gets a full chapter to itself on a much earlier visit decades ago in my comedy/ adventure novel set in Glasgow, Scotland and the greater ranges in Europe.....Autohighography.

Friday 3 March 2017

Dundee. The Law. McManus Museum. The Harbour.

                                             ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
A trip this time up to the east coast Scottish city of Dundee. It's been five or six years since my last all day visit and I was keen to see what had changed in the interval. The above photo was taken in the McManus Art Gallery and Museum. Not only a fine visitor attraction but also free admission :o)
A nice looking building on the outside and a fine collection of old paintings, very lifelike stuffed animals, interesting sculptures, beautiful stained glass windows and loads of nostalgia style memories charting the history of this great city.
Plenty of stuff in here to capture any child or adults imagination.
One of many stained glass windows in a range of  shapes and designs. Five out of five for interest and value. I put two quid into the donations box at the end as I really enjoyed my visit here.
And unlike a recent Edinburgh visit to the National Gallery of Modern Art this was full of paintings and landscapes you could admire, easily recognize and appreciate without having an on hand expert explaining what it was you were looking at and why it was so exceptional. You could actually see the craft, expertise, and long months, sometimes years of work involved in their creation here. And not an 'Unmade Bed' or a paint dribbler in sight. Bliss. Highly recommended if you are in this city. You can spend a good couple of hours in here and it has toilets, a gift shop, and a cafe.
As usual I got the Dundee bus at Glasgow's Buchanan Street bus station but as it goes up to Aberdeen as well it's not as handy as the Edinburgh one which is every 15 or 30 mins throughout the day. Unlike the hour long trip through to Edinburgh it takes around two and a half hours up to Dundee one way so I don't think I'll be jumping on this one as often. Aberdeen is a four hour trip one way counting the bus journey from my house to here so that's eight hours sitting on a bus for a day trip or an over night visit. Only seems to run 3 times a day there and back so if you miss the last one it's a guest house or hotel job. I once spent 35 hours non stop on a bus from Glasgow to the Italian Alps but I had loads of company then. I had to admit I missed Belinda on this one as the hours fly by chatting to her or her mum but I had to content myself with a good book instead as everyone else was smart phone or tablet occupied and conversation with strangers was not an option sadly. I'm starting to find it has to be a bus full of pensioners usually before you get a lively interaction with anyone as they are less likely to be technology obsessed on public transport. It's not that I'm a particular chatterbox but if it happens spontaneously it does help to brighten up any journey meeting new people and finding out new interests and ideas/opinions. Alex is very people orientated, far more than me, but he seems to hate cities and bus journeys or travelling in general.. or maybe it's just travelling with me he doesn't like:)
Caird Hall. Dundee. This is where concerts, big shows, etc take place in the city centre and it's also where I popped in to the Tourist Information office as I wanted my free map of the city centre district. The main shopping streets are close by and the McManus Art Gallery and Museum is just around the corner from here. Dundee is Scotland's 4th largest city after Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen at around 150,000 souls. It's big enough to be interesting yet small enough to be compact without the sprawling complexity of a major metropolis with all the different scattered city centre districts of a London or Paris. Incidentally, Dundee is also the home city of the massive computer game franchise Grand Theft Auto which is a world wide hit earning millions and sackfuls of awards but started right here along with many other game play developers over the last two decades. Modern comics in a way, but bang up to date using virtual open worlds.
A Dundee pigeon having a bath in the Caird Hall fountains. Lovely display of feathers.
Desperate Dan, his dog and Minnie the Minx. Dundee is the home of D.C. Thomson publishers who produce The Sunday Post, The Scots Magazine, The Dundee Courier, My Weekly, Evening Telegraph, Oor Wullie, The Broons, The Beano, The Dandy and many other comics. Not many Scots at home or abroad will be unaware of these popular publications which deal heavily in nostalgia at times but also exhibit a high standard of journalism. Like many other children of my era a real Christmas treat in the 1960s/70s and 80s was a Broons or Oor Wullie annual which the whole family enjoyed reading. Dudley D Watkins was the leading artist that produced many of the comic strips listed above and unfailingly produced outstanding stories over this lengthy time period without a dip in quality. Unsung but celebrated in practically every household in Scotland as a real under the wire national treasure not only was he English by birth, writing about an adopted foreign city, but he also managed to capture the spirit and character of Dundee perfectly yet also made the final product easily identifiable to any Scot living in hamlet, village, town or city. To me this is real art to be celebrated in high esteem, delivered to a demanding weekly schedule, and even now with a mature adult perspective you can really appreciate the level of detail and creativity in every square he drew cramming a large family of different personalities and new adventures into thousands of tiny 3 inch by 2 inch boxes. Dying over the drawing board at work is a final tribute to his dedication. A fascinating link to a truly great artist of the modern era. Best of all he never seemed to inflict his religious views into the comics I read except for decent family values of right and wrong. Until I read it here I'd no hint he was religious. Highest complement I can give :o)

