Friday 27 April 2018

The Glory of Springtime. Edinburgh Walk from City To Sea. Botanic Gardens. Dean Village.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens in Spring. Mid to Late April 2018. One of the reasons I still prefer actual maps compared to a small screen map on a tablet or phone is that you can plan walks much easier on a full map as it allows you to see the bigger picture in an instant, one large sheet covering the entire city in detail. Looking at my Collins Edinburgh Street Map in the house it took mere minutes to work out a route from Edinburgh's Haymarket, where the bus would drop me off, walk down past St Mary's Cathedral then through Dean Village on the Water of Leith to the Botanic Gardens. From there I would continue on down to the seaside at Granton Docks. On paper it looked an interesting walk with plenty of highlights and so it proved.
A solo trip this time saw me jump off the Glasgow to Edinburgh city link bus near St Mary's Cathedral, seen here, which is definitely worth a look inside. Very impressive building both inside and out. As I had visited it last year I carried on down Palmerston Place, to the left here in this photo, and was soon strolling along the Water of Leith on the popular footpath through this pretty green gorge until I reached historic Dean Village.
Both places I've visited before but if you haven't explored around here they are both interesting and unique.
For myself though they were merely a scenic prelude to my main destination so I didn't linger, only choosing this route as a green leafy corridor to avoid walking through Edinburgh's streets. Normally, the Glasgow to Edinburgh bus is only half full on trips through to here but it was crowded on this journey and on the return taking one and a half to two hours each time due to heavy traffic at peak periods. Glasgow can be pretty bad for traffic at certain times of the day but Edinburgh is much worse. Almost three hours travelling each way for a 40 mile distance city to city. At quieter times it can take less than an hour between cities but I have noticed this trip getting steadily busier for the past couple of years despite buses leaving every 15 mins both ways.

Anyway, my main purpose on this walk was to visit the Botanic Gardens and luckily I had timed it perfectly for spring colours at their best.
In Glasgow the main crocus splurge had passed a full month ago, seen here...often blasted by the elements.
And daffodils were out but had been delayed or flattened by cold, grey, often snowy or windy conditions. Crocus group waiting for the sun to unfold them here. The Glasgow parks, apart from any yellow daffodils on show, looked rather bare, drab, and empty- spring plants yet to appear in any numbers to make a visit worthwhile...
Not so Edinburgh where more by sheer luck than any planning I'd arrived to find a very lush environment indeed. Magnolia flowers fully unfurled and looking at their best...and as they only flower for a brief couple of weekends then disappear for another year it's so easy to miss them and I half expected them to be later as many in Glasgow have still to come out fully, just white or pink buds showing on trees there.
Multi coloured rhododendrons also dazzled everywhere in full bloom...
Azaleas with their vivid day-glow inner thrum, bright even in dull weather or rain, with prayer flags hanging here above them. Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens cover a large site of around 70 acres and is one of the oldest  botanic gardens in the UK, conserving and collecting plants from every corner of the world since the late 1600s. The last time I was here the glasshouses were free to go in but now they are paid entry although the gardens are still free to walk around currently. That would do me on this trip as I already had a large area to cover on foot and a still dodgy knee.
Within the gardens there are various zones and regions- Chinese Hillside zone, Rockery Garden, Woodland Garden etc and also several extensive glasshouses, divided into sections/ regions of the world, rain-forest, temperate, desert plants etc...
This is great for anyone like me that can't afford to visit exotic places abroad as in certain areas like here they come to me instead... and I love tropical delights as much as any average hedonist. Given my class, education, work path commitment, career ambitions, job opportunities and background I've seen plenty of fantastic places and had a really great life so far on an always modest budget. The trick is to play with the hand of cards life deals you and make the very best of what you do have locally instead of  longing for anything else. Creative imagination goes a long way as well and I've never been stuck finding new exciting places to go------ and even in the most mundane of districts nearby... adventures can always be found...
and this was sheer heaven for any landscape photographer and flower/spring colours junkie.
The gardens were fairly busy as it was a lovely spring day... (by now regular readers must have twigged I can control the weather to a certain extent...  how else can you explain ten amazing years of outings in Scotland without a single raindrop falling in the blog :o)
And also wildlife. Many folk also think that magpies are strictly black and white birds but like starlings their feathers contain a range of different colours close up, depending on how the light hits them. Although not related I've always thought of Magpies since childhood as ' the parrots of the north' with their long tails and swooping flight patterns.
And this is my jungle home for this particular trip.
Only without any troublesome bugs eating you alive- the best of both worlds here.
It's also my 'Land of Oz.'
and Willie Wonka's back yard...
Botanic Gardens elaborate East Gate entrance to the 'magic kingdom.'
The Rockery and Pond.
A small hunter and dedicated mouse collector.
The path.
Water of Leith walkway...
To be continued...                 To The Sea....and beyond....

Monday 23 April 2018

The Spectacular Firth of Clyde. Art of Darkness.A Night Gallery. Final Act.

