Posted in Railways on Thursday 29th December 2016 at 10:12pm
There was just a little hint of the old days - rising early and heading out in the dark to get to the beginning of a railtour used to be a fairly commonplace happening. But today it felt like something of a rarity - and I surprised myself by being pretty excited about the trip despite the early hour. After a quick walk from Hoxton to Liverpool Street station I boarded a No. 11 bus which soon set out across the dark, quiet City of London. As we snaked between the Bank of England and St. Paul's Cathedral, only the very earliest denizens of the streets were out and about. These days between Christmas and New Year, while technically working days, were clearly not going to see a lot of business transacted and the financial district had more cleaners and dustmen than money-launderers in evidence today. The bus swung south from the Strand onto Whitehall, passing Downing Street and heading for Parliament. I was almost sorry when the impromptu tour of the awakening city ended amidst the building site fronting Victoria Station. I was less sorry to have the chance to get coffee though - and despite a bizarrely misunderstood part of the transaction when I incidentally asked if their was a Post Box nearby, I was happy to be served a large steaming cup of coffee and to sit watching the vast station beginning to bustle with incoming commuters. Among them though, a different crowd was evident: eagerly flitting along the gateline, heads arcing over the crowds for unit numbers, backpacks bursting with nutritionally questionable snacks for the day ahead. The Neds were arriving! Forced to concede that I could pass as normal no longer, I joined the procession to Platform 2 where our train waited. These, after all, were my people.
We were soon underway, emerging into a day which had dawned surprisingly bright but still frosty. The route took us around the familiar loop of the North London Line to Stratford where colleagues joined for a sociable day on the rails. From there we headed out into Essex, using the connection to the London Tilbury and Southend railway at Forest Gate to cross into very familiar territory to me. As we scudded over the flat marshes around Rainham and out into the borderlands of Purfleet I spotted locations from my perambulations alongside the tracks - small, insignificant details to the wholly railway-focused bunch on board, but immensely satisfying to me to see how my wanderings had joined up this territory. From the train I glanced down at the broad green walkway beside the Mayes Brook from my most recent ramble, and wondered if the old gent and his dog were out this fine, frosty morning watching our unusual train speeding east? Peeling away from the mainline west of Stanford-le-Hope our first call was at London Gateway - the vast, and still growing, new container port at Thames Haven. My last visit here was to a largely derelict fuel refinery, sitting close to the estuary waters. While some of this landscape remains extant, the edge of the river is now a vast plain of concrete stacked with containers and presided over by computer-controlled cranes. Our train drew along the arrival line, as far as we could practically travel - while beside us the cranes continued their work. Few other humans could be seen aside from the crew of our train walking back to reverse out of the complex. It was a strange mixture of impressive and oddly creepy here.
Reversing, we headed back to Grays where again I could see locations from my still-to-be-completed A13 walk. Another reversal took us back towards Tilbury Town, then onto the curve towards the former Riverside station. It seemed odd that this somewhat anachronistic location closed to passengers as recently as 1992 - now serving as the terminal for cruise ships, but still providing the boarding point for the ancient Gravesend ferry. This was where the former British Empire washed against the island's shores - bringing subjects looking for a new life to London and beyond. A point of arrival, but of departure too with the shade of Joseph Conrad and Dracula haunting these reaches of the river. Now it was a forlorn spot - the building separated from the tracks, and the rails serving only a small container depot. The Thames lay out of sight, beyond the clock tower bathed in strong winter sunshine - but it could be sensed and smelled too. A further reversal took us back to Tilbury Town, passing alongside it's beleaguered and tired High Street, and then retracing our steps through South Essex. I realised as we passed through the flat marshland, running parallel with the A13 on its low viaduct, that this area had become a place I felt strangely attached to over the past years. I felt oddly comfortable out here in a place which, on my earliest passings by train, had felt strange and bleak.
Retracing our loop around London, we passed under the line we'd used to depart from Victoria and into the complex network of lines serving North Kent. A recent inspection of the allegedly temporary bridge which had been swiftly installed by the British Army following the disastrous Lewisham Rail Crash in 1957 had left it impassable by locomotive hauled trains, and while it looked like urgent work over Christmas may have remedied this it was too late for this trip which had been replanned to work out to Swanley and effect a complex reversal between two closely-spaced signals. This was managed professionally and we were soon heading east again to Hoo Junction via the rather uncommon Lee Spur. The afternoon shadows were growing long, and the desolate Hoo peninsula was bathed in a golden light as we took the now freight-only line towards the Isle of Grain. The landscape was flat and marshy, riven with creeks and inlets. The tiny settlements on the island were out of sight entirely, only the cranes of the now quiet Thamesport on the horizon. We halted for a road crossing before passing the site of the former branch to Allhallows and creeping forward towards Grain Old Station where we halted for the Fire Brigade to top up our water tanks as the sun finally began to set. Looking south, the tall bridge connecting the Isle of Sheppey with the mainland could be seen catching the last golden flecks of daylight as we prepared to reverse and head back to London.
