Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Canal in Winter

Entry for 8 February 2009:

Although we didn’t get hit with snow as much as the rest of Great Britain, it’s been a cold, wintry week in Glasgow, and, unusually, a bit of the snow has lingered even here, while the hills around the city glisten white with snow. At the beginning of the week, the Monday Parttime Course team cancelled the rest of the day at 3:30pm and sent our students home while there was still light to navigate the treacherous roads.

I had a very busy schedule in the latter part of the week, giving the last of the three doctoral level Advanced Research Inputs to a group mostly consisting of the second year Counselling Psychology students, plus a tutor from the University of Teeside in the Northeast of England. So I didn’t get a chance to run until Saturday morning.

I went out for my Saturday long run with some trepidation, fearing a repeat of the time last December after the ice storm when I pulled my back trying to keep from falling on the canal path and Kelvin Walkway. Thus, as I came down Clevedon hill and onto the canal path, I was busy watching the ground surface. After a bit I looked to my left, and was startled by see, for the first time in my experience, that the canal had almost entirely frozen over and was now covered in a light dusting of snow (just as the path I was running on was). It glowed, except for a few places that were still unfrozen near the reeds along the edges. Wow!

As I ran along the path, still watching my footing carefully, I marvelled at this. It gave the place a magical, mysterious feel, which was enhanced by the fact that we’d just read the previous evening about the history of the canal. I’d been assuming that this canal had been built in the 1830’s and 40’s, the same era of canal building as in America. Not so! It was built 50 years earlier, completed in 1790, and was considered to be a wonder of the age. The Kelvin Aqueduct, where the path turns temporarily to ankle-twisting cobblestones as the canal goes over the River Kelvin, so impressed people at the time that they wrote poems praising it! (And so they might, it’s really an impressive piece of architecture.) I found myself looking again with new respect at the old stones of the wall to my right and the engineering of what is today known as the Maryhill Lock Flight, but which was originally colloquially (and grimly) referred to as “Botany Locks” (supposedly because people faced the choice either working on the canal or going to Australia). “This thing is old,” I said to myself in my jejune American way, “practically as old as my country.”

And so I ran along through the frosty morning, with the sun trying to come out, noting the little unfrozen sections by the locks and under and to the west of the Ruchill and Nolly bridges (“under the bridges!” I marvelled to myself), where the ducks and an occasional swan had taken refuge. I wondered where the grey herons had gone. (To the River Kelvin?) It being Glasgow, occasionally, I’d pass a bottle that someone had pitched out onto the ice, and just above the last of the Maryhill Locks what looked like a can of paint.

I turned around behind Firhill Stadium (where Partick Thistle are based) and headed back. On a quiet bit of the canal, above Maryhill Road, I passed a man out walking his black terrier. He had just stopped to light a cigarette when his mobile phone rang. As I ran past, I heard him say, “Ach! It’s gorgeous up here!” As I heard these words, the whole canal took on that glow again, and I nodded to myself. Magical!

Afterword: And last night, I dreamt that I was walking, nervously, on the ice of the canal, as it began to crack and break apart. Then this afternoon, more serious snow came into Western Scotland, dumping a couple of inches in Glasgow and much more in the Highlands. Once again, it looks like the rest of Great Britain are going to get the worse of the storm. Winter really seems to mean it this year!

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