A Trip to the V&A

I finally got to visit the new V&A museum and gallery which opened on the riverfront of Dundee recently, which included an enjoyable train trip up from Edinburgh, which takes you across both the massive Forth Rail Bridge and the Tay Rail Bridge to cross both huge firths. The Tay Bridge, while not enjoying the iconic status of its southern cousin on the Forth, has an eerie side to it – as you cross, if you look out the south side of the structure you can clearly see the line of the remnants of piers, which once held up the first Tay Rail Bridge.

Vid - Crossing the Tay

I snapped these two out of the train window, so they’re not the sharpest

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That bridge was an engineering marvel of the age, the designer was knighted for his works, Queen Victoria even travelled over it returning on the Royal Train from a stay at Balmoral. However on December 28th, 1878, a huge, gale-force winter storm struck the Tay, and it transpired that it hadn’t really been designed to take that force hitting side-on to bridge and train. A passenger train was lost as the bridge collapsed, taking sections of bridge and the train with it, seventy five people plunging into the cold waters below, all lost. The replacement bridge runs right alongside the original’s route, but was, as you can imagine, built to be far sturdier, and remains in service to this day. The remnants of the first bridge’s piers now remain like tombstones, a ghostly reminder to all who cross the bridge of the one that was there before.

The V&A Dundee is a striking building, right on the riverfront, next to the famous polar exploration vessel Discovery and its own museum, and right across from the train station, so pretty perfect for visitors to the city.

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It’s an impressive space inside, two main wings, with a lot of open space, windows often giving sudden glimpses of the bridge, the silvery Tay (the most powerful river in the British Isles) and the tall ship, Discovery.

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There are permanent exhibits, many global, but also a good selection that reflects the culture, arts, crafts, industrial, scientific and engineering history of Scotland, with some there drawn from its host city Dundee’s own history, as well as travelling exhibitions (the current one is on tartans).

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(above: the Oak Room designed by the great Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Cranston’s tea rooms. Below: the Kinloss Psalter, a beautiful illuminated work though to date from between 1500 – 1530 CE)

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Falkirk Wheel

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Dad and I had a wee trip to the rather splendid Falkirk Wheel at the weekend. Originally the Forth and Clyde and the Union Canals met here, linked by a series of eleven locks descending the slope. As the canals declined in the late 19th and early 20th century, the locks were finally demolished in the 1930s. As the canals were regenerated in the late 90s and early 2000s (both the waterways and the adjacent towpaths turned into walking and cycling networks), the Falkirk Wheel was created to reconnect these coast-to-coast canals once more. An elegant and practical piece of engineering, this rotating boat lift uses about as much energy as it takes to boil a kettle to lift and lower all that structure, water and boats. Beautiful piece of engineering, which I think can stand proudly with those magnificent 19th century engineering icons. I can imagine the ghost of Brunel looking at this and nodding in approval.

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The low winter sun was good for light and for shadows:

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(Nearly) White Christmas

Well, it wasn’t a White Christmas, but it was very nearly – this was the view from the parental mansion on December 26th:

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We have a great view of the vast, ancient geological vastness of the Campsie Fells, a volcanic formation (some of the dried lava flows on it are dated to around 300 million years ago, give or take a few millennia).

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Autumn reflections

In a quiet loop of the River Forth just outside Stirling, dad and I found late afternoon – just an hour or so of daylight left on the short, winter’s day now – on a bright day was perfect, casting golden light, with the still water creating some wonderful reflections of old, rotting boat hulks on the muddy banks, some nearby industrial buildings and the Ochil Hills.

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In the distance in this one, you can see the tall, Victorian-era Wallace Monument, which celebrates the life of the great Scottish hero of the Wars of Independence, Sir William Wallace, whose greatest victory was at Stirling Bridge, not far from this spot.

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The Ochil Hills were catching the lat hour of daylight, the sun so low in the skies now it was stretched out to a beautiful, honey-gold colour. The river was very calm, this loop fairly far from the main roads, so also quiet and peaceful, just the sounds of the birds on the river.

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Saint Cyprian’s in Autumn

After days of heavy rains and dark, grey skies, for a few hours the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds, illuminating the autumn colours on the trees. Dad and I paused by Saint Cyprian’s in Lenzie – framed by the trees and their changing colours, with the autumnal light on the old stone of the 1873 church it was a rather beautiful scene.

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The spire on Saint Cyprian’s boasts some handsome gargoyles at the top (if you are wondering about the difference, while gargoyles and grotesques are both sculpted forms of monsters, odd beasts or humans and have symbolic meaning, the grotesques are non-functional, purely decorative, while gargoyles contain water spouts for drainage, usually from the mouth).

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A day by the Forth

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Since the new lockdown restrictions mean I am not allowed into the family home if I go through to see dad (but we can meet outside in a busy cafe or bar?? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me…) we met partway and had a day out in South Queensferry, then I had a wee wander around Linlithgow on the way back to the train home. Naturally I was taking photos while I was there ambling through the town and along the mighty Firth of Forth, and of course, the bridges (especially the Rail Bridge, which I think is a wonderful landmark as well as a gem of Victorian engineering)

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The Forth is, as you can see, not just a majestic piece of scenery on the Scottish coast, or home to much history, it’s still a working river, with gas and oil tankers in particular passing up and down it, or loading and unloading at these offshore terminals, helped by tug boats

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Rolling Waves

Tried a wee experiment this afternoon – I rarely use the video mode on my camera, but it has a facility to shoot in a smaller format than the usual widescreen version, but in a high 120 frames per second rate. It was high tide at North Berwick, and with a cold wind blowing down the coast from the Arctic, the swell was high and the waves topped with whitecaps, so I thought I would try the 120 fps mode looking out to the sea and the Bass Rock, and found it slowed the motion down in a rather nice way. Not sure what else I may try using that mode for, but quite liked the effect here:

Video - Bass Rock and Waves 120fps

And here’s a still of the Bass Rock today with the same camera:

Bass Rock and Rolling Waves

Meanwhile in Portobello this morning, after I had been in for a job interview I walked round to the promenade and had lunch by the beach, where I noticed this chap taking advantage of the coastal winds to enjoy some kite surfing:

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The Clyde Coast

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Dad and I went off down the Clyde coast over the holiday weekend, with glorious spring sunshine sparkling on the Firth of Clyde as we drove alongside. We visited the beautiful old station at Wemyss Bay, often counted as one of the ten most beautiful railway station in the British Isles. The old steel and glass canopy let the light flood into the station:

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The canopies above the platforms have a gentle curve to them, which coupled with perspective and the natural light coming in makes them a popular subject for many Scottish photographers:

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The station was built to connect a railway spur to the Glasgow line to the coast and the steam ships plying the waters of the Firth of Forth, and the station still has a working dock for ferries to the islands, with this handsome wooden and glass sloping (and again slightly curved) walkway to take pedestrians from the station down to the berthed ferries:

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And talking of which, here’s one of the ferries, the Bute, coming into dock:

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And on the way back up the coast we passed the beautiful Cloch Point Lighthouse, built in 1797 by Thomas Smith and his son in law Robert Stevenson, part of that great generational family of engineers, the Lighthouse Stevensons, whose line would also one day produce one of Scotland’s greatest writers, Robert Louis Stevenson, and whose remarkable feats of engineering still mark our coastline today and still protect mariners.

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