Saturday, July 28th 2012
Departure day finally arrives. Yesterday I took Freya by bus and train to Chingford and returned hot foot to try to get my computer repaired or at least made usable as a store for my photos and GPS geotagging logs. (For a backgroumd explanation, see here and here.) In between, there was the packing to do…
Somehow, like a life-sized jigsaw puzzle, the pieces finally clicked into place. I thought I wouldn’t sleep last night, so keyed up as I was, but somehow I did… until the alarm called me back to reality.
Our train departs from Euston at 09:30 and the bus journey takes no more than about 15 to 20 minutes but because we were uncertain as to whether the wretched Olympic Games would cause diversions and service disruptions, we left home at 07:50. We were lucky: a 476 – the bus that goes right into Euston station – hove in sight while we were still a few yards from the stop. We needed to run (imagine us galloping along the pavement dragging wheelie suitcases as we go…!) but caught the bus. London bus drivers are usually very good at waiting for people they see running for their buses.
At Euston, we had over an hour to wait but we used this to have breakfast and buy a picnic lunch to eat later on the train. At this point, I will tell you a secret: we are travelling first class on this trip. The journey lasts about five hours and for people with long legs like us, the cramped conditions in standard class are apt to become increasingly uncomfortable, so we treated ourselves to the extra comfort.
Our train begins to show on the departures board an hour before departure time but the platform is not shown. Euston is particularly bad in this respect, often indicating the platform number only 5 minutes before departure, leading to a mad scramble to board. Having reservations in first class means that we won’t have to fight for seats, at least.
Our carriage is at the rear of the train and we are seated in a small section in a pair of facing seats at a table for two. Perfect! The train is a Virgin “Pendolino”, which always sounds to me as if it ought to be a rude word in Italian.
As we speed north, the sun is shining from an almost clear sky. That’s a good start. I have heard conflicting reports about the weather in Glasgow. Some say hot, others cold; some say wet, others dry. Will midges be the problem that they are said to be in certain parts of Scotland at this time of year? In about 5 hours, we shall find all this out for ourselves.
Shortly after departure we are presented with free coffee or tea and a little snack box containing biscuits, cheese and chocolate. Virgin Trains also provide WiFi for passengers and we can therefore keep in touch with people via social media or surf the Web.
The journey lasted four and a half hours but in the relative comfort of first class it passed quickly enough. We emerged from Glasgow Central to find showery weather and a cool breeze that persuaded me to zip up my jacket.
Our hotel, the Alexander Thomson, was within easy walking distance of the station, even when trailing our bags behind us. Our room is on the fifth floor and is rather on the small side. We have 6 power points available (5 when boiling the kettle!) Of which 2 are on either side of the bed and will be handy for charging our mobile phones overnight.
The hotel provides free WiFi but this doesn’t reach as far as our room. To use it we shall have to take our devices down to the first floor where the bar happens to be. Is that a coincidence or Scottish canniness? Tigger has nicknamed it “Iffy Wiffi”. We will try to get it working later.
After registering at the hotel we went on a first ramble around the city. In Glasgow, if you are a photographer, you have to proceed with calm because there are interesting and beautiful buildings, streets and squares at every turn and it is easy to get a sensory overload! Naturally, we took lots of photos. Then came a downpour. We sought refuge in a restaurant where we had an early supper. After this we returned to the hotel.
I tried out my computer and found it terribly slow. Compared with its performance before breakdown, it now limps along at a snail’s pace. I am not sure I can continue using it in this condition, though I will have to put up with it for the next two weeks at least.
We had one piece of luck, however. Not being able to connect to WiFi in the room, we went down to the lounge where, they had told us, it would work. Did it?
No, it didn’t. I went to the desk and verified the password but still no joy. Then suddenly, on trying again it worked! Why? I realized that I had mis-typed the password and this had enabled me to connect. In other words, everyone was giving me the wrong password and by chance I had happened on the correct one, which was similar but not identical. Later, we discover that we can access WiFi perfectly well in our room on our laptops, our phones and our iPods.
It has felt like a full day even including the hours sitting around. We have renewed our acquaintance with Glasgow and look forward to exploring it anew. Tomorrow we might have an in-town day or… we might not! We will decide when the moment comes.
Here are a few more views of the city, collected as we rambled around after resting a while at the hotel.
In Glasgow, as increasingly in our cities, gulls are present in large numbers. The predominant species is the Lesser Black-Backed gull and their raucous calls are heard continually as you move about the city. There are of course pigeons too but they are no match for the bigger, more aggressive gulls and stand aside without trying to compete.
Many of the older buildings in the city bear lettering or sculptured decorations indicating the business of the company for whom they were built. This building was once occupied by a printing press or publishing house and over the elaborate doorway two putti still pore over a book, watched by two wise owls, symbols of learning.
In front of Glasgow’s fine Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). stands the famous and well loved equestrian statue of the the Duke of Wellington. For a long time, it has been the custom for anonymous persons to place a traffic cone on the Duke’s head (you can see a traffic cone on top of the flower display on the left). There are concerns that this, and people climbing up to position the cone, are causing damage to the statue and requests have been issued to cease and desist. These warnings have not been heeded, and so I guess that the blue cone is the latest attempt to deter the activity. Will it succeed?
Some of Glasgow’s classic buildings are extravagantly decorated and none more so than this one whose façade is covered with sculpted foliage and the whole presided over by a huge metal peacock. I have to say that I have no idea when this luxuriant work was put in place or what prompted its design. It has certainly been executed with a whimsicality and panache that somehow reminds me of Gaudí.
This miniature gem of a building, looking like a model for a ducal palace or some such, is the old subway station in St Enoch Square. Built in the 1870s, it has been replaced by a modern version with no particular character. Fortunately, the structure itself has been preserved and put to a different use, one that I can heartily approve of! There was also once a combined railway station and hotel in the square but this is long gone. The name St Enoch commemorates a long history of church building on this site.
Caryatids, female figures used as pillars or supports in a building, are fairly common but one finds the male equivalent, called a telamon, much less frequently. I was drawn to this pair supporting a substantial lintel at 146 Argyle Street. These identical twins are very lifelike, so much so that when I went underneath to take the photo on the right, I felt almost as though I was in the presence of a real and very powerful being.
Sunday, July 29th 2012
That was our first night. The bed is standard size, so not really long enough for tall people like us, but we managed a night’s sleep. Breakfast is a buffet, as is usual these days, and as there were a lot of people staying at the hotel, including families, there was something of a scramble. We vegetarians need to pick our way carefully around the bacon and sausages to find a selection of things to eat. Everything cooked was very oily.
The weather forecast (courtesy of the weather app on our iPods) is for sunshine with rain in the late afternoon. The real weather seems a little different: heavy cloud cover with breaks giving sunny intervals. After breakfast, we made our way back to the station and bought tickets to Wemyss Bay which we has heard is pretty. We ran for a train on the point of departure and slipped aboard just before the doors closed.
During the journey we observed the names of the stations we passed through. All had names in English and some also the equivalent name in Gaelic. (For example, Drumfrochar also has the Gaelic name Druim Fhraochair.) Presumably, those stations without a Gaelic name are at towns or villages that came into existence (or were renamed) after Gaelic had gone out of common usage.
By the time we reached Wemyss Bay, the weather had closed in. A cold wind came off the water and the sky was threatening rain. Through a window, we snatched photos of a rainbow.
Wemyss Bay station is noteworthy. It is a beautiful structure with an elegantly curved iron and glass canopy stretching over the platforms.
Similarly, a broad, curving and canopied walkway leads down to the Rothsay ferry pier and ticket office. This is the second station on the site, being built in 1903 to replace its predecessor of 1865.
Wemyss Bay is a pretty enough town but it is very small. We took a few photos before the rain came. At this point, what with the rain and cold, we decided to move on. A quick look at the bus timetable gave no inspiration (services are seriously curtailed, or not running, on Sundays) and returned to the station.
We went into the friendly station cafe and had a warming bowl of lentil soup each. There we learned that the station is supported by the Friends of Wemyss Bay Station, an active volunteer association that collects money for maintenance and upkeep and runs an allotment to provide flowers and green plants for the station. They are rightly proud of the object of their affections and I wish them every success in their continuing endeavours.
There was a brief burst of sunshine so we ventured out to take a couple more photos. The view across the water was hampered by mist, and the dull, wet weather gave a grey shading to the scene. You might think it looks a little bleak but I am sure that when the sun shines (as it did fitfully for us) it becomes rather more inviting. On the left of the picture you can see the Rothsay Ferry approaching.
In other conditions we would have stayed longer and explored Wemyss Bay more carefully and perhaps taken a 35 minute ferry ride to Rothsay, but the weather was determined to be wet, cold and thoroughly disagreeable. We did our best to get a few photos in between showers, like the one below of the Rothsay Ferry coming in to dock.
When the Glasgow train arrived, we went aboard to await departure and mull over our short but pleasant visit to this Edwardian resort. Perhaps we will return on another occasion when the weather is prepared to be kind and take a better look at the place. On the train journey back to Glasgow, I kept falling asleep. I fought it but to no avail: I just kept going out like a light. We are both tired though we cannot think why. On leaving Glasgow Central station we went to Caffè Nero, hoping that a good swig of coffee would redress the balance.
West Regent Lane and Renfrew Lane
Lanes such as these are a notable feature of Glasgow. Often, a main road, say West Regent Street, will have a
lane of the same name running parallel to it, giving access to the rear of the buildings fronting onto the street.
Looking on the map (Google or Bing), you can easily find the streets that go with these two lanes.
After taking coffee at Nero, we decided to go back to the hotel for a rest and perhaps a sleep. Arriving at the fifth floor, however, we found that the room was being serviced so we went back down to the lounge on the first floor and spent a while using the hotel WiFi to research various topics, such as the the history, development, characteristics and current status of Scottish Gaelic. This language has been declining for some time and seemed doomed to eventual extinction, but recent measures taken by the Scottish Assembly give hope that the decline may be halted and the language gain new speakers through promotion and education. Some years ago, I tried to learn Scottish Gaelic (pronounced ‘Gallick’) and though I did not get very far with it, it was a worthwhile experience because Celtic languages such as Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Manx operate on quite different principles from those we are usually taught in school, such as French, Spanish or German.
We now returned to our room where we made tea, relaxed and dozed. Later, having recovered somewhat, we went out again and threaded another path through the streets of Glasgow, investigating whatever we found to be of interest. Glasgow is a showcase of buildings of different styles and ages, all rubbing shoulders companionably. Some strange contrasts emerge, especially when old and new square up to one another. Sometimes the combination works and sometimes it is less felicitous. But this, as with most things, is a matter of personal taste.
What the short-term observer of Glasgow may not discover is that parts of the city are very hilly, some streets so dizzyingly so that they have handrails attached to the walls to ease your descent. Above is pictured Scott Street in the Garnet Hill district. I wouldn’t want to try to negotiate this street in icy conditions!
One reason for coming up here was to visit the Glasgow School of Art or, to give it its other name, the Rennie Mackintosh Building. It will probably become better known under the latter name because a new bigger (and, of course, modern) Glasgow School of Art has been built opposite to provide for the school’s expansion.
What was to become the school of art was founded in 1845 as Glasgow Government School of design, changing its name to the one it bears now in 1853. It was only in 1897, however, that it was to acquire a purpose-built home of its own. The design was put out to competition and the winning entry was that by Scotland’s premier architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The building was put up in two phases with completion dates in 1899 and 1909, respectively.
It takes but a glance to immediately recognize who the author of this building is. Mackintosh’s style is as unmistakeable as it is unique. Unfortunately, the width of the streets is not sufficient to get a picture of the whole and one must make do with partial views.
The modern eyes, fatigued by the bland ugliness of what passes for modern architecture, naturally picks on the decorative details of a Mackintosh building, such as the sculptured surrounds to doors and windows, the delicate ironwork of railings and balconies, the lamps and the brass doorplates. These are of course part and parcel of the magic of a Mackintosh but one should also be aware of the proportion and balance that confer on the building its elegance and feeling of confidence.
From the school of art we walked down to Charing Cross. Yes! There is a Charing Cross in Glasgow. It is marked by this imposing building, called Charing Cross Mansions, standing on the corner of Newton Street (going off to the left of the picture) and the more famous Sauchiehall Street, one of Glasgow’s main arteries.
We progressed along Sauchiehall Street with a particular destination in mind, We had lasted all day on the bowl of soup we had enjoyed at Wemyss Bay Station, so supper was uppermost in our thoughts. Even so, we could not help noticing the many attractive sights along the way. As, for example, Albany Chambers, a classic Victorian edifice, built in the Jubilee year of 1897 by the selfsame J.J. Burnet who was responsible for Charing Cross Mansions. It is topped with a statue of Britannia by an unknown sculptor.
Or this interesting example, which might strike a chord if you look at it carefully. It is the HQ and museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers. The original building was put up in 1825 but in the early 1900s the front was remodelled by a man whose name we have already mentioned: Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Then, in complete contrast, we have this Art Deco creation, the Beresford Hotel. It was built in 1938 to accommodate visitors coming to the city for the Empire Exhibition. It soon came to be known as “Glasgow’s Skyscraper” because it was for a while the city’s tallest building.
