Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Coast to Coast. Greenock to Weymss Bay

Coast to Coast. Greenock to Weymss Bay

Over the space of several weekend runs, I had been trying to jog across Scotland, a proper cross-country run.

However, there are more important things on the go just now with the Covid-19 pandemic, and as I write, we are only just at the beginning of this. Part of the reason for me writing these blogs was to flag up various lesser-visited parts of Scotland, that can be beautiful, and always have a fascinating history. It was for my own personal curiosity, but I hoped that people would maybe use the blogs as a prompt to head off somewhere different for a Sunday drive, or a walk with the dog, maybe buy some lunch or a coffee when you were there. I fear people often overlook these places, and we quickly forget the damage that 20th century political decisions brought to various Scottish industrial towns. All along my route across the Central Belt of Scotland, from Fife to Ayrshire, whether it has been shipbuilding, or coal mining, sugar refining or car making, I have found community after community abandoned when the local industry moved on elsewhere.

The optimist in me hopes that whatever damage the Covid-19 outbreak brings, government will realise it cannot just let market forces pick up the pieces this time. So, enjoy a virtual tour of Scotland by reading my ramblings, rather than making unnecessary journeys at this time. As I have already run it to Weymss Bay, I will stop there and await further developments before heading for a pokey hat in Nardini's to finish my route. Anyway...


Having now run from Glasgow, across to Falkirk, then into Fife at Kincardine, and to the coast at St Andrews, it seemed only fair to turn my face the other way and head for the Ayrshire coast. It has given me a chance to find out more of the local history (and my own family history) along the way. My last run took me from Johnstone to Greenock.

Having now got to Greenock, for this stage I had a quick stoat about the town before I followed the coastal path, which took me through Gourock, on to Inverkip and then Weymss Bay. My original plan had been to eventually reach Largs, then complete a 10 mile race around the island of Millport that I'd applied for but, hey ho! Another time.

Greenock and its distinctive Victoria Tower, with the river Clyde and the Luss Hills beyond
My great-great grandfather moved from Kilbarchan, where his father was a handloom weaver, coming 15 miles up the road to Greenock in the 1850s. On one census he was working at the docks as a "boat ranger". By 1867, when my great-grandfather was born in Ingleston Street in Greenock, he was described as a "labourer (sugar)". Looking at the old Ordnance Survey maps from that time, there were three foundries, three mills and two sugar refineries within a 100 yards of their front door. Sugar refineries were one of the biggest employers in town by then.  

Sugar was refined from the 1700s in Greenock, but by the 1800s it was big business, while the tobacco trade had suffered with American independence. The port at Greenock, on the west coast of Scotland, provided favourable routes for merchants importing sugar cane from the Caribbean. This was being produced by slaves until the 1833 Abolition act was passed, and their sweat enriched Glasgow's merchants. By 1852 some 500 men in Greenock were employed producing 50,000 tons of sugar annually. Twenty years later, thousands of men (including my great-great grandad, Robert Speirs) were producing 250,000 tons each year, and supplying half of the UK's needs. Greenock docks were filled with ships from all around the world; Cuba, Brazil, Mauritius, the West Indies, and steamers coming from Belgium and France with cargoes of sugar beet for refining. As refining from sugar beet took off in Europe, demand for Greenock's sugar began to fall away, and slowly the refineries began to close. The last sugar refinery closed in 1997, the Tate and Lyle refinery on Lynedoch Street, although many of the warehouses built with multi-coloured brickwork that stored the sugar cane and tobacco arriving at the docks, still remain.

Former warehouse in Greenock
My great-grandfather was born in Greenock, but the family soon moved to Glasgow, where he trained as a plumber. His big brother (my grandad's uncle Bob) stayed in Greenock and worked in shipping. In 1881 he was an office boy in a shipping company. A few years later he had taken to sea and I have this photograph of him (below), taken in Bombay. The photographer's company in Bombay only worked under that name for a few years, so it dates the picture to the mid-1890s. The map of the world was covered in pink when he was growing up, with the British Empire offering trade, work and, in desperate times, opportunities to emigrate. 

The dock at Greenock was where thousands and thousands of Scots departed their homeland. People left for a variety of reasons, but for many it was destitution that drove them to seek a better life abroad in Canada, the USA, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. The years of economic hardship and unemployment in Scotland were also the years of high emigration.

