I went to a Celtic Connections thing on the last weekend which sounded more exciting than it actually turned out to be – reviving Beethoven arrangements of various Scottish and Gaelic songs that he’d worked on. It was clever enough, but in the end I agreed with the judgement of audiences at the time who found all quite unsatisfying – neither really Scottish nor really Beethoven.
But we did get a couple of glimpses into effects of the war which I hadn’t realised came into this story – Beethoven started off working in Bonn for the Elector of Cologne, and went to Vienna with his help, intending to return, but while he was gone the French came in and took over the city and the electorate.
And while the work on the songs was going on, Austria was formally allied with France for a time and always more or less surrounded by its territories, leading to difficulties in communication – letters between Vienna and the publishers in Edinburgh would go sometimes via Stockholm and sometimes via Malta, and sometimes go missing entirely.
I’m not sure now whether there really wasn’t much of a concept of life in wartime, unless you were unlucky enough to have fighting on your doorstep, or if it’s just that I don’t know much about it.
I started my last day along the canal not at the junction where I had left it, but at the end of the branch line into Glasgow, at Port Dundas.
For a place I’d never known existed this isn’t far at all from the city centre – quarter of an hour’s walk north of Queen Street station, but on the other side of the various ramifications of the M8.
Regeneration around the Port Dundas basins was one of the things that the Millenium project which reopened the canals would have liked to do but couldn’t get funding for – the basin was reconnected to the rest of the canal, after having been cut off by the construction of the M8, but it’s just a quiet ghost at the back of various company’s yards – some of what’s here has been filled in, and I think some of the original site is under the motorway.
Using the quiet water for watersports is quite a good bit of initiative, however!
The entrance to the basin does have a good example of the canal’s original bascule bridges, almost all replaced elsewhere.
When this was built, it would have been still slightly to the west of a city based around the old High Street and only just spreading west into the Merchant City.
The view towards the west end shows you just how high up above the city, and in particular the river, this is – there hasn’t been a lock since the summit of the canal, and there are long flights to descend before the canal reaches the river way to the west.
After the neglect of Port Dundas, it’s quite a surprise to come round a corner and find Speirs Wharf stretched out ahead – again, I never really knew this was here, and I’m not sure why not.
The first building was built around 1812 to house the canal offices, until they moved to Edinburgh when the Union Canal opened 10 years later.
The warehouses are a bit newer, maybe early Victorian rather than Georgian, although there had been storage buildings on the site since at least the 1820s.
Half a mile or so on again is the ‘Old Basin’ at Hamiltonhill, the terminus of this end of the canal for a time while the last section was built. The buildings here are the oldest remaining on any Scottish canal, but if it really still belongs to the canal authorities, as a sign here suggests, then they should be ashamed of themselves.
It’s another couple of miles to where the branch joins the main line of the canal at Stocksfield junction – somewhere up behind Maryhill Road, if you’re trying to get there by land.
When the canal was in use, a floating bridge at the junction took horses – and people – across from one towpath to the other, but these days you have to slip down to road level and through a tunnel under the canal, to climb back up at the other side.
The flight of locks at Maryhill was built with basins to allow boats to pass when the locks were busy. This is the first and longest of three main flights along this stretch, but there are other odd locks as the canal drops towards the sea.
The Kelvin aqueduct, although quite tame in comparison to later creations, was the largest in Britain (or possibly even Europe) when it opened in 1790, and sent ships sailing past 70 feet above the river, becoming a tourist attraction. It’s not easy to get a good view of it, because of all the trees along the river banks!
I made it to the end just as dusk was falling, so I’ll have to go back to Bowling some time for a better look at the old harbour – although I think that every time I go past Bowling on the Waverley, and haven’t managed it yet!
Reading about the various Indiaman disasters had reminded me that I’ve already visited a spot associated with one of them – the Brothers Parting Stone just below Grisedale Tarn, where John Wordsworth said goodbye to his brother and sister before going to take command of the Earl of Abergavenny, later wrecked just off Weymouth.
