My Dirty Weekend on Blencathra

In the last few years, I’ve been concentrating so much on conquering Scotland’s mountains, I forgot there are others out there. My experience of  England is driving at 70mph (ok 75)  from north Glasgow down to London to visit family. A few times we have stopped overnight at friends in Norfolk or a quick stay at a Travelodge to break the journey but generally, not encountered much outside the Scottish confines. I considered climbing Snowdonia once for summer solstice but that was as close as I got as Ben Nevis stepped in…

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Trail Magazine were advertising on Facebook; a weekend in Blencathra at the Field Studies Council centre. Sounds interesting… Alan Hinkes would be there (who?) and Terry Abraham (nope, not ringing a bell) With work commitments and other obligations, the few friends I asked couldn’t make it so I hesitantly decided to go myself. I think it was the huge Gear sale that they ran on the Sunday; that was a big draw!

I arrived the Friday an hour early and made my mumbled excuses at reception. They pointed me to the quiet parking area which would be my home for the next 2 nights. I had opted to stay in the van; in my own bed. Later that day, others pitched tents in great spaces and accommodation was on offer in the main building at a great price. I pottered around the premises a bit lost. No one else there except a couple of young lads sitting on the picnic tables “oh s**t, did I read the description properly, will I be hanging out with teenagers for the weekend?” A few hours later, a warm smile was offered by ‘Rob’ who showed me around the building then shortly after others started arriving. Everything was still so quiet except for the Trail crowd; they were full of energy and seemed excited for the weekend ahead. I don’t think its ‘just another job’ for them, the genuine passion and kindness oozed for the full 3 days… The lounge had a few folks in, quietly flicking through copies of the latest Trail mag or mobile phones. Closed mouth smiles and head nods were offered. Silence… After 5 minutes of doing the same, “anyone for a cup of tea?” says I, standing hands on hips. Everyone automatically declined in surprise except one who gingerly accepted. Returning with 2 mugs, the chatter had started, my awkwardness subsided… Ok, I think I’ll enjoy it here.

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Love this image, sums up the weekend perfectly!

The whole packed weekend from that point on was superb. Food was fantastic, Trail and field centre staff were great. The entertainment in the form of pub quiz, navigation skills, discussions with Alan Hinkes (FYI the only Briton to climb the world’s 14 highest mountains) and Terry Abraham (humble but expert director) climb up Blencathra with nature talks, boot advice and fitting, ‘guess the rucksack weight’. I loved it all and attended everything except the pop-up tent challenge, I couldn’t do that with the audience it drew!

I would normally never do something like this on my own but I am so glad I did. In fact, I think it made it far better. It’s too easy to huddle unsocially in a corner with a pal. Mixing with walking people, hill climbing people, outdoorsy people, camper van loving people, music loving people all knowledgeable and willing to share information and stories was just the tonic I needed and made it a hugely memorable weekend for me. Everyone was welcomed and accepted in whatever form they took. I wore a bobble hat to breakfast, where else could you do that comfortably?

My weekend highlights (small as most might seem)

  • Making tea for that one person
  • Listening to Phil talk about different moss
  • Alan Hinkes / Terry Abraham film on Saturday
  • 5 minutes early to the gear sale as we won the pub quiz which bought me a ‘non-panic buying’ session!
  • Standing in the rain, watching Alan Hinkes mountain goat-like across Blencathra
  • Sticky toffee pudding
  • A warm and welcoming smile from a friendly stranger when I was ready for heading home
  • Getting a Whisperlight stove for £20
  • Meeting awesome, like-minded people and making new friends
  • Wearing a bobble hat to breakfast!

I am looking forward to attending again, wherever camp sets up and whoever attends, not just with this team who organised this but will look further afield too. I am keener than ever to wild camp (Scotland – Spring 2018) and step far from this comfort zone that’s been built for 47years. I may even partake in a pop-up-pop-down tent challenge next time, that will really push me…

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Why I Climb…

Through my childhood, I was fascinated by a mysterious volcanic form on the horizon I could see from our garden. I was aware it was something called ‘Ben Lomond’ but never could I have realised what it would bring me 43 years later.

