A weekend with kelpies and old books

Another lovely weekend in Central Scotland meant I could cross off two more items on my summer “must visit” list. The Kelpies are the latest large-scale public art installations by sculptor Andy Scott. Sitting next to the Forth and Clyde Canal in Helix Park, Falkirk, the two horses’ heads tower over 26 metres high – they’re not just art, they represent a massive engineering achievement too. If you’re wondering what a kelpie is, it’s a mythical water-being inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland which usually appears as a horse, but is able to adopt human form. Scott modelled his sculptures on two real-life Clydesdales in honour of the horses which used to pull the barges along the canal, so they might be mythical, but they’re also very real.

We chose to take a tour which meant we were able to go inside one of the heads (Duke, the one looking down, the other is Baron) and learn more about how they were made. They have 928 plates which took 130 days to construct on site using over 300 tons of steel. Awesome!

A word of warning about Helix Park itself – the facilities are awful. We got there just after 11am and were able to park, but from then on there was a constant queue of cars looking unsuccessfully for spaces. The advice given is to use overflow parking at the Falkirk Stadium, but that’s at least a 20 minute walk from the Kelpies, so if you’ve booked a tour you might well miss it – and if there’s a football match there, presumably you can’t use it anyway. The café is also about 15 minutes away, and when we got there just after 1pm they had no lunch left, just crisps and snacks. This is a fairly new attraction, so maybe they will get their act together soon, and I guess it’s good news in one way if more people than they expected turn up. A Visitor Centre is under construction and I assume it will have extra catering, but they need to sort the parking problems too.

Saturday was our last chance to catch Dunblane’s Leighton Library – it’s only open during the summer and we don’t have another weekend free before it closes at the end of September. This is the oldest purpose-built private library in Scotland, opening in 1687 as the result of a bequest by Robert Leighton. He had been Bishop of Dunblane from 1661 to 1670 and wanted to leave his books for the benefit of the clergy of the diocese. His own collection of around 1400 volumes eventually grew to over 4000 – all are held on the first floor, with the lower storey originally being living quarters for the librarian. From 1734 to about 1840 it functioned as a lending library, until the growth of public libraries rendered it obsolete. Despite the worthy nature of most of the tomes, the most borrowed book was a novel – Zeluco (1789) by Scottish author John Moore, which relates the vicious deeds of the eponymous anti-hero, the evil Italian nobleman Zeluco. Another novel, The cottagers of Glenburnie by Stirling author Elizabeth Hamilton, was so popular that it went missing. Now why does that sound a familiar tale? It happened regularly in every library I’ve ever worked in, that’s why!

Dunblane Museum is also worth a look – it too only opens summer hours and was closed on our last visit in December. For more on the town and its year-round attractions, such as the Cathedral, see my previous post Scottish snapshots: Dunblane.

Maryhill Burgh Halls


Maryhill is an area of Glasgow close to where we live which, although not particularly touristy, has some interesting developments going on. It dates from the coming of the canals in the 1790s and was called after Mary Hill who, with her husband Robert Graham, sold the first land for the township in 1791. Today’s destination was the former Burgh Halls, opened originally in April 1878 along with the adjacent police station, and derelict for many years before being sold to a Trust which raised the funds to reopen them earlier this year (although there’s still work going on on the roadway outside as you can see above). Today, the buildings house the main hall, meeting rooms, offices, a cafe and much more. For further information about the halls, including pictures of the stained glass, both original and modern, see the Trust’s website – there’s also a walking trail round more of Maryhill which I hope to follow very soon. Today, there was just time for lunch with a friend.

We entered through the gates below, which lead into a courtyard which was once the site of the Maryhill Fire Station. New gates by Andy Scott depict period firemen and their equipment. To the left is the Maryhill Leisure Centre, refurbished from the old Baths and Washouses (1898). However, we turned to the right to the Halls and the Cafe.


The Clean Plates Cafe is part of the Grassroots Organics family. It serves soup, sandwiches and a few other dishes. I had a hummus and aubergine sandwich and David had the aubergine skewers, both delicious. For future reference, I noted the presence of an all-day veggie breakfast ……….hmm, tempting. Upstairs, there were some old pub signs on display:



From the top picture, you can just see down into the cafe. This sign once sat on metal rails above the entrance to the Olde Tramcar Vaults and the soldier in his sentry box sat outside the HLI (Highland Light Infantry who used to be stationed at the nearby barracks).

