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 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 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.