Monday, 12 August 2019

Dams To Darnley. Nitshill. Barrhead Dams. The Magic Kingdom. Where it all Began.

                                                 ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
After the wander round Rouken Glen Park in the last post it was always my intention to add in the Barrhead Dams. The park walk took us out at the golf course which in turn led us out to Stewarton Road, above, running  straight as a dye past Patterton Train Station up to Newton Mearns. As a teenager this was the start of the countryside proper from this end- a rural road through woods and farms-( a farm track used to run to the right from above the cars in the photo through pleasant fields to Nitshill, filled with crab apple trees. Marked on bottom map.) but over the years upmarket housing estates have nibbled into the wonderful apple pie I used to know and love in its entirety. Further housing estates of mid range bought houses have eaten into the Nitshill/Darnley end, although still leafy and green today, it is not the same place I explored as a child and young adult.
Having said that it's still a beautiful landscape. A bit like a stunning actress/actor in her youthful prime starring in major film roles, ( to use a sexist comparison) with a thousand watt natural smile compared to a seasoned veteran, still attractive but fixed tired smile, still treading the boards gamely, but slightly gone to seed, and a different shape, appearing in seaside resort theatres. I did try to think of another comparison but this was the best fit, image wise. Honest.
Dams to Darnley Country Park as it is today. The vegetation has been this long for three decades or more since the farms closed and the cows and sheep no longer keep the grass short. There are several paths that run through the park, still interesting and enjoyable, but you are totally confined to these few trails. Even as an adult, used to rough terrain, I would find it very hard to force my way through this tangled waist high jungle, summer or winter. (In a recent wildlife programme Chris Packham found that an overgrown garden had far less nature within it than one with a variety- ie short grass meadows, wilder bits, open ground.) Certainly in my youth all through the 1960s this area beside the Brock Burn was mainly short grass fields, bowling green length, that you could play football on or have a family picnic and we frequently observed linnets, skylarks, yellowhammers, green finches, goldfinches, long tailed tits, wrens, buzzards, ring ouzels, blackbirds, song thrushes, roe deer, foxes, water voles, coots, moorhens, newts, frogs, tadpoles, kestrels, stoats, and weasels in the surrounding area. They may still be there of course but it's a lot harder to see them in a waist high jungle. Somehow I doubt it. It is several decades since my last ring ouzel or linnet sighting in Scotland. You can see grebes- as the reservoirs now have vegetation mats floating in them so some gains. But overall I would say less wildlife. You used to be able to walk along both close cropped banks of the Brock Burn all the way up to the dams, passing several places where you could jump across this sometimes deep, wide, meandering beautiful stream- now mostly invisible- buried under year round vegetation.
By way of a contrast this is what it used to look like beside the stream and fifty one steps from my back door. (this photo is taken further up in still unspoiled countryside past the dams.) Farms still intact, dairy cows and sheep in the fields, landscape contours molded gracefully with 100 plus years of farming tradition- and a joy to explore as children in the 1960s. Maybe not a joy for the farmer mind you but we were very well behaved. I do not remember anyone ever shouting at us for crossing a field, going through a fence,  or climbing a hill but we moved like ghosts in the landscape anyway- no shouting, hardly any noise made... and I still do that. We never abused the cattle or sheep, didn't try to pet them, or any other animal, didn't set fires or vandalize property. For a start, being the 1960s, we would probably get a good thumping from the farmer if we did, chased by his dogs, followed by a bollocking from our parents or police. This was the era when you still got the cane or leather tawse/ belt at school for simply talking in class and I'd already been cuffed around the head by several adults outside just for being in their way during a back street pitch and toss school. Eager to see what was attracting a crowd of adults behind the shops one day we'd stumbled into an illegal gambling den in old Nitshill, (a former industrial revolution mini hub and ex-coal mining village boasting one of Scotland's deepest pits and worst mining disasters far underground) and I got stood on when the crowd surged back as the coins were tossed up into the air/ falling heads or tails. I stumbled backwards in pain, foot crushed, knocking over a two half filled beer cans on the ground and got my ears soundly boxed for my curiosity/ trouble. I also got punched in the face the same year by a lorry driver when I flung a snowball at his van, expecting it to land uneventfully on the metal sides or roof, and it accidentally went straight through his open window, hitting him. Being a twenty something with a nifty turn of speed he immediately jumped out his cab in hot pursuit.  In those days adults thought nothing of thumping children, no matter how young, to teach them a lesson so we tended to avoid any adult strangers outdoors just on principle.

