The land of saints and schemers

As I stand in between the whitewashed byre wall on the left and the new fence on the right it is so much more than a small farm. Walking down the driveway through a portal, into a land pregnant with history and willing to birth its secrets to anyone willing to see. For me, that history is both very personal and archaeological. Raw emotion and what might have been exists in these next few footsteps.

I was raised in the streets of Easterhouse that lie just to the west of the farm drive that I make my way along. My granny and granda lived at the foot of the hill, in their top floor tenement, and were good friends of Jimmy and Mary Fyffe, and their daughters that farmed Lochwood in the not-too-distant past.

Many pass by Lochwood Farm’s innocuous buildings, woodland, and acres on their way to the popular Drumpelliar Park. Ignorant of its few acres and their influence for so long into the past. Preferring the perfectly manicured grounds, now of the celebrated Seven Lochs Wetlands Park over the hidden history.

It is not the chilly spring that causes my skin to crawl, nor the freshly blowing trees as I make my way up the entranceway. It is knowing I am walking in the footsteps of the ghosts of the past. Names and stories climb off the book leaves and are carried on the tree breeze.

The beautifully ornate gate, rusting behind a newly placed caravan, so out of place in the present. Harking back to the days Lochwood House reigned supreme over as far as the eye could see. Google Earth highlights the terrain scarred by once ornate, but man-made gardens and the paths through it. Built by the industrial giant, Bairds of Gartsherrie in 1820. Their millions made by the scarring of lands and workers, not so far away in the pursuit of iron and coal at the height of the revolution. A hint of promise of wealth that could have made such a better future than the brick and tarmac canyons, that housed sixty thousand people in less space than Lochwood House used up for one family.

Rich children’s laughter still echoing down through the centuries. A shaft of sunlight through the trees catches my eye, glinting off the feeding trough that ensured the livestock never went without food.

 The generational families housed here would know nothing of the poverty and inequality that their future neighbours would earn as their birth right.

The sound of birds now carried on the breeze, again echoing through the centuries, blessing those that could hear. They seemed to conspire in the lie that that this land serves the needs of the whole community, rather than the chosen few.

History drags me down past the woods and their trees now. Onto the gently sloping hill, passing through the nineteenth century and previous years of farming history on the nutrient rich soil of the land to the twelfth century. Then these very lands were given the grandiose title of bishopric. Enabling the Bishop of Glasgow to build a holiday home here by the hands of others, of course. When the pressures of city life grew too much, local legend recalls he would get in his venetian gondola and be sailed down the Molendinar Burn to his Lochwood Castle. A few miles stood between Cathedral and Castle – an eternity from the Galilean carpenter, with nowhere to lay his head, that the Bishop claimed to represent.

I long to enjoy the moment, to breathe in the fresh air, feeling the wind’s caress. But the present is drowned out by the corpses of hope laid out by the values of the few that got to tread it.

There is no century worn footpaths through these fields that feed the grazing castle and supply their needs for the winter months.

Not enough feet have walked on them to wear down paths in grass. The feet that did enjoy have laid down highways through history, and their industrial riches. The commoner excluded from the riches – both money and the land.

My attention turns to the gathering of water that is known as Bishop Loch. Thinking of the prayers offered up here by the priests that carried out the bishop’s wishes. Did they echo my own pleas for change in the lives of the broken, as I stood on the rocks at Newlyn in my new throes of Christianity? Crying that God would free the oppressed, and not be used as an excuse to oppress the free?

Carefully making my way down the mound of grass and soil and pain that hides the once proud medieval bishop’s home. In the winter months this would be unpassable swamp. Reaching the far side of the loch, the ghosts carry me back to the towers of the aptly Gothic “looney bin”. Gartloch Mental Hospital, a building more suited to Bram Stoker’s tales, was where us rebellious kids were threatened with being dragged off to. It stood towering loudly and very visibly from most parts of Easterhouse. We lived in curious fear of its blackened sandstone walls, and monstrously tall twin turreted towers and the torture that must surely take place within them. Ghosts, in abundance cry out even now, despite the shiny new middle-class homes springing out all around it.

