Wednesday 27 April 2011

New Bridges on the Clyde

When driving on the M8 motorway, one of the few highlights is crossing the Kingston Bridge. For a brief moment a view opens out, up and down the Clyde in the centre of Glasgow. It has been so long since I have strolled along the Broomielaw that there have been a couple of new bridges built in the meantime. It was high time I returned to old haunts.

The Squiggly Bridge:

The first bridge is pedestrian-only, and connects the warehouses of Tradeston with the new financial district that has sprung up along a previously run-down waterfront. I'm not sure of its name, but as the one further downstream is called the Squinty Bridge, I'll call this one the Squiggly Bridge. Its wavy passage across the Clyde does not annoy as you might expect (if one wants to get from one side to the other as quickly and efficiently as possible) and although it looks clunky from a distance, when on it it has a certain grace.

The Squinty Bridge:

The next new bridge, just a mile downstream, is the Squinty Bridge, so-called because it crosses the Clyde at an angle. A quick march and a cup of tea to follow at the SECC, across Bell's Bridge to Pacific Quay, but then an attempt to return along the south side of the river was thwarted by a couple of high metal fences, forcing a detour in to Tradeston. However from the south bank the old Finnieston Crane looks imposing, one of the few reminders of Glasgow's old heavy industry.

Finnieston Crane:

Despite the redevelopment of new bridges, flats, financial backoffices, the SECC and BBC HQ, the Clyde at this point remains quiet, even desolate, the wind whipping up the river and across the deserted promenade. Like the windswept plazas of the new V&A in Dundee, architects with little understanding of the Scottish climate have created an area that is redeveloped yet not particular pleasant for urban living.

Pacific Quay from the Squinty Bridge:

However it is good to see some long-overdue care and attention being given to redeveloping the Clyde, even if it is not quite there yet. I can't help feeling that Glasgow is on the cusp of a big change, one for the better. It has been a city of decay for the last 40 years, and the redevelopments that have happened so far have been largely cosmetic. So the next wave of redevelopment will hopefully go deeper than just new buildings. Red Clydeside died over a generation ago. The time of the green Clyde is surely imminent.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Threave Castle

My last post was on the coast at Kirkcudbright. On the way back we visited Threave Castle as well.

Threave panorama:

Threave was built by the norsely-named Archibald the Grim, 3rd Earl of Douglas in the 1370s on a small island in the River Dee, using the river as a natural moat. This gives a very pleasant approach: after a walk of a mile from the car park, you get ferried over to the island.

Threave ferry:

The island was Archie's family's sanctuary. They needed one. His ancestor the first Earl of Douglas, James, had been Robert the Bruce's indispensable right-hand man (to the extent that English nursemaids crooned to their bairns "hush pet, the Black Douglas shall not get ye") but the Black Douglas family has grown so powerful in the intervening years that the Stewart kings, and their regents, had decided to cut them down.

The moat - the River Dee:

A couple of extra-judicial murders brought the king and the Douglas family into open warfare. In 1455 James II brought his artillery to bear and James Douglas, the 9th Earl, hastily erected a defence - but the castle was abandoned after the assault and the fall from power of the Douglas line.


With no Douglas left, and its naturally awkward to reach site, the great keep of Threave was left preserved in mid 15th-century amber, and this spot is now one of the loveliest and most peaceful of all Historic Scotland's properties. The keepers certainly seemed content with their lot - no doubt the sunny weather helped.

The keep:

Threave detail:

Strolling along the riverside after visiting the castle, we saw a giant nest with a pair of ospreys in attendance. I'd no idea there were ospreys in this part of the world, and we hadn't brought binoculars. But a fellow with a telescope turned up and let us have a look. "Six mating attempts already," he said, "this is the seventh." So that's what they were doing! As we weren't experienced bird watchers, it had not been possible to tell. It felt a bit voyeuristic. Whenever I see a very large lens, I can't help thinking of Princess Diana and the paparazzi. But these ospreys were oblivious, doing what comes naturally. Spring is in the air.

Osprey nest:

Thursday 14 April 2011

Kirkcudbright Coast

For an April taste of summer, the place to go is the Scottish Riviera - a.k.a. the Solway coast, and its central town, Kirkcudbright.

Kirkcudbright is an attractive town at the head of one of Scotland's few rias, a coastal area of extensive mud that floods every tide.


Kirkcudbright Bay is a paradise for birdwatchers, with a few sandy beaches, guarded at its seaward end by low, rugged cliffs. Let's have a walk along these headlands!

En-route to Brighouse, Seaward Bay:

The first headland walk starts at Brighouse Bay, just round the corner from Kirkcudbright. This has a beautiful beach, the tide going out miles. Children splashed in the limpid waters and a canoeist paddled into the bay for a look then paddled out again.

Brighouse Bay:

The walk from Brighouse takes you through a beautiful wood. Today it is full of daffodils - as is much of Galloway - but in a few weeks it will be carpeted with bluebells.


