MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “July, 2016”

Orkney Islands – Westray

Sitting just 10 miles (16km) to the north of the Caithness coast, the Orkney Islands are visible from the Scottish mainland (on a clear day), and boast an incredible 8500 years of known habitation. The history of this archipelago is incredible, varied and fascinating: spanning neolithic tribes, Picts, and Norse Vikings before eventually coming under the rule of the Scottish crown in the 15th century. When I was a young girl, my family visited these islands for a 2 week holiday, but my memories are patchy and vague. Despite living in Aberdeen for nearly 6 years after university, where one of the Orkney-bound ferries leaves the Scottish mainland, I never got round to heading back as an adult. It took a move to the other side of the world to heighten my desire to get back there, and I knew that a trip back to Scotland would not be complete without making some time to do so.

On the PentalinaAt the start of June, the evening sailing of Pentland Ferries’ Pentalina set off from Gill’s Bay to the west of John O’Groats, the sun still high overhead. On route to OrkneyThe sea was calm as we passed the Scottish islands of Stroma and Swona, and as we neared the southern coast of Hoy, the mixing currents of the seas as we rounded the various island promontories resulted in some interesting swells. HoyLike Caithness, the Orkney Islands appear barren. Arriving at St Margaret's Hope on South RonaldsayThere are few trees out here where the weather extremes batter the islands, keeping the shrubbery low. In the distance, an oil rig was visible across Scapa Flow, and we turned into the sheltered harbour created by South Ronaldsay and Burray islands, and berthed at St Margaret’s Hope an hour and a half after leaving Gill’s Bay behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I headed off, like most of the ferry traffic, north to Kirkwall. Island hopping via man-made causeways, it was just a half hour drive to reach the islands’ largest settlement and capital. St Magnus Cathedral, KirkwallI was staying the night at what turned out to be an awesome hostel near the sports centre, and from here I headed down to the harbour front to wander around the boats and through the back streets to St Magnus Cathedral, one of the town’s iconic buildings. St Magnus Cathedral, KirkwallAt the time, there was a display of poppies spilling out of a front window, similar to that done in London, as part of the WW1 centenary events. There was a constant audio of young Orcadians driving their cars round and round the streets, as they showed off to their mates. Spilling out of most of the bars in town were groups of young men and it felt like every late teen/early twenty-something was either driving round the streets or standing in a pub doorstep. It was a little off-putting, and despite my hostel seeming quiet, the restaurants and pubs in town were all busy and I couldn’t find anywhere to eat. In the end, I had to suffice with a trip to the supermarket before preparing myself for the next day.

Kirkwall harbourLeaving my car at the harbour car park the next morning, I experienced my first day of poor weather since arriving in Scotland. Fishing boats on route to WestrayThe cloud was grey and thick, and the wind was cold, so on boarding the ferry I headed straight inside where I spent most of the trip. Normally I love standing on deck watching the world go by, but every time I gave it a go, even all wrapped up in layers, the cold was biting and I quickly gave up. Heading north for nearly 1.5hrs, the ferry passed by the islands of Shapinsay, Rousay, and Eday before arriving at the island of Westray. With rain visible on the horizon, I was met on the pier by my guide, and we set off to explore.

I had vague recollections of Rousay from my childhood, but I hadn’t visited Westray before, and I chose it for various reasons as one of the islands I had to visit on this trip. At 47 square kilometres, it is only the sixth largest of the island chain, but it was just too big to explore on my own two feet, so I hadn’t hung around with booking a tour in the planning stages of my trip. I’m a terrible introvert at times despite all my foreign travels. Happy in my own company, I’m not the best at conversing with strangers, so when it transpired that I was the only person booked on the tour that day, I was a little apprehensive as to how it would be with just me and the guide. Normally as one of a group, I’d never experienced a one to one tour before. I needn’t have worried. Apart from the fact that I’d told myself in advance that I would need to actually make an effort with social skills, my guide Graham and his wife Kathy who run Westraak tours, were both lovely and great company. Whilst Kathy provided a delicious morning tea and lunch, it was Graham who drove me round the island and told me the tales of its history.

Despite the weather not being in my favour, we still managed to cover a lot of the island’s best sites. The main settlement of Pierowall has a small heritage centre which was a handy place to keep dry when the inevitable rain showers hit. Viking era diceAlthough small, it has some interesting artifacts from local archaeological digs, and I was astonished to see a dice carved from bone that was dated to the time of the Vikings. There are active dig sites on Westray where both bronze age and neolithic buildings and artifacts have been uncovered. When the rain allowed, Graham took me to a couple of these, where shifting dunes had started the process of uncovering these ancient sites.

