Friday, December 31, 2010

Life and death on the Clyde.

From the former Yarrow's shipyard at Scotstoun we paddled to Renfrew on the south bank. This is one of the oldest ferry points on the Clyde. Higher up the river we had already encountered the old chain driven "Renfrew", which served the route as a vehicle ferry from  1952 until 1984. Vehicle traffic had steadily fallen since the construction of the Clyde tunnel upstream in 1963/64 and the Erskine bridge downstream in 1971. You can see old photos of how Renfrew originally  looked here. She was replaced by two passenger ferries, the Renfrew Swan and the Yoker Rose and they remained in service until they were withdrawn in 2010.

Fortunately for the many people in the north that like to nip over the Clyde to shop in Braehead, a new private operator, Clyde Link has taken over the route. This is their aluminium landing craft, Island Trader, which operates from the old car ferry slipways. The crew were very friendly and we had no problem landing at the edge of the wide slipway. This was our first stop as most of the Clyde had either been vertical quays or steep rubble banks. The crew had not been informed of our passage by estuary control but were pleased to hear we had contacted estuary control and they noted our VHFs.

The reason that the old Renfrew dragged itself across the river on chains and the Island Trader has two very large outboards was now very obvious, the ebb tide was running past at 5km/hr! This is why we had been prepared to spend time higher up the river!

We again crossed to the north side of the river and paddled alongside the river quayside of the huge Rothesay dock which opened in 1907.  It is now a yard for recreational boats! Downstream of the dock entrance stands the Clydebank Titan crane. This is all that is left of the John Brown shipyard, which at one time was the World's biggest yard. In 1906 the yard launched the Lusitania, which was then the World's largest ship. In WW1 it launched HMS Repulse and HMS Hood.  In 1940 it launched HMS Duke of York. The yard also built the Cunard  "Queens": the Queen Mary 1934, the Queen Elizabeth 1938 and the Queen Elizabeth 2 1967.

The Titan crane was completed in 1907 by Sir William Arrol and was strengthened to lift 200 tons in 1940 during the building of the Duke of York. The crane was restored and opened as a visitor centre in 2007. All round the crane looks like a bombsite, the yards were demolished and cleared in 2002. The recession did to the yards what Hitler failed to do. On the nights of 13th and 14th March 1940, Hitler ordered a bombing raid on Clydeside and the Clydebank shipyards and munitions factories were targeted in what is known as the Clydebank Blitz. 260 bombers arrived the first night and while rescue operations were still continuing, 200 returned the second night. Most of the factories and shipyards escaped but residential areas were ravaged by incendiary bombs and 528 civilians were killed and 617 seriously injured. Almost every house was damaged and 48,000 people were made homeless. The hardy people of Clydebank recovered and went on to build more fine ships but what a cost their industry had brought them.

During WW2, my Grandfather had a senior job in the Dunlop Rubber company, which was engaged in the war effort, but he also volunteered as a part time special  constable. On the night of 13th March, he was on duty in Clydebank. He was horrified by what he saw, the next day he told my grandmother it was even worse than his experiences as a soldier in the trenches of France in WW1. He never spoke of it at home again.

The Golden Jubilee Hospital lies downstream from the former John Brown's yard. It was built as a private hospital but was taken over by the NHS in 2002. It serves to reduce waiting times for all the Health Boards of Scotland. The hospital stands on the site of the huge Beardmore shipyard that had a mile frontage on the Clyde. William Beardmore bought this site in 1900 and the yard and its cranes were built over the next few years by Sir William Arrol. It went on to specialise in battleships and oil tankers. In 1917 the yard built the World's first aircract carrier with a full length flight deck, HMS Argus.

The south bank of the Clyde we were now passing is undeveloped, in fact it is a nature reserve called Newshot Island, which is an area of intertidal mudflats and salt marsh frequented by wildfowl.

Two great pylons carrying power lines across the Clyde announced our approach to Erskine.

We took a break on a little beach just upstream of the old Erskine Ferry jetty and its replacement bridge, which is now the lowest crossing on the Clyde. Historically the Clyde at Erskine was shallow enough to ford before the navigation channel was dredged.

