Monthly Archives: July 2013

Big post – 3 days in the highlands of Scotland

1st – 3rd June 2013

I really wanted to visit at least one of the islands off Scotland and had been toying with the idea of heading up to Inverness and trying to catch a tour to the Orkney Isles. Then one day when it was raining in Glasgow I popped into St Enoch shopping centre in the city and found myself face to face with a Flight Centre shop. Fate – or so I told myself! I walked out having booked a 3 day bus tour to the highlands and Isle of Skye, finishing in Edinburgh – killed three birds with the one stone.

Another couple of sad goodbyes, this time to my wonderful studio at the  Embassy Apartments and to Glasgow in general, a last subway ride and some nervous time waiting in George Square for the bus to arrive. I didn’t realize it but the tour actually started in Edinburgh, so the bus was almost full when myself and two others boarded in Glasgow. A 29 seater bus with one spare seat – VERY squeezy!!

On the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Scotland

On the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Scotland

First stop was at a place called Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond – typical budget bus tour, stop, everyone pile out, take photos, jump back on the bus. Except, one guy thought the rules didn’t apply to him and he rocked up 5 minutes late. Well, the bus driver told him in no uncertain manner that if he was late again the bus would not wait for him!

The scenery was pretty gorgeous and Loch Lomond itself was beautiful. Before we got there the driver played a hauntingly sad version of the song The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. He explained the high and low roads in the song are about one person still living and the other one having died. Of course I was holding back tears, I always cry at sad songs and movies.

Obviously the first day was all about getting to the Isle of Skye, our lunch stop was at Fort William, but right on the edge of the town with no time to explore, then it was off again for more driving. I must admit, the driver, Gary, did his best to keep us entertained, he’s a born story teller and played some great Celtic music. He had a terrible day really, bike riders in a road race kept holding him up, the roads are not wide enough for two vehicles as well as bikes, so we were stop, start, three parts of the day – he was getting pretty irate about them at times, but nothing you can do is there.

Snow on the mountains in summer, Scottish highlands

Snow on the mountains in summer, Scottish highlands

We drove through some incredible country, stopped for photos of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis and I think a few other places – it all became a bit of a blur. There were lots of high foggy mountains with snow still clinging in places. I do know we stopped for a look through Eilean Donan Castle, it was pretty cool, and has even starred in a couple of movies, Highlander and Maid of Honour. The Isle of Skye isn’t far off the mainland, there’s a bridge connecting the two, but seems very far removed from Glasgow. We stayed in a little village by the name of Portree, my B&B room was great and the hostess was lovely.

Waterfall, Isle of Skye

Waterfall, Isle of Skye

Next day we drove all over the island, but spent way more time off the bus than the first day, so that was great. Quiraing felt like we were on top of the world, absolutely amazing countryside and views. The remains of diatomite works (for making dynamite) near Loch Cuithir were eerie in the dark overcast weather. A waterfall, just metres from the viewing platform, flowing over the cliffs into the sea was amazing. A walk to what seemed like the edge of the world to see ruins of a castle and the scenery around it was great fun. A visit to a fairy grove, hidden away in the wilds was awesome – everything was in miniature, so very cute. Neist Point Lighthouse was a non event for some of us, it was such a steep descent to just take a photo of the lighthouse from quite a distance that quite a few of us cooled our heels near the bus trying to keep warm, but it was a good opportunity to chat. Dun Beag, the remains of a broch, a type of Scottish roundhouse, was awesome – anything built some 2,000 years ago is always interesting to me. Hunting for hairy coooos was hilarious, every time someone saw a cow we were all trying to crane our necks to see if they were the special hairy ones – we didn’t see any all day, lots of false alarms though.

The Canadians after a quiet nip!

The Canadians after a quiet nip!

I was next to the window in the back seat and had a Canadian couple next to me who didn’t sleep the day away like most of the young ones had done the day before. I had a great time hearing about their travels, I can’t get enough of other people’s travel stories. They are currently in Saudi Arabia for three years and before that they lived in Iceland for two years, what a huge change!! So, a much more active day and a truly wonderful look at the island. Pizza and a red wine for dinner at a hotel in the square before toddling off up the hill to my room was a perfect end to the day.