One of the most famous pieces to be uncovered there has been nicknamed the Westray Wife. The Westray WifeA small figurine, also on display at the heritage centre, it was the first Neolithic carving of a human figure to be found in Scotland, and it is the earliest known depiction of a human face found in the United Kingdom. There is quite some debate as to whether it is a male form or a female form (I personally think it is a male), but I was mostly amused by how much emphasis was placed on this figurine by the locals, especially when it was so small in real life. The amusement was as much because the souvenir fridge magnets made to replicate it were bigger than the figurine itself (it amused me so much that I bought one). But it did make me wonder about the pain-staking work that must go into an archaeological dig when such small pieces are found without being overlooked.

Quoygrew Viking building siteNot far from the Neolithic dig is Quoygrew, a Viking settlement from the 10th century that was exposed as the coastline shifted over time. The weather was wild when we went there, and we sat in Graham’s van whilst he told me all about it whilst the rain lashed down around us. Thankfully, the bad weather eased as the day wore on. Noltland CastleWhilst remaining cloudy, there were enough breaks in the rain to see the rest of the places on the itinerary without getting too wet, although by this point I was kitted out head to foot in waterproofs. Noltland CastleOut the back of Pierowall is the remains of Noltland Castle, built in the 16th century by the lover of Mary Queen of Scots, a man so paranoid about being murdered that he fitted the castle with an incredible number of weaponry holes. Noltland CastleIronically the man, Gilbert Balfour was indeed murdered, but not at his castle which was never finished, nor seen by Mary Queen of Scots despite being intended for her. This is the sort of scandalous history I love about the royals and gentry of the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before arriving, I had made a request to Graham that he find me some puffins whilst I was there. There are two spots on Westray to try and spot these colourful little seabirds, and he took me to Noup Head on the west coast. Noup Head lighthouseThe road there was unsealed and steep and even in his van it needed to be taken carefully. We passed some tourists who changed their mind about following the route in their small car early on, and reached the lighthouse on the Head with not another soul to be seen. It wasn’t overly surprising given the biting wind and grey skies that surrounded us, but from the lighthouse, it wasn’t far to walk to witness the towering sea cliffs that give home to thousands of breeding sea birds.

 

Noup Head cliffsThis was the perfect time of year to go bird watching as the breeding season was well under way. Sea cliffs at Noup HeadOn the cliffs below us and flying around us were gannets, guillemots, razorbills and fulmars. Razorbill and puffinThe noise was incredible, and the movement from sea to cliff and back again was constant. With the aid of binoculars, Graham found me a lone puffin quite early on, and after spotting another couple, I was satisfied. Two razorbills and a puffinI vaguely remember seeing these birds in the Shetland Islands further north when I was a little girl but I hadn’t seen them since. Known as the clowns of the sky because of their white faces, black eyeliner and colourful beak, they are small comical-looking birds with orange feet, and they are one of the smallest sea birds in Scotland. Astonishingly though given their small size, they only come to shore to breed, spending the rest of their lives at sea. Their numbers in Scotland have been in decline for some time as they specialise in feeding on sand eels. With these small fish in decline due to fishing and changes to sea temperature, it is only inevitable that the puffins are also struggling, so any sighting felt even more special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lady Kirk in PierowallBack in Pierowall village lies the ruins of Lady Kirk, a church built in the 17th century. Graveyard at Lady KirkRight on the waterfront it, like the village itself, is immensely peaceful although the graveyard hid some sad tales of infant and juvenile mortality. Lady KirkThis was the last stop on our trip before I was dropped off at my hostel at the far end of the bay. Again I had the room to myself, and being only early evening, I headed upstairs to the lovely attic living room where I promptly and unintentionally fell asleep on the couch. It seemed that all the fresh air, and probably a little bit of jet lag having crossed the world just 4 days prior, had caught up with me. When I eventually woke up, I simply headed to my bed and slept like a baby.

 

 

 

 

I was disappointed to wake up to more rain. I had some time to kill and had hoped for a wander around the bay, so bracing myself for a day of getting soaked, I donned my waterproofs again and headed out anyway. Thankfully, the rain eased quite quickly as I wandered along the shoreline into the village which was still and quiet, then out the back road to Noltland Castle again. I had hoped for better weather than the day before to take better pictures, but although it was now dry, it was far from fine. Baby birdAfter a brief wander around the perimeter watching nearby birds feeding their young, I retraced my steps back to Lady Kirk again and then past the heritage centre where the skeleton of a beached whale is laid out on the grounds. Bedraggled starling parentReturning to the hostel, I awaited my pre-arranged lift to the airfield which never arrived. Whale skeleton, PierowallIt wasn’t far to drive there, but it was an hour long walk, and I started to panic that I was going to miss my flight. Whale vertebrae and ribsThankfully, the owner of the hostel saved the day and drove me there, getting me there with a few minutes to spare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flight was one of the main reasons I was there, so missing it would have been rather upsetting. Aside from the main airport in Kirkwall, the outer islands have airfields: small huts with a wind sock, and either a grass or tarmac runway. Every incoming and outgoing flight requires the local farmers or volunteers to man the radio and staff the fire truck. The day before, Graham had taken me to watch the plane from Kirkwall arrive at the Westray airfield, and it was interesting to see the place come alive 10 minutes before it arrived, and then desert again less than 10 minutes after it took off. Operated by Loganair who serves the Orkney inter-island flights, these flights carry school children, teachers, doctors and goods between the outlying islands and Orkney’s mainland and are a vital and seemingly well-used part of the community. What also drives the popularity of the flight I was there to take, is that the flight from Westray to the next-door island of Papa Westray (or Papay as it is known locally), is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s shortest commercial flight. The record is 53 seconds, although it averages a minute and a half. If the wind is blowing in a bad direction, it may even take nearer 2 minutes.

