7:15am: alarm goes off.
7:30am: get out of bed; prepare to get historic.
Every April, Historic Scotland kick off the tourist season by making all their properties free of admission for a day or two. This is great opportunity for big families and the lucky unaware visitor to get their history on. But it’s also a chance for skint students to completely abuse some hospitality. Did someone say ‘free’?
8:30am: so well prepared, itinerary mapped to the minute. Catch 40 bus to city centre; purchase unlimited day ticket. Am awesome.
8:32am: get off bus after realizing there’s no battery in my camera.
I wanted to see just how many of these historic sites I could see in one day, mostly because I’m a total chancer, but also as a journalistic experiment for the benefit of GUM readers who also happen to be chancers. Broke student that I am, I have no car nor the means to hire one, so it would all have to be done using public transport. Luckily, a day ticket with First only costs £3, and gets you everywhere within the area that can only be called Glasgowshire. Finally, for the sake of experimental accuracy, I managed to blag a ‘Friends of Historic Scotland’ membership card off one of my friends, which gets me into all sites free. Hit me with some history.
8:45am: Batteried up and ready to go; plan to hit Bearsden Roman bathhouse scrapped. Am 0 for 1 already.
9:15am: Glasgow Cathedral: not open for another 15 minutes. Off to a slow start indeed.
9:30am: Inside cathedral! Score. Victory somewhat dampened by fact that cathedral is already free. Flash my HS card anyway. HS attendant wonders if I’m dangerous.
In order to maximize the amount of sites I could hit in a day, I studied timetables and maps for hours the night before. The result was a sparkling mega-itinerary taking in no less than seven HS sites around Glasgow, including Roman ruins, medieval castles, and at least one Celtic cross, all between 9:30am–4:30pm. Any actual sightseeing would be kept to a minimum in order to increase efficiency; this trip was purely for business purposes. Good thing I wore my business socks.
9:50am: waiting for the bus near Strathclyde Uni, watching students walk past. Thought I had waited patiently enough for skinny jeans to die already; suppose not.
9:52am: X1 bus to Hamilton.
10:22am: angry ned in a faux-hawk eating chips at my stop; decide to stay on one longer.
10:23am: miss my connection by ten seconds; plan to hit Craignethan Castle scrapped. Blame ned, but not loudly.
What I failed to anticipate was that these historic sites only managed to escape demolition beneath the Glasgowshire conurbation because they are, generally speaking, way the hell out in the back-ass of nowhere. As such, the bulk of my day would be spent making bus connections, and then walking from the nearest bus stop, often a mile away, down muddy tracks and un-named roads.Some of these historic buildings were so busted and unloved that HS weren’t even charging admission anyway. This idea was getting less exciting by the minute. But in the name of opportunism, I surged onward.
11:00am: alone in a foggy woodland path near Hamilton, en route to Cadzow Castle. Begin planning escape routes across river should a ned approach. Spot a person who appears to be cooking up some smack down by river; quicken pace.
11:20am: still no sign of castle. Does heroin make one more likely to mug you in the woods, or less?
11:30am: finally find Cadzow Castle, which is a bit of walling wrapped in an ugly skeleton of scaffolding and fenced off from visitors—even Friends of Historic Scotland like myself. Take alternate path back to town.
Glasgowshire has an excellent network of buses and coaches, but trying to get them to connect is a dark art that I have apparently not mastered. I spent much of my day missing buses by mere seconds. In fact, I missed buses so regularly that I eventually began to feel quite proud: it seemed I had set up a perfectly-timed itinerary, but just started it ten seconds too late.
12:07pm: 255 bus to Uddingston for Bothwell Castle. Feet already starting to complain.
12:23pm: arrive at Uddingston Cross, a full hour ahead of schedule. Decide to stop by the local bakery for an éclair (delicious) and a coffee (foul).
12:45pm: leisurely lunch on grounds of big red Bothwell Castle, then, finally, a chance to flash my HS card. Ha-HAH! Victory is mine! I’m taking pictures of your castle for FREE!
1:57pm: miss the 255 bus to Glasgow by ten seconds.
The last two sites I was going to cram into my action-packed day were dangerously close to Glasgow, and so required a bus back into city centre to get to. After trekking through many miles of darkest Glasgowshire that day, the temptation to just grab the next bus home was almost overwhelming, but in pure, idiotic bloodymindedness, I pressed on and caught a bus back for more historic punishment.
3:07pm: 54 bus crawls through afternoon traffic. Bellahouston and Mosspark: unlovely.
3:35pm: prepare to switch buses to reach Crookston Castle, founded by the unfortunately-named Sir Robert de Croc. Predictably miss the 23A by ten seconds. Not terribly excited about prospect of walking through anywhere called “Crookston”, but press on.
3:57pm: reach Crookston Castle, a sexy ruin on a hill in the middle of a run-down area. Informed by key-holder that it is actually 4pm and thus the castle is shut for the day.
4:10pm: actually catch a bus, and make the connection to another. Things looking up.
4:27pm: Last stop: Paisley for the medieval abbey and the eighth-century Barochan Cross inside it.
4:29pm: abbey is shut for the day. Also, Paisley is unexpectedly full of Goths. Get on same bus I just got off, back to Glasgow.
I suppose the lesson here is don’t be a cheap bastard. But the real secret is: this year’s HS Doors Open Days are April 12–13, and Edinburgh Castle (£11) and Stirling Castle (£8.50) are quite easy to get to by public transport. And no chancer worth his borrowed bus fare would pass up the prospect of hitting those for free.