The West End of Glasgow is not known as a mecca for hillwalking - although there are a few steep inclines within its boundaries . However a fair population of folk living in the West End have a passion for the outdoors and many of our city dwellers nurse ambitions about conquering the Munros.
Few are more committed than Helen Rose, who shares her hillwalking experiences in Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere....
Helen Rose Outdoor Diary.
Although I have been to the Languedoc in south west France many times, I have never visited Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a fortified town in the Aude Department of Occitane. It has been inhabited since the Neolithic period and is located in the Aude plain between historic trade routes, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and the Massif to the Pyrenees Mountains. Its strategic importance was quickly recognised by the Romans who occupied its hilltop until the demise of the Western Roman Empire. In the fifth century it was taken over by the Visigoths, who founded the city. Its strategic location led successive rulers to expand its fortifications. The city is famous for La Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress. This was restored n 1853 by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and was added to the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Some would say that the fortress was over-restored as Viollet-le-Duc had his own ideas on restoration such as including conical towers which were not part of that period.
We spent an entire day in La Cité de Carcassonne where within the medieval walled city there are many shops and restaurants. It is the largest and best conserved medieval fortress in Europe. It has double walls, a castle and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire – reported to have the most beautiful stained glass windows in France. This being France, lunch takes up a great part of the day as it is leisurely and wine is usual with the meal. I had the specialty of the area which is cassoulet. Cassoulet is one of those iconic French regional dishes that acquire a history and status of their own. The story is that during the 100 Years War in the 14th century, Edward the Black Prince besieged the town of Castelnaudary. When the inhabitants were down to their last supplies they pooled what was left – beans and bits of meat – and ate the mixture. Strengthened by it they soon saw off the English, who apparently ran all the way back to the Channel, and cassoulet was born!
The leisurely lunch was followed by a trip to the Castle and the ramparts. It is not possible to walk around the entire perimeter of the ramparts of the walled Cité. Walking around the ramparts gives the chance to appreciate its advantageous geographical situation overlooking the Aude countryside and the Bastide Saint-Louis which is the name of the old town in Carcassonne. It felt like walking in the footsteps of all the previous rulers including the Cathars in the thirteenth century. The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century and largely regarded men and women as equals with no objection to contraception, euthanasia or suicide.
The following day we spent touring the Bastide where there was much to see including the market at the Fountain of Neptune created by Italian sculptors in 1771. A good excuse to sit in a café and people watch! There were many churches and buildings to explore along with the Museum of Fine Art with its ornate Neo-Classical façade. It is a pleasure just to walk in the streets of these old French towns such as Beziers and admire the architecture and colourful flowers spilling from the balconies.
Canal du Midi.
The Canal du Midi is Occitan (the local language) meaning canal of the two seas. It is a 241 km (150 mile) long canal. The canal was at the time considered one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century. The canal connects the Garronne River to the Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean Sea and along with the 193 km (120 miles) long Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers, joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Étang de Thau near the Mediterranean. We decided to take a trip on the Canal Du Midi crossing the Carcassonne harbour passing under the highest bridge on the canal and sailing outwith the city. The area is attractive with one hundred year old plane trees providing shade at the side of the canal. We passed through two locks which are all now automatic. This is a busy canal with many very large and plush pleasure boats to be seen. The cruise was relaxing but unusually the weather was cold and grey so the boatman provided rugs for us to keep warm. Unusual weather for the south of France in the summer.
There is so much to see in the Languedoc that I hope to return many more times to explore it and visit châteaux.
Coming attractions; The Sumava Mountains.
