S C O T L A N D : D A Y 1 4
SEPTEMBER 1 (Friday) -- Stirling to Glasgow
The next morning proved little better as far as my rotten mood was concerned. Our first scenic target was Stirling Castle, guardian of the primary passageway into Scotland from England. Here we found that my timing of our trip to Scotland was poor, as much of the castle was under tarpaulins where it was being cleaned and restored. (Very noisily, as it turned out.) So we got to see only bits and pieces of it, such as the excellent headquarters of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders infantry regiment, the celebrated "Thin Red Line."
From Stirling Castle we visited the other main attraction of the area, the Wallace Monument. If Stirling Castle draws the eye to the west of the city, this memorial to William Wallace commands all attention in the east. Shaped like a needle pointing skyward, the memorial is set atop a 300- foot hill from which Wallace is said to have commanded his troops at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, a battle in which the Scots dealt a stinging defeat to the forces of the hated English King Edward I.
I was ready to do some stinging of my own by the time we reached the summit of the hill and entrance to the monument. It's a long walk up the hill, so a small coach is provided. We elected to take the coach; the problem was that there was no way there'd be room for all of us in one trip. I tried to point this out, and was treated to the usual "Oh, it's just Bart being Bart, let's jolly him up" response that grates on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. In irritation, I climbed aboard... and sure enough, there wasn't room for me. I wound up having to cling to part of the frame behind the driver, bent over because there wasn't enough room for me to stand upright--so my bad back began to hurt, which didn't do anything to make me less cross.
Finally we reached the top, so that I was able to walk around for a bit before making the climb upwards through the monument. This also helped me work off a little steam. As bad as being upset with my fellow travelers made me feel, knowing that I was behaving rudely toward them (and probably coming across as simply childish) made me feel even worse about it. So I started climbing.
The monument is cleverly built. The only way up or down is via a very narrow circular staircase that winds upwards for several hundred feet. Every so often, though, there is an opening into which climbers can step for a chance to catch their breath. (I didn't notice anyone who didn't take advantage of this opportunity.) Inside each of these chambers is an exhibit dedicated to Wallace or other Scots of note. One chamber describes in excellent detail the surrounding countryside with enormous maps mounted on each wall. Another chamber is lined with busts of famous Scots who have left their marks on history, some whose names are well-known (Burns and Scott, for example), and others more obscure but not insignificant.
The final chamber is dedicated to William Wallace himself. An exhibit tells his true story, and in one corner, in a sealed case, hangs his claymore (the long, wide-bladed, double-edged sword as seen recently in the movie Braveheart). If this was indeed the sword of Wallace, he must have been a giant of a man. I am six feet tall and would likely have cut off my own legs at the knees had I tried to swing this enormous blade.
(Note: I would have liked to have been able to stay an extra day in Stirling because Braveheart was due to open there the day after we were to leave. It would have been interesting to check out the show there in the heart of Wallace country, and maybe see how the locals were feeling about Scottish independence. This was before the vote for devolution, and the return of the Stone of Scone to its rightful place.)
At the very pinnacle of the monument, part of the roof is cut away to provide an unimpeded view of the entire country for miles around (or so it would have been had not a permanent smog covered everything from Edinburgh to Stirling to Glasgow). Each direction featured a brass plate set into the stone explaining the famous battle sites and towns visible in that direction. While I was looking around, trying to memorize everything I saw, Ann joined me. Having shed some of my annoyance with each step upward, I was able to speak to her with something approaching the civility she deserved, and her patience encouraged me to dump the rest of it. The day started getting better after that.
Once we'd seen the world from the monument, it was back to the cars and off to our final destination, Glasgow. Once there, we dropped off our car--what was left of it--and caught a cab into town. I had been hoping that our hotel, the Babbity Bowster (which we chose because the name was just so darn strange), would be somewhat near where I had stayed when I arrived in Glasgow at the beginning of this whole excursion. This would have allowed me to feel useful, but of course things rarely work out that way.
We finally found the hotel in a narrow, almost invisible side street. It was late, but we went wandering around nearby George Square in the dark just the same. I don't remember why. Then the drunken lads whom I'd met on my first night in Glasgow decided to wander around outside my bedroom window again.
Their singing hadn't improved.
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