Arran – the walks

Machrie Moor

Moss Farm Road Cairn

The trail to Machrie Moor Stone Circles is an out-and-back walk of 4km. Before we got to the main event, we passed Moss Farm (above), the burial cairn of a powerful person who lived about 4,000 years ago, and Fingal’s Cauldron Seat (below), named after the legendary warrior Fhionn / Fingal.

Fingal’s Cauldron Seat

We stepped through a gate just beyond this onto open moorland and the sight of five separate stone circles – the tallest standing stone is over 5m high.

Kilpatrick Preaching Cave

A coastal walk took us to the well-hidden Kilpatrick Preaching Cave. After the Highland Clearances in the 19th century, when the Earl of Arran evicted many of his tenants to make room for more sheep, local people showed their disapproval in the only way they could by rejecting the Earl’s choice of minister. The Preaching Cave provided a suitable meeting place for the congregation. A sad story, but a beautiful setting.

String Road Viewpoint

Returning to Brodick on our last afternoon in Arran, we crossed the island via the String Road (B880) from which a short trail led to a beautiful viewpoint. Ayrshire was just visible on the horizon.

And behind us were beautiful mountain panoramas.

The next morning, we took the ferry back to the mainland while hoping to return to Arran soon.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks – today she’s taking us to Bolton Abbey, and her cyber-companions are walking all over the world.

Arran – the castles

Brodick Castle

With a couple of friends we rented an apartment in Arran over the May Day Bank Holiday. It was a long time since we’d been and it was their first visit – it was definitely a success, but, as with our earlier weekend in Galloway, the weather was a bit iffy. Still, we got out and about and there was plenty to see.

It was a disappointment to find that Brodick Castle is closed this year, presumably for maintenance. However, the gardens were open and we spent a whole morning wandering about.

Later that day, we went to Lochranza Castle, a 13th century ruin which can be visited free of charge. What a beautiful setting!

The following day, we had lunch at the Kildonan Hotel and took a short walk afterwards to see Kildonan Castle. This is also 13th century, though there’s much less of it left and it’s not accessible – it’s actually in someone’s garden! The modern standing stones at the hotel were interesting too.

Next time: the walks.

Glasgow Gallivanting: July 2017

Over the last few months, I’ve been taking part in a project at Glasgow Women’s Library to research the women associated with the Belvidere Fever Hospital in the East End of Glasgow around the time of the First World War. There isn’t much detail in the records, so the idea was to use our imaginations to create a series of dramatic monologues around our chosen women. On the 4th of July, this came to fruition with a performance and a book, both called Voices from the Belvidere, bringing to life fascinating stories of laundry maids who ran away, nurses who caught fever after fever, and the rare women doctors who followed their calling against all odds. My contribution was called The Zombie Ward: some day, with more time, I might tell you its story. In the meantime, here’s my protagonist, Nurse Watt, who caught my eye smiling in the centre of the picture above.

Happy birthday to me!

60th birthday in Jasper

My birthday is in July, and 2017 was a big one. 60! I can’t quite believe it. I celebrated on vacation in Canada, and here I am with some of my cards – from the three people who managed to send one in advance, and John who made me stand outside a shop in Canmore, Alberta, while he selected his.

Lake Louise

As I spent most of July in the Canadian Rockies, including Lake Louise as seen above, and I intend to blog much more about that later, it doesn’t leave a great deal of Glasgow Gallivanting to write about. So that’s it for this month – except to say that I hope you’ve had a great July too.

Crawick Multiverse

On Easter Monday we set off for home after a lovely weekend in Galloway. We planned to stop at Crawick Multiverse, but were first distracted by the Red Deer Range in Galloway Forest Park. I admit I wasn’t too keen, as I thought the deer would just be a few specks in the distance, but they came right up to the hide.

Onwards to Crawick. What is it, I hear you ask? A former open-cast coal mine, it lay abandoned for 30 years until the landowner, the Duke of Bucclech, commissioned landscape artist Charles Jencks to transform it into the artland it has been since 2015. The site’s themes are space, astronomy and cosmology, with features and landforms representing the sun, universes, galaxies, black holes and comets. Having seen Jencks’ work at the Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh and at Jupiter Artland I was very keen to visit Crawick. It didn’t disappoint.

