Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Dumiat and the Stirling Gap

We took a wander up Dumiat recently, Stirling's local hill. The weather was beautiful, early frost warming in the sun, and as I had twisted my foot before Christmas, this was about as big a walk as I could manage.

Looking down from Dumiat, I was struck by the view. East, the Forth widens to the sea. West, the flat Carse of Forth, drained in the 18th century by farm improvers, stretches as far as the Highlands.

Firth of Forth from Dumiat:


Carse of Forth and Ben Lomond:


Between the sea and the former swamp lies Stirling, where the Forth squeezes through a gap a couple miles wide between two hill ranges, the Campsies and the Ochils. Stirling Bridge used to be one of the few crossing places on the Forth. Seeing this area from Dumiat brings alive what that really means.

Wallace Monument, Stirling Castle and Campsies from Dumiat in the Ochils:


This used to be Mannan, a border country between Picts and Britons, before and after the Romans. Later, it was the fulcrum between Picts, Scots, Britons and Angles and, after the Scots established a border further south on the Tweed, it became the brooch that held Scotland together. 'Whoever held Stirling Castle,' the saying went, 'split Scotland in two.' It is probably the most geographically strategic spot in Britain.

The number of battles fought in this area testifies to its strategic importance. Strirling Bridge, Bannockburn, two at Falkirk, Sherrifmuir. Stirling is Britain's Thermopylae.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Cities, Design and Evolution

I mentioned this book, Cities, Design & Evolution, briefly in the comments section of my last post. You can probably guess what it is about from the title. I haven't read it yet - it is an academic text book - but from skimming the first and last chapters it looks interesting. The author sets up the premise of the design of items being generally seen as a good thing, and therefore the design of cities is unique in the field of human endeavour, as actually being worse the more designed they are. I am looking forward to reading the author developing this argument - I suspect it resolves around cities being allowed instead to evolve.

The reason I mentioned it is because it contains some of my pictures of Glasgow.

Here's one of my loveofscotland.com pictures in the book:

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Weekend Fix

I suppose now is the time to introduce to you all my new book, The Weekend Fix, to be published in June 2009 by Sandstone Press:



It's about hillwalking, friendship, weather, bagging, and getting away for the weekend. Following the philosophy of The Angry Corrie, it is not about any heroic or mighty acheivements, like Hamish Brown's 'Hamish's Big Walk' or W.H. Murray's pseudo-psychological, mythical mountaineering classics: it's about the more banal, yet more recognisable world of getting some fresh air, exercise and a bit of banter at the weekend.

Most of us don't go into the hills for the transcendant experiences described in the purple prose of many outdoor books - most of us do not have awe-inspring tales to recount like Ranulf Fiennes or Reinhold Messner. For most of us, hillwalking is just something to do at the weekend.

Yet this is still a worthwhile activity, a vaild thing to do with our spare time, and something that - if written about well - can provide as much inspiration as stories of more impressive feats. I hope this book inspires some to get out there, entertains others with knowing nods of recognition, and most importantly of all, sells many thousands of copies.

Happy Birthday!

This blog is one year old - I'm glad I started it, as there have been a number of things that have not been appropriate for the main loveofscotland.com website but worth sharing here.

There will be an update of the main site soon - there's been a lot of new pictures taken over the last year that I've never got round to preparing, and updates are required to the text for the various areas on the virtual tour.

So, here's to the next year!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Bangour Village Hospital

I had never heard of this amazing place before this week, but on a tip off, we went early on a frosty Sunday morning for Bangour Village Hospital.

Aha! I recognised it. It is the village I could never quite place when driving along the M8, glimpsed through a gap in the trees. Apparently it was also used in recent Hollywood thriller The Jacket.

This place is a former asylum, built a hundred years ago, but was not a hospital in the traditional sense - it was a self-contained village, with power house, shop, church, nurse accomodation, activity block, main hospital building, and a number of substantial residential villas, set out in a clearing on a wooded hillside near Bathgate. The village concept, and the level of psychiatric care, were leading edge for its time.

Villas at the western edge of Bangour Village Hospital:


We wandered round this deserted and boarded up village, impressed with its size. It is not possible to access any of the buildings, but glimpses in some windows show the interiors to still be in good condition. The site was not abandoned completely until in 1990s and the building of a new hospital for the area.

A series of handsome stone villas and flats set in parkland next to Livingston and the M8? It is a prime site for development as a commuter town. Hopefully this site is used again soon, and is not left to decay and 'go on fire' like so many other old buildings in Scotland.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Mission For Lost Songs

To my hometown of Helensburgh for an appointment this morning. At the station I recognised a tramp who used to hang around the town centre when I was at school. My school friends' band wrote a song about him - Sobriety's Not My Strong Point. He does not seem to have aged in nearly twenty years - an impressive achievement.

Whilst waiting for the next train back, I went to the deserted pier. It was a cold and beautiful day - the kind of day to drop everything and head for the snow-clad hills of Argyll. Instead I pulled out my penny whistle and practiced a new tune I've written, Homecoming 2009, my only audience a cormorant in the Clyde.

Helensburgh from the pier:


Whilst in a musical mood, I ruminated on a project I've fancied starting for a while - The Mission for Lost Songs. The idea behind this is to create a web archive of good music released by unsigned bands that no longer exist. It is my strong belief - backed up by numerous examples (listen to Opposites, or The Cooling of Lightbulbs pt 2 for example) - that many bands, or artists, have at least one good song in them. Many have a lot more than one song. Yet the vast majority of these bands never recieve much publicity, and fade into utter obscurity after a couple of years. This is a great cultural loss, as these songs are worth preserving.

But I'm no Alan Lomax or John Peel, and there is so much stuff out there that The Mission for Lost Song would need to be a collaborative effort.

The Mission remains just an idea - for now.