Thursday, 10 October 2019

South Nitshill to Barrhead Walk. Eden Reclaimed. 1960s to 2019.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A few weeks ago I was in Glasgow City Centre intending to go on a bus run down to the Clyde Coast but I'd just missed one and the next bus to that destination was in the afternoon so didn't leave enough time for a proper walk before it got dark. Not put off in the slightest as I'm very adaptable that way a 57 bus passed going to the Silverburn Centre in Pollok so I jumped on that one instead. About four or five years ago I wrote a few posts about Pollok and Nitshill, where I grew up in the 1960s, but these mainly featured the estate itself. (It was actually July 2013- how time flies in blog land.) This time I noticed the bus was going through Darnley and South Nitshill first before the Silverburn Shopping Centre so a different walk suggested itself. This is the bus passing Eastwood and Mansewood districts, above. Two tenement estates, built in the 1950s? by the looks of them and still in first class condition, unlike most other Glasgow tenement estates of a similar vintage. Both these estates have always been very quiet and respectable with presumably tight control as to who gets a house there and strict rules of behaviour once they are in. I'm guessing no large families allowed and older or professional types mostly with a steady reliable income. Main reason I'm speculating this is to explain why some estates, all built at roughly the same time, 1950s 1960s era, have been flattened while others look as good as the day they were constructed. Sometimes it's architecture and cheaper building methods used  to blame-1970s deck access estates like Darnley, (chunks falling off blocks months after construction) vs cottage garden types like Carntyne, Mosspark, Carnwadric and Knightswood, all built 1920s- 1930s and still good today.....other times its tenants, low income bigger families, problem tenants parachuted in from elsewhere vs aspirational higher income earners, better surroundings and prime district tenant estates. Other times it could be due to different organizations and management/ maintenance/budget styles in different areas. Much stricter rules- tighter controls regarding tenants. (Someone I knew in the 1970s with two young children was offered a house in Mansewood and they picked Carnwadric instead as they didn't think the children would be able to roam around with the same freedom in Mansewood/ Eastwood districts and any time I've passed on a bus the streets there are conspicuously empty of children playing outside in groups. But that's why its lasted. In the case of flat roofed tenements built across Pollok, dampness and condensation was always a potential problem- a no- brainer in a climate as wet as Scotland but not to the planners who lifted that design straight from desert countries- where flat roofs do work well as they dry out fast after rainfall.
Thornliebank Main Street came next where I had my driving lessons to obtain my first car. I'd never taken the 57 bus before but it really is a time capsule for the likes of me as it follows a route through Shawlands, past Pollok Park, and Thornliebank. Here it turns right, down into Carnwadric, then up through Arden so it already was a blast from the past for me as I used to travel through here 50 years ago on the red SMT no 8 and 10 bus routes into Glasgow, running from Paisley and Barrhead via Parkhouse Road and Nitshill Road ending up at the Anderston Bus Station in the City. Thornliebank and Carnwadric look much the same as they did 50 years ago as does Arden.
Arden 2019. (Not that different from the three and four floor tenements that covered the summit of South Nitshill, some a dull red, others grey in tone. Something to remember later on.)
If you are in a hurry to get anywhere fast the 57 bus is not the one to catch as it weaves through most of the estates dotted on the way to its eventual destination but I was loving it, already delighted I had randomly picked to come here. Serendipity strikes again. Some of the original tenements in Arden have been pulled down, replaced with lower level new housing but in the main, being SSHA (Scottish Special Housing Association), the basic layout is still the same from it's construction in the 1950s.
Kyleakin Road area. Arden. It was always one of the better looked after estates in this vicinity despite being tightly packed four storey tenements as most of the other council tenement estates in this wider district,  i.e. Greater Pollok, have been flattened altogether or cut down to lower level housing stock after the 1980s- 1990s and a dive into abject squalor and decay during the Margaret Thatcher years which had a profound effect on Scotland, Scottish cities, and the North of England with the widespread closure of mines, factories, docklands, and shipyards, loss of manufacturing jobs, and a sharp change to a service and financial industry- most of it based elsewhere.  Even today. some of the big council estates lie half empty, 30 years later, plots of waste ground, overground pavements and the odd abandoned lamp post testifying where entire long streets of houses once stood. Districts and towns still in recession decade after decade, whatever the wider UK economy is doing. Maybe that's why many Scot's await the latest Conservative plans/ideology and a step into the unknown with less enthusiasm than England seems to have. Poverty still exists and is increasing- it's just much better hidden  nowadays. In the housing estates at least, if not in the city centre with rough sleepers still abundant there.
Main bus route through Arden.
