The journey from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Glasgow, Scotland, involved The coast of Scotland two bus rides and one ferry crossing -- not terribly long in distance but a great change in approaches to life. Glasgow was in the final stages of preparation for the Commonwealth Games, and it seemed that everybody in the city was participating. They painted everything that didn't escape; everything that wasn't painted was cleaned. Signs and posters reminded people of events and the opportunity to demonstrate what a great city and country they live in. Throughout our visit we saw examples of intense civic improvement efforts.
Glasgow is not only a marvelously Victorian city, it has been the home of a number of scientists and philosophers: Adam Smith, Joseph Lister, James Watt, and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), all present as statues in parks and museums. It is probably the only city which also includes official public measurements. Outside the City Chambers building on George Square one can see, in metal, the standard measurements (foot, yard, rod, etc.) "to ensure fair trading by merchants, shopkeepers, surveyors, architects and builders" because they have been visible to all since 1882. Standard Measurements
The Lighthouse, nearby, is a building where architects' work and exhibits of architecture are displayed. The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will begin in a couple of weeks, but the city has been preparing for years. At the Lighthouse we saw a detailed discussion of some of the building projects to create housing, first for the athletes, then after the games more permanent housing for Glaswegians, especially those with lower incomes. Judging by the photos, much work has already been completed.
The most popular Glasgow architect of the late Victorian years was Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose Art Nouveau designs feature flowing florals and vaguely mythological beings. He also designed silverware and furniture and other accessory items, which reminded us of the Roycroft artisans of East Aurora, New York, and also early Frank Lloyd Wright (the Mackintosh chairs look every bit as uncomfortable as the Wright furniture). Wellington Statue
Sometime, about 30 years ago, a bright orange traffic cone appeared, inverted, on the head of the statue of the victorious Duke of Wellington astride his horse. Wellington, named Arthur Wellesley at birth, was not a Scot, and his statue in front of what is now the museum of Modern Art attracted an ordinary level of interest until the arrival of the cone. Clearly some enterprising lads had found a way to ascend the high sculpture (or perhaps they had just succeeded with a lucky flip?), and the authorities duly produced the appropriate equipment and deconed the Duke. Almost immediately, however, the cone reappeared, and almost immediately the city removed it. Letters to the editor clearly backed the cone-placers ahead of the cone-removers. The battle went on for quite some while until the ermine-clad city councillors, having better things to do, let it be, and Wellington's cone is touted by all the tour guides. We managed to catch a picture of both the cone on the head of Wellington head and a seagull on the head of the horse.
Another pleasant aspect is that every day in Glasgow, we seem to fall into conversation with friendly people who want to tell us what we must not miss seeing while in Glasgow. Glaswegians are enormously proud of their city and it seems to have been handed down through the generations. The city responds by supporting parks and museums and a terrific small bare-bones subway which travels in two concentric circles, one clockwise and one counter-clockwise, to take people pretty much anywhere they want to go in the city. Kelvingrove Museum
Much of our time was spent in museums. From our first explorations we found ourselves with a multitude of choices. One day early in our visit we found the Kelvingrove Museum. Like all of Glasgow's city museums, it is free to visit, and it has an extraordinarily rich collection, including a Salvador Dali cruxification painting, looking down from the top of the cross. An unexpected extra treat was an organ concert in the middle of the afternoon.
Glasgow has a long history of social action. Some of that history is captured in another museum, The People's Palace, housed in a gorgeous Victorian building surrounded by lawns. The growth of unionism, reactions to the wars of the nineteenth and twentieth century, types of working class housing, are only some of the topics covered. In the People's Palace
In addition to museums, Glasgow is rich in libraries. The Mitchell Library is another of the Victorian buildings which dominate Glasgow's center. Red brick walls sporting sometimes intricate decorations around windows and doors, complicated rooftops with many chimney pots, they have stood for more than a hundred years (Scotland, unlike England, escaped World War II bombing). The guard on door duty asked us whether we wanted anything special. Our eager answer that we wanted to "see it all" was all he needed to escort us on a whirlwind backstage tour.
Upstairs and down we went, past wonderful interior windows, a colorful bust of Shakespeare, a grand set of doors marked "PRIVATE", several rooms set aside, he said, "for the librarians". We trotted through the old stacks, now holding mostly raggedy and now unused volumes. In the Robert Burns room, a large display held his poem Auld Lang Syne plus a statue of the poet. The rare book room holds the collection of a wealthy Glasgow businessman who had become a bibliophile, willing his treasures to the Mitchell library upon his death. It's a terrific collection, including one of the Audubon elephant folios. Mitchell Library Window
Also on display were historic photos of the city and its libraries including the dedication of the cornerstone by Andrew Carnegie. It turns out that he supported many Scottish libraries in towns both large and small.
