Saturday 25 April 2020

Neilston Pad. Renfrewshire and Glasgow Panoramas. The Kingdom. Part Two.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
Still on the upward trail after getting off the express bus to Neilston I followed a delightful rural path as it skirted the edge of this small Renfrewshire town. My route from the bus stop at Neilston's distinctive old cotton mill followed the lane behind the mill to a hole in the wall just before Crofthead Cottages then entered open hillsides, fields and woods on a good path, seen here, which mainly ran parallel to the Levern Water. It then crossed Uplawmoor Road at Brimstone Bridge and continued up a similar path, still in good rural scenery beside this same stream. It ended further up at  the next minor road (Neilstonside Bridge) so I turned left onto this minor tarmac road to get to the waterworks beside Neilston Quarry.
Walking minor roads around here and between Neilston Pad and Nitshill, using the rural back country network to get around via the Barrhead Dams is no hardship. On that long ago 1960s bike ride we only encountered about a dozen cars in total and even today it's not changed much, still quiet roads to walk along, although Neilston itself is growing recently, new housing estates springing up on its outskirts. Our 16 year old minder did a grand job back then, negotiating the labyrinth of twisting country lanes with faultless skill to lead us to our eventual destination, all the time keeping us away from turning into busier A roads with increased traffic. And all without a map, just knowledge gained from previous racing bike excursions around the wider area- which is why our parents, when they heard of our plan  said " go with him , he'll keep you right." And he did as well.
For the rest of us it was the furthest away from our local housing estate we had ever travelled on the bikes so we were glad to have him along as it gave us more confidence, on what was for us, a real adventure into the unknown. And Renfrewshire is beautiful- by any standards. Greenhill country. The cow meadows, above.
Punk Rock. HVS 5a. Neilston Quarry, which I passed on the way. We used to climb here occasionally as it's a good beginners crag although there's only a handful of easy rock routes in it but it sits in a nice location. Neilston Pad is not far away now and another  20 minutes walk across grassy slopes saw me nearing the final rise.
And this is it with a steep path leading up through the trees on the left. On the right is a broad plateau of knee high golden grass- a fairly strange feature for a hilltop in the Central Belt.
On the summit plateau.
To the south west the landscape rises further to the 1000 foot mark but here, this far north in Scotland, the landscape changes quite dramatically into less fertile moorland where pine forests and a few sheep earn a living for the fewer farms willing to carve out an existence on these bleaker, more mist prone, colder slopes.
New and old tree plantations here, above. To my mind, back then and even now,  there's not as much delight, mystery, and wonder in this harsher, slightly higher environment- not much incentive to explore these identical mass planted forests either. In my youth however the similar environment of nearby Fenwick Moor with its marsh draining windmills? was always a looked for oddity on bus runs to the coast, these basic D.I.Y structures of farmyard metal and wood eventually replaced by more profitable and state of the art wind farm turbines on a massive scale.
Plantations are good for timber though without destroying the slower growing deciduous pockets of woodland- some of these small pocket woods scattered over the billiard table green slopes hundreds of years old by now.
And the views in the other direction are/were something else again. Thankfully, still free of new housing estates or wind turbine desecration. The shy and secretive Drumler Craigs here.
 Looking back the way we came on our bikes in the 1960s made us almost burst with pride. An amazed euphoria, in me at least, that this was all our playground and that we were actually allowed to travel through it. (Strictly speaking it was and is the farmers playground of course but there's just enough in the way of minor roads, country lanes, rural footpaths and open ground snaking though it that it did feel like ours as well- especially the more open and public friendly Barrhead Dams- Corselet Road area, which was our main, easier to reach, backyard playground most weekends. The rest was just an added bonus to explore. This was what the now overgrown Barrhead Dams Country Park used to look like- filled with dairy cattle, short grass fields and trimmed hedgerows- all courtesy of hard grafting farmers and reservoir  maintenance teams. Lose the working farms and livestock however and you soon lose all this carefully maintained beauty... replaced by a jungle of waist high weeds, fast growing bushes, and long buried paths.  And the farms are slowly going- one I noticed last year on a trip with Anne near Patterton Railway Station and due to its proximity to the ever expanding Newton Mearns... a likely candidate for more green lush fields swallowed up by further housing developments. Probably the most amazing thing about this part of Renfrewshire is that it has remained untouched for so long- still beautiful 50 years later. Most of Drumlin Glasgow must have looked like this originally before it was covered over by the various housing districts- many of them named after individual farms or grand estates- the only reminder of lost rural Orchard Park, Castlemilk, Byres Road, Cowlairs, Possilpark, Thornliebank, Drumchapel, and Sandyhills.

