Scotland’s Most Gripping Derelict Places If you have been following my activities on social media in recent months, you’ll likely have noticed that old, abandoned and derelict places have featured regularly. I’ll admit it, I’m hooked. Fascinating, beautiful and massively evocative wreckages litter Scotland on a scale that I had no appreciation of and that…
My Featured 45 for today is Crass’s, How Does it Feel. Crass is by no means for everyone, but they sure could get their messages across. They always had great cover art and posters from their singles.
In 1982, I was a punky 17 year old on my first trip to the UK. I was vagabonding for a month on my own. I was desperate to see where all my favorite punk bands had been and what influenced them, even if it was just to stand in the same city, hop record shops, and try to get to a show. I had to experience Carnaby Street, Camden Market, Portobello Road, and of course I had to travel and hit up other towns in the UK. I learned that each city had it’s own music scene after talking to local kids, each with it’s own flavor. I liked Joy Division, so off to Manchester I went. I then had to visit with some pen pals. So after that it was Wales.
I’ll never forget visiting with my pen pal. Ah, that ancient teenage custom of meeting people from around the world, before there was Twitter and Snap Chat. You dug around in the back of music Fanzines from the UK, the ones you might find in the import section at the record shop. You found names of people who liked the same groups you did. Hand wrote a letter, said “Hello, I found your name and you like some of the same bands I do. It’s hard to find this music here, I listen to college radio to get it. I’ll tell you about California Punk and Rockabilly, or Goth.” And so weird transatlantic bonds were formed. I would of course learn that not everyone you wrote to was how they presented themselves. That’s another story for another time.
A Discotheque in York
I was in Wales, that ancient city with Roman bits still strewn about it. My pen friend and I went down to the local all ages discotheque, me in all my crazy bizarre finery from the markets in London. Yeah, half my clothes got lifted at a youth hostel. London lesson. At least they didn’t get all the 45s I had picked up you couldn’t get back home. We sat in the disco, she with her Shandy, me with a Pernod and Ribena. Two lads started trying to get our attention. This was new territory for me. Boys didn’t give me the time of day at school or in California in general. The Gingery thing. So I let my pen friend handle it, they were Welsh and I figured I wouldn’t get it. But one wasn’t speaking Welsh, and he was in a soldier uniform. I picked up the accent finally. A Liverpool man. I had just gone through on the one day trip there. But he was speaking in tongues I didn’t get, very intensely. Finally his mate, probably seeing the utter bewilderment, and reminding his friend there was an American, tell me in my ear, “Don’t mind him so much. He’s just been through the Falklands business. He’s still not with us yet.” It was the short, fierce little war between Argentina and the British.
I had been hearing of the Crisis through my travels. I had heard something before I left home, and wanted to find out more. But this was the days of no Internet, and American filtered news, even more filtered than now. It was Ronnie Reagan and Thatcher. All about control. The conflict took place the April before I arrived, and cemented Thatcher for upcoming elections. The whole conflict was a mystery to me, and many tried to explain it to me, many of them older and very British. But the punk rock contingency was having none of it, and protests of the violence were being sung about in the music that was released that summer and fall.
I tried to be patient and sadly the young soldier with drink got far worse, and my friend and I had to make our escape. After that night, I felt terrible that such a young man had to go through such violence, and live with the people who had died because of the actions on both sides. I was determined to find out more about the punk scene in other cities. I had been told to try Edinburgh, and hunt record shops there. Maybe even get into a club. So next day, after dealing with Welsh friend’s bizarre Mum, I boarded a train for Scotland.
After surviving the strange heat wave that had hit London a week before, I was warned to prepare for Scottish Summer. On the train I would find out what that was. I was scrabbling about lugging the case, my boots and short skirt, my punky self. Slipping and sliding on the wet floors. Trying to avoid all the leering men I kept encountering. Learning life’s mysteries of older men hunting young 17 year old girls. Definitely not something you tell Ma about when you get back. I finally found a car with mostly women in it. Everyone was going about the weather. In those days, no WiFi to check the actual weather. But as we got closer to Scotland, you could see the bendy trees and debris flying about. Clouds dark as night. The train got thumped by gale force winds. Finally at the border, there was an announcement. All trains cancelled going in. We had to catch the train going back on the other side. Panic.
My Edinburgh Punk Rock history lesson was thwarted! Yes, it was really 4 years after the scene was really happening, but I still wanted to see the streets and venues these kids went through and fought in. I wanted to get in the record shops!
