What’s in a name? Plenty, when it comes to the village of Brig O’Turk in the heart of the Trossachs! There are wonderful cycle and walking routes all around this area, up through Glen Finglas and along the new Great Trossachs Path, which was opened in 2015.
The Great Trossachs Forest is a vast, long-term woodland regeneration project, devised jointly by the RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Woodland Trust Scotland, and offers a growing number of routes, with something for every age and ability, and is packed with information about the history of this ancient landscape. Built in 1923, the tearoom retains much of its original atmosphere, and has food to climb a mountain for! Just as the history of an individual is uncovered in this many-layered story, so archaeologists continue to delve into the past, unearthing new levels and discovering artefacts that reveal ever more about our country’s history and the lives of our ancestors.
Some years ago I read Ngaio Marsh’s novel When in Rome, where her suave gentleman detective Roderick Alleyn joins a select group on a murderous tour of the Basilica (Church) di San Tommaso. It’s even possible that the home of the Roman nobleman had been built on the foundations of a much older republican-era building destroyed in the Great Fire of 64 AD.
The Picts have long been one of history’s great mysteries, but discoveries like these at Pormahomack have given us unique insights into their civilisation. Then tragedy struck when, around 800 AD, the monastery and the surrounding community were destroyed by Viking invaders. But sacred sites draw people to them, and other churches were built on this hallowed ground. Until finally, centuries later, gravediggers unearthed fragments of ancient carved stones and it became clear that something very ancient and substantial lay beneath their feet. The 15th April, 1949 was a memorable day for Milngavie: the official opening of the zoo at Craigend Castle.
Craigend Castle Estate had been bought by Andrew Wilson, the proprietor of Wilson’s Zoo in the centre of Glasgow (for more on this see Part 2). It’s all gone now, and the Castle in ruins – but what a place it must have been!
Today Craigend is a dangerous ruin, but it had a diverse and varied existence, with numerous proprietors. However, for me, its most colourful era was under the ownership of father and son Andrew and William Wilson.
By 1949 the Wilsons had moved to Craigend Castle and decided to establish a new zoo there, which opened to the public in the April of that year. Without doubt though, the zoo’s star attraction was Charlie the Elephant, who was cared for faithfully by his mahout, or keeper, Singh Ibraham. However, a trip to Craigend Zoo was more than simply a chance to see exotic and unusual animals. Add to that an arts and crafts shop, a plantaria with a restaurant overlooking the former walled garden, the Stables Tearoom, and a theatre, then a visit to Mugdock Country Park is a treat – come rain or shine!
Perhaps the most visible evidence of the past lives of the people of this area is Mugdock Castle itself. During the Dark Ages and Medieval times Mugdock Loch was far larger and deeper than it is today. In earlier times Moot Hill was home to Bronze Age and Iron age crannogs, dwellings built out on the water for protection from enemies.
Next to Gallowhill was the equally fearsome Drowning Pond, where unfortunate women accused of witchcraft were forcibly held under water: if you drowned you were innocent, if you survived you were guilty and burned at the stake.
From a war much nearer our own time are the silent remains of the Mugdock anti-aircraft gunsite built in 1942 in the aftermath of the Clydebank Blitz.
In search of Tintin: or how Arran and Barra played their part in Herge’s best known ripping yarn!
There’s something very dramatic about a castle perched on a rocky island, waves crashing against its rugged walls, its turrets defiant against all comers.
Herge wanted an adventure set somewhere remote and mysterious – and Scotland’s islands provided just that. In the 1960s the British publishers Methuen asked for the book to be updated and inaccuracies in the original edition to be corrected. And so Castlebay on Barra became the template for Kiltoch, the fictional Scottish village where Tintin ends up during his hair-raising pursuit of a gang of dangerous counterfeiters. Herge’s stories were often set in real-life situations, dealing with contemporary events and headline news – as befits a reporter hero.
In many ways The Black Island is a straightforward detective thriller, its lasting popularity boosted by the “ripping yarn” nature of its plot. Cinemagoers would also have recognised The Black Island’s terrifying ‘beast’ as King Kong had hit the silver screen not long before.
All in all, it’s one of the best constructed and thrilling of Herge’s Tintin canon – thanks in no small measure to the islands of Arran and Barra! New Year’s Day 2016 and we were walking alongside the Manse Burn as it flows through Baljaffray to the north of Bearsden. The first indication that the Manse Burn was a rich source of fossils came in 1981 when a young boy found something that he couldn’t identify and took it to Stan Wood, a local fossil expert. Not long after, the Hunterian Museum of Glasgow University organised an excavation and began to unearth an abundance of fossils which eventually included the most complete and best preserved fossil shark of its kind in the whole world! In fact the area along the Manse Burn turned out to be so rich in fossils that it was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is one of the best Carboniferous fish sites anywhere. From the reconstruction it’s easy to see that it was a strange looking beast and scientists have discovered that not only did it have teeth in its mouth, but also along the top of its head and around its distinctive dorsal fin!! A formidable foe indeed! Such is his fame that he has had a poem composed about his life (The Bearsden Shark by Edwin Morgan), as well as a number of PhDs written in his honour and now has a cairn and information board beside the Manse Burn in Baljaffray to mark his importance in our understanding of life all those millions of years ago. Otepaa is home to the Estonian Flag Room which was established in 1996 to commemorate their flag – a flag that is as important to Estonians as the Saltire is to Scots.