On that long ago scorching summer's day we sat out on the summit of Neilston Pad for ages, taking it all in.  Craighall Dam here. Only the wind turbines are a new feature. We had unbelievable leeway then- unthinkable now. As long as we were back by dinnertime.. around six pm usually, or an hour before dark in winter, we could stay out all day. Our parents weren't neglectful- they did worry about us and would raise the alarm after that time but that was just the way it was back then. If it was dry at all, children played and explored outdoors- one reason being there was very little inside the house to entertain them and housewifes wanted them out so they could get on with the daily chores- shopping, cleaning, washing clothes, dusting etc... all the things women love doing every day instead of exploring :o)
The Greenhill Country. A small pleasant land of many wonders.... but for how long? My own Mythago Wood lies somewhere here in this district.... resplendent with faint echoes and relics of World War One gun emplacements, ruined mansions and haunted ancients buried deep in the woods, abandoned, soon to be sealed off coal mines, dark pits, and many a dark tower of the mind.
Then turning northwards from Neilston Pad summit we reluctantly began the long cycle ride back to Nitshill and Glasgow, or in my 2019 journey the long walk back to a bus stop, but retracing almost the same route decades later. Hillside Road, outskirts of Barrhead here, above, and another fine walk, also described on this blog, which crosses the Fereneze Hills and adjacent Brownside Braes between Barrhead and Paisley. Also a childhood lucky playground for myself and various nature inclined friends. Then as now it was not always easy to make lasting friends or meet people with the same interests and that bike run is also memorable as it was one of the very few we did together.   I, somewhat naturally, thought " I'm loving this! Let's do it again next week! Same group- different destination!" but it never did become a regular occurrence for various reasons... and it left me wanting more.
                                        A view of Renfrewshire from Neilston Pad summit.

Although I tried my best to generate lasting interest it proved hard to get the same ' dream team' back together again. Or any local team of bike/walking enthusiasts for that matter. Either they had conflicting ideas on where to go, wanted to go other places by other means, did not like it as much as me, or they fell out and argued. Which was a shame but I was too young and inexperienced then to convince them otherwise so it fell apart.
It would take me many years and a lot of wandering on my own initiative to get another 'dream team'  together... eventually. A story told in my kindle novel Autohighography.
On the bike run or walk back, after a few up and down miles of winding country minor roads you come to a few scenic high points over Glasgow. One view of it here. In this photo you can see in white the four high rise flats of Springburn, the two pink high rise flats sitting beside Bellahouston Park, the extensive woods of Pollok, The Silverburn Shopping Centre ( distinctive white bus stance hoops sticking up) and finally Nitshill (white tower block, bottom right)
In another direction from the sun-kissed summit edge of Duncarnock you can see Castlemilk on its wooded slope, or what's left of it anyway, as all the big four housing townships have halved in population size with most of the old 1950s/1960s 3 and 4 level tenement clusters replaced/thinned out with more modern houses. Pollok, Castlemilk, Easterhouse and Drumchapel, each district containing between 25,000 to 40,000 tenants soon acquired formidable reputations for gangs, poverty, and general lawlessness, especially in the 1960s to the 1990s but they are much changed now and the one thing they always did have, an abundance of surrounding leafy woods and interesting walking scenery, they retain to this day.
Glasgow is an amazing city in that regard. A lone buzzard here flying high above the outskirts. Once home to notorious gangsters and grim housing estates, often classed decades ago as some of the worst housing estates in Europe, yet always surrounded by beautiful parks, great walking potential and abundant deciduous woodlands.
Crookston Woods in North Pollok here with Moss Heights high rise flats behind.
Cathcart and Hampden Park in this view. Like gods on Mount Olympus we could gaze down from our bikes and see a vast metropolis before our feet in all directions in full 3D hyper real glory.
A view towards Loch Lomond, Drumchapel with its white water tower, and the start of the Scottish Highlands here.
Two walkers coming off Neilston Pad in the afternoon.
The city centre. In front the isolated mansion of Pollok House surrounded by Pollok Country Park woodlands. As good as a bird's eye view or a high climbing modern drone.
High Blantyre from the heights... or looking in that easterly direction anyway. I still find these panoramic views very special as an adult but think of how intoxicating they were to a 12 year old- the entire vast city of a million souls spread out like a living, breathing, map for the first time- and wanting to get busy as soon as I got back... exploring every district... every high rise tower in sight... every weekend.  That was one of my early ambitions not exactly matched by my companions. First Glasgow- then hopefully down to London to explore there, district by district, park by park. A realistic, achievable goal....... given time.

