Monday, 18 December 2017

Strange Kingdoms. An Autumn Gallery.

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One morning I awoke to Strange Kingdoms.
I dressed quickly and rushed outside.  A horse chestnut Stonehenge.
The 'Last Rose of Autumn' was still in bloom.
as was my heart....
filled with the magic of childhood returned.
What child doesn't remember the powerful glory of any humble stream. No Niagara was ever better than this discovery at a certain age and time.
Young forever, I sat down in the glade and awaited the arrival of Esmeralda, the 'Faerie Queene'.
But I was not alone, and never have been at any time, in this 'Wood of Knights'.
My friends will always find me there.
Altar prepared, spells appropriate given,  and food laid out... we waited for she.
And so, eventually, she came...
transforming the glade with her wondrous gifts of euphemism and allegory that would daunt even Spencer.
For food there was in this strange kingdom for those who could see it.
but not for all ---- as some were bewitched.
and danger lurked in every mouthful took and swallowed... which or 'witch' to choose wisely?
Boundaries, landscapes, forms, and traditions may be mixed and merged together- then blurred...
as we slipped on a journey down Carroll's rabbit hole into sweet smelling caverns and caves of  jet, jade, yellow ruby and musk.
no 'golden dawn' for us...
but sweet the tingling memory of Esmeralda's first kiss as she departed.
as wherever she sat... wherever she walked... whatever she touched- turned white overnight. As did I.
Remaining leaves dropped around me...and at her departing heels the little 'mice of the woods', the nimble hedge accentors, followed in hopping, darting flight.
then goldcrests in abundance, swinging and sneaking through the pines.
leaving behind a scent of angels...
and a multi coloured sunset.
of dazzling form.
as reflections of her own complex personality.

Christmas treats. Five excellent books of the imagination I've read in the last few years that are easily the equal of any of the well known children's classics. Alice, Oz, Pooh, etc...  I would even hesitate to call them children's/ young adult books as they can be read and thoroughly enjoyed by anyone of any age. This post is a homage to them.
Philip Pullman- Northern Lights..... Already a well known  modern classic. This can stand alone or as the first book in a trilogy. Terrific read and great memorable characters.
Wicked. Gregory Maguire..... Once you get past the first chapter and start to develop a sense and feel for the olden style language used, this book is a marvel. Funny, poignant, moving, intelligent and profound. The story of the green witch in the Wizard of Oz but also a mirror held up to society at large. Are people who are simply born different into a closed community automatically destined to be labelled evil in some way by others?  Are they likely to find themselves subjects of gossip, suspicion, and conjecture throughout life just for being so and thereby judged and found guilty by speculation and gossip without a shred of evidence or even a voice of their own in return? This book gives a credible answer. Utterly brilliant writing and imagination used to fill out the many blank spaces in Oz.
 Itch. Simon Mayo.... A real surprise find. A teenage boy obsessed with the Periodic Tables and collecting elements is plunged headlong into a world of danger, darkness, and intrigue through his hobby. A cracking fast paced thriller and very different from anything else I've read over the years.
Cold Magic. Kate Elliott.... Enter another world completely- like post medieval, dawn of industrial age central Europe but with marked differences. Reassuringly familiar yet also very exotic and strange in turn. I loved this book.
Flood and Fire. Emily Diamand.... A true children's story as good as any before or since. It's the year of our lord 2216. A young girl and her pet cat travel through a partly submerged London holding the last working computer from the teknological past on their boat. Chased by outlaws, pirates and warring factions they plot a course that may change the drowned city and the reverted half- savage people around them. A lovely creative book for any age. Winner of the Times children's fiction competition.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Paisley. UK Town of Culture. The Spirit of Christmas Past.

