Juxtaposition – A Photo

IMG_3579I’ve not participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge for a while, but in the spirit of trying to re-establish some regularity with the blog, there’s no time like the present.

Here is a photo I took over the wall of Hill House in Helensburgh last November.  I like the way the shapes of the seed heads echo the shape of the gable end of the house, and the almost complementary colours, of those elements as well as the colour of the sandstone wall.

And yes, that is a Scottish sky.  Such brilliant blue is rare in these parts, but all the more appreciated when they do appear.  I never go out for a walk now without my camera.  I suppose it is a sort of measure of maturity that I can now see the beauty of this environment, while, when I was a teenager growing up here, I felt stifled by the town, in its small town-ness, and the great distance there seemed to be between me and anywhere interesting…….. that was before the world rediscovered Rennie Mackintosh, the National Trust for Scotland acquired the house and built a car park, and a steady stream of multilingual tourists made the pilgrimage to the top of the hill.  Then it was a slightly crumbling enigma, held together with string and sticky tape and in the hands of the Royal Institute of Architects of Scotland

Looking on the Calm Side

2013-12-29 13.32.39To watch the BBC television news it’s almost to believe that there is nothing happening in the world but for some terrible weather in the UK…..well perhaps bad weather in the Eastern US as well, but only in so far as it may or not be the same storm that has frozen the US eastern seaboard that will soon soak the UK in more rain.

Helensburgh even had its own little moment in the limelight, when 10 seconds of footage of waves lashing over Clyde Street by the Henry Bell monument was shown on the News as Ten, disappointingly referred to only as ‘the tide surge on the West Coast of Scotland’ (even though really it’s only at the very start of the Firth of the Clyde, not the sea per se…..)  The local Scottish news, using the same footage described it as ‘the worst residents can remember seeing on the Esplanade’. But then ‘Esplanade’ is a word not frequently used hereabouts no matter what the weather.

So as an alternative to all this thrashing and lashing here is the Reservoir, safely up the hill and away from the tides, a couple of days ago.  Water, it’s all about the context and conditions isn’t it?

The Return of the Sun


After days of cold rain and grey skies, it has been refreshing and restorative to see sunshine and feel warmth on my face. I fear it may not last until Sunday when the weather map on the television shows another swathe of wind and rain hit the west coast, so time to head back east……

Bracing Myself Against the Wind

2013-04-16 15.54.29It had stopped raining for long enough for the idea of a walk to be not quite so preposterous as earlier in the day, but I didn’t want to go too far in case it started again.  So I followed the dog walkers’ path through the woods and up to the town’s reservoir.  The wind flattened my jacket against me and threatened to tug my borrowed hat away onto the hillside; when I hesitated on where to place my feet to avoid the worst of the muddy puddles it tried to unbalance me, and it whipped up the surface of the water as if the furies were racing by.

The sun, when it broke through the cloud brought the water into a sudden sharp knife silver, and disappeared as quickly as it came.

Fancy a Walk?

Do you fancy going for a walk?  It’s such a lovely afternoon, and the weather probably won’t hold.  We can go up the hill and through the woods to see all the autumn colours in the sunshine.  It’s not difficult underfoot, but you’d be as well to wear a decent pair of walking shoes as it might be a bit muddy.

We’ll set off from the house.  This path wasn’t here when I was growing up; this was all private land and fenced off.  When I went out for walks with school friends as a teenager we used to walk through the town and along the river front, or up the road into Glen Fruin if the weather was good; but it was always walking on the roads.

We’ll go through the woods, on what people seem to call ‘the dog walkers’ path’ and it’s true, I rarely see anyone else like me, walking without a canine companion.  We have to cross the road quickly here, be careful as it’s the main route into town and it can be busy.  We’ll do a quick detour to have a look over the reservoir.  If you’re unlucky, I’ll tell you that the water is purified through peat, or at least it used to be, and when I was young, in the one year when there wasn’t much rain over the summer and the water level dropped, the water was brown when it came out of the tap.

Then we’ll head back down and through the kissing gate onto the path that leads through the woods to the back of Hill House, the house designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  It’s owned by the National Trust for Scotland now that he’s popular again, and they’ve had to build a car park for all the people who come to visit.  Stop me from boring you about the history of the house; I did a project about it at school….

On the way we’ll look up over the moor to where all the electricity cables stride across the land into town.  I’ll point out the red berries on the rowan trees and tell you a story of the whole family having to go berry picking one year when my father was having a go at making his own wine; I can’t remember how the rowanberry wine turned out, but the enthusiasm soon passed…..The wind will rustle through the trees and each gust will dislodge a flurry of leaves which will dance along the path in front of us, and it will sound as if we’re being pursued by a troupe of skipping faeries.

From there, it’s back into the woods up the hill to where the vista over the Clyde opens out and we’ll look across to the other side to the old dock area at Greenock, which today will be glinting in the sun.  I’ll point out the ship wreck in the middle of the river and tell you that it was a Greek sugar vessel which ran aground in the Great Storm in 1974, and which was too expensive to salvage so that it’s been there ever since. I’ll reminisce that it must have been the summer after the storm that the Radio One Road Show came to the town, as I remember going down to Kidston Park to see it; the DJ said something about how sweet the river water was because of all the sugar in it and I thought he was a complete idiot.