On our last visit to Glasgow we had tried all the best known Indian restaurants and been disappointed with all of them except one. This one is within a short distance of Charing Cross and is called Indian Gallery. We chose a vegetable thali with lassi to drink. It was again very good and the restaurant lived up to our memory of it.
After supper, we started along Sauchiehall Street, one of Glasgow’s longer thoroughfares, and thence back to the hotel. One of the last photos of the day was the one below. Just a city church…
Just a city church, yes, perhaps, but when we looked a little more closely, we discovered a famous name. St Vincent Street Church, as it is called, was built in 1859 for the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland by Alexander Thomson, after whom our hotel is named. In his designs, Thomson took his inspiration from the classical forms of Ancient Greece and for that reason is known humorously and affectionately as Alexander “Greek” Thomson.
Despite the poor weather spoiling our trip to Wemyss Bay, we had had a good day out, and enjoyed our discoveries. Now it was time to go back to the hotel and make tea!
Monday, July 30th 2012
Today we are paying our first visit of this trip to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. This is a beautiful place and one of my favourites. It is worth visiting it just to admire the building alone, which is magnificent, both outside and inside.
The bus that took us to the museum was a bendybus. These have been taken out of service in London by a
bad and expensive decision of the Mayor of London, so it was a pleasure to take a ride in one again.
The gallery was not yet open when we arrived but as it was a bright sunny day, we didn’t mind too much and were happy to fill in time exploring and photographing the outside of the building.
When the city museum’s current buildings became too small, a new, larger one was commissioned and the design put out to competition, the judge being Alfred Waterhouse, the architect closely associated with the Gothic Revival. He chose the design presented by London architects John W Simpson and E J Milner Allen. Another nine years were to pass before the new gallery opened in 1901.
The submission described the proposed building as “an astylar composition on severely Classic lines, but with free Renaissance treatment in detail”. Other opinions classify it as Spanish Baroque, suggesting that the two towers were inspired by those of the church of Santiago de Compostela.
The Kelvingrove Park entrance is intended to be the main entrance but, arriving by the road, most people come into the building through the Argyle Street entrance. This gave birth to the bizarre myth that the building had been built “the wrong way round” and that the architect had committed suicide by leaping from one of the towers. Needless to say, neither claim is true.
In front of the Kelvingrove Park entrance is a group a statuary by Sir James George Frampton. It represents St Mungo, founder of Glasgow and, later, its patron saint, here represented as a patron of the arts. According to legend, St Mungo (or St Kentigern), was led miraculously to a place called Cathures where he built a church. He called the place Glasgui, meaning “dear green place”, and the site of his church is today occupied by the cathedral of Glasgow.
In the sculpture, St Mungo is accompanied by two symbolic female figures: on the left, studying a large book held on her lap, is Art; on the right, with a miniature organ, is Music.
There are several floors of exhibits covering a vast range of topics and periods. There is more than you can conveniently see in one visit unless you just skim through it. As is common these days, Kelvingrove has a permanent collection and special exhibitions. Admission to the permanent collection is free and photography is allowed. There may be a charge for special exhibitions and photography may not be permitted in these.
We first toured the gallery dedicated to the Glasgow Boys. This group consisted of about 20 artists who, though different in their backgrounds and particular interests, nonetheless shared some common approaches to art, including an interest in Japanese painting and an enthusiasm for the works of Whistler, still relatively unknown at that time. In fact, it was the Glasgow Boys who were instrumental in Glasgow’s first purchase of a work by Whistler.
I was unfamiliar with this group of painters so was interested in seeing their works. Within the common themes, techniques and interests, there was considerable variety of subjects and approaches.
Next, we went to view The Essence of Beauty: 500 years of Italian Art. As this was a special exhibition, photography was not allowed so I cannot show you any pictures. In any case, a majority of works were on religious themes (more renditions of “Virgin and Child” than you could shake a stick at), which do not attract me.
We broke for lunch, going across the road to the Pelican Cafe. Returning to the Kelvingrove, we went to the top floor and started working our way through the exhibits. We saw sections on Scotland’s early inhabitants, armour (human and animal) and Scotland’s role Britain’s military history.
Descending a floor, we immersed ourselves in Scottish, Dutch and French art.
Apart from the short break for lunch, we been in the museum from 10 am when it opened until 4 pm and now began to feel that we had seen enough for one day. Interesting as the displays may be, the mind can take in only so much at one go.
After our long visit to the museum, we went for a stroll in the fine Kelvingrove Park in which it is set. As well as the pleasure of the park itself, it offers some beautiful views.
We had brought some grapes with us from London, intending to eat them on picnics. As we had not eaten them, we decided to share them with the birds in the park. The pigeons didn’t recognize grapes as food and ignored them. The magpies, however, being much more intelligent took to them straightaway.
On a previous visit to Glasgow, we had discovered an off-beat tea house, called Tchai Ovna, and thought to go there again. Unfortunately, we misdirected ourselves and failed to find it. Instead, we took coffee in a Jordanian cafe restaurant called Falafel. We’ll try again for Tchai Ovna another day.
Though our day was not as active as some, it was full enough and we had enjoyed it. The Kelvingrove has lost none of its remembered magic.
Tuesday, July 31st 2012
A first glimpse through the window this morning revealed a surprising sight: the sun was shining! The forecast is sun until 3 pm and then the more usual clouds and showers. Whether that is correct remains to be seen.
As our room is on the 5th floor and there is a single, slow, lift which is in demand at breakfast time, we take all our kit down with us to breakfast and go straight out afterwards. The buffet was busy this morning but we procured our ration of stodge and started out.
Today we are going to Edinburgh, hoping to see a gallery or museum or two, and visit the town. We went to buy train tickets at Glasgow Central station where the ticket clerk reminded us that for Edinburgh we needed to depart from Queen Street station. Queen Street also has a Gaelic name, Sràid na Banrighinn.
For many people, Edinburgh is the premier Scottish city, beside which all others pale to virtual insignificance. While I agree that Edinburgh has much to recommend it, including its royal history and its own unique character, I still prefer Glasgow. That, of course, is not a reason to ignore Edinburgh and a visit to Scotland’s capital brings its own particular rewards. The name, by the way, derives from the Gaelic Dun Eidyn, which I am told means “hill fort on the sloping ridge”. It was from the ancient fort, sited on an old volcano, the the city developed.
If you are interested in architecture, then Edinburgh offers you a feast. Towers, turrets and spires abound and buildings from different epochs rub shoulders amicably.
The tall buildings, often decorated with turrets and clock towers, sometimes give the impression of a medieval walled city. As the city gradually spread out from the castle rock on which it was founded, horizontal space was limited and so buildings soared upwards to compensate.
Our first call was the Museum of Edinburgh. The visit started with a film on the history of Edinburgh. Unusually, the screen was horizontal, set in the floor so that the viewer seemed to be looking down, perhaps from a balloon. The film outlined the history of Edinburgh from the castle rock in prehistoric times through to the early modern period.
During the 18th century, the Sedan chair was the vehicle of choice for the affluent classes. Its small size allowed it to negotiate Edinburgh’s narrow streets and wynds, and to go where other vehicles could not follow. Also, being enclosed in a box offered passengers a measure of protection from the dirt and grime of the streets that would all to readily attach itself to a pedestrian’s body and clothes.
This wooden sculpture is a representative of a once popular class of signs for advertising tobacco and snuff. He is about to inhale a pinch of snuff held between forefinger and thumb. The figure of a Highlander was often used for this purpose though other models also occur. The trade in tobacco was intimately linked to that in slaves and the money from both financed many of Edinburgh’s fine buildings.
There were some free-standing exhibits and some room mock-ups (difficult to photograph because of light reflecting off the glass) but much of the museum was a “glass case” exhibition. While I don’t object to this in principle, I don’t think it gave a representative view of Edinburgh and its history and I found the displays somewhat boring. On the plus side, photography was allowed and I found one or two items of interest.
In the above glass case, the place of honour is occupied by Scotland’s most famous writer (apart, perhaps, from Robert Burns and William Topaz McGonagall), Sir Walter Scott. The name of Scott is, of course, writ large across the face of Edinburgh, not least in the form of the gigantic Scott Monument that looks rather like a spire detached from a Gothic Revival church.
The Monument, in Princes Street Gardens, stand 200 feet and 6 inches high. It may be visited but you would need to climb 287 steps to reach the top. The first floor is a museum to the famous novelist. Princes Street Gardens form a multi-level park and today it was full of people enjoying the beautiful weather.
We had lunch in a cafe and then went to the City Art Centre. We limited ourselves to floors 3 and 4, the permanent collection, to which admission is free. On floors 1 and 2 there was a special exhibition, the Scottish Colourists. You had to pay for admission to this so we skipped it. As photography was not allowed anywhere in the gallery I cannot show you any pictures.
When Edinburgh is mentioned, the seaside is not the first thing that comes to mind, but Edinburgh does have a seaside, though it is a bus ride away and is called by the exotic name of Portobello. We journeyed there by bus and enjoyed a pleasant walk along to seafront.
Portobello has stone built houses and churches and no fewer than three town halls, though two of these have been diverted to other purposes (one a Baptist church, the other a police station). It has a fine sandy beach with the usual accompaniments of beach shops and entertainments though, to tell the truth, they all look a little seedy and rundown. We also saw a lot of sites that were once active as factories or workshops but are now derelict.
From Portobello we returned to Edinburgh but there took another bus, this time to Cramond. I had another attack of sleepy sickness and kept falling asleep, no matter how hard I tried to stay awake. We stayed on the bus, waiting to see whether there was a town centre or other interesting area. Maybe there was but we didn’t see anything that tempted us to disembark, so stayed aboard the bus as it turned back towards Edinburgh. We did, however, break our journey briefly at Blackhall for refreshments before continuing.
Arriving back at Edinburgh, we decided to have dinner there, as it would be getting late by the time we reached Glasgow. We found a tapas bar that filled the bill nicely!
Today was the first day on this trip on which the weather was hot and sunny. It felt like summer for the first time. By the time we emerged from the tapas bar, however, the clouds and rain had returned.
We walked to Edinburgh Waverly Station, arriving just in time to miss the 20:30 Glasgow train. The 21:00 was ready and waiting on platform 18 and as it was now raining, we went aboard to await departure.
Wednesday, August 1st 2012
Today is the first day of August. I am not sure why that seems significant but for some reason it does. Yesterday may turn out to have been this year’s summer as the clouds are back, covering the sky in a dull grey mantel. The weather forecast is rain all day, rather a gloomy prospect.
We boarded a bus and enquired about our destination but the driver said it was nearby and we might as well walk. So we did, despite the fact that it soon came on to rain. Fortunately, the rain seems to be in the form of intermittent showers, rather than a continuous downpour.
Along the way we passed this rather striking church spire. At first sight it stands by itself, divorced from its surroundings, despite being attached physically to a church. This is because it originally belonged the the 16th-century Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Anne that was founded on the site, though the spire itself was not added until the 18th century. The church burnt down in 1793 and was replaced by a new one of classical design. The spire, however, survived and was included by attachment to the new building. Its open position means that today pedestrians walk through it as they make their way along the pavement.
A little further along, one comes to a crossroads known as Glasgow Cross and here stands the Mercat Cross or market cross. Market towns traditionally had crosses marking the market place and these generally date from the medieval period unless, like this one, they have been replaced. Glasgow’s original mercat cross stood here but was removed in 1659. The cross was obviously missed, or its absence was felt to reflect badly on the city, because a certain Dr William Black and his wife funded a new mercat cross which was installed with all due ceremony on April 24th 1930.
Even more striking here, in what was originally the centre a Glasgow (the city’s centre of gravity having since then shifted west), is a tall tower topped by a clock and crown, the Tolbooth Steeple. It is all that remains of the Tolbooth, built in 1625-6, which included the council hall, the town clerk’s office and the prison. Perpetrators of serious crimes were executed here and proclamations read. The Tolbooth was rebuilt in 1814 but finally demolished in 1921. The clock tower, however, was saved and still stands as a reminder of an important slice of the city’s history.
Arriving at Glasgow Green, we entered by what is today known by the dual names of Jocelyn Gate and McLennan Arch. This was originally part of the façade of the Assembly Rooms, built in 1792 by the Adams brothers. When the Assembly Rooms were demolished, the arch was saved and on a second move arrived here in 1922. The name Jocelyn Gate comes from the fact that it is positioned in what was Jocelyn Square (named after Bishop Jocelyn), the site of the Glasgow Fair and a place of public execution while that of McLennan is in memory of Bailie James McLennan MP who provided the funding to enable to gate to be moved to this location.
Just inside the gate we come across a reminder of the importance accorded to the suppression of drunkenness and the promotion of temperance in the Victorian era. This drinking fountain (which also reminds us of the need for supplies of clean, disease-free drinking water during this period) was installed by the Temperance Reformers in honour of Sir William Collins, Lord Provost of the city of Glasgow 1877-80, “in recognition of valuable services rendered to the temperance cause”. The two rings either side of the lion-head spout are where a pair of cups was once attached. A panel carries a profile of Sir William.
