The original plan was for the next Loose Ends post to be St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. The last one was Glasgow Cathedral so it was a straight link between churches and patron saints. When I got to St. Giles, however, I had a quick turn around and that did me fine. I don’t know what it was, there were a few ideas percolating around but I think I was scunnered by being asked to pay £2 to take photos, which I grudged. I was planning on going to the National Museum of Scotland anyway, just up the road on Chambers Street, and just as I walked down George IV Bridge past the National Library, it started raining for the first time in what felt like weeks. I still had to find a connection between Glasgow Cathedral and NMS, though, coming up with their managing agencies both being part of the Scottish Government, that both are free to get into and they also have bits about the Reformation.
NMS and I go way back. I grew up in East Lothian and a lot of visits to Edinburgh involved a trip to Chambers Street, either to the old museum with the fish ponds or the new one, which opened in 1998 and covers Scotland. To this day I still call the Scottish bit of NMS the ‘new’ bit despite it now being in its third decade and the ‘old’ bit being spruced up and new. I don’t get there as often any more, living in Glasgow and all that, and a trip is a bit of a treat now. A lot of it is very familiar and I headed to some favourite bits straight away, starting with the Kingdom of the Scots with the Monymusk reliquary once used, or so they say, to carry the relics of St. Columba into battle. After that I looked up to a painted ceiling once in a big hoose in Burntisland and then left to some Pictish stanes. I covered bits of the ground floor, going into the other bit for the Millennium Clock and a lighthouse lamp from Inchkeith Lighthouse that I can’t help loving to photograph. I like the object wall you can see from the Grand Gallery, each bit seemingly random but interlinked somehow. The wall features rockets, Buddhist sculptures, sewing machines and railway station signs.
Back in the ‘new’ museum I made sure I had a look at the Arthur’s Seat coffins, the section on lighthouses, trains and the big Beam Engine on the third floor. At the Reformation display, revision for me for an upcoming exam, an American woman was opining about Martin Luther, her man confessing he knew hee haw about Luther. I wandered, feeling happy to be in a familiar place, still learning but thinking all the time about connections for this series. A piece of petrified wood links to John Muir and Dunbar. The lighthouse lamp could take me almost anywhere on our coastline, though Barns Ness came to mind at that moment. The painted ceiling could even take me back to Aberdour, alternatively to Huntingtower Castle not far out of Perth. The beam engine might take me to Kilmarnock, where it worked, or Prestongrange where an engine still exists, albeit not in use. One of the locomotives on the fourth floor was built in Leith, quite an historical place in its own right. To be fair to NMS, it has connections and links to many parts of Scotland and the world, in many cases drawing attention to other places to visit, even other museums in the case of Skerryvore in Tiree and the Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh. I thought about the Riverside Museum here in Glasgow or even Summerlee in Coatbridge, good places both, good possible connections too.
There are many people who would argue that Scottish culture is skewed towards the central belt and Glasgow or Edinburgh in particular. I used to think NMS was but walking around it for this visit changed that view. It gives a good account of Scotland and how we see the world, a good starting point that inspires wonder and travelling once more.