This must be the most unusual garden in Scotland

Dunsyre ML11 8NG

Why should we visit?

Set in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh, Little Sparta is the creation of the poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. It is an intriguing mix of sculpture, landscape design and horticulture and Finlay used it to express his ideas about art and nature, naming it Little Sparta as a protest against the Scottish Arts Council, with which he had a lengthy dispute. The garden contains many classical elements and Finlay drew on the philosophy and poetry of Greece and Rome for much of his inspiration, working with local stonemasons to bring his ideas to life. The contrast between these carefully-crafted elements and the wild landscape beyond the walls continues to energise the garden and today Little Sparta is looked after by a Trust that keeps Finlay’s vision fresh and relevant.

Story of the garden

After living in many different places around Scotland, Finlay moved to the farm of Stonypath in 1966 and, in partnership with his wife Sue, began to create what would become an internationally acclaimed garden across seven acres of a wild and exposed moorland site. Together they moved stones, laid paths, dug out lochs and ponds and transformed a stretch of bare, windswept ground into something quite extraordinary. Finlay divided the garden into sections, with names such as ‘The Roman Garden’ and ‘The English Parkland.’ He created a wild garden and a woodland garden, recognising, long before the current environmental movement, the need to preserve the natural world.


Sculpture is central to the garden and much of it here is political. ‘Nautilus’, an American nuclear-powered submarine sails among pots of hostas and a line of monolithic brick blocks embellished with brass and named ‘Camouflaged Flowers’, highlights the sinister practice of naming warships after blooms. Stone blocks and tablets carefully positioned amongst trees or on islands in the loch, carry thought-provoking inscriptions alluding to artists or philosophies and in one place a stone tablet, leaning against a lichen-covered birch tree, proclaims ‘Bring Back The Birch’.

Don’t Miss

The Memorial To The First Battle of Little Sparta at the entrance gate commemorates a skirmish between Finlay and sheriffs officers, while the eleven huge, half-dressed blocks of stone that lie amongst heather and grasses on the edge of one of the lochans are inscribed with the words ‘THE PRESENT ORDER IS THE DISORDER OF THE FUTURE’, a quote attributed to Saint-Just, a French revolutionary and philosopher.

Anything Else to Look Out For?

Little Sparta is not just an outdoor gallery, it is also a beautiful garden, with abundant waterlilies, avenues of trees, lush plantings around its many ponds and bright flowers in front of the house. There are many practical elements, including greenhouses and a productive allotment.

Best Time To Visit?

The garden opens from early June until the end of September, so it is predominantly a summer garden that uses dense foliage to contrast with open areas and the wider landscape.

Any recommendations in the area?

Little Sparta sits on the western-most edge of the Pentland Hills, an upland area cross-crossed with walking trails and offering exceptional views from its peaks. The area is also littered with archaeological remains, including hill forts and souterrains.


From junction 6A on the M8 follow the A73 to Newbiggin and then take the A721 towards Dunsyre for three miles.


Opening times: Thursday – Sunday, 1pm – 4pm,

Tickets: £9/£8/£5

The car park is a 10 minute walk from the garden up a steep track, but access and a mobility scooter can be arranged by calling the garden in advance.

Tel: 07826 495677


In association with Discover Scottish Gardens


Malleny Garden

Visitors who enter Malleny Garden near Balerno find themselves taking a step back in time. The high walls enclose a three-acre garden that has been cultivated for almost half a millennium, with 400-year-old yew trees that are known as the ‘Four Evangalists’, Victorian greenhouses and a collection of heritage shrub roses.

The garden, which is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, is adjacent to Malleny House, a 17th century mansion, which is not open to the public.

The gardens are renowned for their many scented plants, and in the summer the flowerbeds are a mass of perennials, while there are walks in the surrounding woodland all year round.

Just outside the walls, the old doo-cot, with its saddle-backed roof, is a reminder that this garden, which now sits on the edge of suburbia, was once some distance from the Capital.

Malleny Garden

Blue Cottage

Balerno EH14 7AF

Anger over Glasgow professor’s ‘female brain’ image

A leading doctor who is under investigation at one of Scotland’s oldest universities has come under fire for a ‘sexist’ image that was shown to medical students.

Professor John Paul Leach, a consultant neurologist who is head of undergraduate medicine at the University of Glasgow, displayed a graphic of the female brain as part of a teaching session with a large area designated the ‘headache generator’.

