From the ages of around 4-11, I lived pretty much as close to the zoo as you could get (1 Muirhead Gardens) unless you fancied kipping in the monkey house or, even worse, Broomhouse
The farmland/woodland between my house and the zoo was the "playground" of all the kids who lived in our estate. My mates and I used to sneak into the zoo regularly, though more for the thrill of getting in without paying than actually seeing the animals - I suppose we never really appreciated how lucky we were to have lions, tigers, bears, etc so close by
. I'll never forget the roar of the lions - it seemed that you could hear them from anywhere in Baillieston!
My family moved to Garrowhill in 1987 and even though that wasn't more than 15 mins walk away, I had never revisited the area despite the many happy memories I have of growing up there. After reading through all the posts on the zoo, I decided to revisit it, and the farmland / woodland area to the north of it, by walking the route we used to take to sneak in, and take a look at some my old haunts while I was at it.Some of the places that my mates and I used to frequent around this time.
I parked my car next to my old house on a Saturday evening a few weeks ago and set off south to follow the track under the railway bridge. My first impression was a positive one as the field (indicated in green) has become a mature woodland. When I lived there, it was just an ordinary farm field like the one to its east, however a LOT of trees have been planted (judging by their height, not long after I moved away) and the field has basically been "returned to nature"
I stopped to have a look for an old culvert and, after a few minutes looking in the long grass, managed to locate the entrance to it (below photos).
This culvert (no more than 2ft x 2ft) was the scene of one of my most terrifying childhood experiences. At the age of around six, a couple of older lads from the estate told me it was a secret tunnel that led you into the farmhouse of Ellismuir Farm. Being a gullible six-year-old, I believed them and eagerly crawled in – I then immediately found myself in the pitch black because the b******s pulled a large wooden board out of the adjacent bushes and blocked up the entrance
. They kept me in there for what seemed like hours – I can still remember the sound of the running and dripping water and what sounded like something (somethingS would probably be more accurate) scurrying around
. That’s the stuff of nightmares, believe me!
At the bottom of the track (at the south-east corner of the aforementioned field), the impact of the recent (and ongoing) Miller Homes residential development immediately becomes obvious. A sizeable chunk of the older woodland has been removed and the new housing is encroaching onto what is left (below photos)
In place of the removed woodland is a fairly large SUDS pond (below photos). Admittedly, this isn't the most unattractive feature I can think of (they normally look quite good once planting takes place and is given time to develop), however I would have preferred the woodland to have remained
Moving on from the SUDS pond, I made my way into the remaining woodland, which has become very overgrown - I had to slowly fight my way through it on my way down to the North Calder Water. There used to be a fantastic rope swing from a massive tree that hung over a steep hill (so steep you had to use your hands to climb up it) on the way down to the river but it is no longer there (the entire hillside is so overgrown I couldn’t even tell if the tree is still standing). At the furthest reach of the swing you were easily 30-40ft off the ground - a great thrill until one of the older lads fell off at the peak height one day, badly breaking one of his legs in the process. The shin bone was protruding through the skin and he went into shock - we had to carry him home while one of the others ran back to call an ambulance
There was another rope swing from a tree that hung over the North Calder Water and I found that there still is one at the same spot (below photo). A lot of the lads used to swing out and then drop into the river. The very murky colour of the water always made me reluctant to drop in the water so I never did. Having since learned about the number of sewage discharges there are into the North Calder and its tributaries, I’m bloody glad I never did!
Immediately downstream of the rope swing is a sewer pipe bridge over the river (below photo). This was our route across to Calderbraes Golf Course; we would hide in the bushes at the edge of the course, waiting for golfers to drive their balls down the fairway, and then we would run out and pinch the balls (don’t do it kids – it’s not big and it’s not clever
). We would then make a sharp exit back across the pipe bridge with our ill-gotten gains.
There was a “cave” in the cliff rock-face further downstream on the golf course side of the river. This wasn’t somewhere we ventured too often - from what I can remember it was quite difficult to get to. I’d like to have another look at it but I don’t think I’m up for walking across the pipe bridge or climbing about a cliff face.
Webster’s Pond (or The Webby as we called it – below photos) was another great place to play as a kid. It had a few HUGE goldfish in it (thinking back, they might have been Koi Carp), which we were always trying to catch – we never managed it even once, though some of the older lads were successful a couple of times. It was brilliant for catching toads, tadpoles and newts though. I remember a rumour going round at one point that the zoo was thinking of expanding into the area around the pond and spending a lot of money to convert it into an large polar bear enclosure – we took this quite seriously as kids but with the benefit of hindsight it was obviously a load of pish as the zoo was skint.
The pond looks to be in quite poor condition now, with a lot of dumped material (burnt tyres, etc) in it and a thick algae covering it’s entire surface. I’m slightly surprised that it hasn’t been filled in what with all the houses that have been built around there – I’d have thought in this day and age of over the top H&S that it might have been viewed as a danger to the younger residents.
I then made my way into the zoo and had a wander round for an hour or so but the less said the better – it’s depressing seeing it in the state it is. It was never that great looking even when I was a kid but it’s a crying shame to see it looking the way it is. Does anyone know why it hasn’t been sold off for housing like the other land around it? A lot of photos have already been posted and the ones I took are very similar so I won’t bother putting mine up. Anyone who wants to look at them can see them here
On the way back to my car, I stopped for a look at the former site of Calderbank House (below photos). We never really ventured too close to the house as it was run as the Talbot Centre (home for alcolholics) back then and it always seemed a bit semi-lit and creepy. We would occasionally sneak through the grounds as there were some great conker trees but other than that we kept our distance. I seem to remember there were a few bee hives in its gardens but I’m not 100% sure. The last time I looked at the Miller development proposals, their site was supposed to extend all the way down to the grounds so it seems that Miller will be building here for a good while to come.
Walking back up the track, I nearly got bowled over by the wee fella (complete guess on my part as to the fella bit mind you) in the below photo. I must have been very quiet as I nearly bumped right into him! He shot off into the field with the “new” trees at a great pace and then stopped to look back long enough for me to snap the photo. In all the years I lived there I never once saw a deer in that area!!
All things considering, it wasn’t the trip down memory lane that I was hoping for. The area has changed so much, some for better, some for worse but overall I think it’s for worse.