From the gate we followed a straight alley towards the 44-metre high obelisk in memory of Nelson, designed by David Hamilton. The foundation stone was laid on August 1st 1806, making this the first public monument erected in Britain in honour of the victor of Trafalgar.
Near it stands this little monument that has come by association with the poem of the same name to be called the Bonnie Wee Well though it is in fact a drinking fountain. It was erected in honour of Scottish poet Hugh MacDonald (1817-60), a stanza of whose poem is inscribed above the lion’s head. The text of MacDonald’s best known poem will be found here.
Seen from this angle, the most notable feature of the People’s Palace is the beautiful glazed winter gardens.
The winter gardens provide a tranquil space where you can sit and rest or take refreshments.
Or you can stroll in the alleys and enjoy the plants of which there are many kinds.
When the People’s Palace was opened in 1898 by Lord Rosebery, the latter described it as “A palace of pleasure and imagination around which the people may place their affections and which may give them a home on which their memory may rest.” Intended as a cultural centre for the inhabitant of the poverty ridden and unhealthy East End of the city, the Palace provided recreation and reading rooms on the ground floor, a museum on the first floor and a picture gallery on the top floor.
Since 1940, however, the Palace has been a museum of the social history of Glasgow with an emphasis on the darker side: unemployment, poverty, disease, poor housing, labour disputes, etc., a rather depressing picture of Glasgow, to my way of thinking. While I do not dispute that all these things existed and caused great suffering, I think that Glasgow has more to its history than this and that the museum provides a rather biased view of it. Others might disagree, of course. Admission is free and photography permitted.
In front of the People’s Palace is one of my favourite monuments, the Doulton Fountain. It is the largest terra cotta fountain in the world, and its survival is no mean feat, given the fragility of the material. Designed by A.E. Pearce for the International Exhibition of 1888, it was modelled by students of the Lambeth School of Art and assembled in Kelvingrove Park. It was moved to Glasgow Green in 1890 and to its present location in 2004.
Victoria stands atop the fountain, very much the Queen of her Empire, looking out towards distant horizons and exotic lands over which flies the union flag. Immediately below her stand representatives of the armed forces including a kilted Scottish soldier.
In the main body of the fountain, four tableaux represent four corners of the the Victorian Empire, Australia, South Africa, India and Canada. If the Indian couple have rather European features that perhaps reflects the somewhat naive enthusiasm of the Victorian British at the height of imperial confidence.
Whatever one may think of the fountain politically, I find it well thought out and beautifully modelled, a work of art one can return to again and again and see new details in it each time. It is as unusual as it is handsome, being made of terra cotta, an all too friable material that English architects of the period nevertheless enjoyed using. At 14 metres high, it stands proudly in the landscape, reflecting the highest point of Victorian optimism.
Another flamboyant feature of the scene is Templeton’s Carpet Factory. It is at first sight hard to believe that this exotic-looking structure could be a factory but so it was. It was designed by Scottish architect William Leiper, who was directly inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice bit also by the many Eastern structures that had been made for the 1888 International Exhibition. It is also claimed that the patterning reflects that of the carpets produced within. The factory opened in 1892 but only after incurring the deaths of 29 women when the façade collapsed during construction in 1889 and crushed the adjacent weaving sheds.
We returned to the centre of town, had a quick lunch in a cafe and then paid our first visit of this trip to GoMA – the Gallery of Modern Art. Whatever you think of the art, this is a very pleasant place to go and has a nice coffee lounge and library in the basement. There is no admission charge and photography is allowed.
As is usual with modern art, there were exhibits I found interesting and others that made no impression on me at all or seemed rather pointless. What appears below is just a representative sample.
These two certainly look like ventriloquist’s dummies, with thei typical half-cartoon, half-realistic faces and slightly sinister overtones.
The dummies were made by Glasgow-based artists John Beagles and Graham Ramsay and I think are supposed to appear as alter egos of their creators. The labels beside the pictures tell us that an allusion is being made to the 1945 horror film Dead of Night. If you are interested in following this up, you may find more information on the artists’ Web page.
It was good to see so many people in the gallery, some with quite young children. I think it important to give children the “museum habit” when young. I still remember with affection Brighton’s museum and how, as a very young boy, I would drag my mother there whenever we passed nearby.
After GoMA we rambled through the streets, enjoying the scenery. We passed through George Square, which contains a number of monuments to important figures, including a column to celebrate Sir Walter Scott. It was designed by David Rhind and erected in 1838.
I was amused by these two equestrian statues because both are in similar poses and each is crowned with a gull. The nearer statue is Prince Albert (1866) and the other is Queen Victoria (1854), both done by the same sculptor, Baron Marochetti.
We were heading for the GFT – the Glasgow Film Theatre – which Tigger was keen to see. Built in 1939 as an art house cinema, it is still independent and very active.
We found a corner in the busy basement cafe and ordered tea and cake. It was a pleasant environment with art works on the walls, some of which were for sale.
We now worked our way back to the hotel, exploring as we went. The intention was to have a rest, make tea and decide later whether to go out again. In the end, though, we decided we were not hungry enough to go out to dinner, so we remained indoors and “dined” on breakfast biscuits and tea.
Donald Dewar (1937-2000)
Scotland’s first First Minister
(Kenny Mackay, 2002)
Thursday, August 2nd 2012
The day started grey and dull once more but the rain seemed to be holding off. After breakfast we walked through the city to Queen Street station, taking in the views as we went.
Looking along Ingram Street, I saw GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art) catching a fleeting glint of sunlight. In front of it we can see the much loved and much tormented equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington, currently wearing a blue cone on his head. I will no doubt have more to say about this in due course.
At Queen Street station we bought tickets for Dundee, as we wanted to take a look at this town. On trips like this we add “Plus Bus” to the rail ticket as this gives unlimited bus travel over a wide area centred on the destination town. Prices hover around £3 and are good value if you want to move around the region.
As our tickets were off-peak, we could leave only after 9:30 and it was still a little early. Fortunately, a coffee stall helped make the wait a little more agreeable. Then we took the 0941 Aberdeen train which calls at Perth on the way to Dundee or Dùn Dè, if you favour the Gaelic.
Almost opposite Dundee station is Discovery Point, run by Dundee Heritage Trust, where Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ship, the RRS Discovery, is now moored. This ship took Scott and his party to the Antarctic on the Discovery Expedition (1901-04). Discovery was built in Dundee by the Dundee Shipbuilders Company at the Panmure Shipyard and launched on March 21st, 1901. It is fitting, therefore, that she is now kept here, where she was born, to instruct and inspire new generations of discoverers.
We didn’t visit Discovery Point this time – perhaps on our next trip – but walked on down to the water’s edge. Dundee stands on the banks of the Firth of Tay – see this map.
The broad expanse of water that is the Firth of Tay is crossed by two bridges. The above photo shows an admittedly rather distant view of the modern railway bridge. (If you get out your magnifying glass you may be able to spot a train crossing it!) Known simply as the Tay Bridge until construction of a road bridge made differentiation necessary, the original bridge opened to rail traffic on June 1st 1878. At two and three-quarters miles in length, it was considered something of an engineering triumph even though the Dee Bridge, of similar design, had collapsed in 1847.
What is known as the Tay Bridge Disaster occurred a mere year and a half later on December 28th, 1879. Under pressure from the winter gales, the central spans collapsed just as a train was crossing, resulting in the deaths of all 75 passengers. The bridge in use today was built slightly upstream of the old one and opened on June 13th 1883. Despite the success of this replacement, the Tay Bridge Disaster lives on in popular memory, prompted by the famous – and famously bad – poem of that title by William Topaz McGonagall (1825-1902), frequently slated as the author of the worst poetry in the English language.
For nearly ninety years after the building of the first Tay Bridge, foot passengers and vehicles crossed between Dundee and Newport-on-Tay by means of the Dundee Ferry. In the 1960s, it was finally agreed that traffic volume was sufficient to justify building a road bridge across the Firth. It was opened on August 1st 1966. Originally, tolls were charged but this practice ceased in 2008 when all bridges in Scotland were made toll-free. Though much shorter than the rail bridge, at nearly one and a half miles in length, this is one of the longest of Europe’s road bridges.
We went for a stroll around the town, which has a very pleasant aspect and a number of fine and historic buildings. Among these, as to be expected, appears a collection of churches. Pictured above is the Church of Scotland’s Dundee Parish Church, known also as St Mary’s. Its present incarnation is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1870s when Gothic Revival was in vogue. The church, however, is remarkable for having risen no less than three times from the flames. A church was first built here in the late 12th century but was burnt down in the early 1300s by invading English. This happened again in 1547. Finally, the church burnt again – though this time the English were not to blame – in 1841.
The square tower at the back of St Mary’s church, known as the Old Steeple, dates back to the 1480s.
In front of the church is the town cross, or the original shaft, at least. This one was erected in 1586 to replace an earlier one. I don’t know when the figure on the top was added or why. It is not the heraldic beast of Dundee, as far as I know. The beasts on the coat of arms are dragons. (But see Update below.)
We paused to admire this building with the unusual curved stairs leading to the entrance and the pointy spire. No prizes for guessing that this was also designed by George Gilbert Scott in his favourite Gothic Revival style. It is the McManus Art Gallery and Museum and it opened in 1867 as the Albert Institute. I’d have liked to take a look inside but we didn’t have time on this trip.
Queen Victoria was particularly fond of Scotland and made many visits to the country. Here, she is memorialized in bronze for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. She looks very serious, even careworn perhaps, and this representation differs from the usual poker-faced expression.
A happier representation is this bronze of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet (possibly excepting William McGonagall).
If your taste runs to burial grounds – and some are both beautiful and historically interesting – you can take a look at the Howff. It was part of the grounds of a Greyfriars monastery until this was closed down and its possessions seized by Henry VIII in 1547. In 1564, it was given to the town by Mary Queen of Scots as a burial ground and contains many ancient gravestones. It was closed to burials in 1857. The word howff apparently means a meeting place, and the burial ground did for a while serve as a meeting place for Dundee’s Incorporated Trades.
We now went off to look for the shops and in Murraygate found what we were hoping for: in Murraygate we found Marks & Spencer’s and bought a picnic lunch for the next stage of our exploration. For this we went to the bus station and caught a bus that took us over the road bridge.
We got off the bus at the first stop after the bridge. This was at a place called the Tay Bridge Roundabout. Yes, it’s a car park, among other things, but it has toilets, a small shop and quite a lot of grass. When the sun shines, it’s quite a pleasant spot for a picnic. It ought to have a name but as far as I can see, it doesn’t have one.
There are also some art works which add interest to the place even if they are somewhat unprepossessing. This one is by Shaeron Avebuch and is labelled “Distant Perspectives – Perspective Distances”, an all too typical example of modern art meaningless gobbledygook.
One of the pleasures of this spot is the views over the Tay. Seen from this angle, the road bridge is impressive. Built on arches, it has no superstructure to block the sight lines.
On a piece of waste ground near the bridge, thistles were growing and bumblebees were busily at work harvesting pollen. I had to try to photograph them, of course. Above are a couple of my attempts. Bumblebees are among my favourite insects with their smart black and yellow fleecy costume. If you persuade a bumblebee onto your finger, you can gently stroke her fluffy back. I remember as a child thinking of trying this and the thrill when I succeeded.
We caught a bus back across the bridge and made our way to the station for the next part of our outing. My last Dundee photo was of this pillar box with the royal cypher of Queen Victoria. Victoria chose not to include a reign number in her cypher and the boxes set up during her reign are marked simply “VR”. The present queen, however, did choose to include the reign number in her cypher, a fact which caused controversy in Scotland where it was argued that she was the first Elizabeth, not the second. Posting boxes bearing the “EIIR” cypher were vandalized and even blown up. However, consider the posting box below.
This is an Edward VII wall posting box. At first sight you notice only the letters ‘E’ and ‘R’, separated by a crown but a closer look reveals the numeral ‘VII’ tucked under the crown. When Edward first ascended the throne, he chose a rather more florid cypher (for example, see here) but later used a plainer version. The numeral is usually much more prominent on boxes in England and I wonder whether there was a deliberate policy of “de-emphasising” the reign number in Scotland. So far, I have not found an answer to that question.
At the station, we boarded a Glasgow train but disembarked in Perth. We made a circuit of Perth, viewing whatever we encountered. Possibly we missed as much or more than we actually saw. I can just show you a few of the curiosities met along the way. Such as the Grant Miller Memorial Hall, a late 18th century building bearing a plaque informing us that it served as the Glasite Meeting House from 1839-1929. I was intrigued by this because I had never heard of the Glasites. Apparently, they were a dissenting Christian sect formed in 1730, who set up meeting houses in several towns in Scotland and London, and even spread to the US, where they were known as Sandemanians. The sect appears to have died out, in England at least. Should you wish to know for there is a Wikipedia article on the subject.
Feeling in need of refreshment, we made an early stop at this pretty and friendly tea room. Given the variety of tea customs around the world and through the centuries, I am not sure what a “traditional” tea room is. Perhaps, though, we understand intuitively what it means, while the floral patterned tea cups and silver tea pot help to set the scene.
