The Intercity series began with the heavens opening. I had chosen the Broomielaw for the Glasgow instalment since I hadn’t written about it before. It had been raining on and off (but mostly on) for days and I had headed into town hoping for a gap in the weather. I started at the junction of Jamaica Street and Clyde Street, walking underneath the bridge. Water dripped heavily in the tunnels under Central Station, man-made caves bringing the forces of nature into the heart of the city. The rain started with a trickle then a deluge as I crossed Oswald Street, rain, hail, wind, the kind of rain that shocks the system and opens the eyes. I nearly abandoned the walk, stopping in a bus shelter for a couple of minutes to let the torrent die down a bit.
Despite the rain, there were loads of people about. It was the middle of the day and office workers went out for lunch, stopped in doorways for a draw of a cigarette or maybe even went for a run, as quite a few did. The Broomielaw is part of the financial district of Glasgow, full of modern office blocks and temples of capitalism. It feels like any city centre only the mighty Clyde flows by. Liverpool and Dublin were just two cities I thought of as I walked, their waterfronts similarly smartened by sleek glass-fronted developments a far cry from the history that happened there in years gone by. There was not much sense of a past of ships leaving for far-off shores or even going doon the watter to Largs, Rothesay or Dunoon. One of the glass office blocks, to be fair, did have a lintel from the old Seaman’s Mission that once stood on the site, a smart galleon.
I walked as far as the Kingston Bridge, when the street had become Anderston Quay, and crossed the road to walk by the river on the way back. Under the bridge was a smart mural depicting a guy swimming, painted for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, one of many around the city, including at the southern end of that very bridge. Nearby was a plaque commemorating a horrific fire at a whisky bond in Cheapside Street in 1960, with 14 firefighters and five salvage workers killed. Next to it was a mosaic produced by local school children to mark the bravery of those who lost their lives that night.
As I walked back into town, I had an abiding sense that there should be a memorial to those emigrants who left from Glasgow for far-off shores. The Broomielaw is a very different place from what it would have been even twenty years ago and in the midst of all those office blocks it would be easy to forget what once happened here. We shouldn’t live in the past but it is worth remembering it, not to repeat mistakes and to consider the legacy from those who left to those who remain today.
All around me were people out for their lunch, passing across the bridges or along the riverside, some like me bound for the city centre, others back to their offices and another few hours’ toil. I came back to the bridge, as trains passed overhead, and the Broomielaw walk was finished. The weather had put paid to much standing and staring but I had plenty to think on as I trudged through the wind and the rain, of the work done there then and now, the world opening up with ship after ship lined up on the quayside as much as the tapping of computer screens and keyboards that defines it today.
Thanks for reading. The next instalment of the Intercity series, featuring Stirling, will follow next week.