So Long 2014; You’ve Been an Interesting Year

 

With plenty of striking pictures of the unexpected, but appropriately seasonal, weather of the last few days, it seems much more fitting to say goodbye to 2014 through images rather than too many words.

Unexpected festive weather in the shires
Unexpected festive weather in the shires

It’s certainly been an eventful year, with many unexpected twists and turns, not least as far as that perennial favourite topic of British conversation, the weather, was concerned.

A snowy Hogmanay sunrise
A snowy Hogmanay sunrise

 

The Weather: after the relentless rain (and the risible response of DEFRA and its erstwhile, hapless head, Owen Patterson) of the early months, spring arrived at least a month earlier than in 2013 and heralded a consecutive spell of warm, sunny days that stretched from midsummer right throughout to the end of October.

An English country garden
An English country garden

High summer in Middle England was a revelation, with overflowing hedgerows and bountiful butterflies (including a welcome return for the recently-rare small tortoiseshell) enjoying the Buddleia.   And, even it was rather incongruous still to be enjoying tee shirt temperatures at Halloween, it certainly beat the usual wet and windy autumn storms.

The exquisite peacock butterfly
The exquisite peacock butterfly

 

Flora and Fauna: a settled period of sun didn’t just benefit the Lepidoptera and their habitat.  After last year’s dismal showing, the bedding plants in their tubs and baskets were back to their radiant best.  But the undoubted natural highlight of the year was the arrival of a young, fledgling robin, who took refuge in the garden, stayed for a few weeks, ate his way through several packets of oatcakes, learned to fly and came back each day to sing (for his breakfast, lunch and dinner). By the time he left for good his chest was beginning to redden and memories of those delightful days of late summer have been rekindled with each delivery of a traditional robin Christmas card.

My brave little fledgling singing for his supper
My brave little fledgling singing for his supper

 

Scotland: a momentous year for Scotland was also enhanced by a Mediterranean-like summer.  The Commonwealth Games enjoyed early days of tropical heat that had visitors swapping their fleeces and umbrellas for sun cream and shorts.  Glasgow Green resembled a giant beach and the heat lasted right up till the day before September’s referendum.

A sunny afternoon on Glasgow Green: Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson is in foreground
A sunny afternoon on Glasgow Green, with  Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson (white shirt)  in foreground

Strangely, the most momentous constitutional event of the last three centuries didn’t seem to be taken seriously until the eve of the vote by many in the rest of the kingdom.  Although its outcome, despite the result, is far from clear, one lasting legacy will definitely be the images of 16 and 17 year olds in their school uniforms, queuing to vote in their thousands, after making an important, informed and mature contribution throughout the debate.

The Scottish referendum: the most momentous constitutional event of the last 300 years
The Scottish referendum: the most momentous constitutional decision of the last 300 years

In a year of developments, some positive, some negative (the rise of the Greens has balanced to some extent the repugnance of Ukip) that have rumbled the political establishment, the positive engagement of young people in Scotland now seems, happily, to be spreading to other parts of the UK, with first time voters becoming much more involved in political debate.

 

St Pancras: gateway to another European tain journey
St Pancras: gateway to another European tain journey

Holidays: January was brightened up with another train journey to Italy, for what has become my annual trip to the wonderful Kokopelli Camping   bookended by two overnight stays at the welcoming Windsor Hotel in Milan

Pristine pistes and sky to match
Pristine pistes and sky to match: Abruzzo in winter

For the first time, I was able to experience the dramatic mountains of the Abruzzo in winter and, although temperatures were more akin to mid April, there was plenty of snow on the tops and a day’s snowshoeing was one of the highlights of the holiday.

Milan: always a favourite destination
Milan: whatever the season, always a favourite destination

On the way back, I was also able to achieve another long-held ambition; seeing Leonardo’s Last Supper, in Milan.  It didn’t disappoint. Usually it’s necessary to book online, well in advance, but if you are in the city out of season and are not part of a large group, try turning up at the booking office in person and be prepared to be flexible about fitting in individually when they have available space.

Peaceful, pastoral New Galloway
Peaceful, pastoral New Galloway

Post Commonwealth Games, the crowded vibrancy of city-centre Glasgow was followed by a few days camping in peaceful, pastoral New Galloway    This idyllic region of south west Scotland is routinely overlooked or ignored even by other Scots.  As a result, its alluring landscapes, dark skies and important history are complemented by quiet roads and uncrowded beaches. Throw in some thriving culture; an established artists’ town (Kirkudbright)  foodie haven (Castle Douglas), Scotland’s book town (Wigtown) and you have the kind of place that I like to visit.

