Wednesday 24 November 2021

Bearsden. Garscadden Wood. Castle Hill. Antonine Wall. The Edge of the Wild.

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 This is the second part of my walk along the Drumchapel Way, cutting briefly into Bearsden and Colquhoun Park before doubling back down Thorn Road to head for Castle Hill. I could have traced the Antonine Wall in the opposite direction, heading east down Roman Road to see the visible foundations of a Roman Bath House there but I've been there before several times so instead I headed west, towards Bearsden Golf Course.

This is Thorn Public Park, off Thorn Road, and it sums up what's wrong ( as a walker visiting)  or what's right ( as an adult without children living there) about upmarket areas. Namely, they might be attractive places to look at from a distance with the beautiful tree cover but of course it's all private gardens and private property so you are confined to street walking mainly. This small park looks exactly as I remembered it 30 years ago, no re-wilding effect here. A square of grass with nothing in it apart from a few benches around the edges. Golf courses appear to be more important in this district as a selling point rather than outdoor play areas where children and teenagers might congregate unsupervised and unguided, (and get into mischief,) something I've noticed before in upmarket estates, like Newton Mearns, built outside the city limits but often lacking the small extra frills you take for granted in Glasgow with its much longer history of public investment and infrastructure. Not even a swing, or a chute, or goal posts here. Nothing. Maybe they bring their own equipment? Even with large gardens and plenty of space in them I recall seeing very few swings or outdoor play equipment in this district compared to the average modest council estate, whose gardens are often dotted with fun items like trampolines, kid's bikes, swings, tennis rackets, and basketball hoops. Maybe that would lower the tone of the neighbourhood here with noisy, excited, high pitched, children's voices.  Bearsden is better than most as it has several natural features, like kettle lochs,within it but it's still mostly padding down long streets of closed off gardens and fenced off areas with no real change or history on view. Upmarket districts like this also have a certain strict conformity, unwritten rules and standards as to what is or isn't allowed for its residents, visually or behaviour wise, everything tightly wound and respectable... at least on the surface presentation it is still that way. For example, I'd imagine hiring a bouncy castle for a children's party or a splurge of outdoor Christmas lights might be verboten in the better streets, even though the gardens have plenty of space for one.

By comparison, neighbouring Drumchapel has changed its appearance drastically several times over the decades so there is always something new and surprising to see there and I also have many vivid memories of what it looked like in the past from the 1960s on-wards and so many great, unforgettable experiences of wild/exciting/ suddenly edgy/or pleasurable/happy times there. And it's access all areas by deliberate design via a network of paths and stairs crisscrossing through it.

 After viewing a few streets of houses, or on multiple visits to the area, most of Bearsden ultimately proved itself to be largely un-exciting for walkers- tamed and predictable... if a nicer place... on paper... to live.  The surprising fact is many of the rougher Glasgow estates beat the upmarket areas hands down for good walking potential, excitement, points of interest, and views, with better parks and in the case of Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Pollok  loads of enjoyable woods, small hills, former grand estate history, and green spaces with often scenic valley and hill top paths and trails weaving through them all. 


A distance view here, above, of Drumchapel, Garscadden Wood behind, Castle Hill (on the top left) with the start of the lowest mountain ridges just visible behind.

Most children growing up in Bearsden probably have much better job prospects, opportunities, and parental ambition to get on in life driving them forward from an early age (Often with a ten mile start advantage in a fifteen mile race over the bottom tier of society)  but personally I would not swap my own upbringing in a scheme on the outskirts for anything. I had very little parental pressure to succeed in life or get a career other than the hope that I learned a trade of some sort but I did have the space and freedom to have a mostly happy life in any direction I wanted to go without the millstone certainty of 40 plus years of steady work, mortgage, marriage, and children to look forward to on leaving school, which, I'd imagine, is the general norm and expectation in the posher areas. Not being academic or particularly ambitious, or gifted in any way I already suspected, leaving school, I would never be rich at any point in my life, despite however many years of slog I put in to achieve it, although I've had some decent jobs along the way, ( a realistic viewpoint a lot of average people discover, deep down, fairly early.), but that didn't bother me as I'd already discovered what I loved doing the most.... and it wasn't work :o)  Being happy was always more important to me than earning big money through pursuing an  ever upwards career path with additional responsibility, extra commitment, and a subsequent lack of time/freedom that often goes hand in hand with that choice. I couldn't always avoid all that of course as I still had to earn a living but not having any family commitments definitely helped me to maximize any money and free time I did get.