And best of all at the end we had a gentle mile long freewheel on the bikes down the Aurs Road then descending further into the traffic free Corselet Road, a long snake like lane and journey, gliding effortlessly and serenely under the trees, past blue eyed dams and green eyed demoiselles, all the way through the Barrhead reservoirs back to our humble scheme. One of many highlights during a sun soaked perfect day.
Which left a burning desire in me to taste that heady mixture in that heavenly chalice again- a geas if you like, placed upon me, with the lightest but deepest of touches, to forever replicate that wonder filled experience. Giving me, back then, what all humans eventually crave...must have in life... in order to thrive. A strong sense of purpose... and a mission.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital. A newer edition to the skyline. Anniesland/temple gas works behind. The end.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Duncarnock and Neilston Pad. 2019- 1960s. The Kingdom. Part One.

                                                  ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
With the world and the UK plunged into months of uncertainty, doom and gloom at the moment, I thought I'd take a journey back in time to a bike trip undertaken in the 1960s. Traveling through to Edinburgh with Anne a few months ago I noticed an Irvine bus leaving from Buchanan Bus Station and I also observed it stopped at Neilston on the way. This would make a perfect solo trip I thought then- a full day adventure by bus and then foot- most of it new to me. With an early start I was on a double decker McGill's bus, upstairs at the front for photography, heading out across Glasgow's gleaming glass and steel financial district with the Kingston Bridge over the River Clyde ahead. McGills being the bus company that provides public transport in Renfrewshire, which is where I was heading. The single decker McGill's bus in front was Greenock/Gourock/ Largs bound.

Slip road onto the M8 motorway and Kingston Bridge. A beautiful sunny day. Beside this traffic on ramp sits the Bridge to Nowhere- once a dead end stretch of concrete that stopped high in mid air but now a pedestrian/ cycle bridge to somewhere, linking Anderston District to the City Centre.

Going over the Kingston Bridge and River Clyde. I had a real sense of excitement and anticipation on this journey. Normally I'm driving across here so this was more relaxing, giving me time to look around and take photographs of my home city.

I also had day long supplies. Bacon and egg sandwiches which I soon munched down 30 seconds after I took this photo on the bus....and ham and mustard sandwiches which I managed to hang on to until later on the the day. Damn, They are just too tasty. I also had two boiled eggs and some cold chicken slices, in case I ran out.

Taking this motorway express route through the city it didn't take us long to reach Silverburn Shopping Centre in the middle of Pollok. From there it was out past Barrhead to the smaller town of Neilston, deep in the heart of Renfrewshire countryside. Parking in the small car park directly below Neilston Pad dedicated hill baggers can march up this distinctive lowly mound within 20 mins or so but although I've done this several times in the past it always feels like cheating- undervaluing a fine summit. You should really do it from sea level or as close to that as possible to appreciate it more. This time I would do the hill full justice.
It may be only 261 metres or 856 feet in height but that's higher than the more rugged Arthur's Seat in Edinbugh at 251 metres. Which brings us to that long ago bike ride. Being the highest summit around on the south side you can see Neilston Pad from many districts within Glasgow. This is the view looking over Nitshill, (white tower block is next to railway station) where we lived, with the town of Barrhead behind. Neilson Pad is the sloping high plateau on the right, half of it covered in pines. Unmistakable profile.
This photo is slightly zoomed. Nitshill and Barrhead lie miles apart, not joined together, so Neilston Pad is much further away than it looks here. From Nitshill, where we stayed, it was a full day trip on bikes to get there and back but possible during a long hot summer with no school to go to during the holidays. Five of us set off... and this post is a homage to that trip... as it was one of the best day's of my life. My life up until that point anyway. It was also when I decided this was what I wanted to do with the rest of it. Aged 12.
And who could blame me with all this on the doorstep. I didn't have a camera then, only memories, but even today it's not changed that much.
Duncarnock summit from the Barrhead Dams. Five of us on bikes ranging from a cigar smoking  talkative and assertive 16 year old ( hamlet I think, slim cigar type anyway, maybe nicked from his Dad as he only had two and struggled to finish them.) on a sleek drop handled racing bike, to me at 12 on a three speed, straight handled, slow roller. Four boys and one girl. (The 16 year old's girlfriend, who was 14.) He was older and had more money than us. A bit flash and keen to impress with his personality but underneath that OK... and helpful if required. He was the only one that supposedly knew the route so he was the leader on the way to the hill via a complex network of traffic free minor roads. Having a racing bike and more gears suited us fine as he was usually well in front, moaning, when we caught him up, about how slow the rest of us were going compared to him. We were "mere children"- he was "a man." on a " man's bike." We didn't mind that at all as we experienced far more of the illusive company of that rare item at that age... a girl. Who also struggled to keep up with the chuckling cigar man out in front. Happily, we had no problems keeping pace with her. Like eider ducks two posts ago.