We may have had the freedom to roam anywhere but discipline and retribution if we stepped out of line could be severe. Adult strangers could and often did chase you and give you a good hiding in public if you behaved badly and it was just accepted- if a serious misdemeanor occurred sometimes your parents would wade in as well so we had good reason to behave. Children that didn't respect the rules were often locked away and that could well be a steep slope into genuine hell. Schools were also ruled/ controlled by fear... as in the rougher districts, like ours, with large class sizes, pupil anarchy was never far from the surface. Our secondary school sometimes felt like a training ground for prison with bullying, fights and teenage intimidation a way of life for some pupils. The Scottish film  Neds, set on the other side of Pollok ( Corkerhill) was a fairly accurate snapshot of that era and churned up some vivid different memories of council house living in a large estate. The other side of the coin from my own largely pleasant experience but I can immediately recognize it's certain authenticity well enough. The mission statement signs they have nowadays in modern schools, like 'acceptance, tolerance, non aggression, inclusiveness; would be a foreign language back then. Anyone different was a target. If you were clever/ academic it might be wise to hide that fact, homosexual a definite minus, different colour, especially if quiet and introverted, usually picked on, unless streetwise, charismatic and outgoing. Don't know if it's changed much now but school could be very hard at times and nothing to do with the lessons. People you would normally avoid out on the street as they were notorious nutters you were stuck in a building with for years on end. Surviving long enough to escape rather than learning anything useful was the main priority for certain pupils.

