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As I begin my travels around the Forth, what better place to start than Stirling?Or at least the outskirts of it, so here I am at Craigmill, and yes, the weather was that bad. 

Craigmill has a famous neighbour. None other than the National Wallace Monument which is built on the top of the very hill which rises up behind these trees. In fact that very hill is the one where William Wallace is said to have gathered his army the night before the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and on a day like the one shown, it’s easy to imagine the storm clouds of battle gathering.

It’s perhaps hard to imagine that this tiny hamlet once housed an art school which taught members of the world famous movement The Glasgow Boys. The proprietor of the school was Joseph Denovan Adam (1842 to 1896) a Glasgow born artist who had studied in London, but returned to Scotland, to make a modest name for himself painting highland cattle. He settled at Craigmill House, the building in the photograph, but it was the field on the other side of the road, with its tiny studio made of glass and wood, that would be the hub of his School of Animal Painting. I can remember a wee shed standing in that field, right up until the 1990s. I would love to know if it was Adam’s original art school. Adam’s is not a name that has been passed down through history, but isn’t it wonderful to think that even the smallest hamlet, with its rain soaked field, has a talel to tell. extracted 20.28, 10/01/16
extracted 20.28, 10.01.16

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Posted by on January 10, 2016 in Uncategorized


Made in Scotland, but What From?

Aha, an intrtguing title you may think. Am I about to start talking the politics of growing you own, or a brief history of industrial decline? I’d love too but post Christmas, my brain isn’t going into anything so deep. I’m talking horses. Clydesdale Horses to be specific, and not any old Clydesdale but one who is part of my family history, curiously became part of my recent history, and will be spoken off for generations to come.

Before I go any further, a wee bit about my family. I came from a long line of policemen. Dad was a polis, Granddad was a polis, Great Uncle was a polis. If that sounds suspiciously like a misquote from a certain soft drinks advert, well it is. That soft drinks company is part of the story.

My granddead walked the beat in Falkirk and its surrounding villages, and on retirement took up a second career as a groom at Callendar House estate. He was certainly an horse lover, and as a young policean walking the beat in the early 1930s he was familiar with the site of the Barr delivery horses, pulling carts laden with Iron Brew, as it was once spelled, around the community. The Barr Family were locals, they had a factory in Falkirk, and a team of horses who were stabled in Cow Wynd in the town centre. Amongst them was the exotically named Carnera. Carnera had a mighty claim to fame…

He was the biggest horse in the world. He stood a mighty nineteen hands,  one and a half inches tall. Now a horse is measured not from the tip of its ears, but from the bottom of its neck, the withers. The hand is reckoned to be four inches.That means that Carnera measured seventy seven and a a half inches from the bottom of his neck to the ground. That’s almost six and a half feet. My Granddad had to be tall to be a policement, but Carnera would have dwarved him.

Well, as we all know, the Barr company are very good at the old marketing and they started to use Carnera for advertising the product. He was sent to community events around the country and became something of a celebrity. All the while, though, he was doing that day job of pulling heavily laden carts around the town and this was to be poor Carnera’s undoing. One particularly frosty day, he was dragging a heavily laden cart down Cow Wynd, and he slipped. Now, at first it seemed that all was well. He was able to get back up and go on with his day’s deliveries. Sadly, though, as he approached Cow Wynd later that day, he slipped again, and the poor driver, despite his best efforts could not get the gentle giant on his feet. He realised that there was only one option – to call the vet.

But it wasn’t the end of Carnera’s story. Local people heard what was happening. They gathered around him, feeding him sticky  buns. Someone even put a mattress under his head to act like a giant pillow. In fact, the story that my Granddad told his son, who then told me, was that so many people came to see Carnera and help him on his final journey, that they had to get extra police to marshal the crowds. What’s clear to me is that people really loved this gentle creature. I would love to think that my Grandfather was one of the policemen who was there to see him on the road.One thing’s for certain though – that story has lived on, been told to younger generations, and is now a feature of so many of the guided tours at the Kelpies, which are themselves a tribute to the Clydesdale Horse, where I had the privilege to work last year. Isn’t it amazing to think that the life and death of an humble delivery horse, over 80 years ago, can still mean something to us today?

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Posted by on January 10, 2016 in Uncategorized


Going Forth

For a while I’ ve been thinking that it would be interesting to blog about some of the places I go to. I’ m a keen walker, and I don’ t have a car, so I thought ‘ why not blog about places in Scotland that can be got to on foot or bus from my home in the not at all sprawling metropolis of Alloa?