Loganair plane at Papa Westray airfieldIt was a very brief wait from my arrival at the airfield to the plane’s arrival from Kirkwall. It was a quick and efficient boarding before the plane was back on the runway, and without pause we lifted off the tarmac and headed east. No sooner had we climbed than the pilot was revving back the engine and turning us into approach, and we touched down on Papay 1 minute 27 seconds after leaving Westray behind.

It was another efficient unloading and loading before the plane was back on the runway once more to head back to Kirkwall. I waited by the gate of Papay airfield watching it leave and shortly after, the locals who had staffed the airfield for those brief but important moments, got back in their cars and drove off, leaving me to explore this new island. Still kitted in my waterproofs with just my hiking boots and day pack for company, I set off to follow the unofficial Papa Westray Trail.

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North Coast 500 – Reaching Caithness

For many years of my life, every March, for one enjoyable week, my family decamped to Aviemore in the Cairngorm National Park. Always falling within a few weeks of my birthday, and meaning a week out of school, I always looked forward to it, and it signalled the transition from winter into spring. Over the years, we experienced blizzards, unseasonably hot weather, and everything in between. It was a good base for hiking and exploring not just the park itself, but further afield to the Moray coast and occasionally popping further north to Sutherland and Caithness. Throughout the later years of high school and university when exams took precedence, I skipped this holiday, returning back for long weekends when I moved to Aberdeen following graduation. I have so many happy memories from this region, so I was eager to pop back there on my trip home to Scotland.

Aside from those brief forays to the eastern Caithness coastline, I had never visited the most north-western portion of the Scottish mainland. A few years ago, a rebranding for tourism promotion, saw the birth of the North Coast 500, a destination route that circles from Inverness north to John O’Groats, west to Cape Wrath, south to Applecross and back east to Inverness. It seemed the perfect route to make a road trip out of revisiting some old favourites as well as exploring some new places.

I left Glasgow early to make headway north to Aviemore, which was the inevitable first stop on my trip. I could have stayed here for days but there was too much to see and too little time so I had to suffice with just a few glorious hours in the middle of the day. I headed first to Rothiemurchus estate for lunch, then popped down to the shores of Loch Morlich for the view that I have witnessed a hundred times over. Loch Morlich from the western shoreIt never grows old: the ducks waddling along the shoreline whilst the Cairngorm Mountain Range dominates the skyline across the shore. Loch Morlich from the southern shoreOn this occasion, I couldn’t actually see the summits as the clouds were low, but I lingered here just long enough to feel satisfied, before heading off to another favourite spot: Loch An Eilein.

Loch An EileinThe name literally means loch with an island, and in this case, the small island contains the ruins of a 15th century castle. There is a circular walk around the loch which I’ve done previously, but again I just didn’t have the time. Beautiful Scots Pine forestI had to be satisfied with walking along the south-eastern bank, through the beautiful pine forest until level with the island, where I looked hopefully for red squirrels, listened to the bird life and then headed back to my car for the drive north. Castle on the island, Loch An EileinI drove slowly through Aviemore centre, noting what had changed in the 5 years since I’d last been there, and then, back on the A9, I pushed on to Inverness and the Kessock bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kessock bridge across the Moray FirthInverness was always a regular visit on those Aviemore vacations, but I bypassed it, crossing the expanse of the Moray Firth to Kessock, and continued to count the miles down to my next stop: Dornoch. If I’d been here before, I had no memory of the place. Made famous because of the visit of singer Madonna and Guy Ritchie prior to their wedding, it was quiet and almost deserted when I got there. Dornoch Castle hotelI was still finding it strange seeing historic buildings again, and the main square was surrounded by them. Dornoch CathedralThe cathedral itself is 13th century, and what is now the town’s main hotel was built in 1500. Dornoch Cathedral and graveyardThese both pre-date the European settlement of New Zealand where I now live, and boy have I missed old buildings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dornoch beachAfter wandering around the town square, I headed down to the beach which was blustery but otherwise peaceful. Seals at Loch FleetThen it was time to mosey on, and keeping close to the coast, I stayed off the main road, and travelled down single-track road past Embo and up towards Loch Fleet where I spied a group of seals on a sand bar. Finding my way back to the main road, it wasn’t much further to my first night’s stay in Golspie. Normally a hostel or hotel kind of girl, I had booked a B&B, and what a delightful place it was. Set back from the road in well-maintained grounds, my room was not only delightful but my hosts were lovely. It is a shame that this is to be their last season as a B&B as it was a fantastic place to stay.

