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To Baron 

I lost someone a few weeks ago. Not a friend, not famiily, but still someone special to me.
They do say that art touches us. There’s one piece of art that will live with me forever. I was privileged enough to work at the The Kelpies.Now The Kelpies represent two things. The folklore of the shape-shifting water horse. -the spirit of dark, lonely water – and the equally fascinating but more prosaic working Clydesdale horses, who pulled heavily-laden barges along the Forth & Clyde Canal.
In great artistic tradition, the sculptor Andy Scott portrayed one of his horses – mythical or otherwise – as calm and biddable,the other as spirited and free. So we have: Head Down Kelpie, as the on-site poem by Jim Carruth says ,  bends down his ‘strong head to taste the water;’ and Head Up Kelpie – full of the joy of living, springing out of the water, perhaps a fairy taking on an horse’s shape, he who stretches ‘up his long neck to face the sun.’
Now we Kelpie Guides found the formal names a wee bit impersonal. So to us, and to every visitor who took our tours, our Kelpies were not ‘Head Down’and ‘Head Up’but simply Duke and Baron – named for the two horses who were Andy’s muses. 
Now many people think that Baron – the Head Up Kelpie – is angry or afraid. I don’t see him that way. I think he is full of energy, relishing the feeling of the weather on his face.
I met lovely Duke. He  is now retired but at that time lived at Pollock Country Park in Glasgow, where he did such arduous tasks as being petted by children who visited the stables.He placidly stood there while a bunch of over-excited Kelpie Guides crowded around him getting our photo taken and giving him cuddles. I never met Baron. He had already retired and been re-homed by that time. However, I used to enjoy looking at photos of both horses, and chatting about them with their groom, who liked to visit. In almost every photo, Duke had his head down and was peaceably going about his business. Baron’s head would be up, and he had a wee cheeky glint in the eye. The groom once told me that he was an exceptionally good-natured, kind, happy horse. She was glad that I was telling visitors that he wasn’t angry. Baron, she said, did not have a vicious bone in his body.I loved Duke, but I fell in love with Baron. 
Baron died, aged 19, at the end of January. He never knew how loved he was by many. But loved he is, and will be for as long as The Kelpies stand.Duke and Baron have given us a special gift. Thank you Baron. Rest in Peace, with love from a Kelpie Guide. 

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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Dawdling Through Devilla

There’s a magic about the countryside around Kincardine. So close to the industrial  heartland of Grangemouth,yet solitary, open, rolling woods and moors,beautifully offset by the Ochil Hills and River Forth.
Okay, it’s taken me a while to write this, I admit (insert guilty smiley face) but it was just before Christmas when I caught the Stagecoach to Kincardine. Ha!Ha! That made you pause. Don’t worry, no time travel is involved. The bus you need it you’re travelling from Alloa is Stagecoach service 28.From elsewhere,  other bus services are available.Anyway, I had one thought in mind, a wee dally, a daunder through Devilla.

Devilla Forest is close to Kincardine.Kincardine itself is a large, sprawling village. It had a mix of industries,-saltpans, shipping, shipbuilding, fishing, stone quarrying and before the creation of its bridge, a ferry service. what’s little known about this area is that it was the cradle of the professional whisky industry, which was born in nearby Kennetpans . Sadly, the old distillery is now in ruins but production moved to nearby Kilbagie.