Now if you’ re wondering if Alloa is an Hawaiian paradise or a village on a mist shrouded mountainside…well it’ s neither. It’ s a moderate sized town ( population approx20000) in Scotland’ s smallest county, ‘ The Wee County’ – Clackmannanshire. It’ s the county town and once known as a thriving centre of textiles production, brewing, pottery, distilling and glass making. Indeed the whole county was famous for its textiles and, of course, King Coal. These industries could not have flourished without the Ochil Hills – good sheep country, busking with blackface ewes even to this day, and just as importantly providing us with torrential streams to power the mills – and the River Forth, idly winding its way in giant S shapes before opening out like spilled mercury across the countryside, into the Firth, the estuary, making its way to the depths of the North Sea. Once we sailed out to hunt for whales in this firth, now it’ s a different type of oil that’ s transported up our river. I grew up hemmed in by hills and river, surrounded by woods and fields. My little town was the hub of my world, Stirling only seven miles down the road was an exciting day trip, an infrequent glimpse of large town life. After all, it had a shopping mall and a McDonalds.

So to start with, I’ ll be exploring these counties around the Forth and the Ochils – Stirlingshire, Clackmannanshire, West Five, Perth and Kinross. You’ ll see ancient castles, beaches, modern communities, battlefields. We’ ll go to the libraries and shops, sit in the cafes and listen to the local gossip. And then there’ s the two 30 m high steel horse’ s heads … but more of them later…

Here’ s one of our castles, Clackmannan Tower, with the Ochil Hills behind. Taken by me on a dreich autumn day. As if you didn’ t know😉


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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Uncategorized


Writing the Blues

My brain’s playing up again.

I would love to say that I was having a Sheldon Cooper-esque experience but sadly I have not woken up a genius.

I’ve found myself being very depressed the last few months, and when I’ve not been depressed I’ve been extremely anxious, with those nasty little OCD intrusive thoughts creeping in. At times like this, getting out of that chair and walking down the street feels like a day of work.

So thank heavens for good GPs. Thank heavens for these kind souls who, it’s taken me so long to realise, do not think I am a time waster. Who are happy to speak to the psychiatrist, use their influence, try to hurry forward an appointment. I won’t name the GP who was so kind to me this afternoon – she might not like it – but she helped, she really did. In the unlikely event that she might be reading – if I say the words ‘six minutes’ you’ll know who you are! This lovely soul listened to my woes, explained how the prescription she was giving me would work, reassured me, offered to find out about getting me a CPN, and said that she would contact my psychiatrist to organise an appointment asap,instead of waiting for the 3 monthly one.

It makes me wonder how my experiences of ‘care in the community’ contrast with  my forebearers, so I’ve decided that I’m going to finally do the thing that I’ve been putting off. As I’ve wandered through my family history, I’ve avoided one part of it. My grandmother was in an asylum for the last twenty years of her life. Now I don’t want to write about her- that’s private. But I do want to reach out and touch her. In the past I’ve dreaded discovering that she suffered barbaric or debasing treatments but I don’t want to hide from that now. I want to get to know my grandmother, I want a picture of her life.

For so many years, the truth about her was hidden from me. Even when I was a child in the eighties there was still a stigma around mental health. I remember hearing jokes at school about ‘getting on the yellow bus’ – the hospital transport that took people to the mental health hospital.

I’ve no real excuse. The University only a few miles up the road holds the records. I will find out (I hope) about my gran’s treatments, and her condition. Who knows, I might find out a little bit about the person behind the diagnosis.

But it makes me wonder. What is it about delving into history that helps me? Is it purely a project, to provide some stimulation? Is it an avoidance technique- no need to look at your own problems, when faced with someone else’s? Is there part of me that thinks that somehow life was easier or ‘better’ in the past? I’ll be honest, sometimes when I’m really struggling, the thought of an asylum, a place where all decisions were made for the patients, where they literally became children again, sounds very appealing. Or does it help me to keep things in perspective? To remind me that people have struggled in the past, they will do in the future, and that I’m a small grain of sand in all of that?

To be frank though, I think there’s even part of me that just likes the costumes and lovely buildings. And perhaps there’s part of me that wants to give thanks. Because we stand on the shoulders of those who challenged the conventions and fought for better things – whether it was schooling, inventions, political rights, pay, health. Our lives are a little bit pleasanter by those who left us beautiful things. We’re reminded that however hard life can get, there’s always humour, beauty, good times and good people.  Ah well, time to hit the history books.



Back to the history again! Not entirely relevant but these pictures I took of Blairlogie Old Kirk nr Stirling, well they just suit my mood

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Posted by on October 9, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Beauty of Philanthropy

wpid-wp-1444161159936.jpgIn the past few weeks, I’ve been doing the rounds of the Doors Open Days in the local area, and so much of my walks have been through towns and parks. It’s got me thinking…

So much of the beautiful parkland and victorian and early C20th buildings.buildings are down to that rare breed, the philanthropist. How much do we owe to those people who, hundreds of years ago, considered it their civic duty to give us decent housing, schools, libraries, parks, churches and community halls? Would we benefit from a modern form of philanthropy where those who were able to not only wanted to contribute to their existing society but to create resources for future generations? What drove these people? Was it purely a form of conspicuous consumption – the opportunity to remind those ‘below’ them of their power and influence, or was there a moral force behind it as well?

