The drive from London to Glasgow was never going to be fun. The M6 for nearly 10 hours. Stop, start, congestion, open road,
do it all again.
When I arrived in the host city of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow didn’t sell. The driving rain blocked out
the drab grey buildings. Summer in Scotland and it’d only just begun.
Being a glass half-empty kind of guy, I wasn’t feeling optimistic about this adventure. I thought, why hold the Games in Jamaica when it can be here? It didn’t take long, however, for someone to top up the whisky in my glass, and soon Scotland became an experience I’d love and will never forget.
I’m not here to write about the Games. In fact, I didn’t care about them – Australia came second and the archenemy (England) won. I’m not writing about that.
I’m writing about Scotland the great, great country that it is.
What struck me first about my time in Scotland was the sheer helpfulness of the locals. The Games were in town, so were tourists. I’m not su
re if Glaswegians had been given a directive to ‘be nice’ or if this was their normal attitude. I’ll admit, understanding their thick accent wasn’t easy, and I still got lost, but they helped and were willing to do so.
Plastered on many street walls, billboards, anything that could hold advertising, was the ‘People Make Glasgow’ campaign. A survey of previous tourists and current locals revealed the overriding consensus that the thing that truly makes Glasgow is its people. Agreed.
Scottish Blue Badge Tourist guide and passionate advocate of Scotland Susan Brown believes the advertising campaign is fair and accurate:
“I’ve lived and worked all over the world, and I can honestly say Scots, and especially Glaswegians, are some of the friendliest people around. When I lived abroad I missed that familiar accent, and, ultimately, the place and the people brought me back forever.”
Glasgow and its people are similar to Melbourne and Melbournians. They’re happy to give you the time of day and help where need be. The cities have a close connection, too. Both have now hosted the Commonwealth Games, both arguably suffer four seasons in one day, they are both heavy on grey buildings and they both have a grid-style street system.
Most interesting, however, is that Glasgow and Melbourne are considered the less glamorous siblings of the more touristy Edinburgh and Sydney, respectively.
It could be argued that tourists go to Edinburgh and Sydney to get selfies in front of castles and the Harbour Bridge, while those who ventu
re to Glasgow and Melbourne get the real local experience.
Like Melbourne’s, Glasgow’s city streets are dotted with trendy little bars, cafés, restaurants and quaint pubs, all offering well-priced local food and drink. For the record, haggis is delicious. And don’t leave without trying the seafood, a large amount of which is shipped live by refrigerated truck to places like France and Spain. If it’s on menus in Barcelona and the south of France, it’s good enough for you in Scotland.
Before touring Scotland I was more a fan of Irish whiskey. Spending time with local Scotch whisky experts at the Auchentoshan distillery and at local Scotch whisky bars, like the brilliant Bon Accord
in Glasgow, redefined my palate. Go to Bon Accord, ask for the owner Paul, and an hour later he will have taught you everything you need to know about Scotch whisky. Any further knowledge is irrelevant.
On closer inspection, Glasgow has its share of impressive historical buildings and landmarks, too; Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow Necropolis, the Glasgow School of Art and the Clyde Auditorium, which looks very similar to the Sydney Opera House and is locally called The Armadillo.
Like a quality weekend away from Melbourne and Sydney, such a trip from Glasgow is an option, too.Within easy driving distance are places that provide the perfect weekender, weather permitting. Loch Lomond caters to any outdoorsy person, camper, fine-diner and five-star hotel-stayer or casual sightseer. I went in beautiful sunshine and it reflected gorgeously off the water. Boats can be hired and the day spent cruising. Jet skis navigate the water in seconds and watercraft land in harmony on the loch.
Scotland has a very open land access law; people can go almost anywhere as long as they follow an outdoor access code. Often you’ll see wild camping sites in the countryside and around Loch Lomond. Campers spend their time swimming and cooking local produce on open fires. If the extravagant lifestyle is your thing, stay at the magnificent Cameron House and dine at Martin Wishart’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Literally something for everyone.
Melbourne to Sydney in a car is a good eight hours. This is a difference between the Australian cities and their Scottish counterparts as the drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh is less than 60 minutes. The selfies need to be taken in Edinburgh, it’s a must see. Like Sydney, there’s an air of self-confidence about the place, and with a young university crowd and an old and new town (very European), you can see why. Locals and tourists are spoilt for choice. There is always something happening in Edinburgh. I arrived for the start of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the famous Military Tattoo.
The Fringe Festival showcases an array of local and international artists, musicians and comics. Any taste can be quenched there. Fortunately I secured a Tattoo ticket and it was smack-bang in the middle of the seating – I could write for hours about this spectacle but it won’t do it justice. Just go and experience it for yourself – it’s impossible to regret.
Edinburgh has the presence of a well-experienced medieval city. It could confidently stand next to Munich or Prague as a throwback to a bygone era. The Old Town, Edinburgh Castle, and parts of the Royale Mile transport you back to a time unimaginable today.
This year, Scotland is hosting a number of international events, and the country will be buzzing long after the Games, Edinburgh Festival and
the Tattoo have gone. If you have the chance to holiday overseas, you could do a lot worse. Research Scotland and, guaranteed, you’ll find a place to which you want to travel.
Susan Brown says it’s just a matter of visiting once: “People fall in love with Scotland quickly. It’s not uncommon for me to see the same people return a few times within a few years. I love this place and I’m passionate about showing it off. Please come here if you can, we’re waiting to show you around.”
This article first appeared in the Australia Times Travel Magazine.