Streets of Glasgow: University Avenue

Glasgow University’s tower can be seen from much of the city. I see it at least once a day when I’m on my commute. It usually peeks between two tower blocks on the city skyline. With that in mind, I decided to make the next Streets of Glasgow walk along University Avenue, a street I knew would be architecturally and historically interesting. I woke up and it was snowing. A couple of weeks after the epic ‘Beast From The East’, a mini spell of cold, snow and ice came just when most of Scotland hoped winter was past us. Despite the snow flurries, I headed out anyway. I was gratified walking up towards Byres Road that I was handed a leaflet for a student offer in an Italian restaurant, despite pushing 30. Being an OU student, however, means I could actually take advantage of it.

I started from the junction with Highburgh Road and Byres Road, not quite sure what I could write about at this point. Plus it was absolutely baltic and I began to regret leaving the house without more layers. I looked up and there was the tower, plus the Boyd Orr building to the left. By the Medical School building was a row of blue traffic cones. Not sure if these are unique to the University or some private parking outfit. One of the housing blocks nearby had snow on the steps despite the pavements being completely clear. Beyond the Boyd Orr building was a gap which gave a view to the University Library and the smart offices of University Gardens. The cranes and diggers of the building site lay dormant with it being a Sunday.

The University had been in the news over the previous few weeks due to staff being on strike over cuts to their pensions. On a lamp post was an UCU poster explaining concisely why Glasgow staff and those of other institutions around the country were on strike and when the strike dates were.

By University Place is one of the University’s gates, called the Botany Gate. I wondered if that had anything to do with the nickname some Edinburgh academics have for Buccleuch Place, an outlying part of Edinburgh University sometimes referred to as Botany Bay, but it was soon explained by the Botany building just beyond. I was tickled by a nearby poster advertising a group called Balkanarama who had been playing a concert in Glasgow the previous night, with the promising slogan of ‘Hot Balkan Instrumental Orgy!’ None being forthcoming as I walked on, I was gratified to see daffodils and crocuses popping up through the snow.

Glasgow University has a fine looking campus though my favourite building on University Avenue is the Wellington Church, the splendidly Greek looking kirk across the way. The gate was open so I walked up the steps to pay closer attention to the pillars and elegant carvings and features around the doorways. The gatepost was an elegant fading sandstone, probably more carved originally but fine and fitting all the same. The elegant building next door with roof railings housed part of the University’s School of Engineering, all the better for it than being in one of the more functional 1960s affairs down the way.

As I reached the bottom of University Avenue, it became apparent that it went on a little more to the junction with Gibson Street rather than just stopping at Kelvin Way as I thought. That meant I could include the baronial-looking Glasgow University Union and the Sir Charles Wilson building, the latter an old church now belonging to the University. It was nice to be in the vicinity for a bit, particularly for the reassurances of the flowers that spring was still coming, despite the biting wind and snow hinting otherwise.

This is the twenty eighth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. Quite a few other posts have been written. Some involving streets nearby are Byres Road, Queen Margaret Drive, Kelvin Way (which appears next week) and Addison Road.

The Streets of Glasgow series will be taking a break shortly, not sure for how long. The last one in the current series will be Addison Road, which will appear here in June. I love writing Streets though I feel it is time to take a break to keep things fresh. Plus I have to study and live life and stuff too. I’m working on something different, though, to put in its place that will hopefully be just as interesting. Watch this space.

Manchester and Liverpool

The travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that he didn’t ever take a £20 note out of his wallet unless what he bought with it would be used for years. Whenever possible, I try to emulate that and that is no more true than with train tickets. Two of my favourite cities are Manchester and Liverpool, though reaching those places inevitably requires being creative with booking train tickets. It is invariably cheaper to split my journey in Preston, which is just as well since many options to get to Liverpool and Manchester involve changing there. Plus Preston station is properly old fashioned and keenly proud of its history. Changing at Preston, particularly to get to Manchester, avoids handing over as much of my hard-earned to my least favourite train company, Transpennine Express, who seem indifferent to comfort and human decency in their quest to maximise revenue in running inadequate trains. Virgin Trains aren’t perfect either – Branson runs a private healthcare firm that seems to be messing up the NHS in England, plus VT can be expensive – but they’re better than Transpennine Express.

