National Museum of Flight, East Fortune
National Mining Museum Scotland, NewtongrangeAt this time of year you would expect a family day out in Scotland to require scarves, wellies and gloves but it was so mild today that we could have had a picnic without too much bother. So rather than a frosty walk up Conic Hill or suchlike we decided to head eastwards today to entertain the children. I'm not that old, at 42, but it does seem like everyday things from my youthful years are now appearing as museum pieces and "how we used to live" exhibits. Today we came across loads of examples of this.
|Concorde, at The National Museum of Flight|
Whitelee Windfarm is now) before he was imprisoned at Maryhill Barracks. That seems like proper history befitting a museum. The rest of the things here however seemed very recent. It is funny trying to explain the Cold War to my children, I had the same problem when we visited The Secret Bunker. But my wife and I were looking at the fighter planes and Harrier Jump Jets and trying to explain that when we were teenagers these things were flying over our heads every day. This was especially true for my wife living in Fife near Leuchers, or they were scaring the bejesus outta me and anyone else into walking in the Scottish countryside in the 80s as we all prepared for nuclear armageddon.
|A Czech MiG jet|
I also liked seeing the parachute storeroom which wasn't open last time we were here, as the Singer sewing machine here reminded my wife that her granny spent a lot of time during the war making parachutes for the army. The other thing that caught my eye as being just recent was the Green Goddess fire engine, last seen by me on TV during the firemen's strike in 1979. It looks like some antique thing from ancient history rather than from the days of my youth. So, as a National Museum it did its job, telling the story of our lives and our families.
We had a lot of fun here, and the kids had a great time. We finished our visit off with aeroplane shaped shortbread biscuits in the canteen, then a rummage through the Airfix models in the museum shop (we couldn't find a Messerschmitt to engage in a dogfight with the spitfire hanging from my son's bedroom ceiling).
|The Scottish Mining Museum|
On the road back to Glasgow we stopped off at The National Mining Museum, Scotland at the site of Lady Victoria Colliery in Newtongrange. Through the conscious efforts of Margaret Thatcher's government this vast industry is now all but obliterated in Scotland. Most people in Scotland who aren't directly related to mining stock will find plenty of miners in their family tree if you dig deep enough. I've found lots of Ayrshire and Fife miners when I looked into my ancestors, with relatives able to recall tales of roof falls, accidents and Bevin Boys. My wife's grandfather spent over 50 years down pits in Fife. Visiting this museum is as close as we can get to the trip down into the Seafield pit he took her dad one day to show him what it was like down there (he hated it). Miners' Galas, coal lorries delivering fuel to our flat in the 70s, the 1984 Miners Strike. It is only there in museums and history books now.
The museum starts you off with 2 floors of exhibits on the history of coal mining in Scotland and the social history of coal miners.
You then start a self-directed guided tour of the pithead, with a wee audio thing to guide you. It has lots of interesting photos and information, but I hate these things where you turn up at a place and stand there ignoring it and stare at a wee photo, I'm quite happy looking these things up later or buying a book to get a bit more context. It just seems to detach you from the place you are in. It also makes it hard for children to absorb. "Shhh, shhhh. Hang on until I hear this....okay it says that we are in.....". Anyway I guess it is optional, so on the whole we did largely opt out, and I see that the tour can be downloaded as an app apparently, although searching the iTunes store today I couldn't find it.
|The Winding Engine|
At the Pithead you can walk about the massive winding engine, there are waggons of coal at the pithead, but the main shaft is obviously filled in. However there is a recreation of the descent down the pit tunnels to the coalface.
It is respectful to the old industry and interesting and educational but the whole place just feels a bit sterile, on too small a scale to recreate the vast size of these enterprises in their full vigour and the actual physical graft and danger involved.
The board with the miner's tags hung on it was one of the most evocative things there, the way of monitoring who was still to come up from below, but this was hanging about at the back of the video room without any label or information. There are interactive displays and a soft play area (which you have to pay for, which seems a bit mean as otherwise children get in for free). The shop also has a fascinating collection of books ranging from history to archives to personal memoirs of mining in Scotland.
There are other industrial museums across Scotland, the one at Summerlee in Coatbridge is a cracker and Almond Valley in Livingstone is good too. They work best when they tell the story of the people in the industry and you can put yourself in their shoes. To be fair we were rushing through the Mining Museum a bit before it closed, with three children who'd already had a morning of jet fighter planes, so we didn't get to read all the displays. It is a good collection with at times a ghostly absence of miners. A bit like Scotland I suppose.