Hebridean Hop 19: Tangasdale

Wednesday 15th August 2018

Should we go out to the castle today? Hmm, no – the weather was too dreich again. Instead, we headed out of Castlebay for a short walk. Starting at Loch Tangasdale, we first passed MacLeod’s Tower, built in 1430 by the son of Marion of the Heads. She was the widow of the chief of Clan MacNeil and had her two stepsons beheaded so that her own son would inherit.

Further on, in a small glen, are the ruins of an old settlement inhabited by another MacNeil, Roderick the Dove, in the 18th century. His name suggests he was much nicer than Marion!

As the path climbed, we could see down to Halaman Bay at the side of which perches the Isle of Barra Hotel – this is where we stayed during our 1990s trips to Barra.

The climb to Dun Ban, the 2000 year old remains of a fortified broch, was rugged but worth it.  I liked the way the stones had been taken over by nature.

On our return, we dropped down onto the beach at Halaman – probably a mistake! As the rain and the wind built up we got soaked through and the sand whipped into our faces. As we struggled to stay upright on two feet, hopping on one leg to don the waterproof trousers wasn’t an option. It was still beautiful though, and I don’t think you can tell from the pictures how bad the weather was. (As a bonus, I’ve included a picture of me on the same beach on a better day in 1992).

We have rarely been so pleased to reach the car. When we got back to the hotel, we just had time for a quick change of clothes before we caught last orders for lunch.

A relaxing afternoon with a book followed. Amazingly, the sun came out later and it was a lovely bright evening. We watched the ferry dock from our room and managed to bag a window seat at dinner. Not a bad day overall, despite the weather doing its worst – slàinte!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk.

Hebridean Hop 18: Vatersay

Tuesday 14th August 2018

Macroon’s Café scone

I last wrote about our Hebridean Hop at the beginning of November – how time flies! We had just arrived in Barra, our last port of call on the trip. Now the story continues …

Our first morning dawned very dreich – not the weather for getting the boat out to the castle as planned – so we visited Dualchas, the small heritage centre, instead. (No photography allowed.) Its main collection heavily features the history of the herring industry: more interesting than it sounds, particularly the story of the herring girls who followed the fish down the coast to Great Yarmouth as long ago as the 1880s. (There’s an interesting post about them on F Yeah History.) The special exhibition when we were there was on Father John MacMillan (1880-1951), another of the inspirational island priests we kept coming across on our travels. A few days later, we went searching for his grave: apparently 1200 people attended his funeral.

It wasn’t quite lunchtime, but we needed somewhere to go to plan our next move so headed for Macroon’s Café in the Post Office. Both parts of the business are run by an enterprising Yorkshire couple who relocated to Barra after redundancy simply because they liked Whisky Galore – Macroon is the name of the postmaster in the film. The scones, as you can see above, are awesome.

Our decision was to drive to Vatersay, a neighbouring island attached to Barra by a causeway, to take a walk there. After parking the car, we headed for Tràigh Siar (West Beach) passing the memorial to the Annie Jane on the way.

The Annie Jane ran aground here in 1853. With at least 450 emigrants bound for Canada (it’s impossible to say exactly how many because children’s names were not recorded), the ship hit rocks in a storm and broke into three parts. Only about 100 people survived, and the dead were buried in two mass graves in the dunes.

At the end of the beach, we turned uphill to the summit of Dun Vatersay. This was very wet and boggy, and the locals watched us struggling with some interest! From the top we could see both Tràigh Siar and Bàgh Bhatarsaigh (Vatersay bay) as well as Vatersay village.

We continued the boggy struggle, passing a standing stone (though some think it might be just an old gatepost) on our way to Bàgh a Deas (South Bay) which we shared with more locals.

The next point of interest was the ruined village of Eorisdale built by the Vatersay Raiders. At the beginning of the 20th century the island, which her tenants farmed as a single holding, was owned by Lady Gordon Cathcart. Pressure on land throughout the Western Isles led ten men to raid Vatersay, build huts and plant potatoes without permission. In 1908, some were imprisoned for refusing to leave, but the case caused an outcry across Scotland, and in 1909 the Government responded more positively by buying the island and dividing it up into 58 crofts. The village was built at this time and was inhabited as recently as the 1970s.

Finally, after more boggy walking, we descended to Vatersay Bay.

We’d been here before! The first photograph below shows me with our friends John and Pat in 1993. I remember then there were lots of abandoned cars in the dunes. We didn’t spot any this time, but they are probably still buried there – the next photograph of the fence at the top of the dunes on the way back to the car shows how quickly the sand can shift.