Carpet of flowers on Big Burn walkOn the recommendation of my host, I headed to Big Burn walk on the north end of the village, where the evening sun pierced through the trees, illuminating the carpet of blue bells and white flowers under foot. The waterfall at the end of the Big Burn trailAn easy walk led through the woodland to a small gorge where a waterfall spilled its way down the rock face. Fish and chips by the beachBack in the village centre, I located the fish and chip shop, and partook in some good old Scottish cuisine of fried food washed down with the legendary Irn Bru whilst sitting on a bench by the beach. It was a gorgeous evening, and this far north at the height of summer, there was daylight till after 11pm, so I was in no hurry to go back inside, choosing to soak up the rays until the shadow from the nearby hill made me cold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had an early start the next morning, heading behind the village to the start of the hike up the notable hill behind Golspie. For miles around, the large statue of the 1st Duke of Sutherland can be seen where it stands atop this hill. It is a highly controversial structure, given that this particular Duke and his wife played a pivotal role in the instigation of the Highland Clearances, an event in the 18th and 19th centuries when large numbers of crofters and their families were forced off their land with little notice, to be replaced by sheep which were deemed to be of greater economic use of the land. Brutality was common, and it was an event that saw large emigrations of Scots to other countries across the world, as well as playing a part in the decline of the Gaelic culture. The Duke of Sutherland is a title that is bandied around with distaste when discussing the regional history, and with statues normally being erected for heroes, this one is much disapproved of, and I wondered who came up with the idea in the first place.

Roe deerNevertheless, it is an enjoyable hike to see it. Following mountain bike trails in the forest below, my early start meant I had the place to myself and I was startled by a deer jumping out the foliage in front of me and running away, pausing briefly to eyeball me before disappearing out of sight. Duke of Sutherland statueWhen out of the forest on the other side, the path climbs up the hillside until eventually reaching the base of the statue. Golspie from near the summitThere was a swirling low cloud, so the statue repeatedly disappeared out of view on route, and at the summit, the air felt cold. The view changed as the cloud lifted and fell, and by the time I’d returned back to my B&B, I felt I deserved the cooked breakfast I was presented with.

 

 

 

The best local attraction is Dunrobin Castle, immediately north of Golspie, and I think it is probably one of Scotland’s most beautiful castles. Golspie from the pierWhen I reached there after first taking a walk along Golspie beach, the cloud had completely gone and the whole coastline was basking in glorious sunshine, making the pale exterior stand out against the blue sky. Dunrobin CastleThe exterior as seen today is from the 19th century and inside are artifacts from the Sutherland Clan who owns it. Dunrobin CastleI walked around it with due awe but it was really out in the gardens, looking back at the castle above that its beauty shone out. An outbuilding in the grounds housed one of the most macabre yet interesting collections of taxidermy that I have ever seen, and after wandering around the grounds for a while, I joined the gathering crowd for a falconry display that was included in the entry price, and well worth seeing.

 

 

Gorse in flower at HelmsdaleI couldn’t believe my eyes on the drive north where the gorse was plentiful and in full bloom. The yellow flowered bushes sprawled across the hillsides in every direction and in the sunshine, it was just stunning. This view went on for mile after mile after mile, until eventually, turning off the main road north in favour of the road to Wick, the countryside became sparser and the clouds started to roll in. Here, it seemed more wild and desolate, with the effects of the weather extremes becoming evident the further north-east I went. I had planned on visiting the ruins of Sinclair castle near Wick but missed the turn-off and opted to plough on instead of turning back. End to End at John O'GroatsFinally reaching John O’Groats in time for a late lunch, it was blustery and cloudy. This didn’t deter the steady stream of people who posed by the directional marker which marks the end of the Lands End to John O’Groats route. It had been a long time since I was last here, and now there are a few more developments in the vicinity with a choice of eateries, accommodation and tourist shops. It is also possible to take a day trip to the Orkney Islands from here, so there is enough to hold tourists here for an hour or two at least.