Perth charms with its 18th and 19th-century buildings and intrigues with its public art. This sculpture is by David Annand and is entitled “Nae day sae dark” after a poem of the same title by the Perth-born poet William Soutar (1898-1946).
Not far away is another piece, the figure of a woman sitting on one of the public benches. I could find nothing to identify the sculptor. Though I don’t think this is a particularly brilliant example of the genre, I quite like art works of this kind that fit in with the environment and become one with it. You could sit quite comfortably on the bench beside this sculpture.
This striking colonnaded building was built in 1822-4 in honour of Thomas Hay Marshall, Lord Provost of Perth, as a museum for the Literary and Antiquarian Society. Roll forward 106 years, and the then Lord Provost lays the foundation stone of the Museum and Art Gallery, adjoining and including the Marshall Monument with it in a seamless whole. It opens to the public in 1935.
Perth stands on the Tay (Tatha, in Gaelic), Scotland’s longest river, that runs from here to meet Dundee in the Firth of Tay. The river adds beauty, character and amenity to the town – we saw someone water-skiing here.
The old water works was built in 1830-2 in order to provide the first supplies of plumbed water to houses in Perth and was to remain in use for 133 years until the water works moved to new premises in 1965. After a spell as the Perth Tourist Centre, the building again fell into disuse. In 1991, the Trustees of the J.D. Fergusson Art Foundation gifted the largest collection of paintings by this important Scottish artist to Perth and Kinross District Council. The Old Water Works was refurbished as a gallery for the collection and opened in its new role in 1992. John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) was an important member of the Scottish Colourists School of painters.
We had made a complete circuit of Perth, following a big circle around and through it, and were now in Marshall Place, heading towards the station. My feet and legs were telling me that we had clocked up a good few miles, quite apart from our tour of Dundee earlier in the day.
Arriving at the station, we soon had a train for Glasgow and found two facing seats at a window so we could watch the countryside roll past and the light gradually change. Despite the dull start, the day had become warm and sunny as though the absent summer were paying a visit. This enabled us to explore Dundee and Perth and see something of what they have to offer to the visitor. All being well, we shall return again.
Update Oct 2nd 2012
Above I wrote that I did not know why the town cross was topped with a unicorn. Tigger has pointed out that the unicorn is in fact a heraldic beast representing Scotland.
Friday, August 3rd 2012
Today completes our first week in Glasgow, something that is hard to believe because I still feel as though I have only just arrived.
We are going out, as usual, and the weather is so-so: banks of clouds slide endlessly across the sky, alternating dull periods with sunny intervals. At least there is no sign of rain so far. We bought all-day bus tickets at £4.50 each and then boarded a number 57 for Shawlands, home of the Burrell Collection. We have been looking forward to visiting this famous exhibition.
The bus driver helpfully indicated the stop where we should disembark at the Pollok Estate. It is here that the Burrell Collection is housed. The estate is huge, and comprises a number of sites. If you are on foot as, we were, there is a lot of walking to do to reach the Collection, especially as the signage is not all that clear.
There were things to see and admire along the way, such as this gate and gatekeeper’s lodge with the date MDCCCXCI (1891) inscribed on the chimney.
We arrived at 9:45 and there was bad news: on Friday and Sunday, doors open at 11 am, not 10 am.
While waiting, we explored the area and found, among other things, an old lion-head drinking fountain, though I suspect it was erected more for its decorative qualities than for practical use.
There was a herd of highland cattle. These are attractive creatures which still retain a quality of wildness bout them.
Both bulls and cows have shaggy coats and long curved horns. One wonders how they can see with all the hair over their eyes.
Opening time arrives. By now a crowd has gathered and as the big wooden doors creak open, we all swarm in. Admission is free and photography is permitted.
The building that now houses the Collection (donated to Glasgow by William Burrell in 1944) was built in 1983 as an exhibition hall. It is light and airy and modern in style but incorporates some ancient features. By now we were wanting refreshments and our first port of call was the cafe.
The Burrell Collection contains a bewildering array of different types of objects, as befits the idiosyncratic collection of a man who buys what interests him. I can do no more than show a selection which will be partial and fall short of giving an impression of the whole. Above is one of several pieces of fine stained glass collected from churches.
There are complete room settings such as the above, simply labelled “16th and 17th century room”, with period furniture and portraits.
In contrast, there are small decorative items, like this painted earthenware pigeon from Syria, made sometime in the 13th or 14th centuries.
Then there are items of furniture, such as the above bedstead, made around 1620, and carved with decorative motifs and a coat of arms on the head board. It is not known known who the original owner was but the coat of arms suggests a connection with the royal court.
Who were the fortunate people who warmed themselves at this mid-16th-century fireplace that is thought to have come from the destroyed Tudor palace of Oatlands in Surrey? It is beautifully carved, a handsome piece of work.
One should not forget to look up, either, as here is a 15th-century ceiling. During the 19th century, this ceiling, really a section from a greater whole, was installed in a coffee shop in Bridgwater, Somerset, but it is thought that it would originally have belonged in a church.
In affluent homes, living rooms were decorated with fine wall hangings and this example, made in the late 17th or early 18th centuries in Beauvais (France), shows a seaport as backing for a design featuring trees, birds and shells. The whole is surrounded by a rich border. This would be one of a set produced in his Beauvais factory by Philippe Behagle.
Many of the exhibits take us beyond the domestic setting and the above is just one of a number of gateways and portals in the collection. The 12th-century example was originally part of the west façade of the church at Montron, near Château-Thierry in north-east France.
Every self-respecting collector must, of course, have items from the world’s first civilization, Ancient Egypt. The Burrell Collection includes several and this one is a head of the goddess Sekhmet from the temple of Mut at Karnak. It dates from the reign of the 18th-dynasty Pharaoh Amenophis III, 1404-1363 BC. I like the way the Egyptian artist has captured a lifelike impression of the animal despite casting it in the conventional form.
On this side, the garden, in the form of rough wooded ground, comes right to the big windows. When you suddenly catch sight of it, raising your eyes from the exhibits, the effect is dramatic or, at least, I found it so. It was as though the garden was part of the collection.
It is important, I think, to remember that the Burrell Collection is exactly that, a collection made by one man according to his personal interests, not a museum that tries to gather a representative selection to give a complete view of a subject, a place or an era. Moreover, the collection changed as Burrell bought new objects and sold old ones to pay for them. There is therefore a certain quirkiness to the ensemble which either intrigues or irritates.
I have to say that we felt a little disappointed by our visit. Perhaps the Collection’s reputation had raised our expectations too high. The arrangement of the exhibition also had a part to play in this. There are galleries here, there and everywhere but no obvious path through them. It’s easy to miss things or find yourself revisiting a gallery already seen.
We left the Burrell Collection around 1 pm and walked to the main road. Unfortunately, as we were taking the 800m walk, it began to rain heavily. We sheltered for a while under some trees but eventually reached the bus stop. I photographed this impressive building which turns out to be Pollokshaw Burgh Hall, built in the late 1880s on land donated by Sir John Maxwell in 1887. It was designed by Henry Edward Clifford in 17th century Scottish Renaissance style to serve as a resource for the community, a role it still plays.
We returned to Glasgow, to find that the rain seemed to have set in for the day. For a late lunch, we bought sandwiches and soup and took them back to our hotel room. Not wanting to waste the rest of the day, we went out once more, braving the wet conditions.
We found that the Duke of Wellington’s statue in front of GoMA was once more wearing a traffic cone on his head. (For comparison, see this previous photo taken on July 28th and the comments beneath it.) The “tradition” of placing a traffic cone on the Duke’s head has existed only from the 1980s but is now deeply ingrained, so that even though both the city council and the Strathclyde Police have warned against it (because of the danger of accident to people and of damage to the iconic sculpture) people continue to insist on doing it. It doesn’t help that businesses and travel guides exalt the practice for their own purposes.
We decided in view of the weather to go for a bus ride. Choosing more or less at random, we boarded a bus for Dumbarton but got out when we felt we had travelled far enough, and returned to Glasgow.
We did go for a little ramble around town but the best of the day was behind us and the weather not conducive. We spent some time looking for a place where we could have a consolatory supper. Eventually, we happened upon a venue with the promising name of Thali.
We discovered that this Indian restaurant was unusual in that it ran karaoke on certain evenings. Fortunately, we were able to order, eat, pay and escape before the singing began.
This restaurant offers you a “basic thali” (vegetarian or non-vegetarian), and you complete it by choosing up to four curry dishes, though they warn you, with disarming honesty, that two will probably be enough. It turned out that the advice was correct and we enjoyed a very good meal.
Saturday, August 4th 2012
After breakfast we made our way through streets still quiet from what we might call the “Saturday effect”, to Queen Street station. This too was quieter than we usually find it, in the absence of the weekday commuters.
We bought day return tickets to Edinburgh because, even though we have already been to Edinburgh on this trip, there remain some galleries there that we would like to visit.
Arriving in Edinburgh we made first for the Scottish National Gallery. Coming from Waverly station, it is on the other side of the eastern section of Princes Street Gardens and so we walked there along the perimeter path. This is a pleasant walk, especially when there are fewer people about.
Somewhat confusingly at first sight, the Scottish National Gallery is a member of a group with the general name of National Galleries of Scotland. With that ambiguity out of the way, the fun can begin! The SNG was holding an exhibition entitled From Van Gogh to Kandinsky, Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910. In collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam) and the Ateneum Museum (Helsinki), the SNG was proposing what it billed as “the first ever exhibition dedicated to Symbolist landscape painting”.
While admission to all of the galleries is free, there is an admission charge for some special exhibitions. There was a charge for this one but our National Art Pass cards reduced this to half price. Familiar story: photography is not allowed anywhere in the gallery, so I cannot show you any inside views and will make do with the above exterior view.
Our next exhibition was at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and there is a free bus service on the hour to take you there from the SNG. By now the weather had brightened and the sun was shining so the bus ride enabled us to do some sightseeing in comfort. On arrival at the SNGoMA, we were subjected to a bag search. We have experienced bag searches at other museums and galleries but none as minute as this. They even went through our handbags, apparently in search of sharp objects. Has someone been attacking the art works, I wonder?
The neon lettering you can see above the door in the photo is an art work. It is by Martin Creed and is entitled Work No 975 EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT (2008). Apart from the dodgy spelling (when will our schools start teaching grammar and spelling again?), isn’t neon lettering as art rather passé by now? (Especially when it comprises trite sayings like this.)
There are other art works in the grounds, which is fortunate because I can show you pictures of them whereas photography is banned inside the building. The biggest piece is the above chunk of landscaping. You can get an impression of the size from the man walking across it. I rather like it, though I am not sure whether it comes under the heading of “art” or “gardening” or both.
We had come hoping to see a special exhibition, Edvard Munch, Graphic Works from the Gundersen Collection, but this turned out to be in another building, called Modern Two (in contrast to Modern One, where we started), fortunately a only short walk away, through pleasant parkland and there was the fun of coming across works of art dotted about under the trees.
Here there was no bag search at all. Photography is not allowed there, either, so I will again show you art works and other sights seen along the way. The sculpture you see in the above view, yet another Virgin and Child, nonetheless has an interesting twist to it.
This piece is quite famous or, rather, the 6-metre high stone carving that stands on a hill near Niederbruck in Alsace (France), of which this is an intermediary model, is famous. The Virgin of Alsace has, to me, a rather wild look about her eyes, and is dressed in medieval Gothic style, something the sculpture liked. The figures are modelled from his wife and daughter. A female Christ child makes a rather nice change, don’t you think?
If “Reclining Figure” shouts “Henry Moore!” at you, then this figure lurking under the trees, and showing Newton measuring out the universe (rather like Blake’s similar picture of God), shouts “Paolozzi!”. The Scottish-Italian sculptor was born in Edinburgh and donated many of his works and other possessions to the Scottish National Galleries. I do not know anything about this piece other than its date and wonder whether it was a model for the larger sculpture that presides over the courtyard of the British Library at St Pancras.
After visiting the Munch exhibition (photos not allowed – did you guess?), we went out of the gallery parkland onto Belford Road. Here there is a bridge offering pretty views of the River Leith, the river that runs through the heart of Edinburgh. We now walked back to Modern One, to have a final look around, inside and out, while waiting for the next free bus service back to the SNG.
At the entrance to the park of Modern One, we find this iron man, sinking or buried up to his chest in the tarmac. I don’t need to tell you it is by Anthony “Angel of the North” Gormley. Its proclaims its provenance loudly enough. You can tell by the discoloration that it is much handled by passers-by and sat upon by small children. Gormley does have the knack of making figures that quickly become popular and much loved and are integrated into the community. This figure is in fact the first of six. I didn’t see the other five which are apparently beside, or possibly in, the River Leith.
On our return to SNGoMA, we had another bag search and, this time, my folding scissors were confiscated, though they had not been taken the first time. Why one gallery out of three belonging to the same organization is alone in making draconian bag searches, I do not know, and an explanation would be welcome.
The free bus took us back to SNG and from there we went to M&S and bought a take-away late lunch which we ate sitting on a bench in Princes Street Gardens. Later we did think of paying a visit to the National Museum of Scotland but decided that as it was already 4 pm we wouldn’t have time to do it justice, so left it for another time. Instead, we made our way to Waverley Station where a train was about to depart for Glasgow. The train brought us into Glasgow Central instead of Queen Street, as is more usual. Before continuing we stopped off for coffee at Bonaparte’s cafe bar on the upper level.
