Monday, 24 September 2012

Mercat Cross Run

Mike organised the Mercat Cross Run. (Not the Meerkat Cross Run!)

Old Scottish burghs that were entitled to have Markets (Mercats in the old Scots tongue) traditionally had a wooden or stone pillar topped by a crucifix to mark the market square. After the destruction of religious images following the Reformation in the late 16th century, these crosses were replaced by secular items, such as sundials, or royal symbols, such as the unicorn of Scotland. Despite this, the vertical pillars continued to be known as Crosses.

Mike had planned a run which was not to be known as the Meerkat Cross Run, although he anticipated that we would all end up looking like meerkats as we stared up and about us while we stood beneath the various Mercat Crosses he had found. He promised us a trip to nine Mercat Crosses plus lunch. Unfortunately Taylor’s MGB was leaking more oil than normal so he travelled with Joe. Six of us left in three cars (TF, MGB and TD).

Our first stop was in the picturesque village of Doune where the Cross stands in the centre of the village at the intersection of three roads. Doune was once famous for the manufacture of pistols.


Two MGs and a carved stone lion

The next Cross was in Stirling. The jougs which were attached to it are in the Smith Institute. These were a Scottish version of stocks and were used to punish gossips and evildoers (fornicators and the like) by chaining them to the Mercat Cross. The last pre-Reformation Archbishop of St Andrews was hanged here in 1571.

 The unicorn figure on top is known as ‘the puggy’

While I was taking this photograph, the other members were waiting for the local black cat to jump down onto my head.
 We’re more dog people, sorry

Mike had found a hidden Cross in the town of Airth. This appears to be a run-down ex mining village but there is a lovely old street hidden behind the sixties housing. A local resident was very interested in our project. Apparently, the village is an ancient Royal Burgh and once supported a royal dockyard which was created by James IV at the pool of Airth on the River Forth.

Erected in 1697 to replace an older Cross now near Airth Castle

Our route took us past the giant oil refinery at Grangemouth. As we headed east we passed a steam train from the Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway.

Linlithgow, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, was our next stop. Mike described this as ‘the largest and most ornate of the Mercat Crosses’ we would see. The Cross Well monument combines medieval sculpture with a water-supply.

Several images are rather grotesque

 Glasgow for bells, Lithgow for wells

Joe didn’t join us on the pedestrians-only area at the Cross. He felt it was more law-abiding to park on the double yellow lines nearby.

 Good afternoon Constable

We stopped for a few photos of the Forth Bridges outside the small village of Newton. The busy lay-by erupted into action as we paused for a few seconds.

Driver and Navigator leave TD just as two cars decide to leave

 It’s THE Forth Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge

Across the Bridge to the small town of Inverkeithing. This has several family stories for me. I shared one over lunch. My mother met a lifelong friend in the bar of the Queens Hotel during the war when she thought that he was winking at her. In truth he had developed a twitch after his service in the trenches with the Royal Scots.

Inverkeithing has a long and bloody history, from witch-burning to wars. In the Battle of Inverkeithing (20 July 1651) Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army crushed the Scots supporters of Charles II. The local stream ran red for days.

In the 20th century, Inverkeithing was a centre for ship-breaking. The famous HMS Dreadnought ended her life there in 1923. And I think that I can remember seeing the monitor, HMS Roberts being broken-up in the sixties.

Joe spots the Cross

Heralic evidence indicates that this Cross was erected c1400 around the time of the marriage of David, Duke of Rothsay, son of King Robert III and Queen Annabella Drummond to Marjorie, Daughter of the Earl of Douglas.

The Unicorn finial was carved in 1688

On to Culross for an excellent lunch in The Red Lion. Somehow we managed to leave a £12 tip for a £60 meal.
Only room for two

Culross is like a time-capsule. Once a prosperous medieval trading port, it was bypassed by improvements in rail and road transport. Now many of its houses are owned by the NTS or Historic Scotland, from the Abbey and Palace to small town houses.
The Mercat Cross is up a cobbled street and we decided to walk up the hill to see it.

Meerkat Moment

Culross Unicorn

The town of Kincardine is rather more salubrious than the photograph of this Mercat Cross suggests. The run-down main street features the Deadstar Tattoo Studio and Gazza the barber.

We didn’t stay long

Our next stop was the county-town of Clackmannan, the smallest county in Scotland. The Cross stands next to the rock of Mannan which perches on a stone pillar in a rather phallic display for such a small place.

Go Mannan, go

Mike had found another hidden Cross in Alloa. It has a very interesting carving of a chain cross at the top.

Finally, we all assembled for Sandy to photograph us in action:

MG Meerkats

A very enjoyable run on a sunny day. 
Well done Mike for finding so many Mercat Crosses in obscure places.

Monday, 3 September 2012

September Run comes early

We have decided to bring the September run forward by a week to Sunday the 23rd.
Several members had important commitments on the 30th.

Looking forward to the run on the 23rd.
And celebrating our anniversary on the 30th.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Seven Bridges.

