Glasgow, Sirling, Edinburgh, June 2023

June 1 – Manchester to Glasgow – Our biggest concern about our planned train trip to Glasgow was the looming possibility of strikes. With a big weekend of events on the horizon for Britain, including a Manchester City vs Manchester United FA Cup Final, both Cold Play and Elton John concerts in Manchester and a number of other big festivals planned, the rail unions had upped the ante. The industrial dispute has been going on for nearly a year, with little sign of a resolution. We had a ticket booked with TransPennine Express, and no strike action against them was listed for June 1st, but we have found things can change. We were very relieved when the train pulled in.

We had table seats and two young local girls sat opposite us. One immediately began to apply copious amounts of stuff to her face. To be fair, she was very good at what she did, although possibly lacking the underlying structures of a Vogue model. However, it was quite off-putting to have someone right opposite you opening all manner of creams and applications and painting patterns on their face. One doesn’t want to stare, so around 90 degrees of our immediate vision span was out of bounds.

Our route took us through some beautiful country, with the Lake District on one side of the train and the Pennines visible on the other. As we crossed the border into Scotland, even the vegetation started to show signs of change, with the tops of the hills being bare of trees and showing patches of gorse and heather. We passed through Carlisle and on into Glasgow, arriving at Glasgow Central. We had already worked out that we needed a #4 bus to our accommodation in Broomehill, once again, a bit of a distance from the city centre, although not as far as our digs in Manchester.

Finding the bus stop was easy, and we managed to purchase tickets. After that, it was hard to work out whether the Glasgow road surfaces are in an appalling state or whether the bus completely lacked any form of suspension. It was a bone shattering ride. The route took us past the University of Glasgow and westwards towards the areas that once housed the many workers of the Clyde ship building industry, one of the mainstays of the city in years past. When we alighted in Crow Rd, we were greeted with the beautiful sight of a long streetscape of beautiful Victorian sandstone faced buildings, once tenements housing the working class, but now privately owned apartments, and worth considerably more than there were. Our host, Arthur, was waiting for us, and ran us through the basics of the flat. We even had a back yard, with a lawn and all. The flat comprised a bedroom, loungeroom, hallway, kitchen/dining and a couple of storerooms, positive luxury for us. The ceilings were so high they could have held a mezzanine and the beautiful bay windows looked out over the street. The faults were many and obvious, but the old place had heaps of character and was clean.

We unpacked, walked down the road to a Sainsbury’s to get some food, came home and crashed.

June 2 – Glasgow – Our time in Glasgow is short, and we have lots planned. With only one day allocated to explore the city, we set off quite early on a walk that would take us down a long hill towards the Clyde. We passed many more rows of stone tenements, exactly the same design as ours. These were all built during the enormous industrial expansion of the 19th Century to house a explosion of workers, coming in from the farms and the highlands in search of employment and a higher standard of living. Some of the streetscapes are stunning, the beautiful sandstone frontages creating a wonderful effect. However, a glance to the rooflines showed the incredible number of chimneys, evidence of just how many dwellings each row of buildings supported. The populations must have been huge, the pollution from so much coal burning in winter almost unbearable. Now, however, the repurposed buildings create a wonderful effect, with many of the streetscapes being heritage listed.

The streetscape in Crow Rd

Our target was the Riverside Museum. The riverside referred to is not the Clyde, but the Kelvin, which flows into the Clyde a little downstream of the museum. We were a tad early for the museum’s opening but we spent the time going through the sailing ship Glenlee, one of the last sail-only ships built on the Clyde in the 1890s. After a long history of trading, including runs to Australia, a marvellous history as a sail training ship owned by both the Italians and the Spanish, and finally coming home to be a floating museum. The other ships we have been on have been warships. This was originally a cargo ship, and the displays portrayed that role brilliantly. The lives of the crew and officers was presented in a way that you could almost feel what they went through. It was a wonderful display.

The Riverside Museum itself is devoted to the history of transport. We had few expectations. It was there, so we thought we would look. Then we were blown away, by probably the best, most comprehensive presentation of a theme we have ever encountered in a museum. It is hard to describe just how wonderful it is to wander around a huge facility filled with buses, cars, trains, carriages, bikes, motorbikes, tube stations, boats… you name it, if it moves, it was there. One section recreated some Glasgow streets of the 19th Century, complete with transport of the day. Another presentation recreated the first underground railway in the city, a cable driven tube train. We could easily have spent several more hours wandering around but we knew we had to push on, so, reluctantly, we left the building.