It's been good to get back out on the rails this year - but this trip was rather special with it's traversal of territory so close to my area of interest and so connected to my reading, writing and thinking in recent times. With good company, a well-planned itinerary and trip which actually pulled off all it set out to cover, it turned out to be fantastic day. I even managed to avoid waxing too lyrically about the estuary and the territory we covered I think, but perhaps my tour colleagues should be the judges of that!
Posted in Railways on Monday 29th August 2016 at 10:08pm
This year has been full of surprising twists and turns, not all of them for the better. But one perhaps unexpectedly good thing among an oddly bittersweet period is my cautious return to the railways after an economically enforced absence of almost four years. Way back in February I graced a fairly local railtour with my presence, and I had plans to do the unthinkable and join a DMU tour of my own backyard in May - which was sadly eventually cancelled. With nothing else planned, the year could have ended with just one tour under my belt - still a return, and something to build on. But a welcome alignment of the stars saw our planned holiday colliding with this Bank Holiday outing to rare track in the north east. I made enquires, jiggled dates and booked ahead...
And so, I found myself on a sunny platform at York at a very sociable 10am, listening to the gripes and groans of the local enthusiasts with a big grin on my face. It had been a good long while since I'd done any rail travel in these parts, and while they clucked over the details of what we'd cover - and naturally what they'd already resigned themselves to not covering - I was just pleased to see some old haunts again. As 66755 rolled quietly into the station and I took my seats near to some old friends and new faces, I relaxed into the comfortable Mk 2 seat. Even the air-conditioning was playing ball for a welcome change! As we sped along the East Coast Mainline, heading for our first reversal in the yard at Ferryhill I chatted happily and caught up on railway gossip and future tour plans. It was good to be back on board.
Our first reversal was promising, with a traversal well into the depths of the yard in order to take the Stillington line. My last trip out here had been an excursion to Seal Sands - a site where much of the railway is just a memory now. This time we curved towards the Durham Coast, with its unique mix of post-industrial decline and beautiful views over the North Sea, as far as Ryhope Grange where we slowed and branched carefully onto the line to the Port of Sunderland. Going was slow as we passed the scrap loading facility and headed over the private lines within the port complex. The plan had been to proceed along the dock as far as possible, but the state of the track and the nature of the curve soon put paid to this plan and we came to rest just onto the curve leading to the dockside. We were running a little behind time here, but avoiding the need to reverse into a siding meant we could exit the port a little quicker than planned - and besides those bowled for their photograph of the industrial shunters by a passing female vicar, everyone seemed happy with the progress.
Reversing again at Ryhope Grange, we were soon heading north over the River Wear via a neat zig-zag to achieve wrong-line running through Sunderland, and turning towards Newcastle on tracks shared with the Tyne & Wear Metro. A little after passing Pelaw we took the eastern leg of the triangle at Boldon which led to the short branch to Tyne Dock. Again we pressed on beyond the Network Rail limits, coming to rest alongside the coal terminal, and adjacent to the site where an additional biomass hopper was being constructed. A quick pause for photographs of the crew to mark the charitable donation raised, and we were underway once again, taking the western curve at Boldon to return to the mainline and head into Newcastle from the south. Our break here was to be curtailed to allow us a chance to make up time, but communication between Network Rail and the VTEC station staff had apparently broken down - and as soon as we disembarked the train we were summoned back on board for a 16:18 departure as planned! In the event, the train left at the newly negotiated time of 16:35 as announced on board, and as planned we headed east and over the High Level Bridge over the Tyne. Once over the Wear again at Sunderland - via the opposite wrong-line manoeuvre - we settled in for a leisurely and sunny jaunt back to Ferryhill along the Durham Coast. With almost all of our objectives achieved, including a fistful of loops, crossovers and wrong-way traverses of lines, everyone on board seemed pleased with the day - aside from a couple of shed bashers who wanted different Class 66s of course!
