Focus On: The Monumental #RiverTay

To see a selection of this month’s ‘Focus On’ images please click here

Ben Lui
Ben Lui and the Allt Coire Laoigh, the source of the River Tay

The River Tay may be unique to all of Scotland’s rivers in that its source lies many miles from where its course, as the River Tay, actually begins.

A small lochan at the head of the Allt Coire Laoigh, some 700 metres up on the southwest slopes of Ben Lui near Tyndrum, is regarded as the source.

Yet it takes over 18 miles for the rivers Cononish, Fillan and finally the Dochart to reach Loch Tay and then another 14.5 miles (the length of Loch Tay) before the River Tay makes its first appearance when it spills from the eastern fringes of Loch Tay at Kenmore.

Cutting its sinuous course the River Tay eventually reaches the North Sea a few miles east of Dundee with its mouth bounded by Buddon Ness in Angus and Fife’s Tentsmuir Point.

This 120-mile journey makes it Scotland’s longest river and the 7th longest in the UK. It is an immense river in every respect.

As well as its length, the River Tay’s carries the largest volume of water of any river in the UK with its catchment area extending over 2000 square miles. Upon reaching the 23-mile long Firth of Tay, it carries more water than the Thames and Severn collectively.

Consequently the River Tay flows through a wide-ranging landscape initially characterised by dramatic wild mountains and steep sided glens.

When it crosses the Highland Boundary Fault Line at Dunkeld the landscape softens, reaching its upper tidal limit at Perth, and continues onward into fertile countryside, containing some of the richest farmland in Scotland, to conclude at the coast.

River Tay
The River Tay at Dunkeld

The River Tay’s two cities, Perth and Dundee, are both delightful urban environments to explore.

The river was recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus as Taus, during the 1st century AD, then by the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy as Tava. Later the Roman title was possibly Tamia. However its present day derivation of strong, silent or flowing seems to stem from the Brythonic Tausa.

Over the centuries the earliest Stone Age and Neolithic hunter-gatherers exploited the River Tay in search for food with more definite roots being planted during the Iron Age – the clearest evidence of how people lived during this period can be seen when visiting the superb Crannog Centre at Kenmore.

Around 1500 years ago the Picts built several hill forts along the Tay, the best example adorning the summit of Moncrieffe Hill on the outskirts of Perth.

In AD83, as the Romans slowly edged their way north through Scotland, they paused at the confluence of the River Tay and River Almond and established a fort called Bertha, the precursor of Perth, which would subsequently grow a little down river.

The Romans also headed some 20 miles east where they utilised the panoramic vantage point of Dundee Law.

The River Tay is definitely a sum of all its parts, its wild mountainous terrain, coastal and woodland fringes and urban settings, all adding something to its magnificent journey.

Broughty Ferry
The outflow of the River Tay near Broughty Ferry

 

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Focus on: #Glasgow, Our Dear Green Place

To see a selection of this month’s ‘Focus On’ images please click here

The River Clyde and Glasgow at sunrise
The River Clyde and Glasgow at sunrise

Glasgow’s modern history dates back to the 6th century when St Kentigern (also known as St Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint) established an ecclesiastical centre on the banks of the Molendinar Burn. At this point the foundations of Glasgow (or, to give its original Cumbric moniker, Glascau, ‘the place of the green hollow’) were born.

The town began to grow around streets such as Gallowgate, High Street and Stockwell Street with construction of Glasgow Cathedral beginning in 1238 on the site of St Kentigern’s original church.

Over the course of the next few hundred years a number of trades (under the auspices of the Trades House) worked within the city, and a burgeoning export market (including tobacco, sugar and rum) to the USA and West Indies, saw Glasgow establish itself as a major port.

At its centre was the River Clyde, which, during the 18th century, was dredged, allowing larger vessels to navigate to the Broomielaw – this expansion led to Glasgow’s golden age of heavy industry, one that would put it on the world map.

The industry boom saw Glasgow’s population explode. Immigration from the Highlands, Ireland and Eastern Europe provided much needed cheap and unskilled labour with Govan the beating heart of the industry – at its peak, before World War 1, shipbuilding directly employed a staggering 70,000 workers in 19 yards.

Engineering and the locomotive industry also thrived, helping Glasgow to become one of Europe’s richest city’s and this wealth was reflected in the construction of a number of elaborate and ornate buildings including museums, art galleries and libraries.

Yet despite these riches parts of Glasgow, particularly the East End, were considered slums, where overcrowding and deprivation led to sections of the city garnering a violent reputation. With the massive decline of heavy industry during the 1930’s, high unemployment and a huge population caused much social disparity and after World War II Glasgow had a major housing crisis.

This led to many of its famous tenements being demolished, replaced by high-rise tower blocks. In the late 1960’s a number of neighbourhoods disappeared altogether under the construction of the M8 but rather than helping with Glasgow’s issues it only exacerbated them, with many new communities feeling socially excluded.

However the 1980’s brought a sea change (particularly a cultural renaissance), one that began Glasgow’s regeneration. The 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival started the rebirth, which in turn led to Glasgow being designated European City of Culture in 1990 and the 1999 UK City of Architecture and Design. The city’s recent transformation culminated in it hosting the massively successful 2014 Commonwealth Games and today Glasgow is hailed as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Having said that, Glasgow, like any major city, will never be problem free – it still has the lowest life expectancy of any UK city for both males and females (72.6 years and 78.5 respectively) while problems such as social deprivation, alcohol and drug abuse, and sectarianism are still prevalent.

The ‘No Mean City’ tag has been hard to shake off and is Glasgow’s well-worn cliché but its veneer is slowly being scratched away.

Glasgow has made enormous leaps forward in recent years and while its residents are rightly proud of their history and heritage, they are now very much looking forward. It is a fascinating, beautiful and convivial city to explore and there is much to be discovered when walking its pavements and paths.

The entrance to Merchant City
The entrance to Merchant City

#Edinburgh A Monumental Place

Like Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill was formed through volcanic activity some 340 million years ago and then gouged by glaciers during the Ice Age, leaving this little hill standing proud at just over 100 metres in height.

In 1724 the town council of Edinburgh established Calton Hill as one of Britain’s public parks and it is now part of Edinburgh’s Old and New Town Heritage Site. As well as being a popular location for Edinburgh’s Festival and Hogmanay celebrations Calton Hill is the site of the annual spring fire festival of Beltane on the last day of April where a procession makes its way across the summit.

Due to lack of funds the National Monument was never completed but it dominates the summit of Calton Hill. It was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens and built in 1822 as a memorial to the Scots soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars. The architects were Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair.

Also designed by Playfair was the Playfair Monument, which was built for his uncle, John Playfair who played a major role in establishing the City Observatory as well as being the Chair of Mathematics and Chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University.

The City Observatory stands next to the Playfair Monument and is actually three buildings – the Old Observatory was built in 1776, work on the New Observatory began in 1818, whilst the City Observatory, with its distinctive green dome, opened in 1895.

William Playfair also designed The Dugald Stewart in the style of a Grecian Temple. Stewart was a philosopher who, like John Playfair, was Chair of Mathematics and Chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University. Stewart also first compared Edinburgh with Athens, which in turn led Edinburgh becoming known as the ‘Athens of the North’.

The final memorial is the 100-foot high Nelson Monument, which was erected in 1807, two years after Admiral Horatio Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Edinburgh from Calton Hill
Edinburgh from Calton Hill

The National Monument of Scotland
The National Monument of Scotland