The site is near of the top of the pass, with a relatively steep valley leading down to the Grasmere road on one side, and on the other the start of a gentler drop to the long valley of Grisedale, which leads out to Glenridding and Ullswater.
Like so many things, the story of the stone is a bit of a later myth – the parting here was not before the fateful third voyage on the Earl of Abergavenny in 1805, but five years earlier, when John was on his way to take command of her for the first time, and although it was the last time he left home in Grasmere, the brothers (and their sister) may have met again in London two years later when William and Dorothy travelled to France.
The story really starts with a poem written around the same spot in 1805, which wasn’t published until 1842, as “Elegiac Verses in Memory of My Brother, John Wordsworth“, and it was 1881 before the Wordsworth Society decided to erect a monument at the site, inspired by lines from the poem.
The stone is really just a stone, a bit off the modern path, but helpfully marked with a metal sign.
The stone is carved with the words which inspired it, but it was never very good stone for carving, and it’s fairly illegible now.
Here did we stop; and here looked round
While each into himself descends,
For that last thought of parting Friends
That is not to be found.
Brother and friend, if verse of mine
Have power to make thy virtues known,
Here let a monumental Stone
Stand–sacred as a Shrine.
Over a few days towards the end of the year I walked the length of the Forth and Clyde Canal, from the Carron at Falkirk through to the Clyde at Bowling. This was Scotland’s first canal, started in 1768, although the Monklands Canal wasn’t far behind, and the first surveys for what would become the Crinan and Caledonian canals were carried out only a few years later.
This was still near the start of what would become a great revolution of transport across the country, and really combined two functions – linking one coast of Scotland to the other and avoiding the need for a hazardous voyage round the north coast, but also linking many inland places to the sea and onward transport, and eventually directly into Glasgow.
The first phase of building, from 1768 to 1773, took the canal as far as Kirkintilloch, giving the town a new role as a transportation hub, and sparking new industry in the area. Two years later the canal was filled as far as Stockingfield, then just to the north of Glasgow, where it stayed for another seven years, before work finally began again in 1784, with two branches of the canal finally reaching the Clyde at Bowling and Port Dundas in the centre of Glasgow by 1790.
The famous face of the modern canal is of course the Kelpies, between Grangemouth and Falkirk where the canal now joins the river – echoing Scottish myths, but also recognising the amount of work done along the route of the canal by horses.
I’ve written a bit before about the very eastern end of the canal, which originally ran down to the mouth of the river at Grangemouth, where the docks didn’t run out on reclaimed land the way they do now. The last modern sealock, or river lock, is a bit further upstream , although the junction has been taken downstream from the Kelpies to avoid bridges on the river.
This first section of the canal runs mostly through modern buildings, but there are occasional older buildings scattered about.
Beyond the Kelpies the first real landmark is the Union Inn, built at the basin where the Union Canal originally joined at the base of a long flight of locks, demolished while the canals were closed in the late 20th century and now replaced by the Falkirk Wheel.
The canal is generally used now for leisure boating, and on a November day there wasn’t much on the move, but every so often I would come across a little cluster of moored boats.
It’s interesting to see how the routes chosen for the canals are still echoed by modern transport routes today – the railway line from Falkirk to Glasgow doesn’t shadow the canal quite as closely as the line from Edinburgh to Falkirk shadows the Union Canal, but they still come together at times.
The basin at Auchinstarry, now a marina, seems to have originally been built as a port for the town of Kilsyth to the north.
The basin at Hillhead at Kirkintilloch, the original terminus of the canal, is not nearly so impressive these days – the modern marina is on the far side of the town.
The ‘Unique Bridge‘ here, an aqueduct over the Luggie Water, seems to have got or kept its name because it later on carried a canal over a railway on a bridge over a river, but even the original aqueduct was an impressive engineering feat when first created.