On the way back we stopped a couple of times – at the unusual war memorial and at a viewpoint over Castlebay.

Maybe we’d get out to the castle tomorrow?

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – she’s settled in Portugal now.

Glasgow Gallivanting: December 2018

In December I gave my talk! As part of a Suffrage afternoon at the Mitchell Library I spoke about Jessie Stephen, the Glasgow Suffragette I have been researching this year. It was well received I’m glad to report, in fact the Chair described it as a barnstorm. The pictures show me giving it laldy (ie speaking with great gusto).

The Hunterian

We visited the Hunterian a couple of times, Glasgow University’s museum and art gallery. The first time was an evening event in the museum for university staff and their guests, which we enjoyed. Prosecco and canapés, what’s not to love?

Our second visit was across the road in the art gallery. The Hunterian is named after William Hunter (1718-1783) who started it all off by leaving his collections to the University, his alma mater, and the gallery has currently been cleared of its usual contents for an exhibition marking the tercentenary of his birth (closes this weekend, so hurry along). Hunter was an anatomist and physician (he delivered most of the children of  Queen Charlotte and George III) but also a collector of books, paintings and other artefacts so the exhibition was not just medical. Here are two portraits of Hunter, for example, one by his friend Allan Ramsay, and the other commissioned from Sir Joshua Reynolds after Hunter’s death.

Other than the exhibits themselves, there were two things I really liked. First, the booklet which replaced labels meaning you didn’t have to peer at the wall to find out what you were looking at and, second, the fact that we arrived just at the right time to join a tour by volunteer guide Finlay, a medical student, who added a lot to the experience.

My friend Jessica of Diverting Journeys has reviewed this exhibition concentrating largely on the anatomy exhibits, so head over there if you want to know more. I’ll restrict myself to the anatomy section I found most disturbing, the display of drawings and models contributing to Hunter’s 1774 Anatomy of the human gravid uterus. I’ve seen some of the models before – they are usually displayed vertically in the museum, but lying them on their backs as if in childbirth made them much more poignant. Who were these women? When and how did they and their unborn children die? If they had known that three centuries later we would be looking at their most intimate parts how would they feel? Troubling questions to which we’ll never know the answer.

It will, of course, not surprise you to know that I was fascinated by Hunter’s book collection. Most were difficult to photograph because of the glass cases, but here are a few examples. There were actually three copies of Newton’s Principia Mathematica on display, but I liked the one below best because it was published by the Royal Society in 1687 while Samuel Pepys, one of my historical heroes, was President and thus has his name on it.

Even better, I note that Hunter looked after his books carefully and created both a catalogue and a list of books lent. A man after my own heart!

Carmunnock

Carmunnock describes itself as “the only village in Glasgow” and had two attractions for us one cold Sunday afternoon: a heritage trail round its historic centre and an excellent restaurant, Mitchell’s, where we could warm up after our short walk. The restaurant originated in 1755 as Boghead farmhouse and steadings, and became the Boghead Inn in the late 19th or early 20th century when it was also the centre for public transport in the village. Quite a lot of history to contemplate while enjoying delicious food!

Sighthill Cemetery

One of John’s historical heroes now. Over the last year or so, we’ve made three visits to Sighthill Cemetery looking for a particular grave, each time armed with slightly more information. This month we found it! William John Macquorn Rankine was Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Glasgow University (where a building is named after him) from 1855 to his death in 1872, aged only 52. It’s not surprising we missed it the first twice as the gravestone has tumbled downhill and now stands on its head. 2020 is the bicentenary of Rankine’s birth, so hopefully something can be done about this before then.

I do like a wander around an old graveyard – here are some of the other things that caught my eye over our three visits. The Martyrs’ Monument commemorates two men, John Baird and Andrew Harding, who were executed after a radical uprising in 1820.

Eighteen other rebels were transported to Australia, including Benjamin Moir. His brother James, a tea merchant and Glasgow councillor, has a rather fine obelisk elsewhere in the cemetery. As mentioned on the inscription, on his death he left his books and £12,000 to the Mitchell Library where I gave my talk earlier in the month – in the Moir Room!

Some of the family gravestones are a sad testament to the scourge of infant mortality.

Some stones I just liked – particularly the tribute to the lady who worked for Henglers Circus for 45 years.

As we left on our most recent visit, the sun was setting. A graveyard at dusk? Not spooky at all!

The last bit

Al fresco art spotted this month includes this lovely house decorated with shells in Anstruther in Fife. And the gap site on Sauchiehall Street caused by a fire (not the Art School one – this one was earlier in the year) has been concealed by some adorable cats.