I’m not sure I can explain much more – you really have to see it. All the features have names, but I haven’t included captions because a) I can’t remember which is which in some cases and b) it would be very time-consuming to label them all. The two mounds with spiral paths which appear a lot represent the Milky Way and Andromeda, but other than that I’ll let the slide-show do the talking.

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There is absolutely nothing else at Crawick Multiverse – maybe this will change in the future, but for the moment the ticket office is a Portakabin and there’s also a portable toilet. If you want to eat, the nearest town is Sanquhar – although you might find, as seems common in this area, that kitchens keep very restricted hours. However, we had a good lunch in the Oasis Restaurant, part of the Nithsdale Hotel.

So ends our short stay in Galloway, a beautiful part of the country to which I can’t wait to return.

Two Galloway gardens

Glenwhan Gardens

We arrived at Glenwhan Gardens just in time for morning coffee in the friendly tea room. This was Easter Sunday so I had expected it to be busy, but the weather was dull and damp and we seemed to be the first people there. Not so – apparently a woman had arrived earlier with a small girl in tow and enquired about their Easter Egg Hunt. When told she would have to pay the garden fee to participate, she stormed off saying it would be cheaper to go to Tesco to buy an egg. I would say 0/10 for parenting skills there! We spotted bags of mini-eggs hanging throughout the garden but, although it got a bit busier, we didn’t see many children. What a shame.

Anyway, after coffee we admired the peacock in the car park before heading through the entrance with its lovely stained glass panel.

Started in 1979, the 12 acre site was created from a hillside of bracken and gorse, with two lakes created by damming up bogs. The paths wander upwards to various viewpoints – it’s just beautiful.

There are many sculptures dotted around.

My favourite is the Peace Pinnacle, seen here from both sides.

The garden is surrounded by 17 more acres of wild land – it was even wetter under foot than the rest of the garden, but we enjoyed the moorland walk all the same.

As luck would have it, we passed the tea room again just in time for lunch (delicious) before returning to the car and setting off for our second garden of the day. However, we decided on another stop in between.

Glenluce Abbey

Glenluce Abbey was founded in 1191/2 by Roland, Lord of Galloway. The ruins are now in the care of Historic Scotland.

Finally, it was on to Castle Kennedy Gardens.

Castle Kennedy

The castle ruins date to the 16th century, but the gardens are more recent being the inspiration of the second Earl of Stair in the early 19th century. I was struck by the terraces and landforms, very reminiscent of contemporary work by Charles Jencks (and we’d be visiting one of his creations the next day). However, they have been there since the beginning, created by men with carts and horse-drawn equipment. Amazing work!

Lastly, at the top end of the gardens we found Lochinch Castle, which was rather more comfortable looking than Castle Kennedy!

We got wet several times throughout the day and it was cold (spot that I’m wearing gloves, even though it was April) so it was good to head back to our cosy cottage to dry out and warm up. We were leaving the next morning and planned to go home via Crawick Multiverse. Coming next!

Isle of Whithorn and Wigtown

Harbour at Isle of Whithorn

A tale of three walks

Easter Saturday (and also John’s birthday) was the first full day of our stay in Galloway.

Isle of Whithorn

Our first stop was Isle of Whithorn for morning coffee in the recently built Village Hall. From there, we set off for a walk round the “Isle” which is actually a peninsula – although Isle Head has a very narrow connection.

From the bay opposite the Hall we continued down Main Street to the harbour.

Looking back from the harbour, we could see on one side the castellated-effect sea wall of  the Captain’s Garden, a 19th century private house, and the Kirk, and on the other side Harbour Row with the Steam Packet Inn, named for the days when the Isle of Whithorn was a key destination for Galloway’s steamship trade.

Onto Isle Head where we found the Solway Harvester Seat, a tribute to the seven-strong local crew of the fishing boat Solway Harvester which sank in a storm off the Isle of Man in January 2000, and a witness cairn dedicated to St Ninian, an early Christian missionary. It’s situated in what was once the Isle’s lifeboat station.

Close by are the ruins of the 13th century St Ninian’s Chapel. And here’s a lovely picture of the birthday boy standing next to it!

Climbing to the top of Isle Head, there were good views back to the chapel and the village.

At the top is the Isle’s most prominent landmark, a square, white tower known as the Cairn which has been a navigational aid for hundreds of years. Next to it is another memorial to the men of the Solway Harvester.

