Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.Winston S. Churchill
Sep 3-6 2014
For the last part of our Scotland trip we would stay in Glasgow, which included a day trip to the town of Stirling.
We stayed in the up and coming Western End of the city, near the River Kelvin and the University of Glasgow, which inspired Hogwarts of Harry Potter fame. Our apartment was in a traditional tenement style building set along one of the many cobbled streets.
Glasgow is a less polished and more industrial version of Edinburgh, clearly the economic center of Scotland with a large downtown, many sprawling suburbs, and a chaotic port along the River Clyde.
For our first night we went to check out Ashton Lane and listen to some local music at Jinty McGuintys Irish Bar. The area is thriving and popular with the college crowd and visitors alike, but as recently as the 1970’s it was nothing more then a run-down area of small residential and empty commercial properties. In 1977 fortunes changed when the Glasgow Subway closed down for major refurbishments, forcing several small businesses to relocate to the lane from the thriving Byres Road in which it ran. Other bars and restaurants continued to open and created the center of the Glasgow’s cafe culture that is represents today.
We would spend the following day walking around the city. Our first stop was a visit to the The Lighthouse, a Rennie Mackintosh-designed exhibition space dedicated to architecture, design and creative industries- seeing these as interconnected social, educational, economic and cultural issues of concern to everyone. One of the key features of The Lighthouse is the uninterrupted view over Glasgow’s cityscape available from the Mackintosh Tower at the north of the building, accessible via a sprialing helical staircase.
After the Lighthouse, we headed through downtown and past the natural heart of the city, George Square. Surrounding the square are many architecturally important buildings including the palatial Municipal Chambers. The square also boasts an important collection of statues and monuments, including those dedicated to Robert Burns, James Watt, Sir Robert Peel and Sir Walter Scott.
Continuing to the east side of town we walked along the River Clyde, and through the Glasgow Green, a large Central Park like area that includes sites such as the People’s Palace, a museum and greenhouse, and Doulton Fountain, the largest fountain ever constructed in ceramic. This part of town is visibly more working class then it’s western counterpart. Many of the neighborhoods reminded us of the setting of the film Trainspotting, but still it was obvious that the area was on the rebound.
Following the Glasgow Green we headed a bit north to the Necropolis, a large historic cemetery overlooking the city, as well as Glasgow Cathedral. The cemetery, as most early Victorian cemeteries, is laid out as an informal park, lacking the formal grid layouts of later cemeteries. This layout is further enhanced by the complex topography. The cemetery’s paths meander uphill towards the summit, where many of the larger monuments stand, clustered around the John Knox Monument. Beside the cemetery the Glasgow Cathedral is a superb example of Scottish Gothic architecture and one of the few Scottish medieval churches to have survived the Reformation not unroofed.
In the evening we headed back towards the West End and toured the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The museum has one of the finest collections of arms and armor in the world and a vast natural history collection. The art collection includes many outstanding European artworks, including works by the Old Masters, French Impressionists, Dutch Renaissance, Scottish Colourists and exponents of the Glasgow School.
Afterwards we ate some incredible indian food at the nearby Mother India’s Cafe, highly recommended. With our bellies full we saw a sign at a nearby pub advertising Trivia Night, we decided to have a few pints and give it a go, suffice to say did not do to well but still had a lot of fun and were given props for being the only foreigners to even try.
The following day would take a day trip northwest from Glasgow. Our first stop was Bannockburn, the site of a significant Scottish victory in the First War of Scottish Independence, and one of the most important landmarks in Scottish history. Stirling Castle, a Scots royal fortress, occupied by the English, was under siege by the Scottish army. The English king, Edward II, assembled a formidable force to relieve it, but the attempt failed. His army was defeated in a pitched battle by a smaller army commanded by the King of Scots, Robert the Bruce. Inside the visitor center we participated the very unique Battle of Bannockburn in 3D. The interactive simulation allows you to take command of the knights and soldiers who fought in the 1314 battle, pitting your wits against fellow visitors on a virtual battlefield.
Next we visited the previously mentioned Stirling Castle and the surrounding town. The castle sits atop an intrusive crag known as Castle Hill. It is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Its strategic location has made it an important fortification from the earliest times. Most of the principal buildings of the castle date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A few structures of the fourteenth century remain, while the outer defences fronting the town date from the early eighteenth century. Before the union with England, Stirling Castle was also one of the most used of the many Scottish royal residences, very much a palace as well as a fortress. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1542, and others were born or died there. After wandering around the impressive grounds and many buildings for what must have been hours, we jumped back in the car and headed back to Glasgow for the night.
Our third and last day was spent relaxing before heading to the airport to board a plane for our next destination. My parents would be heading to Ireland while we would be heading to Amsterdam, Netherlands for a week. We had an amazing time in Scotland and it was really neat to walk in the footsteps of ancestors, a place where I felt oddly comfortable and could see myself living, and if nothing else, definitely returning to visit again to spend a more significant amount of time.