My great-great uncle Bob. Born in Greenock, ended up in Bombay
Part of the municipal buildings in the town, the Victoria Tower is the 245 feet tall tower visible from miles around, completed in 1886. When one shop owner refused to sell the land he was on, the building was completed around his shop, leaving a bite out of one corner, faced with two blank walls (seen in my photo below). Cowan's Corner as it was known was cleared of the shop when a German bomb landed on it in 1941 but the building has never been completed as originally intended. The Lyle Drinking Fountain outside the municipal buildings in the picture below was gifted to the town by Abram Lyle, businessman and one time provost of Greenock. Initially involved in shipping and cooperages, he bought a sugar refinery in Greenock in 1865. In 1921 his grandson merged his business with a Mr Henry Tate to form Tate and Lyle

Victoria Tower, Greenock
On the opposite side of Cathcart Square from the Victoria Tower stands "The Toon Kirk", or Wellpark Mid Kirk to give it its Sunday name. Built in 1760 it was the church used by a young James Watt and his family. 

Wellpark Mid Kirk, Greenock
The James Watt docks, the James Watt Pub, James Watt College. In case you were unaware of the fact, James Watt came from Greenock, the man who supercharged the industrial revolution with his invention of the improved steam engine. The son of a prosperous shipbuilder, James Watt was born in William Street, Greenock in 1736. A red sandstone building (The James Watt Building) stands on the site now with a statue of James Watt where his former home stood. When his mother died and his father's company struggled he set off to London, then settled in Glasgow, making and repairing academic instruments. Walking on Glasgow Green he was struck by an idea for how to improve the efficiency of the Newcomen steam engine, but lacking finances could not realise his idea. He was introduced to John Roebuck who financed his invention (in return for two thirds share). Roebuck had helped found the Carron Iron Works in Falkirk. It was after moving to Birmingham with a new partner that his engine found success, initially in collieries, but then in flour, cotton and iron mills. James Watt died in 1819, aged 83, a wealthy and famous man having made his last visit to Greenock three years earlier aboard the steam powered ship PS Comet. In 1882 a unit of mechanical and electrical power was named the Watt in his honour.

Statue of James Watt, Greenock

When I ran from Kirkintilloch (where the Lyle Water Fountain above was cast at the Lion Foundry) to Falkirk (where parts for Watt's steam engine were cast at the Carron Iron Works) I came to the site of the Battle of Bonnymuir. This was the place where a period of Radical revolt in Scotland came to a head in 1820, and a group of workers were captured as they marched towards Carron Iron Works, trying to seize weapons there. On April 5th these men were arrested, and their leaders later executed. This led to other Radicals being rounded up across the country. On April 8th 1820 the Port Glasgow Volunteers were bringing five prisoners from Paisley, to Greenock prison. Expecting hostility along the way they increased the armed escort to 80 men and successfully delivered the prisoners to Greenock prison.

As the Volunteers headed back to Port Glasgow a crowd had gathered on Cathcart Street and began shouting, and throwing stones and bottles at them. Apparently the firing of warning shots over the crowd was ordered, but two people fell down injured. Enraged, the crowd turned on the soldiers who fired indiscriminately into the crowd as they fled as far as Cartsdyke, roughly where Cappielow Stadium now stands. The crowd gave up the pursuit and turned back towards the prison. The wooden gates of Greenock prison were quickly forced open and the five Radical prisoners released (all the other prisoners were left in their cells- this was clearly not the work of people intent on anarchy). The prisoners and the crowd dispersed before reinforcements arrived.

The episode left eight people dead, shot by the soldiers, and many others seriously injured. Among the dead were an 8 year old boy, James McGilp, and a 65 year old man John McWhinnie. A 14 year old boy had to have a leg amputated due to his injuries, as did a 65 year old woman Mrs Catherine Turner. (source)

A memorial now stands at the spot where the incident occurred, at the junction of Bank Street and Cathcart Street. The 200th anniversary of this episode on 8th April 2020 will largely pass unnoticed amidst all the other events around the world at this time, but I still find it remarkable that this incident, a mere seven moths after The Peterloo Massacre is so little known. 

Radical War Memorial, Greenock commemorates events of April 1820

Greenock to Gourock

Ginger The Horse, by Andy Scott
James Watt's improved steam engine all but ended the days of the horse powered machine. This statue stands just off the A8 in the centre of Greenock, opposite the Police station. "Ginger" is its name, after the horse in the American novel about Scottish immigrants, Dancing at the Rascal Fair. In the book Ginger is a cart horse transporting sugar on the quay. Apparently based on a true story, when cart and horse accidentally tumble into the water, the owner is distraught and has now lost his beloved horse, and source of income. Ginger the statue, by Andy Scott (creator of the Kelpies at Falkirk), is here to commemorate the working men and horses that powered the growth of Greenock as docks, and ship building centre.