Our final triumph came at Ferryhill where, during our reversal a mysterious 'issue with a windscreen wiper' required the driver to take the train to a safe place to inspect. Said safe place was a line deep into the complex, adjacent to the signal box and not far from the stub of the former line to Coxhoe. With this final extra under our belt we reversed again and 66735 led us back home to York arriving almost exactly on time. There was even a chance for a celebratory drink at the York Tap before we parted ways with friends until the next time. It was certainly good to be back!
Posted in Railways on Saturday 20th February 2016 at 6:02am
In some ways it felt strangely familiar to be heading out at the crack of dawn, on the very first possible train of the day in pursuit of new track, joining the surly nightworkers and early airport crowd. But in many ways it was far from it - deposited at the station via a warm car ride, and knowing I'd be picked up at the end of my day was quite a new experience. So too was doing this directly from home, rather than from a bolt-hole somewhere else in the country - a hotel room in Crewe or Birmingham seemed to be almost home for a good few years of my life. It was though, surprising how quickly the sense of excitement and contentment of a day on the rails returned. I think I'd almost worried I'd lost the thread of this hobby somewhere - but with the sun just rising as I was deposited in Bristol it promised to be an interesting day. I settled into my familiar seat on the Cheltenham-bound 1M21 like I'd never been away.
Arrival at Cheltenham was absurdly early. I'd not quite believed the timings when they were tentatively announced and then withdrawn, so I'd gone for an excellent cheap fare on my old stalwart services. This meant a pleasant linger over coffee and breakfast in the station buffet, watching the world go by. I've missed this a lot I think, and in some ways I replace it with my local coffee shop jaunts or time in London, but there's nothing like watching people going somewhere - some are agitated by running to a schedule other than their own, some are excited - a first trip for a young, wide-eyed youngster on a train perhaps. Some are clearly upset, bewildered or just beaten down - and there are a fair few intriguingly mysterious types too. Perhaps I read too much into the faces of people impatiently waiting for watery lattes in Cheltenham? Perhaps though that's one of the things which has always fascinated me about travel - who are these people, and why are they out here doing this today? As I started to get myself organised for the trip - copied Quail pages, Baker atlas to hand etc. - I realised there was a really excellent independent coffee shop a stones' throw from the station. Next visit, I reassured myself, and headed out to the platform.
It's equally interesting how similar the platform felt as we waited for the tour to arrive. Bewildered normals wondered why all these odd, excitable folks had suddenly appeared, tripods were assembled at the platform end. At the north end, where messages had told me our coach would be, there was a more subdued and discerning crowd. They all seemed to know each other - and I felt out-of-the-loop. Of course this is because I was boarding at a station I used very little. If I'd appeared at Crewe or New Street, I'd probably have ended up in a spirited conversation with someone who didn't realise I'd been away from the rails for three years or more and just assumed it had been a while since we'd crossed paths. But just now I felt a little pang of panic. How would today pan out? Before I could get too deep into that concern, the familiar whisper of anticipation passed around the platform. In the distance, a red speck shimmered on the horizon. 59202 was approaching with the tour almost exactly on time. It's like I'd never been away after all.
It was great to catch up with the folks on board - people who I'd spent countless hours with over the years in all kinds of places - sometimes interesting, sometimes hilarious, sometimes whiling away boring scoots back to Crewe or Doncaster in the dark after a day out. Things hadn't changed much - and we were soon discussing the day, the railway scene and catching up on events pretty effortlessly. The tour had extremely lazy timings, and aside from some interesting shenanigans switching lines around the curve at Westerleigh, all went smoothly and I was soon back at Temple Meads. A break here to attach 59001 to the front meant a chance to grab coffee, take a picture and to enjoy the atmosphere of the station with a 'proper' train for a change. We were soon back on board, and heading towards Bath in gloomy and damp conditions. Taking the curve to Westbury and negotiating the through line behind the station, we slewed across an unfamiliar connecting line to head for Frome. I was really only a few miles from home at this point, but I felt like I'd travelled more today than for a long while. Our first call was at Whatley Quarry - new track for me - and after a surprisingly swift run up into the Mendips we soon came to a halt outside the sheds. The Pathfinder publicity machine had - as usual - ground to a halt now, and there was no announcement about what was happening at all. A slow trickle of vestibule-huggers passed through the carriage, and soon we were moving slowly back towards the mainline. Apparently at this point we were being propelled by the resident shunter - but we'd never have known! After a brief halt to detach our additional power, we headed back to Frome, reversing again and heading south through the town's rather quaint wooden train shed on route to East Somerset Junction. From here, it was a slow, wet crawl towards Merehead Quarry. I'd been here before - or at least close by, and we set out by following the same curve towards Cranmore before coming to rest in the long siding beside the through line. Again, no announcement but we were soon reversing between rakes of wagons on the northern edge of the triangle. Apparently, this road was obstructed, so we retraced our steps forwards into the siding, then back around the western side of the triangle. Here, back at the entrance to the complex we forked right and crept around the eastern curve a short way towards the A371 bridge which was our destination. But we didn't quite make it. In fact those at the rear of the train would barely be past the junction. As we sat waiting for a water tender to tank the coaches, an announcement was made about what we'd done and what mysterious engines were on the shed we couldn't see! I shouldn't be surprised - it is perhaps always like this on these trips, but it was a little deflating to sit in the rain for forty minutes when we knew there was track we hadn't done.