Cycling doesn't get any better than this: NCN 73, between Newton Stewart and Wigtown
Cycling doesn’t get any better than this: NCN 73, along the quiet lanes of Galloway

A few weeks later I ventured another 50 miles or so west to explore, for the first time the most southerly point of Scotland, the Mull of Galloway

Rolling pastures framed by the deep blue sea in the background: Galloway in miniature
Rolling pastures framed by the deep blue sea in the background: Galloway in miniature

Surrounded on three sides by the sea, with its traditional links with Ireland and its own mythical history, this is a magical place with a coastscape second to none.  Yes, the wind does blow here, but the views are breathtaking and its wild and marine life abundant – on a short morning’s cliff walk, the paths were shared with a fox, two hares and an inquisitive deer.

Galloway coastscape
Galloway coastscape

Finally, with the weather still too good to miss, in September I embarked on a Spaceships Campervan journey between Edinburgh and London; an interesting experience to say the least

Highside Farm: my kind of campsite
Highside Farm: my kind of campsite

The most memorable aspects of the trip were discovering some excellent campsites; notably the alluring  Highside Farm  in beautiful Teesdale and the remarkably rural (given its proximity to London) and conveniently sited Town Farm near Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire.

2014's suitably snowy final sunset
2014’s suitably snowy final sunset

 Culture: and, last but certainly not least, a mention of the books, films, art and music that enlivened the year.

Books – The Goldfinch (Donna doesn’t disappoint), Stoner (absolutely lived up to its rave reviews) and the joys of re-aquaintance with the wonderful Joan Wyndham wartime diaries

Films – Ida, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Imitation Game and Under the Skin (in approximate order)

Art – vying for first place and marking 300 years since the Georgian accession were the British Library’s Georgians Revealed and Let Glasgow Flourish at Kelvingrove, then another Kelvingrove gem celebrating the life of Alasdair Gray, plus an interesting Stanley Spencer exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery

Music – after a year of neglect, some progress was made in improving guitar grades, but must resolve to try harder in 2015

 

Epilogue: so 2014, an interesting and eventful year, rounded off in personal terms by finally putting the house on the market, in anticipation of moving back to Scotland. Who knows what 2015 will bring; I’ll keep you posted.

 

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

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Around Glasgow

A wealth of culture, some of the finest art and  architecture in Europe, a shopping mecca, vibrant nightlife: just some of Glasgow’s best known features.  But, alongside these attributes, its marvellous location for walking, cycling, sailing and numerous other outdoor activities is all too often overlooked.

A city infamous for poor health and housing and blighted by its planners in the mid 20th century, Glasgow, which means Dear Green Place, has, surprisingly, more green spaces per head of population than any other conurbation in Britain, with beautiful parks to be found all over the city. And, within an hour of its centre, you can be climbing a Munro, cycling along Loch Lomond,or sailing in some of the world’s most beautiful coastal waters. This fairly unique combination makes the city ideal to shop till you drop, enjoy many varied forms of culture, but equally easily escape to the great outdoors that are literally on your doorstep.

In addition, the city has an excellent public transport system; in terms of connecting areas and scope, second only to London.  And, given Glasgow’s location, its commuter lines actually reach some of the most scenic and iconic places; for example, Balloch, at the foot of Loch Lomond, is around 40 minutes out of the city on a twice-hourly service, whilst the legendary West Highland line, reaches Arrochar and the northern end of Loch Lomond at Ardlui in about an hour.

It is this mix of unique location, plus easy availability of public transport, that makes Glasgow such an ideal base for a boot and bike trip.

 

Get there and about: 

Virgin Trains www.virgintrains.co.uk travel to Glasgow from London, the Midlands and North West England on the west coast main line; journey times are about five hours from London and just under four from Birmingham.

Strathclyde Passenger Transport www.spt.co.uk is responsible for city and suburban trains, buses and subway.

Scottish Citylink coaches www.citylink.co.uk run out of the city along the A82 en route to Fort William, Portree and Oban.