Custom House Quay, Greenock
Custom House and the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
On the day I was in town all was quiet at the dockside, and it is impossible to imagine the bustle and activity that used to go on down here. Custom House Quay is where the Waverley still docks when it stops in town, but was once where Canadian timber for the shipyards, tobacco and fish from North America, wine from Spain and sugar from the Caribbean would be arriving. Also thousands of people left Scotland for the last time from here. All incoming goods had to pay government duty, and from 1714 Greenock was a custom house port. The current Custom House that stands here was built in 1818 and housed HM Revenue and Customs from then, until 2010. It has now been redeveloped as office space, and stands alongside the Beacon Arts Centre, a new building which opened here in 2013.

Heading west from the centre of town along the seafront you pass the Greenock Ocean Terminal, where ships unloading containers or cruise ships giving passengers a whirlwind visit to Scotland can dock. There is not much to it at present but a new terminal building has been given planning permission.

When Albert Harbour was excavated, the spoil was used to create the Greenock Esplanade, a pleasant place for a morning walk or run, with views north over the river towards the hills above Helensburgh and the entrance to Gare Loch. At low tides the wreck of "the sugar ship" can be spotted halfway to Helensburgh. The Greek owned, sugar carrying ship MV Captayannis sank in January 1974, and was grounded on the sandbank, The Tail 'o the Bank. 

This point on the river was often crowded during World War II as the merchant ships and naval vessels formed up here before heading off in the North Atlantic convoys, a vital supply line to Britain during the war. 

Greenock Esplanade
There were many gulliemots on the Clyde this crisp March morning
There is an excellent leaflet available here that tells you about some of the former residents of the grand villas that line the road behind the esplanade, including ship owners and shipyard owners, the Algie family of coffee and tea merchants, Abram Lyle of Tate and Lyle fame, and Henry "Birdie" Bowers, polar explorer and one of the men that died on Captain Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.

Further along the path comes around the green space of Battery Park. As the name suggests this was where gun batteries were positioned. In the wars with America in 1812 it was decided to build defences to protect the Clyde from attack and a gun battery was positioned here in 1813. Fort Matilda was a military post here from 1818, and in 1907 land here was purchased by the government to create Britain's main torpedo manufacturing facility, using Holy Loch on the opposite bank as a torpedo test range. The Clyde Torpedo Factory opened in 1910, employing 700 people at that time. During World War II the factory switched entirely to torpedo manufacture and  anti-aircraft guns were again located at this point. Several batteries of guns were positioned around other potential military or industrial targets on the Clyde on both sides of the river. The factory carried on at this site as the Torpedo Experimental Establishment until 1959. The military looking buildings that now house Fun World Leisure are the only hints at the former military life of this corner of Greenock. 

Open space at Battery Park, Greenock
Another reminder of the effects of World War II in this part of Scotland can be spotted on the skyline from here, on the brow of Lyle Hill. The Free French Cross memorial here, with the Cross of Lorraine combined with an anchor. In commemorates the 1500 members of the Free French naval forces who were based in Greenock during the war. It specifically commemorates several of their vessels which sank, and locally it unofficially commemorates the Maillé Brézé. While anchored in the Firth of Clyde in 1940, an accident fired off one of the torpedoes, sinking the ship, and killing 37 crewmen.

Lyle Hill shares its name with the Greenock family that brought the world tins of Golden Syrup, the only sugar by-product marketed with the image of a swarm of bees around a lion carcass filled with honeycomb. However, I cannot find out if Lyle Hill is specifically named after them, or even their teeth rotting products. 

Lyle Hill and Free French Memorial on the brow of the hill, from Battery Park
Views from the Free French Memorial at Greenock, from a previous visit
Following the path around coast towards Gourock, it comes around Cardwell Bay. The old jetty rotting away in the bay is known as Admiralty Pier, having been built by the admiralty to service ships during World War II. It was later used by US servicemen at the submarine base across on Holy Loch, landing here on "liberty boats" to enjoy some R&R on this side of the water. With the Americans departing in the 1980s it has been slowly rotting away since then. 