A tiny part is labelled  ‘sex initiation’ gland while driving skills and ‘realisation of wants vs needs’ are shown as dots. A male equivalent of the slide was not created.

Prof Leach, who performed as a stand-up comedian in the 1990s, is said to have removed the graphic from an online student portal following complaints.


He is separately facing an internal investigation by the university believed to be related to gendered bullying and discrimination.

The professor performed as a stand-up comedian in the 1990s while working as a research registrar at the Western Infirmary and wrote and produced a Fringe show with Still Game’s Ford Kiernan. He has also previously presented a football show for the radio station Scot FM.

However, the Scottish Feminism Network said the image went “beyond banter”, saying it was characteristic of “insidious” behaviour that risked undermining the confidence of female undergraduates.

According to the university the slide did elicit student complaints.

READ MORE: Women MSPs still suffering sexism, report by Presiding Officer finds 

A screengrab of the image shows it was uploaded to Moodle, a student online portal. 

Prof Leach, a neurologist at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, whose Twitter biography includes the line ‘thinks he’s funny’ is said to have shown the slide to students a year or so after being appointed to the senior role in 2016.

The university is currently considering the findings of an internal inquiry, believed to be related to allegations of discriminatory behaviour towards female academics within the medical school.


A spokeswoman for the Scottish Feminism Network said: “How can female students expect to be treated with respect by peers or by lecturers if that is considered acceptable? 

“This goes way past “banter” and could seriously undermine the confidence of the female students.

“This is insidious and can cause serious long term consequences.”

In January Morag Ross QC was appointed by the university to carry out a review of the institutions’s approach to addressing gender-based violence including harassment and harmful practices that are “committed disproportionately by men against women”,

Interviews have been carried out with staff and students and the report is due to be published within weeks. 

It comes after research by the British Medical Association showed nine in 10 female doctors have experienced sexism at work in the UK, including unwanted physical contact and denial of opportunities.

The BMA said the results were appalling and the incidents made for shocking reading.

READ MORE: Iain McWhirter: Why no-one is talking about the report into Labour’s culture of racism and sexism

The survey shows that 91% of female doctors have experienced sexism at work.

It found that, while just 4% of men felt that their clinical ability had been doubted or undervalued because of their gender, 70% of women who responded said that it had

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: “The University of Glasgow condemns discrimination of any kind and is committed to promoting equality and diversity across its community and campus. 

“The University treats all complaints seriously and investigates them appropriately, but we do not comment on individual cases.”  

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Is ‘junk food’ to blame for rise in bowel cancer in under-50s?

MOST people would assume that eating too much “ultra processed” food is bad for their health.

Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, while diets overloaded in saturated fat and sugar are likely to cause obesity which in turn increases the risk of everything from heart attacks to type 2 diabetes.

One study published this week in the BMJ – led by researchers based in Boston – has also drawn links between the consumption of ultra processed food and colorectal cancer.

This might seem obvious, but defining what exactly is meant by “ultra processed” is controversial to begin with, let alone proving a direct causal relationship between certain foodstuffs and certain cancers.

Colorectal cancer is currently the second most common cause of cancer death worldwide, although incidence rates among older adults are actually falling in many wealthier countries.

READ MORE: Can calorie counts on menus really reverse the obesity crisis? 

In Scotland, where routine bowel cancer screening was introduced on the NHS from 2007 and is currently available to everyone aged 50 to 74, incidence rates of the disease (per 100,000 and age-standardised to account for the ageing population) have been falling steadily since the late 1990s in everyone aged 55 and over, including by around a fifth in the over-90s – the steepest decline seen in any age group.

You are still around 30 times more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer if you are over 90 compared to an adult aged 35 to 39, but one of the significant trends of the past 20 years has been the growing numbers of young adults found to have the disease.

There is almost a precise, and widening, divide between the over- and under-50s, down through the generations:among 30-34-year-olds, rates of colorectal cancer – though still low at around six cases per 100,000 – are twice what they were in the late 1990s.

In 25 to 29-year-olds, case rates have climbed by 150 per cent over the same period, and even 15 to 19-year-olds have seen an eight-fold increase from 0.2 to 1.7 diagnoses per 100,000.