Kincardine’s major landmark is its bridge. Opened in 1936, it was the largest road bridge in the UK.Originally a swing bridge -to allow access for ships to the harbour at Alloa- its 346 ft span madeit the largest swing span in Europe.Despite that, in 1936 it cost a mere 3 farthings worth of electricity to open it – less than 50p today. Sadly, with the closure of Alloa Harbour, to put not to fine a point on it, the Bridge ain’t swinging any more.It’s presence led to the development of Kincardine as a commuter town. Increased pressure on the bridge meant that an alternative was required, and so along came the Clackmannanshire Bridge, which allowed traffic to by pass the village.
 I’m fond of the old Bridge, it was part of my childhood. Crossing it meant that we were headed for the motorway and the promise of adventure. In later years it meant that I was getting a lift to Glasgow, Dad’s old Lada crammed with books and yes, even furniture, to start a new university year. It was on one such trip that I noticed an animal trailer in front of us, bearing the legend ‘Big Bear Ranch.’To my consternation, I realised that our little Lada was stuck, in.a traffic jam, in the middle of a bridge, above a treacherous tidal River, with a trailer containing…A 30 stone grizzly bear. Yes, Hercules the Bear was one of our local heroes, raised on Sheriffmuir near Dunblane and at that time living on a farm near Muckhart. Luckily for my Dad and me, Herc was the original gentle giant and we escaped our precarious situation unscathed.

But back to the village.Take a wee stroll around Kincardine’s old village centre. It’s charming, homely, unpretentious. Kincardine is not a tourist town and its sixteenth century homes look lived in. 

As to the walk, well now you have to head out of town towards Tulliallan- Tullach alluin, the beautiful Knoll. What a lovely name for a beautiful old estate, once the home of the noted Douglas family and at a later date by Admiral Lord Keith who used prize money from capturing enemy ships to buy it. By this time, the estate’s castle was a ruin, so the admiral built a new house. I stopped to for a moment of contemplation 
Now this is where I feel the need to issue a warning.  You may know that Scotland has a right to roam, but  people who inhabit Tulliallan can tell you all about this. As a sign near the entrance point to our walk informs us, these people have the right to stop and question you at any point. Should we be afraid? 
I wouldn’t worry too much, it’s nothing sinister. Tulliallan is now the headquarters of the Scottish Police Headquarters. It’s where my Dad trained in the early 1960s, as have so many others since the 1950s. It’s a dangerous job, the polis.I stopped for contemplation at the memorial for those police who have been killed in action. 
Prior to this the castle was not used by the polis, but the Polish. The Polish Armed Forces in the West used the castle as their HQ during World War II. 

As you wander through the woodland, following the tracks, you will eventually reach Devilla Forest. At first you may think you are walking along a private driveway, but bear with it – it is a public footpath. Soon you will come to a detailed interpretation panel which shows you different waymarked trails through the forest, as well as archaeological remains to look out for. I followed the trail to Moor Loch but you can easily pick up the Red Squirrel trail (and try your luck at spotting one) or many others. 
Devilla itself is mixed coniferous and deciduous.  You do see the serried ranks of Sitka spruces. The trail, however, mainly takes you through mixed woodland, and it has the same effect as a walk in the hills – it feels timeless. The walker is so close to civilisation , yet feels so far from anything. Then you stumble across pretty little Moor Loch, hidden away in the trees….
Altogether it was only about four miles from the bus stop to Moor Loch and back.I’ll be back many times.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Going Forth: A Trip to the Seaside