Then we’ll head downhill again, across the burn, and past the remains of a brick construction of some sort.  If you ask me what it was, I’ll shrug and say there are lots of mysterious bits and pieces around these hills, lots are something to do with the military, but this might be railway related as the West Highland Line is just over there.  I may tell you about summer evenings when I was 11 or 12, of going with my friend to stand as close as we could to the line and wait for the express train, holding our faces up to feel the rush of air as it went by, and waving to the people inside imaging ourselves to be extra characters in The Railway Children.

Soon we’ll be  back onto the tarmac roads.  You’ll wonder why we’re walking in the road and not on the pavement, and I’ll laugh and point out that the pavement will peter out in front of the next house, and everyone walks in the road in this part of town; you might even call it a local custom.

When we get back to Sinclair Street we’ll turn left and go back up the hill before turning right at the paper shop.  You’ll laugh at its name, and I’ll tell you it just means ‘a small drink’.  The aroma of frying bacon will tempt us inside even though we’ve had a perfectly good breakfast and lunch. The Loch Lomond seaplane will fly past overhead and we’ll stare up at its distinctive silhouette and vow to have a go in it one day soon.

We’ll have been out for just over an hour, and our cheeks will be tingling from the cool air when we go back inside, and we’ll both be ready for a cup of tea.

Looking for Colour

Just to show that even though the weather has been awful, and, in Scotland at least, has still not improved, it is possible to find vibrant colour if you look in the right sheltered corners.

Sun – A Photo

Sun, but not at sunset.  I’ve raided my ever growing Cove Park Collection for this one.  I remember taking it just as I had arrived at the centre at the beginning of a fortnight’s stay.  The weather in London had been terrible when I left home and hadn’t much improved on the way up, but when I was driving over the hill from Garelochhead towards Cove the sky had cleared.

I took the photo as soon as I got out of the car, before going inside to announce my arrival, as there was always the chance that the sun would have disappeared by the time I came out again.

Remote Proximity

Whenever I spend time at Cove Park I spend a fair amount of it thinking about remoteness and quiet, and reflecting that it is fundamentally illusory.

I’m sitting on the side of a hill, looking out over a beautiful view, watching every change in the weather, noticing how the light reflects off the water, or how the sun and clouds are making patterns on the slopes opposite, but I’m also listening to the radio and checking messages on my phone, albeit, holding my arm extended out of the window.  When I want full internet access, I only have to walk a few paces up the, admittedly, steep hill, to the Centre, to hook up with the rest of the world as efficiently and expeditiously as if I were at home in London.

A couple of nights ago I eliminated all feelings of remoteness with a journey into Glasgow.  It took me just over an hour to travel from this rural idyll, where I had to climb in and out of the car to open and close the three farm gates dividing the fields which confine the sheep and highland cattle, kept here to mow the grass, to get to the bright lights and streets of bars and shops in the west end of Glasgow.

It’s the ‘military road’, built to support the nuclear storage facility at Coulport, that makes the speed possible, built straight across high moorland to link the edge of Loch Long to the main road at the side of Loch Lomond, as if to remind us all not to be fooled that this is untouched countryside.

Oddly, the real reminder of the power of nature came on the outskirts of the town of Dumbarton, where I arrived in what must have been the immediate aftermath of a tremendous hail storm, as the road and pavements were covered with thick white, and each speeding car was throwing up a tidal wave of water.

A couple of miles further on the road was dry, and so my ‘country’ attire of walking boots and cagoule were a little de trop by the time I arrived at my destination,  where I met a friend for a drink.  We sat in comfy chairs on the upper level of a bar restaurant in a former cinema, studying the patterned stucco effect patterns on the ceiling, raising our voices over the strains of loud music.

At the end of the evening, on the journey back, the differences were more marked, possibly because by then it was after dark, and there is a clear demarcation lines between ‘city’ and ‘country’ at the point where the street lighting stops.  It was deep dark when I returned to the site and had to open and close all those gates again.  Approaching them, at least I had the illumination of the headlights, but closing them again once I’d driven through, with only the red rear lights to guide me, then, I did feel remote.

But not so remote that it didn’t cross my mind that, with my slow, brightly lit progress down the track, I was probably attracting attention from anyone who chose to watch me.

Seeing It Upside Down

I have been writing, but I would probably have written more if the weather here wasn’t so compelling.  It requires that I watch it, and when it becomes colourful, I have to get on my hands and knees at an uncomfortable angle to take the optimum shot of its reflection in the pond outside my cube.

I took this after a day that had started with torrential rain, and snow covering the tops of the hills opposite, which had extended through an afternoon when I had the window open as otherwise I was too warm, into an evening when the sun peeped tantalisingly through the clouds.  Had I taken a photo at the moment of purest, brightest pinkness?   Would the next moment be better?  I’m not sure.  Who knows what this evening will bring?

A Loamy Landscape

I’m in Scotland this week, back in my cube at Cove Park, and, even though I’ve already taken scores of photographs of the view across the loch, before I’d been here an hour I’d scored several more.

While I’m here, I’m afraid you will have to indulge me in my fascination for the things that catch my eye in the damp, loamy environment.

On Sunday I went for a walk in the woods that border the northern edge of Helensburgh, where it turns from suburban commuter town to wild moorland.  I’d say that it was unmanaged wild woodland, if it were not for the occasional sign of a fallen tree cleared from the path, its cut branches showing fresh saw toolmarks.

It’s a strange hinterland of knobbly trees, boggy ground, dog walkers, and moss.  The moss, puffy cushions of green, is enveloping every surface; I thought there was some country craft rule that said you could locate north from the way moss grew on a stone, but here all sides are covered, providing no assistance to the lost wanderer.

I don’t know what this fungus-like growth is, but it was only on this tree

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