The return trip to Bristol was a chance to relax and chat with the folks from up north who I don't get to see too often, a chance to share a few bottles of beer and to speculate on when we might all be out on the same trip again. It had been a fine day out despite the challenges and disappointments - which are of course, all part of the hobby I remembered. Leaving the train at Bristol was tough, the urge to plough on into the night and up the Lickey Incline was strong - but for the first time ever I had a reason to be heading home after a trip. Some things have stayed the same these past few years, but some are very, very different!
Posted in Railways on Monday 29th October 2012 at 10:10pm
It's about this time each year that I find myself heading for Glasgow. These trips have grown partly out of necessity - I've almost inevitably worked through the summer whilst colleagues with kids have chosen to take their expensive jaunts to Florida or Eurodisney. But I also like to disappear in October - to avoid the inevitable birthday related activity, and to enjoy some of that golden window of end-of-summer beginning-of-autumn weather that just seems to suit me. It's no secret that this also suits Glasgow. It's at this time of year that the city is prone to sudden bursts of sunshine through the remaining leaves, or unexpected sheets of grey tumbling across the landscape at a moments notice. The population of the city reacts accordingly - jumpers off and out into George Square, or papers over the head dash under cover. These visits also coincide with a rush of musical endeavour too - with the universities back at work in earnest there is a flood of gigs to see, often many competing during a single night. In short, it's at this time of year that Glasgow has proved most engaging and importantly diverting to me. But how would the city fare this time, when I am perhaps completely and ultimately diverted elsewhere?
I arrived in Glasgow on a Thursday morning following my current custom of splitting the journey somewhere in Northern England. This was originally to save money, but it's become a habit which makes for a leisurely arrival too. The previous night in Crewe wasn't much fun to be frank, I was anxious to be in Scotland and still recovering from a transatlantic trip which had messed with my body clock and occupied my mind almost completely - and with head and heart still a long way off, Crewe was a baleful proposition at best. Once, it was a town full of curious possibilities - but as the railway has declined, and my interest with it, it's become harder to find much to like about the place. In this context of change it was comforting to note that arrival at Central Station still gave me that little thrill of being home-away-from-home, the urge to yell "I'm back!" to a city which is as indifferent to me as any other I'm sure - but upon which I've always staked a sort of jealous claim. No-one who has visited Glasgow with me has ever quite understood this - and really, all my theories about place are pretty tenuous at best when exposed to the critical eyes and ears of others. These imaginary links and personifications never bear much examination, but there is a little bit of me here in Glasgow - as much as there is in London or now in Seattle. I did what I always do - and delighted in it. I sat around and read newspapers, got coffee, wrote emails - but I did it through new eyes and ears. I felt like I was exploring Glasgow for the first time because I was sharing these thoughts and impressions with someone far away who I wanted to be here too. This novelty originated in the commonplace - the fact that the Blue Lagoon, home of my favourite 'pizza supper' culture-clash incident - had burned down. But it also extended into the significant - not least the orange glow in the sky at sundown as I walked to the station for my annual fix of Paisley Arts Festival. Hours later I'd be shivering at Gilmour Street having just spent my first evening in a Spiegeltent, trying hard to convey the idea of Paisley in the evening to someone who couldn't see it just now. Describing Paisley is never easy - but it was as much part of the Glasgow experience as any of the mellifluous sky-describing I'd been doing of course!