You do not have much of an escape option either today in the Dams to Darnley Country Park. It is isolated and secluded yet not far from urban districts, very overgrown in places and 'claustrophobically creepy.' ( Anne's words on her first time visit through it) Probably the reason why you do not see many lone females walking within it. As a country park it's probably one of the least visited, another drawback being the lack of facilities, safe car parking, and toilets. Not something that's ever bothered me personally- I like it empty- and have never felt threatened here... yet... but I can see why it's not more popular with visitors... just a few fishermen and the odd local male, adult loner or teenagers, cycling or walking through it. Occasionally a young couple, able to handle themselves. If you meet anyone on these narrow paths avoidance is not an option. Funnily enough, it gets good customer reviews on trip advisor as I looked it up. (cycling through it is a joy with a long gentle freewheel from high above the Dams down to Nitshill. Indeed the entire network of minor country lanes above the Dams, then stretching above Barrhead and Neilston is cycling heaven.)
It is still beautiful up here, even on a wet day, and in the 1950s and 1960s it was well tended and maintained by a staff of waterworks workers/ grass-cutters etc so much so that my mum pushed me in my pram ( so I was told) on her own from Nitshill to Barrhead right through these dams several times and enjoyed the experience immensely of genuine countryside without any trepidation after an inner city upbringing herself. My Dad was probably working at the time. Yet this was also an era, 1950s-1960s- 1970s,  rife with teenage gang fights, stabbings, and deteriorating housing stock. The difference then was everything was well trimmed, orderly, loads of other visitors around, and the gangs only fought with each other, usually near the schemes, and they still had a strong code towards other age innocent bystanders, especially women. I doubt very much if a lone female pushing a pram through here today would feel as comfortable and safe- something Anne commented on. Even with a dog in tow I think she'd avoid it unless it was a dire wolf. .
She had her dog Snapper and me beside her though so she was fine with it and could fully enjoy her surroundings. It is magical here- even today. The main waterfall. Barrhead Dams. ( another exists hidden deep in the woods few visitors are aware of- a steep flume shoot drop off from the overspill channel draining the various reservoirs falling into the wooded glen below but hard to get near to, unless determined and agile. Reluctantly... she was.... just :)
This is that over-spill channel further upstream, before the eventual falls. During heavy rainfall, as it was on the day we visited the hidden waterfall roars its power and is fairly impressive but most visitors through the park will never see it. I made sure Anne did but it was a struggle getting close to it from below. Boggy underfoot but spectacular after so much rain.
and these reservoirs complete the picture.
three or five in total depending on how you count them- five separate expanses of water.
Two very large. It would take you a mini walk in itself to complete the hike around the biggest one, seen above, so we didn't attempt it as it was already a long outing.
And that is just the start of the numerous walking/cycling adventures in Renfrewshire with the Fereneze Hills, seen here, The Brownside Braes, and The Gleniffer Braes stretching beyond. more waterfalls there,  and beyond that again- more sub 500 to 1000 foot rugged but easy hill ranges, more small lochs, more deep glens and countless woods stretching away to coastal cliffs, sandy beaches and the sea.. then treasured islands... then finally jagged mountains soaring upwards. In over twenty years of youthful outings- comprising hundreds of separate trips and day walks, all exciting and fresh, we still had new places to discover each time. That's why it's magical here. A fellow teenage escapee and outdoor enthusiast around the same era ( slightly earlier- 1950s) in the north of the city was Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, heading out from a similar deprived council estate, Drumchapel, on self generated cycling and camping trips, experiencing a new environment and lifestyle that would stand him in good stead, away from the restrictive and often soul destructive confines of the city and the scheme. ( watched a good TV programme about his teenage years last week.) One positive aspect about being on the edge of the city is that country lanes, fields and a different way of life was always nearby for those children that instinctively liked that alternative and they could get there easily on foot or bike.
I didn't consciously escape the gangs in my local area growing up as I was smitten, seduced and captured by the outdoor life long before they were a problem for me but it definitely helped my later teenage self to avoid most of the pitfalls growing up in this neighbourhood as any free time I had I spent it mainly here. Unlike a lot of modern day teenagers I was never bored in the countryside. Always something new to see and discover.  Back in the urban jungle  'a square go' or fist fights I didn't mind, especially if I won, as I could box a bit, even at 8 years of age, taught by my Dad, ex army WWII like most then, as a defense... but also a normal part of growing up back then if you disagreed strongly with someone and it turned to blows, although I was never the instigator in arguments... but once past 15 years of age there was always the chance of a knife being pulled and used on you- Glasgow being the blade capital of Europe at that time and quite a few scheme youngsters carried one. All the local gangs were normally tooled up with weapons of every kind. Now that trend seems to have swung to London in recent years while Glasgow has reduced knife crime. Up to the early 2000s Glasgow had as many active street gangs as Greater London, a city over eight times its size. Even if you were easy going, quiet and peaceful, as I was, in that environment you had to toughen up or go under so learning to box so early in life was a real asset. A recent news report (August 2019) said that Scotland today has more drug deaths than any other country in Europe- always setting new records. Go Caledonia! Top table every time!  Just a pity our football teams can't replicate that winning formula on the pitch in Europe as well. (Austerity and grinding poverty may well explain some of the numbers here- if life is a constant battle of hardship, continuous money worries, and uncertainty it wears people down and I'm sure Scottish suicide rates are equally high.)