The club’s second run was titled The Seven Bridges Road Tour.

Joe is an Eagles fan and he based the run on one of their hits, Seven Bridges Road.
He also spoke about some Eagle-based ideas he had half-considered. Life in the Fast Lane would have featured 3 motorways and a dual carriageway; Desperadoes might include trips to four of Scotland’s prisons; while Hotel California could involve a trip to a B&B in the oddly-named village of California, 20 miles from our usual start-point in the cafe.

Joe’s named list of seven bridges was Stirling Bridge, Bridge of Allan, Bridge of Earn, Rumbling Bridge, Vicar’s Bridge, Kincardine Bridge and Clackmannan Bridge but we would pass over and under many more than his original seven. Indeed, our run started just across the road from the cafe, with the Drip Old Bridge over the river Forth. The modern bridge passes over the river next to this without even a bump.

Built by public subscription in 1773.

Into Stirling and around the Back o’ Hill to the medieval bridge which replaced the wooden structure involved in William Wallace’s famous victory over the English  in 1297 at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This features in the film Braveheart which ludicrously shows the Scots wearing kilts and blue paint (they didn’t). It also fails to portray a river or even the bridge, from which the battle was named.
Stirling Old Bridge dating from c1490.

The modern road bridge opened in 1883.

Our convoy of four MGs left Stirling and drove through the prosperous spa town of Bridge of Allan. As we passed the popular Allanwater cafe we were greeted by ‘The Ferrari Boys’ a group of enthusiasts who meet there on Sunday mornings. We felt that we had dignity and British tradition on our side as we waved in return. We turned off the main road to park by the Allan Water and photograph the bridge itself.

This replaced the narrow 1520s hog’s-back bridge in 1954.

Taylor taking a chance with the weather.

We travelled through Dunblane to the little bridge at Kinbuck, the Jacobites camped here in 1715 before the Battle of Sherrifmuir.

The Weak Bridge at Kinbuck

The road to Braco is very scenic. When we got into the village, a cracked church-bell rang out and caused two drivers to wonder what had just fallen-off their beloved MGs.

Joe's TF is out of sight.

We passed through the Gleneagles golf course. As we waited in the unexpected traffic jam, Paul Lawrie was winning the Johnnie Walker Championship. One of our members observed that if the road traffic was so badly organised for this competition, then it would be chaos for the Ryder Cup next month.

Paul Lawrie wins by four strokes at Gleneagles. Another Eagles hit.

We crossed the bridge over the busy A9 but had become separated in the traffic. We sorted ourselves out and drove along the beautiful road towards Dunning. The old church houses the 9th century Dupplin Cross with its ancient carvings ranging from victorious armies and the biblical king David to the Trinity and the Eucharist.

They had the flags out for us in Dunning.

Taylor had a continuing problem with his fuel supply. His MGB started to backfire and stutter.  His was not the only MG to drive a considerable distance with an uncancelled indicator. In the end only the TF escaped this oversight, but two members were conspicuous by their extended ‘driving while indixicated’.

On to Forteviot, the centre of many ancient cultures, with archaeology from 3000 BC to the ninth century (I have helped as a volunteer archaeologist here). It is now a small village near to a couple of famous schools.

The delightful unclassified road dropped towards the town of Bridge of Earn where we came to a large flood. Joe, as any good leader, tested the depth by putting his foot down and setting up an enormous spray as he sped off in his TF.
Amphibious MGs

 Mike paused beside the unknowable deep before slowly driving his precious TD into the water. He emerged with flooding through his wooden floorboards and water inside the cockpit. The MGBs were undeterred but we all regrouped to check brakes etc on the other side.

We managed to stop on the famous bridge and hardly caused any disruption to the tourist traffic.

The bridge at Bridge of Earn, with tourist bus.

Heading back over the bridge.

We drove past the Bein Inn which was once famous for its blues/folk concerts before climbing the hill with its overhanging trees, burn to the right and the smell of wild garlic in season.

 Under the railway bridge.

As we climbed the hill there was a break in the double white line and our leader, Joe, took his chance to overtake some cyclists and speed off. At almost the same moment Mike realised that his TD had a puncture and we pulled into the side. The punctured tyre had been replaced with a new wheel before Joe returned. He had driven on for a mile or so and waited for us in the next village before turning back.

Not the best place to stop but we were on a hill and the tyre was completely flat.

Through Glenfarg village and under the motorway bridge towards Milnathort and onto a road our own MGB had frequented for a couple of years while we lived there. Then down into Kinross and through Glen Devon, turning off the main road to pick up the next two of Joe’s bridges. First was the tiny village of Rumbling Bridge. The bridge is over the dramatic River Devon gorge. The lower bridge, without parapets, was built in 1713. 
Over the Rumbling Bridge.

Mike had asked that Joe should help him with the calibration of his speedometer.
As we drove down the quiet, straight road, Joe was to raise his hand to show when he was travelling at 45mph. Mike was disappointed to read that his 1953 TD recorded 60mph at these moments, not the most accurate calibration result.