And what I loved doing most was this... exploring. So I left Bearsden at the end of  Thorn Road and found a narrow path leading left between the houses and the golf course fence to end up back in Garscadden Wood, a lovely strip of wild land and a nature reserve just above Drumchapel with several different paths running through it. Buzzards, sparrow hawks, kestrels, foxes and roe deer spotted here on occasion.

Instantly, I started enjoying myself more with a renewed sense of freedom and space missing in Bearsden. Took this photo of a tiny stream as it's how the Grand Canyon was formed. Recent heavy rain having eroded a two foot deep trench in the path. Incidentally, or probably nothing incidental about it,....the modern boundary lines between Glasgow (City), East Dumbartonshire (Bearsden) and West Dumbartonshire (Faifley and Hardgate) run very close to the route taken 2000 years ago by the Antonine Wall. Shaping modern life even now.


The main path is halfway down the wood and is used by locals, walkers, and mountain bikers but I kept to this narrower upper one near the golf course fence which is much quieter but harder with fallen trees and mud in places. So much so that I lost half the sole of my left boot here, only the heel of it remaining attached. As I'd only been wearing them less than six months I was a bit peeved by this but at least they were a cheap pair, costing under £50.  


A view of part of this wooded ridge from Drumchapel. The modern Glasgow -Bearsden boundary line runs parallel from left to right through this wood with the Antonine Wall not far above it, on the other side of the golf course.

 A closer view of Garscadden Wood and where I was eventually heading... Castle Hill... still a prominent local feature with its perfect diadem of mature trees carefully planted  as a circular feature but 2000 years ago one of a long line of defensive forts on the Antonine Wall which stretched 40 miles across the Central Belt of Scotland, coast to coast. Most of these forts/watchtowers were constructed within sight of one another. More abandoned empty streets here in the Drummore Road area of Drumchapel , bottom of photo, where tenement clusters once stood.

 Out of the woods eventually and onto the wonderful open grasslands surrounding Castle Hill. Thousands of Roman soldiers patrolled along this wall, built after the more substantial Hadrian's Wall further south. Hadrian's Wall was stone built throughout so it's lasted much longer intact in many places. The Antonine Wall however was built of turf and wood laid onto a stone base so there's not much visible evidence on the ground here for visitors to see despite it being ten foot tall originally with a large deep ditch along its northern side. According to reports (Roman writers mainly) the barbarian Caledonian tribes on the other side of this great divide were a hostile lot, long accustomed to raids and raiding each other for limited resources if the later Highland clans are anything to go by and more warrior hardened by harsh living conditions than their land rich southern neighbours. It took a dozen years to build this wall yet it was only manned for 20 years before they retreated back behind Hadrian's Wall again. This was meant to mark the edge of the Roman Empire before a final push to conquer the rest of Scotland presumably, but after this point the real mountains start, especially on the west, and unlike further south the landscape itself, like all mountain areas, would aid the locals if they used guerilla tactics to ambush intruders instead of face to face large scale battles. Think Vietnam, Afghanistan or Gurkhas in more modern times, able to defend themselves against superior forces with evasive hit and run attacks and I'd imagine most of the glens then would be trackless and thickly wooded. Thinking about it in more depth probably more people living in the glens then than the numbers living there now.