Next came the Darnley, an estate I remember vividly getting built when I was around 14 years old and the thrill of exploring it block by block as it was a deck access estate similar to Park Hill/Hyde Park Flats in Sheffield or the Divis Flats in Belfast.( Google them for photos) Both memorably recreated in 71, an excellent film about 'The Troubles.' (A strange name for close to all out war bubbling under the surface.) This one set of remaining original flats, getting a renovation when I passed, is all that's left of the original high level estate, the rest demolished or redone into much nicer low level housing stock with well cared for gardens. A very different estate now and restricted door entry on the flats, presumably, which are now fully enclosed instead of open air corridors. Very few deck access estates remain in the UK now, true to their original design, an architectural 1950s-1960s- 1970s wrong move where families are concerned, as 'Streets in the sky' housing is tailor made for antisocial activities due to the fact that it's open to all and anyone... gangs, groups, can linger outside your front door and you can't really say anything as it's a public corridor. High level bridges used to connect the various blocks so you could walk from one end of the estate to the other without coming down to ground level, marching through the upper corridors. A great place to explore on winter days of week long heavy rain and an obvious irresistible magnet back then... all due to the design. Now it's a much nicer place to live and bring up children, with the missing private boundary lines set in place...i.e. this is my  garden and my path leading to my house... but slightly boring compared to its wilder past... A bit like some modern pop music...
Next up on the magic 57 bus tour was South Nitshill, seen here from Nitshill Road. In the 1960s both sides of this road, before Darnley and Sainsbury arrived, was all green belt open countryside, pleasant fields and farmland. Part of the 'Green Belt.' around Glasgow. Arden was the only other tenement estate here in the photo location at that time.
Darnley Mill and Corselet Road. In the 1960s and early 1970s still a working dairy farm with herds of Holstein Friesian black and white cows in the surrounding fields, which were all grazed down to short grass pastures. An abandoned cluster of World War II gun emplacements  stood on the right in a field a short distance up this country lane, with only a few cottages interrupting the rural bliss. It was a beautiful, scenery rich, peaceful lane back then, sweeping in thin tarmac curves,  up to the Barrhead Dams and a favourite with local walkers and families. Very different now with modest, bought housing estates encroaching on both sides of the lane and The Dams to Darnley Country Park, still a good walk, but an overgrown jungle of bushes and weeds away from the path network, compared to it's 'wander anywhere and everywhere' past life. Like a well groomed country gent in barbour jacket transformed 30 years later into an almost unrecognizable unkempt tramp with straggly beard and wild long hair. (Before and after look coming up later.)
Next to the minor Corselet Road, Parkhouse Road stands, running straight as a ruler into Barrhead. In the 1960s the old Darnley Fire Station used to sit at the bottom of this hill with its own small garden used for growing vegetables and fruit and the metal tramlines from an even earlier era were still visible running from the tree next to these tenements down the hill beside this pavement past the Darnley Tree, then up towards Arden across open rural fields. The tram went into Barrhead in the other direction but building this estate removed that section of the line. When I was around 14 the Fire Station was abandoned and was soon knocked down along with the lifted rails. No trace of either remaining today. These modern tenements look much the same as the old estate that used to stand here, the only difference being they were three levels high in this view and they covered the rest of the estate except for one four storey row whereas now the rest of it is low level modern semi detached properties. Note this green meadow. It runs unbroken right around South Nitshill to St Bernard's Catholic Church and was very important to the young me growing up. The first wild land I encountered.
This is it again from the other side. I was never in St Bernard's itself but this 'grassy hill' had a huge influence on me. Each tenement block of streets in the new scheme/ estate had an internal large square or rectangle of bare grass, washing poles and tarmac patches. All the bedroom windows of the enclosing tenements looked onto this area. Like many council scheme children of that generation throughout the UK it's the first playground I ever experienced, containing around 40 assorted aged children from our large back. To give you an idea, below is a present day two storey back court in the same estate but its smaller in scale, not as high or enclosed and the central grass is much longer. Ours was short back in the 1960s- no railings. I've superimposed the dark shape of the water tower over in Priesthill where it was surrounded by 3 level high flat roofed tenements. It's an urban forest now- no buildings left on this side of Priesthill. On the right of this photo is a small wood, running through the estate, heavily overgrown now but it used to be full of wide trails and you could play in every inch of it, or cycle through it. There was even a steep slope with a rope swing hanging from a tall tree. It was a favourite place for children to explore but very different looking now. You can instantly tell the same amount of footfall does not occur here to keep the vegetation in check. There was hardly a blade of grass under the trees on the various paths in the 1960s, just stamped down bare earth from countless busy young feet running everywhere through it. Now it's open world games played on a computer instead of the real thing on your doorstep. Not complaining- I like them as well for the visual art alone. Just a different kind of exploring. Each new generation has their own grail quest to follow and find.