One crude observation is that the generational split roughly coincides with the arrival of the UK’s first ever McDonald’s outlet in 1974 – a watershed moment in the nation’s culinary habits which marked a new era of fast food chains, supersized portions, and increasing calorie intakes as food in general became cheaper, and snacking on crisps and confectionary more common. Food also became more “processed”.

This is a correlation, however; not evidence of cause.

As Gunter Kuhnle, a professor of nutrition and food science at Reading University noted in response to the US study, it would be “misleading” to conclude that ultra-processed foods cause these diseases.

“A more correct summary would be that people who consume food classed as ultra-processed are at higher risk of disease,” he added.

However, he also added that the definition used for ultra-processed food “fairly vague and ambiguous”, ranging for example from the number of ingredients to “most supermarket breads…even though many are not fundamentally different from other breads”.

READ MORE: Top surgeon warns patients have ‘died waiting’ or gone abroad amid delays for weight-loss surgery

Dr Duane Mellor, a dietician and lecturer at Aston University in Birmingham also noted that it is still “unclear” from a public health point of view whether there is any benefit in warning against the consumption of so-called ultra-processed foods than it is to encourage people to simply cut down on foods with added sugar, salt and fat and increase their intakes of fruit, vegetables, and fibre-rich wholegrains and pulses.

He added: “The risk with the ‘ultra processed foods’ definition is that it would suggest a shop bought sponge cake would be ultra-processed, but one made at home is not, even though the average consumer is aware that both contain sugar and fat and are not ideal as a regular part of most people’s diet.”

The study – which defined processed food as industrially produced ready-to-eat/heat items such as biscuits or instant noodles as well as carbonated drinks, milkshakes or fruit juices – found that US men with the highest levels of consumption (based on regular, self-reported dietary questionnaires over a period of 24-28 years) were 29% more likely to have developed colorectal cancer compared to those with the lowest intakes.

Oddly, no correlation was found overall for women. The researchers suggest that oestrogen may have a protective effect in women, or that it may be down to differing choices of ultra-processed foods between the sexes (for example, more calcium-rich dairy-based desserts in females).

However, there did appear to be an association with colorectal cancer in women consuming the highest levels of takeaway fast foods and ready meals specifically.

So what to do? The researchers themselves simply say that “further studies are needed” to unravel the interplay between ultra-processed food and the onset of bowel cancer.

Brazil-based academics Carlos Monteiro and Geoffrey Cannon, commenting on the findings, draw an analogy with tobacco, saying that the “rational solution” would be official guidelines and laws “designed to reduce production and consumption of ultra-processed foods and to restrict or preferably prohibit their promotion”.

Such measures have been resisted to date, and will arguably become even harder to pursue in a cost of living crisis: ultra-processed food (fish fingers, for example) tend to be cheaper because they have a longer shelf-life.

Prof Gunter Kuhnle said: “Banning ultra-processed foods would increase the cost of foods and many people rely on ultra-processed foods.”

READ MORE: Is there a Covid vaccine that could end the pandemic for good?

Then again, as Monteiro and Cannon point out, “nobody sensible wants foods that cause illness”.

Yet this only brings us back to the same intractable problem we started with: how exactly to define ultra-processed food, and how to prove it causes harm.

“The overall positive solution,” they write, “includes making supplies of fresh and minimally processed foods available, attractive, and affordable.”

That, at least, is harder to argue against.

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Scotland’s drug crisis: Officials are reluctant to listen, campaigner finds

IN George Square, Glasgow, on Wednesday evening we gathered to light candles for those we had lost in Scotland’s addiction apocalypse.

And to name them. In this way we were giving them a scrap of the dignity that had been stripped from them in the final years of their lives.

A thin line of men and women – many of them survivors of drug and alcohol enslavement – bore public witness to sons and daughters, brothers and sisters; mums and dads who had succumbed to this illness. All of them were still grieving, yet they spoke eloquently.

There was righteous anger too. With each testament a common thread became apparent. Official Scotland and its sprawling bureaupolis of agencies, departments and quangos had failed these people. Effectively they had sealed their fate by talking over them and around them.

One survivor spoke of being “Naloxoned” on a number of occasions.

An ambulance at the bottom of the cliff

Naloxone is this year’s magic bullet of choice for the Scottish Government and its addiction executives. When given intravenously or injected it works within minutes to combat breathing difficulties caused by opioid ingestion.