So that was and adventure! Firstly, let me give you a few friendly tips. 1) If you’re getting the bus from Dunfermline to Burntisland, just down the coast on the Firth of Forth, make sure that if it’s a double decker you use the top deck. 2)Don’t go on a bank holiday Monday. You knew that already, I forgot. 
Why the bus? Well, I made the mistake of sitting on the lower deck of the Stagecoach No 7 service from Dunfermline. It wasn’t an unpleasant journey, but it DID involve lots of houses and roads. Sitting on the top deck would have given me lovely views of the Forth Road and Rail Bridges. Take the top deck.
Burntisland, when I got there, was busy, very busy. It was a Bank holiday andBurntisland was showing off just how popular a holiday spot it can be, with visitors crowding the beach and the popular all-summer fair. The fair, by the way, is situated on the Links, which land was. granted to the townspeople by KIng James V.
Burntisland, much like my hometown, Alloa, has a varied industrial history, from Plummer’s Aerated Water ( a division of which was taken over by Kia Ora)to an aluminium works which closed in 2002.There were even short lived shale oil and vitriol works. The town was a Victorian centre of the herring industry, and as with Alloa, there was shipbuilding. And ferries. Ferries bearing tourists. Including the first  roll-on roll-off ferry. Then there was the Forth Rail Bridge at nearby North Queensferry. It cemented Burntisland’s appeal as a tourist town. Today the docks is used for production of offshore gas and oil fabrications, so the town still has some heavy industry. Now an industrial town is not an obvious candidate to have a blue flag award winning beach, but Burntisland does, .and equally impressively, a lifeguard keeping a keen eye on swimmers – a rare sight on Scotland’s beaches. Judging from the day of my visit, its’ tourist industry is also doing well and it deserves congratulations for that. Sadly, I was less impressed that the Museum of Communications was closed (with no opening times displayed, ironically) and that in common with Alloa, there is no permanent local history museum. Is the town as booming as it seems or was I led astray by a Bank Holiday phenomenon?I’m not sure. I hope it’s doing well.
Burntisland was a wee bit too crowded for me, though, so I hiked along the coast road to KInghorn. En route, I came across something which I’ve heard off ever since I studied mediaeval history in my first year at University in 1992, but never actually seen. A stone obelisk marking one of the key turning points in Scottish history

Here, on.a stretch of road along the top of Pettycur Bay, this monument marks the site where in 1286, King Alexander III, King of Scots, fell from his horse on a stormy night and was found dead on the shore next morning. Now by all accounts, the 43 year old King was something of a ladies’ man, and was in a desperate hurry to get home to KInghorn and his young wife, Yolande de Dreux. He had good reason to hurry. He needed an heir. Tragically, Alexander had outlived all of his children. He had only one heir,his grand-daughter, the infant Margaret, daughter of the the King of Norway. On 13th March 1286, Yolande’s birthday, her husband’s body was found on the shore. Local legend has it that her ghost haunts the site, perhaps awaiting his return.
But why was this event so pivotal to Scottish history? Well, the young heir, Margaret the Maid of Norway, was an infant and a girl. Nevertheless the nobles of Scotland accepted her, and waited until she was old enough to travel from Norway to Scotland. In 1290 she embarked on the journey. Sadly, she never made it. She died at the Bishop’s Palace in Kirkwall, Orkney.In doing so, she sparked a constitutional crisis. Scotland had no clear heir to the throne, and many power-hungry claimants.In his role as feudal overlord of the King of Scots, KIng Edward I of England intervened, and chose John Balliol, a man who many see as a puppet King. Only a few years later, Edward deposed Balliol and  in doing so, sparked off the Scottish Wars of Independence which included such fam0us victories as the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. All of which might never have happened had a lusty and impatient King not fallen from his horse on a stormy night. 

The nearby town of KInghorn is very reminiscent of Fife’s East Neuk fishing villages, at least around the shoreline which you can see in the photo at the top. Like Burntisland, it’s a tourist town, and the large caravan park which stretches along the road between the two communities is testament to this. On the day of my visit however, the beach was quiet, calm, the late afternoon handful of visitors relaxing before the tea time in the caravan or the long drive home. A dog, doggedly, refused to leave the beach. I knew how she felt. Enjoying the warm sand and icy cold water (those swimmers at Burntisland were brave) under my bare feet, I didn[t want to leave either. The beach  had cast it’s magic.Looking over the water to Edinburgh, so very near and yet a different world, I thought how lovely it would be to travel home from the bustling capital city to this peaceful haven. 
And when I tore myself away, to catch the bus back to Dunfermline and then on to Alloa, I took my own advice and sat on the top deck.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Think of your mercies

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Something to be positive about:

Living in a place where I can get to a major city within a few hours, but am surrounded by sights so beautiful that, well, sometimes it just takes my breath away.