Gourock's Cardwell Bay
Admiralty Pier, Cardwell Bay, Gourock
Gourock grew from small fishing village to an important cross roads on the Firth of Clyde, with ferries from here going to numerous points from the 1600s. With the arrival of the railway in 1889 Gourock became a popular holiday destination and the Clyde steamer service here expanded. A gazetteer of 1882 describes Gourock as having...
" neat and cheerful an aspect, such snug and comfortable houses, such capital bathing merit the character of a first-class watering-place."
One of the "first-class watering-places" that was around in 1882 is the Victoria Bar on Shore Street. On 25th January 1883 the Gourock Jolly Beggers Burns Club held its first Burns supper here. Local artist George Wyllie is commemorated in a small garden on the other side of the road from the bar, but surely such a fantastic sculptor merits something more grand from his hometown? A new terminal at Greenock for cruise ships is being planned to welcome visitors, and as part of this they aim to incorporate a gallery of George Wyllie's works. But Gourock looks like it needs a bit more of the great man's work about town. 
Victoria Bar, Gourock
George Wylie Memorial Garden
An earlier sculpture, created by the residents of this part of the world approximately 4000 years ago, stands on the hill behind Kempock Street in Gourock. The Kempock Stone, or The Lang Stane, also known as "Granny Kempock", this monolith of mica-schist stands about six foot tall and vaguely resembles a shrouded figure...allegedly. Before all the houses here crowded around it, the stone was a prominent object for passing sailors. Fishermen and sailors of yore are supposed to have made offerings to the stone, and chanted as they marched around it in order to be granted a safe voyage. Many of the stories about the stone, including the quote on the plaque beside it come from the 1880 book by Revd. David MacRae, Notes About Gourock, Chiefly Historical (image below). He supposes that the site was once "an altar to Baai in druid times" but the good reverend seems to be the only source of many of these stories.

The Kempock Stone, Gourock
"Granny Kempock"
Notes About Gourock, Chiefly Historical by Reverend D. Macrae
Sadly the stone is tied up in a more depressing episodes of local history. Just as I had found stories in the villages of Fife, and in Paisley of supposed witchcraft, the mania for finding witches in the 17th century also came to Gourock, and nearby Inverkip. Researchers from Edinburgh University have mapped the location of witch trials. They record the story of Janet Love from Greenock, who in 1632 was taken to Inverkip to be interrogated by being "pricked", and tortured on the "stocks", "bow strings", and "wedges on the shins". Over a period of 50 years, at least 30 people (mostly women) were sent to trial at Inverkip for witchcraft. 

One of the most well-known cases was that of Mary Lamont. In 1662 she was aged only 15 or 16 when she was accused of conspiring with the devil. She confessed to dancing around the Kempock Stone, and, with others, plotting to throw the stone into the sea to bring on bad weather and disrupt shipping. Found guilty of witchcraft, she was executed by burning, possibly outside the Auld Kirk in Inverkip.

A curious TV appearance from the Kempock Stone is in an STV drama from 1987, Shadow of the Stone, which features Shirley Henderson, and Alan Cumming. It is available on Youtube, but the trailer was enough for me to get the gist. 

Leaving behind a 4000 year old standing stone, I ran on past the fabulous Gourock Outdoor Pool, which sits down on the river's edge. Closed over the winter months I would encourage you to come and enjoy one of the few remaining outdoor pools in Scotland. Every Scottish seaside resort used to boast such a pool, Gourock's being first opened in 1909, often tidal pools right down at the water's edge. The pool at Gourock is now a bit classier than that, with the water heated, but still filled with salt water, which catches you by surprise when you get a mouthful of it.

Gourock Outdoor Pool, March 2020
There are spectacular views from the terrace here across the Clyde Estuary and if you haven't been for a while, I would encourage you to make the effort. I have always enjoyed swimming outdoors, but I am a mere amateur compared to my grandfather, who would jump into any river, sea or pool when he was outdoors. This photo below is him on the diving dale at Stonehaven Open Air Pool, in about the 1930s. That pool is still open, but the outdoor pool at Helensburgh that I can remember visiting with my grandparents, is long gone. 

Old photo of my grandad at Stonehaven Open Air Pool
Gourock Outdoor Pool, Summer 2019
Gourock Outdoor Pool, Summer 2019

Gourock to Weymss Bay

My mum, her brother and sister, and my great-uncle Andy on holiday in Dunoon in the late 1950s
If I think of Gourock, it is "Gourock to Dunoon" that I think of. Ferries across the Clyde have ran from Gourock for hundreds of years. It is positioned at a strange point on the Clyde, where you can cross to Dunoon on the Cowal peninsula, to Kilcreggan on the Rosneath peninsula, or in the past, to Helensburgh. With train connections and steamers, Gourock and the coast around about became the holiday destination for Glaswegians heading "doon the watter" at the Glasgow Fair. This was the main source of income for these towns in the early twentieth century and led to their rapid growth.

There are still two ferry terminals in Gourock and the photos below are of the Western Ferries terminal at McInoy's Point at the western edge of town. 