Loch Lomond Cruises www.cruiselochlomondltd.com operate a ferry service from Tarbet across the loch to Rowardennan and Inversnaid, between April to October.

 Stay at:

Glasgow Guest House

Glasgow Guest House www.glasgow-guest-house.co.uk  enjoys a great location on bus routes, five minutes from Dumbreck rail station, within walking distance of the subway, virtually next door to Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover and 20 minutes walk from the Burrell.  It’s clean, welcoming, serves brilliant breakfasts, has a residents’ kitchen and ample and secure storage for boots, bikes and equipment: Glasgow with hospitality, humour and style.

 

Make sure you see:

Merchant City

Architecture; Look out for Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s buildings and designs www.crmsociety.com Alexander”Greek” Thomson’s buildings www.greekthomson.org.uk  There is a wonderful Victorian legacy throughout the city and the magnificently-renovated 18th century Merchant City www.merchantcity.com is also a must-see.

 
 
 Art;  Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Burrell Collection and Pollok House
Pollok House
Museums and Culture; Kelvingrove, Tenement House, Cathedral, People’s Palace, new Riverside Museum of Transport with the Tall Ship and any of the 13 major museums in the city www.seeglasgow.co.uk

Music; King Tut’s, O2 Academy, Royal Concert Halls, Theatre Royal, SECC

Film;  Glasgow Film Theatre and Grosvenor, numerous multi-screens

Theatres; King’s, Citizen’s, Tramway, Arches, Theatre Royal, Tron and many more

www.seeglasgow.co.uk

 

 Tuck in at:

Great ethnic restaurants in Merchant City and West End.

Bars and restaurants in Ashton Lane, near the university in the West End.

Good value food and drink at The Left Bank www.theleftbank.co.uk and The Two Figs www.thetwofigs.co.uk  in the West End.

Best coffee at Tapa in Denniston and Southside, www.tapabakehouse.com

Cute cafe and pastries at Cranberry’s in Merchant City.

Willow tearooms in Buchanan and Sauchiehall Streets for some Mackintosh-inspired refreshments www.willowtearooms.co.uk

 

Shop till you drop: 

Buchanan Street; John Lewis, House of  Fraser and just about everything else

Italian Centre

Italian Centre in Merchant City, Princes Square and Royal Exchange Square; more upmarket labels

Byres Road, Ashton Lane in West End; small boutiques and more bohemian options

Out of town retail centres; include Braehead and The Forge

 

 

 

 

 

SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR DAY TRIPS OUT OF TOWN: Coast, Mountains, Lochs, Culture and History using boot, bike and boat and public transport. 

Coast:

Where? Ayrshire Coastal Path, Dunure to Ayr

How?  train from Glasgow Central to Ayr, www.firstscotrail.co.uk bus to Dunure, www.travelinescotland.co.uk walk back to Ayr

Why? fabulous coastal views of Arran and Argyle, cute little cafe and inn at Dunure, interesting, short diversion to Burns Cottage in Alloway

But; potentially dangerous tides in places, really do need guidebook and cannot rely on maps and signposting

Info; OS Explorer 326, www.ayrshirecoastalpath.org for details and guidebook

Directions; walk down to harbour from bus stop in Dunure, then follow route signs north. BEWARE of tides, particularly in Bracken Bay and do refer to guidebook as signposting is very obscure in places

Distance; 9 miles direct, about 11 with detour to Burns Cottage

Terrain; difficult in places, rocky outcrops, sandy beaches, field paths

Refreshments; Dunure Inn www.dunureinn.co.uk Dunure Harbour Coffeeshop www.harbourviewcoffeeshop.co.uk extensive selection of cafes and restaurants in Ayr

 

Hills:

i) Where? Beinn Dubh Horseshoe from Luss on western side of Loch Lomond 

How?  Citylink coaches from Buchanan Street bus station to stop on A82 next to start of route www.travelinescotland.co.uk

The Arrochar Alps

Why?  good workout for Munros, great views of Arrochar Alps, easy access, refreshments in pretty, conservation village of Luss

But; allow enough time to complete the horseshoe and plan carefully to synchronise with buses, particularly in summer when you need to book seats on specific services

Info; OS Explorers 364, 367, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.c.uk  Glasgow, 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com

Directions; walk from bus stop towards footbridge over A82, go past house on right, through metal gate into field, follow route from here