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In May 2016, my work colleagues and I ascended this mighty fellow. The climb was relatively short and as we were walkers of all fitness levels, we staggered ourselves taking time to wait for the dawdlers (that would be me!) Several expletives were released from my mouth that day along the lines of “who’s bloody idea was this”, “for fuck sake, will this ever end” and of course, that old favourite “are we there yet”… We arrived safely at the top. Visibility was clear, the views were spectacular and the wee tot of whisky added some ‘charm’… For the next 48 hours, every muscle shouted disapproval, my knees stabbed with every step and my feet endured a constant pulse. However, something got under my skin that day and it wasn’t a tick. From then on, I was hooked; I couldn’t wait to get out and do it again. “I’ll stock up on plasters and Ibuprofen.”

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For a few years prior to this climb, I was unsatisfied with life. Not depressed or particularly miserable, just unsettled and in constant search of something better. A better job, a kitchen extension, a tidier house, slimmer, just something… The more I walked and climbed, the less I was bothered about ‘stuff’. My achievement was still being alive once on ground level and it fuelled my contentment and acceptance of being me. I love being out there, even in the rain. The weather is spectacular in whatever it’s mood brings. Even seeing only 3 meters in front of you is an experience in itself. It’s serene. It’s unsettling. It’s another planet. I am lucky to have such accepting friends who appreciate and listen quietly to my raptures without considering that I am having a breakdown. They allow me to gush unashamedly at the cloud formation, at the silence of the scene, the monotones of a misty forest on a distant hill: it’s all so humbling.

2017-06-23 11.37.21It has taken 47 years to find my happy place, emotionally and spiritually. I have never accepted being me, always wanting to be someone else. Something about being in such a huge space, with few people around, everything makes perfect sense. It recharges what I never knew was depleting and once on ground level, the world is right and I am me again. If I haven’t been up a hill in a few weeks I have been known to wear my waterproof jacket to work for the smell and the feel of outside. Yes, I know that’s weird but it works for me!

I am working my way through Scotlands mountains with a small achievement of 16 munros but many more little hills in between and loving every step, even the ones that make me swear. My problem is now I have stepped out of my comfort zone, I am yet to find that boundary and things, scary things have been planned for the following years while I can. Rock climbing, mountain wild camping, and long distance expeditions are just a few but bloody hell, I am 47 years old, who do I think I am? Aucht well, age is just a number as is munro number 17… So I’m going to jump into my wee camper van and take the next left…

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The Unpronounceables…

So, we had ran out of hills we could pronounce and couldn’t put it off any longer: we had to start attempting ‘The Unpronounceables’. Ben Vane was yet to be done but we heard he was a bit of a bugger so we’ll leave that for another day…

A glorious weekend in July had us on the Tarmachan Ridge which was superb, we loved every minute.  We meandered mindlessly over Meall Garbh, Beinn an Eachan and Creag na Caillich with the lure of another distant path so tempting us to take on another stretch. The sun shone, the breeze was kind enough to clear the midges and both of us had energy we had never had before. We are still slow walkers being constantly overlapped by more ambitious and professional walkers. We like to photograph the many weird and wonderful beasties encountered and listen to the unfamiliar bird song and take longer than everyone else.

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BELOW ARE TARMACHAN RIDGE IMAGES…

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Here’s the wee scary arete bit. Not too scary i admit but its a start!

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This weekend, we fancied the 4 munros that stand between Lochs Tay and Rannoch: Carn Gorm, Meall Garbh, Carn Mairg & Creag Mhor. Days are getting shorter and temperatures are dropping so we thought we’d do a biggie now. Armed with vague WalkHighands screen shot directions, basic map-reading skills, a coordinates app. and a picnic to sink a ship, we set off confidently. Directions were great at first then after the second munro, we had to use our map and compass more which was unsettling but enjoyable. Another addition to our ever growing kit is now a glossary of hill terminology as we had to learn ‘new’ words like col, bealach and tor. Brain and body exercised!

BELOW ARE PICTURES FROM THE 4 MUNROS!

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August Blog

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It took is 10.5 hours to complete (suggested 6-8), covered 14 miles (supposedly 11) and we loved every minute and inch.