Gourock to Dunoon ferry, at Gourock
Gourock Dunoon ferries on the Cyde, passing in front of Ben Ime and Gare Loch
Cloch lighthouse on the Clyde
At Cloch point between Gourock and Inverkip, the lighthouse was first lit in 1797, one of Robert Stevenson's early designs. Chains from a boom across the river between the Cloch lighthouse and Dunoon prevented enemy submarines coming further up the Clyde in both World Wars. On the frosty morning in early March that I ran down here there were dozens of birds up and down the coast. Colourful bullfinches in the bushes by the path, cormorants, guillemots, duck and swans in the sea and the most gorgeous views across to the snow-topped hills on the northern side of the Clyde. Coming around the bend at Cloch lighthouse, the snowy mountaintops of Arran came into view, with the distinctive shape of Goatfell.

Cormorant on the Clyde
Arran on the horizon, beyond Bute, as I came into Lunderston Bay
Lunderston Bay
Heading south now, the coastal path comes around Lunderston Bay which has a couple of sweeping beaches, and wonderful rock pools. In the past when Port Glasgow and Greenock closed down for their Fair fortnight this was one of the most popular destinations on the coast and a tent city would spring up on the grass behind the beach. There is a fantastic old photograph from those days on one of the information boards at the beach, where it looks absolutely rammed. 

The Isle of Arran in the distance
Beaches at Lunderston Bay, much quieter than in the past. 
Although I only knew Inverkip as the place where the marina is found, it is actually a very old settlement, with a church built here by the monks of Paisley Abbey in  1188. King Robert III, of the Renfrewshire Stewart line gave lands here to his son, Sir John Shaw Stewart, in the 1400s, who built a castle here. The Shaw Stewart family later built nearby Ardgowan House in 1798 and have lived there ever since. See what a few family connections 600 years ago grants you?

In the 1600s Inverkip, as mentioned above, was notorious for its zealous witch trials and several alleged witches were burnt here. Over the centuries the village was known as a hotbed for smugglers, transferring tea, tobacco and alcohol from ships travelling up the Clyde to port. The area at the mouth of the Kip Water river was excavated by army engineers during World War II to allow barges to be stored here. In the 1970s, building work for the Inverkip power station further down the coast involved dredging this area for sand and gravel to be used in the construction. This left a sheltered area of water that was converted in 1973 into Kip Marina. It has grown in size since then and can provide space for over 600 boats. A recent housing development beside the marina is a wee bit brutal, and not exactly to my taste. Presumably in part it provides accommodation for many people who may come and go to their boats here in the marina. 

Kip Marina
The path then skirts around Inverkip Power Station and reaches Weymss Bay. Since 1865 Weymss Bay has been at the end of the train line from Glasgow, allowing passengers to quickly disembark and hop onto the ferry to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. The current train station is surely one of the most handsome in the whole of Britain. Built in 1903, it has curving steel beams supporting tons of glass. A glass covered corridor sweeps passengers straight down to the ferry.

Weymss Bay train station
Glass roof of the Weymss Bay train station
To the ferry
Rothesay to Weymss Bay ferry
That brings me to the end of my run, and to the end of my run across Scotland, for now. Since I did this run, the Covid-19 outbreak in Britain has escalated and all unnecessary travel has to stop to reduce the spread of the disease. So I'm stopping. 

In 1849 a third of the people living in Inverkip died from a cholera outbreak. SO to avoid the same thing happening to all of us, stay at home and wash your hands. No more day trips for me until this is all over. Once we can travel again, I will finish my coast to coast run at Largs and do a lap of honour around Millport. Until then, look back over some of my other runs, and maybe plan your own next jaunt. 

While I am down in this part of the world I will leave you with one last old photo. This is my great-great granfather, James McKellar, and his fine beard. He didn't just go to Rothesay for the Glasgow Fair, he grew up there and, married my great-great granny Agnes Donaldson from Bo'ness. He worked as stone mason and moved to Glasgow, living on Hope Street in the 1860s, just where Glasgow Central Station would be built 15 years later. His daughter Flora McKellar married my great-grandad Andrew, the plumber from Greenock, that I mentioned above.

I have particularly enjoyed this run today, enjoying the views, remembering childhood day trips, and ferry trips. Remembering my grandad's love of swimming in the sea and pools down here, and remembering the lives of his parents and grandparents at sea, in the sugar warehouses and on the islands. I'll be back again soon. 

Friday, 20 March 2020

Coast to Coast. Johnstone to Greenock

Running Coast to Coast - Johnstone to Greenock

Over the space of several weekend runs, I have been trying to jog across Scotland, a proper cross-country run. Having now run from Glasgow, across to Falkirk, then into Fife at Kincardine, via Dunfermline and Glenrothes to St Andrews, it seemed only fair to turn my face the other way and head for the Ayrshire coast. Much of this has taken me through places that I have rarely spent much time, so it has given me a chance to find out more of the local history along the way.