 

The obligatory photoI had a lovely lunch before posing for my obligatory photo, and then I headed east to Duncansby Head, the north-eastern tip of Caithness. Coastline at Duncansby HeadFrom the car park by the lighthouse, not only can you see the Orkney Islands, but a roughly-defined walk takes you south along the coastline, home of hundreds of breeding seabirds, to the distinctive Duncansby Stacks, Scotlands answer to Australia’s 12 Apostles. Coastline at Duncansby HeadsYou can walk as far south as you want. Duncansby StacksThe Right to Roam Act means that as long as you don’t worry livestock and leave gates as you find them, you are not limited by the pasture fence line when exploring the outdoors in Scotland. Duncansby StackThe coastline cut in and out in steep gullies where fulmars were the dominant seabird nesting on the cliffs. There was plenty of movement to watch as these birds, related to the albatross, glided on the wind, and squawked noisily at each other as they landed. Once at the Stacks, I could see a few seals hauled up on the rocks near their base, even spotting one swimming in the surf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb at Duncansby HeadBeing summertime, the lambs were aplenty and when I returned to my car a sheep was using one of the cars in the car park to scratch an itch on its butt which looked highly amusing. But it was time to head off as I had a ferry to catch. Not far to the west of John O’Groats is the unassuming Gill’s Bay which is little more than a pier and a scattering of buildings. Pentalina at Gill's Bay ferry terminalBack in the sunshine, I watched as the Pentalina, the Pentland Ferries owned vessel, backed into its berth and unloaded. Waiting my turn, I boarded, ready for my return to the land of the Vikings, a place that I had such vague memories of from my childhood. It had been a long time coming, but finally I was heading back to the Orkney Islands.

Glasgow’s Miles Better

When I was a kid growing up in the 80s in the suburbs of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, there was a well known advertising campaign to promote the city as a tourist and commerce destination. Featuring Mr Happy (from the Mr Men) and the slogan ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ it epitomises the feeling of many residents when it comes to comparing themselves to that other city in the central belt – you know the one: the capital city that is Edinburgh. If you speak to the people of Edinburgh, they protest having no such superiority against Glasgow, but speak to any Glaswegian and most of them will jokingly wit about Edinburgh’s shortcomings and all the things that make Glasgow so much better. I’m a proud Glaswegian, born and raised, and have spent many a trip abroad regaling to people why they need to step away from the enticing vista of Edinburgh’s Castle and Princess Street Gardens, and come explore Glasgow and further afield. It seems from speaking to a lot of travellers, that Scotland draws many people to the capital city and Loch Ness (home of the mythical monster), and little else, which is a constant frustration.

I lived, grew up and studied in Glasgow until an employment opportunity took me away in my 20s. It is now 10 years since I have lived there, but I’m still a Glaswegian at heart and was excited at the prospect of playing tourist in my home city on my return there at the end of May. Armed with a walking tour outline on my phone, and hitting it off with the weather, I set off to see some spots I’d not visited before, as well as revisit some old haunts from my youth.

Arriving by bus into Buchanan bus station, I found my way to the top of Buchanan Street where a busker was playing the bagpipes, which immediately made my heart swell. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, I always feel immensely patriotic and emotional when I hear the bagpipes. Glasgow Royal Concert HallThe sound of even badly played pipes, always takes me to a place where I feel at home and connected to my past. I sat for a while on the steps of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall which sits at the top of the street, and from here there is a view both down the slope of Buchanan Street and along Sauchiehall Street, 2 of Glasgow’s shopping streets. I had all day and was in no hurry, and having been devoid of one of my favourite clothes shops for many years, it was only right to do a little bit of shopping in H&M. Who knows when I’ll be in one again.

Glasgow City ChambersIn part following the Mural Trail, and adapting it for sightseeing purposes, Buildings around George SquareI passed George Square, the large expanse in front of the City Chambers, which is often used for seasonal events. Buildings around George SquareThe sun was out, and so were the pigeons and people enjoying a morning coffee and catch-up on what was a public holiday. Buildings around George SquarePast the University of Strathclyde, I followed High Street, passing my favourite mural of a man with a bird on his hand, and continuing up to Glasgow Cathedral, a building I’d never visited before. ManFree to enter, there was a lot of tourists milling around, and I took my time admiring the stained glass windows, Glasgow Cathedralsomething which I always love to look at inside churches. Stained glass window, Glasgow CathedralIt’s a beautiful cathedral inside and out, and sits next to the entrance to the Necropolis.Stained glass window, Glasgow Cathedral

Inside Glasgow Cathedral

Inside Glasgow Cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cathedral and Royal Infirmary from the NeropolisThe Glasgow Necropolis is reached by crossing over the bridge behind the cathedral and then picking a route up the hill. Pushing up daisies in the NecropolisIt has a reputation for an area of crime, with people being robbed and beaten here, but on such a sunny day on a public holiday, it was full of locals and tourists alike sunning themselves on picnic rugs or wandering around the gravestones. Glasgow Cathedral from the NecropolisIt is a green space within the city and known as a deer-spotting location, as well as being elevated enough to act as a natural viewing spot for a panorama over the city and suburbs beyond. Royal Infirmary from the NecropolisI felt perfectly safe wandering around, absorbing the sun’s rays and soaking in the view. Behind the Cathedral, the large Royal Infirmary nestled beside it, and in the far distance, the hills beyond the southern suburbs with their windmills atop were evident through the haze on the horizon.