Anyway, as the rain was battering down really hard at this point we found a large mature horse chestnut tree and stopped walking to have a seat. In two places under the canopy of leaves the ground was bone dry so we sat there for half an hour to enjoy our lunch. I had chicken breast, boiled eggs, a slab of cheese, and some biscuits. She had some horrible healthy paste with green lumps floating in it that I refused to try.
"It's lovely." she claimed.
"Why do you want to share it with me then? Just chow down and stop offering."
Apart from that it was a very pleasant moment and we stayed silent, drinking in our surroundings with all our senses expanding outwards.... flashes of lightning occasionally observed over the higher ridges above the town of Barrhead but far enough away in the distance to not be a concern as I didn't want to move. Sitting under the tree, semi warm and dry, with the elements putting on a fantastic display of wild energy was very thrilling and didn't need much conversation. I hate grey limp weather and day long drizzle but lightning flashes, loud thunder, big storms, and torrents of water hamming off the ground make my day and I was loving it.
" I'm loving this!" I informed her, animated by the intense weather conditions. "Hold that umbrella a bit higher, I teased Anne. "You might get a buzz off it."
She just ignored me.
" It's very romantic just sitting here." She offered, inching closer, looking like she wanted something from me. 
"Oh yes!?" Like any real man I immediately closed the plastic tub holding my remaining chicken, cheese and eggs.
" No, not that. I've got something here I think you might like."
"Mmmmm, what's that then?"
She smiled mischievously. Much to my disappointment and disgust she then pulled a book out of her bag.
" You should read this - It's brilliant. Perfect holiday escapism.  A complete antidote to this miserable soaking epic you've dragged me on today. (She was smiling when she said this though.) Your turn after all the stuff you've recommended that I read and I've stuck in a drawer."
I had a look at the cover.
 " A New York Times Bestseller." She pointed out. "Me and Belle loved it. Your blog readers will love it. You'll love it. It's a girl's classic."
"I'll be the judge of that." I informed her haughtily. " Can't have you taking over my hard won fan base ... like Charles and Diana on walkabout----a no contest popularity contest.... it's a slippy slope to get on....... for me."

( Having now read it she is right. Bugger!!! It is a great read- for male or female- and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Bugger again!!!! A page turning belter. Thank You A.   Mind you I did get my copy for free. She's just ruined me as a man though. It's a girly book and I liked it. Addictive stuff! It's a gateway corridor leading down into froth and fluffyness and I may yet become a secret 'chick lit' novel junkie - binging out on tubs of chocolate ice cream, holding a box of tissues for tears, while reading Fifty Shades, Outlander, and Gone Girl in an empty room- Oh the shame :o(
After the rain eased down we continued our walk and I even managed to find a new trail I had not been on before.
this is it here and its also far more like the fields I used to know walking straight from the house in my teenage years. Open, inviting and you can go anywhere to avoid other people if you wish.
and the view in the opposite direction. This landscape is still pristine up until now. Further down, heading towards Nitshill and Darnley is where it changes into waist high jungle and set trails. Housing has also taken large chunks out of the 1960s/early 1970s apple pie.

