Loch Doon and Loch Cornish

On a bright, cold Sunday in October, we ventured down to Ayrshire to explore the area around Loch Doon. We arrived just in time for lunch and, although the ospreys which nest nearby had departed for warmer climes some months before, we still enjoyed watching them via video as we ate in the Roundhouse Café.

The view across the loch from the café is very pretty, and there is an interesting walk along the Ness Glen which leaves from its door. However, this was the day after the clocks went back and we knew it would get dark early. There was more we wanted to see along the road, including a castle, so we decided to save this walk for another day.

Loch Doon Castle looks ancient – and it is, but all is not what it seems. The castle was built in the early 14th century on an island in the loch. In the 1930s, the loch was dammed for a hydro-electric scheme and the water level rose. To save the castle, it was moved stone by stone and re-erected in its present site on the shore. Impossible to tell!

Just after the castle we took the winding, gravelly road that is Carrick Forest Drive. It was beautiful with some lovely viewpoints – and you might recognise the adventure playground which appeared a couple of weeks ago in my Walking the line post. I’m not entirely sure why one of the trees was dressed for Christmas in October …

At the end of the drive is Stinchar Bridge from where a circular walk climbs up through the forest to Cornish Hill and Loch Cornish. We decided we had just enough time to do this before sunset. (NB the name has nothing to do with Cornwall: the best explanation I can find is that it is an anglicisation of Loch Coire an Eas: the lake of the corrie of the waterfall.)

First, we followed the path through the mossy, fungi-rich forest.

Climbing upwards, we emerged onto open moorland before reaching the top of Cornish Hill. The autumn colours were stunning looking down to the loch.

We descended to, and crossed, the loch’s outflow (Water of Girvan) before climbing through trees and moorland again, then descending to a forest track which meets up with the forest drive a short distance from where we had parked our car.

It was still light, but only just – the 1.5 hour drive home was mostly in the dark. Once again, Scotland had amazed me with a lovely day out in a place within 60 miles of home which I’d never visited before. We’ll definitely be back – we still have Ness Glen to walk.

Glasgow Gallivanting: October 2019

Rainbow over Nethy Bridge

Strictly speaking, the rainbow above should have been in last month’s Gallivanting post. It was taken on a visit to my cousin on the last weekend of September, by which time the post was written and scheduled. However, it’s too good to waste! That’s it again below, along with a much feebler effort from Argyle Street in Glasgow. We had a lot of rainbows in the early part of the month, but every time I whipped out my phone they instantly faded. I liked this shot though, becuase it shows I wasn’t the only one making the attempt.

Riverside Museum / Street art

Riverside Museum, home of Glasgow’s transport collection. The Rest and be Thankful is a pass at the top of a steep climb on the A83 through the Arrochar Alps

The Riverside Museum down by the Clyde is somewhere we pop into often, but our latest visit was briefer than normal. We were on a hunt for street art! The railway arches opposite the museum have recently been given a makeover with 27 graffiti artists contributing. The murals are quite hard to photograph because it’s difficult to get far enough back without throwing yourself into the traffic on the Clydeside Expressway, but John did his best. NB a wean is a child – short for wee one and pronounced wane.

Walk round the other side of the arches and there is more to see. The project is led by the SWG3 arts venue which is also covered in murals. (SW stands for Studio Warehouse and G3 is the location’s postal code.) The area has so far kept its post-industrial look, which makes a change from similar sites nearby which have been covered with more and more student housing.

Edinburgh – Cut and Paste at Modern 2

Now that the Festivals are over, and there are fewer tourists around, it feels safe to visit Edinburgh again! We were meeting our friend Jim there for dinner one Saturday and went over early to see a couple of exhibitions. The best of these was Cut and Paste, 400 Years of Collage at the National Galleries’ Modern 2. Previously known as the Dean Gallery, Modern 2 was built as an orphanage in the 1830s and converted to a gallery in 1999. It makes good use of its grand staircases and high ceilings. The large sculpture shown below begins in the café on the ground floor and rises almost the full height of the building. The coloured tiles are in the Ladies – even the lavatories are artistic!

Cut and Paste was interesting and ended with two fun exhibits. Edinburgh resident Craig W. Lowe (b. 1982) covered his childhood wardrobe with stickers. The door was on show and we were encouraged to emulate Craig by sticking our own stickers to the museum’s entrance gate.

