Saturday 29 February 2020

An Older Harder Glasgow. Part One. Royal Infirmary. Cathedral of St Mungo. Glasgow Necropolis.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
As it was a rare sunny day, after a period of storms and rain, I decided to visit the oldest parts of Glasgow again, as I'd not been over there for a couple of years. The area around Glasgow Green, (The first city park) the 12th century Glasgow Cathedral... seen above, along with explorer David Livingstone's statue in front... and Glasgow's Necropolis- the city of the dead.
This cathedral, built before the reformation, which swept across Europe and the UK in the mid 1500s on-wards is now Church of Scotland. Before that it was a Roman Catholic Cathedral in a largely Catholic country, surrounded by many of it's subjects, still loyal to the faith- which is the main reason it survives today as reformation supporters (Calvin influenced Protest-ants with John Knox as their figurehead ) rejected the papal authority of Rome, much like the EU today, and burned/ looted or destroyed many others. This one was protected however by a large ring of locals and supporters, determined to save it, and well enough armed to beat back opposing forces. Which is just as well for tourists today as this district is one of Glasgow's main visitor hubs.  This cathedral, the adjacent Bishop's Palace, (an excellent modern replica of the original ruined castle that once stood here and is now a museum celebrating all world religions,) Provand's Lordship, (the oldest surviving house in Glasgow dating from the 15th century, (1470s) and the Necropolis, ( built 1830s, holding tens of thousands of uncomplaining residents looking down from their hilltop abode- the size of a big town population wise, like Kilmarnock)- yet all within easy walking distance of each other, often a stone's throw away. The tourists attractions that is- not the dead.  As far as I know the dead don't walk much- except in horror films as extras... and then very slowly... and easy to kill...again.
Glasgow's Necropolis, The 'city of the dead', based on the world famous version in Paris. Although a major landmark and tourist draw I only grasped the full implications recently that, despite the numbers involved, this dead city and many other cemeteries mark out spaces for the elite to be remembered. You need serious money or influence to be buried here with a big stone on top of you. Also occurring from the 1840s on-wards was the Irish potato famine that killed around a million souls with a million more emigrating from Ireland to avoid the same fate, many of them ending up in Glasgow's East End to work in the shipyards lining the River Clyde, the steel works, railway engineering works in Springburn, factories, and heavy industry- like most northern cities of that era, located downwind of the prosperous residents moving into Glasgow's West End districts around the same time, as far away from smoking chimneys, polluted air, and toxic smog as they could get while still within the fast growing city. Even in the 1960s, with the clean air act introduced (1956 UK for coal fires- 1968 for higher industrial chimneys) and with heavy industry slowly shutting down or relocating elsewhere I remember occasional pea soupers going to school on the southern outskirts of the metropolitan area, the smog so thick on that occasion the driver had the conductor walking in front of the bus with a torch to guide him towards the right junction, turning off the main road network, up a hill. And that was on the outskirts- nowhere near the East End
I'm still impressed by the Necropolis ( newly painted gates here) and the views you get from the summit, but it's tempered slightly by the new knowledge of a far greater number of missing unknown dead, gone and long forgotten, buried in mass graves somewhere, on the outskirts of the city, as it was the outskirts back then, but now probably under our feet. Tens of thousands of unhappy skeletons probably lie under Glasgow somewhere, rendering the Necropolis into insignificance- too poor to have any marker at all- victims of TB, poor air, cholera, typhus, and many other periodic outbreaks of illness and disease that swept the overcrowded slums of that era. Add in the Highland Clearances from the mid 1750s to the mid 1850s, bringing more desperately dispossessed people into the city and turning it into the 4th largest metropolis in Europe by the 1930s after Paris, London and Berlin, with over one million hungry residents to feed and water, and you can understand why they would have a problem getting rid of the dead during any epidemics and a need to bury them fast before rot sets in.
Glasgow at that time being one of the most overcrowded and service lacking cities, overwhelmed by migrant numbers coming in and a desperate need to house them all, preferably in the East End.  Before the 1840s city residents often took their water supplies direct from the River Clyde near Dalmarnock, a source of several bad outbreaks, killing thousands at a time, until new reservoirs in the surrounding uplands and Loch Katrine in the mountainous Trossachs became available. The good old days?