One site which I visited was the very church I was baptised in. I have to say that I haven’t darkened its door for over 30 years, but my mother and I decided to pop in. What a lovely experience it was to share my mother’s memories, admire the beauty of the interior decoration, and chat to the guides. One of them, a woman who I have known since I was 5 years old set me on the train of thought. She explained that the church existed thanks to the generousity of the Paton family. Now, ours was once a textile manufacturing community, dominated by the mighty Kilncraigs Mill. This county was the home of the Paton woollen empire. The Patons and other textiles manufacturers flourished here but it was the Patons who really left their mark. My friend remarked on how wonderful it was that many generations ago, those people had thought about the good of their community, and that we were still benefitting from it today. The church in question plays a very active part in the community and is planning to expand the good that it does at the moment by appointing a community outreach officer. Would any of this have been possible without the philanthropists?

They didn’t limit their work to buildings either. They recognised the importance of green spaces.And the buildings they created were not just functional, they were beautiful as well. Perhaps one of the greatest exponents of this Sir John Stirling Maxwell, a founder member of the National Trust for Scotland. When he died, he left his estate at Pollok in Glasgow to be used as a public park for the people of Glasgow, and so the citizens of that smoky, bustling industral city were given Pollok Country Park, now the home of the world famous Burrelll Collection.

Of course we are lucky to live in a country where we have a free health system, welfare benefits, free education. I wouldn’t deny that for a second. But to me these organisations are, out of necessity, usually very functional. I wouldn’t want to revert to a society that depended entirely on the goodwill of those with money for any form of social work. But wouldn’t it be lovely if , like these philanthropists of old, more importance was placed on beauty as well as functionality? Our philanthropists left us buildings and views which elevated and inspired us. We owe them our gratitude.

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Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


A Truly Good Man

Not so long ago I attended a team training session where one of the ice breakers was ‘Who is your favourite person from history?’

I only had to think for a second, because as  a child there was one person whose spirit reached out from the past and touched me, and has continued to do so. I can honestly say that when times seem hard I’ve dwelt on this person, what I knew of his story, and immediately felt a warm, comforting, feeling. So let me take you back to 1984, Mrs Thompson’s P5 class, the year of the LA Olympics and a school radio programme dedicated to an Olympian who had become a hero some 60 years beforehand.

Eric Liddell was born in January 1902 in Tientien, China. His parents were missionaries, and young Eric would follow in their footsteps eventually, but not before he found another way of celebrating God. Eric Liddell was a brilliant sportsman. In fact he excelled in both rugby and athletics, playing rugby for Scotland when a student at Edinburgh University. He qualified for the 1924 Paris Olympics …and it was here that Eric Liddell did one of the thing that would ensure that Mrs Thompson’s P5 class would learn about him 60 years later.

You see, Eric believed that when he ran he celebrated God. God was his friend and companion. He saw life as a race, but the strength to get through it came from within. Running was a spiritual experience for him. He had a very distinct running style – flinging his head back, waving his arms round and effectively running blind. The actor Ian Charleson, who played the part in the film Chariots of Fire likened this to the trust exercises that he had learned at drama school, where one student would fall backwards into the arms of another (Magnusson)The student actors learned to have faith that their colleagues would catch them, and Eric trusted that God would guide him safely to victory. It was clear that someone with such strength of belief was not going to be able to sacrifice the sanctity of the Lord’s Day for personal glory. So when he found out that his race, the100m, was to take place on a Sunday,  had little choice but to say ‘I can’t run on a Sunday.’  Having the courage of his convictions and taking such a huge risk would, ironically, grant him personal victory. Instead of being put forward for the 100 m he was entered for the 400 m. Which he won. He also picked up bronze in the 200m. Eric Liddell never said the most poetic line, in the movie, it was scripted, but the viewer can’t help feeling that it truly describes the man.
‘God made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.’

Liddell’s career as an athlete was short lived. He soon returned to China to take up missionary work and in 1932 was ordained. When China was occupied by the Japanese Eric and other missionaries were interned in Wiehsien camp. Here Eric organised sports activities, taught school,  tutored and helped people, visiting the sick, helping to police the camp because it was better for ‘offenders’ to be caught by him than the guards. He died of a brain tumour at Wiehsien, separated from his own family, in February 1945. He was only 43.

So what draws me to Eric Liddell? I’ m not a practising Christian myself but his incredible faith and the strength he drew from it inspires me. His kindness and courage. The sense of humility and duty. The fervour with which hevdid everything, because all of his skills were God given. Yet with it all there’s joy as well. Eric Liddell makes me want to celebrate life.

Magnusson, Sally, The Flying Scotsman

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Posted by on September 12, 2015 in Uncategorized