On my crowded desk sits a diagram of Harry Bell’s network, described by him as a pattern of possible prehistoric communication lines, or PCLs. It seems even at the end of his quest he was still hedging his bets. At first glance the pattern is incoherent, its lines forming a vague exploded star containing a set of triangles within triangles. At its centre, marked in capitals, the main sites – Crookston Castle, Camphill and Carmyle Fords form the base of a triangle linking to the Necropolis at its apex. At its outer edges, the end points: Duncolm, Dumgoyne, Bar Hill, Woodend Loch, Hamilton Motte, Tinto Hill, Torrance House, Harelaw Cairn, Dumdruff Hill, Dunwan Hillfort, Walls Hill, Seedhill Craigs and Dumbarton Rock. I’m intrigued to find that they total 13, an auspicious number.
After my recent trip to Duncolm, I take my cue from the diagram. The weather’s permitting, so I head for the opposite end of the alignment – Dumdruff Hill. Originally I had planned to end my journey at the place where Harry Bell started his: the Devil’s Plantation aka the De’il’s Plantin or Bonnyton Mound, take your pick. But since Dumdruff lies only a short distance from the site, I’m visiting both.
I set out towards the end of a beautiful day – vast skies and low evening sun. Nothing looks ugly in this light. For almost two years I’ve looked for the places Harry Bell believed formed a network evolving over hundreds if not thousands of years. According to him, the purpose of the network is still unknown. That’s to assume that there is/was a purpose or that the secret geometry of the city was always a mystery. Perhaps our ancestors knew its purpose and over centuries we’ve lost the knowledge.
What I do know is I have Harry Bell to thank for making me see the city in a different way, an observation brought home when, returning from Duncolm, I headed down Byres Road in the city’s West End. Rather than glance at familiar surroundings, suddenly I became aware of the distant, tantalising view of hills to the south. Recently I’ve grown more conscious of these hills, recognising their profiles, while on the flipside even the smallest details; signs or gateposts, say, appear more vivid and various. Finally I’ve attained the condition of a tourist.
I travel by the M77 and A726 towards Eaglesham. My last visit took place in autumn and the trees on the Devil’s Plantation were all but bare. It was here I saw Duncolm for the first time, the same view that so excited Harry Bell over twenty-five years ago it propelled his quest to discover a network of aligned sites. It remains a mystery why he chose this particular spot to start his journey from since the OS map of the area offers numerous ancient spots, all potential candidates: the castle at Stewarton, for instance, or the Old Eastwood Cemetery.
Is it possible he missed a trick or two? Having covered a lot of ground in this city, I’ve convinced myself that several sites may have been overlooked. My rationale is not scientific, so call it intuition. Some weeks ago, while setting up to take shots in the grounds of the old Leverndale Hospital, formerly Hawkhead Asylum, I surveyed the impressive view looking north and felt a strange resonance. The place possesses the obvious qualities that Harry Bell looked for in a site: situated on high ground, with clear sightlines across the city. The original asylum, a Victorian construction, may not qualify as ancient enough in archaeological circles, but here I felt a strong sense of the past.
So it came as a psychic shock when, watching an elderly woman walking her dog, she turned to me, suddenly and with complete recognition, and said – you look like your mother, you know that? It turns out that the woman, Mrs D, lived close to my parents. Not only did she know my late mother, but her own late husband also knew my father and would often go on walks in the vicinity. I’ve moved in with my daughter, she tells me, a nice wee flat.
I break the news that my mother’s been dead for almost five years and that my father has since remarried and now lives up north. I’ll tell him you were asking for him, I add. Do that, she replies. I begin to wonder if I’m looking at a ghost. You know, I used to be a nurse here, she informs me, waving vaguely at the tall tower behind her, the most prominent landmark for miles around. I’m tempted to ask questions – what exactly went on behind the walls of the hospital? But I can’t. As she goes on her way, I’m left speechless. I have never met this woman before and, even if I did, I have no memory of her.
In Harry Bell’s case it was a memory that led him to the De’il’s Plantin, less by an actual event but more the recollection of a rumour, that the site is haunted. I’m prompted by the niggling thought that in my own search for a secret network I’ve been looking for the wrong thing all along, that it’s not physical but metaphysical evidence I’ve been collecting. Harry Bell, of course, was looking for something precise, tangible, measurable. He was out to prove the existence of leys in Scotland, a minimum of four sites on one alignment.
Yet we’ve all stood in rooms, fields or in woods and felt an atmosphere or energy that can’t be explained. Having looked at the phenomena of ghost photographs, part of me wants to believe in a kind of remanence, where energy exists in a place after an object (or person) has been removed. Having documented these sites my task now is to convey or, at least, recreate that sensation of remanence.
