An Idle Vacation in Scotland – Part 10

31 12 2006

22-31 December 2006

Part1 | Part2 | Part3 | Part4 | Part5 | Part6 | Part7 | Part8 | Part9 | Part10

Glasgow

Recycling at the YHA

Recycling at the YHA

This trip is at its end as is the year. I write these notes at the Glasgow International Airport. I arrived here an hour ago along with Michael, the German student I spoke of earlier. He left a little while ago for Dublin while I will wait out the night for my flight tomorrow morning, welcoming the New Year in the process. We had some difficulty getting to the airport. The wind which has been picking up steadily since morning strengthened to gale force. All trains were cancelled. So we got a taxi from the city centre.

Talking of public transport services, I find that the systems here are not as integrated as they are in London. In London, one can buy a single ticket for the tube and local buses. Suppose you are travelling for the day from outside London, your ticket to London will include unlimited travel within London Underground and London buses. But London bus service is different. It is not run by private operators such as Arriva or Stagecoach. That’s the main reason why such an integration is difficult in Glasgow. There are many private operators. For that matter, even in London, it is not possible to buy a ticket on mainline trains at a tube station. This is something that could be improved.

The main visit for the day was to Bothwell Castle. Every castle has a romantic pull that is part real and part imagined – imposing high walls, little secret passages, deep dark dungeons, tall crenellated towers and battlements, many large and grand rooms. Add to these the aspect of history, its battles, victories and bloodshed, tourists love it. These days, in the heyday of tourism, every castle seems to wear a medieval charm that gains greater renown by advertising.

As in most castles, only bare walls remain. The rooms may be made out from foundations and restored walls. Without furniture, one can only guess their purpose. In almost all cases the ceilings and roofs are not to be found. This gives us a new perspective of seeing an indoor space open to the sky. The rooms look smaller without their ceilings. This is the work of the mind to view it as part of the larger open space. Taken as a whole, the castle does not look big at all. All great castles are small in their ruins.

The donjon at Bothwell Castle

The donjon at Bothwell Castle

The ruins of Bothwell Castle contain many interesting features. The arcading of the Great Hall remains in fairly good condition. The colours of sandstone exposed over many long years display the effects of rain. The keep or what is called a “donjon” is an impressive defensive structure even in its fallen form. It also has a well. The castle integrates a chapel too. The castle, like Bodiam Castle, was not a seat of royalty but rather of aristocracy. In this case, it was started by Walter of Murray in the 13th century and changed hands between the English and the Scots more than once. The castle that we see today is what remains of the construction done by the Earls of Douglas in the beginning of the 15th century.

Ruins at Bothwell Castle

Ruins at Bothwell Castle

The castle was attended by a lone middle-aged man, Chris Timmins, who had retired after many years in the travel industry. He explained the history of the castle in such great detail that it could only be called a lecture in Scottish history. When he had spoken for nearly twenty minutes, I had forgotten where it had all started. The reason for his enthusiasm was apparent. He had been around for more than two hours and we were the first and possibly the only visitors on this rainy day. I must confess that the visit to the castle was enjoyable because of him alone. In his happy and friendly company, even the rain did not dampen my spirits. His hospitality was impeccable. He offered us free coffee and biscuits. He told us stories of his earlier years when he used to make customised itineraries for luxury travellers to Europe. In those days, in the 1970 or 1980s, booze used to be cheap in Germany; pornographic magazines used to be available only in some countries such as Denmark. They used to move these around from country to country. None of the border customs bothered to check luxury coaches. As travel became more common, many itineraries had become so well established that it was no longer necessary to customise them for particular tourists. Then the Internet came. People used to book directly online. Middlemen like Chris were no longer required. Their roles became even more marginal and less challenging than before. As the industry changed, the providers had to adapt. Thus, the Internet, and the general ease of getting around, has made the travel industry a consumer’s market more than a producer’s market.

After so much attention, I felt I should buy at least something from the castle shop. So I picked up a can of vegetarian haggis. This was packed in a special card paper box which even had a poem titled “To a Haggis” by Robert Burns. I have heard much of this traditional Scottish food but being vegetarian it never appealed to me. I did not think that even haggis could in a vegetarian version, like the many dishes of mock-meat that are so popular among Chinese Buddhists in Singapore.

I have spent a lot more time in Glasgow than previously planned. Among the large cities, I have liked Glasgow. Shopping centres at the town centre are lively and busy. Unfortunately, this was only because it was Christmas and New Year. I am sure at other times all shops will close early. The general dull and deserted atmosphere of Britain’s town centres will prevail. Coming from Singapore, the difference is obvious. My small walks along the River Clyde were among the most relaxing. There are some stunning modern buildings including the “Armadillo” and the IMAX Cinema. We should build more of these elegant glass structures rather than boring red-brick buildings. Even new buildings when built in an old style appear old by association. Such is the case with some new office buildings being built at Capability Green in Luton.

I am sure I will come again to Glasgow. It’s the easiest and fastest way to get to Scotland from Luton.

Part1 | Part2 | Part3 | Part4 | Part5 | Part6 | Part7 | Part8 | Part9 | Part10

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