Write Around Scotland

Roger McCann

Writer | Blogger | Photographer

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A walk in Edinburgh

2019-07-08 07:02:42

Where five roads meet outside Haymarket Railway Station in Edinburgh a small forest of traffic lights controls the comings and goings of people and vehicles. From somewhere underground the wail of a train adds to the noise.

Yet minutes away from this kaleidoscope of activity, Palmerston Place offers an escape. St. Mary’s Episcopalian Cathedral dominates this part of Edinburgh’s New Town and immediately draws the eye. Two ladies, the Misses Walker, heirs of Sir Patrick Walker on whose land this part of the city was developed, left their fortune to the Episcopal Church on condition the money had to be used to build a cathedral for the diocese of Edinburgh. Twin spires at the western end of the building are accordingly named Barbara and Mary in their memory.

At the main entrance, intricate stone carvings are worth a close look while inside the church a daily choral service has been a tradition since 1879. The choir perfects its music in the nearby Song School, a modest building which blends with the surroundings to give little indication of the richness of the murals enlightening every inch of the inside walls by the artist Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852 – 1936).

Carry on down Palmerston Place to the bottom of the hill then turn left onto Belford Bridge. From here you can enjoy views over the river, the Water of Leith, before rounding the bend into Belford Road to seek out the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art housed in a former school building. It’s well worth finding the paintings by the Scottish colourists Francis Cadell, John Duncan Ferguson, Samuel John Peploe and G.L. Hunter .

Outside, the lawn in front of the gallery has been landscaped to a design by Charles Jenks. Called Landform, the stepped grass mound winds a way round pools of water that mirror the passing clouds overhead.

Across the road, the Dean Gallery is home to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two. Here there are works by surrealist artists Pablo Picasso and Robert Penrose but most arresting is the sculpture entitled Vulcan1990 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. This shiny metal figure standing nearly 30ft tall portrays a half man, half machine – a monument to the modern age. Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and blacksmiths, forged weapons for gods and heroes.

A path by the side of the lawn in front of the art gallery leads to an exit and, partially hidden by ivy, a doorway with steps leading down to the Water of Leith and the walkway which follows the course of the river. Though the city centre is only minutes away this is a green oasis enlivened by birdsong.

At Dean Village, new houses compliment the original stone buildings. Some of them, with crow stepped gables, were once meal mills, woollen mills or tanneries powered by the Water of Leith.

In turn, the river was used as an open sewer for waste. Now the mill buildings have been converted into sought after waterside homes and offices with something of the character of a rural hamlet remaining.

The Water of Leith also receives lots of attention. Work is on-going to improve the water quality, remove rubbish, protect wildlife and maintain the walkway from Balerno, south of Edinburgh, to the sea at Leith.

From Dean Village, a sign points out the continuation of the path under Dean Bridge built in 1829-31 to a design by Thomas Telford. Bridge traffic is constant but far below, beneath a supporting arch, little can be heard.

Further along the river bank, a Roman temple, an open rotunda, has pillars enclosing a statue of Hygeia, Greek goddess of health. She holds a large jar in one hand and in the other, an urn, tilted in the direction of a serpent that curls up the stump of a tree. This is St. Bernard’s Well.

From the late 1700s the supposed healing powers of the mineral waters were an attraction on the tourist trail. Though the well waters are not in use today, Stockbridge, hardly any distance from here, still caters for visitors.

This is a thriving area of the city with an air of confidence and the feel of a self-contained village. As well as a choice of cafes and pubs, there are fish, fruit and vegetable shops, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, a cheesemonger and florists all within a few yards of each other. Browse in a book shop before setting off up Glanville Place and further into the New Town of Edinburgh.

On reaching Howe Street turn right.

Like much of the New Town streets it is wide and handsome with the added bonus of a view northwards across a city roof- scape to a blue strip of River Forth and the coast of Fife.

Catch your breath half way up before turning left and walking along Herriot Row. Here the grey stone facades have not changed a great deal since Robert Louis Stevenson moved to No.17 as a boy in 1857.

Electric lighting has long since replaced the gas lamps Stevenson mentions in his poem The Lamplighter, yet it’s easy to imagine the sickly child peering out of his window at the lamp before the door as “Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more.”

