• knightsmatthew

Old Ghosts

Updated: Aug 1



For our third trip out to Balgay and it's environs we visit the old Balgay graveyard. We invoke the spirits of Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson, amongst so many others. We write in the session, we create off the cuff.


The Tay today lifts my spirits

Above those rested here

Who chose this prime view from the hill

And can't ever really be laid to rest


Matthew Knights


A view of the Tay from Balgay Cemetary, Dundee
Photo Peter Marshall

Who knew you could have so much fun in a graveyard?


Over the weeks we are running the sessions I have invited members of the creative writing group to give their own musings upon Balgay and creative writing. This week's contribution is from Peter Marshall.


Time in Balgay Park


When I stop my busy life for long enough to think about parks, I realise they often operate to quite different timescales from me. And yet, I am a part of it, for I have memories of my experiences in parks, layered and intertwined with those snippets of history and folklore I have picked up along the way.


Balgay Park gives me many wonderful examples of this. ‘As old as the hills’ springs to mind. The hill itself is an imposing, solid chunk of old volcanic rock. On a map it looks oval or teardrop in shape, similar to so many nearby bits of high ground in Dundee. I remind myself that they were all once part of the same great slab of volcanic lava – an outpouring from a volcano many miles away and many millions of years ago. Much of that brown rock was worn away under glaciers. The ice crept across the landscape as glaciers do, rounding features like some surreal sandpaper. When at last the ice melted some 12,000 years ago, it revealed the land shapes we see now. Balgay Gorge has an amazingly smooth section of rock. Peering beneath the moss and lichen, it is just possible to make out near-horizontal gouge marks caused by rocks embedded in the ice-flows. This is almost directly beneath the bridge.

That same smooth bulge of rock carries a chiselled marking of an Ordnance Survey Trigonometry Point which looks similar in shape to a three-legged stool. Sounds complicated. But these are marks dotted around the whole of the UK from which the height above sea level has been measured. This mark is first shown on an 1872 map of the area. They used to be important to help work out what angle to point your cannon upwards to hit your distant target. And the stumps of iron in the tops of the stone walls remind of an actual war, before my birth, where railings were chopped off eighty years ago to be recycled into ships and guns. How times have changed.


That same 1872 map shows the word ‘Vase’ at regular intervals along the main rides in the park. At many of these locations, it is still possible to see large hexagonal stone bases, though the vases themselves have long since disappeared and many of the bases are partly obscured by decades of fallen leaves.


Balgay Park holds much fascinating folklore, including tales of witches and ghosts. It is believed that there may have been prehistoric inhabitants as some traces have been found. Some say that there were vast tangles of caverns within the hill. I would love to stumble upon some long forgotten cave entrance on my explorations.


In reality, I am content simply to wander about Balgay in all weathers and at most hours of the day. It would be hard to find a better outdoor experience within the city than sitting on the grass of Goat Hill at the top of the Coo Road with the dawn chorus in the woods behind and the sun rising in a parade of golds and oranges over the mouth of the Tay estuary, silhouetting Broughty Castle.

Most of the trees have grown quite a bit since I first enjoyed the views, so it is no longer easy to see all of the railway bridge from several spots and much of the river itself is obscured. But there are still several excellent viewpoints. There is nothing more fascinating than watching tendrils of haar form above the incoming cold tidal waters as they make their predictable passage up the river. Each visit reminds me of previous occasions.


And every time I wander about in Balgay Park, I see or hear or smell something different. The toadstools the size of side-plates in white and in brown, with moisture collecting on their tops and nibble marks from the slugs and snails of the night. The voices of two birds, calling back and forth, loud yet unseen. Or that unexpectedly large patch of harebells – such a delicate seeming purple flower with an odd smell and with such a potent folklore of stirring long-stilled evil if they are disturbed.


The senses are always satisfied in Balgay Park and the watch forgotten.

Peter Marshall

28 July 2021


Harebells at Balgay Park, Dundee
Harebells at Balgay. Photo Peter Marshall

#socialhistory #ghosts #balgaypark #olddundee #creativewriting #dundee






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