Our last morning I shared seats with the Canadian lady; they were in the back seat again, and as I had a seat on my own, she asked if she could share with me because her hubby was so squashed. Then after lunch they just took the front seat for themselves – their reasoning was because the young ones who were sitting there kept sleeping!!

Canals in Fort Augustus, Scotland

Canals in Fort Augustus, Scotland

We had a really interesting tour around Talisker Distillery, and even though I’m not a whiskey drinker I though it was pretty nice. The sites of the famous MacDonald Clan uprising at Glencoe and the Glenshiel Uprising at Glenshiel were more great stops with Gary setting the scenes incredibly well beforehand. Once again, to remember it all you need a tape recorder going the whole time, just information overload for me, but great to see and hear. Our lunch stop was at Fort Augustus, a cute little village on the banks of Loch Ness. There is a series of locks running through the town and a swinging bridge, interesting to see them operating while sitting on the bank of the canal eating my baguette. We made a few stops in the afternoon for photos and also at the Commando Memorial. It’s set in the area where the commandos trained for the Second World War, amidst some beautiful wild country. As well as the big statue, there’s a tremendously sad section where people have left plaques, photos and flowers for commandos lost in other wars; most recently the war in Afghanistan has added too many names to the total.

I don’t think you could fit much more in and still enjoy it, there’s an awful lot to see for such a small place; and it was great to get all the history and legends associated with the places we saw. So, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out early tomorrow, a slow start sounds like a plan.

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Last one for Glasgow, promise

31st May 2013

People's Palace, Glasgow

People’s Palace, Glasgow

Mostly today I just wandered around enjoying Glasgow, but I did visit the People’s Palace in Glasgow Green and just about cried at some of the stories I read there. Their Red Road: Past/Present/Future Exhibition, tracing the story of high-rise living in Glasgow, in these particular flats is quite moving. I’m not sure if any of them are still standing, I got the impression they’ve all been demolished, but I could be wrong. Seems overcrowding of the tenements and the subsequent slums led to these high-rise buildings being built, but they deteriorated too and created the same types of problems all over again. I know it’s happened all over the world, but until you actually see the photos and read the stories it’s all rather distant and doesn’t mean much. I know I’m certainly having my horizons broadened in a huge way on this trip and hoping I’ll be better for it all.

There were the usual nostalgia inducing displays of seaside living, old shops and household objects to lighten the tone, but they didn’t have the impact of the Red Road stories. Coffee and cake at the café in the Winter Gardens glasshouse was a fine end to my visit though.

Doulton Fountain, Glasgow

Doulton Fountain, Glasgow

Outside the People’s Palace building is the Doulton Fountain, the largest terracotta fountain in the world. Apparently it was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1897, not that it means much to me – it wasn’t even doing much in the way of spurting water, but it is quite spectacular.

I headed back in to the city from Glasgow Green for my last visual feast of the buildings and atmosphere then to the Botanic Gardens to say goodbye to my fave places. Packing again tonight, heading off tomorrow on a 3 day bus tour to the highlands, Isle of Sky and ending in Edinburgh.

I’ve always thought the windows that you can climb through and stand on the fire escape or whatever are really cool. I’ve only ever seen them in movies or on Friends. When I told Sarah I had some, she was pestering me to climb out and take photos. Well, being the wuss I am, I wasn’t quite game to stand out there but I climbed out and took some selfies while sitting on the window sill instead. If anyone saw me I’m sure they’d think I was crackers, but, they wouldn’t be the first – and probably not the last either.

 

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House for an Art Lover

30th May 2013

After you’ve done it once, the anxiety is less – that’s the way it’s supposed to work anyhow. I’ m not so sure about that, but I keep plugging away. To get the ‘The House for an Art Lover’ I could get the subway but then the walk had tons of turns, so I took numerous screen shots of the maps, hoped for the best and took off. You’d think after this long I wouldn’t think twice but my tummy still gets all tied in knots doing new things. I keep hoping one day I’ll all of a sudden realise it’s not happening anymore.