Distance; 7 miles

Terrain; hill paths, steep climb, boggy in places

Refreshments; Colquhoun’s, The Lodge on Loch Lomond Hotel www.loch-lomond.co.uk Farm Milk Bar, Car Park, Luss, The Coach House Coffeeshop www.lochlomondtrading.com

 

ii) Where? Conic Hill at southern end of Loch Lomond 

How?  train from Glasgow Queen Street to Balloch, bus to Balmaha  www.travelinescotland.co.uk

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

Why?  wonderful views only usually enjoyed from much higher aspects, ideal to fit in for morning/afternoon, or for a winter walk

But; shares some of access route with West Highland Way and can be busy, especially in holiday periods and in spring dog-walkers cannot access the high moor behind the hill

Info; OS Explorer 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk  Glasgow, 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com

Directions; path starts from Visitor Centre in Balmaha where bus terminates, follow the well-signposted route and good path to the top of the hill

Distance; 3 miles

Terrain; woodland and hill paths, steep in places

Refreshments; Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha www.oak-tree-inn.co.uk village shop next door also sells hot drinks and sandwiches, as well as provisions

 

iii) Where? Dumgoyne Hill, Blanefield, north of Milngavie

How? bus (no10) from Buchanan Bus Station to Blanefield (hourly during most of the day)

Dumgoyne

Why? more fantastic views to southern aspects of Loch Lomond, Arrochar Alps, Ben Lomond and more, from a steep, but short, climb, within easy reach of city centre

But; very boggy in places, have to jump across a couple of burns en route

Info; OS Explorer 348, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk

Directions; start from war memorial in Blanefield, carry on up Campsie Dene Road to Cantywherry Cottage, then take path to the right up the hill

Distance; about 6 miles

Terrain; hill paths, boggy and muddy, steep in places

Refreshments; nice deli with lovely little coffeeshop www.pestleandmortar.com across from bus stop in Blanefield

 

iv) Where? Loch Humphrey and Duncolm, Kilpatrick Hills, west of the city

How? train to Kilpatrick from Glasgow Queen Street or Central 

Erskine Bridge from Loch Humphrey
Why? extensive views over the city from a surprisingly remote, heather-clad range of hills very easily accessible from the city

But? bleak and isolated on the hilltops, steepish climb to the Loch

Info; OS Explorer 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills, www.harveymaps.co.uk Glasgow 40 town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.co.uk

Directions; from the railway station head along the road under the A82 road bridge to Kilpatrick Gasworks, then follow the track signposted Loch Humphrey. At the loch keep on the obvious path, passing Little and Middle Duncolm before climbing to the summit of Duncolm

Distance; about 8 miles

Terrain; tarmac stretch at start, then rough heather and bracken, boggy in places on hillside

Refreshments; none on direct route, pubs and shops in Kilpatrick

 

Munro:

Where? Ben Lomond

How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet,  Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com from Tarbet Pier across loch to Rowardennan (April-October), leaving Tarbet at 10am, returning from Rowardennan at 16:45

Ben Lomond

Why? great way to climb Scotland’s most southerly Munro on day trip from city without having to drive

 But; absolutely vital that you have sufficient hill-walking experience/fitness to complete the climb and descent before return sailing

Info;  Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk OS Explorer 364, 347

Directions; follow clear route to the mountain from car park in Rowardennan

Distance; around 7 miles

Terrain; tough mountain climb, remote and exposed in places

Refreshments; Rowardennan Hotel www.rowardennanhotel.co.uk

 

Corbett:

Where? Ben Arthur (The Cobbler), overlooking Arrochar

Why? One of Scotland’s iconic mountains, yet within easy access of the city, stupendous views of Ben Lomond and other peaks in the Trossachs, lochs Lomond and Long
How? Train from Queen Street, or bus from Buchanan Bus Station www.citylink.co.uk to Arrochar
But: very steep last section to exposed summit where slabs can be very slippery; liable to be cold,  windy at higher levels irrespective of conditions at start; proper equipment, clothing and adequate fitness essential; limited train service and seats on return bus journey often need to be booked in peak months, so check timetable carefully to avoid a long wait in an area with few places to shelter
Info: Harvey Maps: Glasgow Popular Hills, OS Explorer 364
Directions: turn right out of station, head into Arrochar, then follow road round head of the loch to the start of forest path opposite car park at Succoth
Distance: 6 miles
Terrain: excellent, easy-to-follow stone path for majority of route, steepish climb at start, then reasonably gentle gradients, apart from final stretch to the summit which is very steep and involves a short section of scrambling
Refreshments: fish and chips and some daytime cafes  in Arrochar but few options in the evening, Tarbet, perhaps better bet