These days, of course, collages can be digital. Cold War Steve is a project by Christopher Spencer which started as a series of photographs of the Cold War era with Eastenders actor Steve McFadden (in character as Phil Mitchell) inserted into each one. Brexit has led Spencer into even more surreal territory with a series of dystopian photomontages peopled by politicians and celebrities, always with Steve looking utterly disgusted and bemused. Confused? There are some good examples on the Twitter feed @Coldwar_Steve which might help.

Harold, the ghost of lost futures

The collage above was created specifically for this exhibition and I can’t even begin to explain the significance of most of the characters – though the more I look at it, the more I recognise. Can you see Stephen Fry, Tom Jones, Kathy Burke, Alan Bennett, Slade, or Phoebe Waller-Bridge for example?

The tuba-playing Harold is a character from Neighbours. The ghastly yellow figure is Kingsley, surely the scariest football mascot ever. He belongs to Partick Thistle and I’ve even had my photograph taken with him after one of my guided walks. Eek! Everything is going to be alright is from an artwork by Martin Creed which is on display at Modern 1. It’s quite good fun looking for points of reference once you start. I should add that I have downloaded the montage legitimately – it is available on the Cold War Steve website in return for a donation to mental health charities.

Scotland puts on a show for family visitors

My sister and her husband were up from London visiting my mum this month, and were lucky to get amazing weather when we went to Irvine, Troon and Lomond Shores.

John’s Aunt Anne, along with two of his cousins and their spouses, also visited Scotland from the south of England, staying at Loch Monzievaird in Perthshire. (Don’t pronounce the Z!) We went to meet them for lunch in Crieff and enjoyed a walk round the loch later. Once again, it was a lovely day with Scotland looking its best.

Both Mum and John’s Aunt Ann turned 93 in October. Happy birthday to two fabulous ladies!

GlasGLOW

For the second year, Glasgow Botanic Gardens is hosting GlasGLOW, a Halloween sound and light show (on till 10th November). We went on the second night – there are a few highlights below. I particularly liked the pumpkin patch with lanterns carved by local schoolchildren, the three scarecrows, and the Pumpkin God. There were a lot of Brexit jokes – spot the pumpkin with the European stars!

The last bit

I like to have something quirky for The Last Bit! One Sunday, we had a beautiful autumnal walk in part of the Carrick Forest. That deserves a post of its own – coming soon – but for the meantime I’ll share the quirky towel dispenser I found in the Ladies of the café at Loch Doon. I assure you, I still have my hopes and dreams intact.

I’m not exactly an award-free blog, but I’m usually so far behind with the posts I want to write that I don’t have time to take part in awards and challenges, as is the case here. I’d like to thank Flavia Vinci for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award. Flavia is Italian, but works in tourism so travels the world taking stunning photographs. I definitely recommend you take a look at her blog – try one of my favourite recent posts, Iguazú Falls.

Finally, to my Scottish Word of the Month. The clocks went back at the end of October, it’s dark by 17:30, and temperatures have started dropping below zero overnight. It’s time to coorie in or snuggle up. October has been a colourful, outdoor month for the Gallivanter – I’m not sure November will be the same. Have a good one!

Walking the line

The marvellous Becky has been running one of her square challenges again in October, and this time it’s lines. Here I am, joining in for the first time on the very last day with three people walking the line with varying degrees of competence. Tail-end Charlie, that’s me, or as we say up here: the coo’s tail.

The first image was taken on a wet Sunday this summer, through the window of the Kinlochleven Climbing Centre. No, we weren’t climbing  – it was the only place open for lunch and we fell into it gratefully. We didn’t know there was going to be entertainment! The figure on the right, a boy of 16, fell off the aerial adventure course and didn’t have the strength to pull himself up again. In the end, it took two instructors to haul him back to the platform while the whole café watched enthralled. We knew he was roped on and thus always safe, if undignified, so didn’t feel too bad for gawping.

The next image is a busker in Buchanan Street, Glasgow, who managed to play the fiddle and walk the tightrope at the same time. He didn’t fall off, or at least not while I was watching. Most impressive!

Finally, we have John walking the line at an adventure playground in Carrick Forest in Ayrshire. He didn’t fall off either, though I don’t think the Olympic gymnastics team is going to be calling him up anytime soon …

Thanks, Becky, for another great challenge.

Glum in Glenelg

View from Mam Ratagan

One of the things I definitely wanted to do while we were staying in Dornie was to make the circular trip to Skye via the Glenelg ferry and back over the bridge. Day 2 of our week was another beautiful, sunny day which seemed the perfect opportunity. The first step is to take the steep and winding Mam Ratagan Pass (1115 feet) with fabulous views as seen above and below.