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After a wee wander around the main shopping street in Saltcoats and a takeaway lunch eaten in the car we timed it just right to arrive back in Gourock as dusk was falling. The three Inverclyde towns of Greenock, population around 42,000,  Port Glasgow, 14,000, and Gourock, 10,000 or thereabouts run into and merge with each other along a coastal strip- comprising roughly 65,000 residents in total. The first two are mainly working class, post industrial settlements, with decades long falling numbers presumably due to a lack of jobs and other opportunities in the area although they still have a surprising variety of upmarket Victorian streets and grand houses, especially Greenock, built at a time when both towns had a number of flourishing shipyards- and other local businesses, thriving as a legacy of being a sizable sea port community taking full advantage of the Industrial Revolution.

Gourock, with just as long a history of providing a quieter residential suburb to live in, yet still a popular seaside resort is much the same as it always was back when I was a teenager. Like Glasgow and its often notorious schemes/ estates, Greenock and Port Glasgow used to have some fairly colourful deprived areas but on the surface at least they look much better than of old with most of that 1930s to 1960s dilapidated, run down council housing stock either renovated or more often cleared away. As with Glasgow and other west coast post- industrial urban areas these estates, often containing thousands of people, are usually replaced with far fewer properties, many of them housing association or private developers, so mainly for sale, rather than council stock. Not a criticism- just an interested observation on cycling trips around the urban west trying to make sense of it all and wondering where all the displaced people go. Obviously, if less housing exists you get less residents living there but what arrived first? The missing people in an area leaving of their own accord or a lack of affordable houses to live in- the chicken or the egg scenario as this is and always has been a scenically beautiful area....but you probably need a cushion of money or a steady source of income to live here nowadays and enjoy the experience. Gourock in above photo seen from Greenock.
Gourock seafront promenade. As Anne and Belinda traditionally arrived here in summer for day trips over the years but always left again well before nightfall which occurs around 9:00pm or 10:00pm then it would be a new experience for them in winter to stay on after dark. For me however it was very familiar territory, my 'dark utopia' for the last 45 years.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the book Runaway by Peter May so much was that it followed a group of teenagers having various adventures in urban areas- Leeds and London in that instance, that mirrored my own teenage years in many ways. I too felt the pull of London but only for short exploratory visits- it was this place that grabbed my full teenage curiousity and imagination with a much stronger magnetic click than the UK capital with the added bonus that it was far easier to reach. For three or four years I was down here exploring at weekends whenever I could manage it and I loved the way all three towns climbed up the rolling slopes from the waters edge. Back then it also held other fatal femme attractions for the teenage me.
Although A and B had previously enjoyed our nighttime walks along the River Clyde and a dark descent of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh I still had to sell this new walk as "The Beverly Hills of Scotland" to a frankly dubious audience as neither of them knew Greenock or Port Glasgow that well- only by reputation... and Gourock was known... but during the day. Admittedly, Port Glasgow and Greenock are not really tourist resorts in the accepted sense- especially at night...
but as I already knew- they can be spectacular places to behold of an evening. Greenock and Port Glasgow seen here.
I enjoyed Inverclyde back then and still love it today. It's always been a very exciting place for me in so many different ways. You can't beat three towns built over hillsides with extensive sea views... and a certain edge at night.

Three different night walks followed. First a wee tour of Gourock's steep back lanes to set the mood.
I liked this as it was a challenge to photograph them properly to do the atmosphere some justice yet still keep up with my friends as they showed no signs of slowing down to fully savour their surroundings . The salt splashed air... the smell of damp moss and mold everywhere, growing on the high surrounding walls....the creepy claustrophobic green gloom, narrow inclines and hidden corners and bends where anyone could be lurking... brilliant stuff. Classic horror noir of the highest order. If only they would slow down slightly as I still had a dodgy knee from the Corrour bothy trip and rough ground coal carrying contest.
Up we climbed.. me humming 'When you go up into the woods today' etc.. which was not appreciated much.
"Drink in that atmosphere girls. Slow down and soak up that menace." I implored. " Sniff those steps one by one. Hey! Don't speed up as soon as you leave the lights. That's cheating! Get back here. Surf those darkness fear vibes like an incoming wave."
"Shut up you nutter!" I was told. "Back in your basket, limpy teddy bear."

"When's this Beverly Hills bit going to appear?" Anne asked.
"It's more like Deliverance." quipped her daughter. "twang a twang twang twang twang- twang twang twang."
And another even darker lane followed after that. I was in my element here despite my injury. "Spooky or what!? C,mon, don't you dare turn back. Safety in numbers. Wooooooooh! "

Then the Greenock Docklands arrived. The Beacon lit up by green light.They always use green in horror films I've noticed. Mainly green and............. red.
No need to spice things up by this stage- it was well creepy already- and pitch black- very easy to step over the edge of the unguarded, sheer sided dock, blinded by distant neon in every direction, fall into deep water and drown. I had my health and safety hat on at all times here, watching them very closely. " Docks are dangerous places and can be really unsavory at night. You could easily get tossed off here by a gang of ruffians and no one would be any the wiser."