The building at the Townhead Bridge probably dates from the 1820s, and was originally an inn serving canal traffic.
I’ll carry on through Glasgow to the sea another time, but one more striking feature of this section echoes the Kelpies at the beginning – the stable blocks built in the 1810s or 1820s to provide changes of horses for passenger transport.
The stables at Croy Hill, before Auchinstarry, had to be built well back from the canal because the first foundations vanished into the marshy ground. They’ve lost their roof, but look to be a pretty solid ruin.
The Shirva stables at Twechar are in a more precarious state, and have been fenced off from the path.
The stables at Glasgow Bridge, between Kirkintilloch and Cadder, are now a pub.
Lambhill stables, a mile or so before the canal junction in Glasgow, were neglected for years, but are now used as a local community centre – it’s nice to see the buildings being used.
It seems to be a month for gates. When I walked the Cleveland Way from Helmsley last year, I didn’t realised that I was only a couple of miles away from one of the oldest Trafalgar memorials, erected at the gates to Duncombe Park in 1806. So, heading back to the coast, I took the chance to take a very scenic route from York to Scarborough and pay a visit to the gate, as well as a second visit to Helmsley when it was likely to be a bit less overrun with tourists.
The main entrance is beside Helmsley Castle, so this is a ‘back gate’, with a little lodge, and the road running away straight at first, although further on it winds through the grounds.
The stonework of the gate has decayed badly over the years, and the front part of the pillars has recently been replaced.
The gate is inscribed with the date, 1806, and a dedication:
To the memory of Lord Viscount Nelson and the unparalleled gallant achievements of the British Navy
The gate was unlocked, so I slipped through to see if there was an inscription on the back, not really expecting one.
This side is more poetical, inscribed:
O price his conquering country grieved to pay
O dear bought glories of Trafalgar’s Day!
I really only passed through Munich, on my way home from a trip to an Austrian Christmas market for once (before I can never go anywhere again), but while I was there I wandered off in the pouring rain to look at the Siegestor, a monument to the Bavarian forces who fought against Napoleon, in the days when what is now Germany was still a collection of smaller states.
The monument sits at the end of Ludwigstrasse, a great boulevard which leads out from the city centre lined with various important buildings – it’s all very plain and very imposing, something like the equivalent of late Georgian, and although the Bavarian state library and record office are still there, along with university and court buildings, it’s all a bit empty and bleak.
The monument is in the form of a triumphal arch, with Bavarian lions on the top.
Beneath the inscription are carved panels showing battle scenes.
The monument was badly damaged during WW2, and deliberately only partially restored – the reverse side is blank, with a new inscription reading ‘Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, urging peace’.
December’s Collingwood Society talk looked at ships’ boats and the uses they were put to – a very interesting talk, and I’ll have to keep my notes to hand in the future to help figure out what Jack Aubrey is up to!
The introduction to the talk was a bit of context, showing that both Collingwood and Nelson owed their first promotions to skill with small boats – Collingwood at the battle of Bunker Hill, organising the boats which supplied the troops and brought out the wounded, and Nelson in using a boat to go aboard a prize which his first lieutenant had though could not be taken.
After that, there was an overview of the types and uses of boats – the main three boats, the launch, cutter and gig, survived into Victorian times, although the allocation of these boats to individual ships varied with time and the preferences of captains.
The boats were used in several way – for basic logistical manoeuvres such as laying out anchors, towing the ship, and transporting crew and stores; in attack and defense for cutting out ships, patrolling, and transporting troops for amphibious operations; and for a variety of specific uses – communications between ships, lifesaving, and for exploration and surveying, another useful route to promotion.
The launch was about the size of a single decker bus, and was a versatile boat – the largest and most practical of the boats usually used. It could be rigged, but was usually rowed, and like the cutter was rowed double banked – with two rowers sitting side by side.
The cutter was a later development of the barge, and its smaller relation the pinnace – higher status boats, longer and narrower than the launch.