 

Cycle Tour; 

Where? Loch Katrine by western access from Inversnaid 

How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet,  Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com  from Tarbet Pier across loch to Inversnaid (April-October), then cycle from Inversnaid  along Loch Arklet to Loch Katrine, with option of using paddle steamer, Sir Walter Scott  http://www.incallander.co.uk/steam.htm on outward or return journey across the loch

Loch Katrine

Why? quieter, better way to enjoy wonderful scenery and the iconic loch, without having to drive or having a long cycle in from Stirling

But; watch timings carefully to catch return sailings and take bike spares and emergency kit

Info; OS Landrangers 56,57 Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk

Directions; only one road out of Inversnaid, so cycle (or push!) up the hill out of the village and follow road along Loch Arklet to Stronachlachar, then either take the steamer to Trossachs Pier and cycle back, or cycle to Trossachs Pier and return on ferry

Distance; depends on what route you select, but with a full circuit of loch total distance will be in region of 30 miles

Terrain; quiet, mostly well-surfaced tarmac roads, steep climb out of Inversnaid,  undulating round the loch

Refreshments; Inversnaid Hotel www.lochsandglens.com/HotelInversnaid.asp

Cafes at Stronachlachar and Trossachs Pier www.lochkatrine.com meals and refreshments at Inversnaid Bunkhouse www.inversnaid.com

 

West Highland Way Walk: 

Where? stretch between Rowardennan and Inversnaid (or reverse) on eastern side of Loch Lomond 

How?  train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet, then Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com  from Tarbet Pier across loch to Rowardennan (April-October) and back from Inversnaid, or route can be done in reverse from Inversnaid to Rowardennan

Looking Towards Arrochar
Why? fairly easy stretch of WHW on eastern side of Loch Lomond, within easy travelling distance of the city

But? can be busy, some of the route is in forest, so restricted views in places

Info; OS Explorer 364, 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk

Directions; follow the obvious and plentiful route signs for the WHW

Distance; 8 miles

Terrain; good path with some gentle gradients

Refreshments; Rowardennan Hotel www.rowardennanhotel.co.uk Inversnaid Hotel www.lochsandglens.com/HotelInversnaid.asp

 

Walk with Culture: 

Where? Hill House, Helensburgh 

How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Helensburgh, walk to marina at Rhu, then back through woodlands to the Rennie Mackintosh-designed Hill House in Helensburgh www.crmsociety.com

Why? opportunity to combine good little walk and great views of Clyde estuary, with visit to one of Mackintosh’s masterpieces, with plenty of interest and refreshments en route

But? check times in advance as Hill House opens on a seasonal basis and it can be busy in holiday periods

Info;  OS Landranger 56, Glasgow, 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com

Directions; from Helensburgh station, head towards the shore and walk along the promenade to Rhu Marina, then turn right into Pier Road, right into Station Road and then up the hill till a large metal gate, before following the track through fields and woodlands to the Hill House

Distance; 7 miles

Terrain; tarmac roads and woodland paths, steep in places

Refreshments; selection of restaurants and cafes in Helensburgh, tea room at Hill House

 

Walk into History: 

Where? New Lanark Mills and Falls of Clyde 

How? train from Glasgow Central to Lanark, then take shuttle bus, or 20 minutes walk to New Lanark

New Lanark MIll Village

Why? see Robert Owen’s 18th century mill village, often regarded as the birthplace of socialism and now a World Heritage Site and combine with a walk along the Clyde valley past the spectacular Falls of Clyde, taking in a wildlife reserve along the way

But? train takes over an hour and the site can be very busy during holidays and in the summer

Info; www.newlanark.org Glasgow 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com

Directions; walk or take the bus from station to the Visitor Centre at the village, then follow the signs for the Clyde Walkway

Falls of Clyde

Distance; 6 miles

Terrain; duckboards along parts of track, woodland paths, can be muddy and steep in places

Refreshments; cafe at New Lanark village, shops, cafes pubs in Lanark 

 

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