Bible thumper and ace God botherer John Knox leads the pack up here on the Necropolis summit.( the guy on the highest pillar of all in the centre) Also prominent near him is a full size sculpture of a sitting Charles Tennant on his plinth, The founder and owner of what would become the largest chemical factory in the world, situated (you guessed it) in the beating heart of the East End, between Garngad and Springburn. A long established open trench of heavy industry, numerous smoking chimneys, gas works, metal works, and burning and smelting materials of every kind, straight into the atmosphere, handily surrounded by the worker ants in the council schemes, often a short walk away from their place of occupation so no travel expenses involved. ( I have a well thumbed 1960s street map of Glasgow during this period and this shallow valley running north east of the cathedral is a wonder to look at on it, capturing on paper the full extent of industrial might in this area. The huge Power Station chimneys at Pinkston Road, one of many dominant features sticking up then, along with the Industrial Revolution hub of Port Dundas with its canal lined warehouses and barges, the nearby St Rollox Works, Chemical Works, Germiston Works (locomotives), Eclipse Works (Iron manufacturer), Gas Works, several Industrial Estates ( unlike the rest- still there and active today) Fruit and Vegetable Market, (still there) and a large quarry- along with several early housing schemes like Blackhill, Germiston, and Roystonhill (Garngad) built from the 1920s- 30s. That plus the water highway of the Monklands Canal, a 19km extra extension linking the distant coal fields around Airdrie with their biggest customer.   From the mid 1800s to the 1960s it must have been some sight- the second city of the British Empire's flaming furnace, an active volcano of industrial might powered by tiny ants, earning a living feeding a hungry colossus down in this trench, illuminated by day or night. The ant hills, (a line of drumlins running parallel to the trench) where the people lived, close by- cut off from the rest of the city by numerous railway lines, large sprawling works, and canals.
Part of the graft that made the city very prosperous - yet also grindingly poor. A worldwide conundrum that still exists today. Average life expectancy in the east of the city for the poor in the 1800s was mid 40s and even today, with better housing conditions, clean water and clean skies its mid 50 to mid 60s in some areas- still 20 years behind the West End but very handy for state pensions remaining uncollected at 66 years of age. Saves a fortune every year.  'The luck of the Irish' is a peculiar saying I've never understood ...unless it's ironic.
Glasgow's proud coat of arms above. The fish that made a sea- The bell that never flew- the bird that never grew- the tree that never be   ....something along those lines anyway. Look it up.
Some nice spring flowers in the Necropolis.
Another view. One thing I did note was the scarcity of tourists in the winter months here compared to Edinburgh. Only a few in early February compared to year round masses every week in the Scottish capital. After London, Edinburgh is now the most visited UK city- Glasgow is probably in the top ten as well but you do notice the difference. On the plus side you get to visit these special places without the hordes that Edinburgh attracts, most attractions here are free, (suggested donations boxes only) and Glasgow still feels distinctly Scottish. (Edinburgh sometimes in the city centre does not, as I mentioned in an earlier post as it's hard to feel completely at home when no-one around you understands English, let alone a Scottish Edinburgh accent- which I did miss. I like that regional accent difference between Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness. )
A view of the Drylaw district from the Necropolis. I did see a large tour group of Spanish speaking visitors when I was in the Necropolis but that was the only one and an interesting pleasure rather than being overwhelmed by numbers- frequently the only English speakers in several large crowds on my last few Edinburgh trips, judging by ear and reaction to our conversations. (with Anne)
Here, in Glasgow, tourists are still seen as exotic creatures, especially in the winter months, bringing much needed cash to the city if the state of the People's Palace winter gardens and Queens Park glasshouse is anything to go by.  A view of Old Glasgow here.
The 'bridge of sighs' connecting the Cathedral with the Necropolis. Originally this shallow valley was the route of the Molendinar Burn, an almost legendary but real water course that ran above ground from around the Hogganfield Loch area to the River Clyde- at one time a 'dear green place' of early promise for the first religious foundation of the city in the 6th century but 100 years ago it disappeared underground, like those missing skeletons, both swallowed up by a fast growing city. It's still there, just diverted and buried into pipes and tunnels- the home of rats and goblins- only seen by the bravest of urban explorers. It's still visible above ground in Blackhill, a rushing torrent of water, in a wishing well sized hole- one of its few above ground appearances these days.
Inside Glasgow Cathedral.
Stained Glass Windows. Adam and Eve I presume.
A large range of different types and styles over several centuries. Military ones here. Different regiments.
An eagle. Gold eagles as a symbol of power date back to Roman times- probably even earlier than that.
The true cost of war summed up.
Oval design.
Glasgow's Royal Infirmary. A listed 1914 edifice set in stone and still in use today when much newer  hospitals across the city have been demolished. East End citizens can look out the ward windows and see the Necropolis looming above them. Not exactly heaven but pretty close to it.
and on that note I'll end... part one.

