- Transportation to and from Inverness airport
- Accommodation in a house in the Scottish countryside
- Catered meals
- All work and safety equipment
- On-site training and supervision by a specialist in Scottish conservation
- A 2-day tourguided excursion to the Isle of Skye (during the second week)
Restoring heritage is always about more than just the buildings. While we might get caught up in questions of authenticity, of style and architectural purity and period-accurate method, at the end of the day, I think anyone who preserves heritage does so with the conviction that doing so ultimately makes the world a better place. Even if it’s just in a little tiny way – one building, a doorway, a chimneypiece, a stair-rail – there’s a satisfaction in knowing that you’ve concretely improved one tiny corner in a measurable way. Sometimes its difficult to see just HOW improving heritage improves the world… But then again sometimes it’s really very simple.
At Burgie, Mr. Hamish Lochore is using his historic building to save Scotland’s trees. He’s spent the past 12 years creating an enormous arboretum on his estate, where he grows both endangered Scottish species, as well as exotic species that a huge international network send him from all over the world (legally, of course!). He’s realised that all eight of Scotland’s native surviving species have already been negatively affected by climate change, and are increasingly vulnerable. He’s realised, as many at the Forestry Commission refuse to acknowledge, that the future of Scottish forestry might just require investigating alternative species. Despite the milder microclimate of the Moray coast, tiny seedlings of exotic varieties need a little help in their earliest years before they’re ready to brave the Scottish weather. And this is where the “so what” of the historic greenhouse comes into it.
Hamish has done an amazing thing with his ancestral estate. In the grand tradition of country estate owners everywhere, he has moulded and crafted his land into something better than itself. He has made it productive as well as decorative, educational as well as functional – and the same is true for his greenhouse.
The glasshouse was originally built in 1912, and it belongs to a world that no longer exists. The social structures of Edwardian Britain eroded after the First World War, and the rural economy and lifestyle changed forever. The glasshouse was built for a household that was designed not just to function, but to impress, with a staff of household servants as well as landscapers and gardeners to keep things running inside and out. The Burgie glasshouse speaks eloquently to this division between those who serve and those who are served; it has separate entrances for staff and visitors, as well as extensive sheds “behind the scenes” that are plainer and clearly meant for the dirtier staging-work of the paid gardeners. And one can just picture the wee coal-monkeys who were sent down into the lowered boiler-room to keep the water-pipes heated. Meanwhile, family members or meticulously-dressed visitors could come in from the walled garden to a gleaming fantasy of crisp, white timber, translucent glass, and of course a well-maintained riot of exotic plants and flowers.While this might not be every person’s ideal, with great divisions in wealth and privilege, it cannot be denied that such divisions wrought beautiful objects, buildings included. But the world has moved on, and the societal structure and purpose that appreciated greenhouses as status symbols and works of art no longer exists. And, like most buildings nowadays, century-old greenhouses are finding that they too must earn their keep to survive.
How fortunate then that Hamish’s interests find more than enough uses for his broken-down old greenhouse! Hamish values his land and his heritage. As he said himself, “Who are we if we don’t leave things better than we found them?” But at the end of the day, he needs a working greenhouse for his eco-conservation work; whether it’s historic is in some respects neither here nor there. If he’s got one already on-hand, all the better! But in the state that it’s in… the Burgie greenhouse can’t exactly be said to be “working.” Most of the glass in the roof has fallen out over the centuries, and just to keep the water out Hamish put up some fibreglass sheeting. It keeps the inside relatively dry, but the essential function of a greenhouse – the capture and storage of heat and light through glass – is utterly lost. Right now it’s essentially just a glorified shed, and Hamish’s plants are suffering for it: shaded species are fine, but every year he loses dozens of carefully cultivated plants because they simply can’t get enough light and heat.