So after the insanity of trying to cram in on the return train on the other side, with no room for me, I found myself sitting on my case on the platform. A young station master strolls up and I ask when the next train will be. There is no next train, not for a few days maybe. Devastation. The Station Master says, ” I’ll call the Missus.” Apparently everything is solved with calling the Missus in the UK. The man came out and said his wife insisted that I stay with them. I was a bit worried as I didn’t know this person, but he was in uniform and looked very worried about my well being. So I was given my Tae and got on so well with their young child, that I was asked if I had baby sitting experience and sat for them while they went round the pub. The Missus wrote to my Ma to tell her I was alive. Sadly, I had to go back down to London and couldn’t get to Edinburgh after all of the trouble I had been through.
This year, a fabulous adventure of a exhibition featuring Scottish Punk and Post Punk music is going on at the National Museum in Edinburgh, Rip It UP! I cannot travel this year, but if you are, take it all in. Tell us how it is.
Got any great stories from 1976 to 1990 about your travels and experiences in the UK and Ireland music scenes? I would love to hear them. If you know any great Punk and Post Punk bloggers/blogs, give me a line. I would love to feature stories here. Got rare 45 and album poster art to share, send it to me, all credits will be made.
In the Summer of 2016 I was on a more than amazing Scottish roam. The itinerary I had changed and rearranged many times before departing, and changed yet again when I got there, going where the heart pulled me. Never a typical tourist, I may climb castles and ruins enthusiastically, but I find spending time in public transit and anywhere people gathered and talked to be the best places to be. Hearing spoken Gaelic being freely used was an amazing thing. You didn’t need to understand it to see how people communicated. It is the perfect backdrop while taking trains through the highlands, listening to happy families speaking their language in pure joy. A language of green mountains and hills you won’t find anywhere else.
After the first foray into the Highlands, I swung back down and ended up in Oban. The sea was calling me. I had been reading headlines in papers at some of the train stations. Big changes were coming for the UK. And big changes in the US. When I feel any serious emotion, I have to touch the river or the sea. I was feeling a bit guilty, a bit escapist. I was ignoring the real world. It was after the Scottish IndyRef vote had not passed, and Theresa May had just taken office. With the way the US Presidential campaigns were going, it seemed inevitable that we were heading for a repeat of the Thatcher and Reagan era.
I was sitting on the rug in a great B&B I got for a steal. Beautiful view of the bay that I had just cruised through to get to the Isle of Mull. I should have been very happy. Suddenly it just hit me. I was at a loss. So, I sat on the floor with my phone. The world was really about to go into the funnel of a maelstrom or so it felt. Into some kind of void. It was like it was the very first time I ventured into the UK as a very young teen. Back then it was Thatcher and protests, the disenfranchised youth without work and no future. This new thing called Brexit, how the UK was trying to pull out of the European Union seemed a really bizarre idea. I wasn’t so sure what I would being going home to in my own country.
I put music on my iPhone, I needed comfort from old favorites. I started with John Lennon’s Imagine, singing along and tears streaming. I fell into George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and Give Me Love. I had to have that cry out. Went to bed that night, decided not to stay the second day. I needed to get back to a city, to not be an escapist, not be in an idyllic, coastal Scottish town. Needed that heart beat and throb. Edinburgh was calling to me, something in me said just go. So I arrived a few days early. It was one of the best decisions on that trip.
Edinburgh has rescued many a soul. After walking the streets and climbing over and around graveyards for hours, I came out and wandered into a sprawling historic area. A protest parade had started. My internal forever university student drive kicked in and I made a beeline to it. Saltires and EU flags were flying, IndyRef badges and banners displayed. People still wanted their independence, but they didn’t want to be ripped from the EU without their say. Scotland Police were escorting and walking alongside. There were all ages present, children in strollers and on small bikes. People walking with dogs, a cat on a leash. Even a parrot. I spent a time trying to figure out the rules of the Scottish protest, can you just jump in, was there an end of the line you funnel in at. Someone said, “Come on”. It was strangely quiet compared to the American protests I had been to. So, I joined for a bit of solidarity. It was one of the highlights of that visit.
Sadly I won’t be traveling this year. I barely scratched the surface in Ireland last summer, much less Scotland. I plan to return in two years to bag my Munro. So many places I have yet to discover. Maybe I will find another parade to join.
Next weekend, June 30th 2018, is an organized protest supporting Families and Children in our refugee crisis with the Mexican border. Will you join us?
