Sunday, 27 September 2015

Scotland by Rail. The *NEW* Borders Railway!

On September 6th 2015, the longest railway to be built in Scotland for more than 100 years was officially opened. The Borders Railway is 30 miles long, stretching from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank. Journey time is 55 minutes.

Last week I made my first trip along the line, my first time ever on a brand new railway.


Read all about the route from people who know:

- the Waverley Route Heritage Association.

- the Campaign for Borders Rail.

- (documenting the building of the railway. Maps, station info, opening celebration, building timeline, general area info, etc etc etc.)


My own trip on the *NEW* Borders Railway:

9.22am, departed Edinburgh Waverley.

First station, Brunstane. Decided to take a photo of every station sign.


Though not a good one.



Eskbank - 'Alight here for bus to Dalkeith park'

Newtongrange - 'Alight here for the National Mining Museum Scotland'

A few minutes of views to the Pentlands. The other side of panorama from our home in Fife.

Borthwick Castle on the right, sitting so proud in its own little valley.

10am, halfway between Gorebridge and Stow - a kestrel perching hunch-backed on a wire.

10.03am, closer to Stow - bat boxes on lineside trees.

10.07am, arriving at Stow - a buzzard on a wire, as they so often are. A field of sheep below, one dark, all others white.

spot the kingfisher? No, me neither.


Stow church, tall spire spike.

Gala Water, snaking beside us.

More bat boxes.

On the left a cairn on a hill. A silhouette walker ascending.

church at Stow

just nice


Then passing a sewage treatment centre, great places for birds! (attracted to the flies).

Over a wide wide meander - the River Tweed

10.26am, arrived at Tweedbank.


To start with it's urban, through Brunstane, Newcraighall, Shawfair. As so often with urban railways you're passing through the unseen backlands. There are brambles, gorse, wildflowers, young birch thickets. You might see deer, or a fox.

I didn't.

Shawfair and onwards are all new stations and around each is rather a 'building site' look. Because that's what they've been until only weeks ago. Flowers and grasses are already sprouting and spreading and reaching skywards. It won't take long.

There's also initially disappointment at the stumps of a number recently felled large trees. That very quickly fades as you pass hundreds after hundreds that have been newly planted.

Tree guards. Moving train + dull day (so slower shutter speed) = lightsaber effect

a bank of lighsabers

Once the countryside gets started this becomes a very beautiful line. Gently hilly farmland, streams and rivers alongside. Dry stone walls dividing fields. Sheep and cows. Lots of birdlife. Little cottages to feel cosy about and country houses to ogle.

I spend the day walking from Tweedbank (another blog post to follow). On the way back I made some sketches and followed our journey on the map.


How to get there:

There are two trains an hour from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank.
Find the ScotRail timetable here.

Many thanks as always to ScotRail for their invaluable support of my Scotland by Rail work.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

blog - Scotland by Rail - Livingston North - wooded footpaths

Livingston's paths 

If you've a check-up at St John's or are going to an exhibition or concert or workshop at Howden Park Centre, why not make it an adventure and take the train. The nearest station is Livingston North and then it's about a 25 minute walk along the Alderstone path, and despite being all urban the walk is really nice. Livingston is the fourth of Scotland's post-war new towns and was designed in a way that feels conducive to a pretty pleasant walking (and cycling?) experience. Woodland paths run through and between all the housing estates and keep you largely hidden from the busier roads.

There's a great mix of species in the hedgerows and among the younger trees. Hazel, holly, beech, cherries, privet, rowan, wild rose (dog rose), hawthorn, maple, elder, rhododendron, yew. There must be good foraging through most of the year. I ate ripe red bird cherries, saw fungi sprouting on grass banks, some blackberries ripening, rosehips forming. And conkers starting to grow, for playing in autumn.

Other trees are old, growing there prior to the town being built. Oaks, chestnut, pines, lime, sycamore, beech and more. The wooded paths are owned or in some way affiliated with the Woodland Trust. Undergrowth is left long and natural and is excellent habitat for wildlife.

(all the species in bold have fruit/flowers/nuts that are edible and good to variously nibble on/add to cooking/infuse as tea/turn to jam. Don't use any without reading up to be sure you know what you're trying. Lots of good books and websites are available.)

When you reach Howden Park you find a wide expanse of mown grassland interrupted by small copses of mature trees. In the summer months there are swallows and house martins hawking back and fore across the grass as they chase for insects. There's a walled garden hidden away at the north end of the park and a boggy little valley down below the windows of Howden Park Centre cafe - worth scanning for birds.


pines and undergrowth

lots of paths

supported by the Woodland Trust

even the roundabouts are nice! Though some of that grass should ben left long for wildlife

St John's Hospital

Rowan and chimney, beautiful bark

spot the robin

approaching Howden Park

Howden Park

Howden Park

Howden Park (Howden House on the right)

secret sycamore pool

Howden Park
Howden Park Centre hosts many interesting events, including lots of art workshops, sometimes run by me. Sign up to their newsletter at the bottom right of the page here.