Turning right onto Queen Street Gardens East leads to Hanover Street which continues over George Street where, in the intersection, a statue of George 1V on a pedestal commemorates the King’s visit in 1822 – the first by a British monarch to see his Scottish kingdom in 171 years.

The King had been sensationally dressed in flesh coloured tights and kilt and many others were impressed to follow his lead. Sir Walter Scott was the impresario behind this event and has since been celebrated and blamed for the popularity of tartan, bagpipes and clans.

From here on Hanover Street there is a splendid view of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture and on the skyline, the towers of the New College of the Free Church of Scotland.

Before weaving through the crowds on Princes Street, grin or grimace eastwards in the direction of the monument and statue commemorating the writer Sir Walter Scott (you may like to climb to the top) then cross the bottom of The Mound with care to descend the steps down to Princes Street Gardens.

Pause at the Floral Clock then spend time enjoying the gardens and the best views of the great lump of volcanic rock topped by Edinburgh Castle.

First published in the Glasgow Herald

Further Information: www.cathedral.net

For Phoebe Traquair Song School Murals Tour

Cathedral Chorus Services with the Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral

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A Walk from Glasgow Cathedral to the River Clyde

2019-03-03 14:53:59

Though it’s not the beating heart of the city any longer, the Cathedral was where Glasgow originated and spread from and where this walk to the River Clyde starts.

The present building dates from the early 13th century and stands over the traditional burial place of St. Kentigern (or Mungo, as he is more popularly known), Patron Saint of Glasgow. Mungo is believed to have established a Christian community on the site in the 6th century. After his death his tomb became a place of pilgrimage where people came to pray for salvation, confess their crimes and seek cures. Their offerings helped to swell church funds and as the town grew in importance the church was enlarged and beautified.

From outside, the Cathedral is not overly awesome, yet inside an unexpected narrowness seems to emphasize the height of the ceiling. As the organ resounds and light floods through the stained glass windows, even an atheist’s gaze would be drawn irresistibly heavenwards, up the fluted stone pillars.

The Low Kirk underneath, containing the tomb of St. Kentigern, is reached from either side of the main church by stairs that descend into a forest of stone columns supporting a vaulted ceiling. It was believed Kentigern was buried here, although his bones were later moved to a shrine in the main church.

St. Kentigern was a popular saint who, it was believed, performed many miracles. Some of these miracles are commemorated in Glasgow’s coat of arms. Look up at one of the lamps lighting the way to the Cathedral to see the salmon and the ring, the resurrected robin, the oak tree (which was the blazing hazel branch of an earlier story) the bell with which he summoned devotees and the little mound from where he preached his sermons.

Before leaving Cathedral Precinct, take a turn through the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. There’s a wealth of exhibits and information on various religions practiced in the city, including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. At the back of the building, with a view towards the Cathedral, the Zen garden is not merely an example of low maintenance garden design but is a place for contemplation. Large lumps of carefully selected rock stand on grass and in a bed of raked white stone chips.

From the front door of the Museum of Religious Life and Art, cross Castle Street with care and step inside Provand’s Lordship. This is the oldest house in Glasgow and is a very rare example of 15th century Scottish domestic architecture. Furniture and fittings recollect the interior as it might have been around 1700.

Behind the house, in a different style of garden, plants commonly used for medical purposes in the 15th century are grown to reflect links with the Chapel and Hospital of St Nicholas thought to have stood near the present building.

Cross back over the road and begin walking down Castle Street to the statue of King William on his horse on a tall plinth. In windy weather you may see the horse’s tail moving.

Castle Street runs into High Street, the main route from the Cathedral to the River Clyde in medieval times. As development continued, people came here in search of work and this area became densely overcrowded. In the late 19th century the worst of the housing was demolished and replaced by high quality, red sandstone tenements that still line part of the street today. On the gable end of one of the tenements there is a recently painted mural given the name St. Mungo.

Turn west along George Street to find other murals that are features of Glasgow’s Mural Trail. As well, you can compare the more recent, utilitarian glass and concrete constructions of Strathclyde University with the grandeur of Glasgow City Chambers. The towers, turrets and stone carvings of this Venetian style building are especially ostentatious examples of the architecture in this part of town known as the Merchant City.