When we tried to leave the station, we found a thunder storm in progress, accompanied by a downpour so heavy that water was running in rivers down the streets, the drains being unable to cope. Bravely, we put on our rain jackets and set out. We decided not to risk coming out later for a meal and bought food from Tesco to eat in the hotel room. There we could shuck off our wet clothes and relax.
Despite the wet end to the day, I had enjoyed our expedition. Even though we had spent another day in Edinburgh, we had seen a completely different set of exhibitions. The art was interesting and I now have a better knowledge of Munch than before – a kind of progress, no doubt.
Sunday, August 5th 2012
As we set out this morning, I was amused to look up a side street and see what appeared to be a giant woman about to pick up the unsuspecting man sitting on a beer barrel and reading his newspaper!
We were heading for the market area called the Barras, whose name, I’m told, derives from “barrows”. It took us a while to get there because there were plenty of distractions along the way. For example, I was intrigued by these figures over a doorway. The male figure, with his trident, looks as though he might be Neptune, but I am less sure of the female figure. Was this once the office of a shipping company?
In Trongate, the tall clock tower belonging the old Tolbooth is always an impressive sight. See also here.
By the time we reached The Barras, they were just opening up and getting ready for day’s trade. It was a busy scene with people unloading vans and fetching stuff from storage areas. (There are two Web sites dedicated to the Barras, here and here.)
“Barrowland” is extensive and consists of both permanent buildings, displaying the names of the firms accommodated within, and open-air stalls.
As we went about taking photos, people didn’t seem to mind.
In fact, some invited the attention of the camera by striking poses! (His two companions look a little embarrassed.)
Here too is the Barrowland Ballroom. In the cold light of morning, it looks a little dull but I am sure it comes alive at night.
There was a large pigeon population here, making the most of the abundance of food. Whether people put out food for them on purpose or simply left unwanted stock lying around, there was plenty for them to eat.
I was intrigued by this narrow building which seemed hardly big enough for running a business. It claims to be the oldest “chippie” in Glasgow, established 1884, and I see no reason to doubt it.
We stopped for tea in Guido’s Coronation Restaurant under a railway bridge. The staff all speak broad Glaswegian but photos on the wall, mixed in with film stars, suggest the family came from Italy in the 1930s.
This area, the East End, is somewhat mixed, compared with the city centre. There are once fine old buildings, modern blocks, vacant lots and derelict sites. There is a general area of neglect and of life having moved elsewhere.
A case in point is The Square. The Church of St Andrew was built in the mid-18th century by Allan Dreghorn and Mungo Naismith (completion date 1756) who consciously based its design on St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. A square of fine houses soon grew up around it and the district became that of the “Tobacco Lords”, merchants who had become wealthy in the tobacco trade. Times changed, however, and the focus of activity moved west to the present city centre, leaving this district to stagnation and decline. The church became derelict. The building was restored in the year 2000 to become a Centre for Scottish Culture, complete with a basement restaurant.
At number 54 is the old Police Headquarters and Court. Built in 1903 by A.B. McDonald and bearing the motto “Let Glasgow Flourish”, it is a listed building (Category B) but is boarded up. Its position on the Buildings at Risk Register shows that its future is in doubt. Unfortunately, many other similar examples can be found.
We moved back towards the city centre but the tobacco theme followed us because in Miller Street, in the Merchant City district of Glasgow, we found this pretty little 18th century house, built for a tobacco merchant. It was very nearly lost, being taken over by the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust when the interior was already in ruins. It was restored to its present pleasing and useful condition in 1995.
As we were photographing the Tobacco Merchant’s House, it started to rain. Happily, we found a newly opened restaurant nearby, where we decided to have lunch and wait to see whether the weather would clear. Called Brutti Compadres, it serves Hispano-Italian tapas. That may sound strange but we enjoyed our meal, nonetheless.
When we emerged from the tapas bar, the rain, far from easing off, became heavier. The skies opened as they had done last night and a downpour ensued. We sheltered for a while in a doorway but when it showed no sign of easing, we hopped from doorway and arcade to doorway and arcade until we reached GoMA. The rainfall was so intense that flowing streams appeared on the pavements and running down the roads. The drains could not cope with so much water.
We reached GoMA but the rain was still so intense that we waited for a while in an arcade on an opposite corner, getting ourselves ready for a final dash into the gallery. In the above photo you can see the streaks of the falling rain.
Down in the basement of GoMA is a library cum cafe cum lounge where you can sit and read, sit and look around or just sit. We spent some time there until the rain showed signs of abating and then bravely set out for the Tenement House in Buccleugh Street.
A four-room flat in a tenement building is now owned by the NT for Scotland and can be visited. It has been restored to how it would have been before electricity was installed in the 1960s.
South of the border, the opinion prevails that the tenements were slums for the poorest people who lived there in misery. This is not correct. The tenements were in fact the favoured housing pattern for ordinary people from the poor up to the reasonably affluent. A tenement building usually has two or three storeys and is divided into several dwellings which range in size from one room to several, according to the means of the occupants. At the lower end, facilities such as baths and toilets might have been shared but at the upper end, a flat would contain all the facilities required for a comfortable life. There was no shame attached to living in the tenements.
The flat that is open to the public was occupied by a Miss Agnes Toward (pronounced to rhyme with “Howard”), initially with her mother and then on her own, from 1911 to 1965. About the time she moved in, Miss Toward trained to be a typist – a very new profession and one at that time dominated by men – and therefore made a good living. Her mother did bespoke sewing, and plates advertising her trade are still in place. The apartment contains a large entrance hall, a sizeable bedroom, a good kitchen, a bathroom with flush WC, and a fine sitting room. Beside the fireplace in the latter room there is a lever that rings a bell in the kitchen in order to summon the maid, supposing one were employed. Altogether, this apartment belongs to the posher end of the market and apart from the gas lighting and obsolete appliances like the kitchen range, would satisfy many people today.
In the kitchen and in the sitting room, there are alcove beds. The house was finally converted to electricity in the 1960s but has been converted back to gas. The decor and furnishings are either those used by Miss Toward, reproductions of her originals, or items similar to those she would have used. Altogether, the flat feels lived in and gives a good impression of tenement life in the earlier 20th century. It is unfortunate that photography is not allowed, as I would have liked to show some pictures of the interior.
At one point, Glasgow started demolishing the tenements and replacing them with blocks of flats as was done elsewhere in the UK. The result was disruption of community, dissatisfaction on the part of tenants and a move back to the tenements. Belatedly, the council got the message, and set about refurbishing the tenements to bring them up to modern standards, typically combining two or three old small flats into one new one complete with all facilities.
When we re-emerged, it was still raining, though not as heavily as when we sought refuge in GoMA. We decided to do as yesterday and walk home, stopping at Tesco to buy food for supper to be consumed in our hotel room.
Update April 8th 2013
When I wrote this post, I had no idea what the “Strange little building” pictured above was or had been. I was therefore very happy to receive an email today from Martin McCarthy giving the following details:
In case you never found out more about that wee “strange little building”. The bust on the top is Beethoven. It’s a long, thin building that reaches down to Sauchiehall Street with a pipe-playing sculpture on top and more statues either side of the door. It was built by a Victorian piano salesman as a showroom – hence Beethoven, of course. It was converted to a cinema just before WW1 and was still operating as a cinema into the 80s.
My thanks to Martin whose site, Ancient Scotland, is worth viewing.
Monday, August 6th 2012
Today’s weather forecast is for rain all day but at breakfast time it was still dry. We packed our raincoats and set off, hoping for the best.
Today’s plan is to follow the route laid out in a map called SubCrawl (“A Cross-Section of the City for the Price of a Pint”), which uses the Glasgow Subway to travel to various parts of the city and explore from from these points. It was created, I believe, by the New Glasgow Society and Dress for the Weather, and is a very welcome addition to the literature on exploring Glasgow.
What strikes me about the Glasgow Subway is how small it is – though I am of course instinctively comparing it with the London Underground. The trains are small and the tunnels into which they plunge seem tiny. Most of the stations have an island platform with tracks either side, and that, together with their small size, makes the Londoner, used to crowded platforms, feel vaguely uncomfortable. The other thing that strikes me is how few people there are, even during what ought to be the rush hour.
The Subway somehow acquired the nickname “The Clockwork Orange” (orange is the colour of the company’s livery), but no one now seems sure how this came about and there are rival theories (see Wikipedia’s Glasgow Subway, under Nicknames).
The subway runs in a roughly circular loop. The track is double, allowing trains to run in both directions. As trains run on the left, the clockwise track is called the Outer Circle and the anticlockwise, the Inner Circle. The map displayed on the wall is simple too. It shows a vertical line with about six stations marked on it, the top one being named “This station”.
We walked to St Enoch subway station and started from there, hopping a station at a time and sometimes walking through the streets to the next station. Our first stop was at Bridge Street, south of the river. Like this one, many Subway stations are half-hidden behind, inside or under other buildings. This is no doubt because the system was added to an already built-up area, whereas London’s classic Underground stations, particularly those in the suburbs, were built on open ground and could be designed to impress.
Our longest stay was at Govan, once known throughout the world as an important centre for ship building. Many, though by no means all, of the monuments and important buildings of Govan have a connection with ship building and the men who founded the shipyards. That is not surprising, given that it was the wealth accrued from this industry that enabled many of the prominent citizens to make their gifts to the community.
We visited the Pearce Institute, gifted to Govan in 1906 by Lady Pearce, wife of Sir William Pearce who owned the Fairfields Shipyard and was Govan’s first MP. The building now serves as a venue for entertainments, conferences, exhibitions and all sorts of activities. There is a rather folksy cafe where we had a cup of tea. If you want to use the toilet, you have to borrow the key, attached to a large wooden peg.
Like much of Glasgow away from the city centre, Govan displays a mixture of the new, the old and the derelict. Of course, times change and once thriving industries die and it takes time either to assign their buildings to new purposes or to redevelop their sites. Another way of looking at this is to see such communities as continually evolving organisms in which today’s abandoned appendages will spring back to life with new purpose tomorrow. That will certainly be true if anything of the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of yesterday’s shipbuilders still survives.
Devotees like to call Govan Old Church the oldest place of worship in Glasgow and to say that its history goes back to Celtic times. A look at the attached burial ground convinced me that it is quite old (though exactly how old, I can’t hazard a guess) but the present building, which is no longer used for regular Sunday services, was built in 1888. It is, however, listed as a building of architectural and historic interest.
Compare the Victorian church with this modern block. It would be hard to imagine a greater contrast without venturing into the realm of the absurd (which much modern architecture does, of course…). The colourful projecting windows brighten up the façade and the street.
The above picture appears on a wall in a residential area. I couldn’t find the name of the artist or any other details. It is a lively piece of work and naturalistic to the point were you feel you know the subjects. This is one artist who hasn’t lost touch with reality and the community.
I stopped to watch some starlings exploring the rubbish on this bin. At first there was peace and harmony and then, suddenly, a fight broke out. It was quickly over and I don’t think anyone was hurt.
Once busy buildings are boarded up and silent. Their lavish style and decor shows that their owners had money to spend and spent it willingly on making a proud show. Now all that has gone. However, I did see hard hats and hi-vis jackets behind some of the shuttered windows and the hope is that these buildings can be preserved and find news uses.
Elder Park was gifted to the people of Govan for their healthful recreation in 1885 by Mrs Isabella Elder in memory of her husband John Elder, a partner in an engineering firm that eventually took over Govan’s Fairfield shipbuilding yard.
A statue of John Elder, by sculptor Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, stands inside the park. He is holding a compound engine, a type of steam engine that played an important role in the shipyards.
Mrs Elder was obviously concerned about the intellectual welfare of her community as she included a handsome little library in the park. I am glad to be able to say that it is still fulfilling its original purpose as a part of Glasgow’s Community Library Network.
And how about this elaborate and colourful drinking fountain, erected in 1884 to the memory of Dr John Aitken by the people whose health he cared for? It is of cast iron and was made by the foundry of Cruikshanks & Co Ltd, Stirlingshire, though the artist who designed it is unknown. The cherub, known popularly as the “Govan Baby” disappeared two decades ago when the fountain fell into disrepair. It was found and replaced as part of a £32,000 restoration project. The fountain is a famous and well loved feature of Govan.
Our intention was to cross the Clyde by ferry and visit the Riverside Museum. In front of the museum is moored the tall ship Glenlee. She was built at Govan as a cargo carrier and was launched in 1896. After years of work she was bought by the Spanish navy to use as a training ship. In 1990, she was discovered, virtually derelict, in Seville and the Clyde Maritime Trust was able to buy her and bring her home to be restored. You can find more details here.
As we just missed the noon ferry and the next would be at 1:30, we betook ourselves Gaynor’s Cafe near the shopping centre to have lunch. While we were eating, the rain finally caught up with us. It was another downpour that soon had the streets running like rivers. It cleared the streets and chased everyone under cover, if only into doorways. We too sheltered for a while in a shop doorway, hoping that the rain would stop and then made a dash for the shopping centre. Water was dripping from the ceiling in places even in there. In view of the conditions, we gave up on the ferry and the museum, at least for today.