It is now hill climb season, and The Serpentine Road in Rothesay is used for the hill climb of the Bute Cycling festival, held annually by the Bute Wheelers since the 1950s. The festival incorporates a series of four races, with a fun atmosphere that is slightly more informal than some events. William Bowers, 2011 Stirling club hill climb champion, will be doing the Serpentine Hill Climb in 2011. Despite this, last year there was a ?100 1st Prize donated by The Bike Shed Bute, so it’s a competition that riders should be more than keen to turn themselves inside out for. Henry Bowers’ family lived on Bute for many years and he loved the time he could spend there when on leave from the Royal India Marine. It was time spent walking, talking, playing tennis and even swimming all the way from Ardbeg Point to Craigmore every day before breakfast! Bowers and Dobbie are but two of the thirty-six men and women who appear in the book Bute Connections, compiled by Bute residents Jean McMillan, Margaret Lamb and Allan Martin. It was published in 2011 by the BNHS (Buteshire Natural History Society) and is available from Bute Museum.
At the close of the project, RCAHMS archaeologists Alex Hale and George Geddes produced the expertly written and beautifully presented book The Archaeological Landscape of Bute – a must for all with an interest in Bute’s past and how that has formed its present and could shape its future! In addition to all that, you could always go along to one of the many cultural events on the island. If Bute can attract speakers of the calibre of Craig Robertson and Alexandra Sokoloff, then it’s got a lot going for it! What do William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Peter May and Enid Blyton all have in common? Islands! They’ve all used islands as settings for some of their most exciting and memorable works.
Like many people I enjoy visiting the places that have inspired writers and featured in their books. And that is the delightful Brig O’Turk Tearoom, well-known both for its wonderful food and as a key location in the 1959 remake of John Buchan’s classic The 39 Steps. The Path links into the West Highland Way and the Rob Roy Way, and runs from Kilmahog, just outside Callander, to Inversnaid on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, passing en route the lochs Venachar, Achray, Katrine and Arklet.
The setting is based on the real Basilica di San Clemente, an ancient site where archaeologists have discovered at least three levels of buildings, the oldest being deep under the present ground level. Below that archaeologists have unearthed a 4th-century basilica, originally part of the sumptuous home of a Roman nobleman.
These exciting discoveries have shed a great deal of light on the turbulent history of Rome and the varied lifestyles of its inhabitants.
Similar far-reaching discoveries were made here between 1994 and 2007, when archaeologists uncovered the site of the only known Pictish Christian Monastery in Scotland.
The wonderful treasure that was this unique Pictish monastery was reduced to rubble and gradually disappeared beneath the earth, to be eventually forgotten. A better understanding of that makes for a better understanding of ourselves. And who knows what else is waiting to be discovered? Despite the very many extra trams and buses, the waiting queues of returning visitors were so long that it was after midnight before the last passengers finally found themselves on their journey home! He and his son William were both Fellows of the Zoological Society and had long worked towards the creation of a zoological park in the West of Scotland: their achievement, Craigend Castle Zoo, was the most up-to-date zoo in the country at that time. The Lion and Albert, a 1930s monologue performed so memorably by Stanley Holloway, could have applied just as easily at Craigend. In cages and pens around Gallowhill there were not only thousands of birds and reptiles, but also lions, llamas, chimpanzees, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs, an elephant and innumerable other creatures. There are many more interesting tales about the zoo – some of which will be told in Part 3!
And no matter where you go, you’ll always find landscapes rich with tales of the past. If you were tried and found guilty in the Courthall of the castle what happened next? Where would be your fate be determined? Read on! On a small island, only a few hundred yards from the castle, was the Moot Hill, or Hill of Judgement. Some were reached by circuitous stone paths hidden just below the surface of the water, others by wooden or stone causeways above the water, linking the crannog to the shore. This gun emplacement was part of a series of anti-aircraft batteries constructed around the Clyde Basin to protect the heavy industries in and around Glasgow. Herge, the Belgian creator of the redoubtable reporter Tintin, obviously thought so too and looked to Scottish islands for the inspiration of one of the most famous and best-loved of Tintin’s adventures – The Black Island. The story was originally published in 1937 at a time when the Highlands and Islands of Scotland were still little-known at first hand to most people; shrouded as much by myth as by mist.
Accordingly Herge sent his chief assistant, Bob de Moor, to Scotland where he visited both Arran and Barra. While Lochranza Castle on Arran provided the inspiration for the ruinous and supposedly-haunted Craig Dhui Castle, perched menacingly on the mysterious and unwelcoming Black Island.