One thing that struck me forcibly, standing up here on Castle Hill, with a mental map in my head of the lands further north, was that the Roman builders were spot on where they placed it as even today this largely invisible boundary line still marks the divide between the populated civilized sprawl of two million plus people ( Glasgow, Paisley, Motherwell, Hamilton, Wishaw, East Kilbride etc.lying directly to the south of this great divide, all within 20 miles... and the sparsely populated northern wastes that start immediately past here. Sure there's a few scattered housing estates like Baljaffray (seen here, above) Milngavie, and Faifley but even they cling as close to the wall as possible, though they might stray, rather daringly, a few km beyond it.

But apart from them... nothing. A view looking north from the wall. Granted that has to do with the landscape itself, the hill ranges starting here, swelling upwards to around 2000 feet then just getting higher as they go further in but all these many centuries later this is still very much the sharp dividing line between civilized parts to the south and the visible edge of the wild right here.... only hill farms, a few small villages, and some modest coastal towns for the next 200 miles until you reach Cape Wrath and the North Atlantic Ocean. Maybe the Romans realized that and decided incurring heavy casualties for such poor ground was not worth all the effort and manpower. Whatever the reason -they left the Antonine Wall- almost as soon as it was completed, falling back to Hadrian's... before a final retreat. Around a three hundred year occupation of Britain in total so it was a fairly slow, if brutal, conquest and even in the flat lands further south Queen Boudica and her Iceni army almost managed a major upset in fortune before being eventually beaten and subdued.

I really enjoyed Castle Hill as it was wild and open with great views. This is looking south east, back at where I've walked from. The X is right in the middle of Drumchapel, on a wooded ridgeline there, then the dotted line weaves into Bearsden, through Garscadden Wood past the golf course and up to here.

Autumn colours in Bearsden with the gothic spires of Schaw House, an 1890s functional yet elaborate former convalescence home visible, soaring above all the other slightly smaller grand mansions buried in the trees.

A zoom of Bearsden Golf Course and the Hi Rise flats in Glasgow's Maryhill district.

Another zoom of the University of Glasgow tower with the golf course adding some extra interest. 

 Ryanair Flight over Castle Hill heading for Glasgow Airport. On the descent flight path preparing to land, though not as close as it looks here.

I was intending to walk to Faifley, seen here, still a few miles away then get a bus back from that estate but my boot sole was threatening to fall off altogether and was flapping with every step so it was quicker and easier to head straight down into Drumchapel again by a different route and get a bus back from there.


The Drumchapel view descending Castle Hill. The bus stop is just beyond the large white building. It was a wise choice as three quarters of my left sole was hanging off by the time I got near a pavement again but I soon found three elastic bands dropped by post people once near the houses and these kept it in place until I got home. A very enjoyable walk, despite my problem boot. I have a back up pair available while I try to glue the detached sole back on.

Sunday 14 November 2021

Drumchapel. Bearsden. Castle Hill. Part One. A Walk on the Wild Side.

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A recent walk I did in early November to capture the last weeks of autumn colour on the trees was a trip to Drumchapel. You can either get a train, or a bus, or park your car here ( a large car park is obvious when you arrive, left of this photo) but I took a no 6a bus to this point. At the bottom of this photo you see the path with railings that takes you up towards the two hi rise blocks. 

 But first, at the start of this path, directly across the main road from the shopping centre, you should see this sign. I've added some extra info and the black dotted route of my alternative walk as it was a cracker I really enjoyed. 

 The view of Drumchapel's western suburb and local park which still has most of it's original housing stock intact as seen from this rising incline path I was on.

 Moving slightly right of the last photo you come to new built housing stock replacing the 1960s massed 3 and 4 storey tenement clusters. If you type in Drumchapel tenements-images... you should see online what they used to look like originally. Like all the big four council tenement estates, one placed at each outer corner of Glasgow in the 1950s and 1960s as in Drumchapel, Easterhouse, Castlemilk and Pollok it's the sheer size of the place that really gets to you. At their peak population density in the 1960s to late 1970s, (when I was a teenager growing up in one) each held between 30.000 to 50, 000 residents. Even today, with less than half that population remaining in them all you can stand on one part of Drumchapel's outer edge and everything in sight, looking the other way, fading into the distance, will still be Drumchapel.  Like all the big four estates it is a massive, sprawling township covering several hills and ridges and that size gives it a gravitas and majesty I always find visually compelling.