We had already worked out the bus to catch to take us to the city centre. Buses are Glasgow’s big downfall. There is an underground system, but somehow, it never seems to suit us. The problem with the bus system, is that there are at least (possibly more) five bus companies in operation. There is no one coordinated system. The bus we caught from the Riverside Museum, proved to be a community bus, run by volunteers. That’s a wonderful thing, except their little service doesn’t run to contactless payment with a card. Cash only! Seriously? We managed to dredge up enough cash to cover the fare. At the next two stops, people got on and had to leave again, because they did not have any cash. Crazy!

Glasgow University

Once again, our route took us past the University, this time on the south side. The buildings are so spectacular, we were sorry we would not have a chance to explore the grounds. Later, we learnt that the grounds were used as the basis for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.

We spent a few hours wandering around the city centre, taking in the sites, checking out where the bus station is for future travel, and generally wearing out the legs. We stopped at a café for lunch and a pint and was served by a Melbourne girl, who had been in Glasgow for a few months, including the winter, which she said was very difficult. We chose a share platter, part of which was haggis bites. The waitress admitted she has not yet tried haggis. It proved to be more than bearable, I found it delicious and wouldn’t be shy of having it again. I think the share plate was designed for four or five people. We didn’t recover from eating everything for 24 hours, we were so full. No dinner that night didn’t even help.

Buchanan St, Glasgow

June 3 – Edinburgh – Today we caught a train to Edinburgh, an hour away from Glasgow Queen St Station. The trip was interesting, with the start of the Highlands off to the north. Our train took us into Edinburgh Waverley station, a perfect spot to start an exploration of the essential central sights. We used the GPSMyCity App to plan a circular route, starting in the old town and going around through the parklands under the castle to the shopping area and back to the station.

The old town part of Edinburgh is focussed on the castle, set upon a crag that is the core remains of a long extinct volcano. The “Royal Mile” is the walk between Hollyrood Palace and the castle, and is the main focus for most visitors. Everywhere you look, there is outstanding architecture and items of interest, not to mention crowds of people. There a tour guides everywhere, all striding along with parasols or selfie sticks pointed skywards for their followers to track. We felt little need for a guided tour, with the information on the App and the signage dotted around giving us as much information as we needed. We ducked into tourist shops to find a few bits for the grand children, investigated some narrow alleyways from a medieval past, sat and had a tea and scone and did all those touristy things that one does. The only problem is the hills and steps. Because the city is an offshoot of the castle, everything is uphill. Some of the flights of steps are calf-killing things. We seemed to climb continuously, then carefully work our way back down steep cobbled pathways. At least it was dry. Some of the walkways would be really treacherous in poor weather.

Reluctantly, we gave a tour of the castle a miss. We had a couple of castle tours lined up and and already seen a few. We did take a look at the outside, as best you can without forking out money. A lot of the outside space is taken up with scaffolding to take seating for the Military Tattoo held in August, but the entry grounds of the castle are still rather spectacular.

Sir Walter Scott memorial at left.

Our walk took us on a long winding path back down the crag. Along the way, we passed the New College of the University of Edinburgh and admired the inner courtyards. At the bottom of the hill are the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, through which we enjoyed a leisurely stroll, before heading back out onto the street. This area is the main retail zone, full of shops that sell goods well out of both our pay scale and immediate needs. We did pass by the iconic Sir Walter Scott Monument, a towering stone structure that would look more at home on the top of a church than on the street. The stone was very dirty, apparently because the sandstone used contains a lot of natural oil, which in turn holds dust and grime very easily.

The Princes St Gardens

Although there is so much more to see in this fine city, we felt that we had at least done it some form of justice and headed back to the train, and home. It was another day of much walking, but this time, most of it was going up, or coming back down. The consolation is that the more we walk, the more we can eat.

June 5 – Loch Lomond, The Trossachs and Stirling Castle – With a tour booked for the day, we headed back into town on the now dreaded #4 bus. Glasgow’s bus system is like the Australian domestic flight system, definitely not designed for the consumer.