The village of Glenelg itself, or Kirkton of Glenelg to give it its full name, Glenelg being the name of the whole valley, was a strategic centre in the 17th century when a large barracks (the ruins of which we’d visit later) held the clans in check. Now, it’s a sleepy row of cottages round a shingle bay. The roofless storehouse seen by the bay was built by local farmers during the potato famine of 1837, to receive the quantities of food aid which came from the south. Just behind the old store is the Glenelg War Memorial, one of the most remarkable in the West of Scotland. It was presented to the community by Lady Scott of Ellenreach, designed by Robert Lorimer and sculpted by Louis Deuchars. The first name on the list of fallen is Valentine Fleming, father of Ian, the creator of James Bond.

After looking round the village, we took a side road to visit Glenelg’s three brochs. Brochs were built all over the west and north of Scotland and in the islands from about 500BC onwards. They are huge structures with double walls protecting against the elements. The first is Dun Telve. This one survived almost complete until the 18th century when it was partially demolished to reuse the stone for other buildings.

A short distance up the glen is Dun Troddan, the second broch. These two are unusually close and a bit of a mystery – did one replace the other, or were they lived in at the same time?

As luck would have it, the farm opposite Dun Troddan runs a small outdoor café and a bar. It was a little early for the latter, but coffee and cake at 11:30 are always welcome!

After our cake, we set off to reach the third, and apparently most spectacular broch, Dun Grugaig. I can’t tell you how spectacular it is because this was the point at which things went badly wrong and we never got there. We continued to the end of the public road where a narrow, wooden bridge led into a farmyard. Had we continued straight across this we’d have probably been alright, but we stopped and pulled in slightly to consider if we would be trespassing or not. Across the farmyard, we noticed a signpost to the broch and space to park, so we decided it was ok to carry on. However, we approached the bridge at the wrong angle and the back near-side tyre caught its curved, metal lip. Instant puncture!

Oh, my goodness, this was a low point. Newish cars these days don’t come with a spare wheel, just a repair kit which pumps a sticky substance into the tyre where it is supposed to set over the hole until you can get to a garage. This would be fine if we’d run over a nail and had a small pinhole, but we had quite a big rip and as fast as the substance was pumped in, it ran out again. You can just about see the rip about 2/3 of the way down on the right hand side.

I should add that we are entirely at fault here. We knew we had no spare and had intended to get one before we left, but hadn’t. Neither of us had any phone signal. In retrospect, I don’t know why we didn’t call at the farmhouse to see if anyone was in and could let us use their phone, but we chose to limp slowly back to Glenelg. Still no phone signal, but the barman at the hotel let us use the phone there. He was also reassuring. I had been very worried about how a breakdown truck was going to get across the steep, single-track pass to reach us, but the barman was blasé – oh, just phone your breakdown service and someone will come out from the garage at Kyle of Lochalsh in about four hours. Happens all the time!

So we had lunch, then took it in turns to take short walks to view the aforementioned barracks while the other waited with the car. Bernera Barracks were built around 1719 at the time of an abortive Spanish invasion. They also guarded the road to the isles and discouraged cattle rustling and blackmail. Today, only ruins remain.

In fact, it didn’t take four hours for rescue to arrive. By the time I got back from my walk a very nice young man was already loading our car onto his truck and off we set. It was the fourth time that week he had been over the pass to Glenelg – and there can’t be better views to have in your workplace. Sitting high in the cab was the only advantage of such an ignominious return journey: we saw so much more than on the way over.

Once back in Kyle, the wheel was swiftly changed and we were on our way. There was still quite a bit of afternoon left, so we had a quick walk round the village which, until a bridge was built in 1995, was the main gateway to Skye. Now traffic mainly thunders past over the bridge and Kyle is a bit of a backwater. There is still a small station at the harbour, part of which is now a museum. We noticed a memorial to the Iolaire which left from Kyle and sank off Lewis on New Year’s Day 1919 losing 205 passengers (mainly returning soldiers) and crew.

We climbed the Plock, a small hill with great views all around, including of the bridge which, as you can see, is actually two bridges with landfall on an island in between.

On the way back to our apartment, we made one final stop at Murchison’s Monument where there was another great view back to the bridge. Colonel Donald Murchison was loyal kinsman and factor to William, fifth Earl of Seaforth, during the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1719. When Seaforth’s title and lands were forfeited to the Crown, Murchison risked his life time and again to collect the rents and take them to his master in Paris. He was caught and imprisoned in the Tower of London until King George I, admiring his loyalty, pardoned him and gave him a grant of land. Unfortunately, Seaforth did not recognise the King’s gift. Murchison moved east and died disillusioned in middle age.