My Scottish word of the month is a Gaelic one. As I write, British politicians are still fighting like ferrets in a sack over what some of the Scottish media have started to refer to as the Brexit bùrach (boo-rach with a guttural Germanic ch sound). It means complete mess, enough said …

So I’ve almost got to the end of a post about December without mentioning Christmas and New Year! We had a lovely time at both with family and friends, as I hope you did too, and in between we visited Dunkeld for a few nights. That’s added to the list of posts I still have to write – my New Year’s Resolution is to get back to blogging regularly.

This is also the time that I look to see what have been the most popular posts written this year. I’m usually surprised – this year’s top read by some way was A walk on Great Cumbrae in April, I’ve no idea why. I suspect WordPress gremlins!

Finally, my heartfelt thanks to you all for your friendship over the last year and a special mention for one who is absent. Rest in peace, Joy loves travel. You are missed.

Timesquare – Glasgow Cross

Tollbooth Steeple at Glasgow Cross

I haven’t got my blogging act together at the moment, so I’m just dropping in with another quick post for Becky’s timesquare challenge. I love the way the clock face matches the sky in this picture of the steeple at Glasgow Cross. This does not, unfortunately, reflect the weather today …

The Cross was the heart of the medieval city, the meeting place of five roads: High Street, Gallowgate, London Road, the Saltmarket and Trongate. Those roads are all still there, but Glasgow’s centre has moved west over the centuries and the only true remnant of the Cross’s former glory is the Tolbooth Steeple. Today, this sits alone on a traffic island, but when it was built in the 1620s it was part of a more extensive building. The Tolbooth had several uses, including as the seat of the Council until 1814 and, less pleasantly, as a place of public execution (hence Gallowgate). The rest of the Tolbooth was demolished in 1921.

Glaswegians like to think of themselves as gallus which has a connection:

gallus (ga·luss). Dialect, chiefly Scot ~adj.
1. self-confident, daring, cheeky.
2. stylish, impressive (esp. Glasgow “He’s pure gallus, by the way”).
3. Orig. derogatory, meaning wild; a rascal; deserving to be hanged (from the gallows).

I’m sure most of us would prefer the middle definition!

Timesquare – the Blackstone chair

The Blackstone Chair (detail)

Becky at The Life of B has a new square picture challenge for December – #timesquare. Follow the link for guidance if you have a timely contribution. As for me, I don’t have time to take part every day (well, it’s already on Day 7) but I’ll pop in when I have a minute to spare.

Last night, we attended an evening event for Glasgow University staff in the Hunterian Museum. On the way out, I spotted the Blackstone Chair. (Forgive the fuzzy photos – the light was poor and I’d had prosecco.) Can you believe that until the mid-19th century, all examinations took place orally on this chair? Your time was up when the sand ran through. Click on the gallery below for a full explanation.

Glasgow Gallivanting: November 2018

We didn’t intend to visit GlasGLOW, a Halloween event that ran in the Botanic Gardens for almost two weeks, but after passing by one night and seeing what we could from the road, we changed our minds. About the only tickets left were for 9 o’clock on a Monday night so, after dinner, we wrapped up warmly and strolled through the lights for an hour or so.

Kintyre and Dundee

We had two weekends away in November! Firstly, a couple of nights near Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula, then three nights in Dundee, mainly to visit the new V&A Museum. Country life and city life: couldn’t have been more different. More on both to come in due course.

Blogger shout-outs

I met another blogger in real life, which I think brings my total to seven – I’ll be losing count soon. Jessica of Diverting Journeys and her partner, Marcus, visited Glasgow for a long weekend and we met up on the Sunday afternoon. We visited the viewing platform at the Lighthouse which, unusually, contained a piano and a mural reading: We should have it all. We certainly should!

Then we went in search of Billy Connolly murals before repairing to the Scotia, one of Glasgow’s oldest pubs. It was great to meet them!

There’s been much discussion lately amongst bloggers about comments, and how difficult it can be to make them sometimes. I’d been having terrible trouble – even clicking Like was problematic.  I don’t think WordPress is blameless but, because weird things happened with Blogger too, my chief suspect was a recent update to Apple’s Safari browser. I had no idea how to fix it though, and I’m therefore hugely grateful to Jemima Pett for publishing When Privacy stops you Blogging – Safari and Comments. I’ve made one simple change in my settings and everything is now (almost) hunky-dory. Whoopee! Thanks, Jemima.