We made a further dash to the subway station and boarded a train with no immediate plans of getting off again. We hoped to wait out the rain storm down there and to that end sat on the subway for two complete circuits and then disembarked at St Enoch. Here, the old subway station building is occupied by a Caffè Nero, so we went there for coffee and to dry off a bit more. When the rain had reduced to mere spitting, we returned to the hotel. Ironically, by the time we arrived there, the sun was shining. On the way, I saw that the newspaper boards were reporting that there had been floods after “the deluge”.
We stayed in our hotel room dozing and surfing the Web (thanks to the hotel’s free WiFi) until about 6 pm. At that point we felt like going out to eat to make up for the disappointments of the day. In the end we settled on an Italian restaurant called La Lanterna in nearby Hope Street. As it turned out, the food was good and not overly expensive.
As it was for once not raining, we went for a walk, catching some views lit by evening sun (yes, actual sun!), before returning to the hotel for the night.
Tuesday, August 7th 2012
The weather forecast shows clouds until this afternoon, sun thereafter, and no rain at all today. A glance through the window, however, shows sunshine. The weather forecast, it seems, is unreliable, but, then, we knew that. As usual we shall go hopeful of fine weather but prepared for the worst. Before that, however, we must face the breakfast scramble at which many guests try to use two coffee machines and two slow toasters all at the same time.
Breakfast successfully scrambled for, we faced the novelty of sunlit streets. At Glasgow Central station we bought tickets to Balloch, which is reputed to be worth a visit. This requires us to descend to platform 17 at the lower level and swim against the tide of commuters arriving in Glasgow for the day’s work.
We have to change trains at Partick (Partaig, in Gaelic). As is increasingly common, many station names are given in both English and Gaelic versions. Two others noted en route are Kilpatrick – Cill Phàdraig – and Dalreoch – An Dail Riabhach.
Balloch (Bealach, in Gaelic) is a small town at the southern end of Loch Lomond. This spectacularly beautiful stretch of water, surrounded by green countryside and hills, naturally draws visitors to itself like flies to a honey pot. On a sunny day like today, the combination of sunshine, blue skies, greenery and sparkling water reflecting sky and land leaves an enduring memory.
A few steps from the station is the landing stage where there are cruise ships that take passengers on tours of Loch Lomond. We noted this for future reference and then embarked on a walk along the edge of the Loch.
We soon spotted another form of transport for exploring the area, motor tricycles run by Trike Tours Scotland. I have to say we were not in the least tempted and preferred to continue on foot.
There is a pleasant walk beside the loch with both tree-lined paths and more open areas with grass and picnic tables.
It is beside the water that the true beauty of this landscape is discovered. The distant hills shimmer and the water reflects the huge overarching sky. The above picture has no caption as words cannot add to the beauty of the scene, only detract from it.
The water of the loch is crystal clear.
Our walk brought us to the Duncan Mills Memorial Slipway where there is a leisure centre and a steamship.
Steamships began to ply the waters of the Loch in 1818. Scott’s novels were causing a new interest in Scotland and swelling the tourist trade. David Napier, a marine engineer on the Clyde, had built a steam yacht called Marion for the use of himself and his family but, seeing the potential offered by the influx of visitors, moved it to Loch Lomond and organized tours with it. A series of ships followed and continued to operate successfully, carrying passengers and livestock, throughout the Victorian era into the 20th century. The Maid of the Loch entered service in 1953 but never saw the same success as her predecessors and was taken out of service and more or less left to rot in 1982. Now plans are in hand to refurbish her and for her to sail again once she is safely capable of doing so. We went aboard for a cup of tea in her small cafe.
We turned back towards the quay and decided that a boat trip would be a good way to see more of the loch.
At the mooring was the Silver Marlin, one of four boats run by Sweeney’s Cruises, motto “Experience Loch Lomond”. The company is proud of the fact that it was aboard the Silver Marlin that Donald Dewar, Scotland’s first First Minister following devolution, announced that the Trossachs and Loch Lomond would form Scotland’s first national park.
As the cruise ship sails into the main part of the loch, you begin to gain a sense of its size. In the above photo, the hills are deliciously hazed with distance and the nearest land seems to have a dreamy, mythical quality to it. The truth is that one is saturated with beauty and every angle, every direction, reveals a scene you want to capture.
There is a spoken commentary on the boat and this points out the interesting and historical features of the loch and its setting. The building glimpsed in the above photo is Rossdhu House. It dates from the 18th century when it was built as the residence of the chief of the Colquhoun clan. In 1994, the Colquhouns leased it on a hundred-year lease to the Loch Lomond Golf Club. I wonder whether the club will still be operating in 2094.
We also got a sight of Balloch Castle, once a private residence but today a centre to be visited. It was built in 1808 for John Buchanan of Ardoch, a partner in the Glasgow Ship Bank. Although called a castle, it was never intended to withstand siege or attack, unlike the earlier castle, built in 1238 by the Earl of Lennox, whose family owned much of the area. Built as a fortress, this original castle was lived in until about 1390 when it was abandoned for safer premises. All that remains of it today is a mound and a dip indicating the location of the moat. The present house was built using stone from the medieval castle.
After our cruise, we had a little look around Balloch and then had lunch in a pub called Balloch House. The above is a view along the River Leven which runs from Loch Lomond down to the River Clyde.
We took the train again but got out at Dumbarton Central (Dùn Breatann Meadhain, in Gaelic) and set out to explore the town.
It was not long before we discovered the Municipal Building, an Edwardian jewel set in a green garden. Opened in 1903, it must have been in the process of building when the new King came to the throne.
In front of the building is a statue of Peter Denny LL.D. (1821-95) who was an engineer and shipbuilder. Dumbarton stands at the mouth of the Leven where it enters the Clyde. Shipbuilding, as this monument reminds us, was once an important industry.
While we were taking photos, we were spotted by a member of staff, herself an enthusiast of the building. She invited us in and gave us a tour. The stained glass windows are beautiful and add colour and interest to the whole.
Above is a closer view of the centre window shown in the preceding photo. It depicts two allegorical figures, Truth, in the blue dress, and Justice, wearing the traditional blindfold. There are two heraldic symbols below, a lion rampant and and elephant with howdah, also known as the “elephant and castle”. The mottos are, respectively, Clarior hinc honos (“Henceforth forward the honour shall grow ever brighter”) and Fortitudo et Fidelitas (“Strength and Fidelity”). The elephant and its motto forms the arms of the burgh of Dumbarton.
The window also acts as a memorial. At the bottom, two metal panels read (left to right) “Provost 1862-66 Died 1901” and “John McAusland Born 1821”.
When you go into the entry hall of the Municipal Building, there is ahead of you a staircase leading up to the first floor. It is lit by a big window and this privileged position is occupied by a stained glass representation of the coronation of King Edward VII. An inscription reminds us that this occurred on August 9th 1902, the year before this new building was opened. Another date is noted – December 1903 – but I don’t know whether that is the date of opening or of installation of the window.
Below the main picture are three small ones. Can you make out what the middle one is? Note it for later.
Standing in the grounds and looking strangely isolated is this archway. This is a remnant of a 15th century church that once stood in Dumbarton, called St Mary’s Collegiate Church. A plaque tells us that the church stood on a site that is today occupied by the railway station. In 1850, the arch was moved to Church Street and in 1907 to its present position.
Continuing our exploration of the town, we came upon this view of an ancient fortress. (This is what is represented at the bottom of the coronation window.) The rocky outcrop is known as Dumbarton Rock and upon it stands Dumbarton Castle. The Rock has served as a fortress since the Iron Age or before. From the 5th to 9th centuries, the castle was the stronghold of the independent Kingdom of Strathclyde. The castle was invaded by the Vikings and its inhabitants enslaved but it resisted other challenges and had many rough adventures in Scotland’s turbulent history. It was to decline in importance only after the Cromwellian era. For more details see Wikipedia’s Dumbarton Castle.
I had seen another representation of the castle and its rock shortly before. In the boardroom of the Municipal Building hangs a picture showing the scene when Queen Victoria landed at Dumbarton Castle on August 17th 1847. The name of the artist does not appear, nor do I know the date of the picture which was gifted to the Burgh by Sir Iain Colquhoun in 1929. The artist has clearly striven to portray all the people taking part, officials of the burgh as well as the royal party. It is a little stiff and formal as a result but has a certain charm. (Sorry, not a very good photo.)
Dumbarton stands in a very favourable position at the mouth of the Leven where it runs into the Clyde. As a result, it became the principal Clyde Customs port. By the mid 19th century, however, it had lost this enviable status. How? Well, according to a notice placed beside the river, this was caused by “an aggressive Glasgow which finally extinguished its rights in 1858”. All was not lost, fortunately, as “Dumbarton later became renowned for its own whisky industry”.
Today, the river at Dumbarton shows a tranquil scene where once would have been a bustling port. Instead of trading ships, pleasure craft now sit at the moorings and Dumbarton pursues other industries.
We took to the railway again and disembarked at a station we had noticed on our way past. It is called Bowling (Bolan, in Gaelic) and is a small town on the River Clyde. Bowling has a harbour and stands at the end of the Antonine Wall, thus representing to furthest point of the Roman Empire in western Britain.
Another feature of Bowling is that it has a high pedestrian bridge over the railway line and this gives good views over the surrounding area, such as this one showing the view downriver to the Erskine Bridge.
By now, though, we felt we had seen as much as we needed to of Bowling and looked up the time of the next train. As we had a little while to wait…
…we betook ourselves to the Railway Inn and quenched our thirst with some excellent ginger beer.
The next train took us back to Glasgow where we purchased the makings of supper from M&S and dined in our room. Our feet and legs informed us that we had done a lot of walking. Not that we minded, as the walking had taken us to interesting and beautiful places and provided us with an enjoyable day out.
Wednesday, August 8th 2012
The sun is shining again today and the weather forecast is optimistic too. It may turn out that these last few days of the Glasgow trip are the halcyon days. Today we want to visit the Scotland Street School Museum, having tried to do so on Monday only to find it closed.
Getting there isn’t easy because we are north of the river and Scotland Street is in the south side. We started by taking a longish ride on a 38 bus, changing to a 90 that seemingly returned along the same route. Then we discovered that the bus didn’t take us where we wanted to go. We were now in the diametrically opposite part of town! Eventually we got off the bus at Hillhead where there is a subway station. First, though, we stopped off at Starbuck’s to drown our sorrows.
Our ride on the subway took us to Shields Road station, the nearest stop to Scotland Street School Museum. Note once again how discreet these little stations are in comparison with our London tube stations.
Scotland Street School was built between 1903 and 1906 to serve the communities living in the area. It survived as a school for some 70 years but building of the nearby motorway required the demolition of scores of tenements, reducing the local population from which pupils were recruited. This led to falling rolls and the school closed in 1979. Glasgow became European Capital of Culture in 1991 and in honour of this, Scotland Street School was refurbished and reopened as a museum.
Admission to the museum is free and photography is permitted throughout. While the museum uses Scotland Street School and its histpry for illustrative purposes, its remit extends further than the study of a single school and embraces the wider topic of education in Scotland.
The school was designed and built by Scotland’s famous and unique, if sometimes controversial, architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Included in the design are two “Scottish baronial style tower staircases”. The work came in over-budget but Mackintosh got his way. One of his priorities was to make the building light and airy and, in my opinion, he succeeded.
The staircases, strategically placed at either end of the building, provide important sources of daylight for the interior as well as being attractive features of the design.
An important element in the design of these staircases is that the stairs were deliberately separated from the outer shell. As a result, the windows can be continuous from top to bottom and their light is not obstructed anywhere. However, one of the main reasons for this was apparently the insistence of the school authorities that space be left to facilitate cleaning of the windows.
Everywhere, there are large windows whose purpose is to coax in the largest amount of daylight possible. I don’t know what purpose this room originally served but it is now part of the museum’s cafe.
The interior is finished in white tiles which are easy to clean and whose main purpose is the make the most of the incident light, thus creating a light and airy feel.
What was taught and how it was taught would have changed considerably over the 70-year lifespan of the school. Rooms would have changed their purposes as old activities were replaced with new ones. The museum seeks to preserve something of the old along with the more modern.
When the school was opened, an important subject for the girls was cookery. Just how important this was considered to be can be deduced from the size of the cookery kitchen. (Click for larger images.) The work tops are laid out for pastry-making and beside the old fashioned range stands a blackboard showing the ingredients for “fish soup” and for “Savoury meat pie with potatoes”. The ingredients are priced at 1908 prices. If you want to try adding up prices in old pence, there is an enlarged version of the blackboard here. (In the meat pie recipe, add the bracketed sums to find their non-bracketed totals, then add the totals to find the final sum. I thought at first they had got it wrong but it is in fact correct.)
In line with its remit to be a museum of schools and education, Scotland Street provides recreations of classrooms from different periods. Above we see a Victorian classroom (note the dunce’s cap) even though the school was actually designed and built in the succeeding Edwardian era.