D.C. Thomson H.Q. in Dundee getting a makeover.
Old Clock in City Centre. I nipped in for two Greggs sausage rolls and a yum yum at this point as I was starving. Not a scrap was offered to the waiting pigeons, who took the huff after sitting around my bench beside Caird Hall in expectation of fine dining.
Fortified and suitably rested after my speedy lunch I decided I really had to visit 'The Law' which is the highest hill directly above the city, seen here from the prestigious high school. As I knew how far this was to walk, all of it uphill, I jumped on a local bus to take me part of the way getting one right outside the McManus Gallery where several bus stops on a curved road invited my roving eye. Also good to hear all the local Dundonian accents around me on the bus in a favourite city of mine that I used to visit often. Like Glasgow, Dundee is mostly working class in origin whereas Edinburgh can feel very upmarket depending on the district you are in. In the past Dundee was famous for Jute factories, Jam, Journalism, (as already mentioned) and was also a major whaling port in the days when oil for energy came out of living animals instead of the ground.
Cox's Stack. All that's left of the massive jute factory that used to stand here near the Lochee district. One of the world's largest jute cities with well over 12,000 workers employed at its peak in the industry and the single remaining chimney from the Camperdown works complex. The tallest chimney left in Scotland at 282 feet. Soars majestically over the hi rise tower blocks and a good video of it here on You Tube showing the surrounding area

The Tay Bridge connecting the City of Dundee to neighbouring Fife.
Tayport and the Tentsmuir sands viewed from The Law. A wild and less inhabited spot popular for its lovely beach walks, basking seal colonies and miles of quiet pine forest trails.
The War Memorial on the summit of The Law. You can drive up here for the stunning views but not having a car with me I got off the local bus and walked up through Hilltown.
This is another area of working class tenements of a certain period that's not changed too much, like Lochee, whereas many parts of Dundee have been completely transformed and modernized since I used to visit here regularly every summer in the 1980s and 1990s.
I like these areas as they have a bit of character and still retain some of the old style Dundee missing from the modern upmarket apartments along the waterfront which could be anywhere, architecture wise. Perfectly nice though they are with good sea and harbour views.
Which is where I ended up next exploring along Dundee waterfront. In the distance is Dundee's seaside suburb of Broughty Ferry and the square bulk of Broughty Castle. Like Tentsmuir, this area also has nice coastal esplanade walks, beaches and open grassland paths and is popular day trip territory. Stayed here with my sister around 10 years ago.
Dundee's docklands and as its not that far up the coastline to Scotland's oil capital of Aberdeen, Dundee appears to get some of the oil production infrastructure over spill as in spare oil rigs as these were here last time.
A distant view from The Law.
The waterfront esplanade and new viewing tower over the Firth of Tay.
A poem beside the Oor Wullie Statue which is outside the McManus Gallery under the larger statue to Robert Burns.
I'll finish with the Frigate Unicorn. Two period ships that are well worth seeing along Dundee's waterfront are this old sailing barge which is surprisingly spacious inside despite being stripped of masts and access to the upper deck and the tour around the 'Discovery' which is Captain Scott's famous polar exploration ship and well worth the entrance money as it's a five star attraction in its own right. If you only have limited time The Discovery and the McManus Gallery are the real highlights as the new V and A museum built out over the water didn't appear to be open yet but looks spectacular once it's stopped being a building site. A long tiring but enjoyable day... an equally long tiring but enjoyable post.. and an empty bucket.
   I'm awa for ma tea now........ back later.....
The Broons 'Talk'   Looks fuzzy at first but becomes clear. Worth a watch for the memories... and still funny. If you like this there's many more clips of The Broons on You Tube,