The Braehead Maritime Museum has been shut. It looked disappointingly small anyway when I was down there this week on my bike, but I should have known that from the satellite picture I looked at online beforehand. Also in the satellite was a tall ship, masts and booms and all, which was one of the reasons I made such haste. (Once started, rain spurred me on.) Sadly the masts are in fact concreted into the ground but the whole still lent a mysterious nautical air, albeit a sad one, Ancient Mariner rather than Onedin Line.
Back on the real earth I found a pleasant walk/cycleway along the waterfront, behind Braehead and all its garishness, with views at various yards on the other side of the river, many of which are still operational. This was a surprise, the path and the activity. The path continued (via a small number of steps) along the river until it almost reaches the Renfrew ferry terminal. Here I turned up Lapwing Road, (near Redsnank and Whimbrel) along King’s Inch Road (love these names and being a tourist in my own town) and down Ferry Road, obviously.
I had seen the little ferry from a distance having only been vaguely aware of its existence until that moment, another silver boat but this time the right way up. The day was grey. The water was murky. There was flotsam and jetsam of all kinds catching anywhere it could against all the old slipways, jetties and docks and the broken stonework of the river walls. Some brilliant swans risked our progress as we backed in to the river, the only other sailing bodies to be seen. The ferryman was silent but not unfriendly. We reached the bank in no time at all and I pushed my two-wheeled friend up the cobbled slip past once-grand or at least functional buildings and an old boatyard full of boatyard debris. Bright new houses stood on the rise, gleaming fresh white paint and a brave new world.
My next stop was the site of John Brown’s Shipyard. It seems odd I haven’t been there before, given how much time I’ve spent in and around Clydebank. It was an odd feeling. Clydebank College, a truly courageous new building, stands on the eastern side of it with two simple plaques to mark the place where the Queen Mary and the QE2, amongst countless other fine ships, were launched into the Clyde opposite the Black Cart Water on the other side (for extra leeway). A rough track took me round the dock where these ships would have been finished, a desolate spot where all the buildings and trappings of greater days have been removed. A row of feral pigeons lined the edge, perched on metalwork whose working days are over, but no seagulls. Not a one. Which seemed strange. Continuing round I reached the base of the Titan, seen here through the same high fence which surrounds the whole area. Beautiful and giant and iconic, the Titan crane can be seen from a considerable distance and stood blue against the grey autumn sky of that day. It must surely be some consolation to the good Bankies (of Clydebank) that this fabulous structure was restored a few years ago instead of being taken down as was the Singer Clock Tower (bigger than Big Ben) even after it survived the devastating Blitz of 1941.
Feeling rather overwhelmed by the vast emptiness of the spot, I took a train to Dumbarton and visited the Maritime Museum there. Here was Denny’s Shipyard or the only part left of it, the Ship Model Experimental Tank (totally mental it was). Here scale models of proposed ships were made of wood or wax,then sailed down a long water tank with replicated sea conditions. Being rather geeky by nature I found the whole process fascinating. But probably the most meaningful part of the museum for me was a giant photograph of the entire yard in which Dumbarton Rock and Castle sit comfortably over the snaking arrival of the River Leven into the Clyde Estuary. The photo was taken at the end of WW2 and shows several large ships fanning out from the Leven, sitting on its banks being built from the ground up. The finishing dock hides in the shelter of the Rock. The yard buildings sprawl out from this central and curving natural arrangement, the tank building being dwarfed by the massive workshops around it. All gone now, and replaced by all the super-hyper-capitalist-markets of the day, and acres of windswept car park. One saving grace is the finishing dock, which has been filled in and holds a football field.
Do we really want all this leisure? Wouldn’t we rather have work, dirty and dangerous though it was? Where are all the seagulls?