 Yet it's also a great place to walk, which is why it always draws me back, decade after decade, since the day it was first built.   Pollok and Castlemilk also.... Easterhouse less so..... being a south and west side dweller all my life not so keen on the East End for some reason....although I've worked there often enough in the past. Landscape wise there's fewer hills in the East End of Glasgow which is mostly flat ground.  Anyway, as you can see the path swings around under the flats, and meanders nicely past the Glasgow Club Donald Dewar Centre (a building containing a group of enclosed outdoor football pitches with several basketball courts indoors, currently used as a Covid vaccination hub.)...


And then a children's play park with zip line, chute, swings, and basket ball courts- also a concrete skate board park. It was a dry and warm day but all these facilities were deserted. Normally, in any other city park I've been in with good weather you would expect to see some children and families playing and well attended at this time of day but although I passed several of these play areas scattered around not one person was on or near them.  Strange. The complaint with the big four and other large council estates in Glasgow used to be that they moved people from inner area slums where housing conditions were often appalling but they did have cinemas, pubs, shops and dance halls close by whereas in the early estates you had row after row of tenements and very little else. They have made efforts to improve that situation.. but do children play outside anymore when modern bedrooms are filled with entertaining gadgets? One main reason we always played outside in the 1960s is that we had very little in our bedrooms to keep us amused and the TV set was black and white, 12 inches in size, with two, often boring, TV channels so not much in the way of stellar attraction back then. 

    Anyhow, several paths snake through open meadows on the Drumchapel Way so you do not have to go into the housing clusters at any point if you don't want to do so.


In fact parts of Drumchapel are so wild and open now you would swear you were in the heart of the countryside. This is the view near the highest central part, right in the middle of the scheme where, until around 20 to 30 years ago, streets of  3 and 4 storey tenements still stood- around a dozen streets in total- now all gone, with nature re-wilding in the way nature does best. Left to itself without any interference from humans. I find these places fascinating. How time can change things so drastically as I remember visiting these streets 30 odd years ago and hundreds of families living here. Same story with all the big Glasgow housing estates in post industrial Britain. Vast numbers of workers in factories and shipyards no longer needed. Smaller numbers  of gig economy workers taking their place instead throughout the city, usually highly visible newly arrived ethnic minorities getting fit by cycling everywhere on bikes- hundreds of them delivering square backpack boxes of fast food to fat westerners exercising less and less each year or only indoors, inside a gym. The American Dream transported abroad for all to share with a local line up of all the usual USA food and drink, drive through, outlets you can think of sitting at the bottom of this estate.... And in every other urban area, UK and world wide. No bike deliveries happening in this neighborhood though.  Looking north here.

 Another view of the same area, this time looking west. Next to a still operating bus stop and  bus route- the terminus is now situated in a open meadow...You couldn't make it up...

Proof that streets and tenements once stood here. The long abandoned tenement cluster of Ryedale Place, Pilton Road, Rayne Place and Sherwood Place. And a once busy school on the hilltop here, now only visible as a large flat  tarmac rectangle and some fast eroding concrete steps and walls leading up to it, half buried in long grass and bushes since the 1990s.

 Looking down Sherwood Place with Ryedale Place branching off uphill on the left. Areas like this always exert a powerful hold on my imagination. There's a long, half buried, very spooky after dark, fight of stairs in the woods near here. Since childhood wanderings I've explored  ruined mansions, ghost mining villages, abandoned tunnels, caves where generations of families lived, old hospitals, deserted asylums, underground bunkers etc and they all generate something in me that draws me back. And Glasgow is still filled with these unusual places- still undeveloped 30 years after they were pulled down or abandoned. And I love them all.