North Berwick Boat Trips After my East Lothian adventures in April, my flirtation with the region continues at pace as I head back to the coast for an expedition with the Scottish Seabird Centre and one of their North Berwick boat trips. Taking to the water, I’m headed to the brilliant nature reserve that is…
Last travel season I hit up tours in Scotland and traveled the Bonnie Prince Charlie trail as much as I humanly could on a three week trip. Let’s face it, as filming continues on the fourth season of Outlander, the hit book and television series from Diana Gabaldon’s famous book series, there are many film locations across Scotland, Prague, and South Africa. Enthusiastic fans of both the books and the television series have traveled in epic numbers to reach Scotland, Prague in the Czech Republic, and may be doing so in South Africa. So, what does huge traffic and a huge amount of filming locations to track down mean for travelers, and the environment they trample on? It means Scotland needs to figure out how it will continue to handle the increased human traffic in its borders. Each historic site has seen large increases over the last three years due to the popularity of the series and films.
When people travel, they have certain expectations of where they are going. We want accessibility and that the location looks like it does in brochures and travel books. It will never look quite like it did in the film, series, or travel book you bought. When filming takes place, areas are blocked off, and dressed for scenes. It can also be exhilarating and frustrating to fans who traveled to hunt down their favorite series, to get a glimpse of behind the scenes or be close to a star, but escorted off the property. Film crews are trying to work and bring you your favorite show. The instant gratification of selfies and pictures while filming have made some fans go to extremes to get pictures. Everyone becomes a Paparazzi. Producers and studios want to keep the element of surprise for the audience, keep that storytelling secret for the reveal. This can lead to some conflicts. Hopefully as a traveller, you can help promote responsible observance and help keep the area picked up.
To add to it, the popularity of film and TV series like Outlander have lead to fans picnicking and causing erosion at historic sites such as Culloden Moor. At the Fraser stone alone, damage has been done due to trampling and it will now have to go through restoration of the surrounding soil to restore the erosion caused by multitudes of fans coupled with extreme weather. Let us not forget, this site has historic mass graves. Those that have fallen are due respect. Leaving tokens causes more work for the grounds staff.
When you are a guest in another country, or any historic site, you should always think about leaving it the way it was when you found it. As a society, we like to collect and grab things for remembrance. People also bring in things as tribute, and the curators then have to dispose of hundreds of items. Just think about how you might feel if something was defaced or trampled on and you could not enjoy it when you arrived.
You should always check with a historic site if something is going on that day, or at the very least check out the local papers. Most historic sites have a web page with current conditions and closures listed. However, these may not get updated frequently. Face it, Scotland is now an ever increasing hotspot for film and television. There are websites for local papers and they love to cover filming and will tell you if filming is in the city, such as Glasgow, and what streets are blocked off. Also, go in mind that no matter how much perfect vacation planning you do, something is going to be blocked or not working at one of the places you really wanted to see. Adapt.
Budget and Transport
How can you get to cram in as many sites for filming a series as possible in a two week span and not blow what little budget you have? Could you do less damage and annoyance to the environment or any landowners if you took buses or bikes to a local site, and not hired a car? Face it, Outlander is an example of massive amounts of filming locations, spread all over Scotland, and some of them only accessible by car. Or are they? On my trips I was only able to make it to a fraction of the sites I could hunt down. I made it to several S1 and S2 sites, and then continued on the Bonnie Prince Charlie. How can you cram it all in? Some Outlander and Game of Throne tours will get you to many of the locations, but are expensive tours and booked very solid, months in advance. Make a list of the sites and find out how to get there on your own.
Roaming Rights in Scotland
Scotland has roaming rights. What that means in a nutshell, is that the public has the right to go to public historic sites without access being denied. Unless a historic site has hired itself out to be filmed in and is shut to the public. There are many historically significant buildings and sites that are on private land, or you may have to cross private land to get to it. Enter these at your own risk, property that has agriculture going on, many of these are adjacent to working farms. Private residences are not right to roam, even though a deer path may go through it. If filming is going on, and you are blocked, or you want to see the filming and think you can get around another way, watch it. Guards are posted and can make you leave.
Too Many Filming Locations
The best way to get to most of the filming locations is by car and hiking in. Problem is rental cars in the UK and Ireland are very cost prohibitive unless you are traveling with a group. Group tours can be expensive as well. Many of these sites are not happy with the excessive car parking, people damage, and noise occurring. So, is it possible to see these filming sites via train, bus and walking a bit? Yes and no.
On my last two trips, I divided up what I could according to the larger cities I visited, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I went two summers and still came back and had only seen a fraction of what there is being filmed in. To get in more sites and manage the traveling better, I started compiling a locations and places table in a Google Doc, with public transit accessible sites. I will be making this accessible to you, my fellow traveler. It’s a work in progress, so if you have had some good or bad experiences with public transit and Outlander sites, send me a line so I can add your info to the table.
It is possible to see many of these sites, if you plan around the larger cities and take trips in sections. Hiring a specialised tour will help, but you can get to many of these sites with planning and not be on a tour timetable.