Our tour was a small one, with only eight people and a nice small, but comfortable bus. It would take us to Loch Lomnd, through the Trossachs and on to Stirling Castle. The driver, Stuart, was a very friendly guy, who was looking forward to one day visiting Perth, where one son now works as a surgeon at Fiona Stanley. Our tour headed off to the west then north of Glasgow to cross the fault line that demarks the start of the Highlands. We would crisscross this line a few times throughout the day. In most places, it is obvious, with the rise of the highlands coming off the mostly flat lands.

We stopped for a while to wander around the tiny village of Luss, nestled on the banks of Loch Lomond. The whole village is heritage rated and preserved, with all buildings being built from a beautiful local stone and the history dating back to the 5th Century.

The little lakeside village of Luss

Loch Lomond is Scotland’s biggest lake by surface area, although not as big as Loch Ness in volume. It is still deep though, with depths of up to 190m. The hills around the loch are very scenic with forests, pine plantations and farms, as well as the grandeur of the majestic Ben Lomond at the northern end. The southern end is a popular holiday destination, although the water itself is so cold that when swimming, it is compulsory to wear a floatation device. We boarded a boat to take a short cruise along the loch and admire the many fine Victorian and Georgian mansions dotted along the shores. Once the boat got moving, the wind chill factor made sitting up front difficult, so eventually, we moved downstairs undercover, where the scenery was better because our eyelids weren’t freezing over.

Loch Lomond

From Loch Lomond, we drove to the town of Aberfoyle for a lunch stop before driving up through the Trossachs, an area of mountains, glens and forests to the east of Loch Lomond. Its beauty has resulted in most of the area forming a National Park, along with parts of Loch Lomond. The drive was up a series of steep winding narrow roads, with each turn exposing a new delight. The forests are very deep and carry a lot of outstanding timber, of a wide variety of species. In the areas where the forest gives way to the more open mountainsides, the flowering yellow gorse created a beautiful display. In places, the heather was showing the first signs of flowering with a purple blush developing, although we later learnt that this was a different heather to the variety that covers the open hills further north, and flowers later in July and August.

At one point, we stopped by a field to admire a small herd of highland cattle. These huge animals are a breed native to the Hebrides and are raised throughout the highlands for their high quality meat. If you see Scottish Beef on a menu, it will be highland cattle meat. They are very popular with tourists for their huge spreading horns and shaggy coats, that sometimes hang over their eyes, making them considerably cuter than their lowland cousins.

Highland Cattle, known locally as ‘Hairy Coos’

Leaving the Trossachs, we pushed on to Stirling Castle. The complex competes with Edinburgh Castle for the title of Scotland’s most historically important fortress. Over the years, it has often served as the residence of Scottish Kings and Queens, and was a key defensive point during the ongoing wars between England and Scotland during the 14th Century. Most of the present work was done during the 15th Century under the Stewart Kings, James IV, V and VI. After the defeat of the Scottish monarchy and the failure of the Jacobite uprisings, the Castle lost its royal purpose and spent the centuries as a fortress, and later as a military barracks.

Much of the castle has been faithfully restored to depict the royal palace of the 16th Century monarchs. A major feature is the collection of recreated tapestries, known as the Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries. The original 15th Century works are in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2002, a program of recreating the works using original techniques was launched using a studio in West Sussex. The result is amazing, with full sized reproductions hanging in the Queen’s chamber. There is a display of the techniques used. Each tapestry took two years of painstaking work, amazing in this day and age, but almost unbelievable back in the 15th Century. The castle also houses the Stirling Heads, a collection of 38 carved rondels featuring the heads of monarchs, important figures and biblical characters, that originally adorned the ceiling of the King’s Waiting room.

We explored the reconstructed Great Hall and the wonderful display in the old castle kitchen, with figures depicting the cooking and serving in the old days. The entire castle was very well presented, and filled in many gaps in our knowledge of Scottish History.

We got back to Glasgow tired, but left with the feeling that we had experienced just a little of what Scotland has to offer, and pleased to be moving on into the Highlands to explore more. Next stop, Inverness.

  1. You both are very brave tasting haggis!! So much history.

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