A musical month

We found time for three gigs this month. Two big ones: King Crimson, because John likes them, and Seasick Steve because we both do. He was great! The support band, Prinz Grizzley and his Beargaroos, was awesome too.

But my favourite was maybe the small pub gig where my friend Lesley was part of both support (the Carlton Three) and main act (the Carlton Jug Band). Previously, I’d only heard her sing her own music in her own band, Kittlin, which is very Scottish, so I was surprised when this turned out to be another dose of Americana. I’m not complaining – and we got to eat pizza at the same time so it was a great night.

The last bit

I’ve been to two women’s history events this month, but Glasgow’s biggest women’s history event of the year (ha, ha) is still to come. Me! Gulp! On Tuesday 4th December there’s an afternoon of Suffrage talks at the Mitchell – and I’m one of the speakers. This explains the lack of posts recently – any writing time I’ve managed to find has been dedicated to my talk which is still, by the way, five minutes too long. I’m working on it – wish me luck!

Maybe after Tuesday I’ll get back to regular blogging, and finish off my Hebridean Hop. December should be a quiet month – shouldn’t it?

Hebridean Hop 17: Lochboisdale to Castlebay

Monday 13th August 2018

Our Lady of Sorrows, South Uist

It was time to move on to the last port of call in our Hebridean Hop. After checking out of the Lochboisdale Hotel we had a couple of hours to kill before the ferry, so decided to explore the most incongruous building we had seen on the island, Our Lady of Sorrows RC Church. It was built in 1965 (architect Richard McCarron – nope, me neither) so was obviously there on our previous visit, but I have no memory of it and was quite shocked the first time we drove past it this year. I’m not a fan of brutalist architecture anyway, but here it seemed particularly out-of-place – though it was much more attractive inside.

Next, a short walk – a plethora of signs, some (almost) free-range pigs and some seaweed. I love how it looks monochromatic orange from a distance, but close up is completely different.

Just time for a quick coffee in the Kilbride Café, then it was over the causeway to Eriskay for the Barra ferry. In 1989, we left the Outer Hebrides after South Uist and took a ferry to Skye. However, we have been to Barra twice before for long weekends in 1992 and 1993 with our friends Pat and John. On one of them we took the small foot ferry to Eriskay for the day.

The harbour and ferry have changed a bit!

On our previous visits to Barra we arrived by air. Tràigh Mhòr (Big Beach) is an airport like no other, the only one in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach. The timetable therefore varies according to the tides.

In the early 90s, the facilities were little more than a hut, but now it has a café, which our guidebook recommended, so we headed straight from the ferry port to the airport. As we approached we could see quite a crowd lined up along the fence, many with huge camera lenses pointing at the sky. We guessed the plane was due – here it comes!

For any aviation buffs out there, the plane is a 19-seater Twin Otter, the same model that we flew in, though not the same aircraft. For anyone more interested in the food – yes, the café was excellent!

From the airport, we headed south to Castlebay, Barra’s largest settlement and our home for the next five nights. We stopped in the car park at the base of Heaval, Barra’s highest hill, from where we looked down on the village – see why it is called Castlebay?

We also looked up to Heaval and the white marble statue Our Lady of the Sea.

I know this is a terrible picture – visibility was very poor – but I wanted to include it for comparison, because on our previous visits we climbed Heaval both times. Not this time – the weather and dodgy knees were against us.

We checked into the Castlebay Hotel – a room with a view! Every night we watched the ferry dock.

The weather had improved before dinner so we had a quick stroll round. The church and the main street:

The bank wasn’t looking it’s best, but it has had its glory days in the past, “playing” the Post Office in the film Whisky Galore:

The Herring Trail commemorates what was once a major industry on Barra:

A mosaic of Barra landmarks and a lime-kiln:

Kilns like this one were used throughout the Hebrides to produce lime for mortar and limewash, in some cases as late as the 1930s. This one was built more recently by Historic Scotland to replicate the mortar which holds the medieval walls of Kisimul Castle together. That was one place we would definitely be visiting in the next few days. We couldn’t wait – but we had to! And so will you, dear reader. Having kept a couple of posts ahead for the last few weeks, this is the last I have prepared and I have a busy week coming up. More on Barra as soon as I have time …

Glasgow Gallivanting: October 2018

Autumn is well and truly here – above is my favourite splash of colour in the Botanic Gardens, as it changed from September to October.

More autumn colour: on a dry, crisp Sunday we took a walk to the nearby town of Milngavie (pronounced Mulguy). The drive there would be completely urban – no gaps at all – but we can walk all the way from our house along the River Kelvin and Allander Water. This also doubles the distance from 4 miles to about 8! We got public transport back, needless to say.