We had landed in the silted up old harbour of Erskine and had fully expected foul, stinking mud but found ourselves standing on firm, clean, reddish sand.

This is the slipway of the old Erskine ferry, which dragged itself across the currents of the Clyde by two chains strung from one side of the river to the other. The ferry last ran in 1971 when the bridge opened. These swans now had sole possession of the slipway, while a mixed flock of waders, redshanks, oystercatchers and curlews foraged on the sands exposed by the rapidly receding tide. There is an excellent car park here with easy access to the beach above. Erskine would make an ideal start or finish to a trip on the Clyde, either upstream or downstream depending on the tide.

The Erskine bridge was built in 1971 by William Brown. It is a concrete box girder bridge but shortly after it was built two towers and steel cable stays were added. This followed the collapse of a similar concrete box girder bridge in Australia. We saw some very large icicles dangling from the bridge and as the main span is 38m high we were careful not to paddle under them. Very sadly the bridge is a common spot for people to commit suicide. Many years ago I parked my motor bike near the bridge and walked up the passenger path to the middle with my camera. I was waiting to get a photo of the PS Waverley when a very nice policeman cycled up and asked if I was alright.

On a brighter note, we found a little tide race to play on in the shallows round St Patrick's Rock, which is marked by the green navigation buoy in the above photo. St Patrick was born in Old Kilpatrick on the north side of the river. Apparently the Devil was displeased to hear Patrick was leaving for Ireland so he ripped a bit out of nearby Dumbuck rock and cast it after the departing saint.

If you are enjoying this modern trip down the Clyde, then you might be interested to compare it with an excellent imaginary trip assembled from old postcard photos by Chris Jones.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Duncan takes a final curtsy on the Clyde.

Back on the south side of the river Clyde, we passed Shieldhall and came to the King George the Fifth dock. Estuary control had already warned us that the coaster MV Boisterous was making her way up river to the KGV dock but she was already moored by the time we arrived. We had already seen her making her way up the Clyde when we left shuttle cars at Port Glasgow.

MV Boisterous is a 59m x 9m general cargo ship that plies the west coast of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North Irish Sea carrying loads such as logs and lime. The riverside quay was piled with loads of scrap metal for export and huge piles of rock salt, imported from the salt mines in Northern Ireland for the winter roads.
The KGV dock has a wide mouth which allows large ships to manoeuvre inside. There were no cargo ships but the Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry MV Coruisk was tied up for the winter inside.  In summer she services the Mallaig to Armadale route to the Isle of Skye. In the winter she is a relief vessel for the Dunoon and Rothesay ferries

Down from KGV dock, we came to Braehead Quay. This no longer services ships but is a temple of modern consumerism, i.e. the Braehead Shopping Centre.  The long grey building beyond the curved roofs of the shops houses Xscape, a sports centre with a 200m snow slope and one of the tallest climbing walls in Europe. As a nod to the Clyde's past, the brick building is the Clydebuilt Museum. It was funded by the Shopping Centre for the last 10 years, possibly as a conditional part of the  Centre's planning permission.

Now the Shopping Centre have pulled the plug on the museum and it is shut for good, just like the ship yards it was built to commemorate. Now the Brae-lians probably don't even know there is a river behind the shops.

Giving up on entrance to the museum, we crunched through the ice to the north bank again. Thankfully a shipyard on the Scotstoun side is still building ships. It is the former Yarrow yard, which opened in 1904. It is now part of BAE systems that own the Govan yard further upstream.

The yard fits all the high tech bits to the naval ships which are assembled and launched at the Govan yard. This is HMS Dragon, which is undergoing  final outfitting. We recently saw her on the Clyde undergoing sea trials off Arran.

 The Dragon is a nice touch on her bows!

HMS Dragon was launched in November 2008  and will shortly enter service with the Royal Navy.