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Helen Rose Diary July 2017
Portpatrick village is on the south-westerly coast of the Scottish mainland, cut into a cleft in steep cliffs. Anciently known as Portrie (Port Rhin, meaning headland), its quay was protected by the baron of Dunskey Castle (from dun meaning castle; key meaning quay) and his local men. When being invaded, the fishermen and their families probably scrambled up the cliffs to Dunskey for protection. Dating back some 700 years and built adjacent to the ruins of nearby Dunskey Castle, Portpatrick's position on the Rhins of Galloway affords visitors views of the Northern Irish coast 21 miles (34 km) to the west, with cliff-top walks and beaches both north and south. The Gulf Stream, flowing in from the north, gives the coastline a pleasant climate, in which subtropical plant life can flourish. These can be seen at Logan Gardens I wrote about on my last trip to Portpatrick. Local legend has it that Peter the Great of Russia stayed in the village. I suppose Russia and Scotland were both maritime nations as a connection! The HF walking club organised the weekend www.meetup.com/Glasgow-HF-Outdoor-Club/
HMV Princess Victoria.
Frank from the Walking Club lives in Portpatrick and offered to give us a tour of the village followed by a guided walk to the south of the village. The village is very pretty with a lovely harbour and a view over to Northern Ireland, Donaghadee and the Mountains of Mourne. In St. Patrick Street we saw the old parish church built in 1628-29 and continued in use until 1842. At the harbour, we saw the plaque to the Princess Victoria ship which sank nearby in high seas with huge waves entering the car deck. The crew struggled to close the doors again but they proved to be too badly damaged and water continued to flood in from the waves. The scuppers did not seem to be allowing the water to drain away. The Portpatrick Lifeboat, the Jeannie Spiers, was dispatched, as was the destroyer HMS Contest. The ship could not be located as it was drifting and it sunk off the Copeland Islands with the loss of 133 lives in 1953. We continued the walk south on a good coastal path.
The path led us to Dunskey Castle which is a twelfth century castle overlooking the sea. Portpatrick was known as the port of Castle Dunskey. Dunskey is undoubtedly romantic. It was a location for the 1951 film Kidnapped of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, as well as for the 1952 film Hunted. After exploring the ruined castle we walked around it and continued on the path south with splendid views over to the castle on the promontory. Frank was a mine of information as we walked to Knockinhaam Lodge where we had our lunch on the beach in front of this expensive secluded hotel.
World War 2 Connection
The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, spent a few days in top-secret meetings with the American President, Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941 during the Second World War. Details of the meetings only emerged after the announcement of a joint declaration by Britain and America on the basic principles for a post-war world, sealing the alliance between the two countries for the downfall of Hitler. These talks took place around Portpatrick, probably at Knockinhaam Lodge although the location is referred to as somewhere in the Atlantic. Nearby, there are the remains of a Second World War radar station known as the Hush Hush. We continued the walk back to Portpatrick partly on an old railway solum with high walls on either side we had looked down on from the coastal path. Sadly, there is no longer a railway in Portpatrick as it closed in the 1950s.
Southern Upland Way
To the north of the village is the starting point of the Southern Upland Way, a long-distance walking route to Cockburnspath on the east coast. On my last visit I walked from Portpatrick to Stranraer but this time we took the bus to Stranraer and walked back to Portpatrick. Frank told us about the Waymerk Kists. Weymerks are small metal tokens that have been placed in concealed kists (containers) at thirteen locations along the route. Each token celebrates the heritage of the place in which is it hidden. All the tokens have been minted by hand from lead and copper. We passed one kist which was indicated on a waymark but was unseen. The wily Frank knew where to look and showed us the blue box!
It was a fantastic weekend organised by Stephen and made all the more interesting with our local guide Frank who had a trip down memory lane in Portpatrick. We even had good weather! Thanks to Stephen and Frank.
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Helen Rose Outdoor Diary.