In this classroom, the inkwells show signs of being used but there are also slots in the desk for storing pupils’ slates. The tip-up seats and their cast-iron frames (somewhat reminiscent of those built to hold sewing machines) are another feature of Victorian school furniture though, in fact, similar styles continued in use up to and beyond the Second World War. Note also the stepped flooring.
The 50s and 60s classroom could well have appeared in Scotland Street School during its working life. Although the slots for the inkwells remain (probably because desks would have been machine made to existing patterns), the inkwells themselves are absent. By now pupils would have their own pens, first “wet ink” fountain pens, later ball-points. The slates have disappeared and so, thankfully, has the humiliating dunce’s cap.
Some displays are more hands-on than others. For example, two cloakrooms, boys’ and girls’ respectively, have been supplied with slightly archaic garments, thus providing an invitation for visitors to dress up.
Tableaux, or mock-ups, add a lively note, creating scenes of school life. Above, we see the headmaster at work in his office, staring dynamically at a board with pictures on it. His costume could date from almost any post-war decade while his desk is rather old-fashioned in design. Another tableau suggests that relationships between pupils and caretaker are not always happy.
All in all, it is a very interesting museum, well worth a visit. Some aspects of school life remain constant and others change. Thus, as you walk around the museum, you are reminded of your own school days and at the same time challenged by the differences.
After the museum we took a bus to start our journey to our next destination. We had to change buses and the bus driver not only explained which bus we had to take but even got off the bus to show us the way! This was but another example of Glaswegians’ kindness and willingness to help visitors to their city.
We now found ourselves in Paisley Road West, a district that was new to us, and we were drawn to the above building (built 1885) which was named the Angel Building after the winged angel sculpture that stands on top. We also noticed that on the ground floor was an Italian restaurant called La Fiorentina. We reckoned it was near enough lunchtime by now and so went in to investigate. We found a good restaurant, staffed by friendly and charming staff, and enjoyed a tasty lunch.
Walking up the road to catch a bus and continue our journey, we encountered this very striking road bridge. Opened to traffic in 1969, it is officially called the Clyde Arc but most people known it as the “Squinty Bridge” because of the single supporting arch which crosses from one side of the bridge to the other. This, incidentally, demonstrates the habit of Glaswegians, like Dubliners, of finding often ingeniously humorous nicknames for features of their city. Who but a Glaswegian would have thought of a bridge that squints? The name is quite appropriate.
Around the corner from the Squinty Bridge was a bus stop. Eventually a bus came and took us to the Riverside Museum.
You may recall that we had wanted to come here on Monday but had been defeated at Govan by the heavy rain (see here). Finally, we have made it. This is the first glimpse we had of this fine museum, Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, looking from this angle almost like a beached whale.
Before going in, we went for a walk around the outside, which is well worth doing. You get good views of the river, as in the above photo which looks towards our previous stopping point: if you look carefully at the square building on the horizon, you will see that it half hides the arc of the Squinty Bridge. The passenger boat in the foreground is being operated as a river bus by Clyde Clippers though the boat itself, called Rover, is owned by Clyde Marine Ltd.
We had already seen the Glasgow-built Glenlee from the Govan bank of the Clyde and now had our chance of a closer look. Here she is reflected in the glass façade of the museum. If you want a more conventional view, you will find one here and more details of the ship and its history in Monday’s post.
The museum is impressive and as you enter, an almost overwhelming sight meets your eyes of vehicles of all kinds and ages packed here, there and everywhere. Cars and motorcycles are stacked on shelves as in a giant’s toy shop. Note also the perambulator perched on high like some sort of monument. (Click to see larger versions of the images.)
You very soon receive the impression that the museum is already short of space. Vehicles are packed tightly together, often without any obvious order, whether chronological or by vehicle type. Only the most exceptional items can be given more comfortable lodging. It seems to be a law of nature that all transport museums, no matter how large they are to start with, eventually run out of space.
I don’t recall ever wanting to be an engine driver but I did have toy trains, like most kids, and steam trains in particular still fascinate me. This one was made by Sharp Stewart, Glasgow, to pull heavy trains between Perth and Inverness. It was provided with an extra long boiler to provide steam for the long climbs.
There is so much to see here that it is not possible to do more than show a few samples. While I can imagine the fun to be had in riding in the 1902 Argyle Model 6 (on the left) I would prefer the comfort and luxury of the 1934 Bentley Sedanca. In fact, I can just imagine myself lounging in the back with a flask of tea…
One of my favourite types of museum display is the reconstruction of towns or streets from earlier times in our history. When these are done well, you can half-close your eyes and almost imagine that you are a time traveller. Well, just for a moment or two.
All in all, it was an interesting and instructive visit. Admission is free and, as you can tell, photography is allowed.
Back in the centre of Glasgow, we enquired for buses to Paisley, which we thought might be an interesting place to visit. A number 9 would take us there, we were told. It was now what passes for the evening rush hour in Glasgow and the bus was crowded but it conveyed as safely to our destination. At Paisley, we walked along Gauze Street, High Street and a little way along Wellmeadow Street. We did not see all of Paisley but what we did see was pleasant and, I think, worth the visit, even though we only scratched the surface.
Above you see the Abbey, now used as a church. It dates its foundation from 1163 when Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland, gave land and a charter for the founding of a Cluniac priory. In about 1245, it was upgraded to an abbey dedicated to St Mary, St James and a local saint, St Mirin. The Abbey, as well as being a religious institution and a place of learning, also became an important centre for trade on a European level. It has royal connections dating from when Marjorie Bruce, taken there after being badly injured in a riding accident and heavily pregnant, gave birth to the future Stuart king of Scotland, Robert II, dying during or after the birth (1316). Edward I burnt down the Abbey in 1307 but it was rebuilt. The monastery was disbanded in 1560 and the building suffered collapse and other damage to become virtually ruinous, but underwent restoration in the 19th and 20th centuries and in the decade from 2002.
The statue represents poet, Alexander Wilson (1766-1813). The son of a weaver, Wilson became a poet and emigrated to America where he became interested in ornithology. Like his near contemporary, John James Audubon (1785-1851), Wilson undertook the creation of a book on all American birds, writing the descriptions and painting the illustrations himself. He died while working on the 9th and final volume.
I was rather struck by the unusual figures on top of the old War Memorial. (I refer to it as the “old” one because a new memorial to those fallen in combat in more recent times has recently been unveiled.) Together with Great War style soldiers, whose demeanour expresses the misery of the conditions the war, there is a medieval knight in full armour mounted upon his charger, counterbalancing with his doughty vigour the languor of the soldiers.
Our thoughts were turning to supper when we had the good fortune to discover Allan’s Snack Bar. This popular and well run establishment is a 3rd-generation business with unusually fine decor in both the front seating area and the “Wee Room” at the back.
We went for a last walk in this pretty and interesting town. By now the sun was very low and its highlights and deep shadows were making photography a little difficult, so we decided to make for the bus stop. Just a final picture, perhaps…
We were now content to repair to the bus stop and from there be carried back to Glasgow and our hotel. It had been a long and busy day but extremely worthwhile, and we had greatly enjoyed it.
Thursday, August 9th 2012
Despite the weather forecast promising unbroken sunshine until Saturday, the sky is covered with cloud this morning. Will it clear or turn to rain? Rain would be bad news as we wish to take a trip to Helensburgh and there visit The Hill House. (See map below and here.)
After breakfast we investigate the various ways to go, by bus, by train, or by zone card providing mixed travel. The bus is cheaper but more complicated. In the end we plump for return rail tickets as being the simplest. One thing we notice here is how helpful and patient people are. Ticket clerks, bus drivers, etc, answer your questions without any sense of hurry, as though they have all the time in the world.
At Glasgow Central station, we once more descend to the lower level and mix with the rush of morning commuters. We start, as usual, by taking a train two stops to Partick, and there we change to the Helensburgh train.
The ride from Partick to Helensburgh is not very long but long enough for me to fall asleep. Tigger wakes me as we arrive. Will Helensburgh (Baile Eilidh Meadhain, in Gaelic) be worth waking up for?
The above view shows Sinclair Street, which runs right through Helensburgh. We would follow it for most of the way to Hill House. First, though, Tigger wanted to visit the tourist information office.
The TIO’s official address is “The Clock Tower, The Pier, Helensburgh” and it is literally situated in this rather noble structure that is all that remains of the old parish church, built in 1846 and demolished in 1982.
Then we set off up Sinclair Street, to find the object of our visit, The Hill House. The House was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for publisher Walter Wilfred Blackie (1860-1953) and was built in 1902-4. The distance to the house from the station is only about a mile but it is uphill all the way (a clue to that is in the name!).
The walk was quite pleasant, nonetheless, passing leafy streets…
and green verges, with nice houses set back from the road in well tended gardens.
We also passed this baronial-looking structure. Opened in 1887, it is a multi-purpose venue for the town, where entertainments, conferences and other events take place and rooms can be hired for weddings and so on. There seems to be a certain ambiguity about the name as it sometimes appears as “Victoria Hall” (singular) and sometimes as “Victoria Halls” (plural), perhaps because the interior is divided into seven different locales.
The Hill House stands at the top end of Upper Colquhoun Street. Looking back down the street gives pleasant views over the river. The photo also gives some indication of the slope one has to negotiate though, because of the distance, this is fairly gentle.
When we reached the house, it wasn’t quite what I expected, having seen other works by Rennie Mackintosh. If you know what you are looking at, you see details and little features that suggest other Mackintosh buildings, but otherwise, at a quick glance you may dismiss it as just another early 20th century suburban house.
In line with National Trust for Scotland policy, there is an admission fee and photography is not allowed. I can therefore show you nothing of the interior, much as I would like to in order to support my opinions.
The house opens at 1.30pm and we arrived too early. The extensive garden was open, though, and when the weather is fine, is a pleasant place to sit or stroll. When the house opened at last, we started our visit. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a friend of the Blackies and designed the house according to his understanding of them and their needs. He designed not only the house but also the decorative scheme (his wife designed the fabrics) and much of the furniture. One slight problem faced by the architect was that Blackie brought some furniture from his previous house, notably for the dining room, and this had to be incorporated despite being in a more conservative style.
My reactions to the house were mixed. I think that Mackintosh was a brilliant designer of buildings but that when he scaled down his designs to the size of furnishings and fittings (e.g. lamps), the result was not always felicitous. Some rooms worked wonderfully well while others seemed to me cold and uninviting. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the visit and it added to my appreciation of Scotland’s famous architect and designer.
As we left the house and walked down the street, I looked back and noticed that the street lamps were also designed by Macintosh or, if not, at least done in a manner sympathetic to his style.
We returned down the hill to Helensburgh and bought sandwiches for lunch, eating these sitting beside the water. A Wetherspoon’s pub supplied ginger beer.
The pub in question is called the Henry Bell, after a local hero. Henry Bell (1767-1830) was not born here but in West Lothian to a family of millwrights, builders and engineers. While still a young man he decided to pursue a career in marine engineering and became interested in the concept of adapting steam power to ships.
With his wife, Henry moved to Helensburgh, considering it a good place to develop his project. In 1812, he built his steamship Comet which in August of the same year made its historic first crossing to Greenock, just across the water from Helensburgh (see map). Following this inauguration, Henry set up a regular steamer service, the first in Europe, between Glasgow, Greenock and Helensburgh. He is quite rightly seen as an adoptive son of Helensburgh where he died in 1830.
Another local hero, this one in a completely different domain of expertise, is also commemorated in the name of a pub and a waterside monument. John Logie Baird was actually born in Helensburgh.
John Logie Baird (1888-1946) invented the first practicable system for television, conducting his first public demonstration at Selfridges in London in 1925. This was all the more remarkable given that he was not an engineer by profession but had previously sold socks and soap. The BBC adopted his system for its first scheduled television broadcasts but later abandoned it in favour of that developed by Marconi-EMI.
Helensburgh, like most towns, looks better when the sun shines. We were lucky that after an uncertain start to the day, the sun did shine. When it did, Helensburgh turned out to be pretty little town, enhanced by its position on the Clyde and looking out towards the Firth. In fact, the water is so broad here that it almost confers the feel of a seaside town on Helensburgh. This photo, taken looking along West Clyde Street could be the esplanade in some south-facing seaside resort, despite the distinctly Scottish style and mood of the buildings.
Perhaps on our next trip to Glasgow we will pay another visit to Helensburgh and explore some of its other parts. For now, it was time to turn towards the station and catch a train back to Glasgow. We are happy to have made the acquaintance of another Scottish town and to have added to our “collection” of Mackintosh buildings, altogether a successful trip.
Returning to Glasgow, we rested a while in our room until we felt brave enough to venture forth again. After a sandwich lunch, we thought we deserved a special supper. We found this at a restaurant called Pulcinella. We tarried just long enough to take a few more night shots of this ever fascinating city before turning in for a well earned rest.
Friday, August 10th 2012
This is our last full day in and around Glasgow. Despite this stay being longer than our usual ones, the time has seemed to speed by. Perhaps this is an indication that we have packed a lot in and spent much of our time travelling (by bus, train, subway and on foot) and exploring. Today has started sunny and the hope is that this will hold for the rest of the day.
