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A Bleak Kind of Beauty


We have now entered the Real Scotland, also known as Everywhere Except Edinburgh. It is true the capital is very touristy and there was enough tartan on the Royal Mile to clothe Scotland ten times over. Thankfully the past ten days have proved there is more to the country than stacks of Chinese kilts in the “tac shops” (the fond term we are now using for any place that sells tacky bagpipe fridge magnets, Lion Rampant flags or Nessie shot glasses). 
From Edinburgh, we headed across to Glasgow, Scotland’s second largest city, to see where the “real people” live. Glasgow is industrial and gritty, with predominantly modern architecture. The highlight of our day trip was a visit to the Kelvingrove Musuem and Art Gallery; it really reminded me of a Victorian curiosities show as there was many random objects thrown into cabinets side by side. A Spitfire aeroplane hung directly above a stuffed Asian elephant. Colonial swords were placed beside a replica iceberg. A side room was dedicated to the local love affair with American Country and Western music. The museum also had a comprehensive exhibit on the conservation of paintings; over the past year I have been seriously considering doing my Masters in Conservation at Melbourne University, so poor Jo had to pretty much drag me out of the room after forty minutes re-playing the interactive videos.
Kelvingrove also houses some excellent paintings and glass work produced by the Glasgow School, a group of Scottish artists and designers who made a distinct contribution to the Art Nouveau movement over a forty year period between 1870 and 1910. Key figures like Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Herbert MacNair, and the MacDonald sisters (Margaret and Frances) were influenced by Japonisme and the Celtic Revival (a renewed interest in the ancient Celtic arts of Britain and Island in the 19th and early 20th centuries).
Scotland is known as a breeding ground for great writers and artists; I have included some photos of my favourite pieces at the bottom of this post.  


The sketches attached are from various Highland locations on the road between Glasgow and Inverness. Northern Scotland is very empty and we can drive for an hour without seeing another car. The hills are not so high as I imagined and have been rounded off by harsh weather. Some patches of heather are flowering early, but mostly the landscape is varying shades of grey and brown; a bleak kind of beauty. We have hiked through woodlands, along riverbanks and out in open fields full of hairy Highland cows. The wind usually beats us into a swift retreat and I have been laughed at more than once for wearing gloves in summer. It has been miraculously sunny for the past week, though it rained heavily when we visited Culloden Battlefield. We were followed around the site by a rather bewildered batch of freshly-shaved British military recruits out on a history exclusion. Our trip to Culloden reminded me of Diana Gabaldon’s Jacobite romp “Cross Stitch“, which I read at least three times in high school. As our Scottish guide tells us, even he would “jump the fence” for the protagonist Jamie Fraser.


My next post will follow our adventures in the remote Scottish Isles of Orkney, Lewis, Harris and Skye. I’ll finish off with a quick quote on the Scottish fighting spirit which I picked up from the National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle: 

Mo Dhith, Mo Dhith, ‘smi gun Tri Lamhan,

Da Lamh ‘sa Phiob is Lamh ‘sa Chlaidheamh.

My loss, My loss, without three hands,
Two for the pipe and one for the sword.

Brosnachadh Catha Chlann Dughaill (Clan MacDougall’s incitement to battle, c 1299)


Victorian Summer House
Ruthven Barracks Ruins
Culloden Battlefield grave markers

“Glasgow Smile” – facial scar caused by gang violence

Conservation treatment Kelvingrove Art Gallery
Stages of conservation (Kelvingrove Art Gallery)
Glasgow Style (Margaret and Frances McDonald) 

Glasgow Boys (John Lavery)

Highland military recruitment poster

The Thin Red Line (Battle of Balaclava 1854, Sutherland Highlanders Regiment) – Robert Gibb

“St. Bride” – John Duncan
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