So although the day did not go to plan, and I was extremely glum in the middle of it, it could have been worse. We visited Skye a few days later, but by the prosaic bridge method. What did we miss? A passenger ferry has been in existence at Glenelg since at least the 17th century, and a car ferry since 1934. The current ferry, the MV Glenachullish, carries six cars and is the last operating manual turntable ferry in the world. Fortunately, Ruth’s Coastal Walk has an excellent post on the ferry, with some great pictures, if you want to know more. Someday, we’ll go back. But this time we’ll take a spare tyre.

The Applecross peninsula

View from Bealach na Bà

The first full day of our north-west highland break dawned bright and sunny – a good opportunity to cross the Bealach na Bà (Pass of the Cattle – 2054ft) to explore the Applecross peninsula. This is a classic drive on an old drovers’ road with a 1:5 gradient, switchbacks worthy of the Alps, and views across the Minch to Raasay and Skye. Before heading down the other side to Applecross village we climbed a small hill from where the views got better and better.

As we left, people just arriving reported an accident on the road behind us. An air-ambulance was mentioned, and we learned later in the week that a motorcyclist had broken his pelvis in a collision with a car – a sobering reminder to drive carefully.

Applecross sounds like a very English village, but the name derives from the Gaelic Apor Crosan meaning “estuary”. There’s not much there, though we found a good lunch (of course) – and deer!

By the time we’d had lunch, the road we had come down was blocked by a coastguard vehicle, presumably because of the earlier accident, but we were heading further round the coast to explore the grounds of Applecross House. We parked in a picnic area on the beautiful Applecross Bay from where we followed a 4km circular walk.

A short road walk took us to the Applecross river which we followed upstream into woods. We then climbed up the side of a small burn to a viewing platform – as on several of the walks we did on this holiday, there was much evidence of logging going on.

Next we skirted round the house itself – and even saw another “deer”! Applecross House was built by the Mackenzies around 1740, and the village largely grew up to service it and the estate. The Mackenzies also built the Bealach na Bà road in the 1820s – it remained gravel till 1956. Thank goodness for tarmac!

Behind the house was a walled garden – you can possibly tell by my determined gait that I’ve spotted a café at the end of that path. I smell coffee! And cake!

After refreshments, we explored the gardens a bit further. These two big kids couldn’t resist playing on the swings and treehouse.

Then we headed down the drive and back to the road and our car.

We planned to return the way we had come, but the Bealach na Bà was still blocked and we had to take the much longer, coastal route. Not a problem with these views and a herd of heilan’ coos (highland cattle) to look at!

We made a couple of stops at viewpoints over Loch Carron on the way home. I remember frantically checking my phone here, having had little or no signal until then. It was the day of the Wimbledon Men’s Final which was in an epic fifth set. I so wanted Roger Federer to win, but just after I logged in he dropped serve and lost. I couldn’t help feeling I was a jinx …

And the next day was jinxed too – I wanted to go to Skye, but it didn’t happen. Read on next week for our disaster in Glenelg!

Dornie and Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan Castle

In July, we spent a week in an apartment within walking distance of Eilean Donan, arguably the most romantic and most photographed of all Scotland’s castles. It’s a bit of a cheat though – originally established in 1230, it was destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1719 and what you see today was rebuilt between 1912 and 1932 by a British army officer, John MacRae-Gilstrap. The MacRae clan has ancestral links to the area and its war memorial is below the castle walls (see gallery below).

We took a stroll round the exterior after we arrived late on Saturday afternoon, and returned a few days later to look inside. No interior photography was allowed, but I think the exterior is the spectacular part anyway.

In the last picture above we are looking down from the castle onto the remains of a medieval tower (more or less obscured by a tree). Beyond it, immediately before the northern end of the road bridge, you can just make out our apartments. To the right of the bridge is the village of Dornie, and we finished our afternoon / early evening by following the dead-end road through the village to its termination at the small settlement of Bundalloch (just over a mile each way). We could again see our apartments on the other side of Loch Long.

In the last image above, the windows just above the fence belonged to us. I can highly recommend Eilean Donan Apartments which are operated by the same trust which owns the castle. The building was initially constructed as a hotel in the late 19th century, but has been extensively refurbished over the last few years into eleven self-catering units for 2-8 people. We loved it!

