Location: UK, south of Glasgow.
Date visited: June 2014
Hard as it is to believe now, New Lanark was founded in 1785 as an industrial estate. The beautiful gorge in which it sits was ideal for the construction and operation of water mills, which could be used to power the mass production machines of the newly industrialised textile industry. Textile mills and housing for the mill workers were built by the owner, David Dale, but New Lanark’s inclusion in the World Heritage Site list is mostly due to his son-in-law, Robert Owen. Much like Titus Salt at Saltaire fifty years later, Robert Owen was concerned with the welfare of the mill workers, and began to remodel the settlement in accordance with his own Utopian ideals in 1799. Although the site was not as comprehensively planned as that at Saltaire, its position on a key tourist route meant that Robert’s ideas became well-known and went on to influence many later industrialists and idealists.
Today, one can still visit much of the remaining village and mills (more details on http://www.newlanark.org/), and the site seems to be fairly well set up to deal with large numbers of visitors: despite all this, I spectacularly failed to see very much at all.
The main aim of my trip in June was to get to Harris, so I could get the boat to St Kilda as part of a National Trust for Scotland working group; more on that in a later blog.
Being somewhat overambitious however, and failing, yet again, to recognise that Scotland is actually quite large – a geographical blindness that led me to agree to move to Aberdeen for a year, thinking it was next to Edinburgh* – I decided I would take a day and a half to drive to Harris, and stop off in New Lanark on the way.
I booked the New Lanark youth hostel, which is actually in one of the nineteenth-century mill buildings, and arranged to leave work early on that day.
I failed to leave work early the next day, and decided to have dinner with a fellow PhD student, who had her viva rapidly approaching, and who I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Having successfully stuffed myself on tagine and gossip, I stepped outside into the worst rain storm Leeds had seen for a year or so. I spent the next hour trying to leave Leeds, which put me decidedly behind schedule, such that by half ten, it was clear I wasn’t going to make the 11pm curfew for check-in. Luckily, the Scottish Youth Hostel Association employs awesome staff, and the lovely lady on duty agreed to stay on until 11.10, which is when my sat-nav told me I would arrive.
I arrived in Lanark at 11.00, but naturally the sat-nav led me to the centre of a housing estate, and told me to drive straight down a hill without a road. I disagreed with it, and drove around, until I spotted some useful signs. From there, I found the New Lanark world heritage site car & coach park, but not the village. It was very dark, very late and I was very, very tired and emotional by this point, having been driving for nearly four hours with only the occasional stop for an embarrassing wee in a hedge (I need some form of she-wee contraption, for sure). I phoned the SYHA manager again, and she very kindly gave me directions. I clearly failed to follow them correctly, ending up in another housing estate. Feeling quite tired and desperate by this point, and seriously regretting not printing out a real map, I pulled over and got out the car to better rummage around and find my phone again. A passer-by took pity on me and gave me more directions, which essentially directed me to drive down the one road I hadn’t tried, with a massive sign saying ‘New Lanark’ next to it. It was now 11.15, and deeply concerned that I would end up having to sleep in the car, I headed along the steep and winding road down the gorge, and finally got to the hostel at half eleven, where the SYHA lady was still waiting for me. I felt like I could have hugged her, but I’m not really the hugging strangers type, and I suspected I probably smelt funny. I wish I could remember her name, but I was pretty exhausted by this point: so exhausted in fact, I took nearly an hour and a half to get to bed, because I kept forgetting things and having to go out to the car and rummage for them.
Originally, I had planned to get up early, look around New Lanark, and then take a leisurely drive north. The night’s disasters made it clear to me that:
- I needed sleep
- I should probably allow much more time than the sat-nav told me for driving, in case it decided to lie to me again.
Since I really didn’t want to miss the last ferry from Skye to Harris, I got up, briefly walked around the outside of the youth hostel, admired the view and beautiful valley, got soaked in the rain and then got back in the car and started driving again. And promptly got lost again.
I did see enough of New Lanark however, to know that I want to go back and have a proper look. The buildings are in a varied state of repair and usage, with some being housing, others tourist accommodation and yet others open to the elements. The impression I got from the few minutes I spent there whilst awake, was that it was very much a holiday home village, rather than a working one like Saltaire, but then, I didn’t exactly see much.
The one thing I can say with certainty however, is that New Lanark youth hostel and its staff are brilliant. And patient.
* I grew up in Cornwall (more on those World Heritage Sites later), and so for a long time believed that everywhere could be divided into: Cornwall, Up-Country, North, Scotland. I think Wales somehow came under Cornwall, or perhaps Elsewhere. Anyway, it resulted in a belief that Newcastle and Birmingham were right next to each other, as indeed were Dorset and London, and that everywhere in Scotland was between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The realisation that this was not the case has resulted in an enduring fascination with pyschogeography and perceptions of place, and occasionally, some very dubious travelling decisions.