13 Dec 2009

A sunshine view of Greenock

In Scotland, a day without rain or the threat of rain is valuable. It is an increment of time in which the light is not diffused, but skidding around objects and casting shadows like they were puppets. I have long since learned that a morning that involves the promise of a blue sky is one to be cherished.

It was on such a clear and cold morning that I recently found myself in Greenock. Well, I didn’t exactly find myself there - I went there on purpose. But perhaps it was meant to be, as I have just discovered that Greenock is said to come from the Gaelic Grianaig, which means “a sunny place.”

My beloved has few glowing remarks to share about his hometown. True, this traditional ship building port can be seen as just another bead on the urban necklace that stretches from Glasgow westward along the River Clyde. And no doubt it would look a far grander place today if so much of it hadn’t been flattened in a two-night blitz during WWII. But on a clear day it is easy to discover the things that made this town so prosperous during its heyday in the shipping industry.

The waterfront that runs along next to the domineering 1818 Custom House is quiet and quaint and offers lovely views across the river as it swells into the Firth of Clyde. I was there on a weekend and wasn’t able to see the museum that is currently run in the Custom House. (I had better get there soon as it is scheduled to be closed in 2011).

Up the hill, Greenock’s war memorial is beautiful. Of course JP would tell you not to spend much time in the surrounding park in the evenings, but on a bright morning it shines with its intended purpose. Behind it Victoria Tower is easily viewed. In fact the 245-foot tower, part of the municipal building, can be seen from almost anywhere in town, a helpful landmark for visitors and folks on their way home after having one too many at the pub.

There is much to see in Greenock if you just look up. The carvings in the area around the municipal building are ornate and stunning. Gods and goddesses swathed in robes and garlands can be seen looming wisely or driving their chariots around the walls of practical industry. Even the Sheriff’s Courthouse looks like it has been transplanted by Disney. (You’ve been found guilty! Now the Sentencing Fairy will sprinkle you with the Dust of Repentance and lead you over the Bridge of TskTsk and out into the Lake of Reflection, where you will spend the next 20 days on the Isle of Gloom).

The name James Watt is everywhere around town, including a museum, a college and even a pub. An inventor and engineer, Watt’s improvements to the steam engine changed the world by giving the industrial revolution a swift kick up the backside. Say hello to Mr. Watt himself in front of the - what else- James Watt Building:

This is certainly a place to go if you like to go to church. The first church was established here in the late 1500s and today there are churches all over Greenock. There is even a church in the mall.

I suppose the best thing about Greenock is its central location, not only to Glasgow but to numerous other small towns and historical sights and of course ferry terminals. I am already counting down to spring so we can go to Wemyss Bay and take the ferry to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute (not that we couldn't go now, but I am waiting for this place to open).

Perhaps it is impractical to write about a place that is - unless you’re an engineering buff - several miles off the standard tourist trail. But when I ask myself “was it pleasing to my senses?” I have to answer “yes.” In which case, it is worth sharing.

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