Cutters were traditionally clinker built – with overlapping planks – although the naval dockyards began to turn out carvel built cutters with planks laid edge to edge. These were more seaworthy boats than the earlier barges, with higher sides and oarports instead of thole pins – cutters usually had six oars, but smaller four oar cutters were known as jollyboats.
The gig was a later development than the others – very narrow, fast, and with a round bottom to make it easier to row – unlike the other types, it was rowed single banked, with the oarsmen sitting in single file and the oars alternately to either side. This was the captain’s private boat, and some captains would have boats – or costumes for the oarsmen – to their own design.
Several standout examples of the uses of boats were mentioned during the talk – the use of boats to bring in troops at Quebec in 1759, the survival of the crew and passengers of the mail packet Lady Hobart in the ships’s boats for eight days after the ship was wrecked, and of course Bligh’s famous 3000 mile journey in Bounty‘s launch, as well as a sadder story, of the wreck of HMS Guardian on an iceberg in 1789, where those who stayed with the ship eventually came safely to land, while almost all of those who left in the boats were lost (a story which seems to be the seed of Desolation Island, although I don’t remember coming across it before).
Only one ship’s boat from the period survives, and it is French – found in Bantry Bay after the abortive French landing in Ireland in December 1796 in support of the United Irishmen, and kept in a boathouse there for nearly 200 years. Eventually it was given to the national museum, and then to the new Maritime Museum, and has recently undergone a lot of conservation work, although the original structure is basically intact.
The boat probably came from the fleet’s flagship and served as the admiral’s barge – it had been originally built as a rowing boat, but later adapted for rigging. More than 70 replicas have now been built by youth groups from an assortment of countries, and the boats are used for races and gatherings.
I have a kind of list of things to go and have a look at if I’m ever in a certain place, and so when I found myself in Falkirk I went to have a look by the old parish church for the grave of Sir Lawrence Dundas, grandfather of the ‘real’ George Heneage Dundas, whose original home (although he bought houses all over the place) was at the Kerse, now in – or underneath – Grangemouth.
It’s not really a grave, I discovered, but a family mausoleum, originally standing in the churchyard, but joined on to the main building since the church was rebuilt in 1811.
It’s a fairly impressive little building, but there’s nothing there to say what it is or who it’s for, apart from the Dundas family crest above the door – apparently the memorial plaques have even been stolen from the coffins inside!
The graveyard was cleared in the 1960s, presumably as the town centre grew more and more closely around it, and only a few major graves were left, but some fragments from other stones have been set into the ground.
I had really gone to Falkirk to go out to the Kelpies and start walking along the Forth and Clyde canal (of which more another day), but although I had meant to start walking from the lock right by the Kelpies, I found that the extension along the river towards Grangemouth had been marked as the Charlotte Dundas trail, and couldn’t resist that.
The Charlotte Dundas was one of the very first steam powered ships – probably the first practical design – and the trials took place on the canal here or on the adjacent stretch of river.
Sir Lawrence Dundas was a major shareholder in the canal, but didn’t live to see it completed, and it was his son Thomas, the first Lord Dundas, who became involved with the steamship experiments, and named the boat after his daughter (GHD’s sister).
The boat was certainly used on the canal later on, but there were concerns that the banks would be damaged, and the ship ended up rotting away by one of the locks.
This part of the canal runs side by side with the river, which also looks a bit like a canal here, having been greatly rerouted and tamed by various industrial works. Earlier on they didn’t run so close together, but the original line of the canal was built over to provide road access to the Grangemouth docks.
It’s not that there’s anything historic to actually see along the trail, but the information was well done – about the canal, and the history of Grangemouth, and steam power, and the boat itself.
Steam as a method of power was not at all new by this stage – the first Newcomen pumping engines were nearly 100 years old, and it was more than 20 years since Watt had invented a way for his improved engine to produce rotary motion, removing the need for water on site to power industrial machines. But steam as a method of propulsion was still new, although Symington had made experiments with both boats and carriages 10 years earlier, using his own improved version of Watt’s engine.
