As I mentioned in a previous post, there’s a first time for everything – here’s one that I definitely never thought I’d have… fielding a request for an entry into Doyle’s Gallivanting. So here’s a few big ups to old mate Mad Mon and an account of my two weeks in the Wild West (of Scotland).
Wow! Talk about a pilgrimage – 13 hour bus ride from London to Glasgow, 5 hr bus ride from Glasgow to Oban and a 1 hour ferry from Oban to the Isle of Lismore. Thank goodness for my new found ability to sleep anywhere on anything, an exhausting few days in London, some gorgeous English scenery and a 2 day layover in Glasgow. Why bother with buses? Because of the UK’s ludicrously priced trains of course, which would have set me back some 200 quid for the journey.
The digs in Glasgow were conveniently located at the end of the main drag (Buchanan St) and were a mix of hotel and hostel. Confoundingly, the company had managed to combine the worst of both worlds. Creaky bunk beds, cramped dorm rooms with dubiously stained sheets, no kitchen or common room facilities and a pretty sterile sort of atmosphere. But when it’s the cheapest place in town, one tends to grin and bear it – which is exactly what my 3 roommates (a Yank coming to the end of a semester abroad and two Fritz travelling duo around the UK) and I did. The little electric kettle (situated on the floor) was worked overtime and we shared some food, some beverages and a few stories before they all took off the next day leaving me with a blissfully empty room (sleeping with less than 8 people in the same room for the first time in 3 months – what luxury).
It’s not every day that one happens to find oneself in Glasgow, so despite a good measure of weariness, I strapped on the shoes, bolted down some 2-minute noodles and stepped out in search of the Ben Nevis. Shuffling in past the crowded front door, I was smacked in the face by the sight of a towering wall of whiskey and the furious fiddling of some of the country’s hottest tune musicians in the middle of a spanking session. Well worth the 20 minute walk to get there and bask in a bit of Scottishness.
Day 2 and morning broke on the aforementioned empty dorm room, so I wasted no time in ploughing through a quick workout and jumping out the door. Today’s mission: do Glasgow in 13 hours. This city has a reputation for being a bit of a shopping destination (at least within the UK) so I spent a good couple of hours combing the streets looking like a shady burglar and exercising some serious self control whilst I window-shopped. There were just a few items on the shopping list – a set of waterproof trousers for working, a Buff headband for looking buff and staying warm and a knife/fork/spoon set that I’ve been coveting ever since attempting to eat yoghurt with my hands (great for moisturising, but never again).
To further strain the purchase impulse inhibitions, there was a market on Sauchiehall St that was throwing out some seriously delicious sights and smells – certainly a step up from my packet of vegetables and an apple that I’d packed for myself in order to bandage my rapidly bleeding wallet. I beat a hasty retreat in the direction of Glasgow’s cathedral – a truly spectacular building of soaring dark grey stone. Upon my initial rounds of St Mungo’s, I noticed a small side door opening onto what looked like a side-chapel – it looked a bit forbidden, cosy and ancient, which is exactly the kind of space that appeals to my adventurous side. I’ll always regret saving it for later because by the time later rolled around, the door was securely locked. Bummer! This served to reinforce my suspicion that the public view of a cathedral is just the tip of the belltower – I always get the feeling that there are endless mezzanines, staircases, secret rooms, chapels, catacombs, towers and crypts that the plebs can’t gain access to. It’s fair to say that I’m dead set fascinated by them (I’m not ashamed to admit that I skipped a trip to Disneyland in favour of a cathedral adventure whilst in Paris some years ago).
Having thoroughly explored every publically explorable nook and cranny, I headed out the back toward an equally interesting site: the Glasgow Necropolis. Which inspired me to research the difference between a necropolis and a cemetery (simply put, the former is larger, more ancient and generally more elaborate). It certainly lived up to all three criteria and I spent a very pleasant hour strolling through the green hills, grey headstones and immaculate mausoleums of Glasgow’s lords and ladies. I’m not much of one for superstition, so I stopped for lunch sitting atop Mr George MacDonald’s (a merchant, died 1842) tomb overlooking the cathedral and Glasgow’s sprawl.
With time rapidly marching on, I took off down Buchanan St toward the river Clyde and an attraction that had caught my eye on Tripadvisor – the good ship Glenlee. It’s a fair step to the maritime museum and sadly it was closed by the time I arrived, but the brisk walk in the fresh air along the foreshore was worth the effort and I was still able to view the Glenlee up close from the pier. She must have been quite a sight when fully rigged – certainly she was a formidable performer with several circumnavigations and roundings of The Capes (Horn and Good Hope) to her name. It’s sad to think that such a proud ship-building tradition fell by the wayside as a victim of cheaper labour and increased restrictions, but such is the way of the modern world. I find it a bit funny that prior to April of this year, I had only a passing interest in all things nautical – now having been aboard a tall ship for 50 days, I’m going out of my way to visit an old decommissioned boat!
Having scratched my nautical itch for the moment, I turned my sights northward toward Glasgow’s famous, edgy and arty West End. It was certainly reminiscent of Camden (of London), Brunswick St (of Melbourne), Beaufort St (of Perth) and other such areas and it was a relief to stumble into a cosy café for a cup of tea and a respite for my weary legs. Chatting away to the (pretty fair) lassies behind the counter, we were mutually amused to discover that one of them was a Western Australian – from Albany of all places! Typical travelling Aussies, I guess.
With daylight slowly fading (it’s a dead set stitch up that it only gets dark around 11pm up here), I decided to take a detour past Glasgow University and through the adjacent Kelvingrove Park. I was well satisfied with the choice – the university sports some stunning architecture, which might be expected from the 4th oldest university in the world. Kelvingrove Park was similarly enchanting in a peaceful, gardenish way.
Passing through the inner city nightlife districts provided a glimpse into the early stages of a Friday night in Scotland’s party town, but your intrepid hero was in no mood for any shenanigans after a big day on the streets. Besides, with an Aussie dollar this weak, social outings have been put on the backburner for the moment so I retired to my creaky bunk well satisfied with the day’s explorations.
Back on board the bus next morning, I was gazing listlessly out the window when a sign went flying past “Loch Lomond” (and bonny were her banks indeed) making me truly feel as though I’d arrived in Scotland. At length, the bus wheezed into the quaint coastal town of Oban, where the air is salty and the seafood is sold in huge portions by wee small vans that line the quay.
I stepped aboard the ferry and breathed a huge sigh of relief to feel the floor rolling gently beneath my feet – yet another unexpected reminder of how my Young Endeavour voyage has commandeered a big part of my soul. The ferry trip amidst the inner western Scottish isles was an absolute treat – sunlight breaking through the clouds to dance across the water and illuminate green island hillsides, glassy water and a pair of Germans who had just conquered the West Highland Way to share stories with. I stepped off the boat with a cheery good day to the ferrymen, breathed in the cool, fresh air and strode onto the Isle of Lismore and into my next adventure.
share stories with. I stepped off the boat with a cheery good day to the ferrymen, breathed in the cool, fresh air and strode onto the Isle of Lismore and into my next adventure.