In front of the City Chambers pause at the War Memorial before finding the statues in George Square commemorating Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and James Watt amongst others, then walk along Cochrane Street past the other side of the City Chambers and down John Street.

Hutchesons’ Hospital Hall (1802) on the left hand corner of John Street/Ingram Street was designed by David Hamilton, one of Glasgow’s greatest architects and built at a cost of £5000. James and George Hutcheson, whose statues from 1649 grace niches on the Ingram Street front of Hutchesons’ Hall were the original founders of an earlier property-The Hospital - built as a refuge for the city’s elderly craftsmen. Following a succession of different occupants the property is now a restaurant. In an upstairs hall, while the stained glass windows are lovely and the ceiling, cornice plasterwork and decoration most impressive, another feature of the building is still more arresting.

The ghost of a lady (so I’ve been told) wearing a long white dress makes fairly regular appearances. She has even been seen opening the door into the hall and leaving by an unopened window. On the walls, oil paintings of Sir Thomas Lipton, philanthropic Glasgow grocer, Sir David Richmond, Provost of Glasgow in the mid1890s, and Sir William Alexander Smith, founder of The Boys’ Brigade, gaze down as if in disbelief.

With the front of Hutchesons’ Hall to your left, walk along Ingram Street to Ramshorn Theatre known earlier as Ramshorn Kirk. On the nearest wall to the pavement, there is a plaque commemorating Sir John A. MacDonald 1815 – 1891. He was born hereabouts in Ramshorn Parish and went on to become Canada’s first Prime Minister.

Cross Ingram Street to see the large mural on the car park wall then head down Candleriggs. Stop for a moment at the entrance to City Halls where the BBC Symphony Orchestra is based and look up to find the small plaque on the wall commemorating John MacLean, socialist pioneer.

The end of this block, part of the Old Fruit Market dating back to the 1800s, is another example of Glasgow reinvention. Restaurants and bars surround a floor space used for craft fairs, exhibitions and musical events.

Continue down Candleriggs to busy Trongate.

An unusual feature on the opposite pavement at the Tron Theatre is an archway which was cut into the side of the building to allow the passage of carriages in bygone days. In the streets behind, there is an eclectic mix of retailers where you can be tattooed, buy a comic, an aquarium or a camera.

Cross Saltmarket and turn to look back to Glasgow Cross where the Tolbooth Steeple stands marooned on an island amidst flows of traffic. Once it was part of halls and assembly rooms long since demolished that served as the 17th century municipal business hub of the city.

Walk along St. Andrew’s Street.

Ahead, St. Andrew’s Parish Church is a fine example of a town-planning feature that was specific to Glasgow. Built facing the end of St. Andrew’s Street, to make a grand statement, the church displays the lavish taste of Glasgow’s 18th century tobacco lords though it has recently undergone a conversion. Where once there were hymns, the space now resounds to the sound of music and dancing feet above a café/bar. The church was later surrounded by an elegant residential square.

A complex of white houses that wouldn’t look out of place on a Mediterranean coast is found behind. Beyond these houses lies Glasgow Green.

Traditionally the open space has been a gathering place for diverse groups including armies, trade unionists and women hanging out washings. Immediately noticeable is a tall obelisk commemorating Lord Nelson and his victories. At the eastern end is the much-loved People’s Palace (1898) part winter garden, part museum presenting social histories of the city. One exhibit depicts a once-typical tenement room. Gas lamps illuminate a small sink, a zinc bath in front of a kitchen range, box bed, and a few other bits of furniture. A taped commentary describes family life in such circumstances when bath water for the last person in line became progressively colder and dirtier. “Happy days” was overheard from a visitor who appeared old enough to know better.

From the front door of the People’s Palace, take time to inspect the terracotta fountain topped with a figure of Queen Victoria above depictions of people from her Empire. Then make the short walk for a close up view of the exotic facade of the Templeton’s Carpet Factory building inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice.

After a refreshment in the West restaurant and brewery which is housed in a corner of the building, cross the Green to wander alongside the River Clyde.

Further Information: Glasgow Cathedral doubled as the beautiful Hopital des Angles in Season 2 of the T.V. series Outlander.