Finally, we nipped across the road to Maryhill Library, a 1905 Carnegie library which also has interesting local history displays. I liked the report of its opening from the Daily Record and Mail in which the Lord Provost described libraries as “avenues of knowledge and wealth” and “potent factors in the destiny of a nation.” If only this spirit were alive in more places today.

All the buildings I’ve mentioned are listed, and all appear in the Maryhill Trail. A late breakfast in the cafe, followed by a couple of hours walking the trail could be a really good way of spending a Saturday morning. Watch this space!

A tale of two unis

Last weekend, my sister and her younger daughter were visiting, staying with my parents. It’s hard to find activities which everyone from 13 to 85 can join in with, but we scored an unexpected hit with…… universities! This wasn’t as dull as it sounded. I work for Strathclyde University Library at its Jordanhill Campus, which is a lovely parkland site in the West End of Glasgow. My Mum and Dad have never been there and, as the campus is closing in the summer, I wanted them to see where I worked before it disappeared. Jordanhill was originally a teacher education college (read about its origins in Wikipedia), starting in this building, the David Stow, in 1921:


Subsequent building has not been as attractive! The Library is housed in the Henry Wood Building:


Inside, the Library is more visually pleasing though:



And the campus is lovely, here’s the sunken garden for example, outside the Crawfurd Building:


This was such a success that we repeated the exercise the next day at Glasgow University where John is Head of the School of Engineering. It is very historic, dating from 1451, though has only been on its current site since the nineteenth century:


We visited, amongst other things, the recently-refurbished Hunterian Museum…….


…….and an engineering lab, also recently refurbished:


Again, the campus as a whole is lovely with the historic cloisters…..


……and views across the park to Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery:


My niece seemed to enjoy herself (well she didn’t complain), especially standing at the microphone in a lecture theatre and giving us all a talk. She went away with bags of freebies: badges and bookmarks etc, including some for her big sister who had been left at home studying for her GCSEs. So there you are: how to entertain your teenage niece in one easy lesson. Take her to university!

Glasgow Women’s Library

On Wednesday, I visited Glasgow Women’s Library with the group of librarians I have met through Twitter. I took notes during the talk by librarian Wendy Kirk, meaning to write it up, but Cathy has already written an excellent piece about that on the CILIPS blog, so read that for more information or visit the library’s own excellent website.

In keeping with the library’s Twitter name, @GWLkettle, we were greeted by a cup of tea and the magnificent spread below.


Afterwards, we looked round the library – not just books, but old knitting patterns and magazines and much more. I regret now that in a recent clear out I threw away some patterns, which used to belong to a great aunt, very similar to the Patons booklet shown below. I was also interested in the Greenham Common magazine. I visited there once to circle the base – it could even have been the day in the photograph, though I couldn’t spot myself.


Here’s a wider view of the library with some of the participants looking around and chatting.


Afterwards, about half of the 20 who were there went round the corner to the Bon Accord, a well known real-ale pub, where we were met by a few more librarians for #GLTU2 – Glasgow Library Tweet Up 2. If you are interested in joining future #GLTU events, leave a comment or tweet me @AnabelMarsh. #GLTU3 is very soon, Sunday 25th March, and is sponsored by Credo Reference. Please do get in touch for details.

Innerpeffray Library & the Knock of Crieff


I’ve wanted to visit Innerpeffray Library for years. Last weekend, when we stayed in Perth, I planned to visit on our way home but overlooked the fact that the library is not open on Mondays or Tuesdays. This weekend, we decided to go before the notion left us again. This was the plan: arrive in Crieff in time for a pub lunch, quickly visit the library when they opened for the afternoon at 2pm, then go for a long walk to work off lunch.

We had lunch in the Caledonian Bar in the centre of Crieff: one fish and chips, one mushroom stroganoff and two halves of Speckled Hen. All very good and served efficiently and with a smile and a chat. We then arrived at Innerpeffray just after 2pm, but the short visit lasted almost two hours! It was absolutely fascinating. Innerpeffray is the oldest free public lending library in Scotland. It was founded in 1680 in the church next door by David Drummond, 3rd Lord Madertie, but the dedicated library building “only” dates from 1762. This makes 2012 its 250th anniversary and so the books in the display cases date from around that time – a time when 75% of adults in Scotland could read and write, compared to only 53% in England. Why would that be? Because by 1750 almost every Scottish town of any size had a lending library. This obviously resonates today when so many public libraries are under threat.

