Wednesday, 24 November 2021

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

                                                  ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.

 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.


Carol said...

Boot soles falling off is a modern thing - they all fall off nowadays - the glue they've started using is extremely inferior to that of older times. I had a pair where the sole fell off in less than a month! I can't get any of them to last much longer than a year. Everyone needs to start taking them back and then they might tackle the problem and go back to the old glue.

No-one ever got rich through working - that's a myth no matter what the job. People who work for themselves can get rich but not employees of any kind. Either way, they do, like you say, have to put in pretty stupid hours and, like you, I don't believe life is for nothing but work!

blueskyscotland said...

You are spot on Carol. It must be the glue they are using now as even when I bought cheap summer boots years ago the soles never came detached even after years of wear and much more abuse on mountain ranges than I subject them to today on much easier ground. The treads on them were hardly worn at all.
When I was in my 20s and 30s I did vaguely think about marriage and children and if females had shown a lot of interest in me at that time I might have succumbed but looking back now with hindsight I had a lucky escape as someone from my background and wage earning potential could never have supported a family, bought a house, and had the time for the adventures and travelling I've had over the years even with a wife helping with her wages. You really need to be more affluent to raise children, have a mortgage,yet have a good life doing it as I've seen so many hundreds of families from estates like mine barely scraping by yet working their balls off to give their children a brighter future. It's a huge sacrifice a lot of people just fall into without really thinking about it deeply and what it means as it chains you to achieve certain goals over several decades of what is supposed to be the best years of your life but too often isn't in the case of divorce when dreams fail to match the reality in front of you...never seeing each other, always knackered, no free time etc... Being single has its perks.

Carol said...

Being single has very many perks indeed! I do think that the Government and businesses (when they're selling you stuff) treat singlies very badly indeed financially though. Take a single room in a hotel/B&B or whatever - despite the fact that it's a single room, they charge you far more than they charge per person in a double or twin room. Which is why me and Richard share a twin room rather than pay for 2 singles.

As to the boot sole glue, I'm thinking the new stuff must be 'greener', or kinder to animals or suchlike. It definitely doesn't last long though. I always used to wear the tread out of my boots well before anything else happened to them - now they're hardly beginning to wear when the soles drop off.

blueskyscotland said...

Yes, I've noticed that about single rooms.
I remember many decades ago on a fair fortnight holiday in Rothesay (Bute)I was about 13 or 14 at the time with my parents who were sharing a double room and there was a small partitioned off part of it that I could have slept in behind a curtain ( my Dad, being canny, did ask ) but the woman who owned the place said " Surly, he'll want his own room of course, I've got a small one spare.", and more or less shamed my mum into agreeing I should have one. I mention this because even now I'm stunned at how much it cost when my parents didn't earn much money between them. And it rained every other day. You could have got two weeks in Spain or Italy for the same money, including cheap flights so no wonder people started going abroad. I only found out the price years later and I'm STILL angry about it knowing what the wages were like back then.

Carol said...

It always makes me laugh when I mention I don't normally go on holiday abroad and people ask me if it's because I can't afford it! It's always been cheaper to go abroad than holiday at home...