#66 “NO MAN IS AN ISLAND” (OR, WHAT A WAIST)

Welcome to LEJoG Day 66: all will be revealed…

Day 66 pre-amble

As promised, today I will reveal and start using my real name. But that can wait until the postscript. In the meantime there’s another section of the walk to enjoy or endure.

For once, the post title will only be explained at the end. Tantalising stuff…

LEJoG Day 66 (Wednesday 26 August 2020)

Kilsyth to Milngavie (14 miles)

Cumulative: 952 miles

Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 20 minutes. Average speed: 3.23 miles. Weather: Drizzle and light rain to start with and in Kirkintilloch; becoming sunny mid-afternoon but still largely wet underfoot.

Practicalities: Breakfast in room. Waited longer than usual before setting out as I was using the radiator to dry as many items as possible. Checked out at 10:20. Waited for a large walking group to get 5-10 minutes ahead, as they arrived at Auchinstarry right after me.

The walk

Start: Auchinstarry Marina, near Kilsyth, 10:50am. End: Start of West Highland Way, Milngavie, 3:40pm.

This walk uses OS Explorer maps 349 (linked on Day 64) and 342 (Glasgow). The changeover comes within a few of miles of Auchinstarry, and there’s about a mile just after Twechar which is not covered by either map. Guess what: you’re on a canal again (!) so it won’t matter.

The first five miles, to Kirkintilloch, were a bit of a drag again, just considerably less so than yesterday. There were noticeably more cyclists (all helpful and polite) and a few more walkers. The drizzle was far from prohibitive and never really threatened to become heavy rain. I put my hood up a couple of times, but not for long. Scenery is very similar to the previous 40-odd miles: a canal on your left, trees, hedges, fields, the occasional farm. Bridge fans may appreciate the swing bridge at Twechar, but there isn’t much else to catch the eye.

The swing bridge at Twechar, on the Forth and Clyde Canal

Kirkintilloch is the largest canal settlement since Linlithgow (Falkirk being slightly off route) and it’s where I stopped for a 25-minute lunch. To the weary pedestrian, it’s certainly inviting at first glance:

Kirkintilloch: a “walkers are welcome” town!

Like my home town, Kirkintilloch sits right on a canal basin. At the very least, this means a change in scenery.

The church at Kirkintilloch

I stopped for lunch at the Townhead bridge, the third (westernmost) of three road crossings. Unfortunately it turned out to be one of the wettest times of the day, and a somewhat miserable experience. Not helped by a substantial number of children emerging from two recently reopened schools for their lunch break. I suspect that a middle-aged man sat on a wet bench with a protein bar, water and a rucksack with a rain cover would make quite a pitiful sight to your average Scottish teenager. But I’m only speculating.

I was even 15 seconds too late to take the perfect photo of a woman lighting up outside this pub, directly opposite:

The ‘Kirky Puffer’, sadly sans the strategically-placed smoker

Eventually I dragged myself away for yet more canal walking, due west south west in the direction of Cadder. There really is nothing to add about the next few miles that we haven’t already covered on Days 64 and 65. The weather started to improve anyway.

There is an important decision to be made here though: if striking out for Milngavie, where should you leave the Forth and Clyde Canal? In planning the walk, I saw three options:

  1. Follow the Scottish National Trail and leave at Cadder.
  2. Walk an extra half mile or so and use Balmuildy Road, Bishopbriggs to join up the canal with the A879 and the Kelvin Walkway into Milngavie.
  3. Walk another couple of miles, to another Cadder (oddly enough) and join the A879 further south.

Option 1 seemed most sensible, but the route described on the National Trail website seemed tortuous and involved far too much faffing about round golf courses. Option 3 seemed unnecessarily long, particularly as there was no guarantee the A879 would be any more walker-friendly than Balmuildy Road. I went for option 2.

Longtime readers won’t be surprised to learn that it didn’t go entirely to plan.