If you did not know any difference you would just accept it as normal but this memory map shows just how much has been lost since my youth. The red line is our route, green for woods, blue for water, dark brown for existing pre 1960s estates, ie South Nitshill, Nitshill, Priesthill and Barrhead, all there in my youth. The light brown/ fawn colour i.e Darnley, Parkhouse/Parkholm, Deaconsbank (modern bought houses above Jenny Lind- (named after a popular Swedish opera singer from the 1800s!) and Newton Mearns which has grown  massively, are all more modern housing built during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s on what was once green fields and farmland that I roamed across as a boy so a huge chunk has been lost. I've crammed in as much 1960s detail as I could remember. Somebody might find it useful/interesting. You can save it and then increase the size for details as there is a lot packed in. It's not to scale just a rough sketch.
Memories of that time.  On the open hillside next to South Nitshill, near the Nia Roo pub, two small coal waste bings used to sit until the early 1960s- to the left? of the Nia Roo pub similar lime waste deposits stung the eyes of children who played on them. Large metal pipes were racked like a large kayak trailer on the open hillside heading down towards the railway tunnel and a small tree/bush lined pond/puddle sat beside the steps running up the hill at the road entrance to South Nitshill- all now gone for many decades.  Behind the Nia Roo, where the industrial estate is now, was an area of waste ground holding a medium sized reservoir/ flooded quarry. (also long since filled in) Tram lines running past the Darnley Tree and old Fire Station up Parkhouse Road towards Barrhead still remained visible in the 1960s although services into the city centre had been updated and replaced by the bus- red SMT service routes numbers 8 and 10. Nitshill itself had a handful of pubs, reduced to just one lone survivor today. You could still clearly make out the ruined buildings of the Darnley Fireclay works and Arden Lime Works with narrow gauge railway/tram lines and sleepers running behind the Darnley hospital to the Reservior/Flooded quarry area and elsewhere. Very hard to see any remains now under the vegetation.
New-ton Mearns. Apt name as this upmarket community keeps growing larger year on year. I wondered at first where all the extra people got the money to buy these more luxurious properties as it's the only houses they seem to build these days until I worked out you could sell up down south and live like a king or queen up here on the edge of the city.
Out the price range of normal working folk with most ex- council houses worth £60,000 to £120,000 pounds in Glasgow. So far they have kept to the east side of the M77 for new apartments which acts as a convenient boundary line but Newton Mearns, for all its size, has very limited access to green spaces, public parks, and walking potential in the local vicinity unless they drive to it. Not much free space for local children to explore on foot without hitting busy roads. I doubt very much if they use Dams to Darnley country park at present for the reasons already stated. It would need to be radically 'gentrified' first.
So it was with some disquiet that I noticed this new project on the road leading from Newton Mearns to the dams. 'Bang goes the neighbourhood.' I thought to myself as the main word I picked out here was 'houses.'  Building houses across on the west side of the M77 in previously open countryside perhaps? The cynic in me also noted ' enhancing the country park'
Just what this slightly ruined but game old actress needs is plastic surgery, an influx of housing, a water-sports centre and a vegan internet cafe. It may work but it will certainly change things yet again into an entirely different animal. To me this area's true beauty, what's left of it, is it's stillness, it's relative inaccessibility and quiet obscurity. I have been all over Scotland on trips and there's certainly no other landscape quite like this one and Greater Renfrewshire as a whole, a varied mix of South Downs, Cotswolds, Dorset, Somerset... the nearest English equivalents I can think of as a match, but without the tourist numbers.
So I hope what's left of it stays quiet and pretty. ( Once out at Nitshill Road we got the East Kilbride bound McGill bus back from the Darnley Tree to Rouken Glen Park, which Anne was really pleased about as it saved her a few extra miles walking. Even with the lightning storm, the rain, and the boggy detour to see the waterfall she still enjoyed her outing. Footsore but happy.... or so she said...
Darnley Mill pond. The end.
And two famous men you may know who started out here in the old mansion house and each went on to great things. One making a quantum leap with chemicals and the other with waterproofing.

I also found this painting gallery of what Pollok and South Glasgow looked like in the early 1800s.
Fascinating stuff. Provides a real glimpse into what the vast Pollok Estate looked like at its height. Shawlands before any houses, just fields and farmland. 1830s- 1960s- 2019 the same area, the same landscapes,  but so very different.



Anabel Marsh said...

We discovered this park almost by chance a few years ago, but we’ve only been that once. It’s not spectacular, but it was a pleasant walk. I enjoyed your section about your schooldays and youth. I’m aghast when I look back at what teachers and other authority figures got away with in the past.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Annabel,
That's rather the point I was making with the actress comparison. 'She' was dazzling and spectacular in the 1960s- you'll just have to take my word for it :o)

Carol said...

The water bits look really nice. But I'd hate if we had 're-wilding' on a grand scale - I think the only people who want everywhere to be overgrown and not grazed are non-walkers - they must be really...

Our upbringing was just like that - many's the time we did something mischevious and got chased and thumped. If our parents found out, we got another one. Didn't do us a bit of harm at all.

Glasgow has really improved in the last 10 years or so for not being rough I think.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
It's not a conscious re-wilding choice here, unlike the public park ponds, more just too expensive to use strimmers every few weeks to keep the grass short. I was shocked the first time I came back at how much it had changed but keeping livestock so close to urban city areas is nonviable and the farmers, if they owned the land, probably got
enough money to leave via compensation.
Hard upbringing- worked ok in most families but we all know of folk with their own version of 'teaching children a lesson' like being half killed, starved and abused for no reason- coming back from school five minutes late or eating an extra biscuit if hungry and being severly beaten for that- same with females in households or anyone else perceived as weaker. And that's not even mentioning children in care or sadistic teachers. It was open to abuse.
Apparently so, but the war against crime never really ends in cities and violence occurs in cycles. Having half the population in the big Glasgow estates probably helps. A decade of completely unnecessary austerity measures and hardship for families does not.