Heritage Travel, Historic Preservation, Observations from...
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Observations from…cities, highlands, islands, and fjords

Having now completed my initial 2022 trip as a study leader/educational expert for National Trust Tours, I’ve been reflecting on our Scottish Highlands and Islands | Fjords of Norway tour. Before looking ahead to the Mekong River excursion this fall, join me as I make a few observations and wrap up the odds and ends of this experience.


Buchanan Street in Glasgow

I loved Glasgow.

We began in that city when our Thursday arrival put us on the ground a day before our “official” start time. We came early in order to adjust our internal clocks and — more importantly — see this dynamic city that was once a powerhouse of the industrial revolution. Glasgow is now experiencing a renaissance fueled by youthful energy, the arts (culinary and cultural), and a can-do spirit that extends back to the city’s founding. After a short lunch (and a longer nap), we took to the streets, eventually walking to the Finnieston neighborhood to have the first of a number of creative and delicious meals we would enjoy over the next three weeks. Somewhat surprisingly, our evening at The Gannet also turned out to be the most satisfying culinary experience of our 22 days abroad.

The Gannet in Glasgow (credit: The Gannet)

A good night’s sleep and an early morning walk around our hotel the next morning led me to truly appreciate the architectural riches of the city.

Nice adaptive use for a coffee shop
Morning views, before the streets were filled with people
Looking up is always a delight in a city like Glasgow
Enjoying the historic design of a local arcade, before the shoppers arrive

Candice and I were also eager to see first-hand the places where architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, the artist Margaret Macdonald, did some of their most important work for tearoom entrepreneur Kate Cranston; places where “artistic taste allied with domestic comforts.” After a breakfast at the Buchanan Street Tea Room, we walked the few blocks over to Sauchiehall Street to the restored Willow Tea Rooms, where we had the chance to see the full effect of the Mackintosh/Macdonald vision.

Restored Willow Tea Room
Charles Rennie Mackintosh

We also went in search of other Mackintosh designs in the city and hit the jackpot at the Glasgow Art Club.

Gallery in the Glasgow Art Club, with freize by Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Charles Rennie Mackintosh frieze detail for the Glasgow Art Club

Having read that Mackintosh designed a frieze early in his career for the club, we found the building’s location on the map, knocked on the imposing front door, and asked if it was possible to see the Mackintosh frieze. The kindly staff member said, “Sure, no one is in the room right now. Just go through that door and down the hall, and you’ll see it.”

What a treat!

One writer for The Guardian noted that “The world is now awash with Mackintosh mugs, tea-towels, brooches, earrings, cushions and mirrors ― a plethora of chintzy merchandise adorned with the trademark floral tendrils and abstract grids. What was once provocative is now the stuff of the gift shop.” Suffice it to say the world knows a great deal about Mackintosh. But it is something else to see his work on site, as originally designed, still inspiring wonder in the eyes of the beholder.

Scottish Highlands, Orkney and Shetland Islands

Glenfinnan monument

Friday afternoon we left Glasgow to the sound of bagpipers and boarded the small cruise ship Le Dumont-d’Urville, which was our home for the next seven days. (And it was a luxurious and welcoming home in every way.) Saturday morning found us in the very rainy town of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands; yet, as the tour directors always say, these visits go rain or shine. So, with rain gear in hand we took the bus to visit the National Trust for Scotland’s Glenfinnan monument. As the NTS website notes, Glenfinnan is a moving tribute to those who died fighting for the Jacobite cause in 1745, framed by dramatic Highland scenery. A much more modern tourism moment is the opportunity to “immerse yourself in the magical setting of a Harry Potter film location and witness the ‘Hogwarts Express’ steam train crossing the world-famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.” I was actually more taken with it than I expected, even dodging the rain drops!

The “Hogwarts Express” crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct

The Glencoe Nature Preserve, another stunning area protected by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), was a treasure to explore in spite of the threatening clouds. NTS has a thoughtful and engaging interpretive center, complete with a large map that shows the extent of their holdings in this area.

A slice of the Glencoe landscape
Map of the nature preserve

Sunday we toured the Isle of Skye, visiting the town of Portree with its natural harbor and small shops. We drove along the Sleat Peninsula and ended our day with a visit to Eilean Donan Castle, located on an island where three great sea lochs meet on the west coast of Scotland.

Portree, on the Isle of Skye
Castle Eilean Donan on Isle of Skye

Monday brought us to Kirkwall and the Orkney Islands. I have written about Orkney and its treasures, such as Skara Brae and St. Magnus Cathedral, but I did want to capture a picture of the small town of Kirkwall as well as one of the ubiquitous stone fences that cut throughout the Orkney landscape.

Kirkwall street scene
Stone fencing near Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands

Our final day in Scotland found us in the Shetland Islands and the little town of Lerwick. We decided to focus on the town with its inviting streets and small plazas.

Local Lerwick barber shop
View down a Lerwick street

It should be no surprise that we found time to spend in the local independent bookshop, where I picked up a couple of books by Orkney author George Mackay Brown.

Shetland Times Bookshop (Credit: Kenneth Shearer via shetlandtimes.co.uk)

Wrapping up in Norway

Having already written about our visits to Edvard Grieg’s home, the majestic fjords, and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bergen, I’ll simply leave you with this picture of the stunning Sognefjord.

I ended one of my lectures by noting that old places matter because their materials and appearances connect with human souls through emotions and memories. For some, those places may be mountains or streams. For others, buildings, neighborhoods, and streetscapes are involved.

While we toured some of the world’s most famous landscapes, heritage can be found everywhere – not just in special districts. As we saw every day on this tour, natural and cultural heritage are intertwined in a continuum. When we consider the places we visit, we can see that their significance lies not only in the past, but also in in the present.

The places we saw and the lessons we learned in the cities, highlands, islands, and fjords can be taken back, in our hearts and minds, to the places that we love. Being moved is, simply, one of the reasons we travel.


More to come…


For other posts on my reports and impressions from the Scottish Islands and Norwegian Fjords National Trust Tours trip click here for Orkney, here for the fjords and Bergen, and here for the Edvard Grieg home.

Image of rock fence on Orkeny and all other images by DJB unless otherwise noted.


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