In the berth next to Dragon the most recently launched sister ship, HMS Duncan is fitting out. She was launched from the Govan yard in October 2010. It is likely that she will be the last ship to take a curtsy at end of a traditional slipway launch on the Clyde. All future Clyde ships will be built in dry docks. HMS Duncan is named to honour Admiral Adam Duncan, who was victorious in a battle with the Dutch fleet in 1797.
Downstream of HMS Duncan, a third type 45 destroyer is fitting out. She is HMS Defender and was launched from Govan in October 2009.

So far there had been so much interest that we had covered only 10km in 3hours10minutes and still had 21km to go. We had better get our skates on, literally, the river was still frozen!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A tale of two Clyde Titans; one is still standing.

Downstream of the River Kelvin the south bank of the Clyde is dominated by the cranes of the Govan shipyard. The north bank is crowded by modern high rise flats that tower above Meadowside Quay. They have replaced the four huge brick built grain elevators that were built here from 1914 to 1968 to store grain imported from the American prairies.

The shipyard at Govan was originally Fairfield's but is now part of BAE Systems. The yard specialises in building and assembling modules for warships. Currently it works with a yard in Portsmouth and the other BAE Systems yard at Scotsoun, further down the Clyde, to build Type 45 destroyers for the Navy.

Jim works in the Clyde shipbuilding industry and it was most interesting to hear from him, the function and history of each part of this huge yard. Until 2007 this view would have been dominated by one of the Clyde's five Titan cranes. It was built in 1911 by Sir William Arrol and at the time was the biggest crane in the World. It was demolished to make way for the building of modules for two huge new aircraft carriers.

Looking back up the river, we reflected upon its past. The Clyde was one of the seminal centres of the Industrial Revolution and it led the World in shipbuilding. By the start of WW1, annual production reached 750,000 tons of ships and that represented 20% of World launches. Now there are only three yards left on the Clyde.

We crossed to the north side of the Clyde and arrived at Diesel Wharf in Scotstoun.

This was the site of the huge Barclay Curle shipyard. All that is left is another Titan crane and the engine shed. The crane was built in 1920 by Sir William Arrol. It was used to lift engines through the sliding roof of the engine shed and into newly launched ships, which were tied alongside the wharf. This crane was the model for the Meccano hammerhead crane. During the 20th century 42 Titan cranes were built across the World and Arrol's built 40 of them.

Although the shipyard closed in 1968, the engine works continued until 1977. The shed now houses an industrial estate and the crane was last used in the 1990's to load a ship with heavy machinery constructed by one of the tenants. Nowadays the wharf is piled high with scrap metal, for export to somewhere in the World where they still build things.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Forward paddling, through the years, on the Clyde.

Beneath the Glasgow Tower, we came across the paddle steamer Waverley tied up for the winter.

She was built in 1947 at the A & J Inglis yard on the Clyde. We crunched through the ice... take a closer look at her. She is the last sea going paddle steamer in the World and was built for the run from Craigendorran Pier down to the Clyde ports. Her summer season now extends round the UK's coastline.

Her great paddle wheels literally thrash the water as she pulls away... can be seen in this photo from July 2010.

In contrast, Jim's forward paddling technique has much more finesse!

We took a diversion into the canting basin, which is all that is left of the Princes Dock. Unfortunately it was frozen over so we could not explore the seaplane terminal. The seaplane operates a summer service from the city centre to Oban and Tobermory. At least we knew we would not need to keep an eye on the skies for landing seaplanes!

We now turned our bows to the north bank and Yorkhill Quay. Yorkhill hospital, where I work, is the building on the horizon behind the tall ship.

Speaking of which, the tall ship is the Glenlee. She is a steel hulled, three masted barque (78.4m x 11.4m) and was launched in 1896 at the Anderson, Roger and Company yard at Port Glasgow.

 After a long hard life, she returned to the Clyde in 1993 and has been faithfully restored. The Italianate tower on the quay is part of the Hydraulic Pumping Station, which stands at the former entrance to the Queen's dock. The dock has now been filled in but the station provided power for a swing bridge at its entrance and for several of the dockside cranes.

Moored beside the Glenlee, we found the old Kelvinhaugh ferry "No 8". She was built in 1954 and served on the route until it closed in 1980. Like the Glenlee, she has been lovingly restored by the Clyde Maritime Trust.