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Views up any hill are spectacular with ever changing conditions, terrain, direction and landscape. How can anyone be bored with this activity. Its fantastically addictive. I’ve never been outdoorsy but now have become one of the great unwashed at the weekend. Annoyed the Tuesday morning matted hair untangling ritual and having to step into respectable clothes to join the ranks of other closet mingers (no? Just me then?)

I ask my walking companion “where next. How can we beat this?”. “There is a walk with 7 munros” says she…

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Summer Solstice on the Ben

So, its been 8 months since my last blog… I’ve had plenty to write about, I’ve been out loads but between work, play and adventure, its been difficult to make time for a written ramble. This week i experienced something so awesome that i need to get it down in actual words for my mental preservation. I knew i’d be able to do it, i knew it would be emotional, bloody hard work and a once in a lifetime experience. Ben Nevis, in the dark and a sunrise so beautiful that we cried unashamedly…

On the 20th June, my friend and I headed towards the Highlands in my mostly-finished camping Vivaro. He (Harvey RV) now has a sofa bed with storage and a kitchen at the rear. The back door flips up and becomes a roof/shelter allowing me to be able to cook outside. The first official stop was at the ridiculously crowded Three Sisters car park in Glencoe. One solitary space was left and I parked with the rear facing the mountains. The greatest place on earth to enjoy a humble cup of tea. Boot flipped up, kettle on, mugs, teaspoons and contents were rattled into place. A lone piper appeared in full Scottish regalia. I shouted across an offer of tea which he accepted. “Milk, one sugar” The kettle whistled its final stage and tea was poured while we enjoyed polite chat about the weather. The further we chatted, the more i learned. His grandfather piped on that spot until his 87th year was reached. This piper has been christened in the tiny village of Buchlyvie: the village i grew up in! How small is this world? He also knew a gentleman from Strathblane, the village i now stay in. I had so many questions but asked only a few. Sometimes its nice just to wonder and enjoy a short impromptu meeting with a stranger. Cars and coaches rumbled through carpark potholes, spewing out selfie-sticked tourists that surrounded us, clicking and bustling to get that ideal Facebook post. Harvey found some fame too when the steaming mugs left the back caught the attention of about 15 travellers. We were surrounded by photographers clicking and chattering away in Chinese intrigued at the van conversion. A spokeswoman approached politely asking questions requested from her companions relaying my reply. It was outrageously surreal and we praised Harvey on being such a hit with the ladies…

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Moving on, after a quick stop at The GlenCoe Ski Centre, Black Rock Cottage and Kings House Hotel) we drove through Fort William, keeping Loch Eil to the left. We visited the viaduct, train station and the Bonnie Prince Charlie monument. No surreal moments there but all require a definite visit if you’re in that area.

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Black Rock Cottage with Buachaille Etive Mor behind

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Stag at Kings House Hotel, backdrop of Buachaille Etive Mor

We had booked a table for 7.30 that night at The Ben Nevis Inn based at the foot of the mountain. A stunning but rustic converted barn providing bunkhouse accommodation, bench seated food (average but reasonably priced) & drink with Tuesday night live music which we were lucky to stumble upon! We enjoyed the evening until 11pm when time was called and we headed to attempt sleep in the van. That didn’t happen… These two old school buddies anxiously giggled into the dark hours and got no sleep whatsoever. We changed, applied mozzie spray (which wasn’t necessary) and packed our food.  Our two fellow walking companions and the guide from Atlas Mountaineering turned up to give the lowdown on what to expect through the night. We left the base excitedly, head torches on full glow as five of us began our adventure…

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Last sunset of winter a few hours before we left

Now, Carole and myself are not the most speedy of walkers, we like to take everything in: the smells, the noises, the views which tends to add about 25% onto a ‘normal’ journey time. But we like it that way. We knew this was going to be a walk like no other For one, it was dark! The worry we did have prior to booking was that we’d slow everyone down and miss the first sunrise of summer. But did we catch it in time…?