I have got as far as Johnstone now, just west of Paisley, and to stay off the roads as much as possible, decided to run along the national cycle path to Greenock, then Gourock, before finishing off down the Ayr Coastal Path as far as Largs.

Johnstone to Bridge of Weir

Cycle path at the outskirts of Linwood
I caught a morning train from Glasgow Central to Johnstone to pick up from my last run. My route took me out of Johnstone and along the southern edge of Linwood. Like many towns around this area Linwood grew with the arrival of cotton and flax mills in the 18th century. In the 20th century it became synonymous with car production, and with one car in particular: the Hillman Imp. These were produced at the custom built factory in Linwood from the early 1960s. The first Imp off the production line can be seen at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow (with the escalating Covid-19 situation I haven't been in to check it out, with the museum closed until further notice). The Hillman Avenger, and later the Talbot Sunbeam were also produced here. When Peugeot took over the company, all production was moved elsewhere, and in 1981 the plant shut down. As The Proclaimers sang, it was "Linwood no more." Mass unemployment greatly damaged the town, and redevelopment was slow.

The Hillman Imp. Made in Linwood
Leaving Linwood the cycle path to Gourock passes Brookfield, a small village which used to be home to Merchiston Hospital, but is now a growing estate of new housing.

Kilbarchan lies a mile southwest of here, where my great-great-great grandad on my mother's side lived in the 1840s, a silk hand loom weaver on Shuttle Street at the time. His home was a couple of doors down from the National Trust's Weavers Cottage, which is fitted out with a loom from that period. This was when hand looms were at their peak and there were 900 in the village at that time, usually a handloom filling the lower floor with the living quarters above. Handloom weaving declined with the arrival of power looms in factories, and the Industrial revolution. His son, my great-great grandfather moved to Greenock, where I am headed today, where he worked as a boat ranger.  On my father's side my great-x8 grandfather was farming at Auchinames just beyond Kilbarchan in the 1650s. 

River Gryffe, viewed from a bridge at Bridge of Weir
The path soon comes to the sleepy town of Bridge of Weir. It was early in the morning when I ran through it, so maybe it doesn't always look so drowsy, but I'd be surprised. As I know someone called Alan from Bridge of Weir, in my mind I think of it as Bridge of Allan, and Bridge of Weir as the douce town outside Stirling (which everyone else calls Bridge of Allan). I know I am wrong, but I can't disentangle my brain on this.

Bridge of Weir...or is it Allan?
As the name suggests, Bridge of Weir's origins are due to it being a crossing point on a river, the River Gryffe. Ranfurly Castle was built in 1440 nearby and there was a salmon weir here on the river connected to the estate. Small sections of castle wall still stand to the west of the town, on the grounds of Ranulfy Castle Golf Course. The bridge at Bridge of Weir was built around 1770, and stood until it was demolished and replaced in 1964. The road between Greenock and Paisley always crossed the river at this point, and in the 18th century increased traffic led to a larger road being built, and a bridge to replace the former crossing. Bridge over the weir, lets call this place Bridge of Weir. Imaginative.

Leather has been produced here since the 1770s, and still is today. When the benches of the House of Commons and the House of Lords were re-upholstered in 1989, it was with Bridge of Weir leather. They have also produced leather for upholstering high end cars, from the DeLorean to the Maclaren F1. The path I am on follows the former train line between Kilmacolm and Paisley and is dotted with various sculptures to distract you along the way. This old train as you pass Bridge of Weir was one of my favourites.

Bridge of Weir to Kilmacolm

Quarriers Village
As the path carried on in the direction Kilmacolm, I took a diversion off to the left to have a quick nosey around Quarriers Village. Glasgow shoe maker and philanthropist William Quarrier set up a village here in 1876 for "orphaned and abandoned children". He wanted to create a community for young people, in well-built homes, with religious instruction, schooling and work training integral parts of his plan. Over time there were 40 cottages, a schoolhouse, church, workshops and a training ship to school people for naval careers. Emigration at the time was seen by William Quarrier as a way to give the children a new life, and although questions have been raised since about the consent children could give, 7000 children from Quarriers Village were sent to Canada between the 1870s and 1938, often starting off work as farm labourers.

Cottages in Quarriers Village
Buildings of Quarriers Village
Although the houses are now private residencies, a small residential epilepsy centre still operated from here until 2013, when it was moved to Glasgow, still funded by the social care charity which takes its name from founder William Quarrier. A TB sanitorium was also built on this site. Although the houses of the village were grand and the principles upon which it was founded were undeniably benevolent, it is an incongruous place unlike anything else around about, and feels like it could be the setting for a particularly Presbyterian John Wyndham novel.