The reason our visit took so long is that, unlike other historic libraries we have visited such as Pepys’ Library in Cambridge, you can actually handle the books, not just look at the displays. Lara, the Library Manager, and the two volunteers on duty were absolutely excellent and so friendly. They chatted to us to find out our interests and then quickly found books that they thought we would like, even though (anathema to my librarian’s soul!) they were not in classified order. We spent ages browsing and reading, sometimes with books nearly 400 years old. You can also view the borrowers’ register from 1747 until lending ceased in the 1960s, and lists of 18th century desiderata. I strongly recommend that you check the link above to find out more about the library and then visit it. It costs £5 per person – excellent value. The pictures below show internal and external views – the church can also be visited, but is not open till April.



(Update 1: 29/04/12 – for a good post on Innerpeffray, see the Georgian Gentleman blog.)

(Update 2: 10/05/12 – another blog Echoes from the Vault about a visit by Rare Books Librarians.)

(Update 3: 26/08/13 – read about my second visit, when the chapel was open. Also, check out author Helen Grant’s blog – she often writes about Innerpeffray.)

After a quick refreshment in the splendid café at Crieff Hydro, we went off for a shorter walk than planned. I found it hard to believe I had never been there before, but certainly have the Hydro marked down as a suitable place for a future weekend away.


From the Hydro, we walked up to the Knock, a view-point above the hotel. It was dusk when we returned and the sky was lovely.





As we walked back down through the hotel grounds, we got stuck behind a group of 10-12 young women, all beautifully dressed for a night out. The only trouble was, their shoes were so high that they were hirpling along like a gaggle of old grannies (hope that’s not too ageist), holding onto each other and the railings. They were happy to joke though – I offered to lend one my walking boots to get down the hill, and when we finally strode past them, another asked for a lift. Two of the more footsure can just be seen in this picture.


I hope they had a lovely evening. And that they’re not crippled by the time they are 40. (Suppresses memory of 18-year-old self attempting a country walk in four-inch platforms.)

In the Loop for National Libraries Day

And so to the final instalment of the National Libraries Day adventure in Glasgow. To find out why it was called “In the Loop” and the hashtag was #nldshoogle you’ll need to go back and read the last two posts!

We are very lucky in Glasgow in that there are no plans to close any library branches. We visited four very different ones: GoMA, Hillhead, Partick and the Gorbals. The differences were both architectural and in the communities served. However, what they all had in common was staff with shining enthusiasm, not least our tour guide, Myra Paterson, who gave up her day off to take us round. In each branch, big efforts had been made to make the place attractive with book displays and artwork, and it was stressed that the service was not “one size fits all”: staff really knew their communities and did their best to target services to their needs. I saw and learned a lot in each place, too much to tell here, but perhaps I was most impressed by the children’s sections. These were all bright and attractive and we heard tales of packed Bounce and Rhyme sessions and other events. This, to me, was the hub of the library – where the next generation will become literate and learn to love books and reading.

GoMA The Library at GoMA has a long history. It dates back, as Stirling’s Library, to the eighteenth century and at one time occupied the whole of the Royal Exchange Building. Now, it is in the basement with the modern art gallery taking up the rest of the space. A basement sounds gloomy, but it’s not – they have made the most of it and it feels bright and welcoming. The cafe is at the entrance along with piles of books for quick selection – as a city centre branch, they have a lot of commuter trade.

Here are the early arrivals waiting to get in, Isabel, Shayna, David, Cathy and Lauren:


A cup of coffee called – Lynn has now joined us (and love Lauren’s T-shirt):


And looking the other way, you can see Myra, our tour guide, in green and Kathleen:


I had let my membership of the public library lapse, but here I am having rejoined with my shiny new ticket:


Finally, here is part of the children’s shelves – they make a lovely contrast with Clare’s coat!


Hillhead A few stops by Glasgow Subway and we were at Hillhead Library on Byres Road, the hub of the West End. This is the flagship for Glasgow Libraries, their busiest by some way, serving a fairly affluent community and close to Glasgow University so with a large student population too. It dates from the 1970s and looks like not much has happened since to upgrade it, but apparently some renovations are due soon. Here’s the gang on its way in:


Here’s an overview from the gallery:


And here’s the fabulous picture book train (do hope they lose that terrible 70s carpet in the refurbishment):


At Hillhead, we were joined by children’s author Lynne Rickards who also lives locally. Lynne and I have chatted on Twitter for some time, and I have bought her books for the library I work in, so it was lovely to meet her at last, though I seem to have missed her in all the photographs. Never mind, you can see her on her website and the excellent blog she writes for children.