Today the beeches and sycamores girdling the mound are in full foliage, the ground freshly verdant, the verges – knotweed, rosebay willow herb, tall grasses – filling winter’s void. On the Humbie Road I note the broken roadsign has been repaired, the circle denoting a roundabout now complete. A nice touch, I decide, if a little too obvious by way of visual metaphor. Looking northwards, to where Duncolm eluded me on my last trip, I’m relieved to find it’s there, visible in my viewfinder, alongside its sisters Dumgoyne and Ben Lomond.
I turn my camera to the mound, looking as mysterious as ever. I’m surrounded by swooping swallows, tiny blue flashes darting in and out of shot. On the opposite side of Humbie Road lie the fields, an intense shade of emerald rising gently to the horizon. It’s a perfect evening, making it hard to believe that sixty-eight years ago, on May 10 1941, Rudolf Hess, flying solo in a Messerschmitt, made a forced landing on Bonnyton Moor at Floors Farm. His mission, equally mysterious, was – allegedly – to engage in secret peace talks with Lord Hamilton, believing he opposed Winston Churchill’s war policy. Much of what happened on that day, particularly the circumstances of Hess’ capture remains unclear. Newsreel footage of a local farmer, David McLean, recounting how he arrested Hess with a pitchfork strikes me as improbable. What’s puzzling is that this noteworthy incident, so infamous and so close to the Devil’s Plantation, went unmentioned by Harry Bell.
And so to another mystery. Passing through Eaglesham I take a side road towards Dumdruff Hill, plotted at NS5846. Only on the map it’s not called Dumdruff. It’s Drumduff. Yet on Harry Bell’s diagram the site is clearly marked as Dumdruff. What’s going on? Later, I check a link and again find the name Dumdruff. However, at the bottom of the page a section of map shows the hill as Drumduff. Now on higher ground I pause to take in the nearby wind farm. All across this southern stretch tall wind turbines dominate the landscape. Hated in some quarters, these structures strike me as an elegant solution to energy production. I watch, mesmerised by their triple propeller blades circling in the light breeze. Three, three, three…
But where’s Dumdruff/Drumduff? The road turns into track, the view obscured by a wall of conifers. I arrive at the improbably named Carrot – a handful of houses – only to be confronted by signs announcing ‘private road’ and ‘keep out’. To my left another sign for the National Wind Turbine Centre carries a warning ‘No Vehicular Access – By Order’. It’s the ‘by order’ part of the message that troubles me. If I hang around here much longer I’m liable to get shot. Just as I manage to locate Duncolm again, I think to myself, I lose another hill. But it seems I’m out of road. I take some shots anyway in the hope that what takes milliseconds to capture will magically reform as the desired image, that Dumdruff/Drumduff will make an appearance.
Heading back towards Eaglesham, I pause again to take in the breathtaking views across the city and the northern hill ranges beyond now illuminated by the late evening sun. I struggle to frame my thoughts, pondering on Harry Bell who, in the late 1980s, completed his search for the prehistoric communication lines crossing the city. Gathering his research notes, written mostly on scraps of paper, he took a deep breath, picked up a pen and wrote:
A question nags at me. How did he know when he reached the end? Twenty-five years on, I may not have travelled a thousand miles in his footsteps, but on a rough count it must be getting close to that. Eight years ago, my journey started on paper, a printout of Glasgow’s Secret Geometry downloaded from the Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites.
I may have finished travelling, but I’ve yet to reach the end of my journey, not least to edit the hours of footage and thousands of photographs I’ve amassed into a piece of work that others can experience. To achieve this lofty aim, to reveal the magic in the most unpromising places, I need to find focus. I’ve spent a long time looking, but what did I really see? My mind is a jumble sale of random items: my creeping obsession with numerology, a practice of which I profess ignorance. The numbers 3, 7, 13 and 33 – have become particular favourites, the latter being what numerologists call a master number.
I’ve also acquired an unhealthy interest in lunatic asylums, old cemeteries, disused buildings, anonymous new housing developments and roads, paved, unpaved and those under construction. And the weather, of course, in which respect Glasgow runs the gamut of meteorological experience. Also high on my list: murder and new architecture that in this city – or at least in my consciousness – cannot be separated.
Finally I think I understand what following Harry Bell’s journey has taught me. I’m convinced his journey was about faith. As a storyteller with bits on – a writer and filmmaker – I know the necessity of immersing oneself in murky depths of fiction. Harry Bell did not light out on some fool’s errand, constructing a theory to deceive others or delude himself. By testing his ideas of a network, he enriches our knowledge of the land we live in, offering parity with what old Alfred Watkins did for England with The Old Straight Track, when he donated the term leylines to the language. What Harry Bell achieved was nothing more than faith coupled with effort, a very human desire and an endeavour that in these Godless times is worth applauding.
Me, I’m still counting triangles.