Manchester and I have an interesting history. The last time I was there was about two years ago when I was actually studying the city’s industrial history in an OU module. I spent my 22nd birthday there, plus I heard big, dramatic news a few years later while in Manchester, standing by the lift in the Museum of Science and Industry. I can also testify from that particular day that it is very possible to source Irn-Bru in the area around MoSI.

Whenever I go, I have my regular spots. I make a point of visiting the Alan Turing memorial in the Gay Village. There are many who believe that Alan Turing was on the autism spectrum and it is in that spirit that I go to the memorial. Also nearby was a mural of I also like a wee trip along to the Lowry plus a spin on the Metrolink. Plus MoSI is excellent, with each part of the place enlightening and inspiring even for a scientific dunce like myself. The People’s History Museum is also fabulous, with the red flag flying high there, really not a bad thing. The Central Library is a stunning building, domed and coiled like an onion inside. The National Football Museum is in Manchester, not far from where the Co-op is based, and while it only has two mentions of Scottish football in the whole place, both on a panel about the architect Archibald Leitch, it is quite decent too.

Liverpool is much more like Glasgow and I like it a lot. It’s full of museums plus it has similar architecture to Glasgow, as well as a similar history looking out to the world. If time is limited, it is possible to walk just a few minutes from Lime Street and spend hours on one row between the World Museum, Liverpool Central Library and the Walker Art Gallery. The Walker Art Gallery is nicely old-fashioned with a great modern British art room right next to a bit of French Impressionism. The last time I was there, there was a massive inflatable cartoon cat on the balcony at the Walker, which was slightly mental but good. Liverpool Central Library is glorious, a mixture of modern and beautiful, old-world wood and balcony with the Picton Reading Room. The World Museum is suitably varied with loads of interesting galleries, including the World History bit upstairs which is probably the finest and most diverse outside London.

The area around the Albert Dock is also tightly packed with museums, plus the Tate which usually houses good exhibitions. Some shite too, like, as happens with modern art places. The Maritime Museum is interesting. It has some interesting exhibitions including a bit about LGBT culture which amongst other things discussed Polari. On the fifth floor of the Maritime Museum is the International Slavery Museum. Liverpool, like Glasgow, like Bristol and London too, had a lot of trade with the Americas and the Caribbean, not a little of which involved the efforts of slaves. To their credit Liverpool doesn’t shy away from talking about slavery and the International Slavery Museum is a fascinating insight into black history and the history of the slave trade. The Museum of Liverpool is also worth a look, particularly for its insight into local industries, politics and football. The closest equivalent I can think of is the People’s Palace here in Glasgow.

I haven’t been to the north of England much in the last couple of years. The last time was to Durham, at the other side of the country. I’m due a trip to Hadrian’s Wall, Carlisle and a whole lot of places, not least Liverpool and Manchester. Maybe in the close season, I might manage a few day trips down there. Writing posts like these usually makes me book train tickets so it might be sooner than May. We’ll see.

Digest: March 2018

March started with epic snow, the dramatic kind with drifts, no trains, no buses, no work even. Thankfully it melted with time as I was getting sick of being stuck in the house.

I went home via Paisley one night and paid particular attention to the mural in the underpass at Gilmour Street station, originally produced as part of the unsuccessful 2021 City of Culture programme.

The following day I was bound for Edinburgh and the derby. Hibs won 2-0. It was joyous. Before I went, I took a trip down to Govan to see the brand new Mary Barbour sculpture unveiled the day before – post about that here. When I reached the capital, I took a wander down London Road, eventually ending up in Restalrig, a locale I know very well indeed, having gone to primary school nearby. I was there partly to see the water tower which dominates the surrounding area, a post about which is here too. I also walked the wrong way down Leith Walk, a post about that walk will appear here shortly.

One day the following week I had cause to walk through Paisley town centre, stopping to learn about the ‘snail in the bottle’ case, which will also be written about here soon, the John Witherspoon statue and some street art.