The back court was normally where children learned to interact, fight, make friends, make bitter enemies with, and generally establish a place in the pecking order of life. Up until the age of around five or six I mainly stayed within the back court or out in front of the house on a smaller well kept area of short grass, if unsupervised- where my parents could keep an eye on me. Weekends and after school we only went into our houses when it got dark or for food. We lived outside unless it was pouring with rain ... but that was normal for most of us then at that period in time.
After that age I'd made friends to explore with and natural curiosity led us towards the discovery of the 'Grassy Hill.' That was what we called it anyway. Out of the reach of our parents gaze. Before the council estate arrived it was all open countryside here and a working dairy farm on the flat summit. Wardhill. Then and always this small hillside enjoys extensive views over Glasgow. I don't know about today's children but for us this was heaven for many years. The exact place and time I discovered my own religion. The natural world surrounding me. Endlessly fascinating and complex. In summer we caught mice and grass snakes sleeping under wooden boards discarded on the grass... watched kestrels above, hovering for prey...played games, explored the collection of large pipes stacked on the open hillside near the Murray Pipeworks until they were removed behind a fence on the far side of Nitshill Road and slid down two small coal bings in the early 1960s until they were removed as well. Three black crosses are marked in the photo below. The highest one marks where the two small coal bings once stood near the top of the hill, around 15 foot high maybe.( Hard to judge height from a dim memory at six years old but they seemed fairly high then. And dirty when you climbed up them then slid down- black hands and knees in short trousers- a common sight then.
The crosses also mark where the tarmac path/steps leading down the middle of the hill are, lamp posts just visible. Generations of children and adults used them to get to the two primary schools, railway station, shops, pubs, bookmakers, in Nitshill village. This hill was not always so well sculpted or manicured and in the early days of the scheme it was more undulating and broken. The middle cross marks where a shallow gully once ran away from the steps with a waist high yellow boulder in it containing fossil trilobites easily obtained with a hammer and what looked like a bedroom sized lava flow of ancient small cliff. It was only head high to young children but a cowboy's western canyon to young imaginations. In autumn and winter we had bonfires and fireworks near the top of the hill, seeing rival bursts of coloured rockets from neighbouring hilltops like Priesthill. When the snows came we had big snowball fights, built snowmen or more often giant snow boulders to roll down towards the main road and of course the angle was perfect for large community slides where you could get up impressive turns of speed downhill on a slab of cardboard, old metal tea tray or plastic sheet once the run was slippy enough. Store bought sleds were too expensive then but some built them out of old spare wood. They were never as fast as the lightweight sheets or boards of plywood used on their own though. The bottom cross denotes where a small fetid pond sat in a flat depression between the bottom steps and Nitshill Road. A thin ring of stunted bushes/trees lined this shallow unpleasant looking pond but there was never any fish or bird life in or around it that I could see so I didn't miss it when it was filled in once they started smoothing the hill out into what it looks like today. The grass is also shorter and better maintained now than in its undulating wilder past as lawnmowers in the early crumbled hillside days could not handle it. I also remember a deep weeping mud pit that trapped the unwary to the left of St Bernard's church on the open hillside when it rained. A natural spring perhaps trying to ooze out... or a burst pipe. That was filled in as well.No more victims. This is probably the last post I'll do on this particular estate so I might as well make it a comprehensive one.
What it looks like in 2019 looking down Parkhouse Road. It used to be a long line of 3 storey tenements here with the rest of the street layout and tenement district behind that. On the opposite right hand side of the road it was grass fields and farmland, some with cattle, some empty so as children you could always find a way to the Barrhead Dams through the field boundaries without disturbing livestock or crops. Barbed wire fences, gates, or hedgerows proved no problem as at that age we could slide through any gaps with ease. (A flooded quarry in the woods not far from an old curling pond around Upper Darnley House was a big draw as was a similar flooded quarry and narrow gauge railway line running behind the Nia-roo Pub and Darnley Hospital. Since the 1980s the five or six large fields that existed here in this photo, growing up, have been replaced with low level bought houses, similar to the ones on the left hand side. Parkhouse estate first then a decade later Southpark Village followed, covering open fields and a strange little wood I almost regarded as best friends.
At the end of South Nitshill the road continues on to Barrhead and this was the start of my walk down memory lane. Brownside Braes above. Once I got into my exploring stride, around ten or eleven years old, this was my new Eden to enjoy. Unlike the grassy hill it's not as close as it looks here, in this zoom.
I was delighted to find this stretch has not changed much at all in 50 years. A walk along this pavement passes fields on one side (the right hand) and woods (to the left) and the occasional mansion house glimpsed through the trees. Just into the right where the dark hole is on the road a large detached house stood and the entrance to Salterland Road, a country lane leading to Barrhead, the nearest  town to our Glasgow scheme, but situated in East Renfrewshire. You are looking at the boundary line here between two districts. Glasgow and Renfrewshire. Going through to Barrhead on foot was a popular walk for my parents, my sister and me as you could reach it by this road or across country by other paths if dry.
So of course this was the route I picked on my walk just now. No pavements for me. And an idea of the true distance to Barrhead and the Browside Braes in this photo.