St John's
St John's Hospital displays a big selection of top artworks across its corridors. One of my favourite paintings of all is there, a super-wide panoramic seascape with plenty of mystery by Glasgow artist Peter Thomson.

Another walk
Here's a link to another Livingston walk, not the route I took but gives a little snippet about the town's woodlands -

How to get there:

Livingston North is on the Edinburgh to Helensburgh line, trains stop there frequently.
Find the Scotrail timetable here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Bridge of Allan to Dunblane - Greenbelt - threatened by housing

Knock Hill bluebells

Bridge of Allan is a small town in central Scotland, one station-stop north of Stirling. It's linked by a beautiful set of landscapes -woodland, river valley, fieldy heathland & ancient hillfort- to Dunblane, the next station town. 


The Darn Walk:

No, that's its name.

It's a place I've known since childhood, a few times a year we'd walk Dunblane to Bridge of Allan by way of the Darn Walk, a many-generations-old pathway running alongside the Allan Water. We'd stop always at the little cave at grid ref NS 788 989, supposed inspiration for Ben Gunn’s cave in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and at a great rope swing on the other side of the water. And we'd look apprehensively for the whirlpool in the water, said to be the drowning spot of two girls, the vicar's daughters, centuries ago. At least, that's the story we always told. I don't think we invented it...

Full walk route descriptions here:

And an excellent .pdf map of the whole area here. Click on the map to zoom, takes a while to load.

Park of Keir, hillfort, woods, birds, bluebells:

More recently my mum ( and I have been returning on sketching trips, and with brother Roan to tell us about the trees. A few years ago we discovered the land west and upslope of the Allan Water. From Bridge of Allan station cross the busy A9 and go up the small country road just a few metres to your left (west). You pass a nursery and a few houses that you'll wish you lived in, and then you're at the start of grassland, farmland, Knock Hill, ancient hillfort, Gallow Hill, Park of Keir. Take an O.S. map and a picnic and properly explore.

At the right time of year the grasslands are full of butterlies, the Gallow Hill and Knock Hill woods wear a soft blue carpet of English bluebells, and the hillfort a carpet of wild primrose. There are many mature trees of many native species. There are deer, bats, red squirrels, hares, badgers and apparently signs of pine martin too. On our latest visit I counted 20 types of bird:

Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Collared Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Song Thrush
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Willow Warbler


Cafes etc:

After walking the woods you can either return to Bridge of Allan and its shops & cafes or you can continue to Dunblane by crossing the railway bridge at grid ref NS 784 995 to get back down to the Allan Water and its assortment of footpaths. 

In Bridge of Allan we recommend The Hideaway Cafe, & Collective Contemporary Art Gallery and Brown & Co delicatessen. In Dunblane we recommend Choices Delicatessen (the cakes!!!) and The Old Curiosity Shop & Mary's Meals Charity Shop for antiques, collectables, general bargains.


Threatened by Housing !

Unfortunately the whole of this area (not the Allan Water, but the rest) is under threat of major change thanks to a proposed development for executive housing, tennis centre, golf course, hotel, museum, football pitch.

Both Bridge of Allan and Dunblane Community Councils are against the plan, nearly 800 people have written objections to Stirling Council, and 175 people have signed a petition in the 5 days since it started.

If you wish to help protect this beautful patch, and the concept of Greenbelt in general, please do so by following all the links below:

petition -
the official documents -

ominous... (+ spot the Wallace Monument)

orange tip male (see on English bluebell

forest folk
Knock Hill trig point S4992, 104m

spot the fairy

sketch spot

spot the roe

mum sketching

pen in sketchbook

hillfort on left, Knock Hill on right
hillfort (spot the Wallace Monument)

hillfort primroses

*more* hillfort primroses

spot the great spot (ted woodpecker)

beech woods, my favourite

spot the ruins

Allan Water
David, this is an Early Thorn, Selenia dentaria?

never nice, spotting a trap

something bizarre to take your mind off that trap
same bizarre, different angle

something beautiful, in case your mind's still on that trap

Getting there:

Bridge of Allan is super-easy to get to by rail, with at least two trains an hour from Edinburgh or Glasgow, and one an hour from Perth. From Stirling journey time is only 4 minutes. 

From every direction the journey's a picturesque one. In fact the Perth to Bridge of Allan stretch is one of my favourite in the country, running alongside the Allan Water for many miles. There's loads of wildlife to be seen every time - deer, hares, waders, ducks, raptors.

Full timetables from ScotRail by clicking here.

crossing the rails, grid ref NS 787 985

An Adopted Station:

Dunblane is one of many Scottish stations to benefit from ScotRail's excellent Adopt a Station programme - on Platform 1 you'll find The Ironing Station. The name tells you what they do...

Adopt a Station enables individuals and businesses and communities to make use of previously disused station buildings, improve station environment, etc.

If you'd like to find out more about volunteering or adopting a station, click here for details.

Bridge of Allan, whisky barrel train. For more info see April 2015 post & click the link just before the photos start.