Thursday 20 February 2020

A Date With Storm Dennis. Ayrshire Coastal Path in Wild Conditions.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
A view of Saltcoats above. The two big named storms this winter have occurred within a week of each other. As I've been flooded myself, many years ago, by burst pipes, after -15 below temperatures, when I was off exploring elsewhere, I can understand first hand some of the misery, and ongoing fear of re-occurrence these storms have left in their path, with widespread flooding, destruction, and ruined homes and business properties across the UK on the news currently. On a much smaller scale I've lost several fences to the storms in past years but that's more of an annoying inconvenience rather than a soul destroying blow. I've also helped in past decades with year by year house clear-ups after flooding as part of my old job, moving families to temporary accommodation then disposing of damaged furniture, ruined carpets, and electrical equipment all over the city, although that was caused by empty unheated houses bursting pipes in the various half deserted council estates in extremely cold winters. Weather/Nature at times can be cruel... and the ultimate top predator.
However, as a keen amateur photographer I still find big storms exciting and compelling. Like rock climbing, fast cycling, or skiing they can make you feel intensely thrilled and alive. So it was down to Helensburgh on a Sunday morning I journeyed to meet the first elemental force of the winter- storm Ciara, posted last week. And a week later, another Sunday, I motored down to this place, Saltcoats, to meet storm Dennis. The Harbour area here.
The 'Castle'. Saltcoats. My intention was to park here then walk a small section of the Ayrshire Coastal Path, a long distance coastal route running from Gen App (near Ballantrae) to Skelmorlie (near Largs) - a distance of 100 miles approx (160 km) It usually takes under a week for experienced, fit, fast walkers putting in 20 mile days or around 10 days at a gentler pace. I've done most of it in handy day sections- either in late Spring or early Summer, when it's at its most beautiful and abundant... green fields rich with happy lambs, cliffs, coves, and valleys covered in yellow gorse, white blackthorn, or a myriad display of fresh green leaves unfolding on the trees. And miles of hopefully hot golden beaches.
As a contrast to that though it's also very impressive in wild weather- a magical alchemy of brooding skies, wind, wave, and passion mixed together in a tall glass. A heady drink for the bold. Flat rocks near Saltcoats here.
Although a seen better days, down at heel, coastal resort- like many throughout the UK no longer attracting the two week stay holiday tourists of old, Saltcoats still has its attractions and enthusiasts. I'm definitely one of them. Not as a child in a family group in the 1960s- it was too crowded back then on sunny days- we/I preferred Bute, Girvan, or Largs for summer holiday outings but certainly now when it's quieter but still used. A large free car park and nearby toilets for one thing. Great beach and pleasant coastal walks/ cycling routes in both directions leading from it. This is looking across Saltcoats towards Ardrossan, gulls hunkered down by the wind strength. As you can see here, after the beach walk you find a small hilltop castle, a monument, good views, several inland paths/cycle routes, and back street mystery allure.
So I did this section first.
More open to a larger expanse of sea than Helensburgh the wind gusts here proved stronger by at least ten miles an hour and it was harder to walk in a straight line. Luckily, over the years, I've put on some helpful ballast, so although rocked and shaken, frequently blown sideways along the beach and pavements, I stayed upright at 14 stone, dead weight on both paws, while small pitiful dogs took to the air, at the end of elastic leads.
Even Saltcoats car park looked frisky under the onslaught of wind... spray blasting well inland at full high tide. Luckily, I picked a sheltered spot for my own vehicle. With experience comes wisdom. A truer word was never spoken. Fly little doggies and tiny children- always liked Peter Pan. Real life wind speed instead of fairy dust lifting them upwards towards the heavens, frantic parents pulling them back down again. Spoilsports!
Next, I went in the other direction, past the car. heading for the railway line and the concrete esplanade beside it. I was intending to follow the beaches here past Stevenston and Ardeer to the mouth of the River Irvine but the wind was so strong it would have been an epic. Also high tide was around 4pm and as as you can see here coming back then would have meant a real soaking. A few years ago they renovated the concrete esplanade here and poured many tons of washing machine sized boulders onto the sands below it but it doesn't seem to have made any difference to the amount of spray at full high tide.
If anything it seemed worse, more widespread now across the whole area... but maybe that was just the strength of the wind. Storms do seem to be getting more powerful with the seas heating up, giving them more energy.
I found myself fascinated by the various gulls on this walk. Most birds avoid flying in winds as strong as this but certain gulls seem to relish the challenge, just like certain humans love wild weather. Extreme weather really does make you feel alive. Grey, listless weeks of day long rain find me sofa bound during weekends in the house unless I have to go somewhere but conditions like this find me buzzing and motivated to get out- keen to do my 10,000 steps in a day. Admittedly, half of them were sideways or braced against a pole. Where's that rope when you need it!