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow

Okay, enough of the deep and meaningful, I got there without any dramas – I usually do, so I don’t know what all the stress is for. The house is in Bellahouston Park, and was built from plans that Charles Rennie Mackintosh, with his wife, Margaret Mackintosh, drew up for a competition in 1901. His plan didn’t win the competition as some of his drawings were submitted after the closing date. Then the house was built by a charitable organization in the early 1990’s as an aid to stimulating interest in art and architecture.

Drawing for House for an Art Lover, Glasgow

Drawing for House for an Art Lover, Glasgow

It was great to see their designs up close, to be able to touch and sit on the furniture, take photos and just have time to take it all in. Everything has been made using as close to original methods and materials as possible and the gesso panels and wall hangings designed by Margaret really are quite special. I’m still amazed at how modern their work was for the times.

I met a couple of Scottish blokes while going through the house and we ended up sitting together for lunch as well. I thought one of them might have been a Victorian when I first saw him – socks and sandals, with jeans! But no, they were both pure-bred Scotsmen. Nice blokes and it’s always great to talk to locals,
I was sooooo tempted to buy something from the gift shop, but once again, I thought about how much easier it is the less stuff you have. That usually does the trick, or else I try and decide what I’m going to dump if I buy something new, that works too!

Interior at Glasgow City Chambers

Interior at Glasgow City Chambers

After another wander through the house I made my way back to the city for a quick squiz inside the Glasgow City Chambers building. Then it was back to the comfort of my ‘hood and the library again, not terribly exciting but good for the soul to have some downtime.

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Yep, you guessed it – I’m still on Glasgow

28th May 2013

Specimen jars at the Hunterian, Glasgow

Specimen jars at the Hunterian, Glasgow

The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery and the recreation of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow flat are in the grounds of the Glasgow University, so another walk to visit them today. The older university buildings in Britain really are treasures in themselves and the Hunterian is no exception, great lofty ceilings and ornate decorations everywhere.  I seem to walk around permanently looking skywards at times. The museum houses a hugely diverse collection – anatomical specimens in old fashioned glass jars, items from Captain Cooks voyages, Roman objects from the Antonine Wall – enough variety to keep even me, with my deficient attention span, entertained for hours. I guess, when you’re visiting so many places, it’s bound to happen, but, I was again disappointed, because the mezzanine gallery was closed for renovation – bugger! The art gallery and Mackintosh house are just across the road from the Hunterian, and because I had to cool my heels waiting for the next available tour of the house I had a look around the art gallery. Then I found all the James McNeill Whistler’s work – the Hunterian has the largest amount of his work on display in the world – and had to drag myself away for the tour. I think being on my own has helped opened my eyes to the benefits of going slow and learning to really look at art work. In saying that, I still find I need to mix it up and not go to too many of the same sort of places or I don’t appreciate them as they deserve.

The Mackintosh house was amazing, but, no photos allowed, and there were always two guides with the group to keep you on the straight and narrow. Then they told us how much one piece of his furniture was worth – and I understood their attitude! His ideas are so far removed from the norm at the time it’s not surprising he was not overly successful, the house and furniture would fit right in today’s world. I totally loved the tour, just wish we could have lingered at times but with another group hot on our heels we had to keep moving – at least I got to see it, that’s the main thing I suppose.

My new home, Glasgow

My new home, Glasgow

Is it a sign of something – being a nerd, tiredness, what? A couple of days ago, I realized I walk past a library on my home, so I’ve been joining the locals sitting there reading for an hour or so. I’m working my way through their books on Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow and art – it actually makes me feel less like I’m travelling too.

Oh, I forgot to write about my move next door too. I had originally booked 3 nights but decided to extend my time here and found the hotel had a studio apartment next door for £5 more a night than I was paying for my single room. What a bargain – and it’s fantastic, I absolutely love it!!

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