From here, we retraced our steps back to the car and headed a few miles round the coast to St Ninian’s Cave.

St Ninian’s Cave

St Ninian’s Cave is somewhere John remembers visiting as a child, so he was keen to go back. From the car park it’s about a mile down the wooded Physgill Glen to a stony beach.

Turning right, the approach to the cave is obvious (though hard on the ankles).

It’s surrounded by crosses and other tributes in every nook and cranny.

The views back along the beach are beautiful.

Once again, we retraced our steps to the car. This time we were in search of lunch, but were about to learn that this is almost impossible in Galloway after 2pm. We stopped in a few places on our way to Wigtown where, fortunately, we found a suitable café – can’t have John starving on his birthday!

Wigtown

County Buildings

Wigtown used to be Galloway’s chief town, but declined over the 20th century until 1997 when it was designated Scotland’s national book town. The Wigtown Book Festival was inaugurated in 1998, and these two things have kick-started a regeneration as an attractive town for visitors. However, I resisted the siren call of bookshops and we set off on the town trail, starting at the magnificent County Buildings which seems to have pretensions as a French Château.

A short distance away was the church to which we returned via a long loop, enjoying the views from Lovers’ Walk and Windyhill.

A boardwalk then took us to the Martyrs’ Stake. In 1685, five people were executed in Wigtown for refusing to accept Episcopalian services and, in particular, that the King had the right to call himself head of the church. Three men were hanged, but Margaret Wilson (aged only 18) and Margaret McLachlan were sentenced to be tied to a stake within the flood mark of the Blednoch stream until they drowned. Today, a granite memorial marks the spot.

The path continued through wetlands to the harbour (rather muddy looking) and a bird hide before returning to town via Station road – with an appropriate weather vane.

After that it was back to our comfortable Wren’s Nest for the night. The next day did not dawn so bright, but we braved the rain to visit two Galloway gardens.

Glasgow Gallivanting: June 2017

Another fabulously busy month! My summer programme of guided walks continues (I’ve led, or co-led, four in June) with a couple of twists. The Women’s Library is reprinting its walk leaflets, so John and I went on a reconnaissance mission to the Necropolis to check the route directions and take some new photographs. Not relevant to a women’s history walk, but something we hadn’t noticed before, was this monument to William Wallace (of Braveheart fame). And I couldn’t resist including my favourite angel as the post header.

 

I also went on someone else’s walk! The Royal College of Nursing guided a walk from the medieval cathedral to the Clyde looking at public health through the ages. I learned, amongst other things, that some of the tenements I pass often were built by Glasgow’s City Improvement Trust in the late 19th century – an early form of social housing to replace squalid slums. From now on I’ll be looking upwards even more than I do normally to spot their banner.

 

Happy 75th Billy Connolly

Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly (or Sir William Connolly, CBE, to give him his full title) turns 75 this year. To celebrate, his home city has commissioned a set of three murals by Rachel Maclean, Jack Vettriano and John Byrne. As a result of my guided walks in the city I’ve now spotted all three.

 

As well as the murals and his knighthood, Billy recently received an honorary degree from Strathclyde University. I watched a clip of him in his robes, and he asked “I wonder if they know something I don’t? When you start getting the lifetime achievement awards……”, and his voice tailed off. I know his health isn’t good, but I hope he has many more years to come.

The Great Get Together

On 16th June 2016, during the EU Referendum campaign, Jo Cox MP was murdered by a fanatical white supremacist. One year later, thousands of events up and down the country took place under the banner of The Great Get Together to commemorate Jo and celebrate the phrase she used in her maiden speech to Parliament “We have more in common than that which divides us”. I attended an event at Glasgow Women’s Library at which the guest of honour was Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. I expected to encounter some extra security given recent terrorist attacks – but no. I walked into the library as usual, Nicola arrived, gave a moving speech, then moved round each table talking to everyone and posing for selfies as requested. Spot the fan girl!

 

I’m proud to live in a country where politicians can still do this, where we don’t react to terrorism by shutting them away from the people they were elected to represent, and I’m proud to have a First Minister who can speak so well on the platform and also come across as friendly and approachable in person.