My first day of wandering in earnest began with an uncharacteristically lazy start - an external influence which is, in fact, a welcome one. I'm on holiday - and it seems an awful long time since I've been in my office too - a lifetime and a continent away in some senses. I wandered out into the city with an explorers sense of the unexpected, and Glasgow inevitably delivered. My rule of thumb in any British city is to walk the streets with head tilted back enough to see the floors above the gaudy but utterly familiar chainstore frontages. Here the history of the city is more apparent - buildings decorated in ways we'd never see nowadays, pride in construction, conscious design to create an impression of authority or opulence, depending on the purpose of the building. Indeed it's strange to think of buildings made for a specific purpose, rather than speculative empty office shells, full of nothing but customisable space. Above Poundland and Greggs and JB Sports is a wonderland of Glasgow architecture. Red sandstone competes with cast iron, sitting awkwardly beside the more familiar smoked glass and steel of the last century. Buildings billow out from the pavement in curves and crests, their former uses sometimes lost completely. I've been here several times each year for a long time now, but it feels like the first time I've spotted some of this stuff. Some of it is breathtaking and impressive, some fussy and laughable - but all of it calls back to a time that this was the Second City of the Empire. This second day also involved an excursion to the Southside. A bus ride through a dark evening, along the wastelands of Eglinton Street and into Pollokshaws Road. The switch from industrial distress to coffee-shop comfort was imperceptible as the bus progressed along the long straight road towards its divison at Shawlands Cross, and soon I'm hopping off at the southern edge of Queens Park, looking for the Glad Cafe - a new venture here. I remember buying a CD to support the fundraising a while back, and being tapped for contributions at a show at The 13th Note perhaps a little afterwards, so it's good to see this place open. Or at least it would be if I could locate it... I finally find it, a neon-lit entrance wedged inconspicuously between a chip shop and a newsagent. The long corridor from the street opens into a cosy, simply but effectively decorated room with excellent coffee and surprisingly polite company. Beyond that there is a large performance space. Perhaps not strictly large enough for the crowd which showed up tonight, but that's a minor issue. It's good to catch up with old friends, and to see familiar bands play new songs. This feels like a comfortable spot - and again I'm moved to look at it rather differently. I can no longer afford the detached air of the casual visitor or the self-styled ethnographer. I'm now auditioning the city for a future role. Again it's cold waiting for the bus back into the city. The pavements take on a bit of a sparkle and there is a nip of winter on the air, which is far from unpleasant and seems almost fitting. The bus reeks of fast food and perfume from shuttling the previous group of revellers into the City for a Friday night which is only beginning. There are only a few of us left on board by the time it scutters across Argyle Street and deposits me near Central Station.
For my third excursion, after another leisurely start I decided to head west. I used to turn this way a lot when I first frequented Glasgow. There were tales of G12 nights, exotic bands in strange little bars, Northern Soul socials with awkwardly hipster dancing and mysterious people having low conversations about the next big thing. These mirages all of course evaporated when I got close to them, and I found a slightly haughty student culture in which I really didn't fit at all - I was either too old, too young, too English or just somehow not right. But I came back sporadically over the years, just to be reminded. My circuit today repeated one I've done a good few times - off the bus at Great Western Road and into the cool, green spaces of the Botanic Gardens. Here I read and thought, and really took no notice of the fact there was a squirrel on my foot until he was about to run up my leg. When I spied him, he froze in terror - I reached casually for my phone to get a picture. I'd wanted to see Glasgow differently - through new eyes - and here it was! The people-savvy rodent would have none of it though, and at the flash of sunlight on glass dashed off to the next bench. I tried advancing in big, quiet steps, quite unaware of how ridiculous I must have looked to the growing crowds in the park, but every time I crouched to get the shot he'd fly a bench further forwards along the pathway. "One final try" I thought, and as I got within inches of the shot I'd hoped to get, the brave little beast dashed up the skirt of the woman a little way in front. I beat an instant retreat as she giggled and whooped, her husband beating ineffectually at her tweed. It was time to leave the park lest my part in this incursion was uncovered! However, I found it strangely difficult to depart - the place was cool, calm and strangely tranquil today despite the crowds milling around quietly, and the press of only mildly apprehensive looking tourists around the Haggis Burger concession.