 

 

 

Gravestones in Glasgow NecropolisI meandered around for a while, looking at the various prominent and distinct headstones and monuments, before heading back to the Cathedral. Monuments in Glasgow NecropolisOpposite here is the St Mungo Museum and adorning the immediate area is the symbol of Glasgow from the city’s coat of arms: Glasgow Necropolis‘Here’s the bird that never flew, here’s the bell that never rang, here’s the tree that never grew, here’s the fish that never swam’. Glasgow SymbolsNot far from here there is a juxtaposition between the old buildings of Glasgow and modern architecture, particularly around Strathclyde University.St Mungo Museum

Modern Architecture - Strathclyde University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church in Merchant CityThe Merchant City is a well known area for socialising, rife with bars, cafes and restaurants. Merchant SquareIt is a popular part of the city but an area that I rarely frequented when I lived there. I went to university in the west end, and lived in a suburb to the south, so there was little reason to go there. I wandered through it, admiring the buildings, but didn’t linger long. While searching for a mural down an alley way, I stumbled across an old fashioned sweet shop which sold many of my favourites from my childhood. I stocked up on soor plooms, cola cubes, rhubarb rock and more, and continued on my happy way.

 

 

 

 

 

St Andrew's CathedralWandering along the Clyde walkway, the good weather had brought many people out to the riverside. River ClydeIt’s not the prettiest of rivers, being rather discoloured and often the river banks are littered with rubbish and trolleys, but turning a blind eye to all that, Road bridge crossing the river Clydethere was much to see from bridges and churches to buildings and murals, and now, the walkway extends all the way to the relatively new transport museum further down the Clyde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lighthouse signageAfter a while, I left the river behind and cut north back into the city, finding myself at the Lighthouse on Mitchel Lane. Glasgow rooftopsAnother one of the city’s free attractions, I’d never been here before and decided to head in to go to the viewing platform. Glasgow rooftopsA centre for design and architecture, it acts as an exhibition and gallery space and was originally designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I was starving by this point, not satiated by sugary treats, and stopped in the cafe for lunch. I had followed the signs to the viewing platform on the sixth floor, accessible only via lift. Indoors, it was a small space, a little cramped with the amount of people there, but it was an interesting view over the city rooftops that isn’t normally seen. I noticed some people in another outdoor viewing platform another floor up in an older looking building, but didn’t know how they’d gotten there. I later discovered that it was another part of the Lighthouse, and was a little annoyed that I’d missed out on this.

 

 

 

 

Central StationBack outside in the glorious sunshine, I made a convoluted path back to the Clyde walkway, passing the beautiful exterior of Central Station, a familiar site from my many years of commuting in and out of the city during my late teens and early twenties. BT BlobsI was sidetracked by some strange colourful blobs outside of the BT offices, before I found myself at a bridge that had appeared in the years after I had left the city and was living to the north in Aberdeen. Tradeston BridgeThe promenade felt lively and inviting, and was decorated with bright pink banners declaring ‘People Make Glasgow’. Clyde walkwayI felt Glaswegian and I felt like I was at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corner of Sauchiehall StreetHeading up to Sauchiehall Street and on to Cowcaddens underground to complete the mural trail, I hopped on the underground to head west. Glasgow UniversityThe underground had been upgraded since I last was on it, and I had a brief moment of feeling stupid as I couldn’t work out what to do with my ticket at the barrier, whilst the staff in the booth waved frantically at me trying to give me silent direction. Kelvingrove Art Gallery & MuseumEmbarrassed, I breathed a sigh of relief when it let me through, and I headed to Hillhead, another regular haunt from my youth. I crossed University Avenue, looking up towards the tower of the building where many of my exams were held, and continued down the hill past the restaurant I ate with my family on the day of my graduation, and round the corner, crossing the River Kelvin, and onto Argyle Street, sidling through the crowds to reach Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SpitfireThis was a place where I’d last visited as a kid with my mum and my brother. Kelvingrove HeadSince then it had been closed down, completely renovated and reopened a few years ago. Kelvingrove headsYet another free attraction in Glasgow, I’d heard good things about it, and was particularly keen to see the ‘Heads’ installation. Like many museums, it has its set exhibits and a changing exhibit, but there are a few key pieces that the museum is famous for, including an Asian elephant and a spitfire. I was quite hot and just a little sunburnt by this point in the day, so I wasn’t really fussed about spending a lot of time here. I just wanted an overview, so wandered round admiring and looking at the displays, but didn’t particularly spend much time reading the information or descriptions that went with them. I particularly liked a painting in one of the galleries that contained every known stereotype or classically Scottish object within the one image. As the guide who was there commented, you could look at the piece multiple times and still see something new each time, the picture was just so immense.