I visited Crete a very long time ago but spent most of the time visiting the famous Archaeological sites such as Knossos and Phaestos and the beaches at Malia and Vai. I saw that Scot-trek http://www.scot-trek.co.uk/ had a walking holiday to Crete which would give me the opportunity to visit the villages, walk in the countryside and walk the Samarian Gorge. It was a marvellous week in beautiful sunny weather with the best of the Spring flowers. The walking season is very short and only really in May and June as it is too hot from July onwards. Crete is the largest Greek island and is about four and a half hours by plane from Glasgow. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
We were based in Rethymnon on the north of the Island to the west of the capital Heraklion at a hotel in the old part of the town and not far from the beach. The town still maintains its old aristocratic appearance, with its buildings dating from the 16th century, arched doorways, stone staircases, Byzantine and Hellenic-Roman remains, the small Venetian harbour and narrow streets. The city's Venetian-era citadel, the Fortezza of Rethmynon, is one of the best-preserved castles in Crete. Within the Fortezza, other monuments include the Neratze Mosque (the Municipal Odeon arts centre), the Great Gate ("Porta Guora"), the Piazza Rimondi and the Loggia. It is an interesting walk around with good views out to sea.
The Minoan Civilisation was an Aegean Bronze Age on the island of Crete which flourished from about 2600 to 1100 BC. It preceded the Mycean Civilisation of ancient Greece. The civilization was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans. It has been described as the earliest of its kind in Europe. On our walks we came across Minoan ruins which were off the beaten track. My own memories of visiting Knossos was that it was over restored although there was an excellent Archaelogical Museum. Phaestos in the south of the island is much less visited and to my mind had more atmosphere. We saw examples of Minoan terraces for agriculture.
In 66 BC Rome commissioned Quintus Caecilius Metellus and following a ferocious three-year campaign Crete was conquered for Rome in 69 BC. Once pacified, the Cretans settled into Roman rule with little resistance and the island became a mostly uneventful backwater province. Other than Gothic raids in 269 AD, Crete remained a peaceful and prosperous province for the great bulk of Roman rule. It remained a part of the Roman and Byzantine empires through to the 13th century, with some interruption by Arab conquest in the 9th century AD. Crete offered standard imports from the region such as olive oil and wine which was supplemented by grain. To this day the main produce of the island are olives and wine.
We walked on four days for five hours but they were easy rambles although involved a lot of ups and downs as it is a hilly and mountainous island. On the walks, the guides from The Happy Walker www.happywalker.com stopped frequently to explain the culture, the wild flowers and information on the historical past of the islands. There is too much information to detail here but the walks were the Margarites Region, Natural Countryside and Picturesque Village with Amnatos, Ancient Inland Crete with Kare and A Cool Well with Agios Konstantinos. The walks took about five hours in total per day. We stopped after three hours in a village for coffee and snacks with raki, an unsweetened alcoholic drink in a small glass. Suitably fortified we walked for another two hours and had lunch in another village outside under a canopy where the wine flowed and lots of dishes appeared.
The highlights for me of these walks was walking through fields of beautiful Spring flowers and olive groves, visiting little old Greek Orthodox churches and seeing Mount Ida with snow still on a slope. Mount Ida is over 8,000 feet high and the highest mountain in Crete. We passed the oldest bridge in Crete and also saw lots of coral fossils from when the island was below the sea. We saw swallows and Griffon Vultures along the way. We saw the Arum Lily in the photograph on many of the walks.
Although I enjoyed all the walks immensely with an insight into the beauty and culture of Crete, the highlight for me was walking the Samarian Gorge. It is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1230m and taking you all the way down to the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The descent was on a good zig zag path but very rocky underfoot. There are frequent watering places. The Gorge is 13 km in length and we had to cross and recross the river on wooden bridges. It is like walking on a rocky riverbed. The entire walk took us a leisurely seven hours and fortunately it was overcast with a breeze making it ideal walking conditions as the gorge can build up heat. We took the minibus after we checked out of the gorge exit point for the last 3km to Agia Roumeli to catch the boat after a well-deserved refreshment.
Coming attractions; Portpatrick, Pentlands
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Helen Rose Diary.
I visited Liverpool over the Easter holidays. My main reason for going was to visit the Tate Liverpool Art Gallery but there was so much more to see and I just loved the city and the Liverpudlians. They were so friendly and helpful to visitors. The city was clean, litter free and the buildings were sparkling white as they did not have the black smoke blowing in from the industrial works we had to the west of Glasgow. Regeneration in Glasgow had to include extensive cleaning of the stone buildings.