But Byres Road beckoned. I strolled along it looking with a more critical eye than for a long time before - however nothing could stop the views up towards the university from arresting the eye and drawing it high above the streetline. Beyond that rise, the land fell away steeply into Kelvingrove and the quietly hip neighbourhood around Otago Lane, but that was for another trip. Today my target was one of the strange early discoveries from years back - Relics. Tucked into the strange cobbled passageway of Ruthven Lane, this is perhaps the ultimate junk shop. Stacked high with tat, including manual typewriters, obsolete games consoles, reel to reel tape machines and virtually any other bit of electromechanical equipment which ever dared to expire or outlive its usefulness. Guitars and other musical instruments abound in particular, amongst the piles of expiring magazines, dusty VHS tapes and oddly gaudy tables full of glassware. I take photographs furtively, knowing the owner disapproves. I could be Trading Standards or the Police or something, building up my case. Instead I approach him and ask about a unique TV which used to sit outside the shop - a huge globe of white plastic, huge, impractical, oddly impressive. He remembers it, thinks he still has it - either stored or hidden behind stuff. I'm welcome to look if I want. I quickly survey the place and decide not to - not this time. But maybe soon - and perhaps not alone. It would be folly to tackle this mountain alone I think. I quickly drop into a shop selling old vinyl and take in the smell of ageing shellac and the odd library-like quiet of serious men flipping through sleeves, before heading for the bus back into town and my next musical appointment.
This takes me to the very top of Renfield Street, where the sharply modern glass and steel of the Herald Offices abut blocks of disconnected, stark-edged tenements. One door isn't open until 11pm, the other is guarded by smoking trench-coated goons. I descend. A sign directs me to the best reggae in Glasgow. I pause. Surely not? But press on into the bar - and then into the venue. It's a club, a badly appointed, swiftly decomposing and horribly depressing place. The sunken oval dancefloor provides the vantage point, while the bands use one of the seating booths which surround it as a stage. I'm not sorry to escape back up the tangle of stairs to make an important 'phone call in the steady Glasgow rain. The place is diabolical - but as is often the case here, the music is sublime despite it's setting. But it's hard to love the Flying Duck - and we briefly discuss this as the promoters drunkenly recount money - but suddenly, unexpectedly the strains of "Marquee Moon" shiver from the speakers. It's a spine-tingling, life-affirming moment that suddenly synchronises a whole lot of disparate thoughts and locates them here in Glasgow right now. I stride from the venue into the rain - the streets are full of people in Halloween costumes, and I'm fighting the tide back down the hill to Central Station with that insistent, nagging guitar sting repeating in my head. An endless sea of rain-damp vampires, slutty cops and naughty nuns whoop and scream. I'm still on my Television inspired high, side-stepping Frankenstein's monster, dodging the flailing hair of a particularly inebriated witch into Argyle Street and under the Hielanman's Umbrella.
The final day is always a difficult proposition here - and never less so than this visit. It marks a return to real life after a strangely transformative week which has seen me travel over 10,000 miles. It's fitting that I should end up here after that, somewhere I come to process and understand things, somewhere I feel safely away from reality. Because this week I've needed to be away from it. Plunging back into the routine after last weekend's overseas trip would have been absolute folly. So Glasgow has been the ultimate buffer once again. I decide to celebrate by returning to the very beginnings of Glasgow on the banks of the deleted Molendinar Burn. I partake in my usual, now a little more leisurely coffee ritual, then head east along George Street - passing the civic centre of the city, through the channel of dour grey buildings, the university outposts and the still-empty bombsites. The little, ornate sandstone block - once occupied by a vegetable wholesaler - still stands alone at the corner of the wasteland near Nicholas Street, whilst the College Lands are being aggressively and comprehensively redeveloped filling the slope down to the Drygate. I turn for the Cathedral, blackened and ominous in it's precinct. Foreign tourists mill around, jostling each other noisily as then enter the Cathedral Close, but falling suddenly and automatically silent as they pass over the Bridge of Sighs and into the Necropolis. It's been a long while since I walked here, and I ascend carefully, the rugged path slippery with fallen and blown leaves. Finally, after doubling back and ascending I find myself at the top with John Knox, both of us glaring down on the city and over the wonderful views to the South and East. The rain slithers down from the slate sky. It's time to head back...
It's pretty clear that I've changed a lot since I was last in Glasgow, and that my way of viewing the place has altered considerably too. But there is reassuring constancy here - there is a sense of somewhere which contains a little of my past, and a hope it contains something of a future. There are hints of links to a place many thousands of miles away which just now is more significant by far. There is also a recognition of the difficulties and rough edges this city has - something I all too often gloss over, keen to promote the cultural or celebrate the unique. Glasgow is - as it ever was - a sprawling, irregular uncut diamond of a city. I realise as the train begins to shudder out of Central Station and I hang up a 'phonecall much earlier than I'd like, that I'll not be hitting the rails quite so often these coming months. But Glasgow - I'll be back...
As an experiment, you can also follow the route on the map below - the blue lines are the routes I took...
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.