One of Hamish’s dedicated volunteers also has a love of historic buildings, and she saw the need – and the solution – right away. She reached out for help and enlisted the support of Adventures in Preservation, an American organisation that pair travel and tourism with heritage volunteering and conservation work. In June they brought 18 volunteers from the US and Australia (almost all women, as it happens!), and Hamish ripped the dirty sheeting off, freeing the beautiful wooden skeleton from its fibreglass prison! Over two weeks, the team sanded, chiseled and cleaned the entire wooden frame of the central house, then primed and painted it until it just glowed – literally, so white!
More about the amazing things we discovered during our work – and a few unsolved mysteries we uncovered – in a subsequent post.
But for now, Hamish’s beautiful greenhouse is roofless and gaping open to the elements, and Adventures in Preservation and I are working hard to get a group back in the autumn to get a roof on it before the winter weather sets in – a scenario that would be bad for the greenhouse, and bad for Hamish’s trees!
Registration for the September-October session is live, and will involve cutting and laying the glass for the roof! Visit http://adventuresinpreservation.org/upcoming-adventures-old50/glasshouse-conservation-project-reglazing/http://adventuresinpreservation.org/upcoming-adventures-old50/glasshouse-conservation-project-reglazing/ to register!
No trip to the Lake Thun area would be complete without a visit to the highest train station in Europe – the Jungfraujoch. Nestled in the saddle between the Münch and Jungfrau peaks, at 3,500 meters (11,400 feet), it was [imho] well worth the outrageously expensive train fare (180 Euros, but slightly less with a Eurail pass). I know, a number like that for a train ride almost makes my heart stop (that’s like, a week’s worth of hostels, or a month’s worth of Starbucks… yes I could easily spend 180 euro on Starbucks in one month. Don’t judge me.), but if you’ve already come so far, why not go all the way? Besides, who knows when/if I’ll ever get the chance again?
At night, I could see the train station and weather center from the Niederhorn:
After coming down from the Niederhorn, I finished my boat trip across Lake Thun and took a train from Interlaken to the little town of Grindelwald (yes, like the elder-wand wizard from Harry Potter), which is a little toursity but still very cute, and situated in some gorgeous scenery (when it’s not too fogged-in to see it):
From Grindelwald you take a special, privately-operated train to the top. The ride itself was… kind of a disaster, but also kind of funny. It was made terrible and hilarious by the HORDES of Indian tourists. Now, this is not racism. This is an honest assessment of several hundred of collectively some of the rudest people I’ve ever met, and I would say the same of them if they were Chinese, or Spanish, or American.
First of all, they came in massive groups. I’m talking tours of 50+ people, so that when they’re walking anywhere it’s like being caught in a stampede. There’s the guide in front with his little flag or sign or whatever, and then 50 or 60 people charging blindly ahead, pretending you don’t exist, and certainly not caring if they elbow you in the stomach, or step on your toes, or actually knock you over, which actually happened to me when I got caught in the middle of a group. Obviously, an apology or even a “Pardon me” would be out of the question.
I ended up on a train car in which I was the only non-Indian person present, except for one Swiss couple. But there were no seats in the car. The Swiss couple and I were standing. Now, I’m not trying to be a biddy, but I didn’t pay 150 euros to *stand* on my train ride up the mountain (this is of course the company’s fault, not the tourists’. Also, you should understand, this is a very steep ride as trains go, so the incline makes standing on this train actually pretty difficult). So I’m looking around for somewhere to perch, and the only place is one of those folding seats near the door. There was an Indian man sitting in one, and across from him was sitting… his camera bag. There are people standing on this train, and his camera bag was occupying a seat. I indicated to him that I wanted to sit there (he didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Hindi), but he refused to move his bag. So I picked it up, handed it to him, and sat down. My indignation was making me rather ballsy.
A little while later, I hear someone’s cell phone going off. It’s at full volume, playing really loud, waily Indian music. I just assumed it was a ringtone, so I didn’t really care. But then it kept playing. And kept playing. It evidently wasn’t a ringtone. Some man a few seats over was just playing his music at full-blast (nor was he showing a video to a friend or anything, the phone was just sitting on the windowsill playing at full volume). I hate to be so prickly, but think about this: I’ve paid 150 euros to be on this train, it is my airspace too, and while I actually kind of like Indian music, I don’t particularly want to listen to it while I’m in Switzerland on my Swiss adventure to the top of Europe. So I walked over to the man and indicated (again, the language barrier) that I would like him to turn his music off. And he did, which was very good of him. But when I got back to my seat not 30 seconds later, the camera bag was back! So I picked it up again, and again handed it to its owner, and sat myself in the seat.