Annemarie Ward, CEO of FAVOR UK (Faces and Voices of Recovery) is dismissive of Naloxone as a sustainable, long-term response to addiction. FAVOR organised this candlelit vigil. “Naloxone is like an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff,” she says. “In fact, it’s not even as good as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. At least the ambulance will take you to hospital to get some sort of treatment.

“At the moment though, what we’re experiencing in Scotland – particularly in Glasgow – is young men and women being administered Naloxone as many as eight times a week. We know of one lad two months ago who had been brought round by Naloxone eight times that week, then just dusted down and packed on his way.

“If you had a heart attack and brought round by a defibrillator you’d be taken to hospital and then started on an intense programme of treatment. But because these are drug addicts we just pap them out again. It’s as though they’re simply not worth all the trouble.”


The front line

At her home near Glasgow’s Maryhill district, Ward begins quietly describing her two decades or so in the front line of the addiction war. She’s convinced that the Scottish Government and those hundreds of “policy actors” who make careers in Scotland’s lucrative drugs sector don’t actually believe people can recover. “Sure they want people to stop dying, but they’re not invested in their long-term recovery and the prospects of them ever re-making their real selves.”

Ward is a single mother of a 20-year-old son: “my pride and joy”. She is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and has been in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction for 25 years.

Armed with a Masters Degree from Glasgow University she rose to one of the highest strategic positions within the Ayrshire and Arran Health Board but found she was unable to change anything other than on paper.

Along with 11 other like-minded professionals and front-line workers she set up FAVOR UK to organise and mobilise people in recovery across the UK.

After eight years running a positive campaign in England and Wales to highlight the joy of recovery and the benefits of mutual support she turned her attention to Scotland and a campaign which she describes herself as “darker and more negative”.

She believed that this was necessary owing to the alarming rate of drugs deaths in Scotland which was five times worse than in England and fast becoming the worst in Europe.

“Much of this is about class. I remember two of my bosses saying ‘you’re so bright, Annemarie and we’re going to polish you’.

What they meant by that was that they were going to try to stop me swearing and being angry and to be ambiguous to the point of lying on some occasions and to do it all with a more acceptable accent.”

The Right to Recovery Bill

She believes that such attitudes characterise the Scottish Government’s response to the annual record drugs death tolls. And that this also informs their refusal to back FAVOR’s Right to Recovery Bill.

“Stephen Wishart and I started writing this in December 2020. Almost 80% of those we consulted supported it. We obtained £50k worth of consultancy and legal counsel. But when we went to the three quangos they rejected it outright.

And when we approached all the parties to seek help in developing it, only the Tories took us up on it.”

In the context of Scotland’s appalling drugs death crisis the Right to Recovery Bill addresses all the issues. It would provide a legal right to several stages of treatment: residential rehab; community rehab; stabilisation centres; detox and harm reduction services. Ward describes it as “the full spectrum of evidence-based treatments that are proven to help people get well.”

Making it into Scots law would be a game-changer. The legal right to residential rehab might not mean you get residential rehab immediately but a doctor would have to justify why you can’t get it. In this way it would provide legal accountability that isn’t there.

“We think that the quangos are advising the government not to back this simply because it wasn’t their idea. Also it might make people ask questions about the purpose of the quangos and why we spend such vast sums of public money maintaining their patterns of failure.”

For the quangos there’s a lot to lose.

They’re kept afloat by the bewildering and intertwining tendrils of civic Scotland: 32 local authorities; 32 health and social care partnerships; seven criminal justice authorities; 32 Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships. Then there are the quangos and the addiction units.

“They have a pre-determined set of outcomes before they conduct their consultations,” says Ward. “As one academic said to me: ‘If only we gave the poor the money we spend to study them.’ None of them are accountable and all of them are awash with our cash as our people keep dying.

“My principal frustrations at the health board were their refusal to listen to anything that people in recovery had to say.

They, and only they, were the experts.

Recovery to these people was something that happened in a church hall and led by Jesus freaks. We believe there are many pathways to recovery and all are a cause for celebration.

“Yet the addiction industry is dismissive of faith-based pathways to recovery. They have an implacable prejudice against anything and anybody rooted in a Christian background or who gets well in Christian rehab. They deem these people to be somehow intellectually inferior. Even though there are masses of peer-reviewed evidence that they work.”

Ward reserves her most withering criticism for the three recovery quangos who dance to the tune of a government which is wedded to an ideology that plainly doesn’t work and is costing lives.