We settled in for our first evening, but the view across Loch Long to Dornie kept distracting us from making plans for the next seven days. These pictures were taken around 10pm – it’s wonderful when it stays light so late.

Spoiler alert: we did make some plans. What would the next day bring? Coming next – Applecross.

 

Cowden Japanese Garden and Castle Campbell

Japanese Garden at Cowden

At the end of September, John had an unexpected day off work. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great but we believed the forecast which said it would be better further east. It lied! We arrived at the Japanese Garden at Cowden in Clackmannanshire in pouring rain so, as it was around midday, we decided to have lunch first in the hope that the weather would clear. The small café is housed in a temporary Portakabin, but once inside you wouldn’t know because it is well maintained and attractive – better still, the food is good and the staff are friendly.

Cowden is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while. Created in 1908 by intrepid traveller Ella Christie (1861-1949), with the help of Taki Handa originally from the Royal School of Garden Design at Nagoya, it fell into disrepair in later years and was badly vandalised in the 1960s. In 2013 Professor Masao Fukuhara from Osaka University of Arts, Japan, was appointed to restore the garden and, although still a work in progress, it is now open to the public again. The full history, detailed on the garden’s website, is fascinating and well worth a read.

Our strategy of waiting for the rain to go off over lunch hadn’t worked, but it didn’t detract from the beauty of the garden and gives us an excuse to come back to visit in sunshine some day. Click on the gallery below to take a stroll round the central pond with us.

After Cowden, we headed a few miles back up the road to the small town of Dollar to visit Castle Campbell. We left the car in town and headed up the burn to Dollar Glen, where we chose the west path which climbs through woodland, eventually following the Burn of Sorrow, and leading to great views of the castle.

It’s a long time since we’ve actually visited the castle, but we decided to do so now. It was no longer raining, but the mist made the views from the top of the tower very atmospheric and, as the last image in the gallery below shows, there were some weak rays of sunshine as we left.

In the internal photos, you can see two Green Man carvings in the ceiling which would originally have held chains for oil lamps in their mouths. You can also see John testing one of the latrines for comfort, as invited by the notice behind him. This notice also informed us that a remedy for bed wetting from 1544 involved adding the ground bones of a hedgehog to the sufferer’s food and drink. Poor hedgehogs!

After the castle, we took the east path back down the glen along the Burn of Care until it merged with the Burn of Sorrow to form the Dollar Burn and led us back into town.  Such sad names!

Before leaving we found this interesting drinking fountain and a bench dedicated to Ella Christie whose garden we had visited earlier.

This was a day which proves there’s no point in sitting at home waiting for the weather to improve. Just get out and do it! We had two lovely walks which I’m linking to Jo and her wonderful group of Monday walkers. She has blue Portuguese skies to counter my grey ones.

Jo’s Monday Walks.

Glasgow Gallivanting: September 2019

25th August 2019 was the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Scottish engineer James Watt. Watt’s interest in the technology of steam engines began while he was employed as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, and his work became fundamental to the Industrial Revolution. There have been commemorations in Scotland all year, and this month it was John’s turn to take part by giving a lecture on Watt at a conference organised by some of his colleagues. I went along and enjoyed it very much (even though I had heard some of it before!)

You can find representations of Watt in several places in Glasgow – left to right below: on Glasgow Green outside the People’s Palace, in Anderston, in the Hunterian Museum and in George Square.

John’s not the only one to have been talking. I gave my talk on the Suffragette Jessie Stephen for the third time – it’s getting quite polished now – and a few days later I led two women’s history walks for Doors Open Day. I’m not quite sure why I agreed to three events in one week – note to self for next year: don’t do it! However, a bonus to one of the walks is that I got to see inside Glasgow’s Mercat Cross which is usually firmly locked. Market crosses like this are found all over Scotland to mark the places where markets were legally held – Glasgow’s original cross was removed in 1659 and this symbolic replacement was erected in 1929/30 to the design of Scotland’s first practicing female architect, Edith Burnett Hughes. The unicorn and interior animal figures were modelled by  Margaret Cross Primrose. I’ve said that last sentence every time I’ve been a guide on this walk, but only now know what these animals look like.

A couple of family visits (one to us, one involving travelling) also contributed to a busy month, but we still got time to get out and about to see new places. Autumn is upon us and short, dark days lie ahead so we decided to make the most of the last of summer.