 They have almost finished the flood prevention work along the Garscadden Burn that's been ongoing for over a year now. This is the wooded boundary line between working class Drumchapel to the left  and upmarket Bearsden, to the right. Because they sit so close to each other they are often used by the Scottish media as a perfect  example of rich and poor, have and have not's, living side by side. The Garscadden Way runs up through these woods, skirting the edge of Drumchapel but as I'd done that section last year I decided to cross over into Bearsden instead as I'd not visited the nearby Colquhoun Park for at least 20 years. 

 A view taken from Knightswood Hill showing just how close they are together. The electricity pylon denotes the end of Drumchapel and a stone's throw away is the nearest house in leafy Bearsden on a slightly higher ridge but a huge gulf in income levels I'd imagine.

 One of the reasons I wanted to come over here is that I could see how attractive the autumn colours were from a distance with a nice mix of deciduous and evergreen trees. I know most districts in the Central Belt fairly well and Bearsden is no exception. Unlike Drumchapel however and other working class districts I've been in over the years, which change constantly, decade to decade, the posh areas of suburbia rarely change at all since the day they were built. Probably the reason why so many rebels, artists, performers, etc come from well heeled suburbia throughout the UK. They get a good education to express and promote themselves coherently, they usually have a family network of useful contacts to get places denied to others and the funds available to open any doors with help buying expensive start up equipment etc ... and it beats a 40 year career slogging it out in more traditional upmarket avenues like business, politics, banking,..... and so forth.... then they get out and get away... from a place that never changes.

  You know you are in an upmarket area when you can hardly see any houses. Bigger gardens, larger trees, plenty of space available. I suppose at this point it's as good a place as any to briefly mention UK MP's failing to survive on £82,000 pounds a year income and having to take second and third jobs to cope and make ends meet. Granted I do not live in London, I'm single, and live within my means in a modest house but I can get by very comfortably thank you on £10,000 pounds a year and can afford all the luxuries I need. I can even get by and have done on £5000 pounds a year total income and not grumble too much about it. If I was getting £82,000 pounds a year, even in London, I would be a millionaire fairly quickly with the money I save every week on that salary. Also, I've always been too knackered doing one physical 40 hours a week job to contemplate anything else other than food, rest, and sleep so these older three job guys can't be working hard enough in the first one, surely. What I really object to though is not people getting on in life, or having money and ambition/drive,  but with politician's in general thinking they are hard done by and lacking any sense of decency or shame.  Most of the ordinary citizens I know and am proud to live beside, if they were earning enough to live on comfortably, would not have the brass neck to routinely get caught out claiming extra  money from a variety of sources, simply because they would be far too embarrassed to do so. For instance- I would be deeply embarrassed if I could not live on £82,000 pounds a  year! I would be even more deeply embarrassed if I was also claiming taxpayers money for extra income- even if it was within the rules as my own sense of right and wrong moral code, and most ordinary citizens have inherent decency I've found, ( which I've witnessed many times in real life situations on the street) would not allow me to do that.

(And if I did do it, they, the authorities, would soon make sure I was severely punished for my heinous crimes.) I am aware in the world they live in... of top executives and banking big wigs rubbing shoulders in expensive restaurants.... who probably earn far more each year than they do and feel sorry for them in general terms at their beggarly plight .....  but asking the general public who survive on far less to see your obvious dilemma in having to scrape by on a miserly £82,000 pounds per annum... for a part time job..., while as a party they continually advise/lecture you on expected standards of good conduct and behavior as a society... is a lot to ask.

Anyway, I did enjoy my brief visit into Bearsden and Colquhoun Park, seen here. On old maps and in my 30 years ago memory bank a bare looking skating pond and an adjacent curling pond sat here along with a series of football and rugby pitches. This small pond, like most others in Glasgow and outlying areas, have benefited greatly from various re-wilding projects, with bull rushes, bushes, and long grass softening the once hard sided, vegetation free, edges. A big improvement.