Re the last two pictures above – what on earth is wrong with people, stealing memorial plaques? I despair.

October also means the end of the guided walk season, with my last one being in Garnethill, the first time the Women’s Library has run that walk since the Art School fire earlier in the year. We got as close as we could to the School, but had to change our route because there is still a cordon around it.

As one walker observed, even the scaffolding looks like a work of art, and the stop sign definitely is one.

The cultural highlight of the month was 306: Dusk, the final part in the National Theatre of Scotland’s trilogy of plays about the First World War. The title comes from the 306 soldiers who were shot for “cowardice”, or what would now be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. Even at the time, officers such as the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were diagnosed with shell shock and treated (though both later went back to the front line where Owen died in November 1918). The class system was rigidly in place.

In 2016 part 1, 306: Dawn, told the stories of some of the condemned men. Last year part 2, 306: Day, gave voice to the women and families at home, many of whom were shamed into changing their names and leaving their communities. This year’s play tells three stories in a series of overlapping monologues: a school teacher of the present day, a veteran of the Iraq War and a soldier who turns out to be the last of the 306 to be shot, just days before the armistice. Only in the final scene do the characters interact and the connections between them become explicit. The name and date of death of each man is projected onto the backdrop, accompanied by a choir singing out the names.

As we reach the centenary of the end of the Great War, it’s important to remember all its aspects, including these men who have been more or less erased from history. In 2006, then defence secretary Des Browne, announced pardons for the 306, for what that’s worth. The presence of the Iraq War veteran, clearly suffering from PTSD, questions how much better society has become at dealing with traumatised soldiers. He wasn’t shot, but his life fell apart and in some ways his was the saddest story. Overall, the trilogy was thought-provoking and intensely moving.

The last bit

Exactly a year ago I found a new piece of street art by Pink Bear Rebel (Free WiFi, above). That wall has since been scrubbed clean, but this month I found a new one – a blind-folded Theresa May being led by a blind-folded British bulldog. A neat piece of political commentary, and top marks for the facial expression which is spot-on. The body looks all wrong to me though, too short and stout. I can’t remember who said that Mrs May always looks as if she has been illustrated by Quentin Blake but I heartily agree. His characters tend to be long and gangly: she might be in this picture, for example.

Time for Scottish word of the month! Over coffee with a couple of friends I observed of an organisation with which we are all involved that they “couldn’t run a minodge”. Blank looks – well they are both from Edinburgh, and I admit the phrase puzzled me when I first came to Glasgow. The word is derived from ménage, French for household, but has acquired various spellings according to local pronunciation. In the days before widespread credit, minodge took on the meaning of a self-help savings scheme whereby everyone made regular payments and took turns at getting the whole amount. So if you say someone “couldnae run a minodge” you are calling into account their competence. I put my alternative, couldn’t run a piss-up in a brewery, to my friends but they considered that vulgar. I did say they were from Edinburgh …

So November has arrived and we are hurtling towards the end of the year. The next Gallivant will probably be quite wintry. Have a great month.

Hebridean Hop 16: South Uist (3)

Sunday 12th August 2018

Loch Skipport

On our last day in South Uist, we headed first along a winding B road to Loch Skipport, a picturesque sea loch on the west coast. Strange to think that the ramshackle pier, what’s left of it, was where the Royal Yacht Britannia used to dock.

On the way there and back we were waylaid by curious ponies.

Staying on the B road, we parked at a point where we could pick up the Hebridean Way. The plan was to follow it across the moors to the main road and the east coast machair which we would follow back round to the B road junction, returning along it to the car.

The Hebridean Way here was curious – boardwalks over the wettest bits at either end, but horribly boggy in the middle. Didn’t they have enough money for it to meet up? The loch here is Druidbeg.

As we approached and crossed the main road, the terrain changed to farmland and then machair. The ruin on the small loch is Caisteal Bheagram, a 15th/16th century tower.

A nattily dressed scarecrow and some bale art. You might just be able to make out the military installation on the hill in the background.

Fortunately, we had nothing to fear! Other than the slightly improvised looking bridges.

And the weather. You can probably tell from the pictures that it had been pretty grim all day.

Below is the last photograph we took, timed around 14:30, just before the rain became torrential. We walked up this track to the main road, where we crossed to the B road to walk back to the car in very unpleasant conditions.

Although it was still early, there was nothing for it but to return to the hotel to dry out, and to pack up. The next morning we were heading off for the last island of our Hebridean Hop – Barra.