When you see gulls in a city park they always seem greedy scavengers, first to the bread, but then you realise many of them still travel back out to the coast every evening, a long procession a hour before dusk, heading over the Erskine Bridge, using the River Clyde for navigation back out to sea. Daily long distance commuters travelling into the city to survive as gull numbers worldwide have almost halved- a combination of pollution, fish stock numbers decreasing,  and loss of habitat.
When you see them down the coast in a storm however, gliding, almost effortlessly, in 70 mile an hour winds you appreciate how graceful they are, skimming enormous waves to dip down and catch a meal, or hovering like a kestrel, stationary in the air, to enable them to pick out any small crabs or tiny fish broken by the sea. Like recessions or upheaval for humans, tempest weather can also be an opportunity for predators hoping for a meal, rich pickings for some, able to ride them out in comfort from above, in gleaming towers or on the wing, swooping down when the opportunities arise.

Although alone on my walk you are rarely alone in nature as the gulls kept me company the whole way along the coast. This has always been my church. The natural world around me my only religion in life.
Gulls on the storm.
Both of us enjoying the conditions. Although there must come a point where even their acrobatic flying skills are outmatched by sheer wind strength.
A life on the wing is not without risk, as the old, the sick, or the plain unlucky can pay a heavy price during storms.
An old wire fence on the way to Stevenston beach. If this was in a modern art gallery as an installation piece it would probably be worth thousands of pounds but here its free. I call it 'WIND POWER.'
Around a dozen separate panels next to the railway line adorned with 'stuff'. Slightly disconcerting when I noticed several items of flat metal stuck to the fence as well, like flattened beer cans and a thin flat lightweight rusty spike. Not good things to meet in the air at 80 miles an hour if your head just happened to be in the way. It's certainly one method to clear plastic and rubbish off the beach.
Other seabirds were also out scavenging for food. Three small waders in this photo... perfectly camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings.
I never made it as far as Ardeer Beach this time as it was hard work fighting the wind and I wanted to return and get past the concrete esplanade section before full high tide as then it would be impossible to avoid getting wet. I was still dry and wanted to stay that way.... just for a change.
Juvenile black headed gull keeping me company along the coastline.
And back to the ancient walled town of Saltcoats, named after the sea salt extraction beds which became a strong feature of this coastal resort during the 1700s and at one time a major local industry along with fishing and boat building. (a town walled off from the rages of the sea that is- a potential monster on the doorstep as big as King Kong... a liquid asset historically beneficial throughout the UK along the coastal margins and in river towns and cities for centuries ...but increasingly now viewed with distrust and trepidation thanks to increased rainfall levels and bigger storms. But another cracking day out.
 A history link here... and apparently Ayrshire is making sea salt again. You learn something every day!

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Helensburgh. A Date With Storm Ciara.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
While I wouldn't normally be excited to visit a 7th century middle aged Irish abbess this particular Ciara was an Atlantic storm, predicted to hit landfall over Ireland and the UK, bringing strong winds and gusts approaching 90 miles an hour with flooding likely due to high spring tides. (Spring is in early February now?!!! Who knew!!!) A Celtic cross in Helensburgh, above.
As this popular seaside town wasn't too far away, a half hours drive in the car from my house in Glasgow, I decided it was worth checking out. I hadn't been to the coastal resorts during a big storm for a few years now so I fancied a return visit. Ciara- pronounced Keira, as in the English version, is still a popular girl's name in Ireland along with a host of other Irish names for men and women in Gaelige (Irish Gaelic) usually hard to spell and even harder to pronounce as they often have little in common in speech version with the letters written down on a page. So you got off very lightly with Cee- ah-rah.  For instance- Irish singer Enya's real full name is Eithne Padraigin Ni Bhraonain and I'm not going to make any attempt to pronounce that phonetically. It's got to come from a Gaelic speaker to sound authentic and natural anyway.
I'm pleased to report Helensburgh got off fairly lightly as well although some of the seafront gardens took a drenching. Being normally a sheltered location within a sea loch, a finger of the Clyde estuary, it's not as exposed as the Ayrshire coastal towns and nothing compared to the west coast of Ireland, open to the full power of the Atlantic storms across a wide ocean- large impressive swells hitting the cliffs there even in calm weather. Flooded spring primulas here but it's rainwater inland so they should survive the moat treatment.
When I arrived at the car park in Helensburgh it was to find parking places already limited, quite a few cars stranded but luckily on a slightly raised platform of dry ground with a foot of water in between to reach the road. Most folk caught out just left their cars where they were rather than risk a deep water traverse but a few brave souls, with suitable all terrain vehicles got out. (The waters did subside when the tide turned.)