Don't know if summer's were warmer and drier then but they seemed to be, looking back. I remember it was a scorching hot day. Although only around 8 weaving miles there and 8 weaving miles back, on the way inwards it was mostly gently uphill then over several rolling folds of landscape for most of the journey so we stopped frequently any time it leveled out for a seat on the grass. Then as now Duncarnock and Neilston Pad rest in sublime scenery... and sublime memory.  A patchwork quilt landscape of green fields, farms, dairy cows, sheep, horse dotted meadows, woods, and small dams. Packed with interest round every new bend.  Also a group of large reservoirs turning part of the journey into a water-world of dazzling light and saturated deep colour. Cloudless blue skies above, distant blue horizons mirrored on the still waters below. This landscape also has a strange chameleon quality in that  it can resemble so many other of rural Dorset...The Weald in Kent... Glastonbury Tor seen from the Avalon Mashes...any number of other scenic locations, mostly situated down in England and enjoying protected status.
I felt then it was the nearest I'll ever get to a mythical heaven. And that was the moment I decided... " this is what I want to do with my life- It doesn't get any better than this." When we reached Duncarnock, seen above, once hilltop home of ancient stone age tribes we went swimming after climbing to the summit. ( not supposed to swim here but it was the 1960s- no health and safety rules back just drowned or survived. No fuss involved.)
And what a view from the top.
Renfrewshire is still a delightful rolling landscape on bike or foot, wave after wave of valley and ridge-line. Add in drumlins, over two dozen scattered dams/reservoirs, and it's unique in Scotland. It does not cover a large area but it's special.
Duncarnock side view. Surprisingly rugged and steep ascent from the front here up a small cliff cunningly disguised as an easy grass rampart... until you reach it and start climbing.
Great Crested Grebe. Barrhead Dams region.
Family Group.
A Juvenile. Camouflage markings.
Adult with a fish.
Meanwhile, back in the present, I stepped off the bus at Neilston's old cotton mill. (If you are getting off here to do this walk as soon as you leave Barrhead ask the bus driver to stop at the old mill in Neilston. Being an express bus it skirts the town on its lower edge without going into it. There is a bus stop here but you get no warning and you can easily flash past it with the next stop miles away.) Go up this hill for a short distance then take the first lane right, walking behind the building until you come to a path through a wall over the fields, again on the right hand side.
I'll repeat again....this lane takes you behind the mill, seen here, and follows a head high wall for a short distance until an obvious hole in the wall just before Crofthead cottages leads to a path through trees then into open grassland. You don't want to miss this step over as it's the start of a fine walk to eventually arrive at Neilston Pad.
Follow this curving, banana shaped route slightly downhill around the side of a grass slope then head upwards again , still on an obvious path, heading for Brimstone Bridge. A very pleasant walk with a fine mix of trees.
As you get higher views start to open up over the surrounding ridges. Lochliboside Hills here.
Rural magnificence unfolds before you...
The infant Levern Water which further downstream powered several cotton mills in Neilston and Barrhead up until the 1960s.
One of the old catchment dams for the mill.
After crossing the minor road at Brimstone Bridge ( No Satan! Not today- I'll see you later in private!) you follow the upward path under this railway tunnel (still skirting the edge of Neilston's houses by sticking to open countryside) then upwards again towards further rural bliss.
Views now open out fully to reveal the wonderful green-hill country of my youth. Could easily be Hobbiton.... or anywhere good you can think of..... An undulating empire I was besotted with and explored for many further years. The 16 year old I never saw again after this trip, close up at least... he soon left for the world of adulthood and work, upgrading to a motorbike and roaring glimpses in the distance. Some people grow up fast due to personal circumstances, others seem to be in a speedy race to get there, uncomfortable with simply being a teenager, and he was one. Hooked on maturity, getting married, getting settled down.... or the idea of it, anyway. ( I may yet become an adult at some point, engaging in occasional grown up activities, but I'm in no rush to do so. I prefer being me instead.) The girl I did see frequently, close up, as she lived in a tenement building nearby and became an occasional companion but almost always in a group setting, exploring our surroundings until she too moved away a few years later. But the landscape and I stuck with it the longest- the real love affair of this story. And they both lived- me and nature that is- happily ever after. The end...

of part one.....    a lone buzzard flying high over the great forests of drumlin Glasgow. Cardonald College ( now part of Clyde College in white.)

Incidentally, if you fancy more of the 1960s or past times  I've watched and enjoyed several BBC TV series.... Back in Time For Dinner, Back in Time for School, and Back in Time for the Corner Shop. All excellent and currently available to watch on Dailymotion.
Also been watching Race Across the World (South America.Very Good) and The Nest.... On TV.  An excellent five parter set in Glasgow. Both probably currently available on i-player just now.