We devoted one day to a visit to Edinburgh, a city generally considered the pinnacle of Scottish cities. Perhaps because we have become so fond of Glasgow, we were impressed but not overwhelmed. Glasgow is a working city; Edinburgh is mightily interested in tourism.
When you visit Edinburgh on a rainy summer day, expect to be pressed by waves of people, many of whom visit the art museum just to keep dry (the Old Masters are quite fine, actually). You must also be prepared to understand that the most famoous Edinburghian was Sir Walter Scott, who essentially invented the romantic history of Scotland in his novels.
William Burrell was a businessman primarily - a wholesale merchant - and an art collector secondarily, who lived till he was 97 and donated his entire art collection to Glasgow. Burrell Collection Museum
There were some outstanding items and a lot of just plain beautiful pieces, including painting, sculpture, ceramics and glass, furniture, tapestries, and ancient architectural features, like arches and gates - in short a wide ranging collection, which reminded us a bit of William Randolph Hearst, without the palace or the politics. We enjoyed walking through the lovely new museum building ...
... which, unfortunately, leaks. Not a good feature for a rainy climate. Lots of tarps and buckets were in evidence.
Perth is a charming village on the Inch River not far from Glasgow. We took a train ride and suddenly found ourselves at the First Saturday street market, where we oohed and ahhed at the displays of foods and stuff for sale and where, in the second block, we got a good taste of, and an education about, elderberry wine.
Then we walked from South Inch to North Inch and followed signs for the Black Watch Museum, located in the 1631 (or earlier) manor house named Balhousie Castle in Perth. Balhousie Castle Britain has regiments, and they're really important to the structure of Britain's armed forces. The Black Watch regiment was formed up out of some independent fifteenth century Highland battalions, which in turn were formed up to keep the Highlanders on the sides of the English by incorporating them into the Army. At first, the basic job of the Highlanders ("Jock" is the nickname for a Highlander in the British Army) was to suppress the internecine warfare among the other Highlanders. Then the Brits realized what zealous warriors they were and began sending them everywhere to fight England's wars.
Actually the only place they did not do so well was at the Battle of Ticonderoga, but they look at that as a worthy defeat. They had to reject the English infantry square formations and fight like woodsmen, just the way the American minutemen and Highlanders fought. So they learned from their defeat at Ticonderoga.
The train was a local, and took the 25 miles to Balloch in about 15 stations. There were lots of children, because Balloch is where you take the children, either to play on the shore of Loch Lomond or to ride a boat as we did.
Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater lake in Britain, several hundred feet deep at the north end, and many miles long. Our boat trip took one hour to get to Luss and one hour back. It took quite a while to get the port engine started, but eventually both engines were humming. We sat in the lower level, the lounge, where the young male attendant leapt back and forth over the bar. The first thing he did, coming and going, was to brew a cup of tea with milk for the skipper and carry it up to the wheelhouse. Luss, on Loch Lomond
Going along we passed a few castles, and not many small lakeside cottages; it doesn't seem that's what is done here. Reminded us a bit of our lake cruise in Potsdam. There was a championship golf course with the longest hole in Scotland (6245 feet I think) and next to it a five star luxury hotel converted out of somebody's old lakeside castle.
We imagine all of Scotland's lochs are pretty, and this was pretty too. There were signs of picnics and campouts everywhere along the shores. Some part is a national park, but the boundaries weren't so clear on any map we saw.
In Luss there was a big pier, and the teenaged boys and girls were pushing and jumping into the lake -- had to be really chilly, but they were teenagers, so what?
All too soon the two hours had passed and we enjoyed the experience greatly, and in Balloch we saw a giant automaton (stilts, maybe) with a large t-shirt saying Bairns not Bombs.
New Lanark New Lanark Water Wheel
We took a train, then a bus, to New Lanark, where Robert Owen, a famous social philosopher, established a cotton mill which eventually grew into an entire community of several thousand people. The buildings still stand with many exteriors looking like Owen built them. One of the mill buildings has been restored to its original use, spinning cotton thread. We were surprised to find the first part of our tour, titled the Annie McLeod Experience, is a Disney-type ride with hologram-girls telling what it was like to be a mill child. Scotland museums, generally, face quite squarely the issues of supporting slavery in the American colonies after it had been abolished in Britain.
We walked to the Hunterian Art Gallery just as it opened at 10:00 a.m. We accepted the offer for the free tour of the Mackintosh House.
The house was a reconstruction of the house which Charles and Margaret Macintosh had occupied for about 12 years in Glasgow before moving on to London. Like many architects, they had designed it for their own use, and it shows. Lots of Art Nouveau and later, Mackintosh's distinctive style, reflected in an entire house full of furnishings. It was really, really gorgeous. We like both the Macintosh a lot. Great tour!