The Kelvinhaugh ferry ran from this old slipway, just a few meters from the Glenlee, to Highland Lane on the south bank of the Clyde.

Now it is helicopters, like this air ambulance, that depart from Kelvinhaugh!

We took a last look up the Clyde before turning downstream...

... towards the cranes of the Govan shipyard and the new Riverside Museum of transport...

...which is rising dramatically from Pointhouse Quay near the confluence of the Clyde with the River Kelvin. The stunning building was designed by architect Zaha Hadid and stands on the site of the former A&J Inglis ship yard that built the PS Waverley. This post has now come full circle...

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Clyde, a river of change.

From the Kingston Bridge we continued down the River Clyde towards the Clyde Arc bridge. It was completed in 2006 by Halcrow. It is a tied bowstring arch of steel box section, which supports a precast reinforced concrete deck. From this view, the Glasgow Tower (beyond the bridge) looked like an arrow set for launch from the Arc's bow!

The Arc crosses the Clyde at an angle and is therefore, quite logically, better known by its alternative name: the "Squinty Bridge". It was built to service the growing media centre which has developed on the south bank of the Clyde.

The tower of the University of Glasgow can be seen from the now empty Finnieston Quay. At one time it would have been lined with rows of ships, several deep, which would also have extended into the now filled in Queen's dock.

The Finnieston crane now stands motionless above the river. It is the furthest upstream of several Titan cantilever cranes on the Clyde. It was used to load steam railway locomotives from the Springburn locomotive works onto ships. At the height of its industrial power, Glasgow manufactured 25% of the World's railway locomotives.

The tower was built by Cowans, Sheldon of Carlisle, on piles by Sir Willam Arrol of Glagow and the cantilever was by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company.

Continuing down the north bank and Finnieston Quay, we approached the Clyde Auditorium, which you will be unsurprised to learn, is popularly known as the "Armadillo". It was designed by Foster and Partners and built on the site of the now filled in Queen's dock.

The Glasgow Harbour Tunnel was built in 1896 and connects Finnieston Quay on the north to Plantation Quay on the south.  Two rotundas provided a lift down to two vehicle and one passenger tunnels. This is the Plantation rotunda the Finnieston rotunda is just to the east of the crane. The vehicle tunnels were closed in the mid 20th century but the passenger tunnel remained open until 1980. The tunnel was never a financial success as it faced strong competition from the Finnieston Ferry, which had an unusual lifting vehicle deck so that it could load and off load at a vertical quay side, regardless of the height of the tide. It started service in 189o and operated until 1966.

Plantation Quay on the south bank has been renamed Pacific Quay and is now the centre of Glasgow's Digital Media Quarter. This is the Scottish Television building.

Pacific Quay is now linked to Finnieston by two footbridges. The first, Bell's Bridge, was built in 1988 to service the Glasgow Garden Festival which took place on the filled three arms of Princes Dock, which lay behind Pacific Quay. Bell's Bridge was engineered by Crough and Hogg and its two main spans are supported by cable stays from a rotating pointed tower, which opens the bridge and allows bigger ships to pass through. Until 2001 the paddle steamer Waverley regularly went through the bridge to her berth at the Broomielaw but she now berths below the bridge at Pacific Quay.

Once through Bell's Bridge, our view of Pacific Quay was dominated by the BBC Scotland building, the Glasgow Science Centre and the Glasgow Tower. At 127m high, it is Scotland's tallest building. It has a teardrop cross section and rotates 360 degrees, so that its slimmest outline faces into the wind.

The curious bulbous building behind the Science Centre is Glasgow's IMAX cinema. So far it has avoided being called the "Glasgow Blob".

We now passed under the most recent of the City centre bridges. It is the Millennium Bridge completed in 2002 and engineered by MG Bennet Associates. It is built of steel lattice supporting a sheet steel deck. Hydraulic rams lift the two centre spans to allow vessels to get further up the Clyde.

One thing is for sure, this river city has changed out of all recognition over the last 3 decades and it is changing still!