This tree-lined avenue, bare crowns touching, leads to the sparkling sea:

The headland at the other side of Kirkcudbright Bay (reached from Brighouse after a short drive via ice cream in Kirkcudbright) is Torrs Point. This leads through an equally beautiful wood to an even more rugged foreland.

Torrs Point trail:

Kirkcudbright Bay from Torrs Point:

Rugged sea at Torrs Point:

From Torrs Point, Little Ross with its lighthouse can be seen. This is a peaceful spot, but has seen tragedy within living memory.

Little Ross:

The air round here was heavily scented with gorse, a smell similar to coconut. The sun-bleached rocks in outcrops and in drystane dykes are covered in a white lichen, reflecting even more light back to the eye, giving the place a feeeling of the green and white of Ireland rather than the more familiar brown and purple of Highland Scotland.

Lichen-covered rocks:

What a tonic the sun and sea air are at this time of year!

Kirkcudbright hosts a big arts festival in the summer, when over 80 venues - including artists houses - are open to the public. But perhaps we won't be able to wait that long. Given the same weather, we might be down again as soon as May for bluebell season.

Friday 8 April 2011

Funky Train

December 2010. Not only did we have a lot of snow but I learnt the hard way one of modern life's great lessons - *back up your data*.

Something simple - a laptop balanced precariously on a coffee table falling onto a carpet - resulted in a hard drive crash. Everything was gone. When had I last backed up? The start of March 2010. A haiku ran through my head:
With searching comes loss
and the presence of absence:
"My Novel" not found
Ironically my next book was fine, backed up onto a USB stick so I could take it to work and update it at lunchtimes. But holiday and anniversary photos had gone forever. My soon to be released album - that I had been working on for years and finally made a leap forward with over the summer - was also gone. It is times like this we either:

a) give up
b) turn to Walter Scott's 1828 Tales of a Grandfather:
Whilst doubtful of what he should do, Bruce was looking upward to the roof of the cabin, and his eye was attracted by a spider endeavouring to swing himself from one beam in the roof to another. The insect made the attempt six times without success. It came into Bruce's head that he himself had fought just six battles, and the persevering spider was in the same situation with himself. "Now," thought Bruce, "I will be guided by the luck which shall attend this spider. If the insect shall make another effort to fix its thread, and is successful, I will venture a seventh time to try my fortune in Scotland; if not, I will go to the wars in Palestine and never return to my native country again." While Bruce was forming this resolution, the spider made another exertion and succeeded in fastening its thread on the beam which it had so often in vain attempted to reach. Bruce, seeing the success of the spider, resolved to try his own fortune.
And so I started again. The whole album is gone: the tracks are being recreated from scratch and released as mini-albums. And now the first one is out! It's a six-track powerhouse called Funky Train and is free for you to download now...

... so what are you waiting for?!

Sunday 3 April 2011

Beinn a' Chrulaiste

In my last post out and about, I waxed lyrical on Meall Mor, a tiny hill with a huge view. There are plenty more in that glorious area between Loch Etive and Badenoch: my favourite probably being Beinn a' Chrulaiste.

Beinn a' Chrulaiste is a Corbett, a steep but dumpy hill surrounded by the supermodels of the Scottish hills, the Buachaille, Bidean nam Bian, Aonach Eagach, and Ben Nevis. It is probably the finest viewpoint for the Buachaille Etive Mor: Boswell, as I said in my book, to the Buachaille's Johnson.

Billy and I climbed Beinn a' Chrulaiste on a day of unexpected heavy spring snow. We headed straight up the main face of the hill, looking for a scrambling rib that I had been up in summer. As we walked along the West Highland Way looking for the rib, a snowstorm closed in. Oh well, no view for us! We headed straight up on slippy wet snow, unstable heather and iced-over rock. It was getting a bit serious. I looked down. It wouldn’t do to fall! Billy didn't look happy. At the top of the ever-steeper slope lay a line of broken cliffs. I refused to tackle them.

Billy traversed and shouted for me from round the corner. I followed his footprints to find us on easy ground, Billy grinning.

Billy having found the easy way up:

The sun had just come back out. We had been so engrossed in the difficult terrain that we hadn’t noticed it had stopped snowing. The Buachaille was shrugging off the mists, its majestic peak thrusting up through the clouds, spindrift trailing off its pointed summit.

Snow clouds clearing in Glencoe:

We sat in astonishment as the weather cleared, the Buachailles and Glencoe peaks appearing fresh-snowed and achingly beautiful, mountain butterflies shedding their cloud chrysalises. We laughed and grinned at the contrast with the hard terrain and weather of just a few minutes earlier. It had turned out to be the best of days!

On Beinn a' Chrulaiste:

Descent was made on easier ground, via the subsidiary top of Meall Bhalach. Beinn a' Chrulaiste is one of those tops I don't think I will ever tire of visiting - but today's conditions would be hard to beat!

Beinn a' Chrulaiste summit: