Using Glasgow’s stone circle and streets to explore an old idea that if you walk a city enough you will discover hitherto unseen streets, immortal historical characters, vanishing gardens and parallel realities. (With apologies to Poe, Machen, Sinclair, etc!)
When the old man bid me good evening in a deserted North Glasgow park I never realised my fate was sealed and what horrors were to unfold.
I had seen him many times before walking the West End streets. He was quietly spoken, polite, bespectacled and always dressed in a blue mac, dark trousers and sturdy shoes. He had the earnest air of a man overburdened with thoughts, secrets and mysteries. Indeed he would select people by subconscious impulse, reach into his ever present shopping bag and hand over leaflets and newspaper cuttings outlining English conspiracies past and present. He curated the full gamut from the Act of Union to Westminster sects working to clip Scottish wings, from black arts propaganda besmirching Wallace to purloining North Sea oil and safeguarding the nuclear submarine base at Faslane.
So it was apt that I had bumped into him at one of Glasgow’s most unusual, symbolic and obscure points, the UK’s only modern circle of stones (perhaps) found hidden away at the highest point of Sighthill Park. Clouds morphed overhead in varying degrees of grey, a Constable wet dream. The park, semi-wild with neglect, was over-grown with dense green foliage that dripped from recent rain. He stood forlornly within the inner circle with his hand stretched out touching the central stone. His normal academic, bookish demeanour was visibly agitated and upset as the breeze played havoc with unkempt clumps of his white hair.
I asked those fateful words: “is everything okay?”
It had taken a while to work my way from the city centre into Sighthill Park. I walked through formless streets of warehouses and self-storage units full of guilty secrets and semi-rejected junk. The occasional office buildings rose-up above the low level line to give management on the upper floors a privileged view of the traffic roaring past on the elevated M8. A couple of figures hurried through the late evening gloom. This was a city petering out as I headed north. I checked a street map but its limit finished 500 yards behind me. The inference was clear: go back from whence you came for you really don’t want to be here. Even the ‘You are here spot’ was miles away in the West End, in beautiful, trendy Glasgow. Here, you are off on the map and on your own.
I kept going, walking up a path squeezed between the motorway and shipping containers for storage on the cheap. In Sighthill Park there were no signs for the circle and it was hidden away out of sight from most of the paths. I decided to walk beyond the back of the park, the boundaries between park and overgrown wasteland blurred and covered with vivid splashes of wild flowers. There were lonely bus-stops, flooded underpasses with upturned shopping trolleys, paths that lead only into dense undergrowth.
I walked through a zone of industrial units, dead-end canals and optimistic regeneration projects, where every corner and stretch of murky brackish water was a potential Taggert murder scene. This is the epicentre, the place where the crime families of Sighthill, Possilpark and Maryhill can conduct murky business, the few CCTV cameras lowered for the occasion. In fact it is a mass CCTV surveillance opponent’s paradise, except when they stumble into a group of men busy in an abandoned yard. They enjoy a last sight of a city centre of theatres, cinemas, shopping malls and Macintosh buildings a mile away, watched over by new breed ‘super intelligent’ CCTV that can detect a bag being left unattended, but it might as well be a world away. There is, before the onrushing darkness, an epiphany and the hope that some grainy camera has captured their final moments so that their body may be found and not left to rot here in this bleak area.
I traced the park boundary west and came across the abandoned Sighthill shopping centre, a typical Glaswegian foreboding looking square pub with a typical bloke smoking outside and eyeballing the neighbourhood. Monolithic ‘60s tower blocks were in various phase of demolition for some future development and a banner proclaimed its backing for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games bid.
I had walked the outer ring and respectfully tipped my hat. There was nothing left but to aim for the stones and an encounter with a worried old man peddling historical conspiracies.
He and the stones were to open up a world of astonishing sights, terror and horror.
Part 2 continues with a semi-fictional look at Glasgow’s arcane history as old man Mackail explains the history of the Sighthill Stone Circle, and starts to reveal its hidden secret to a confused narrator. Read part 2 of The Stones and the Torment
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