A vehicle with a high undercarriage makes an escape.
Not wanting my car to get soaked in salt spray, which is very corrosive, I parked well away from the water on a dry area. Even getting to the toilets was problematic though, the entry door washed with waves and seaweed, but luckily an upward fight of three steps inside stopped any flooding further into the interior. I came fully dressed in boots, waterproofs, and hat so this was easy for me. A coastal storm veteran of many decades experience.
Having crawled up dozens of summits in high winds in my hill-walking days I've also got no problem standing knee deep in the sea or getting wet with spray as long as its safe and a good photo opportunity. As you can see from this photo though you have to be very wary of thrown pebbles and seaweed  in the waves as they can get flung with some force a considerable distance inland.

Check out the size of the stones lying on the grass attached to the seaweed in the above photo. Apart from any damage on land many tiny sea creatures must die or loose habitat during these storms.

Having checked the tide times earlier I arrived just as the best action was starting, at maximum high tide, around a five metre rise in total with winds increasing. Helensburgh seafront here.

At its worst/finest a magnificent display of power where land meets sea, driven against the coastline by 60 to 80 mile an hour gusts on this occasion. Spray dancing 30 feet in the air and landing 100 feet inland. When it reaches 90 to 100 miles an hour and gets hard to keep still in one place or stand up I have been known to tie myself to railings or lamp posts to take steady photographs. I take my hobby seriously... and enjoy the challenge.
Luckily, I didn't see too many signs of major storm damage here although England, being heavily populated, with houses near rivers and flood plains, experienced the usual winter floods that are more frequent there now. Australia and other hot desert countries burn up in summer while our lands in winter get stronger floods, wilder storms, and longer rainfall. Pity we couldn't pipe it across to each other- swapping some sunshine and heat for fresh water.  Incidentally, there are still many folk around the world who do not believe in climate change but they are probably people who are not Scottish hill-walkers. Being out on the winter Munro's every other week for years we knew something wasn't right with the weather way back in the early 1990s-....30 years ago now...., as the snow on the mountains, started to change then. Unlike the arctic regions winter in Scotland occurs or does not occur within a few degrees... doesn't require 20 below to be winter here. Two degrees can effect it dramatically on the mountains so a natural early warning alarm call. Before the 1990s we had ten years of reliable hard snow and ice cover where we walked with crampons on from December to April. You needed them most weekends. After that period the snows either melted fast or disappeared altogether, same as today, usually a wading job after heavy falls, yet it's only now people are beginning to take it seriously. It's certainly not a new thing but there's now a sudden panic and realization as if it's just been discovered yesterday that we are in trouble. Same with plastic in the oceans- been noticing that on the beaches since the 1970s so there's a mild feeling of  hypocrisy/ where the **** were you? What have you been looking at? Not towards the scientists as they've always been predicting it, or today's children, but towards the general mass of population and governments. They should have been seriously tackling it 30 years ago but whatever happens now it's going to be unpopular as huge change to lifestyles and a brake on rampant consumerism  has to take place. The problem is... practically everything we do at the moment.... is unsustainable :o)
It doesn't take much to be happy...and sustainable.... and you can have a reasonably good standard of life with a lot less... I already do that to a large degree..through natural inclination and poverty.... always a good curb on spending habits....a carbon pinkie print on the planet..... but our entire economy and wealth at the moment depends on everyone buying stuff they do not really need. And if we all stop buying stuff  we don't need.... voluntarily.... other countries will just get ahead in our place. A frantic race to nowhere for all concerned.
Big seas on the Scottish coast. Troubled times ahead.
At maximum high tide the main Helensburgh coastal road became flooded slightly with cars having to drive through the spray.
It also got very dark and overcast but luckily it didn't rain. Always a bonus in a storm.
Flooded coastal road.
A slight miscalculation on my part saw me taking a photo from inside a wave spray instead of beside one. Which is why I wear full waterproofs. Gave me a good wash anyway.
Helensburgh's monument and seafront promenade.
A distance view. At low tide in summer a good walk can be had here along the coast on the sands.
Main pedestrian square in Helensburgh. A nice coastal town to visit in better weather with plenty of local independent shops, arts and crafts, seafront walks, and places of interest. Worth a visit.
Flooded play area. Soon dry out though.
Other than that I could not see much damage to infrastructure so hopefully it was only a cleanup operation with a fresh tourist season approaching in the coming months. Helensburgh and Lomond Civic Centre here, above.
Unusual raised face sticking out from the civic centre building. Enjoyed my date with Ciara.