 

 

 

Stewart Memorial FountainRound the corner from the museum lies Kelvingrove Park which was unbelievably busy given it being a public holiday and such cracking weather. Glasgow UniversityFrom the skate park to the fountain and everything in between, there was barely an inch of grass free to sit on with families and friends everywhere making the most of the cracking summer weather. Grey squirrelI was overjoyed to spot an ice cream van and joined the long queue to wait patiently for my ’99’, and boy did it taste good. University quadrangleI people watched for a while, before taking a trip down memory lane by walking to Glasgow University. Glasgow UniversityHere, it was eerily deserted, being outwith term time. Exams were over, and only graduations awaited in a couple of weeks’ time. I watched a grey squirrel cry out in the trees as I walked below the high tower of the main building, cutting through the arches into the quadrangles and round to the entrance gate before heading past my old student union where a hundred memories flashed through my head. It felt a lifetime ago since I’d last been there, and it might as well have been, for all that has occurred in the 11 years since I left the university life behind. It felt almost strange being there, and I headed through the busy Ashton Lane, all the pubs spilling out onto the cobbled street, and back to Hillhead underground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at Buchanan Street underground station, I got stuck again trying to exit the barriers. It wouldn’t accept my ticket and with the ticket office at the far end of the floor, I was left on my own, jumping up and down and waving like an idiot trying to grab their attention. Several commuters looked at me strangely on passing, assuming I didn’t know where to put my ticket, yelling instructions at me in a tone that suggested I was stupid. Eventually a more sympathetic commuter saw my plight and went over to the ticket office to point me out to the staff. Like Cowcaddens before, they gesticulated from a distance where to put my ticket, not realising this wasn’t my problem. It felt like the longest time before eventually they pressed a button and all the barriers released, finally letting me escape. It seemed the underground did not want to be my friend that day.

Back out in the sunshine, I had one last place to go on my trip down memory lane. Heading down Buchanan Street briefly and cutting through Exchange Place, I rounded the side of the Gallery of Modern Art (another free attraction) to find one of my favourite and most iconic statues in the city: the Duke of Wellington atop his horse, standing oh-so-proudly… with a traffic cone on his head. Duke of Wellington statueOriginally started as a joke in the 80s, it has become so iconic that it now features on souvenirs and in guidebooks for the city. The city council has tried many tactics to discourage and stop the practice, removing the cone repeatedly, only to have it replaced within hours or days, and attempts to implement more extreme measures to stop the practice have been met with petitions from locals and celebrities alike. There are few Glaswegians who even know what it looks like without its cone, and having passed it so many times when I was younger, I felt it was about time I actually took a photograph of it as a memento. There was something warming about seeing it in the flesh again after all these years.

Cutting past George Square once more, I retraced my steps from the morning back to the Royal Concert Hall, picking up a much needed iced tea for the bus ride home. It drove through suburbs of familiarity as I headed to my parent’s house, pleased with my day as a tourist in the sun. It might not have the visual draw of Edinburgh’s Castle, but Glasgow still has my heart and certainly has plenty to offer. My day tour had merely touched the surface of things to see in the city, but it had been immense fun playing tourist in my home town.

Glasgow Mural Trail

As my home city of Christchurch continues to rise from the ashes, I have become a fan of the many street art murals that have appeared on the bare walls of new and old buildings alike. With varying styles, themes and colour palates, they grab your attention and make you smile or make you think. So when, after 3.5 years, I made a return trip to the city of my birth in Scotland, I was surprised to discover that the country’s largest city, Glasgow has its own share of street murals.

A great resource for walks in Scotland, both urban and country, is the Walk Highlands website which gives detailed descriptions as well as maps to highlight the route and sights on the way. It was here that I found out about the murals trail and decided to integrate it into a day of sightseeing that I had planned in the city. It’s been 10 years since I lived in Glasgow, and sometimes I think it is just pure fun to play tourist in your own home town, so armed with the directions, I set off.

Having caught the bus into Buchanan Bus Station, it was an easy walk to the recommended starting point on upper Buchanan Street. There is no mural here, but it is a good central place to start and end the trail due to the locality with transport, shopping, and refreshments all nearby. Turning onto West George Street, and heading past George Square, Rogue One and Art Pistol’s Hip-Hop Marionettes adorn the wall near Strathclyde University’s student union. Just beyond here, the walls of Strathclyde University itself have become a massive canvas with a myriad of murals covering the many walls, some at eye level and others spanning the huge multi-floored expanse of the gable-ends.