Penicuik House

Penicuik House in Midlothian looks impressive from a distance, but as you get closer you can see that it is merely a shell. Erected by Sir James Clerk of Penicuik between 1761 and 1778, it was extended in 1857 and destroyed by fire in 1899. A Preservation Trust was set up in 1987 and, over a century after the fire, the ruin was stabilised and partially restored (2007-14) and is now open to the public. Inside, you can see doors that open into thin air and the remains of spiral staircases. The exterior is still ornamented by some fine statues (and on this day, John.)

After exploring the ruin, and having lunch in the café which, thankfully, has a roof, we walked round the estate. The building with the spire is the old stables where, I believe, the family still lives. The 18th century tower, which the Trust aims to renovate and reopen, was designed as both a belvedere (viewpoint) and doocot (dovecot). The view is of the Pentland Hills from Cauldshoulders Ridge which we had climbed in the hope of reaching the monument you can just glimpse in the distance over the white gate. We failed to find it!

On our way home we dropped into a place I would never have known about had I not read a post on Things Helen Loves just a few days before. The Secret Herb Garden was a short detour on our route from Penicuik House back to the Edinburgh by-pass. A herb nursery, garden, café and gin distillery – it’s all those things. We indulged in coffee and cake and left with a bottle of gin.

The Clyde at Crossford

We did a lovely circular walk out along the Clyde from the village of Crossford in South Lanarkshire, returning on minor roads and farm tracks via the memorial at General Roy’s birthplace. William Roy produced a map of Scotland after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, and from this grow the Ordnance Survey which produces the maps we use today. Appropriately, the memorial is in the form of a trig point pillar.

Dumfries House

Dumfries House which, confusingly, is not in Dumfries but near Cumnock in Ayrshire, was built in the 1750s for the 5th Earl of Dumfries. The architects were the Adam brothers, and much of the furnishing was specially commissioned from Thomas Chippendale. When it became too expensive for the family to run in 2007, the owner, by then the 7th Marquess of Bute, sold it for £45m to the nation in the form of a Foundation headed by Prince Charles. The house (no photography inside) and estate have been restored to their former glory and opened to the public..

I have ambivalent feelings about touring these great houses – to me, they represent the pinnacle of a rotten social system – and I am no big fan of royalty, quite the reverse. However, I think a good thing has been done here. The Estate is now the second biggest employer in the area, after the local council, and the jobs provided are not just casual, dead-end ones. Young people are learning new skills via apprenticeships in hospitality and traditional crafts such as stonemasonry – the estate is dotted with quirky little shelters and summer houses as a result.

Mugdock Country Park

Mugdock is close to home and we’ve visited often, but we’ve never been lucky enough to be there when the only intact tower of the castle was open. Great views from the top!

The middle floor of the castle is furnished like a dining room, with posters detailing old remedies around the walls. I rather liked this one:

To cure a great flux or looseness of the belly take a hard egg and peel off the shell and put the smaller end of it to the fundament and when it is cold take another such hot, fresh, hard and peeled egg and apply it as aforesaid.

Readers, do not try this at home!

The last bit

The Oor Wullie trail which graced Scotland’s cities this summer finished at the end of August, and during September each city auctioned off its statues. In total, they have raised an amazing £1.3m for children’s hospital charities. Metal Oor Wullie, designed by Jason Patterson and exhibited in Glasgow’s George Square, was the biggest fundraiser at £25,000.

Every autumn, I find a new mural by street artist Pink Rebel Bear. This year, s/he takes aim at Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, and Boris Johnson, depicting them all as big babies. It was really hard to photograph because there was scaffolding in front of it, hence the angle. It’s on Woodlands Terrace Lane near the junction with Woodlands Road should any Glaswegian readers be interested.

The other piece of graffiti art above was snapped on the Kelvin Walkway near Inn Deep, but I’ve seen the same head in different colours all around the city over the last couple of months. I’ve only just discovered the story behind it though. The “Big Heids” are by Oh Pandah, a Glasgow based graffiti artist who is using them to celebrate two years of sobriety. Apparently, the reason the faces all look as they do reflects the previous lifestyle followed by the artist and the toll taken by years of partying. Crikey!

Finally, to my Scottish word of the month. You might have noticed the UK is still in political turmoil, with the government recently being taken to court. Twice. If you live here, you will know the sordid details. If you don’t, I won’t bore you with them. One of the Scottish judges used the word stymied meaning obstructed – I think that’s a fairly common word these days and would be understandable to non-Scots, but did you know that it originated as a golfing term from the Scots stimie? Well now you do! It describes a situation where one player’s ball lies between another ball and the hole on the putting green, thereby blocking the line of play.

