In my previous blog post, I promised to tell you about my short stint in Scotland. Scotland was among the places I intended to visit during my one-year sojourn in the UK. Every month, the Chevening Secretariat sends us a list of events within the UK but you have to apply in order to be considered for the same. Some of these events are held during weekdays, so you must think about your classes as well as the cost implications. Some of them are quite expensive especially for students living on a stipend. Scotland was one such experience.
The invitation from Chevening was under the ‘Best of British Series’ aimed at exploring the culture, history and politics of UK’s national identities while providing a networking opportunity for Chevening Scholars from various universities in the UK. When the invitation landed in my email, all I saw was Scotland and that was enough motivation for me to apply. A few days later, I received an email confirming my acceptance which meant it was time to start planning for my trip. But I was busy! I needed to first complete my assignments then revisit this.
“The first thing to do is to consider how far Glasgow is from Cardiff, then let’s sort out the various travel options available.” My housemate Ronald Okello was gracious enough to help.
For the first time it hit me that Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It covers the Northern third of the Island of Great Britain, borders England to the Southeast, and is surrounded the Atlantic Ocean to the North. It boasts of more than 790 Islands. According to the 2019 National Records of Scotland (NRS), the estimated population is at 5.6 million. The people who live in Scotland are referred to as Scots and they voted against Brexit. It’s capital city is Edinburgh. Just so you know, the current Prime Minister of Scotland is Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon who is also the leader of the Scottish National Party since November 2014. She is the first woman to serve in both capacities.
Our event in Scotland would take place at the University of Glasgow. My three likely options to Glasgow would be bus, train or a flight. That’s about 10 hours on the road or train from Cardiff. I wasn’t mentally prepared for this. But then, there are no direct flights from Cardiff to Glasgow though this seemed my best bet. Ronald, determined to get me the best option was optimistic that we could find a solution. After 20 minutes of searching we found one. I could get a flight to Glasgow from Bristol which is an hour away from Cardiff. After my London escapades, I feel a little confident and if they have taxis, I should be fine.
Burns Night Ceilidh
As you get to Glasgow, the first thing you notice is how beautiful Glasgow is. It’s full of lakes, mountains, big buildings and their cultural heritage is simply to die for. I was informed that it rains all the time, but on this day, the weather is perfect. The people are warm and friendly if the noise and the laughter in the city is anything to go by. I also noticed that they had a different accent. On this evening, Chevening Scholars are attending Burns Night Ceilidh. This event will mark our introduction to Burns, Haggis and Ceilidhs Robert Burns, a famous 18th Century Scottish poet and lyricist is considered many to be the national poet of Scotland.
After his death in 1796, his friends organised a ‘Burns supper’ in his honour. His works and poetry have been celebrated ever since, on or around January 25th (his birthday). The supper itself normally comprises of haggis, neeps (swedes) and tatties (potatoes). Haggis is sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs) minced with oats, onions, and spices and is traditionally presented in the casing of the sheep stomach. Forget the many words used to describe this…..in Kenya, we call it ‘Mutura’.
One of Burns’ most well-known poems is the ‘Address to a Haggis’ and therefore, Haggis is traditionally eaten on Burns Night. The ‘Address to the Haggis’ poem is traditionally read out at a Burns supper before dining commences. Although not always associated with Burns Night, Ceilidhs (pronounced kay-lees) are an important part of Scottish culture. Originally Ceilidhs were a social gathering often to encourage courtship, but nowadays, they tend to focus on traditional Scottish music and dance. The dances are generally set dances or couple dances performed large groups of participants.
“Don’t worry if you have no experience of Ceilidh dancing; the band will guide you through the steps!” read the email from Chevening. And dance we did! Throughout the evening we learnt Scottish dances. We ate Haggis and Tatties. Whether we liked this food or not, I leave it to you until when you get a chance to visit Scotland. Our event ended at around 10pm.
Saturday was a full day. We started off having brunch in the city centre then headed to Pollok Country Park. The park is Glasgow’s largest park and the only Country Park within Glasgow. Its extensive woodlands and gardens provide a quiet sanctuary for both visitors and wildlife.
The park is rich in rural history formerly being part of the Old Pollok Estate and ancestral home to the John Maxwell Family. The park is also home to the world-famous Burrell Collection. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the Burrell Collection since it was closed for refurbishment.
Our three-hour expedition at Pollok was enough exercise for me for the next one month. Satisfied with our sight seeing at Pollok, we then headed to the Glasgow Cathedral which is the oldest Cathedral on mainland Scotland and is the oldest building in Glasgow. It borders the famous Glasgow Necropolis (city of the dead) and other artefactual monuments.
We then ended up perambulating in town before landing at an African restaurant- The Calabash. I am informed that a Kenyan owns this restaurant. Teamed up with other Chevening Scholars from East Africa, Biriani, Pilau, Ugali and Nyama choma marked our orders. Feasting we did!
Our final trip was to explore the night life. We club hopped but all clubs were packed to the brim despite the chilly weather in the evenings. While others had pre-planned trips to Edinburgh the following day, I had a flight back to Cardiff in the afternoon. I spent my morning hours sightseeing before heading to the Glasgow airport.
Its injustice writing about Scotland in less than 1000 words. I have tried, in vain. See you again, next Monday, Inshallah.