Crossing the Clyde
Owing to an extended walking week, Victory Log entry Number 39 has been split into two parts. This second Log entry takes the reader from Faslane, across the River Clyde and into Bishopton where one of four Erskine Homes is situated.
After so much time on the road it felt strange to be walking into Faslane, HM Naval Base Clyde. A warm welcome awaited, accompanied by coffee and a large plate of ‘sticky buns’. If that wasn’t enough to bring a smile to the Victory Walker’s face, the presentation of a bunch of flowers and boxed bottle of ‘bubbly’ made me smile even more! Presented by the Base Warrant Officer, WO1 Wayne Burbury, on behalf of the trustees from both naval charities – WRNS BT and RNRMC – it was good to receive long distance congratulations after clocking 3,000 miles last week.
Everyone was most hospitable and I enjoyed the change from my usual solo routine. Despite the rain, people in Faslane came out to support me and over £300 was collected by gym staff zipping about with buckets. Thank you. The resident Naval Base piper also appeared on the roadside to pipe me out of the Base, bringing the morning to a musical conclusion. After that I rejoined the A814 to listen to the music of traffic!
Entering Rhu I could just about see across to the Rosneath peninsula; this marks the place where Gare Loch leads into the River Clyde. Today, a large caravan park is situated on an area where Rosneath House once stood: a grand residence built by the Duke of Argyll in 1806. He and the Duchess, who was Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, lived here for some while. During the early part of WWII the house was requisitioned for military use but it latterly fell into decay before being demolished in 1961.
At Helensburgh, it would have been possible for me to catch a ferry across the Clyde to its south bank at Gourock, saving myself a walk of 30 miles. However, as I’d agreed to visit the Erskine Home I ignored the ferry terminal, instead focussing my attention on the bust of John Logie Baird, the television inventor. Nearby, a beautiful granite needle commemorates another famous Helensburgh resident, Henry Bell. As a local hotelier he had the idea of getting a steam powered ship to bring trippers up the river Clyde from Glasgow to fashionable Helensburgh. The paddle steamer, Comet, was launched in 1812 for this purpose and later the service was extended out to Scotland’s west coast by making use of the Crinan Canal.
Following the banks of the Clyde, I passed through a somewhat depressed looking Dumbarton before picking up Cycle Route No 7. The section I walked had been created from an old railway line which led me to the boat basin at Bowling and its lock gates on the Forth and Clyde Canal. Opened in 1790, the 35-mile canal route enabled small seagoing ships to cross from one side of Scotland to the other, by linking the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth. Leaving the towpath, it wasn’t long before I clambered up onto the Erskine bridge and found myself crossing the Clyde river. To my left, a regular stream of planes flew in and out of Glasgow’s airport, beyond which Glasgow’s skyline was clearly evident. Although my walking route didn’t take me into Glasgow city, the following day we travelled into the centre where the Duke of Wellington’s famous statue in Royal Exchange Square still wears a traffic cone - probably not what the Italian sculptor Carlo Marochetti would have had in mind in 1844!
The walking week concluded at Erskine House, Bishopton, where we were given permission to park up for a few nights. The Bishopton site is the largest of four Erskine sites. Hosted by the fundraising team we found our Erskine Home tour extremely informative. With its origins dating from WW1, when Scotland recognised it needed a hospital to treat those who had lost limbs in the Great War, its own specialist hospital was proposed. Initially called the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Soldiers and Sailors after its first Royal Patron, the hospital was located in Erskine mansion and estate. This had been loaned for the duration of the war by its owner Thomson Aikman. Amongst the influential businessmen who offered support to the hospital during its infancy was Harrold Yarrow from the nearby family shipyard; his workforce helped to create and develop artificial limbs. Later, Sir John Reid provided the funds to buy Erskine mansion and estate outright, thus securing the hospital’s future.
The original estate was built on vast proportions with no expense spared. Examples of this can be seen in the large, beautifully constructed piggery and luxurious stable block. Today, the stable building forms part of the Reid Macewen Activity Centre, where veterans can try their hand at different past-times such as painting and woodwork. Not only has it proved therapeutic, it has also highlighted the fact that some veterans have a latent creative talent. Veterans who do not reside in the Home can also make use of these facilities.
No longer undertaking medical operations or called a hospital, Erskine provides cottages, assisted living apartments and has a separate site for veterans with acute dementia. Outside, the gardens are wheelchair friendly and beautifully landscaped, and residents’ apartments are built to favour views across these grounds. Once the domain of male soldiers and sailors, today Erskine caters for men and women of all three services, and their spouses. The RNRMC has provided grants to Erskine, thereby ensuring that RN, RM, RFA and former ‘Wrens’ will benefit from the home’s facilities if admitted. The 180 residents all know how fortunate they are to be in such a superb home.
See Photo Album No 50 - Crossing the Clyde