The missing fields on Parkhouse Road, now covered with houses, and The Dams to Darnley Country Park used to resemble these remaining fields as I was growing up. An absolute joy to walk across them.
And they are still full of livestock keeping the grass short. Horses have grazed here for decades, riding stables in the old days. Obviously I stayed out of these fields. I'm not stupid.
Best pals.
A berry orchard and Neilston Pad in the distance. Told you it was Eden here. A book that made a big. long lasting impression on me from around 12 years of age onwards was The Lord of the Rings- mainly a student cult trilogy in the late 1960s and not the high profile it enjoys today as it was only in book form then, not award winning more obscure. When I read it though, the greatest character that came through in it for me was the different landscapes described- mountains, rivers, small hamlets and towns encountered, caves explored, forests, exotic cities, and farmland. And the concept of 'The Shire'  It was a burning flame in my imagination for years afterwards.
When I looked at the map of 'The Shire' in the first book, conjured up by Tolkien, to represent idyllic English countryside and rural small town life that he himself knew as a boy there were loads of strange coincidences. Renfrewshire possessed many of the same characteristics as 'The Shire' and Hobbiton, which sits in a pleasant, slightly elevated bowl, surrounded by rolling hills, sloping gently up towards higher moors and hills. A perfect match for Barrhead and Neilston. It gave me real inspiration  and also the courage to explore.... as LOTR is also a book about journeys from your own front door... undertaken on foot. It was that easy... to access adventure. No ships, planes or cars required or involved. Pouring over maps in the three iconic books brought me eventually to real life OS maps of my own area, how to read them properly, and my guide to getting around as I often had to explore unknown territory on my own if I wanted to go further afield. Not many of my similar aged friends shared my burning wanderlust to explore new woods and distant hill ranges but there was a few like minded companions now and again.
 Renfrewshire also has  Greenhill country within it, (small wooded braes)  a green water, and many other features I won't bother you with that chimed strongly with the books when I discovered them. It was just an extra layer of mysterious magic bestowed on what was already for me a dazzling district. Even now, having explored most parts of Scotland extensively there is nothing quite like this landscape diversity anywhere else in Scotland- bearing more of a resemblance to special bits of the English Home Counties in geological terms and feel. Being the Scottish central belt however we have to pollute the lay-bys with the usual discarded rubbish and fly-tipping that has occurred for decades here. Other than that it's still beautiful.
Autumn Berries. Hawthorn I think. Linnets, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Yellowhammers used to be frequent visitors to this area.
The faint but obvious path I was following goes through the berry bushes not the open field system so you can avoid the horses and barbed wire fences altogether.
Fine views over Glasgow from an unusual angle. Silverburn Shopping Centre surrounded by woods. Pollok is a very green leafy place, even now. When I went to the Doctor's surgery or dentist at Crookston Road shops decades ago, the nearest ones available, that too was a beautiful walk through woodlands from the house and a pleasure to visit. Every walk around Nitshill/ Pollok was an adventure through the countryside at some point.
Silverburn and what looks like the Dumbreck hi- rise flats beside Bellahouston Park, Springburn Park flats behind.
Salterland Road. The back lane to Barrhead. It was so nice here in the 1960s my sister got married in a country church at the other end of it. It's now gone but nothing lasts forever. Still a country lane, which is a minor miracle.
The old railway bridge over the Levern Water- a lively stream from the high moors that powered half a dozen cotton mills in the 1700-1800s along this leafy valley. Coal mines also surrounded Nitshill and stone was quarried. It has always been a curious mix of rural unspoiled beauty and industrial efforts here. Similar to walks as a teenager- most of the time peaceful rural bliss but just occasionally you would run into a rival gang and find yourself chased by half a dozen angry orcs brandishing daggers and cudgels, baying for your blood. Facing up to them on your own was not an option. 50/50 chance of getting stabbed.
Nitshill Two scheme. Pinmore Street. Seamill Street. Separated from South Nitshill by a railway line. Constructed at the same time, late 1950s, it used to be rows of four storey tenements here.... very similar to ours.  Unlike in 'The Man who would be King' these teenagers didn't piss in our water supply upstream and expect us to drink it. We probably sat in the same classes at school and got on ok...but because they had a different gang name and could reach us through a pedestrian tunnel they were always bitter rivals. This area as well had a small and alluringly mysterious mature deciduous wood on its far side, an enticing prospect for a young teenager bagging woodland realms who had never explored it. This woodland always winked at me as I passed it frequently, walking to the doctors for experimental hay fever injections, a summer curse I suffered badly from then in my youth. Hence being chased by irate same aged locals who knew I didn't belong there and me escaping capture by shooting off like a rocket...similar to a dog caught wandering around in another dog's garden, peeing on its bushes, and knowing it's strictly off limits when the real owner arrives. It was a hard won bagging tick. Luckily, I was a fast runner.
Happy horses. Barrhead.
The same train line that passes Nitshill Station ends here in Barrhead. One of Scotland's worst mining disasters happened at Nitshill Victoria Pit coal mine with 61 men and boys killed down it after an explosion occurred in 1851. Many of the victims lived in Barrhead, walking several miles each day there and back before a long 12 to 14 hour shift underground. A memorial stands in Nitshill village beside the station.
A lovely walk across country into Barrhead followed but as the Lord of the Rings was and is a trilogy so too will this be.... The End.....of Part One...