Partick After a break for lunch in the Curler’s Rest, another Glasgow institution, we shoogled one stop on the Subway to Partick Library. I was surprised to learn that it only dates from the 1950s, because it looks much older; however it was apparently built to plans drawn up 30 years before. By the time we arrived at the fairly grand entrance, the Glasgow weather was doing its worst so nobody felt like posing:


You can see by the size of the windows how tall the ceilings must be, and it’s certainly palatial inside with the biggest children’s area I have seen. You could hold a ball there, and they probably have! This colourful rug caught my eye, as did the excellent displays throughout, including the one on movie books:



Gorbals Our longest Subway journey led to the last stop of the day, Gorbals Library and Learning Centre. Too many people think that the Gorbals of No mean city still exists, but it’s long gone and even much of what replaced it has now been demolished. The library dates from 2004 so is the newest building we visited, but by this time I was fed up with getting wet and so have no exterior pictures. Being wet also made us especially grateful for the tea and coffee that John made us in the meeting room:


The Learning Centre at the front has nearly 40 PCs, and the Digital Inclusion Team works with local community members to increase their confidence in using the latest technology. The Library is at the back, which makes it feel a bit tucked away but, as usual, there was a fabulous children’s section which really jumped out at me:


There had been a “10 green bottles” effect throughout the day, so the five of us who were left wended our weary way back across the Clyde to the City Centre. It had been a really interesting day: as I said at the beginning, I found the staff to be uniformly enthusiastic and I can’t thank Myra and the others who hosted us in the branches enough. It has also been very useful for cross-sectoral networking and from this will certainly grow some visits specifically for chartership candidates and, I hope, many other useful contacts and connections.

We love to #shoogle

A couple of days ago I posted about the library crawl I was organising for National Libraries Day via Glasgow Subway. Well, it took place yesterday and was enjoyed by all – 11 of us in total, though not all were there for the whole day.

We called it “In the Loop” because of the circular nature of the route and used the hashtag #nldshoogle on Twitter, a combination of the official #NLD12 and @GlasgowSubway’s use of #shoogle. Someone tweeted me last night to say “I still don’t know what shoogle means!” Well, there’s a great definition and cartoon here. If someone hands you a carton of juice and asks you to give it a “wee shoogle” you give it a shake. Non-Glaswegians might also like to learn the phrase “Yer jaiket’s on a shoogly nail” which roughly translates as “The peg on which your jacket is hanging is rather loose.” In other words “Your position is precarious” – not what you want to hear your boss saying!

Anyway, back to the library crawl. The Subway staff were very supportive and gave us all shoogle bags to carry our library books. Here are some of the gang posing with theirs in Buchanan Street Station:


And here they are enjoying a wee shoogle on the train:


The post’s title, by the way, derives from the T-Rex song “I love to boogie”. I’ve been trying to think of other, boogie/shoogle substitutions and came up with “Yes sir, I can shoogle” (Baccara), “Blame it on the shoogle” (Jackson 5), the film “Shoogle nights” and, of course, my all-time favourite, the incomparable Mr Leonard Cohen’s “Shoogle Street”. I then found that someone called Toronto Mike had been there before me and compiled his own boogie list. If you can think of any more to substitute, let me know in the comments!

In my next post, I will tell you about the libraries we visited.

A shoogle round Glasgow’s libraries


Tomorrow is National Libraries Day Several librarians from various sectors, including me, are going on a library crawl via the Glasgow Subway. We hope to raise awareness of the good that libraries do by tweeting and blogging our way round.

The Subway is a great way to travel and a humorous presence on Twitter (@GlasgowSubway) – #shoogle is one of their hashtags, and it describes perfectly the motion of their trains. There are only two lines, concentric circles going clockwise and anticlockwise, and the trains are bright orange, hence the nickname “Clockwork Orange” and the reason we decide to call our Library Crawl “In the Loop”. We are very grateful to Elaine Magee of Strathclyde Passenger Transport who picked up on our venture and offered to provide us with shoogle bags to carry our library books around! I wasn’t able to get away from work today, but here are Lauren, Cathy and Isabel picking up the bags from Buchanan Street Station:


We also got mentioned by STV and The Herald. Can’t wait to get Shoogling tomorrow!