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Neilston to Gleniffer Braes

On this section of our Director Kat’s Green belt walk, she reaches Gleniffer Braes country park on the edge of Paisley, finds many memorials to loved ones on the way and discovers the Weaver Poet

After the difficulties with core paths on the last walk, I was a bit anxious about getting this one right. Sarah had come on that very first green belt walk, when I had no navigational aids apart from a 1995 ordinance survey map, and we’d ended up walking through a culvert under the motorway full of dead fish.

I’d assured Sarah that I was a new person – that I planned each walk meticulously with online access to up-to-date OS mapping at various scales, paired with aerial photos to confirm the presence of paths. So she agreed to come.

Fortunately my concerns were unfounded and we started the walk with an extremely pleasant path along a burn (which, incidentally, was also marked on the core paths map). The narrow path wound between hedgerows bright with berries and glowing golden beech leaves. The path crossed an old discussed railway and, just before we walked under a huge brick arch, we saw, what I thought was, a Clootie tree. These trees, which are usually by a well, are hung with strips of cloth, “clooties” which people bring in hope of healing for themselves or for a loved-one. However this mature ash, although it bore a few rags, was hung mainly with trinkets – two dreamcatchers, wooden and metal hearts on pieces of ribbon, and green-painted piece of wood which had once borne a phrase in felt letters, most of which had fallen off. A little Canadian flag fluttered above beads, wind-chimes and children’s bracelets, while, under the tree, glass and metal flowers grew. There was nothing to say that it was a place to remember a loved one who had died – but I had a sense that it was.

Nearby was a more conventional memorial – a bench with a plaque “Adam Parker – You may be gone from our hearts but never gone from our hearts” but even that had the personal touch of many painted stones scattered around – a bee on a thistle, a mountain scene, saltires, human figures.

The path took us onward into a wood full of ruins – the map said this was the site of Cowden Hall, a 17th century house, but the main area of ruins we found was from the later mansion house built in 1860. We followed overgrown paths through what must have once been some rather magnificent landscaped gardens, coming across a couple of flights of stone steps, but rhododendrons had taken over and it didn’t look like many people walked the garden any more.

We ducked out of the overgrown walled garden over a part of the wall which had completely collapsed, and immediately came upon the cliff face of a huge factory building – painted white and with hundreds of arched windows. It rose up at least six stories and managed to look simultaneously completely derelict and also that it had closed relatively recently – modern ventilation systems were set into the windows, pipes and valves painted bright yellow sprouted out just by an emergency exit.

This was Crofthead Mill, which was founded in 1792, and had made threads for two hundred years until it was closed in 1993, when production moved overseas. It was once the biggest employer, by far, in Neilston. The huge building dominated the view each time we looked back towards Neilston as we climbed the hill towards the Braes. The clear track which was marked on the map didn’t exist, it seemed that a fence line now ran through the middle of it so we climbed a fence and walked along the edge of a field of rough grazing.

Gleniffer Braes has been open access land since the end of the 18th Century but became a country park after they were established by the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967. Country Parks were created specifically to provide places for recreation in the countryside close to towns and cities for people to visit. This was done initially as a reaction to the increase in car ownership and fears that cars would swamp the countryside. Country parks provided access by car. and with plentiful parking, which was relatively close to people’s homes, with the aim of reducing the perceived pressure on the wider countryside.

The plan was to meet my friend Gail who had grown up in Paisley and has fond memories of the Braes – she wanted to show us her haunts. But she’d arrived early – or we’d arrived late – or both, and we decided to both walk towards the golf club and hopefully meet. It seemed unlikely that this was going to work out, but we set off up across the fields towards the trig point at the top (oh the views of Glasgow!) and then down to the golf course. It was then we discovered the joys of WhatsApp ‘send your location’ and we tracked each other’s dots as they edged closer to each other until we met near the 11th tee. Gail’s father is a member of the club (in fact a past Captain) and she was walking through the rough at the side of the course with her hood up, terrified that someone would see her and report back. “My dad would disown me if he saw me now!” she said. “Anyone could recognise me – this club was our whole social life when I was a child.”

Gail suggested we walk around the course and back to the club house but this proved a real challenge when combined with not wanting to be seen. The golf course also seemed to be enormous and had enclaves of moorland within the greens and fairways that were so big we assumed we were out of the golf course, until we came across yet another green or fairway.

At a copse of birch trees we came across a sundial – a bronze circle with a simple sun in the middle and the words – “turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”. It was labelled ‘Peacocks folly’ and was a memorial for someone called JS peacock’. “That was my next door neighbour when we were kids!” exclaimed Gail.    

It’s been interesting to think about how people remember their loved ones during my green belt walk. From time to time I find benches or other tributes in the landscape. But today’s walk  had been especially rich in memorials, with the two memorials at the start, this sundial and also another memorial bench we had passed on the farm track that took us up the rise towards Gennifer Braes. It was carved out of one giant tree trunk with a chainsaw. Either side of the seat two carved pheasants perched and a metal plaque bore the wording “Sandy Wilson 1925-2013 Friend Farmer Countryman. Forever watching his flock”

We eventually made it back to the paths of the country park and towards a car park with a stunning view, “the car park in the sky” as Gail called it. We were looking over the whole of Paisley and Glasgow with the Kilpatrick and Campsie hills beyond and, in the distance, the pyramid of Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps. Gail said people came here to see the huge Emirates plane landing at Glasgow airport “it looks like it is moving so slowly it is about to drop out of the sky” she said. This place holds a special place in Gail’s memories – it was here, while they were still at school, that she and her, now, husband, had driven after a school dance and shared their first kiss. In the intervening years they have returned regularly to take the kids to the play-park with one of the best views you can find.

On the rather uncared-for interpretation panel, striated with peoples initials, keen to memorialise their own visit to the Braes, there were a couple of quotes by a local poet Robert Tannahill. Tannahill worked as a weaver and often referenced the landscapes of the Braes in his work.

Sweet the Crawflower’s early bell/ decks Gleniffer’s dewy Dell

Robert Tannahill (1774-1810)

There was also a quote from one of his best-known works “The Braes of Gleniffer” which was written in 1806 and recorded to a beautiful tune by the folk group the Tannahill Weavers in 1998. The Braes of Glenifer is a song contrasting the beauty and warmth of Gleniffer Braes in the summer, when the singer met her lover, with the desolate winter she feels now her lover has had to leave to go to war.

The wild flow’rs o’ simmer were spread a’ sae bonnie,
The mavis sang sweet frae the green birken tree:
But far to the camp they hae march’d my dear Johnnie,
And now it is winter wi’ nature and me.

extract from ‘The Braes of Gleniffer” by Robert Tannahill

You can read the full poem here

It was only 430pm but the sun was starting to set. Soon I’d be walking through the winter landscapes described by in the ‘Braes of Gleiffer’.

“Yon caul sleety cloud skiffs alang the bleak mountain,
And shakes the dark firs on the stey rocky brae,
While doun the deep glen bawls the snaw flooded fountain,
That murmur’d sae sweet to my laddie an me.”

I looked towards the last of the sun’s glow in the direction my next walk would take me – westward towards Lochwinnoch and then to the Clyde coast at Weymss Bay.

If you’d like to read about the other green belt walks you can do so here

Just where we parked at the start of the walk was this single wind turbine.
On the map this was marked as a track but somehow the fence of the field had encroached or the garden fence, or both, and it no longer exisited
One of the many memorials we came upon on this walk
Crossing the last fairway before freedom at the other side of the golf course

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