United Kingdom Adventure: Dancing a Jig in Glasgow

On our first full day in Glasgow, Angela needed to catch up on some client work and decided to spend the morning enjoying her tea and the view from Bill and Ev’s penthouse patio. Really not a bad way to make a living.

As for myself, I was in the mood to explore the city on foot. So, armed with my Mavic Pro drone and a detailed route map provided by Bill over breakfast, I set out along the River Clyde toward the famed Glasgow Cathedral and its accompanying necropolis.

Glasgow is an old, old city, particularly by American standards. The city was founded in the 6th century by a Christian missionary who built a church on the site of the present day Glasgow Cathedral, which dates back to the time of the Crusades. A singularly impressive example of medieval architecture, the cathedral is massive, awe-inspiring, creepy, and, well, Scottish. And I could just see the top of its highest spire as I made my way along the riverwalk.

It was an easy, relatively flat route that passed through green spaces and under several interesting bridges. People jogged by, rode bikes, or simply sat upon the numerous benches and watched the ducks on the river. And, although the weather was cold and a bit blustery, it was a beautiful Scottish morning, and the citizens of Glasgow were out and active.

The riverwalk spills into Glasgow Green, an expansive and immaculately-kept garden that is over 500 years old in its own right. But my destination was the cathedral, so I turned from my easy route and began climbing Saltmarket Street and then the aptly-named High Street. The street is steep at times, and it has a great variety of old pubs and new brewhouses in close proximity, so read into that what you will. If it hadn’t been 9 a.m., I would have bar hopped my way to the church. Another time.

With the cathedral now looming ahead of me and its necropolis providing a peacefully eerie backdrop, I put away Bill’s map and set about wandering through the courtyards and around the church grounds, passing through ancient iron gates and onto the twisting footpaths that lead ever upward to the crest of the cemetery.

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Grave marker for William Miller, author of “Wee Willy Winkie,” and Glasgow Cathedral looking all gothic.

This is a boneyard of the highest caliber, with a complex series of crypts, elaborate memorial stones, and an obscure meta-history that includes Freemasonry and supposed ties to Rosicrucianism. It’s also an excellent place to fly a drone.

After a few flights over the cathedral and some pleasant conversation with other necropolis visitors, I decided to start back toward the Airbnb by a different route. Bill had mentioned that Argyle Street was home to excellent pubs and plenty of pedestrian-friendly areas, so I thought I would scope it out for lunch with Angela.

The central part of Glasgow is laid out on a grid and well marked. With the river bounding me on the south, I meandered south and west until I found Argyle Street and then wandered where the sights and sounds took me. Yes, I did hear and then see several bagpipers. No, I did not take a picture.

Arriving back at the apartment, Angela had just finished with her work and was ready for a late lunch. We were both famished, so we stopped in at one of the closest restaurants, Strip Joint, for our first Scottish pint and some surprisingly fantastic pizza. It was happy hour on a Friday, and the place filled up quickly with a mix of locals, college kids, and a few pesky tourists. We finished our drinks and beat a hasty retreat, deciding to turn this evening into a full-on pub crawl, at least by travel-weary, middle-aged standards.

Several pints and a few bars later, we finally found what we were seeking all evening: an authentic Scottish “boozer.”

Bill had warned us of the Park Bar, saying that we would stick out as strangers in this local watering hole. He said highlanders would be coming in from the country for the weekend, and they would likely be wearing kilts. Not because they had changed into them for a night on the town, but because they hadn’t changed out of them from the day’s work. In other words, real Scotsmen.

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Tartan carpet at Glasgow’s Park Bar to match the guests’ tartan kilts.

He also warned me that, as a strange man, the local women would most likely insist that I dance with them. Oh, to heed those wise words.

We entered to raucous, live Celtic music, the band consisting of three fiddle players and an accordionist, with percussion being stomped out on the floor of the wooden stage. The musicians were extremely talented, especially considering that they were all between the ages of 9 and 15, with a very proud grandpa looking on from the wings.

Before long, we were talking with the locals. The talking led to the singing. And the singing led to the dancing.

Her name was Marilyn. She was beautiful and a very spry 80 years old, and she had just beaten bone cancer. I quickly discovered that she could both outdrink and outdance me. I kept up as best as I could through traditional Scottish jigs and Celtic versions of American pop songs. You simply haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a live Celtic version of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”

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Dancing a jig at the Park Bar with Marilyn and her entourage.

My dancing wasn’t pretty. It was quite embarrassing, in fact. But we had an absolute blast and would love to return to Glasgow and the Park Bar again someday.

Today’s expat evaluation: +1 for live Celtic music, +1 for history, +2 for dancing with reckless abandon