Liverpool is a city in the north west of England and sits on the eastern side of the River Mersey Estuary. Its growth as a major port was paralleled by the expansion of the city throughout the Industrial Revolution. Along with general cargo, freight, raw materials such as coal and cotton, the city was also involved in the Atlantic slave trade.
Liverpool was home to both the Cunard and White Star Line and was the port of registry of the ocean liner RMS Titanic, the RMS Lusitania, Queen Mary and Olympic. We stayed at the Adelphi Hotel which was built to welcome back the Titanic from the voyage. One of the large rooms at the Adelphi is an exact replica of the Smoking Room on the Titanic which gives an idea of the elegance and size of the ship.
The first thing we did was to take the ferry over the Mersey, as immortalised in the song, and saw the Royal Liver Building. It is the iconic symbol of Liverpool, built in 1911 and at the time the tallest building in Europe. It inspired the TV series the Liver Birds.
Of course, the most famous sons of Liverpool are the Beatles and we had to take a tour of all the places mentioned in their songs, We started at the Albert Dock and travelled past the Adelphi Hotel and Lime Street Station to Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, which is particularly linked to John Lennon as he used to climb over the walls to the gardens where there was a children’s home. It is rumoured that his ashes are scattered there as it is the only place that Yoko and Sean visit when they are in Liverpool. This is speculation and the site is derelict and gated but there are plans to create a visitors' centre there as it was such an inspiration to John Lennon. There is an area in Central Park, New York, called Strawberry Fields near the Dakota Building where he was murdered. I have been there several times. It is peaceful and people often sit and play the guitar.
We visited all the places and houses where the Beatles spent time including the Cavern Club which isn't the original one but was built from the bricks of the old one.
Art Galleries and Museums.
The Albert Dock is a complex of dock buildings and warehouses. It opened in 1846, and was the first structure in Britain to be built from cast iron, brick and stone, with no structural wood. It was also the first non-combustible warehouse system in the world. The Tate Liverpool is situated there and at the time of my visit had a Tracey Emin and William Blake exhibition. Unusual bed fellows but linked by Tracey Emin’s work My Bed! Other exhibitions had America as a theme including Ellsworth Kelly. There's a lot to see at the Albert Dock and I did not have time to go to the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Slavery.
In the city I managed a trip to the Walker Art Gallery with the largest collection of Pre Raphaelites in Britain. A gem of a gallery with lots of Victorian treasures. The Victorian Philharmonic Dining Rooms were also enjoyable as a B listed building with the gent’s toilet as A listed so peeked in there when it was empty to see the roseate marble urinals. There are many listed buildings in Liverpool but I only saw them from the tour bus.
Southport is a Victorian seaside town on Merseyside situated 16 miles north of Liverpool and on the Irish Sea. It has extensive sand dunes and it is literally miles to walk out to the sea when the tide is out. Southport Pier is referred to as the first true "pleasure pier", being one of the earliest pier structures to be erected using iron. A design from James Brunlees was approved at a cost of £8,700 and on 4 August 1859 a large crowd witnessed the driving home of the first support pile. The opening of the pier was celebrated on 2 August 1860. It is the second longest pier in Britain at 3.633 feet with Southend the longest. A little train goes out to the end of the pier but we walked out in the bracing wind and called in at the Penny Arcade with the old slot machines. From the end of the pier we could still not see the sea but the sand was full of razorbills. Fortified by tea in the Original Tea Rooms we headed back to Liverpool.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. During the Great Irish Famine in 1850 the Catholic population of Liverpool increased dramatically. About half a million predominantly Catholic, fled to England to escape the famine. Many embarked from Liverpool to travel to North America while others remained in the city. A new cathedral was needed. In 1853 Goss, then bishop, awarded the commission for the building of the new cathedral to Edward Welby Pugin. By 1856 the Lady Chapel of the new cathedral had been completed.