At the time of uploading this article the Peoples’ Palace and Winter Gardens were closed until the Easter weekend

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A Walk through Dundee

2019-01-08 14:12:37

As I waited for the traffic lights to change before crossing the road outside Dundee’s newly refurbished railway station, a friendly woman engaged me in conversation. “Braw, isn’t it” she said, answering her own question.

We were gazing at the tall masts of the R.R.S. (Royal Research Ship) Discovery berthed in its dock by the River Tay. The ship was built hereabouts beginning March 1900 for the National Antarctic Expedition to be led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. His quest the following year was to be first ever to reach the South Pole. Scott described the ship as, “a splendidly strong and well-fortified structure and the machinery is in all respects equal to the hull.” At 172 feet long and 32 feet broad it seems small for what was then an adventure into the unknown. But he was right. The ship survived two years imprisonment in the crushing, vice-like grip of Antarctic pack ice.

At Discovery Point Centre, in comfort, visitors can learn something of that Antarctic experience before boarding R.R.S. Discovery to see the crew’s actual living quarters.

From there, a few steps will take you to the front door of Dundee’s newest attraction – the futuristic V&A Museum of Design – the only outpost of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The fantastic building designed by Japanese architectural practice Kenzo Kuma & Associates opened on the 15th September 2018.You’ll find the permanent display dedicated to Scottish design including a Charles Rennie MacIntosh tearoom. A succession of international exhibitions will feature throughout the coming years.

To reach the newly paved waterfront walkway behind the V&A, find the tunnel-like space which leads through the building. From there views across the river are extensive to the shores of Fife.

As you head eastwards, pause for a moment at the memorial slab commemorating the opening of the Tay Road Bridge in 1966, at the time the longest in Britain. The bridge appears graceful from a distance but close up the dull concrete is severely strong and functional.

Past the bridge, the river becomes ever wider and deeper - safe for docking ships and oil rigs.

A sign for the Frigate Unicorn points along a street heading away from the waterside. This was a busy place when ships from India unloaded tons of jute for Dundee’s now defunct jute industry.

The long- empty warehouses have now been converted into riverside apartments. Behind the apartment blocks, lies Victoria Dock. One sad-looking boat, the North Carr, appears to be held together with a coverall coating of red paint and rust. Once it was manned, a working lightship that signalled safe passage for ships negotiating the River Tay estuary. Now, when lightships have been replaced with fixed buoys this is the only survivor in Scotland.

Further along Victoria Dock, the Frigate Unicorn, the oldest British-built wooden ship afloat was built for the Royal Navy in 1824. Visitors can wander amongst the cannons and historical fittings to get a feeling for times when Britannia ruled the waves.

Crossing a new bridge to the north side of Victoria Dock leads to an avenue of new shops and business premises. This refurbishment, renamed City Quay, is part of a long overdue plan to make more of Dundee’s superb riverside location.

Leave the harbour by the wide gates that open onto streets constructed originally for transporting goods quickly from ships to shore markets. Appropriately named Commercial Street was designed to give speedy access to the town centre and continues across the High Street to the McManus Art Gallery and Museum in the surrounds of Albert Square.

The galleries show a collection of Victorian and 20th century Scottish paintings including landscapes by the ever-popular Dundee artist, the late James McIntosh Patrick. The museum houses displays of local history. A stained glass window in the museum cafe commemorates Mary Slessor who worked as a child in a Dundee weaving shed and later became Scotland’s most famous woman missionary to Africa. This is the same woman whose portrait graces present day bank notes. At the rear of the museum, a statue of Queen Victoria appears to approve.

It’s worth taking a turn round the ancient stones of the Howff cemetery, diagonally opposite the statue of Robert Burns on Albert Square. The cemetery was granted to the town by Mary Queen of Scots in 1564. Many of the ancient stone grave markers have a carved symbol denoting the trade of the deceased.

From the graveyard there’s a good view of the red stone building opposite known locally as the Courier Building. This was the historic home of D.C.Thomson, publishers of newspapers, magazines and comics such as The Dandy and The Beano. Cartoon characters in these two esteemed publications were inspirational for the artists who created the life size sculptures of Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx, complete with loaded catapult, which stand on a pavement near the end of Reform Street.

Ahead, the City Square is enclosed on the south side by the imposing bulk of the Caird Hall, a popular venue for a diverse range of concerts and other gatherings.