Statues on the cycle path
Back on the cycle path we pass another of the statues on the route. Known locally as "the soldiers" this is "The Lost Roman Legion" by David Kemp, who works with recycled materials, a nod to the Roman history of this area. South of the Antonine Wall, which ended at Old Kilpatrick on the north bank of the River Clyde there is local evidence of the Roman presence with the Lurg Moor Fortlet on a hill above Greenock. While this sculpture maybe suggests the lost Roman Ninth Legion, which was believed to be wiped out on a march into Caledonia, they appear to be carrying the standard of the Seventeenth Legion who were wiped out at the Battle of Teutoburg in modern day Germany, so a well and truly lost legion.

Next I came to Kilmacolm, which the Telegraph likes to describe as "Scotland's millionaire heartland". It can safely be described as well-to-do, and Kilmacolm used to return the only Conservative cooncillor in Inverclyde Council, in the days before boundary changes and the single transferable vote system robbed them of that claim to fame. There has been settlements here since prehistoric times and it has a long history as a religious centre, named after a church (or Gaelic cill) of Columba that was found here some 1500 years ago. Legend has it that St Columba and St Mungo met at this spot in the 6th century.

The reason that I took a detour into Kilmacolm was to take a quick look at Windy Hill, a detached house in the village that was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and built in 1901. After the railway arrived in the 1870s, Kilmacolm had rapidly grown as a place for wealthy professionals who commuted to Glasgow to live in. With views over the Gryffe Valley, Windy Hill stands at the top of a steep hill and is still a private residence. Although it is a large house, with seven bedrooms, it actually looks bizarrely small among all the mansions of Kilmacolm, and is rather dwarfed by the pseudo-baronial building next door. It was Mackintosh's first building where he used rough-casting on the exterior, and it provided inspiration for his later designs for Hill House in Helensburgh, and House For An Art Lover in Glasgow.

Windy Hill, Kilmacolm
Mackintosh's designs for the house
Windy Hill, Kilmacolm

Kilmacolm to Greenock

Having satisfied my curiosity over a Mackintosh building I had never seen before in the flesh, it was onwards across the open countryside towards Port Glasgow and the River Clyde. 

Farmland between Kilmacolm and Port Glasgow
I took the direct route down the hill towards the Clyde from the cycle path, which continues above Port Glasgow in the direction of Gourock. This was because I was wanting to see The Bogle Stane, in Boglestone. The housing scheme here was very familiar to me, as if I was running through the scheme in Glenrothes where my wife grew up which has the exact same houses. Who knew where Mackintosh's experiments in rough-casting and design would end up?

Upper Port Glasgow
Dragged from Loch Long, 15km away, by a glacier during the last Ice Age, the Bogle Stane stands at the top of Clune Brae, a mere shadow of its former self. About 3m across and only a meter high, this whinstone used to stand about 4m tall.

The Bogle Stone (or what's left of it after the church intervened)
Bogles are ghosts, and the Bogle Stone used to be a favourite haunt for a particular ghost who would jump out at unsuspecting people passing between Kilmacolm and Port Glasgow (one old story about it can be found here). Frustrated at this pagan nonsense a former minister of the area apparently blew up the stone with dynamite, and broke much of it down to be used for making curling stones and dykes.

At the bottom of the hill, Newark Castle sits on the banks of the River Clyde. Having spent a couple of centuries hidden away by the many shipyards on this part of the Clyde it now stands revealed, beside the only remaining shipyard on the lower Clyde. The "new wark" (the new building work) on the Maxwell estate here in the 1400's was the first castle on this spot, remodelled in the 1590s. So it's old. When you live in a modern city like Glasgow just up the road, you forget that there are these old castles here, and in Dumbarton, and in Mugdock Park, etc. on your doorstep, and that the layers of Scottish history are hiding under your nose. It is a castle full of fascinating stories, and interesting nooks and crannies, a lovely doocot and great views over the Clyde. Worth visiting if you are passing by (although its closed just now).

Ferguson Marine shipyard next door is a sorry tale. Having gone into administration in a dispute over two CalMac ferries, the yard is now owned by the government, but the two ships languish while plans for what is to become of them seem to be sadly lacking. It is a thoroughly depressing sight. The first shipbuilders in Port Glasgow were founded in 1780. Business was good after the demand for ships increased with the loss of the American colonies and the wars with Napoleon. Eventually the whole of the Clydeside from here to the centre of Greenock was a continuous chain of shipyards. The early yards built wooden ships, and the remains of the tree ponds, where tree-length logs were stored in the water to season and preserve the wood until it was required, can be seen stretching to the east of Newark Castle.