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Here comes a new day…

Heads down, terrain ever changing, we walked for around 4 hours stopping in very short bursts for layers on/off and water. The walk itself is very manageable but constant. Imagine over 4 hours of walking up an escalator the wrong way and you’re nearly there! The mountain path is fantastically maintained which i imagine is no easy job. As a group, including Connor our guide, we chatted most of the way. Exchanging stories with the constant chatter was very reassuring and a great distraction. Whatever hill i do, no matter what size, there comes a time when i say to myself “what the f*** am i doing? Why is this necessary” I suppose that’s what you’d call ‘the wall’. After that, i’m fine, i walk easier, more content in myself at the speed i’m doing and more accepting of doing my own thing, not trying to impress or keep up. Usually a 10 minute sit down resolves those issues too…

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Connor bursts into raptures “just wait until you get round this corner, you’ll think you’re in paradise” I’d asked him previously how many times had he climbed the Ben, he says honestly “hundreds”. His excitement seems genuine yet i wonder how he can be so excited about his regular ‘commute’ up this mountain.

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Wow. The sun has lit the sky but not quite broken through the horizon. We get a moment to watch. “Connor” says I, “i presume we are not at the top as i can see a higher bit in the distance” He nods that i am correct although I know full well i am…

We pick up pace and see the observatory and hotel ruins in a glorious, orange tinged silhouette. Connor shouts us together, “drop your bags and get here. Be careful” as we teeter along the glowing red rocks. We each find our space. And sit…

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Caroles fabulous picture, sums it up perfectly

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The time is now about 4.30am. I have had no sleep. Climbed faster than I’ve ever done and higher than I’ve ever attempted. My body is spent of energy. Emotions are like i have never experienced before. My mind is racing with nothing in particular and i realise i will never witness this exact moment again. Then the tears come… Tears for the people who are witness to this sight and tears for the people who are unable to experience this. I can see what seems like the whole of the world from here, layer upon layer of mountain top separated by low cloud so thick you could dare walk upon it. A wisp closer to us rolls in a perfect form catching the first sun of summer as it flows fluidly through the crevices. Although the tears are running, i’m at the most content I’ve been ever in my 47 years. We have reached paradise and are incredibly honoured to be witness. Connor was right…

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Loch Katrine with Sir Walter Scott

With the weather forecast looking positively dreich, we opted to stay low level and off the hills. I have grown up in and around this area and although I have done a quick 3 or 4 miles from the Trossachs Pier on Loch Katrine, I didn’t even realise that a proper long, adult walk could be had! Off we drove in Harvey RV armed with unattractive waterproof layers…stronachlachar-map

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At the time, i felt ticket prices could have been a fairer. A return was an affordable £16 but a single was £13. However, we paid and boarded the Steamship Sir Walter Scott and waited for the crossing to begin at 10.30am.20161017_102806_30005373134_o

People were warmly wrapped in tartan blankets which was ideal for the weather we had that day. These are provided by the ship and were a very welcome sight. Also meant we could start the journey on the open topped section of the boat! This seating choice didn’t last long and after the captain announced the bar was open, we headed under cover. Soggy blankets were whisked away by helpful crew and my friends jacket was taken off to join them down in the boiler room. Although maybe only 30 passengers or so were boarded that day, the natural and automatic help and friendliness from the crew was second to none. I could not criticise on any aspect of the service we received: and that’s not like me!! When one woman was looking to the ‘bow’ (oh yes, Google is my friend), a young crew member ran off the get a squeegee to dry the window on the outside. Much appreciated attention to detail. The cost of the single journey became well worth it, it was more than getting from A to B. We purchased our reasonably priced Coffee/Baileys and Hot Chocolate/Brandy’s and settled down for the hour. The captain filled us in with the hills and history, new and old (not that I can remember any of it) We discovered he lived in Strathblane (where we do) and very politely insisted that we join him at the wheel…

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We disembarked at Stronachlachar, jokingly regretful that we couldn’t enjoy the same hospitality on the return journey but here, our 14 mile walk began. Toilets are at the Pier Café and the best way to start a journey of that distance! The start is well sign posted but just keep the water to the right of you. Various mile countdown signs (on the bridges) are also to be seen which is quite helpful.