This place has had its hard times – jobs are few, problems are many. But there is space. Space to breathe and think. When it begins to feel like there’s no escape, that people, noise and bustle are pushing in, how helpful it is to sit by the river, walk in the woods, climb a hill. How comforting it is to know that I can look to the Ochils and know that beyond there are so many miles of emptiness. Then there’s the Forth – so still from a distance but when you walk close it’s a myriad of patterns , the wakes of seals, the tiny whirlpools, as the tide and ebb dance around each other.

We’re not in the land of clans, seannachies, bold princes and beautiful queans here – our people were miners, mill workers, fishing folk, brewers. They made glass and wool. Our ancestors could stand in their own homes and hear battles raging. This is a place of work and warfare, but yet we can look around us and give thanks for all the beauty.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Going Forth: Alloa to Clackmannan

It’ s one of my favourite walks to do from Alloa through the Back Woods and then return via Mary Woods, following the route of the burbling Black Devon.

You can start the walk just beyond Morrison’ s Supermarket in Alloa. Follow the road to edge of the new housing estate. Go down on to the public footpath and turn right towards the river, crossing over the old stone bridge, then head left into the woods.

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The River Black Devon at Alloa

It’ s a pretty walk, uphill and down dale. Only a few miles from Alloa but it feels very secluded. You soon reach the wee burgh of Clackmannan.

What a strange place Clackmannan is – it feels locked in the past, frozen at a point in time when it was already in decline. Yet this is a place which was once a bustling county town….

As you leave the woods turn right and head up the hill towards the village centre. When you get to the Mercat cross, turn right and go on up the hill to Clackmannan Tower

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On a level with Stirling Castle, nearly ten miles away, it is believed that the two had a communication system – if the guards at Clackmannan Tower saw invading armies sailing up the River Forth they would light a beacon, warning the guard at Stirling Castle and all of the neighbouring tower house and castles. Construction of the tower began soon after 1359, when one Robert Bruce bought the estate from King David II, the son of that great warrior King, Robert the Bruce. Some say that Robert Bruce of Clackmannan was the illegitimate son of the famous King, others that he was a distant relative. Clackmannan became a Bruce stronghold. The last Bruce to live in the Tower was Lady Catherine, who is believed to have knighted the poet Robert Burns there in the late eighteenth century.

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Once you’ve admired the views, saunter back into town. In the centre you’ll find the Mercat Cross, Tolbooth and Stone of Mannan. Many of the houses here date from the seventeenth century, and it’s here you really get the sense of a village frozen in time.

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This is a wee pen and ink I did of the burgh centre. Clackmannan was a Burgh of Barony – that is, it was created as a burgh by the landowner, who held his estates from the King. It was granted this status in the sixteenth century, but sadly time was not on this pretty wee place’s side. The harbour, so vital to early modern trade, was already silting up. Over the next couple of centuries the Bruce family declined in fortune, and the tiny burgh was superceeded by it’s neighbouring Burgh of Barony, Alloa, oned by the Erskines of Mar. By 1772, Alloa Harbour had overtaken Clackmannan and  in 1822 the Sheriff Court transferred to Alloa.

Which brings us rather neatly to the Tolbooth. Another C16th survivor, this lovely little tower was a rather pretty prison. Up until that point, miscreants were either chained to the Mercat Cross or held prisoner in the home of the local Sheriff. Now for those of you who are wondering about silver stars and noon time shoot outs, a Scottish sheriff is a magistrate!! No High Noon for these chaps, simply the duty of overseeing legal matters. One such sheriff, William Menteith, understandably objected to holding courts in the open air of the village centre, and housing miscreants in his home, so he petitioned parliament for a Tolbooth. The Tolbooth’s fortunes relfect that of the Burgh. It was ruinous by 1792 and abandoned in 1822.