Later he showed us the much more accurate, MG-approved device, which he used to check his fuel level.

Mike’s other calibration challenge.

Then down a small side-road to park near the Vicar’s Bridge. Its original may have been erected in the 1500s by Thomas Forrest the Vicar of Dollar.   

Vicar’s Bridge has a single arch and has been widened on the western side in 1869.

View from the Vicar's Bridge.

We drove on south past the Tulliallan Police College into Kincardine and across the 1930s swing-bridge.

Famously constructed to link four counties.

We stopped for lunch in the Kincardine Way Hotel. This was variously received, some enjoyed their prawn cocktail snack or their freshly-cooked, large mixed grill, others were disappointed with the carvery meal.

We returned north by the Clackmannanshire Bridge which was opened in 2008.

At the time, there were disputes about naming the new bridge which is in Fife not Clackmannan. But the name ‘Clackmannanshire Bridge’ was chosen by the politicians, illustrating their enthusiasm for renaming things in the face of reality.

When he opened the bridge in 2008, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said: ‘This is a world-class infrastructure project which will cut journey times, improve central Scotland connections, and provide a unique gateway to Clackmannanshire, Fife and Falkirk’. In truth, it’s just another bland road-bridge.

Mike crossing the new bridge

 Joe’s Run had opened with an ancient bridge from 1490 and closed with one of Scotland’s newest road bridges from 2008. We had started our run in Stirlingshire, visited Perthshire, then Fife and Clackmannan. In our visits to four Counties, we had crossed over and under many more than the Eagles’ original Seven Bridges. We had also passed over five thousand years of archaeology as well as five centuries of Scottish bridges.

Thankyou Joe for the beautiful byways.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Castles Run

The Stirling Club had our inaugural run with the theme of Castles, on 29th July.

Six of us met in the Cafe at United Auctions for breakfast.

Our small convoy comprised one TF, two MGBs plus one TD built in 1953 and set off at 10.30am. We managed to visit eight castles in the next few hours.

Our first stop was 14th century Doune Castle, built on a bend in the River Teith. 

Doune Castle

Fifty Years of MGs at Doune

Today, Doune Castle is best known as the location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Mike even attempted the famous riding stunt as King Arthur. The French tourists were bemused.

‘You’ve got two empty halves of coconut shells and you’re bangin' 'em together’

Our route passed the striking statue of David Stirling, founder of the SAS Regiment.
This sits on a ridge on what was once part of his family estate, north of Stirling.

 “The Colonel”

Through picturesque Bridge of Allan to Stirling University and Airthrey Castle, 
now the centre for the School of Law. 

 Once used as a Maternity Hospital

Morven made a short video of the MGs driving by Airthrey Castle:

Leaving the University, we passed the Wallace Monument and headed along the Hillfoots to the unprepossessing town of Menstrie. 
Here, hidden among 1960s terraced housing, is the 16th century Menstrie Castle, birthplace of the founder of Nova Scotia. The Clackmannan Council politicians of the day seemed to have been oblivious to history.

  Historic home of the Alexanders

Further along the Hillfoots we came to Broomhall Castle. 
This was recently renovated as a hotel having been burned down by a German spy in 1941 to guide Luftwaffe bombers returning from the Blitz on Clydebank and Glasgow.

 A helpful staff-member photographed us all

The longest stretch of the run followed. We bypassed Stirling and then travelled by unclassified (and often very bumpy) roads to the Carron Valley Reservoir with splendid views of the hills and occasional rain-showers. After Fintry we drove up the secluded lane to Culcreuch Castle. This was built in the 13th century and is the home of the Clan Galbraith. It now does a fine lunch in the Dungeon Bar which we all enjoyed, oblivious to the pouring rain outside. 

 Culcreuch after the rain.

Over the Fintry hills to Kippen with its fine views, then down to the A811, and the long, straight road to Stirling. The leading MGB speeded up to sixty, but had to slow down again to accommodate the beautifully refurbished MGTD. We pulled into the lay-by at the foot of the ancient Castle Rock.

 Stirling Castle. Location for BBC’s Colditz series from the seventies.

Around the base of the Rock to cross the River Forth and on to Alloa where the oldest and largest keep in Scotland, Alloa Tower, is set between an ASDA and a large Tesco with motorised access only possible via another 1960s housing scheme, thanks to the Clackmannan Councillors of the day.
The Tower was the ancestral home of the Erskine family, the Earls of Mar.

Alloa Tower from Kilncraigs Rd.

We drove on towards the impressive 14th century Clackmannan Tower. This sits on top of the King’s Seat Hill and is only accessible by foot. We took the lane to nearby Hilton Farm to get a photograph with the Tower in the background. on the hill to the left.

 Back Bumpers and Clackmannan Tower.

We decided to call a halt here rather than trying for Castle Campbell outside Dollar as our ninth Castle.

Our August run will be to visit a series of historic or interesting bridges, while in September we hope that our itinerary might feature Mercat Crosses.