That Friday, Hibs were playing St. Johnstone in Perth. I had to go to Edinburgh first and on the way along London Road I stopped to look at the Eduardo Paoluzzi sculptures that are currently residing there. I split my trip to Perth in Kirkcaldy, enjoying both the train ride across the Forth and the spin around the very fine Kirkcaldy Galleries. Perth has a fine selection of street art which was explored before the trudge to McDiarmid Park.

The following Sunday, I did a few Streets of Glasgow walks as well as taking a turn around Kelvingrove. The Streets walks took me on University Avenue, Kelvin Way, Bath Street and finally Dundas Street. Highlight was the Wellington Church on University Avenue.

Last Sunday was spent in and around Edinburgh, including conquering my vertigo and walking across the Forth Road Bridge. Luckily it was sunny and not so windy. North Queensferry is a handsome village, with a light tower at the harbour. We ate lunch at its foot. A walk across the causeway to Cramond Island came later with fine views to Edinburgh, Fife and East Lothian visible amidst the crowds. Quieter later was the Hermitage of Braid, a fine, fine natural place at the foot of the Braid Hills, a treasured place I hadn’t been to for years.

On Wednesday I was walking home and it was showery. On my left was a bright blue sky, to my right ominous rain clouds. Even in very urban places, the natural world rules.

Then came the Easter weekend. On Saturday I went to watch Hibs play Partick Thistle. It was wet and cold. On the way back through Glasgow city centre I did a couple of Streets walks on Waterloo Street and Cadogan Street.

So, that’s March. Friday’s post here is about Manchester and Liverpool, Sunday’s Streets offering is University Avenue. Thanks as ever to all followers, commenters and readers.

March posts –

View from the Lighthouse

Streets of Glasgow: West Regent Street

Paisley Gilmour Street

Maps and memorials

In the heart of the city

Streets of Glasgow: Mitchell Street

Towards the stars

Towering over Restalrig

Streets of Glasgow: Duke Street

Five reasons why you should come to Glasgow

Camera Obscura

Streets of Glasgow: Gallowgate

New Mary Barbour statue in Govan


Streets of Glasgow: Trongate

The third Streets of Glasgow walk in quick succession on a brisk February Friday, the Trongate leads from Glasgow Cross to Argyle Street. Undoubtedly its finest part is at Glasgow Cross, with striking Victorian buildings forming a V as one heads towards the city. I also like the grille in the middle of the road which once provided ventilation to the old Glasgow Cross station. You never need to wander far in Glasgow to find traces of past generations. Indeed in a close nearby were ghost signs for old businesses offering Alice belts and a clothing cutting service, as well as one of the plaques from the Merchant City Festival declaring that Stan Laurel had performed there. I suspect they were taking the piss, as with the one nearer the Cross which declared that Wee Willie Winkie had been ‘spotted here in his night-gown’ in 1841.

The Tron itself, in its orange harling, is a fine building, apparently with Renaissance influences. It dominates the street with its dark spire similar to that of Glasgow Cathedral not so far away. The building now houses a theatre, which extends into a modern bit out the back. Across the way is a Gothic-looking building with all sorts of turrets. It looks like a sandstone version of the High Court on Union Street in Aberdeen, not too shabby, as it happens. It houses a pub. The red sandstone building to its left has a guitar shop but also offices above still bearing imagery from the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

At street level, Trongate isn’t the nicest street in the city, particularly as it nears Argyle Street. There are a few closed shops and quite a few derelict buildings, gaps even with views towards the Merchant City. Luckily it is one of those many streets in this city where looking up is greatly measured, particularly at the Argyle Street end, including the red sandstone building that houses Poundland and Specsavers and the golden one across the road that used to be JD Sports. The walk was over in a few short minutes and I headed off for my train home. Trongate might not be my favourite street in the city but a walk in the February sunshine was enough to see its finer points, a reminder to look beyond the obvious to the beauty that lies all around if you just look the right way.

This is the twenty seventh Streets of Glasgow post on Walking Talking. There are plenty of others to choose from, including Duke Street and Gallowgate, as well as High Street, all of which meet Trongate at Glasgow Cross. Also nearby is Miller Street, which I wrote about recently.