South Rotunda

South Rotunda

Rotundas on either side of the River Clyde mark each end of the Harbour Tunnel, built in the 1890s and long since fallen into disuse. A year ago, I wrote a post about an urban walk along the river in which I lamented that, although the North Rotunda had been a restaurant for as long as I can remember, the South Rotunda was boarded up. I didn’t know that renovation was well under way and it is now home to the Malin Group which offers services to the marine industry. Recently, they held open days in aid of the Ethiopia Medical Project, a charity run by two Glasgow women to assist the Buccama Clinic in its work healing thousands of mothers suffering from uterine prolapse.

I was expecting a simple tour of the building. However, we were entertained by actors playing “Willie”, one of the workmen who built the tunnels, and the shell-suited “Steph” who worked at the South Rotunda during the 1988 Garden Festival when it served as Nardini’s Ice Cream Parlour. Great fun, tea and cakes at the end, and all in a very worthy cause.

 

Paisley buddies

 

Pride of Paisley was a public art trail of lion sculptures last year – one of them, “Superbia”, has now returned permanently. Wasn’t my mum clever to wear such a perfectly matching cardigan?

The last bit

I could tell you about theatres, art exhibitions and gardens visited, but this post is getting too long so let’s skip to the last bit in which I teach you a new Scottish word. Some politicians have told us that we are scunnered (annoyed) with voting. True, since 2014 in Scotland we have had two referendums, two general elections and elections for local councils – but am I scunnered? I am not. People fought and died for my right to vote and I always do so with a lump in my throat, especially at the latest election which was held on the anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison (the suffragette who threw herself in front of the King’s horse at Epsom). But as for the result and events since – now that’s what I call a scunner!

And finally, a bit of nostalgia. Who could this romantic young couple be? No prizes! I’ve been scanning old (and sadly faded) pictures again. This is us on holiday in Germany in 1985.

 

So that was my June. How was yours?

Wren’s Nest

View from Wren’s Nest

The Easter weekend coincided with John’s birthday this year, so as a gift I booked a short break in Dumfries and Galloway. Our accommodation, Wren’s Nest, was bijou (read tiny), a former farm building converted into a one-room cottage, but it was perfect for our needs. (There’s also a larger cottage, sleeping four, on site.) The owner, Janet, lived next door in the farmhouse and was an absolutely lovely person, so helpful. Not only that, she provided champagne for our first night! Apparently, we were the first people ever to stay in Wren’s Nest so this was a lovely way of marking that. (Both cottages can be booked via holidaycottages.co.uk).

The nearest town of any size was Newton Stewart and we stopped here for a look around on our way down to the cottage. Despite the dreich* weather we took a circular walk between two bridges over the River Cree.

Fortunately, the next day dawned brighter and we set off to celebrate John’s birthday on the Isle of Whithorn.

* Dreich (Urban Dictionary definition) – A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.

Glasgow Gallivanting: May 17

Arran Ferry from Brodick Castle Gardens
In the UK, May is bookended by Bank Holiday Weekends and we took full advantage of both. May 1st saw us on a ferry returning from Arran after spending time there with friends, and at the end of the month we had a couple of nights in Oban.

Oban at dusk: view from our room
Full posts to follow! So what else has been happening?

Cousins

My cousin Tracy and her husband have just bought a new boat. We were able to inspect it before a family lunch at Kip Marina. Doesn’t she look delighted?

We also had dinner with another of my cousins, Ian, and his wife Lynn. No photos were taken at that event, but here we are as kids on the back green of our grandparents’ tenement flat. That’s their kitchen window behind us. I think this is 1971, so I would be 14 and Ian 4. His wee brother and my younger sister are also there, and a small girl at the end who, I think, must have lived in the same building. I have no recollection of her at all.

 

Voice from the past

Redby Infant School, Sunderland, 1963
While I’m on a nostalgia theme, how about this? As some of you know, I administer a blog, It was always sunny, for my Mum who is writing the story of her life. When she came to the section about me starting school I included the picture above and was surprised recently to receive a comment from one of the other children, the boy fourth from the left in the front row. He’d Googled the name of the school and up this popped! We’ve been exchanging memories and trying to complete a list of all the names. Can’t find me? I’m fourth from the right in the back row.

