Caught totally by surprise, I whizz by the 10-ton Millennium Clock, past the intricate silver gilded Lennoxlove service (one of only three Louis XIV toiletry sets still in existence) and scan the Discoveries Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland when a voice stops me.
It’s David Forsyth, the museum’s senior curator and expert on Scottish emigration. Head tilted down, he’s hunched over a seemingly non-descript glass display case.
“Want to see the invention that helped save the world as we know it?”
He asks fluttering his fingers like a butterfly toward a blotchy mold specimen surrounded by over 50 medals. “It’s penicillin! Sir Sanford Fleming, a great Scot, just happened to discover the bacteria by accident after returning from a family holiday and noticed his petri dishes were all moldy.”
As I wandered through the newly refurbished institution, the largest in the U.K. outside London, what struck me the most was the prolific number of movers and shakers, be it inventors, artists or philosophers who hailed from Bonnie Scotland and changed our world for the better.
Glasgow, by the River Clyde, these banks once housed the world’s largest shipbuilding centre, but now they hold one of Britain’s largest urban redevelopment projects. Its home to the new space-agey Glasgow Science Centre, the IMAX cinema affectionately dubbed the Silver Egg for its lustrous silver egg-look, and then there’s the Zaha Hadid-designed marvel known as the Riverside Museum.
Inside the Riverside Museum, excited volunteer guides – all specialists in their fields –lead an unforgettable journey of Scotland’s heavy-techie achievements from the steam locomotive to the world’s oldest bicycle.
I hung out with Bob James, a retired fireman, who was all fired up on shiny vehicles including his tool-box-on-wheels, the old Leyland Firemaster, one of a handful still remaining.
In Edinburgh, minutes from the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle, at the newly renovated National Museum of Scotland, the Scots are proud to point out the £47-million transformation was on budget, and on time.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, this heritage building glimmers in its red sandstone facade but inside the old halls, new corridors and wings have expanded the prized place. After a two-and-a-half year renovation it too is reported to have been on budget and on time.
Fans of the world’s most celebrated poet, Robert Burns, will see the only portrait ever painted showing a young Burns in his vestiture and high-necked white shirt by Alexander Nasmyth.
It’s sad to learn the great poet and the inventor of the modern biography, James Boswell, both Scots, were in Edinburgh around the same time but that the two had never met. Think of the collaboration these two could have mustered.
Some say it remains one of literature’s most heartbreaking tragedies…
With a change in mood, I walk by the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh’s New Town. There I spot a Gothic spire soaring high on the manicured grass, but it’s without a church. The brilliant stone structure almost looks half finished until you walk closer and spot a figure of a seated man surrounded by carved images.
This is the Sir Walter Scott Monument. There I learned how much the Scots loved Scott. His historical novels heralded the Romance movement in fiction. When he died in 1832, the country literally went into mourning.
As I step back from this massive tribute, I crane my head skyward and sigh in wonderment over the beauty of this landmark. It remains to this day, the world’s largest monument dedicated to a literary figure. Having never met the man, I could only imagine what an impression Sir Walter Scott made.