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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Trainswww.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.
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:
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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