Station Road runs from Bearsden Train Station past this park, then skirts the edge of Drumchapel to climb steeply towards Chesters Road. Past this point in the photograph, going left, it's a quiet minor route untroubled by many cars, servicing a cluster of large detached mansions and upmarket flats half buried in mixed woodlands. A road I often enjoyed year round observing the changing seasons and wildlife.... in a van or on foot. Possibly my favourite road in Bearsden.

 It's not changed at all and I still enjoyed it all these years later. To the left of the photograph the road climbs steeply upwards, through mature deciduous woodland heading away from Drumchapel and on into upper Bearsden.... What would I find there I wondered...?.         end of part one.

Saturday 6 November 2021

Lusset Glen. Old Kilpatrick to Bowling Walk. Canal Reflections. Beauty is my Muse.

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  I set out one glorious autumnal morning, at the very dawn of the day, for Old Kilpatrick, the village that stopped the Roman Empire in its tracks. It was a magical setting in a precious jewel of current existence- diamond sharp, crisp and clear. Too good to miss. The sort of morning where you believe anything is possible and that all is right in the world.

A large ship passed silently under the Erskine Bridge when I arrived as if sliding through a forest in dream state and it is moments like this that keep me going out- they inspire me with the thought that wondrous events or auspicious meetings might well occur- and on days like this... they often do. 

Lusset Glen. I was alone... but did not want to be on this particular occasion... as it was so fair a morning it should be shared with someone else.

Then,  by the canal, I saw her lying.... submerged.... cold and remote under a liquid sky.  Where Millais, the painter, had left her.     As Above- So Below....

 It was a day where anything could happen... and... with some imagination... maybe it did.

Her grey lifeless eyes stared up at me.... but animation and colour grew within them slowly the longer I looked.

 "Arise Damsel and take your rightful place as ' Queen of Water'.... you are badly needed now- like never before. Walk with me on this perfect morning. Feel the sun on your skin again at last. Taste clean air in your lungs.'

 And she did.... for  'Beauty' is my muse and always has been.... throughout my long, long life.

 Together... hand in dripping hand... we enjoyed the day.

And what a day it was... a morning plucked from Eden... fresh and completely still.

 Mirror images everywhere... as my lady dried her flaxen hair on a nearby bench.... which soon turned to gold under the warming sun above.

 Old Kilpatrick Church on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

 Old Kilpatrick. Hills, woods, and village church. 

 Erskine Bridge and The Saltings. Far from the Madding Crowd.

Old mooring wall. The wild River Clyde.

Dumbarton Rock from the Clyde Estuary mud flats.

 'Thank you for rescuing me.' she said. ' Not many have attempted it before. Funny that?'

  ' You are very welcome.' I replied. 'As you rescued me also on this fine day.'

 'It is most opportune.' she agreed.

The day passed slowly into afternoon and the harbour at Bowling reminded her of a life before that famous stream set her in immortal amber for all time.


 "Oh yes, this is much better than that desperate bleak ending"... she said, delighted by her sudden change in circumstance. "What a lovely place. Who are you.... to work such magic?"

"I am Narcissus." I replied. " We have an established bond, you and I - each fixed in time and collective memory through liquid surface."

 Eventually the afternoon wore on... and as the sun lost its warmth quickly at this time of year we began to think of other things.

"I do not want to go back under that black water."  she muttered sadly. " so cold there... and very lonely."

"I do not live far away." I informed her. "and I have a spare bedroom that might suit a guest."

 She brightened at this and a smile slowly began.  "Well, you wouldn't want to save me for nothing now, would you? Do you have a fire, some cheese, bread....  and some mead?"

'As a matter of fact I do'.  I nodded.

"Well then".... she replied.


The time for reflection was now over it seemed.