Later, Sir Edwin Lutyens designed a new cathedral which was never built. In 1959 there was a competition to design the new Cathedral. The requirement was first, for a congregation of 3,000 (which was later reduced to 2,000) to be able to see the altar, in order that they could be more involved in the celebration of the Mass and second, for the Lutyens crypt to be incorporated in the structure. Gibberd achieved these requirements by designing a circular building with the altar its centre, and by transforming the roof of the crypt into an elevated platform, with the cathedral standing at one end. It is an amazing modern structure dominating the skyline. Oscar Niemeyer in designing The Cathedral of Brasilia in 1970 appears to have been inspired by the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool.
A long weekend in Liverpool is just not long enough to see everything and enjoy everything the city has to offer but hopefully I will return. It is about 5 hours by road from Glasgow with a refreshment stop.
Coming attractions; The Pentlands.
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Helen Rose Diary
The Lowther Hills, also sometimes known as the Lowthers, are an extensive area of hill country in the Southern Uplands. They form a roughly lozenge shape on the map with the acute angles being to north and south. It has the river valleys along its boundaries with Clydesdale to the north east and Nithsdale to the south west which carry the two largest arterial routes northwards into the west side of the Central Belt of Scotland. A string of small towns and villages have long since developed along these routes such as Leadhills and Wanlockhead. Most of the Lowther Hills lie in Dumfries and Galloway.
The area has a history of lead mining and the villages still have the rows of miners’ cottages. The museum in Wanlockhead has a real 18th century lead mine set deep in the hillside where visitors can experience the thrill of going underground. Make your way along village paths to the miners’ cottages and see how the miners really lived in the different periods of 1750, 1850 & 1910 before exploring the second oldest subscription library in Europe, which has gained recognition status as being a collection of National Significance. You can also go gold panning! www.leadminingmuseum.co.uk
Bobby led the walk for the Glasgow Ramblers www.glasgowramblers.org.uk in lovely sunny, dry and warm weather with excellent visibility much to his surprise. We drove down to Wanlockhead which is Scotland’s highest village at nearly 500 metres above sea level. Following the Southern Upland Way in part we climbed onto East Mount Lowther at 631 metres. Using the indicator on the trig point we could see clearly the Lake District peaks including Skiddaw and Scafell Pike, the island of Arran and many of the southern Munros including Ben Lomond, Ben More and Stob Binnein. We could also see over to Northern Ireland. There was a good track and we looked over to the ‘Golf Ball’ on the next hill for radar etc. The weather was unexpected and we spent time just taking in the views.
After lunch with a view we then climbed Lowther Hill which is topped off by a large dome used by aircraft radar. It resembles a very large golf ball with some mini golf balls adjacent. We passed close to the ski centre with only one ski tow. Lowther Hills is a small, family-friendly ski centre nested between Scotland's two highest villages, Wanlockhead and Leadhills, which boast Scotland's oldest Curling and Skiing heritage. It's the only ski centre in the south of Scotland and the nearest to the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dumfries, all just one hour's drive to the slopes. Today there was no snow on the slopes although there were tiny patches on the hillside. It is only operational on around 20 days per season. From the summit we looked over to Ireland although unsure whether it was the Antrim Coast or the Mountains of Mourne that we could see. Amazing to see the three countries of Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Wales was just a bit too far away to see!
After a gentle stroll along a tarmac road we reached our third peak of the day, Green Lowther with an assortment of masts at the summit. Cyclists were slowly climbing up the hill which looked a lot harder than walking. An easy downhill stretch on rough ground to the reservoir then onto hill tracks and finally we followed an old railway track back into Wanlockhead.
No visit to Wanlockhead is complete without visiting the local pub, the Wanlockhead Inn, the highest pub in Scotland, for a well-earned refreshment before returning home. A great day out in fabulous weather and with interesting history. I must go back when the Museum is open at Wanlockhead as we were out of season.
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Helen Rose Hillwalking and Outdoors Diary