The unfinished hybrid CalMac ferry in Ferguson Marine's yard
Before it diversified into shipbuilding, Port Glasgow had been created as a port for Glasgow. As Glasgow grew in importance and influence in the late 1600s the problem of the shallow waters of the River Clyde became more acute. Greenock docks had been used to unload ships, and cargo could then be transferred to smaller ships which could come upstream. Various disputes led to the merchants of Glasgow arranging the purchase of 18 acres of land near to Newark Castle from then laird, Sir George Maxwell, in order to build their own docks. This rapidly became Port Glasgow and quickly grew in size. Scotland's first dry dock was built here in 1762, designed by local boy James Watt.

Meanwhile the big neighbour up the river continued to "build the Clyde". By building hundreds jetties from both banks, to make the central channel scour the riverbed  with faster flowing water, and by dredging ever since, a river deep enough to allow larger ships upstream was created. Now the "Clyde built Glasgow".

All the nautical activity in Port Glasgow led to other industries growing up alongside. From the 18th century until the mid 1970 the rope works in Port Glasgow were a major employer, and their handsome building has now been made into flats. I am sure I can remember being driven in my grandad's car to Largs or Arran, and having the different smells of Port Glasgow (from the rope works) and then on to the sweeter smell of the sugar refineries of Greenock. Did rope works have a distinct smell? Am I just making this up?

Gourock Ropeworks
Port Glasgow town centre. Even in the sunlight it is hard to make this building look anything other than functional
A nod to the maritime past of the town, this sculpture "Endeavour" of a ship's prow cutting through the waves by Malcolm Robertson is found by the main road through town
The Comet was one of the early ships built in Port Glasgow, the engine of which can now be found in the Science Museum in London, as it was the first commercially successful steamboat service in Europe. One unique feature of the PS (paddle steamer) Comet is that the inventor of the improved steam engine, James Watt, traveled on her as an old man, coming back to his hometown of Greenck from Glasgow, and taking in the full trip to Rothesay. Sir Walter Scott also sailed on the PS Comet. Henry Bell, hotel owner from Helensburgh, ordered the ship built in 1811 and ran a service for passengers from Glasgow to Greenock and Helensburgh. It started a flurry of steam boat services on the Clyde that took people from Glasgow "doon the watter" for the next 200 years, the PS Waverley the only one still in service.
Replica of PS Comet
A replica of the Comet was built in 1962 by shipyard apprentices, and sailed successfully from Greenock to Helensburgh. It is now quietly rotting away in the Port Glasgow town centre. At Port Glasgow a sharp bend in the navigable channel up the Clyde is marked by the Perch lighthouse. So I used that to navigate my way down the coast towards Greenock, a couple of miles west from Port Glasgow. 

Perch lighthose at Port Glasgow
Former warehouses and Titan crane at Greenock
For some reason the name Greenock seems to be impossible to pronounce properly by English broadcasters. Basically it is pronounced as "green" then "ock". Pretty easy. However, those more familiar with Greenwich insist on making it "gren-ock". As a safe anchorage on the Clyde, Greenock grew up in the 1600s as a fishing village. As the village expanded, merchants in Glasgow began using it as a port, until disputes drove them to build their own port. Greenock became known for sugar refining for over 200 years. Originally the raw ingredients came from slave colonies in the Caribbean, but later from elsewhere. It became a prosperous town, and that is reflected in the many handsome Victorian buildings in the town centre. The last Tate and Lyle refinery closed in 1997 and the caramel smell that used to hang over the town has now gone. Many of the warehouses remain giving a hint at the bustle that there used to be about the town, but like Port Glasgow, high unemployment in the late twentieth century followed the closure of many of the towns industries.

As I ran along the A8 on my way to Greenock Central Station, I passed by Cappielow, the stadium where Greenock Morton FC have played since 1879. As a Partick Thistle fan I have endured many a wet afternoon on the western terraces here, which seem to have been designed to collect 6 inches of rainwater about your ankles if it rains, and it usually does.

It is a stadium that I enjoy visiting though, it has a shabby charm, and I will be sorry if they ever modernise it to 20th century standards. Today when I ran past it was a sad sight, locked up indefinitely while Scotland starts shutting down in order to ride out the Covid-19 storm.

Cappielow, March 2020
Morton v Partick Thistle, August 2019
(I would say "in happier times" but Morton won 3-2)
I had arrived in Greenock, foot sore and weary after taking more diversions than planned. Next time out I would try to carry on down the Clyde coast to Weymss Bay.