Saturday, May 7, 2011

Scotalnd 1: The Quest for Mungo

4 May
Ballantrae, Scotland
Scotland, the home of the 'penny pinchers'. Imagine watching a show called “Super Scrimpers” in Scotland. Then think about how we travel. Some days, we do live a little rough, but not tonight! Penny Pinchers like us are well ahead of these TV programs. Here on the waterfront, just south of Ayr on the western coast of Scotland, we are parked by the beach with spectacular views of the Irish Sea and, as the sun sets, the golden glow colours the hills behind the village. Total cost? Zero. Sure, everybody wants different things out of travel. But for us, camping by the beach, for free, on a warm and sunny afternoon beats a night in a $300 a night flash room hands down.
This is just a little village with no advertised attractions to suck in the tourists but, like almost every corner of the UK, if you dig about, there is history here - relatively recent history by UK standards, but still interesting. The small harbour was only built in the 1840s, but some of the original fishing sheds and houses are still around the area where we are camped. What makes it interesting, is that there are plaques on the seafront with old photographs showing the golden age of the port. Some of the buildings in the old photos are still here. And it is all ours. Nobody else is here.
Our crossing from Belfast was just a bit lumpy this afternoon, but we hardly noticed as we read about the death of Osama Ben Laden. Well, hopefully the world will be safer for all, especially us travellers.
6 May
Glasgow once had the reputation of being a run-down, tough, industrial slum. This is probably more than a little unfair, even 20 years ago. Today, such images are way off the mark. Rich in culture, energetic, alive and forward looking, Glasgow is well worth a visit. And it has both Mungo and Blackadder

Before we descend into the banal story of Mungo, we must comment on two of the incredible museums the city has to offer. The Burrell Collection, is a museum made up entirely of the private collection of the wealthy industrialist Sir William Burrell (1861-1958). Sir William donated his collection, equal to many national level collections of art and antiquities, to the city in 1944. The second is Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. What a fantastic place! And what a creative philosophy of display. At first, things seemed to be all over the place. Stuffed animal specimens, painting and historical objects all in the same room? But there were themes that linked them all. Armour and swords arranged beside period paintings, with cases displaying relevant historical objects along side. Probably the best arranged museum collection we have ever seen – and we have seen a few! We particularly liked the wire-framed outlines of Scottish warriors, grasping real swords and shields as well as the Swinging Heads, a collection of heads, lit by a ghostly purple light from below, all with different expressions ranging from anguish to joy.
One more thing before Mungo. The 'Tenement House'. Every now and then, chance delivers a real gem to those interested in preserving the history of a city like Glasgow. For over 50 years, Miss Agnes Toward lived in a typical inner Glasgow tenement house, built in the late 19th century. Agnes wasn't one for change. She maintained the house in pristine condition from before the First World War until she was taken ill in the1960s, keeping her war-time ID card as well as her gas mask, and many other every-day documents, when many destroyed theirs. For the ten years she was in hospital, she continued to pay the rent and left her home locked up. On her death, the National Trust acquired the apartment, cleaned it up and opened it to the public. It is a time capsule, a glimpse of life through the first half of the 20th century.
On to Mungo. Part of our reason for visiting Glasgow was to visit the tomb of Mungo. Why? Simply because Mungo is such an unlikely name for a saint. Our pilgrimage took us through the majestic Victorian streets of this great city of the North, to the ancient Cathedral of Saint Mungo. You will understand our surprise when we discovered that, in the early 16th century, this holy place was also the haunt of none other than..... Archbishop Blacader. (Note authentic medieval spelling) The namesake of a character immortalised by Rowan Atkinson.

In the crypt of the cathedral, we finally found the chapel and tomb of the legendary Mungo. It was a truly mystical place! Just a few meters away was the chapel of Blacader. To top it all off, across the road, just up from the inspiring St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, was the Provand's Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow AND.... once home to the Archbishops of Glasgow. Did Blacader live here? Nobody could tell us. Most were just puzzled at our interest.
In the Mungo museum, we found a photo of a statue that is the only known image of the great Mungo. It isn't in the Glasgow Cathedral, but in Cologne Cathedral. We were there a couple of years back but were blissfully unaware of the true treasures of the place. We must go back some day to see Mungo.

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