Forgery and counterfeiting were growing concerns in the 1930s, while the growing number of light aircraft made it easier for the wrong-doers to flee to distant parts and escape justice.
Hitchcock’s film version of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps had come out not long before the first edition of The Black Island and there are similarities between the two. And contemporary newspapers were full of reports surrounding first ‘sightings’ of the Loch Ness Monster. The new board and cairn were unveiled by Dr Neil Clark, curator of Palaeontology at Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum, whose reconstruction of the Bearsden Shark is shown above. There we discovered that, like Athelstaneford in Scotland, Otepaa had played an important part in the history of the national flag of Estonia.
It is often used as an end-of-season social trip, with the Saturday night being as important a part of the weekend as the 2-up time trial, the 10, the hill climb or the APR. You wouldn’t expect a man of his prowess to have come off on one of the bends last year, or to have taken a wrong turn and got lost a couple of years previously! Even after he had officially retired from the company, Dobbie’s love of gardens and plants continued. In fact, so many connections were discovered that a second volume has been suggested to bring this intriguing and revealing slice of local history up to the present! Starring Kenneth More, much of this version was filmed in and around the Trossachs with the fictional tearoom bearing the name The Gallows Cafe.
Below that again, a lower basement served as a mithraeum (a temple for the worship of Mithras) until that religion was outlawed.
Founded around 560 AD, perhaps even by Columba himself, this monastery in Pictland grew and flourished for the next 300 years. The sun shone and tramcars from Glasgow arrived at the Corporation Terminus in Milngavie’s Park Road at the astonishing rate of one per minute! The second, Craigend Castle, was erected in the 19th century as a mark of ostentatious wealth, its interiors awash with opulent furnishings.
Definitely not the surroundings we would expect today, and not without accident (see report on the right), but nonetheless very popular with visitors in the 1930s-1950s. Once again the conditions the animals were kept in would probably not be acceptable today, but what a difference from the smelly tenement home of their fellows! On top of that, there was even a miniature train which ran from Mugdock Village to the castle! Wildlife and plant life abound. Plenteous lichen on the trees shows just how fresh and clean the air is here. It was on this spot that the unfortunate criminal would hear his sentence: seldom a happy one! In many cases it would be straight back across the causeway and over to the grimly named Gallowhill for execution. Gallowhill too has many archaeological remains and may have housed a large Iron Age fort or even a village. The nearby Nissen huts housed the army personnel stationed to man the guns, complete with showers and sleeping accommodation.
By using a small mysterious, frightening island, Herge created the perfect setting for strange goings-on. De Moor was impressed by what he saw – wild landscapes, ancient castles and remote windswept locations. Both have a hero who accidentally stumbles across a gang of villains, who is then wrongly accused of a crime, but escapes capture and heads for the wilds of Scotland, all the while being pursued by criminals and police alike. In his tale, Herge skilfully uses the power of superstition as a tool used by the villains to discourage people from visiting the Black Island, while they use the island as the centre of their counterfeiting ring.
However, these sort of antics merely give the lesser lights something to tease a top rider like him about for the rest of the year, when he is tearing off legs and winning races.
I have enjoyed reading some of your entries and found it ironic that the best photo of Nathan’s I could find was on your site and not a food site!
He has come to be one of my closest and soundest friends and I appreciate his wonderful upright nature, his ability and his energy. It’s portrayed as a popular stopping point for cyclists (as it was in reality), and it’s from here that we see our hero make his escape by peddling off, hidden amongst a group of other cyclists, dressed in rather improbable cycling gear! Archeological evidence suggests that the monastery had a farm and a cemetery, as well as workshops for the making of sacred church objects, intricate sculptures, and illustrated books (similar to the Book of Kells). Just days before the official opening, a twelve-year-old boy living on the estate had climbed onto the 18ft open cage transferring the lions to their new home: he stumbled and his foot went through the bars, to be immediately pounced on by one of the lions! The smell must have been quite something and it is said to have boasted a mynah bird that spoke with a broad Glasgow accent! While for many of the visitors the highlight of the day would be taking tea in the one of the three palatial rooms in the castle that had been converted into tearooms to provide sustenance for the thousands of visitors who came each day.
Walking and cycling are popular and there is a new bike shop, Mugdock Country Cycles, with bikes for all ages and abilities.
It was an exciting historical drama, set in the 16th century, which told the tale of the Warden of the Middle March (Iain Cuthbertson) and his family during the troubled and violent times of the Border Reivers. Both share that exciting pacing and plotting, leading to a denouement on a rugged, wild and isolated Scottish island. Fortunately he was pulled clear by the keeper and taken off to the Glasgow Western Infirmary. A colourful playpark for younger children, an adventure trail for older children, orienteering, history and tree trails: it really is a place for everyone. The Warden’s dashing young nephew, Gavin Ker, fought to protect his family and remain a decent man.
In all of these the landscape and history of very different, but very specific, places play a vital part in the tales being told.
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