"Yes, thank you Kenneth Williams." Anne didn't appreciate my attempt at humour but Belinda was having fun exploring, almost by touch, while still being careful where she walked.
A proper lighted walkway was also discovered nearby and a docked ship.

which led us round to Greenock's soaring 300 foot high Victoria Tower which dominates the town.
We then visited the seafront promenade.

Several ships moving out on the water cast unusual profiles, gliding past us silently like illuminated ghosts in a black mirror. It was a very different experience at night beside the waters edge- slightly intimidating but thrilling. At this point it was pitch black again.
It's perfectly normal to locals here of course, dog walkers, late night shoppers etc, but if you come from a well lit inland city environment to any coastal resort at night it can feel strange, dangerous and exotic- until you get used to it...especially the jet black sea- not the friendly blue stuff of daytime but an uncaring, distinctly unfriendly looking freezing void- exactly why I like it.  But I wouldn't fancy falling in with below zero air temperatures and away from the town centres certain areas had zero visibility without a city sized background glow Central Belt folk often take for granted even in unlit areas as it still provides some light. Total darkness here seemed really dark.
" You certainly take us to some unusual locations." Anne admitted. " A proper mystery tour tonight."

"Ah, but are you ever bored?" I inquired.
No, I'll give you that. Any walk with you is always an adventure........ or a nightmare.

"Can you be scared and bored at the same time? Belle asked sardonically.

We climbed up to Lyle Hill at night. A stunning viewpoint over the three different towns awaited and the wide open Firth dotted with the tiny twinkling lights of various communities and distant boats. (You can easily drive up here for the views, by the way.) I should point out at this point that we had Belinda's faithful hound 'Snapper' with us on the trip, which, although only medium sized was toothy, streetwise and thick set enough to deter most folk wishing us harm... probably the main reason I managed to persuade them up here at night on foot, giving them extra confidence.

"It's a smashing view right enough....but let's go home now. Beverly hills is stretching it some and I'm completely knackered. That's enough for me." Anne was already on the way back down.
" If you're tired you can wait up here, enjoy the views, and we'll run down and get the car... then drive back up in under ten minutes." I joked, indicating the deserted and lonely dark hilltop and car park with nobody else around. "What can possibly go wrong?"
" OK then. On you go. Leave me the dog. " Anne called my bluff immediately, sitting down on a bench as we passed. " I'll wait up here for you. Women are just as brave as men you know."
"I do know," I admitted cheerfully. "Braver even. Men have been standing on you lot for centuries- keeping you down and in your place."
"Like a carpet." Belinda added helpfully with a bright smile. She had diligently watched the same history programme as I had recently and found it educational and informative. Anne had not bothered... probably busy in the kitchen as usual, chained to sink and oven- shoveling out tasty meals :o)
"and mothers always carry the weight of the world on their broad shoulders." I agreed, warming to my subject. "Everyone knows that,"
"Like an elephant!" her daughter chipped in, earning a glare. "the ones with a people basket tied on them for sightseeing is what I meant," She elaborated. "doing all the work. Good memory for everything. Queen of the herd."
"Yes, Thank You! Off you go."
We walked down the hill for 30 steps then turned back to find her catching up rapidly, Snapper pulling on the lead to reach us quicker.
"I've had a rest now. I feel much better............................ It's not me." she insisted. "that dog's a complete coward. It wouldn't stay put up there. "
B was unconvinced. " Poor Snapper.  Bad Mummy blaming you."
" Wear proper walking boots next time. Very comfy on feet." I recommended. " and good for kicking convicts and assorted ghouls in the dark."
" No-one can really see what you wear at night anyway." A fashion conscious Belinda added. " so you can dress anyway you like up here and it doesn't matter."
" Now you're talking. Unrepentant after the last time. I like that! "  
"Ho, what do you mean you lot? " Anne demanded, pulling me up for my earlier quip with a prodded finger in the back.
"I've got to say that." I protested." It's expected of me as a man. Otherwise I loose my bearded brethren membership rights. It's a male bonding thing. Sausage solidarity. "

 and so we walked down as a trio... plus four grossly insulted paws.
Shops passed in Gourock on the way back.
Night Town memories.
Heading towards Port Glasgow.
Last view of Port Glasgow to round it up.

Another memorable and interesting trip.

It was only after watching the Walter Mitty film remake that I discovered the sport of long-boarding existed as an offshoot of the more familiar skateboarding. That is going down steep twisting roads at speed for as long as possible. Iceland and Norway seem to be popular for this, having the right roads but also, crucially, not much traffic driving up towards the descending boarder. I also like the attitude and optimism in this video. For each new generation growing up it should be a golden age of discovery and hope for them and enjoyed as such if at all possible. Nice scenery in this and it reminds me of my own carefree 20 something years in various outdoor clubs.