Next to the Mercat Cross, you’ll find one of our local mysteries- The Stone of Mannan. Now don’t be deceived- the Stone of Mannan is not the whole structure but the rectangular block at the top. Our victorian forefathers, with a great sense of history, placed the stone on top of a giant whinstone block imported overt the county boundaries from Abbey Craig in Stirling, the very place where William Wallace gathered his troops before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The stone gives the county its name – Cloch being the Gaelic for Stone. Some antiquarians say the stone itself is named after Mannanan – the Celtic Sea God. Others attribute it’s name to the Manau – the Celtic people who once lived in this area. It may even translate from the Irish “Stone of the Monks. There’s a theory that it’s not named for the God, or the peoples, but for a simple hunting glove. You see Mannan is Gaelic for glove and a rather famous glove made its mark on the wee burgh and indeed the whole county.

One Robert the Bruce, yes, THE Robert the Bruce, was said to have been hunting in the royal forest of Clackmannan. He lost his hunting glove. Naturally, he wanted to find it, and ordered his servants and followers too ‘look aboot ye!’ (look about you!). Lookabootye is the name given to the country road leading away from the cross down towards the river, it’s also the county motto! Even my old school used it, it in its latin form Circumspice, as a motto. Now the Stone of Mannan used to sit on Lookabootye. Some say that’s where Bruce’s glove was found….

Time to head home now. Go back down to the woods, but this time cross over the road bridge and return to Alloa via the Mary Woods. There’s one last mystery to look out for. As you reach Alloa, look at the field on the right. You can just make out an ancient celtic cross near the brow of the hill. It’s said that in the eighteenth century, wheen the road ran close to the cross, you could make out the figure of a man and horse inscribed on the stone.

So visit Clackmannan, and remember, when you come- remember to ‘look aboot ye.’

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Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Nature’ s First Green is Gold

With  massive apologies to Robert Frost, my response to the Daily Prompt.

 

Green is the thousand shades in the grass on Dumyat on a beautiful summer day. It’ s the lushness of our woods and pastures and the visual reward for so many days of pouring, freezing rain. Green can fade to grey it’ s true but it’ s also the opposite of it.

 

 

Green is freshness and vigour, spring released from the prison of winter. It’ s the green  of the snowdrop that gives us hope, not its white petals. Yet, it is also calm, depth, strength and wisdom. It’ s the Green Man, the ancient lord of the trees. It succours us.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Back to the Future

It’s been an interesting few months weatherwise in this part of the world, and that had a knock on effect on travel for the poor beleaguered commuter.

In this part of Scotland we had an extra treat – the temporary closure of the Forth Road Bridge, causing a knock -on effect for travellers right throughout the Forth Valley. The Bridge, not to put too fine a point on it, was cracking under the pressure. Commuters were adding up to fifty miles on to their journeys as they re- routed to the alternative bridges.

Now one idea that was put forward was to run a ferry service. The Forth has a grand tradition of ferries dating back to the 11 th century, when pilgrims crossed from Edinburgh to continue their journey to Dunfermline to St Andrews. I got to thinking, wouldn’ t it be nice to ‘ reopen the shipyards’ as the old song says? Or at least if we’ re not building them, buy the things and sail on them? With this in mind I did a wee sketch,

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It’s a pen and ink showing a ferry by the Forth Rail Bridge. Improved road crossings in the twentieth century brought an end to the majority of ferry services on the Forth. Yet this was a river which once crawled with boats – ferries, fishing boats, oil tankers, merchant ships.  It was not a barrier obstructing travel but a gateway, a frontier. Yes, it defended us, proved a challenge to invading armies, but it also gave us a key to the world. Its presence allowed our communities to prosper.

Yet over the last half century we have become detached from our river. Here in the Inner Forth area our fishing industry is all but dead and many of our harbours long gone. Maybe it’ s time to reconnect with that distant, shimmering, dangerous, murky, beautiful river. Train captains, build the boats. Give people the skills to negotiate the deadly yet vital river. Make it our ally again.

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We are an island people, let us go back to the water.

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Posted by on February 14, 2016 in Uncategorized