In another Scottish turn of phrase, the nights are fair drawing in. Will that curtail our October gallivanting? Time will tell – have a great month.

 

Eglinton: a castle, a tournament and a country park

Eglinton Tournament, 1839, by James Henry Nixon. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I had never heard of the Eglinton Tournament until I watched an episode of Scottish Television’s People’s History Show which billed it as Scotland’s most expensive and worst party. I was intrigued!

When Queen Victoria came to the throne, the country was in dire economic straits and she was given a scaled-down coronation ceremony which was ridiculed as ‘The Penny Coronation’. One of the fiercest critics was Archibald, 13th Earl of Eglinton, who decided to throw his own party over three days in August 1839 in the form of a grand medieval tournament on his Ayrshire estate. He invited a couple of thousand of his rich mates and thought he might let in a few thousand of the lower classes too. However, ticketing procedures and crowd control were woeful and some estimates suggest that in the end over 100,000 people attended the Tournament. Local transport and accommodation were overwhelmed, and the knights themselves created gridlock on the estate with the opening parade taking three hours longer than expected. And, of course, you can’t rely on the Scottish summer weather – the heavens opened on the first day and flooding meant that the entire audience, apart from Eglinton’s personal guests, was stranded without transportation. They had to walk miles through the rain and the mud to nearby villages, where only a few people found any food, drink, accommodation or transport. Even the personal guests missed out on the medieval banquet and ball that evening because banqueting tents had also been flooded. The middle day of the Tournament was cancelled, but the third day went ahead as planned with the overall winner judged to be – guess who? – Lord Eglinton himself.

After learning this story I wanted to see Eglinton myself, so on a sunny August Sunday, almost 180 years to the day since the Tournament, we set off – it’s less than an hour’s drive from home. There isn’t much left of Eglinton Castle itself, and it was difficult to get pictures of what there was because of all the picknicking families and children joyously leaping off the ruins.

You can see below what it looked like in its heyday before the Eglintons lost all their money and abandoned it. In 1925 the roof was removed so that the walls could be used for target practice by the military, and most of the rest was pulled down in 1973.

Eglinton Castle, 1906. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

There are several other interesting structures in the park. The ornamental Tournament Bridge, which crosses Lugton Water a short walk from the castle, might seem to be a remnant of the events of 1839, but actually dates from 1845. It has recently been beautifully restored.

The old stable block has been converted into a café, and the gardens and grounds of the estate surrounding it are very attractive. Interesting objects include some colourful benches and a double headless statue. I have no idea who they are or where their heads have gone, in case you are minded to ask!

The garden also contains war memorial benches and a cairn commemorating those who died in the 9/11 attacks.

There are several trails round the park, a mixture of woodland …

… and open countryside. We wondered about these stones on top of Cairnmount Hill. They were obviously not ancient standing stones, but we thought they might be a folly placed there by one of the Earls. Googling them later, I found that they are much more recent than that. An opencast mine was established nearby in 1983, and when extraction finished in 1986 it was filled in and these large boulders discovered in the process were erected on top of the restored hill. The stones effectively mark the closing of the last coal-mine on the land attached to Eglinton Castle after a period of at least 400 years of continuous production.

Finally, a small loch attracted walkers, such as ourselves, as well as those who just wanted a peaceful spot to read.

We enjoyed our day out at Eglinton: the trail we followed was pleasant, if not spectacular, and fairly quiet once we got away from the café and the picnickers at the castle.  I think the park caters mostly for that audience and not so much for those interested in its history – a few more information boards would have been helpful: the only one I can recall was at the Tournament Bridge. I’m pleased to have seen the site of the Tournament, and certainly recommend the park to anyone who happens to be in the area, but for me it is one to file away as a once-only visit – I don’t feel a strong need to go back.

Islay: Singing Sands and Kildalton Cross

Kilnaughton Bay

Our last day! We chose two shortish walks with lunch in Port Ellen in between. The first started at Kilnaughton Bay, just outside Port Ellen.  At the east end of the bay we explored this old building which looks like a ruined chapel but is actually the remains of a bathing hut where the ladies of Cairnmore House would once have changed. Underneath the sand, you can still see the tiled floor

From here, we crossed the bay and picked our way across rocks and walkways to the lighthouse at Carraig Fhada with its twin white towers.