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As I've been through to Paisley several times in the past few months I thought I'd do a gallery on Scotland's largest town and hopeful UK City of Culture 2021 bidder in the run up to Christmas. Originally there were eleven towns and cities in the draw which soon got whittled down to five- Swansea, Paisley, Stoke on Trent, Sunderland and Coventry. It's a big tempting prize to play for as previous winners Londonderry and Hull experienced major investment projects and up to one billion pounds generated in funding and revenue for ongoing social and economic regeneration. In the end, despite Paisley being the bookies favourite the title went to Coventry but that's not why I,m doing this post.
For the past few years I've been going through to Paisley for the Christmas Lights as I think they have more to offer than Glasgow's. To my eye the Christmas lights around George Square just do not invoke the Christmas spirit I remember having as a child. The 'wonder' of Christmas. A bit too commercialized towards making money with rides instead of keeping it simple... or maybe its just I,m far too used to them.
Paisley is an interesting town for a visit anyway with a beautiful abbey, seen here in spring, an amazing town hall and a cracker of a church...
Coats Memorial Church. It also has a district on a hill top just above the main shopping area, full of period architecture, cobbled lanes, and interesting listed buildings. Thanks to its history as a major weaving, textile, cotton and thread hub, selling its goods world wide it was one of the richest towns in the UK up until the 1970s when its fortunes started to dwindle away. That's not to say the ordinary workers were getting rich as many were very poorly paid for their efforts, then as now, but money flowed steadily year by year into the town's coffers and many impressive public buildings during that era of growth reflected this fact. Good link here to Paisley's former glory as a world leader and an outsider look at this culture bid town.
 It does still have a legacy of amazing architecture though and is well worth a visit. Dozens of new colourful murals have sprung up around the town over the last year but I'll cover them in another post. This one is devoted to Paisley's Christmas lights.
With the large open grass spaces around the town hall and abbey plus the White Cart Water carving a winding path through the heart of this district it's a perfect situation for a more traditional Christmas show of lights..Also, they sit out on their own- away from any distracting commercial interests in a lovely display and setting. Families enjoy coming here and I used to love Paisley as a child myself. A visual Christmas treat. One memorable year the river and waterfalls were frozen solid and covered in thick ice and snow, with the falls illuminated. It had that magic extra ingredient  'wonder' and still does to this day.
My own special tribute to Paisley and the impressionist movement. See- you can paint pictures with a camera. Just takes some practice. My attempt at a camera version of Vincent's 'Starry Night'.

As my last light show walk along the banks of the River Clyde a few posts ago was apparently a big hit with friends Anne and Belinda I now had others in tow. Three young children called Rachel, James and Sam and two other adults- Jean and Peter. I was now a semi official tour guide to Paisley's City of Culture highlights so the pressure was on to show them the best the town had to offer.
Obviously a walk through the shopping district was a given while it was still light. Two main indoor shopping centres/ arcades and several streets of other shops await. A surprising amount for a town its size although like many post industrial high streets UK wide the internet and online shopping has punched holes in bricks and mortar stores worldwide. Smart phones and social media may yet kill off many social structures we take for granted that have lasted hundreds of years but that's a different story altogether. This is good Santa time.
Next to Gilmour Street Train Station a small area of children's rides and a large sky tower similar to the one in Edinburgh were under construction. The tower should give fantastic views over the town from the air, albeit from spinning chairs zooming round the high metal pole.
But if that's too energetic for you there's still a lovely wander around various decorated Christmas trees, illuminated buildings, and open spaces near the abbey and town hall. Paisley Town hall below.

Like any large town I'm sure Paisley has some anti- social elements in it but if you wander round between 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm when it's still busy with shoppers it has a safe and friendly feel. Even late on I've never experienced any problems in Paisley just wandering around.
The Town Centre Park.
The church on the hill top. Oakshaw district.
Another view of the abbey. There are several parking opportunities around here on various quieter streets and car parks. free or on a meter. We paid £2 for 3 hours which was pretty good and enough time to see plenty as it was bitterly cold for the kids.
The big Santa.
Main shopping street lights.
Paisley street scene looking up towards Oakshaw on its hilltop.
Former thread mill on the river.
More lights. Shopping zone.
If you live in Glasgow or surrounding districts and fancy a colourful change Paisley's lights and murals are worth a visit. At this time of year you can arrive in daylight.(recommended if in a car and a stranger to Paisley's busy one way system through the town) see the murals, architecture and sights properly up until 3;30 pm then still be there to soak up the night time light show- all within 3 to 4 hours at an easy pace. Frequent trains and buses run from Glasgow to Paisley. We all enjoyed it anyway.

This video seems appropriate given the age of some of the tour group walking round Paisley. And it's near Christmas     :o)

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Straiton. Blairquhan Woods. Craigengower Hill.