Balmuildy Road marks the exact 9-mile point from Auchinstarry. I thought Milngavie was about 3½ miles from here: it was actually 5. The first problem, not unexpected, is that Balmuildy Road soon runs out of pavement and verge. Not to worry: there’s a path marked on the left hand side of the road, and by covering two sides of a rectangle formed by this path, the road and the marked plantationm, you can rejoin the road much further along and avoid the traffic.

Well no, not exactly. The east-west path isn’t too bad, but the north-south path (heading back to the road) is almost non-existent. Overgrown, boggy, full of logs and fallen trees, its only saving grace is being less than ¼ mile long. And so back to the road. Which now has verges just about wide enough for a walker, but great care must be exercised, especially on the two sharp bends after the plantation. And it is a busy road. Not an A-road, but heavily used by cars wanting to make more or less the exact shortcut that’s tempted me.

Finally, about ¼ mile after the S-bend, you run out of verge and out of luck. Only a complete fool would attempt to walk to the end of Balmuildy Road from here. Still, you can see Balmuildy Bridge, where the A879 crosses the River Kelvin, and if you’ve done your research, you know you have two options from there: the Kelvin Walkway and the walkable A879. So, hop over a fence and cross a field, heading NE directly for the bridge. It’s a bit boggy but infinitely preferable to the road.

On reaching the bridge, I quickly realised there was actually only one option. The Kelvin Walkway was no longer accessible, due to the footbridge over the aqueduct being out of use (below):

Disused bridge at the River Kelvin aqueduct, near Balmuildy Bridge (the road bridge)

This was by no means a disaster. The road route was more direct anyway. Thus I climbed to the road bridge, crossed the A879 carefully and walked along its left side pavement as far as the B8049 junction. Here the Kelvin Walkway meets the road in a far more convenient place, and the walker can follow Allander Water to the outskirts of Milngavie. This is recommended in the Trailblazer West Highland Way guidebook. It should be pointed out, though, that Trailblazer recommend a whole 10-mile route from Glasgow to Milngavie which clearly doesn’t seem viable at present.

The first 200m of the walkway was badly overgrown, but thereafter it was a pleasant, if meandering, route into Milngavie (remarkably pronounced ‘Mull-guy’) itself. This is described by Trailblazer as a well-to-do commuter suburb, and first impressions back that up.

Welcome to Milngavie sign, in the pedestrianised shopping area

(they obviously want to make the most of being the West Highland Way starting point)

This isn’t the only marker of the West Highland Way by any means. There’s a plaque and outline map:

An obelisk (which marks the official start):

And my favourite, the grand entrance sign (see header image).

A relatively easy walk then, although Balmuildy Road is hairy and really not recommended as a shortcut.

After the walk

Changed as many clothes as I could on the bench by the WHW sign, as I had to use public transport to reach my accommodation in Glasgow. Walked to Milngavie railway station, caught train to Glasgow Queen Street, stayed at the Ibis Styles Hotel near George Square. A really friendly place with a nice little bar. No evening meals though, and with this being the last Wednesday of ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ my options were limited if I wanted to avoid queues. Ended up in McDonald’s.

No ‘listening pleasure’ today either: the roads were too dangerous.

 

Postscript:

Another one of my T-shirts, this one with an image of Mrs Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) dancing the twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s in ‘Pulp Fiction’

“You Never Did Tell”

This postscript is one of the first pieces of writing I conceived for the blog, way back when I developed the “foot/head” concept of country as human body. It has sat there in my Word drafts for over 18 months, waiting for when I finally reached Glasgow. In some ways it’s a rare bridge between the “Foot” and “Head” blogs, particularly the yet to be written “Anatomy of a Breakdown: Parts II and III”. But, regardless of whether you ever read those, it’s intended to stand alone as a playful little aside.

And so here goes. I hope you enjoy it.

We’ve had the T-shirt, so now let’s have some more of that paused DVD action…

A still from the dance scene in ‘Pulp Fiction’. Chosen because reasons (see below…)

I suppose, as insatiably curious readers, you may be wondering what on earth today’s post title has to do with my plodding through Scotland’s Central Belt and arriving in Glasgow. Let alone why John Travolta and Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction are involved.