Hip-Hop Marionettes, Rogue One & Art Pistol

Hip-Hop Marionettes, Rogue One & Art Pistol

Lecture Hall, Artist Unknown

Lecture Hall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde University, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde University, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Equatorial Telescope, Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Equatorial Telescope, Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Land-Ship; Art Pistol, Rogue One and Ejek

Land-Ship; Art Pistol, Rogue One and Ejek

Where George Street meets High Street, a short walk to the left revealed one of my favourite murals on the trail, that of an exceptionally realistic painting of a man with a bird on his hand. Retracing my steps back down to High Street, I turned onto Ingram Street, where a little along the way, a massive mural, Fellow Glasgow Residents, overlooked a car park. As beautiful as this mural was, the fact that it was part of an active car park made it difficult to look at it properly, or take photos of it, as there were vehicles parked everywhere. With multiple images within one mural, I feel that it could be looked at multiple times and still not notice every detail.

Man, Smug

Man, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

At the end of the car park, turning left onto Candleriggs in the heart of the Merchant City, one of the murals painted for the Commonwealth Games of 2014 is very prominent about a block down on the right. At the bottom of the street, turning right onto Trongate, a laneway near an old-fashioned sweet shop hides a very large and colourful spaceman. Turning left on Stockwell street towards the River Clyde, the Clutha bar, unfortunately well known due to a tragic accident involving a helicopter crashing through its roof in 2013, has its outer wall adorned with murals too.

Badminton, Guido Van Helten

Badminton, Guido Van Helten

Space Man, Recoat and Ali Wylie

Space Man, Recoat and Ali Wylie

Clutha Bar; Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Clutha Bar; Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Clutha Bar; Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Clutha Bar; Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Following a brief walk along the Broomielaw, the trail turns up Ropework Lane and onto Howard Street which has a massive mural that curls around the lower portion of the building, round onto Dunlop Street. Again, the parked traffic made it a little difficult to appreciate it all, but it was certainly colourful. Back on the Broomielaw, and over onto the Clyde walkway which forms a promenade along the north bank of the River Clyde, the trail heads west past a large tiger and the amazingly realistic Five Faces that adorn the road side of the five pillars supporting the railway bridge.

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Glasgow Tiger, Artist Unknown

Glasgow Tiger, Artist Unknown

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Backtracking slightly to head up Jamaica Street, along Argyle Street to the east, and up Mitchel Street, is a mural of a taxi. However, on closer inspection, the mural is not just of the taxi itself, but indeed all the bricks of the wall have been painted on too. Immediately up from here is a large mural of a woman with a magnifying glass and beyond that, the almost ironically placed Wind Power which was partly hidden by the rubbish and refuse of the local businesses. Detouring along Mitchel Lane, a hidden panda appears, and then the trail continues up Mitchel Street further before heading along Gordon Street.

The World's Most Economical Taxi, Rogue One

The World’s Most Economical Taxi, Rogue One

Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Smug

Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Smug

Wind Power, Rogue One & Art Pistol

Wind Power, Rogue One & Art Pistol

Glasgow's Panda, Artist Unknown

Glasgow’s Panda, Artist Unknown

Passing Central Station, the train station serving the south of the country, turn left down Hope Street and then right onto Argyle Street where a clever mural appears on the left, almost looking like a noticeboard to begin with until you notice the extras. This one is expansive, along not just one wall, but wrapping around onto York Street. Returning to the Clyde Walkway by the Broomielaw, the supporting structure of the broad M8 motorway is adorned with a massive mural of a swimmer, another piece created for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This one is so large, it is best appreciated from the other side of the road.

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Swimmer, Smug

Swimmer, Smug

Heading north, keeping the M8 to the right, the Clydeside Expressway is crossed via a footbridge, and there is a section of the trail with no murals, this route serving merely as a connector between the south and north sections of the trail. Always with the motorway to the right, eventually crossing the busy Sauchiehall Street, a detour past the bank uncovers a crocodile underneath a footpath. Following Sauchiehall Street east until Rose Street, the Cowcaddens underground station is reached via an underpass which is decorated with a mural, as is the underpass on the far side of the underground. From here the trail returns back to Buchanan Street.

Glesga Crocodile, Klingatron & Art Pistol

Glesga Crocodile, Klingatron & Art Pistol

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Art Pistol

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Shadow Puppet, Art Pistol

Shadow Puppet, Art Pistol

According to the website, the distance covered is 9.25km, or 5.75miles. It can be walked in half a day, or can be interspersed with refreshment stops to make it longer. On this particular day, I was playing tourist and visiting some of the city’s major tourist attractions. I incorporated this walk into my sight-seeing, taking detours to attractions where necessary, and therefore I easily made this trail into a fantastic day trip. Since that day, I’ve found so much more street art in Greater Glasgow too, but this trail is definitely a very good starting point. Even without going off the trail to visit attractions, this trail actually offers a reasonable overview of the city, and I think it is a fantastic way to discover the city of my birth.

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