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On our bothy trip to Tunskeen, Carrick and Galloway forest districts we had to pass through the pretty village of Straiton to get there. This was created as a model village in the mid 1700s , a pet project by a local earl and it shows in the neat street layout and uniform style of the white washed cottages. As many of Ayrshire's inland villages were built to serve long gone coal mines where money was needed for day to day essentials rather than improving the surrounding scenery this area and village has a very different vibe when contrasted with nearby Dalmellington, Bellsbank or Patna- former coal mining community's now surrounded by bleak scarred hillsides or blanket pine forestry. Strictly utilitarian housing and landscaping resides here, although, as a mere visitor, I've always admired the open plan bleak honest austerity of these other villages as well and have enjoyed walking around them over many years. Interesting industrial mining relics around Waterside and a coal heap park/ bing in Dalmellington. Very reminiscent of my own happy childhood during the 'good old days' in the pub heavy, hard punching, hard drinking, former old mining village of Nitshill in the 1960s or indeed any other similar communities worldwide during current bleak times or future bleak times to come. Not pessimism just cold reality.
Anyway, its a lovely golden bubble this area around Straiton, in an otherwise unremarkable rural or small scale post industrial landscape and largely left behind inland village economies. From numerous trips I believe that to be a fair and accurate assessment of this inland district of Ayrshire as an outsider to the area looking in, but if I'm totally wrong feel free to correct me. I always try to get it right in my musings and travels and present an unvarnished but hopefully balanced view. In the 50 years or so I've been around to observe them, former industrial areas, ex- coal mining villages and many coastal towns do not usually experience much of an upswing in fortunes once the industry or tourist numbers evaporate. Not in small places like this anyway. However, lovely hills surround and shelter Straiton village and on one sits a tall prominent monument to an Ayrshire MP and dead solider from long ago. This is the hill we intended to climb.
As it is such a noticeably beautiful area, every time we passed here as a passenger in a car I've always been keen to get out and explore the surroundings further but I've always been with hill tickers who had other ideas and larger hills in mind further into Galloway. I like company on the hills but it is always a compromise with others wishes and desires and we've always raced past despite any hints on my part to stop and look around properly. I've always been determinedly out of step in some way or another with the marching ranks of hill- walkers around me for the last 40 years. It's just the way I'm made.
 Finally, without being prompted, John was keen to climb this modest 1000 foot pimple... albeit because he had a temporary injury to his leg and the larger hills were out for now. At last a chance to get up there presented itself. Everything, eventually, comes to he or she who waits, apparently. If not it's a solo mission.
A popular area for modest hill walks and low level valley rambles there is a small car park in Straiton village and an info board detailing local walks you can do from it. Most of the folk I go out with,  now or in the past, have had no interest at all in wandering around country estates...or anything other than hills for that matter.  ( Belinda and Anne apparently love country estates. Yippee!) Say it quietly but some key location scenes in the Helen Mirren film 'The Queen' were set here, not the Scottish Highlands as you might expect, presumably because the woodlands and estate grounds were more attractive, much quieter to film in, and less well known.
Rather than park in the village we parked half a km outside where an obvious signposted path leads up the hill. A lovely walk followed, a bit muddy in places, but not too bad, to the summit.
And really nice panoramic views from the top. Beautiful autumn colours in Blairquhan woods, obviously hand picked for scenic impact as a castle, in various forms, has stood nearby in the estate grounds since the 1300s. This is more a bespoke, elaborately stitched, brightly decorated quilt, rather than the dark green uniform blanket of trees found in the other areas nearby. Like the Lake District or any other golden bubble landscape you really need big money over many, many years and top landscape managers to create something as nice as this. Another example in inland Ayrshire that comes to mind is the Stinchar Valley between Ballantrae and Pinwherry, full of old castles, grand estates, attractive woods and farmlands. Another really scenic 10 or so mile long oasis not that far away from this one in otherwise ok but rather nondescript surrounding landscapes.
A view of the village... not much in it but what little there is down there is attractive and well laid out to the original plan.
Here's a very good local link to the walks and cycles in this area, an interactive map with photos and a proper history of the district. Worth a look.

A slightly misty view of Ailsa Craig, a thousand foot monolith of stubborn granite marooned in the Firth of Clyde nine miles off the Ayrshire coast. The island of gannets viewed from the hill of the goats.
A big sheep in a local field.
The monument. Incidentally, the protective lightning conductor for this monument is badly broken.
A set apart cottage row.
Stunning deciduous woodlands in late autumn.
Surrounding hills. Very scenic little hill ranges in this area and you can link some of the walks together for a longer outing easily enough. Really nice area and very different from the nearby expanse of the Carrick Forest. The UK is often like that though- an amazing variety of scenery packed into a small area. Ten miles or so west from here and its all change again into delightful coastal towns and sandy beaches on the windswept Ayrshire seaboard.

Lemon Dream. Arran Ridge in December. The jaggy island sitting in the Firth of Clyde. Snow covered mountains viewed from still lush green fields.

Sunset melody.

Glasgow sunset. The end.

Instead of a video here's three cracking books I've read and really enjoyed that I'd imagine anyone would appreciate getting in their Xmas stocking. All have been best sellers, have won other awards, and get largely positive five star reviews.

 A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett. A young Scottish miner in the mid 1700s rebels then embarks on a epic journey against brutal living conditions and a life of slavery down the pit that will eventually take him to London then America. Well researched fantastic page turner that left a deep impression on me of life at that time.

A Tap on The Window by Linwood Barclay. Situated near the Canadian/USA border and the Great Lakes this is an excellent modern crime story in a memorable setting. I've read loads of fictional crime novels over the years as its a very dominant and successful genre for writers but this one stands out from the surrounding pack. Great story- really well constructed- moves like a galloping racehorse without any slow moments at all.

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson. A successful music composer returns to the Yorkshire Dales of his childhood- buys a house there then slowly becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the former female owner and her mysterious death. Quite simply one of the best, most haunting books out there. Haunting not in ghost terms but only that the memory of this fine story might well stay with you for life... as might all three books on this list. A no 1 bestselling crime novel and crime thriller award winner.
All three are brilliant, no rude bits or swearing in them, and should appeal to most folk, irrespective of age- around 15 to 90.