The simple explanation for the title, or at least the ‘What A Waist’ part, is that the central belt equates to the waist of Scotland. If you’re not interested in the deeper explanation – which tenuously involves the Pulp Fiction dance – then fair enough: see you for the next leg – which is sunny and delightful – and, ahem, cheerio the noo!

For the rest of you, well, it’s Another True Story with potential amusement value: a story I never did tell. I’ve probably earned this minor indulgence after almost 1,000 miles. So glad I haven’t quite turned 1,000 yet and would thereby feel obliged to replace the deathlessly divine Ms Thurman with a second use of the less aesthetically appealing (to me) Craig and Charlie Reid. The story is suitable for work this time. Well, just about… there’s a bit of mild swearing and light bawdiness…. last chance for any inveterate prudes [or the twee] to bail out….

No Man Is An Island

(Or is he…?)

And there’s the first part of the post title. Read on for further explanation.

Aside from, you know, the very name of the blog, this tale is really the entire purpose of the “country as human body” metaphor. The metaphor drives the story from beginning to end. Foot to head, if you like. Only this time it is not Great Britain we’re concerned with, just Scotland, and we’re only looking at the section from (approximately) waist to neck.

Wikipedia says this about Scotland’s Central Belt (my emphasis):

Despite the name, it is not geographically central but is nevertheless situated at the ‘waist’ of Scotland on a conventional map.

Perfect. Just as I saw it when I had this idea fifteen years ago.

It is 2005, and my plan is to send a Valentine card to a Scottish woman I adored, using the geography of Scotland as a symbolic representation of the female body. At least, from (approximately) waist to neck. Who is she? Well, it’s Valentine’s Day: we don’t do real names. I’m about to reveal mine, of course, but the object of desire will remain anonymous. Let’s call her Mia, after Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction. This fits perfectly: she loved dancing, was joyful, expressive and slightly crazy, and she and I made an attempt at the Jack Rabbit Slim’s Twist at a party about three weeks before Valentine’s Day. I hasten to add there was no inadvertent snorting of heroin afterwards.

Some brief context: we got on brilliantly (her words) but I was obviously very sexually reticent and there was doubt and much anguish on my part over this. I was too often, in short, a bit of a Colin (from the short poem, ‘The Look‘, by Sara Teasdale, below).

Strephon kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.
Strephon’s kiss was lost in jest,
Robin’s lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin’s eyes
Haunts me night and day.

And so my intention was to use this card as a strong hint that yes, I did find her extremely sexually desirable and tormented myself with silent, stifled lust. I never actually put pen to paper, but below are the kind of thoughts I was having. I wanted to ravish her, region by region, basically. I shall assume that, as men and women of the world, you won’t need me to draw an explanatory picture. Go look at a map.

I’m sure the Highlands are very beautiful, and exhilarating to explore…

Many are fond of the Southern Uplands, through which the River Tweed flows…

But no matter how far I may roam, I’ll always come back to my favourite place… Glasgow.

I mean, this is a literal fib (I’d never even visited Glasgow), but there’s a metaphorical truth there. As her home city, and part of the Central Belt, it seemed the best place to locate the part of her body which mesmerised me more than any other. Her belly button. And thus, hopefully, a couple more pennies drop. Why here and now? Milngavie is as close to Glasgow as I will roam on this walk. Why that Pulp Fiction still? Mrs Mia Wallace is touching her belly button.

At this point my creative juices were all but drained. Of course they needed to be replenished, as you’re supposed to give a clue as to your identity. I think this would have been screamingly obvious anyway, as I’m fairly sure she was aware of my umbilical fascination. But I planned something along these lines:

Naeo man is an island

Though I am closer than most

Follow the naval manoeuvres

West South West from home…

“Nae” is of course Scottish for “no”. The crossing out was meant to suggest that I am English (or at least not Scottish), and it so happens that I was crossing out my then initials. Most blatantly the clues referred to the Scottish island to the WSW of Glasgow which bore my name, except you needed to cross out the second a and replace it with an o. To reach Arran from Glasgow, you must cross the Firth of Clyde. The phrase “naval manoeuvres” was a punning reference to Clyde shipbuilding and, inevitably, her navel.