West along the Nethergate, St. Mary’s Church was founded in 1190. A guided tour to the top of the adjoining Auld Steeple (232 steps) will give further insights into the City’s mediaeval history and great views. In contrast, immediately behind, all glass front, stainless steel and polished wood is the Overgate Shopping Centre.

It was not so far away, unmarked by any monument, that a different sort of retail outlet probably had a much greater impact on the world. A Belgian immigrant, Edward de Gernier, in the late 1870s, opened what he claimed to be “the first chip potatoes, peas and vinegar stall in Britain.” Today, throughout the land, fast food fanciers have reason to thank M. de Gernier.

Before crossing the road to find the plaque commemorating Winston Churchill’ s time as an M.P. for Dundee, look for the replica of a unicorn on top of a stone column which stands on the pavement in front of the Auld Steeple. This is Dundee’s 16th century Mercat (market) Cross. Like others in Scottish towns and cities, it marked a place where merchants would gather and as it was granted by the monarchy, it gave merchants the right to hold a market.

Further along Nethergate, on the left, hardly noticeable, a small plaque on a tenement wall commemorates Fanny Wright (1795-1852) an early feminist and proponent of women’s rights. In the same house lived Dr. Thomas Maclagan, also a pioneer in his field. His research into salicin, an extract from the bark of white willow trees led to further research abroad. What millions of people are grateful for, and know today as aspirin, was the outcome.

The Nethergate merges with Perth Road and on passing St. Andrew’s Catholic Cathedral you reach the cultural quarter, the bohemian West End. Dundee Contemporary Arts building houses galleries, cinemas and a café/ bar. In the restaurant, large windows give a good view over the Science Centre. There is a choice of other art galleries and eating establishments nearby, including a restaurant in the Repertory Theatre though a “peh” (meat pie) or “ingin bridie” culinary specialities of Dundee might be hard to find here.

Still on the Nethergate, past the University and across the road from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, the street known as Roseangle leads down to the river. Near its end, on the left, is a well - used children’s play area. Passing trains and small aircraft that leave and return to Dundee’s nearby riverside airport add extra interest.

Before leaving Roseangle, stroll at least as far as the bandstand on Magdalen Green, Dundee’s oldest park. The bandstand is used for concerts in summertime.

Retrace your steps to Roseangle and Riverside Approach, which ends almost below a span of the Tay Railway Bridge (1887). From here, panoramic views extend across to Fife and up the river towards Perth. Seals are often seen on sandbanks near the bridge supports when the water level is low.

Stumps on the east side of the old railway bridge are still visible in the water. These are remnants from the calamity since known as the Tay Bridge Disaster, when, in high winds on the 28th December 1879, the evening train from Edinburgh to Dundee - engine, six carriages and all the passengers, plunged into the icy waters of the River Tay. No one survived. A hundred yards or so to the west, on the walkway, there is a memorial to those who lost their lives in the disaster.

Continuing eastwards, Riverside Drive leads back to the railway station, to Discovery point, the V&A and the centre of town. As you leave the rail bridge behind, you might take a few minutes to read William Topaz McGonagall’s poem carved into the walkway – though you’ll have to find the start and walk back towards the bridge.

Beautiful Railway Bridge by the Silv’ry Tay!

Alas! I am sorry to say...

Views of both bridges spanning a huge expanse of water, Fife, green on the opposite bank, are splendid.

First published in The Glasgow Herald

Further information: There is a choice of cafes and restaurants along this walk including at Discovery Point, the V&A and the McManus Art Gallery and Museum.

www.brightdundeetours for a guided tour of the exterior of the McManus Art Gallery and Museum

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The Nature of Glasgow

2018-06-04 03:03:18

Though Glasgow is a busy city it’s easy to escape the bustle and find a quiet place to walk where nature thrives.

The Canal tow path of the Forth and Clyde Canal can be accessed from Anniesland Cross or Maryhill Road and many other points along its length. This green corridor stretches across Scotland from Bowling in the west to Edinburgh in the east

Another haven for wildlife near Gartnavel Hospital is Bingham's Pond, or Jury’s Pond as it is probably better known. It can be reached easily from Great Western Road.

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