The entire route is well tarmacked and it is a single lane road, it’s not too busy although we did walk on a Monday, it may be busier during weekends. A great route for cyclists too. The majority of the cottages and houses we saw were beautiful holiday homes so in this quiet season, probably quite safe to cycle worry free.This particular one caught my eye as it’s right on the water… The Old Smiddy Cottage

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I usually spend the whole time looking at my feet, terrified of twisting an ankle on a rock but with this route so unblemished, my eye line was much higher. Colours in everything changed with alarming speed, the ferns changed to orange, the grass at times was illuminous. Clouds whisked across the sky leaving blue tinged gaps allowing sunshine to take some attention. Look at that rain coming down to the right of the picture *gasp*…

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20161017_143029_30637922485_oThere’s Stronachlachar over there. The white building is the stunning Stronachlachar Lodge and is the first building you see on approach in the boat. We walked, talked and ‘ooeh and aahed’, taking time to dress and undress from our waterproofs and extra layers. Due to the extreme weather conditions, the camera didn’t make too much of an appearance but when it did, the results were quite moody although not quite representative of the actual scene…


Being Rob Roy MacGregor country, it was no surprise that his clan have been buried here. Not the man himself as his wife and 2 sons are laid at Balquhidder Church (previous blog) This can be seen easily to the left just as you approach Glengyle House

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There’s so much to see on this walk that you’ll wonder why you didn’t come before… Here’s the very picturesque Brenachoile Boat Shed which appeared in the 1959 movie ‘The 39 Steps’ (might get this one framed)

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The sign states “extending out into the loch, this man-made peninsula in in fact Clan Gregors cemetery. It has wrongly been presumed that Rob Roy MacGregor was buried here” Still, its a nice place to eat lunch and stop awhile…

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We saw lots of these of course…

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People often ask “how long did that take you” and to be honest, I’ve never timed a walk, up a hill or flat. I think if you do, you aim to improve it next time but you end up losing the atmosphere of a place. Listening and looking is what its about. Not the exercise, that’s just a nice bonus.

After writing this and looking at my pictures, i really want to do it again but maybe wait until its drier. Anyone want to join me next year? I can assure you the Hot Chocolate and Brandy was mightily fine!

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Wookiee Walkies…

I want you to meet Luna, she’s the cutest little Schnoodle I’ve ever met. Actually, she’s the only Schnoodle I’ve ever met. She’d adorable, full of mischief with pointy baby teeth but that’s ok, she’s still a young thing and also very obedient except where it comes to giving back socks. She’s the delightful new addition to my cousin Sarah’s family and has stolen their hearts right away. They are an animal loving clan anyway, but never before have I heard Sarah speak in such a high pitched cutesy voice; well smitten.30474438141_8a0267df8a_o

I am just back from a couple of days up north in my childhood holiday haunt of Burghead staying with the cousin and her squad of children and animals. Was also my first time meeting Luna. I am not particularly an animal person which is surprising as I grew up in a house full of cat cuddles and boxer dog licks. Billy the parrot joined us for a short episode of my littleness which I’m glad to say is over. He had a ‘skewer your eyes out’ beak, was luminously green and flew around the front room leaving tiny dusty feathers in his path which made me wheezy sneeze.

One day, after donning saliva drenched socks, warm jackets and unattractive woolly bunnets, we drove around the Moray coast drinking tea and eating quiche with the last stop being the ‘back shore’ in Burghead. The intention was dolphin spotting but coupled with my short attention span; I soon lost interest and wandered off. After 5 minutes, I meandered back to the van where Luna attentively waited for someone or something exciting to appear. I double took when I saw this wee hairy face keeping watch over the Moray Firth…

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Oops,  wrong image. This one’s much cuter…

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Double take?  Do not underestimate the force of a cute puppy in disguise…

The Doonan-Borthwicks are the proud owners of dual-faced Wookiee Luna. While son and daughter busily study at the local school, Sarah is a Moray based photographer with an eye for catching atmosphere. She captures the unexpected, unstructured mood of occasion and finds a truthful moment in time which a more conventional artist may miss or not capture.  You know those school pictures of immaculate, bleary eyed children with faux library book backdrops? Well, she doesn’t do that…

Check out some of her social media and you’ll know what I mean. You’ll also see more of Luna…

Some stuff about me too…

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Chasing rainbows…(there’s a little Chewbacca right there!)