Talking of things popping up, and in the blowing-my-own-trumpet department, I was touched and delighted to find my name in Update, the professional journal for librarians in the UK (third paragraph). One of the most satisfying aspects of my career was mentoring and encouraging younger librarians so it’s great to know it was appreciated. Thank you so much to Jennifer for mentioning me.

The Elephant Park

Glasgow has many fine parks, and I’ve written about the major ones, such as the Botanic Gardens, many times. All over the city, however, you can find pocket-sized parks amidst the urban sprawl. Last year, these two concrete elephants near my home were sending out an SOS signal because redevelopment of an adjacent building put them under threat. When I passed by the other day they had obviously just been made-over (one still has its Wet Paint sign) so I’m hoping this means they have been reprieved.

The last bit

Four theatre / concert hall visits, three guided walks, a visit from my sister – I’m running out of time to write about everything this month, so I’ll quickly finish by returning to my programme of expanding your vocabulary with Scottish words! The Women’s Library guided walks that I’ve co-led have not been blessed with good weather – an understatement to say the least. Both guides and partcipants were drookit. If you can’t guess what that means from the pictures, click on the link! I have more walks coming up in June, so I’m hoping for better luck.

So that was my May – how was yours?

Glasgow Gallivanting: April 2017

Mothers’ Day

But Mothers’ Day (UK) is in March! I know, but my incompetence at getting something booked in time meant that I took my Mum out for her “treat” the following Sunday, April 2nd. We had a lovely afternoon tea in Mad Hatter’s in Paisley.

Rita McGurn

One of my volunteer roles is guiding walks for three different organisations. Now that Spring is here, the season has well and truly started – I’ve already done three in April, including two Women of the Gorbals walks for Glasgow Women’s Library.

The former mill above is one of the stops. We talk about the lives of the women weavers, and also about the sculpture billowing from the chimney. Smokestack was designed by Rita McGurn who died in 2015. Rita also worked with wool and crocheted fabulous giant figures, some of which you can see in a recent article in the local press about her daughter who has yarn-bombed a bench in the Botanic Gardens in her mother’s honour. As the Botanics are very near our house, we set off to find it the other day, and there it is in the gallery above

Soutra Hill and Fala Moor

Soutra Aisle

This outing was also prompted by a cultural event. One of the concerts we attended at Celtic Connections back in January was Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart, a combination of spoken word and music inspired by Fala Moor and Soutra Hill close to her home in Midlothian. We wanted to go! And now we have.

Soutra Hill was once the site of an extensive medieval monastery and hospital. All that remains is the Soutra Aisle, not, as once thought, part of the monastery, but a burial vault constructed from its rubble. John Pringle, who died in 1777 aged 77 years, his wife and sons lie here.

Fala Moor is bisected by a track which, until the mid 20th century, was part of the road network. To the east lies Fala Flow Loch, and to the west the ruins of Fala Luggie Tower. We met not a soul along here, though we spied a party of workers in the distance burning off the heather. This accounts for the rather hazy quality of the photos below.

The track ends after 3.5 miles at Brothershiels Farm, where we were objects of curiosity for some of the residents. That was one lippy lamb – and I really don’t like the look of those mushrooms, or what they’re growing in!

Happy birthday, John!

It was John’s birthday in April and, as it coincided with the long Easter weekend, I booked a cottage in Dumfries and Galloway for three nights. The weather didn’t really cooperate, but we had a lovely time anyway and there will be lots of pictures shared in due course, both of this and another weekend away in Arran. In the meantime, here is John enjoying his birthday fish and chips in Wigtown.

Kilarden

Scotland’s Gardens Open for Charity is underway again for the summer and, on a free Sunday afternoon, we checked the programme and decided to heard for Rosneath to view Kilarden. The Rosneath Peninsula is bounded by two sea lochs, Gare Loch and Loch Long, each of which has a naval base so if you can avoid those the views are pretty. It’s also worth avoiding the thought that this is where all the UK’s nukes are stored. Scary.

This is the 25th year the owners of Kilarden have opened their garden as part of this scheme. It has lawns around the house, on one of which the Shandon Ukulele Band were providing entertainment, and ten acres of hilly woodland with a huge collection of rhododendrons.

The ruined St Modan’s Church in the village was picturesque, the current church was open for viewing and the church hall was selling very good teas. Not a bad afternoon out!

So that was my April – how was yours?