4 Mar 2010

A day out in Pollok Park

It was one of those clear, cold mornings that lasted all day, the sun nothing more than a distant and blinding pinprick of warmth. The kind of day when the frost hangs on in shadowy corners, straight through the afternoon and into the dark again. Without much time to escape the urban landscape, I left from Glasgow Central station and two stops later was a short walk from what in 2008 was dubbed the best park in Europe.

Once part of the Maxwell family estate, Pollok Country Park was gifted to the City of Glasgow in 1966 and is a pick n’ mix of natural and manmade features, quiet corners and interactive attractions. It is the largest park in Glasgow, is highly accessible and also a magnet for families looking for a cheap and cheerful day out with plenty of options for bairns and adults alike.

For children growing up in Glasgow, this park is likely the first place they will see one of their country’s most recognizable rural icons - the hulking, shaggy Highland Cow. I stood next to the fence and watched the plumes of frosty air burst from their nostrils as they stared into the middle distance and chewed their cuds. They were either the most bored cows I have ever seen, or having reached the zenith of their bovine yogic powers, they no longer felt the need to engage with their surroundings.
A short walk away lies Pollok House, an 18th century mansion that overlooks the meandering White Cart River. Run by the National Trust, the home is filled with beautiful paintings and a multitude of antiques, but the strict policy against photography means I cannot show you any images of my favourite rooms, being the drawing room and the truly lovely library, where the thick bound books are stashed away on tall shelves, the kind that require a small ladder to reach the higher volumes.

Less able to absorb historical facts than I am the feel of a place, I will report that my best moment in the house lasted approximately 30 seconds, which is how long I was alone in the music room with just the sound of the clock ticking. I imagined that was how quiet it must have been, once upon a time.
Like most people I adored the squat hedge maze that lies adjacent to the house. Children ran into it, quickly loosing the desire to find the centre and preferring instead to crouch down and attempt to hide from each other or their parents. Grown adults giggled madly as they hurried on ahead of their small dogs, who could not see their masters but sniffed them out or followed the sound of their voices until the inevitable joyful reunion.

Seen through the lion-guarded gates, Pollok House is a beacon of symmetry, but an explosion of black birds from behind the home gave an illusion of deeper drama, as did the elaborate comb-over of dead vines adorning a quaint garden house nearby.
Standing idyllically next to the river like something out of a Constable painting is the old sawmill, with an enclosed stable courtyard that made me think of Italy of France. I stood for a long time next to the water, using the reflection to increase the sun’s strength on my skin (it has been a long, cold winter and I am eager for warmth).
Despite its many romantic qualities, I have to say that Pollok Park is not my favourite. It is too car friendly for me, which detracts from that sense of a serene escape to nature that many urban dwellers need from time to time. But there is one more gem in Pollok Park that I will explore next time, a world of light and beauty that caught me completely by surprise.

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