I don’t care if this seems obtuse. Mia was highly intelligent and shared my facility for and delight in language. So she was anything but obtuse, and would have got this within seconds (you know, even if it wasn’t screamingly obvious anyway). Take it from me, I know, and as ever she was meant to.

There was also another meaning there, being that I was perceived by some as shy, quiet or aloof (“an island”) and I was trying to suggest this was wrong. I think she probably knew that by then, and others had already said I overplayed this notion and should let it go anyway. But, as the poem suggests, it was still applicable sexually at least. Certainly this other meaning was in my head as I developed the idea.

Now, in spite of almost sharing a name with this isle, and sometimes being greeted with “as in the woolly jumpers?”* in conversation with new people, I was entirely unfamiliar with its geography.

(*I only learned in 2018 that these jumpers are actually named after islands off the west coast of Ireland, not the one off Scotland. I do hope this is a common error among Sassenachs.)

So anyway, I took a closer look at a map of the island. The capital… Brodick. Nothing there. Something on the coast, maybe….? Brown Head: possibly worth considering as I have dark brown hair?

And then I saw it, and stopped dead in my tracks as this beautifully conceived plan went suddenly awry. I noticed that the northern tip of this island has an interesting name.

Given that the whole driving force of this Valentine card was equating geography to the human form, the juxtaposition was especially unfortunate. At the head of the island was, errr, (those who have read the NSFW true story and know their Scottish island geography will think… here we go again), ‘Cock of Arran’.

As you can see for yourselves…

 

 

Oops.

This was reason enough not to send the card. You might as well write “from a dickhead”.

Or, if you take it one step further and switch the o and a in ‘cock’ and ‘Arran’, leaving you with ‘Cack of Arron’: “from a shithead”.

Which is worse. Probably.

So I decided to chuck the idea, so to speak. There is no wedding or even much of a subsequent story: I confessed my falsely asexual feelings in an awkward teenage manner, not surprisingly the rapid tempo of the music fell, Mademoiselle turned me down, found another Pierre and is now Madame, while I went out and bought a cherry red 53 (-reg VW Golf).

I’m not even making this up, again.

I guess everyone must have something in life he can rely on.

C’est la vie, say the old folks.

PPS: The well wishes go without saying, Mia.

What a waist. What a waste.

 

They also fail to realise that humour, by and large, comes from making yourself vulnerable. Saying something snarky from a high-status position isn’t comedy, it’s being a wanker.

(Karl Minns on Twitter, reply to Justin Lewis, 9 October 2018)

 

Finale: Who the hell was Ben Wainless anyway?

I hope you now know that my real name is Arron. Arron Wright. My name until January 2009 was Arron Ellis. I changed my surname to distance myself from my father, and took my grandfather’s surname/mother’s maiden name.

“Ben Wainless” was a pseudonym which contained clues as to my real name, just like the unsent Valentine’s card.

The Hebrew meaning of the name “Arron” is “high mountain”. Ben is also a Hebrew name, meaning “son”, but of course it’s also a Scottish word for mountain peak. As I knew I would be revealing my real name in Scotland, it was the perfect first name to choose.

As for “Wainless”, this was conceived as a tribute to the godfather of walking, Alfred Wainwright. If you remove “Wain” from his surname, leaving it ‘wainless’, what are you left with? Wright, of course. The fact that we share the same initials (A.W.) is a bonus.

When combined, they made an ideal pen name for a walking blog. I’m rather proud of this actually, and sad to see “Ben” go. As it happens, he leaves just as the LEJoG walk starts to meet up with some of his namesakes on the West Highland Way. So he’ll remain with me in spirit.

 

Picture (taken 26 August 2020) shows the grand entrance sign at the start of the West Highland Way in Milngavie. Believe me, I considered Mrs Mia Wallace touching her belly and the island of Arran map as alternatives before deciding to stick to the walking.

Next: Day 67 (17 September 2020)… in which Arron (bye Ben!) has one of the best days of the whole LEJoG and is – gloriously – reminded why he started walking in the first place. Hey, it had to happen sometime soon, right?

 

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