We boarded a number 9 bus and bought day tickets (£4.50) and disembarked at Bellahouston Park. We had come looking for the House for an Art Lover which we knew should be somewhere hereabouts.
First we discovered the Palace of Art which actually has nothing to do with art, unless you include the so-called “noble art” of pugilism, because it is today a sports and athletics centre. It was built for the Empire Exhibition held in the park in 1938 and was the only building in the Exhibition that was built to be permanent. The original intention was for the building, after the Exhibition had finished, to house Glasgow’s art collection. Sadly, that is not the case and while the name remains, the purpose has changed. The Palace is listed (Grade B) for its historic and architectural importance.
We walked on through Bellahouston Park, enjoying the park itself, which is beautiful with varied environments, looking for our goal, House for an Art Lover. Someone at the Palace of Art had given us a vague “over that way” indication of where it might be so now it was up to Tigger’s inner pigeon to home in on it.
We at last came upon this gateway furnished with Grecian columns. It is very striking but I somehow doubt that it was designed by Rennie Mackintosh! To the right of the gate, you can just see a corner of the house and one of the art works that grace the garden.
Inside, we found a number of art works placed at strategic points in the garden. I didn’t find any ascription plates or other information on them. Perhaps there was a catalogue somewhere but if so, I didn’t see it. I gather that the works are changed quite often, making it worthwhile to visit the House often if you live in Glasgow. I am often rather dismissive of modern art (as you might have seen) but I quite liked this piece which has a certain intriguing quality to it.
It says it’s a bench so perhaps that’s what it is. Or is it? For some reason, it reminds me of René Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe (for a reminder, of that work, see here). (I had better translate the title of the painting – This is not a pipe – as I have just been reading Mark Twain lambasting people like me who include expressions in foreign languages without translating them!). So, is this bench a bench, not a bench, or possibly both?
I called this High chair because it looks a bit like the seat that a tennis umpire occupies when overseeing match but its architectural qualities could equally well suggest that it is a slice out of the battlements of a castle or the buttress of a medieval cathedral. And what about the “impossible” staircase? There is something precarious about it this work, perched heavily on slender legs. This is the sort of work that either intrigues you or annoys you. I’m intrigued.
I called this Molluscs but I was tempted to label it “Neptune’s chess set”, as these objects look like chessmen or draughts pieces that terminate in mollusc-like tentacles. Each is different, giving the impression that they are not static but wriggling about on the chessboard. These are just a few of the works in the garden and by the time you read this, I expect there will be others in their stead.
And so to the house itself. This was designed in 1901 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for a competition. Though highly praised at the time, the Mackintosh house was not built then or even during the architect’s lifetime. It was only in the 1990s that the project of building it at last was conceived. The plans were not fully detailed (if the house had been built by Rennie Macintosh, complete plans would have been drawn up for the purpose) so a certain amount of sympathetic filling in had to be done. Does this invalidate the work as a genuine Mackintosh? Personally, I don’t think so as long as you keep its history in mind and make the necessary mental adjustments.
The entrance hall is large and provides access to the other ground floor rooms and the stairs to the upper levels. The first-floor corridor presents as an open gallery supported by pillars. In contrast to the Scotland Street School where large windows and white tiling are intended to make the interior light, the decor here is very dark. The eye is captivated alternately by the overall proportions and by the decorative details.
The hallway fireplace has dominant straight lines but this is softened by the rose motifs and the vertical side supports than look like stylized peacock feathers.
The dining room, which leads off the hall, has dark wood pannelling but this is brown, not black. At either end of the long dining table is one of Rennie Mackintosh’s favoured high-backed chairs. These furnishings continue the dark wood theme but blue wallpaper with pink roses lifts the decor with a splash of colour and the carpet too, is light in colour, plain but for a simple border.
The large music room, with French widows looking out onto the terrace, is one of the rooms that can be hired for weddings, conferences and functions. Today is had been laid out for a wedding reception.
At one end of the Music Room is the piano. This is integrated as a part of the decor and had been designed by Rennie Mackintosh. I haven’t heard it play so I don’t know how successful it is. The white decor, appropriate for weddings, helps lighten the room in contrast to the dark colours of other rooms.
I do not know what this room was originally intended to be. Part of the house has been fitted out as offices and rooms for hire, leaving only few rooms as samples of what role they might have played if the house had been a home. This might possibly have been a breakfast room or informal family dining room. Any guess is as good as another. It should also be remembered that a house of this size, built in the early 1900s, would have had a staff of servants to do the cleaning and serve the owners.
Throughout the house there occur decorative motifs of which I show just two above. By far the most common is the Rennie Mackintosh rose, a favourite motif. It is stylized but adds touches of colour and appears in many materials, including glass, as here, metal and paint. The human figures, most often female, are more natural but still stylized and often luxuriously wrapped in complex robes. Though they are unmistakeably Rennie Macintosh, they nevertheless remind me of the figures made by William Morris and his group, seeming to belong so a poetic and unreal medieval period.
On the ground floor is a large cafe and we had a cup of tea here before leaving. What was this room intended to be in the original plan, I wonder? An art gallery? It’s certainly big enough.
Leaving the House for an Art Lover, we went out into the park again and followed the paths to the road. Here we took a bus to go to our next visit. Along the way, quite by chance, we found ourselves in front of La Fiorentina again and, thinking this a chance not to be missed, had lunch there. I think they were quite amused to see us again so soon.
We got a little bit lost at this point – Tigger’s inner pigeon was possibly taking an after-lunch nap – but finding ourselves at Pollokshields East railway station, saw that a train from here could help us on our way. There turned out to be another bonus.
While waiting for the train, we spotted a fox on the other side of the railway line, hunting and scavenging among the track-side debris. I managed to get this one snap before he (or possibly she) disappeared. This was our first and only sighting of a fox on this trip.
We travelled three stops to Cathcart and then after a longish walk (Tigger’s inner pigeon had woken up and was navigating again), reached our objective, Holmwood House.
The house was built in 1858 for mill owner James Couper by one of Scotland’s best known and admired architects, Alexander “Greek” Thomson (after whom, incidentally, our hotel is named). Thomson (1817-1875) was operating about half a century before Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and so it is only to be expected that the two men’s styles of design are very different.
A strong clue to Thomson’s preferences is given by the nickname which is now applied to him almost universally: Alexander “Greek” Thomson. He drew his inspiration from Classical Greek architecture, making it his own and thereby creating works that are unique and unrepeatable. The dining room above is perhaps the most “Greek” of the rooms, as far as decor is concerned. The detail gives a hint of the richness of this and, incidentally, shows how the house has suffered and is in need of sympathetic restoration.
The staircase, which is in the interior of the house, is lit by this fine cupola. (Looking closely at the left-hand picture – click to see a larger image – you can make out the peeling plaster.) The house has been occupied by a number of owners since James Couper, including an order of nuns, and has suffered alteration and deterioration during its 154-year history, as is only to be expected.
This is the parlour and it has a richly modelled and colourful ceiling. The fireplace was missing but a replacement was taken from another Thomson house and was found to fit the space exactly, showing that the architect used standard fittings where appropriate. The dark doors are thought to be original while the lighter ones are replacements. The latter give access to cupboards and previous owners had pierced the walls to make windows but these have now been filled in a again to restore the room to its original configuration.
A remarkable feature of this room is the circular window bay which also appears as an important feature of the exterior of the house (See Bay Window above). This forms a complete cylinder, half in and half outside the house. Its purpose is evidently to provide light for the room but it also affords views of the garden.
The drawing room is the main reception room and guests would have been entertained here. Though it presents a fairly elegant appearance, thanks to the efforts of the current owners, the National Trust for Scotland, it has suffered. The interior of the fireplace has been lost and the ceiling has been replaced at some point.
If the house has deteriorated and conveys to the visitor a slightly sad feeling, that is the work of time and human activity. The NTfS is working hard to restore it and recover something of its pristine glory. It is to be hoped that they continue this work and achieve their goal, making this an architectural jewel of historic and aesthetic value of which Scotland can be proud. I hope we can come back on a future visit and see a great improvement.
An admission fee is charged to visit the house but we were allowed to take photos on the understanding that these were not to be used for commercial purposes. As I am not charging you to look at the pictures, I hope that meets the conditions!
Returning to the main road, we undertook a rather long bus ride, hoping to visit the Botanic Gardens. By the time we reached the Hyndland district of Glasgow, we realized we had missed our objective and would have to retrace part of the route already travelled. We did so but broke our journey at Otago Lane.
In Otago Lane, we paid a visit to a tea house called Tchai Ovna. This quirky and unique establishment has on its menu every tea you can think of and a lot more besides. They also have a vegetarian food menu.
We enjoyed a pot of Jasmine tea (with free top-ups) and decided to stay on for supper. For this we had a dish of curry, Aloo Motor, with rice. The food is tasty and the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. It was a good place to end the day and our trip. At this point, we decided to give up on the Botanic Garden for this time and caught a bus back to the town centre. Back in the hotel room, we started our preliminary packing…
Saturday, August 11th 2012
This morning’s surprise was: no electricity! I don’t know at what time the power went off but when we awoke none of the lights were working, either in our room or in the corridor outside.
Strangely enough, there was hot water in the wash basin and in the shower but I used it parsimoniously in case I was taking it from a remainder in the tank. I fumbled through my ablutions, lit only by the small torch I carry in my handbag. Fortunately, the power came on again while Tigger was taking her turn. No apology was made or explanation given for the power outage.
These are our last few hours in Glasgow. We must now stuff last-minute items into our bags, go down for a last breakfast of hotel stodge, and then make our way to the station.
We took our bags down with us to the breakfast room then down to the ground floor, using the single small and very slow hotel lift. We had discovered a side entrance to Glasgow Central station that offers easy access for people with wheelie bags and we used it today. We reached the station about an hour before departure time and sat near platform 2 where there was a Virgin train. We thought might be ours and it turned out that we were right.
The platform was announced in plenty of time and our carriage was near the front of the train (away from the platform), so we hurried ahead of others to acquire luggage space. This is important on Virgin trains whose luggage racks are few and small.
The weather is cloudy-sunny and warm. It would be a good day for exploring were we not returning to London. I am a little sad to be leaving Glasgow as this trip has built on the previous one, confirming my good impressions of the city and making me feel I am becoming familiar with it. Glasgow too often languishes in the shadow of Edinburgh and tourists and holidaymakers tend to neglect it. This is a pity because Glasgow has much to recommend it and to attract the visitor interested in the arts and in history. It is also a very welcoming city and we have met with friendliness and kindliness here. Glaswegians warm to those who show an interest in their city and try to help them enjoy It.
We did of course visit Edinburgh (twice, as it happens), and though we found those visits enjoyable and instructive with much to admire, Glasgow remains our favourite and I look forward to our eventual return here.
On the train we have a pair of comfortable seats and all we have to do now is sit back and enjoy the journey and the unfolding panorama of the landscape.
At 10:47 we stop at Carlisle. From the train it is not possible to determine the instant when one crosses the invisible line dividing Scotland from England. Arrival at Carlisle is therefore the first confirmation that, for this trip, we have left behind us the land of Scott, Burns and Robert the Bruce
The journey was uneventful. We chatted, watched the scenery roll by, dozed. At last we arrived at Euston. Here we found notices at the bus stop warning of delays and other service disruptions because of the Olympics. Knowing that Euston is the terminus for the 476, we cannily waited for this bus, knowing it would be empty and thus easier to board with our luggage and find convenient seats.
We were soon home and unpacked. Over the weekend we have two important chores to attend to, the shopping and the laundry. This afternoon we tackled the shopping, but only after going for lunch to a local noodle bar.
Now, sitting here, writing these last few words about our Glasgow trip, it is hard to imagine that, just a few short hours ago, we were still in that city, now become familiar to us and in which we have spent many happy moments over the last two weeks. We shall certainly return there in the not too distant future.
I am aware that writing the blog posts for our stay is going to be quite difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly, we have spent two weeks here instead of the more usual one, so there will be twice as much to do. Secondly, we have done a lot, travelled widely, and seen a lot of places and exhibitions, meaning that there is much to account for. Thirdly, there is so much to see here that it is difficult to be selective but not possible to account for every detail.
There is another way in which this trip has differed from others from the blogging point of view. Usually, I leave the blog unattended while I am away and then post accounts of our activities retrospectively. This time, feeling that a fortnight was too long a time to leave the blog inactive, I decided to try to post occasional bulletins by email. These would be temporary posts that I would later replace. In the event, I have managed to post a temporary bulletin for each day of our sojourn in Glasgow. No one is more surprised than I am that I managed to do this.
I warned readers that these posts would later be be deleted and so, therefore, would any comments attached to them. People have by and large refrained from leaving comments but I thank those who did comment, because it is encouraging to know that you are following our adventures and taking an interest.
Encouraging too is that other way of indicating interest, clicking the Like button. So I thank those of you who Liked my posts as this made me feel I was writing for readers, not just scribbling in the void.
I have not made a definite decision about this yet, but I am thinking of collecting the “temporary” posts and making a separate page of them rather than simply deleting them. You still have time to add comments to these posts if you wish to do so and this would encourage me to keep them!