We were delighted to welcome blogger Donna from www.ordinarywanders.com to write a guest blog for us on her trip to New Lanark. Have a read to find out what she enjoyed most about her visit…
What does the world famous Smithsonian Museum have in common with a small mill town in the south of Scotland? The answer lies in the heart of the New Lanark UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our journey back to the 19th century began with our descent into the village from the car park. The rows of perfectly symmetrical buildings stand seemingly untouched. The River Clyde continues to flow through the site and churns as it ever did, though no longer in demand as the lifeblood of these once great mills. So much has changed at New Lanark due to the renovations which brought the original buildings back to life, but there is a sense that the true heart of this old mill town has endured.
I didn’t know much about Robert Owen, one time owner of the New Lanark mills, until I visited this famous historical landmark on that cold, grey day in February. Just walking around this site allows visitors to gain an understanding of what Owen wanted to achieve whilst in charge of the mills. His words are quoted throughout the town and provide a great insight into his forward-thinking views, which were sometimes deemed to be quite controversial.
This is such an inspirational place to visit – here are just some of my personal highlights from the New Lanark Visitor Centre:
- The Annie MacLeod Experience
This is a great little ride that allows visitors to gain an insight into life in New Lanark. Annie MacLeod, the ghost of a girl who worked in the mills in 1820, hosts the ride. She introduced us to some of Owens’ modern ideas, such as a workers sick fund and shorter working days. The rides’ effects and illusions were a real treat and I think it’s the perfect way to engage children with the reality of life in the 1800’s.
Owen believed in community and education. Most notably, whilst other young people around the country were put to work almost as soon as they could walk, those of New Lanark were being encouraged to stay in school. In this model classroom there are lots of things that you would expect to see; benches for the children to sit on, slates to write on, a lectern. There is also a replica cage that was once used to house a real crocodile. Owen was no ordinary man and the education he insisted on for the mill children was certainly not ordinary. He really was a person before his time and this classroom is indicative of that.
The Mill Café has a great selection of refreshments and our generous soup and sandwich lunch kept us full until teatime (that’s dinner time to any non-Scottish readers!) The star of the show, though, was the coffee. The perfect, frothy latte I received really set me up for heading back out into the damp Scottish afternoon. We could have sat in this busy little café for the rest of our visit, if only the sites we had passed on the way in hadn’t called out to be explored.
Though the mills no longer work to full capacity, traditional methods are still used to produce smaller amounts of New Lanark wool. This can be bought in the on-site Mill Shop alongside lots of other locally sourced gifts and trinkets. It’s a real treasure trove there and well worth taking the time to look around.
This was the last stop on our tour and it felt like the satisfactory end to an epic journey. Inside there are replicas of the rooms that the Owen family stayed in. There is also a small exhibition that informs visitors about what became of the Owen family after they left New Lanark. The world famous Smithsonian museum? It was Robert Owen’s son who proposed its creation via the United States Congress. The Owen family all continued to do great things once they left Scotland, including; campaigning for gender rights, championing the resettlement of freed slaves in North America and establishing the first kindergarten in the US.
Other historical buildings include a replica of the mill workers accommodation and of the Village Store that once served the whole town, where you can still buy a treat or two. If you’d like more time to wander around the site you can choose to stay for a few nights in one of the renovated mills, which has been turned into the New Lanark Mill Hotel, or the Wee Row Hostel. And if you really enjoy your visit, you can even choose to stay on a more permanent basis in one of the local residential houses – though these are so popular they are swept off the market almost as soon as they appear.
Whatever the reason for your visit, I can guarantee you will leave inspired by the story of Robert Owen, his perseverance and his ambitions to make the world around him a better place. I know that I did.
Guest blogger – Donna Mairi MacIver
If you would be interested in writing a Visitor’s View Blog on your trip to New Lanark, please email [email protected]