The lighthouse was commissioned in 1832 by Walter Frederick Campbell as a memorial to his wife, Ellinor, and was taken over by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1924.

Backtracking from the lighthouse, we took the path marked Singing Sands from which we had good views back over the bay. We’d been watching the cruise ship, Ocean Atlantic of Albatros Expeditions, and I looked it up later. It was on an 8 day voyage from Dublin to Aberdeen via Orkney and Shetland. Next departure is May 21st, 2020, should you be interested. I can’t see any prices – you have to request a quote: I suspect it might be well beyond what I would like to pay!

The Singing Sands were a bit of a disappointment. The beach, Traigh Bhan, was certainly beautiful, but we couldn’t make the sands sing however we trod on them, although we’d had success before on Ardnamurchan. (The “singing” is supposed to come from the sound the sand makes as you walk through it, and depends on the size of the grains).

From Traigh Bhan, we climbed the grassy hill behind it, with more views back over Kilnaughton Bay until we came to a series of three cemeteries. The oldest one was by far the most interesting – Kilnaughton Old Churchyard in which you can still see the ruins of the old chapel, including a slab with a carved knight clutching his sword.

As usual, I have far too many pictures of old gravestones. I think I just liked the angel and urn on the left below. The image next to it is one of those tragic tales which always give me pause. You have to really zoom to read it, so I’ll summarise. The stone was erected by Betsy Ferguson in memory of her husband, Donald Whyte, and their sons. Donald, 53, and son Daniel, 17, were drowned at Port Ellen lighthouse on 1st January 1916. Presumably they were working as the keepers. Two other sons were killed in action, Dugald (21) in December 1915 and Walter (20) in August 1916 – they are interred in Belgium and France respectively. So in less than a year, Betsy lost her husband and three sons. Another son, John, died in infancy and the longest surviving son, Robert, died in 1933 aged 28. Betsy herself died in 1935, aged 68, and the final name on the stone is her daughter, Jessie, who survived till 1950 when she was 52. How many tragedies can one family bear?

I was also looking for Sinclairs because of my Great-Grandfather, John Joss Sinclair, who came from Islay. There were quite a lot! The stones below interested me the most because, although for a family of Campbells, one of the wives listed was Christina Sinclair, and the name was passed down to (possibly) a grandchild. It’s a family name with John Joss Sinclair’s descendants too – my grandmother and mother were both given the name Christina and my middle name is Christine. Could this Christina (born c. 1832) be a relative, possibly an aunt, of John Joss who was born in 1866? Maybe someday I’ll put the work in to find out – at the moment I’m happy speculating!

After exploring the cemeteries, we drove into Port Ellen for lunch, then continued along the south coast, past all the distilleries, to Kildalton. Here, there is another ruined church containing several carved medieval grave slabs.

However, the most notable thing about Kildalton is the High Cross in the churchyard, one of the finest early Christian crosses in Scotland, dating from the second half of the 8th century. The cross stands 2.65 metres in height, with arms 1.32 metres across. The biblical carvings, although somewhat weathered, can still be identified and include David fighting a lion, the Virgin and Child, Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, and Cain murdering Abel.

As we left, we dropped some money in the collection box by the gate, and were amused both by the fact that most people seemed to leave their offerings exposed at the foot of the cross, and by the warning notice on the gate.

Outside the churchyard is another cross, this one medieval. The other picture below is John at Kildalton on our previous visit in 1989. I think I must be taking the photograph from the base of this cross. In 2019 there was another, more modern feature, by the track visible behind John, but I’ll leave that excitement till the end …

From here, we walked down a lovely woodland path to the small jetty at Port Mor. It was a lovely spot to sit and relax for a while – but not too long! We knew what treats awaited us …

Back at Kildalton, we made a beeline for Cake @ The Cross, delicious home-baking on an honesty box system. We had a cup of tea (£1 each) and a cake (£2 each) totalling £6. Now, we’d already emptied all our change into the collecting box at the church and the honesty box didn’t run to £4 change for our tenner. What to do? I bet you can guess the solution. Yes! Another two slices of cake brought the total neatly to £10 and we enjoyed them after our dinner that night.

The next morning, we packed up and drove to Port Askaig for the ferry. It was raining – hard – and we felt sorry for the people disembarking. We’d had a wonderful week and, apart from a few blips, had been so lucky with the weather. We’d love to go back to Islay, but our sadness at leaving was tempered by the though that in another 7 weeks (mid-July) we’d be off again, this time up the west coast of mainland Scotland. Coming soon – probably.