Carol said...

Never managed to get through Lord of The Rings or similar - too long and wordy - I had to wait for the films! I'm surprised you had grass snakes in Glasgow - it must be awfy warm - we don't have them in the North of England as it's too cold for them...

I'm always wary of going down memory lane as I hate seeing the changes - I always want places to have stayed as they were when I knew them and, of course, they never do. Consequently, I never go back to places like Glastonbury (where I went for years) and I think I'm taking the same attitude with my long-promised return to the Outer Hebrides unfortunately.

Anabel Marsh said...

I really don’t know these areas at all, so it’s good to learn about them. Once I cross the river I’m lost! like your analogy with LOTR - I never got past The Hobbit, but it’s interesting to hear the effect it had on your life.

Ian Johnston said...

This is great Bob, an urban walk but full of interest and clearly, for you, memories both positive and not so positive. There's fascinating stuff here, and the LOTR reference is really interesting - I loved those books (and still do) as much for the journeying narrative as for the adventure tale.

PS you're right - Hawthorn berries. They seem to be super-abundant this autumn...until the Fieldfares and Redwings arrive anyway!


blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
The grass snakes were probably pet shop animals released or escaped onto the hill. It was common then for tortoises, terrapins, snakes and budgies to be sold as pets- most of them died within a year or sooner as no one had a clue in the schemes how to look after them properly. My primary school had grass snakes and also terrapins for the pupils to look at which is how I knew them. I also had a hamster for a while but it was a vicious little bugger that bit me every time I touched it so I was glad to see the back of it. That too was released into the local woods where it probably terrorized any smaller inhabitants until the Scottish winter killed it off.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
Some nice areas over that side.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Ian.

Carol said...

Good point about the grass snakes - probably were ex-pets. A lad brought one into school once (and also an adder! :-o ) I was the only person who wasn't scared of them as I like snakes - I'm careful with them though...

Poor hammy - wouldn't have survived long outdoors in Scotland! They don't mean to bite YOU as such - just they're very short-sighted and think your finger (or whatever) is food. Ours was pretty friendly with us and we used to let it free-range all over the lounge. When we found the badly frayed and chewed mains cables a few years later, we realised what a bad idea that had been!