Where the wild things are!

I’ve been reliably informed by an elderly neighbour that Scotland is going to enjoy really good weather in May and June this year. In theory they should be good months weather-wise, but as that’s not always the case, I’m glad to have this confirmed by neighbourly bunions!

And if today’s weather is anything to go by, those bunions are on the right track! What a glorious day! So it’s time to get out and about as much as possible, and from Glasgow, Mugdock Country Park is not only close at hand, but packed-full of history and things to see and do.

For me, one of the most interesting things about the Park, is that it was once home to a zoo: complete with all the wild animals you would expect to see. Lions, tigers, llamas, panthers, even Charlie the elephant: all living in the grounds around Craigend Castle and all within striking distance of Milngavie. No, I’m not joking – it really did exist! And that story, as well as the tale of the zoo’s forerunner, housed in a Glasgow tenement, are at the heart of my article in this month’s iScot magazine.

The zoo is gone, and perhaps the most visible evidence of the past lives of the people of this area is Mugdock Castle itself. No one knows exactly how old this once formidable stronghold is, though it must have existed at least as far back as the 14th century for a document relating to the castle – an agreement over land between the castle’s owner, Sir Patrick Graham, and one Angus Hawinroyss – was signed there on the 24th of August, 1372. The castle is a dramatic ruin now: though I did see Robert the Bruce ride by recently – in the shape of actor Chris Pine and with the film crew for Outlaw King hot on his heels!

The mighty tower of Mugdock Castle

Over the years the Grahams extended their lands and the estate prospered, becoming both a centre for regular markets and fairs, and also the seat of the Barony court, where ‘justice’ would be meted out. 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!

During the Dark Ages and Medieval times Mugdock Loch was far larger and deeper than it is today. On a small island, only a few hundred yards from the castle, was the Moot Hill, or Hill of Judgement. 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.

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. A lose-lose situation if ever there was one!   Walk round the pond today and listen for the ghostly laments of its victims.

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. 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. The nearby Nissen huts housed the army personnel stationed to man the guns, complete with showers and sleeping accommodation.

Michael Gambon and Iain Cuthbertson, the rugged stars of 'The Borderers'!

Michael Gambon and Iain Cuthbertson, the rugged stars of ‘The Borderers’!

But to go back to Mugdock Castle. Here’s a question: what’s the connection between Mugdock Castle and the actor Michael Gambon? The answer: Gambon starred as heroic young Gavin Ker of Slitrig,  in the 1960s/70s television series The Borderers, which was filmed at Mugdock Castle. 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. The Warden’s dashing young nephew, Gavin Ker, fought to protect his family and remain a decent man. It was stirring stuff!

There’s still plenty  of wildlife in the Park, but fear not – most of it is on a much smaller scale than those wild things in the zoo! So as you take that stroll in the park on a peaceful afternoon, stop for a moment and think about all that’s happened around you.  You’ll be surprised just how rich and varied the past has been!


“Discover Bute”: a lasting legacy?

Rothesay's largest ever visitor?

Rothesay’s largest ever visitor?

Over a period of four years from 2008 to 2012 the people of Bute took part in a wonderful project that brought the island’s rural landscape to the fore. Through the Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Scheme (DBLPS), and under the able guidance of its coordinator Bridget Paterson, a huge range of projects flourished and were enjoyed by thousands of people. There was the unforgettable first outing of the Big Man Walking, the restoration of hedgerows and woodland, the creation of new walks across the island, the discovery of artifacts more than 4,000-years-old in the Bronze Age Barrow at Scalpsie, the building of new bird hides at Ettrick Bay and Loch Quien, the repairing of dry stone walls, dozens of school visits, an abundance of related training courses and an unprecedented participation of volunteers – islanders and visitors alike.  It was wonderful!

Part of the legacy of Discover Bute - a DVD and booklet covering fantastic walks across this beautiful and historic island

Part of the legacy of Discover Bute – a DVD and booklet covering fantastic walks across this beautiful and historic island

At the same time there was a community forest buy-out at the north end of the island, with Discover Bute again involved in the creation of new pathways and the building of new bridges to open up this area for all to enjoy.  There have even been brilliant bench-making courses for anyone who wanted to try their hand at that!

But what now? Could the momentum and involvement that was generated back then be continued?  The answer to that is undoubtedly – and thankfully! – ‘Yes’!

Much of the historical legacy of Discover Bute is now being carried forward by Paul Duffy, who was Discover Bute’s archaeological director. Through his new venture Brandanii Archaeology, Paul hopes to continue and expand the connection between the people of Bute and their island’s rich heritage.

While walkers, and those who’ve ever tackled Bute’s unique West Island Way, will be delighted to see that another group, the Bute Conservation Trust, have just set out their plans – and hopes – for the coming year.  It’s good to see that so much is being done to build on Discover Bute’s achievements, and that so many people are still willing to be involved and give up their time and energy to make Bute a great place to live in and visit.  Long may it continue!

Bute Conservation Trust unveil their plans to maintain the legacy of Discover Bute

Bute Conservation Trust unveil their plans to maintain the legacy of Discover Bute

Scalpsie Bay – A Walk through Time

Scalpsie Bay looking across to Arran

Scalpsie Bay looking across to Arran

The Isle of Bute, although lying in the Firth of Clyde and close to the main centre of population in Scotland, is often called ‘The Undiscovered Isle’.  Many people think of it only in terms of the main town, Rothesay, once a thriving summer coastal resort, now rather run-down and tired.  But beyond the town lies beautiful countryside, magnificent bays and a wealth of history – just waiting to be discovered!

Scalpsie Bay, on the south-west of Bute, is home to a populous seal colony, as well as having magnificent views over to Arran.  It also holds thousands of years of history – from a Bronze Age barrow and Iron Age dun, to the water channels built by the 19th century engineer Robert Thom to power the islands then flourishing cotton mills and the “Russian Cottage” used during the Cold War to listen for possible Soviet submarines in the Firth of Clyde.  But there is much, much more to this beautiful bay than this, so go and discover it for yourself!

Fragments of Bronze Age pottery found in the Scalpsie Barrow in 2010

Fragments of Bronze Age pottery found in the Scalpsie Barrow in 2010