A little while later came the cherry on top of this whole train ride. Along the ride, which is mostly underground through a tunnel in the mountain, are a couple stops where the trains going up stop to let the trains pass that are going down. At each place, the train stops for a few minutes, and there are windows in the rock wall where you can look out over the scenery. So we’re at one of these stops, and the whole thing is just marvelously, pristinely beautiful. The snow outside the window is blinding white (actually though, they don’t let you take the trip without sunglasses because lengthy exposure can cause sunblindness), and we’re looking out over this uninhabited landscape – no humans whatsoever, not even a footprint in sight.
So we’re stopped here, and the train doors are open. There is a trash can about 10 feet from the door of the train. As I sit watching, an Indian woman gets up from her seat carrying a banana peel. She goes to the door of the train and stands between the Swiss couple (who were also sitting/standing at the folding chairs opposite the door). She throws the banana peel through the Swiss couple, in the general direction of the trash can. When the peel inevitably misses the can… she goes right back to her seat. This woman just threw the trash on the ground of this pristine, spotless train stop in the untouched wilderness. I know it sounds dramatic, but… it felt quite obscene. And it wasn’t just me feeling this way – the Swiss couple looked horrified (No wonder, their country is probably the cleanest in the world after the Scandinavian countries.). So I guess the only thing to do was to get off the train and throw the banana peel away myself. Which is what I did. It took me all of 5 seconds, and it wasn’t very difficult.
Ok, so that was my soapbox about insufferable tourists. I know there must be many moments when I myself am an insufferable tourist, but I do everything in my power to prevent it (sometimes when you don’t speak the language and people are yelling at you in Italian for reasons you don’t understand, it’s hard not to make a spectacle of yourself…). I think the necessary thing is to be conscious of common stereotypes about your country or ethnicity and to actively work against them. For instance, I don’t know how many times I’ve experienced the following reactions: “Wait, but, I thought Americans didn’t care about going to Europe and generally never leave America?” or, “Are you in Europe because you ran out of things to see in America?” or “Wait, you’re American, why do you know where the Czech Republic is?” (truly, this last one is word-for-word). I suppose I work against this stereotype by A. Being in Europe at all, B. Being generally interested in the history, food, culture, language of the places I’m visiting, and C. Trying to visit places most tourists do not, such as Ravenna, or Mantua, or Gimmelwald, or Rovio.
Ok, enough self-congratulation, I now feel *amazing* about myself – let’s move on.
There was plenty to do at the “Top of Europe” – several viewing platforms where you could see not only both peaks (Münch and Jungfrau), but also the whole Grindelwald valley and Lake Thun (but it was a bit cloudy, so no great pictures of the latter). These of course made some great photo ops:
Now it was SUPER cold at that altitude, so it was necessary to come back inside every so often to warm up/wait for feeling to return to my toes. Unfortunately, this was a little difficult to achieve while walking through The World’s Longest Ice Tunnel… (or so they told us, but I feel like there must be a longer one somewhere. Possibly in Antarctica.)
But this is precisely why they were selling little bottles of cognac at the cafe!
There is also a huge expanse where people can walk out onto the snow as far as they want (apparently hardcore people do actually hike up here, so nearby there’s a mountain hut/pension where you can stay the night).
There was also a fun-looking zipline over the snow that I didn’t try (I didn’t have gloves, and I didn’t feel like spending an extra 30 euros on a pair they were selling). Alas! But after being thoroughly chilled outside, I warmed up in the restaurant with a bowl of potato soup, some hot mulled cider/rum thing (they call it “Rhumpunsch”), and some Swiss bread and butter. Yum yum yummmmm!