On foggy days, it was the centre of other worldliness that this land has come to mean to my overactive imagination. This was marinated in the history of the land I call home. I have stood in the shadows cast here many times. Shadows much longer than those cast by the building standing sentry over the sun’s light and barring it entry over the lochside.

Continuing my aching walk, every step accompanied by the ghost of the ten-year-old me, and the shadows of those landowners of old that walked here before. All those feet that had walked in the promise of the land to the area and had failed it.

I come to the “Easterhouse” end and history births another of her beautiful secrets. Around the time the hospital was being built, the loch threw up just how long it has been the beating heart of Glasgow itself.

Seven hundred years before Christ walked on the sand in the Middle East, people were walking in the soil around Easterhouse. Nineteen hundred years before the bishops moved in with a message of hope, freedom and unity, people walked around the loch.

Ruins of a crannog were delivered to the present in 1898. Long back when history was first writing itself in the area, families lived here. On these very grounds. A glance that this very land deserved more than the fear, tribalism, combined gang warfare that it would become notorious for twenty-seven hundred years later.

The crannog is celebrated. As are the tales of the bishop. Even the land itself, through the marvellous venture that is the Seven Lochs Wetlands Park, at last an attempt to get people to enjoy the uniqueness and beauty that goes beyond and is more powerful than the settlers, those that have borrowed her stones for a season, have scarred it.

Long before and after the bards had sold up and moved beyond the confines of Gartsherrie and Lochwood my granda used to take me walks in the country through these very paths, and even what is now known, grandiosely as Lochend Path. He had introduced me to Jimmy Fyffe when I was nothing more than a collection of cells that had not long breathed in God’s first breath to my lungs. Jimmy had taught me how to muck out the byre, to gather the hen’s eggs, (free range of course) and even to lead the cattle home from the other side of the loch. My intimacy with this land and the generosity of its 1980’s dwellers served me with an alternate future so different from that of my fellow canyon dwellers. That is, until my intimacy with drugs became stronger.

When the Jesus that the bishops claimed as their own had invaded my life and gave me hope, freedom, and peace I revisited the ancient paths. I was dismayed at how the bishops had taxed the locals to fund their own gondolas and shore front castles, I was pained when I saw the industrial revolution and its opportunities to enrich the area and the many, were instead horded and gathered in for the few. I still weep at the rubbish thrown carelessly out of car windows as they drive by ignorantly oner of the richest areas of history in Scotland to spend the day at the manmade Woodend Loch.

And yet, one day as I finished a Sunday service not far from where Lochwood Castle, and Lochwood House had once proudly stood, but now lay buried underground like their owners, the voice of the present called through.

“Hi, I am Paul, and this is my wife Christine” in the gentlest English accents. As a carrier of the Gospel, I afforded them the same hope the bishops should have afforded the farmers. You might be entertaining angels, says the Biblical narrative.

As it transpired, Paul and Christine had just bought Lochwood Farm, saving it from the same grave as its Castle and House neighbours. It had been in serious decline since the death of Jimmy in the nineties.

Paul and Christine had hoped to open its grounds to visitors, a caravan site that would make the most of the ghosts and richness. But more importantly, they wanted to open their house. A house of prayer, a house of retreat, a house where maybe, just maybe the ghosts of the past could at last find some rest – as Lochwood finally gets to show itself off as more than some fields for cattle grazing and winter food.

As I walked back up and out the drive that day, I felt hopeful. This land been owned by people that could have done so much better for those dependent upon its existence. It was never allowed to by nature of birth right. Now it did. The air tasted sweeter and purer. I heard the trees.

This ARTICLE is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.

Alternatively, you can visit the Media Links page and see a short visit done by BBC Radio Scotland for an interview I did there.

I have now released an early edition of my story, Completing the Tenner

I have also published two poem books: Simply Jesus  and Five Weeks in May

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You can purchase these direct from Amazon (please use Amazon Smile link below and Amazon will contribute to ECC at no cost to you), They are all available in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

Or you can buy directly from me. Email me directly to arrange this.

There is now a devotional aimed at new Christians called “Take a seat this is available direct from me.

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