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A Braw Sunday in the Toon

As much as i like a contemplative wander up a munro and through the glens of Scotland, the man-partner, not so much. After a lengthy discussion, we agree to our mutual interest; food. Combining breakfast with a compromise, we decided on a stroll along the Clyde. A fairly recent find of ours has been The Great Western Sandwich Co where we have been a good few times (and him even more). They offer awesome things to eat. That’s really all you need to know. You may feel the ingredients are not your usual cupboard staple but they work. Don’t dismiss a chilli sauce in your breakfast burrito or a pulled pork in your ‘Dog Father’. They work. Don’t question it. We tend to grab and go, finding a quiet spot to park but the cafe itself provides cosy seating using unusual materials. All that talk’s making me hungry again… Don’t you just hate those food pictures appearing on your Facebook feed…

We eat and head to the Riverside Museum which i still refer to as the ‘transport museum’. In its old location near Kelvingrove Galleries, we have taken the kids there more weekends than i care to count. I was dubious when the new address was announced, but it’s just as accessible offering 4 hours parking for only £1. I have used it a few times before for a walking base up the river and through the town. The last time i parked there i actually walked all the way to Cambuslang along the river. Beautiful in most parts, a bit dubious in some. Anyway, our first stop is the Tall Ship to the rear of the contemporary building and we spend about an hour there admiring the workmanship and history of the beast. Free entry but they do sell informative booklets for £4 which we purchased.wp-1473698032275.jpgwp-1473701029525.jpgwp-1473700920725.jpgwp-1473700920795.jpgwp-1473700920869.jpgwp-1473700920853.jpgAfter a few arty shots through the portholes, we leave the ship with the Riverside Museum to the right and wander down to the Govan Ferry. Again, another free activity with a donation box to contribute to. The journey across the Clyde takes a matter of minutes and we were joined by the crew members very friendly, little black guard dog who safely brought us to dry land and welcomed new passengers on board.wp-1473699326754.jpgA 10 minute walk round (aim roughly to the right) brought us to the very large but quite uninspiring Govan Old Parish Church. The tarmac pathway was quite tatty, the gardens were unkempt but barrier fencing and piles of materials indicated major investment and restoration to the surrounding ground and building.wp-1473698031662.jpgMy blacksmithing man-partner has been commissioned to make a single gate at the newly renovated wall which is why we knew the secrets that the church held. We walked around the grounds, admiring the workmanship on the ancient gravestones then the church doors opened. Lunch time must have finished, they were open for business.wp-1473698031673.jpgWe were greeted by a standing stone and instantly recognised the ‘sun stone’ emblem that was requested to be set into the commissioned gate (the swirly, snake head design near the top of the stone). The very helpful and well informed attendant regaled us with the history which i confess, did not remain in my head. A photographic memory for the visual, not so much for the descriptive.wp-1473698031619.jpgwp-1473698031566.jpgwp-1473698031381.jpgwp-1473698031023.jpgwp-1473698031024.jpg

wp-1473701057043.jpgThe exterior of this building did not give any indication of the beauty inside. Not only were the ceilings endless, the stained glass allowed a beautiful light to enter. Rows and rows, of pews lay empty waiting for visitors of the preached. Walls were decorated with mood lit standing stones, beautifully carved, saved from the of effects of the Scottish elements. A gallery of ministers were on display along with the architectural history of the building and its stages in history and restoration along the years. A small section of this grand building had been set aside for Sunday service and only 25, bible resting seats were counted indicating a sign of the times. I hope the building in its entirety is sometimes used for larger occasions and events. I contemplated the cost of keeping this building alive… The church had become a museum. I liked the idea of the reincarnation but we were still the only visitors on a Sunday…wp-1473698031379.jpgwp-1473698031334.jpgA return ferry back to the Riverside Museum was made and the place had sprung to life. An open ended SkateBoard tent had been set up with large ramps throwing bikes and skate boards criss-crossing their stunt riders from all ages. The sun was shining and a DJ was playing. I’m far to old to be watching this: we stayed 30 minutes enjoying this great resource in Glasgow being utilised.

Everything we did was free (or very cheap) and although encouraging donations, no pressure was made from the Riverside Museum, Tall Ship, Govan Ferry or the Church ‘Museum’. We need to support these places to keep them thriving.

Glasgow’s great when you get out and find it

Sites of interest

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