“Several years ago the Scottish Drugs forum (one of the three Scottish quangos) had seven or eight staff. They’ve currently got 50-odd. The more people they hire the worse the situation gets. The SDF along with the Scottish Recovery Consortium and Scottish Families simply play to the government’s tune.

“They’re using up tens of millions of pounds every year and failing spectacularly. That’s money that could have been going to front-line services which have been starved. Angela Constance, the Drugs Policy Minister, insists she’s determined to watch where every penny goes. But Audit Scotland can’t find the £250m that’s already been spent.”

Driving the dogma of the Scottish Government and the addiction industry which feeds off it is what Ward believes to be a crazed obsession “to the point of addiction” with harm reduction and decriminalisation. “They’re wedded to this idea of decriminalisation which would be a disaster for our poorest communities,” she says. “In Portugal they’ve invested in abstinence backed up by residential rehab and social integration. It works.

“The Scottish Government just wants to play political football with Westminster about the drugs consumption rooms. They want to raise the debate about the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act which gets the middle class pot-smoking liberals on board. In poorer areas when the leccy meter hits a tenner by mid-day you can get the artificial heat of Valium for 20p a shot.”

FAVOR UK’s signature clarion call is “You keep talking; we keep dying.” You could add your own. “You keep earning” perhaps, or “You keep failing”.

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Monklands hospital could see robot litter pickers deployed

Robot litter pickers could be deployed to keep wards clean at a new £500million hospital in Lanarkshire.

NHS Lanarkshire is considering the use of Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to collect waste and deliver supplies to wards and departments at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie.

Public procurement documents state the technology will “undertake the movement of receptacles/goods without the need for human intervention”.

The health board has approved plans to replace the existing 40-year-old building with Scotland’s first net zero ‘digital hospital’ in Wester Moffat on the outskirts of Airdrie.


Unison, which represents NHS cleaners and porters, said that historically the union had no issues with the use of robotics “for roles such as this” and said it was not aware of any branch concerns.

READ MORE: Scots are helping to mould the next generation of robot helpers 

The health board said no decision had been taken but it expects a “greater workload” at the new hospital.

Robotic technology is already in use at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow where automated guided vehicles act as robot porters to carry medical supplies, linen, food and waste around the site.

Once programmed by a member of the transport team, the robots, designed by Switzerland-based Swisslog, carry their loads around the miles of corridors beneath the two hospitals, using their own smart lifts to get to the necessary floor.


Hospital managers say the technology frees up porters’ time to carry out other tasks, such as moving patients.

The AGVs have sensors that stop them bumping into walls, objects, people, or each other, while there is a left-lane system in place in the corridors.

Graeme Reid, Monklands Replacement Project Director, said: “As part of the development of the new state-of-the-art University Monklands Hospital, NHS Lanarkshire is seeking information on automated solutions that may support clinical and operational colleague, including areas such as minimising manual handling risks. 

READ MORE: Scots university hopes new technique will improve patient care 

“These are already being used in existing Scottish hospitals including Forth Valley Royal Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow.

“Whilst no decision has been on their use at this time, NHS Lanarkshire does expect an increase in workload across the new hospital.”

Robots are also increasingly being used to assist with surgery in the NHS.

The Scottish Government has invested £20 million in 10 surgical robots which it says will result in less invasive procedures and boost hospital capacity.

The Robotic-Assisted Surgery systems will be used primarily for cancer treatment, including urological, colorectal and gynaecological operations.

READ MORE: Monklands hospital site confirmed by NHS Lanarkshire

They use mechanical arms attached to cameras and surgical instruments, operated by a surgeon from a console within the theatre. This new technology makes significantly smaller incisions than required for traditional surgery.

The new hospital will provide 400-500 patient beds and is expected to be opened in 2028.

Plans have been drawn up by Keppie Design serving as architect for the Monklands Replacement Project. The value of the contract could rise to £800m depending on the extent of road access works.

An expanded ground floor would allow vital departments including emergency, radiology, outpatients, cancer care and radiotherapy to be located together.

Three more levels will be added to the building, housing specialisms such as care of the elderly, dialysis and infectious diseases on the lowest floor; cardiology, respirator, renal, ear nose and throat plus operating theatres on the first floor; and haematology, orthopaedics, gastroenterology, urology and medicine on the top level.

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