It was obviously a great event locally, in any case, because the coat of arms of the town of Grangemouth includes a picture of the boat!
About a month or so ago now, I made a flying visit to north Wales – one castle, a handful of hills, and two Telford bridges.
Unlike Scotland, which was being opened up at least partly for its own benefit, Telford’s works in Wales were primarily concerned with access to Ireland, after the union of 1801 – with rapid movement and communication between London and Dublin suddenly far more important, and Holyhead the main port for Dublin, a good road link across north Wales suddenly became essential.
The main achievement of the route was the bridge across the Menai Straits, the first suspension bridge to be designed for traffic, and on an entirely new scale (although it did take so long to build that the much smaller Union Bridge, a few miles upstream from Berwick, became the first suspension bridge to open to traffic, although it was started later).
My first stop in Wales was Conwy, and so I started with the smaller and slightly later bridge there, now closed to traffic, and flanked on one side by Stephenson’s railway bridge, enclosed in a box, and on the other by the modern road bridge – this has always been an obvious crossing point, and the first bridge replaced an old ferry.
The bridge looks a bit like a little castle itself – its towers, and the towers of the later railway bridge, were built to echo the towers of the castle, which overlooks the river crossing.
The chains of the bridge are actually anchored into the castle walls on the Conwy side.
The bridge still has its original iron suspension chains, four layers of links, although cables were added in 1903 to strengthen them.
Although the bridge is beautiful, it was these chains which really struck me, suddenly startlingly real. These days we’re used to things which do their job without apparent effort – maybe metal ropes, or maybe no obvious supports. But these chains are clearly from the early days of using metal, and someone has thought carefully about how large a piece could be cast, and how they could be joined, and how many would be needed to take the weight, and there’s a real sense of force about it.
The design of the main Menai Straits bridge was dictated by the setting – with strong currents and a shifting bed, building the piers for a more traditional bridge would have been very difficult, and it was also necessary to leave the space, and the height, for tall ships to pass through the straits. But it was a real leap forward in construction – the concept wasn’t new, but earlier suspension bridges had been small pedestrian ones, and this was the longest bridge span in the world when it was built.
The chains on both sides are anchored in tunnels driven deep into the ground, but on the mainland side they also run through the tollhouse – tolls were charged for crossing the bridge until 1940.
A plaque on the tollhouse (or two plaques, one in English and one in Welsh) describes the bridge as an ‘international historic civil engineering landmark’, which seems fair enough.
Telford’s name as engineer is carved into the tower of the bridge itself, although I don’t know when the carving was done.
One of the piers is built on a little rocky island, but the others stand in the water.
The original iron chains were replaced by steel cables in 1938 – getting the cables into place was the biggest challenge of the original construction, with cables run up to the towers on either side, and the central sections then floated into place below and raised by a team of 150 men.
The bridge is a local landmark, of course – the pub at the far side has the bridge on its sign, although the pub on the mainly side is slightly bizarrely called The Antelope!
Down at the waterside is a building which predates the bridge, and which was once the ferry house for one of the boats crossing the water.
More Collingwood Society last week, with the AGM – nothing very much to report, except that the 2019 programme is more or less complete.
The battle of Cape St. Vincent in January, the March lecture on the Franklin expedition, as we knew – then the use of trees in shipbuilding, the history of HMS Calliope (the latest incarnation being the local RNR unit), a possible summer visit to Sunderland, justice in the Georgian navy, Nelson’s funeral, and Hardy to finish off the year. A bit of a mix!
I think the quiz following was slightly less… esoteric than last year – I managed a very respectable third place (the two ahead of me were seriously knowledgeable) by getting half the available marks, but there were still a few things in there that I’d known once, or might have remembered on a different day. Good fun, anyway.