I had 15 minutes between trains at Central and naturally rather than sitting watching the world go by like a sensible person, I instead decided to fit in a Streets of Glasgow walk, the product of a spur-of-the-moment notion on the train as it crossed the river into the station. Union Street still felt like a bit of a cheat given how short it is but it was also a street that could be covered in a few short minutes. I stepped out of Central Station and turned left, walking back up to the junction with Renfield Street and Gordon Street to start off.
Union Street is one of my least favourite streets in the city, with incredibly narrow pavements, lots of scaffolding, fumes and usually too many people. It is always for going somewhere else, thankfully, with its many bus stops as well as entrance to Central Station, the busiest railway station in Scotland. It isn’t the nicest street in the city but it is probably one of the busiest and most vital. Like many streets in the city, it has some elegant Victorian-looking buildings but there are a few more modern ones, much more grotty on the Central Station side. One of the nicer modern buildings, on the corner of Argyle Street, houses a big branch of KFC. Above ground, however, there are mock-Rennie Mackintosh style touches with thin long vertical windows and stylistic panels below. It surprised me in the best way and made me think slightly better of the place.
Glasgow is a very in-your-face sort of place and Union Street does quite well in that regard. Architecturally, the best one is the building which houses the Co-op and a legal office. It sits on the corner of Gordon Street though the view I had with the autumn light and the adverts reflecting on the glass was actually really pleasant, a more chilled out city scene than most. The other highlight was the big TokyoToys Manga Store, which I don’t think has been there very long, which was massive and also had quite a few folk in it. Good for them but the muckle big blob character in the window is a bit other-worldly in the best possible sense. It reminded me of an advert currently on TV but I am scunnered if I can remember what it was advertising, suggesting the advert hasn’t served its purpose. (Swinton Insurance.)
I reached the corner at Argyle Street by Tim Hortons in just three minutes, very comfortably the shortest walk in this Streets of Glasgow series. It yielded far more than I thought, not least the ghost signs on the closed shops, including the old Wimpy just down from the Italian street food place. It’s strange seeing a fast-food shop become like archaeology, another layer below the surface of the street. In every city in the world, there are streets that don’t have much charm. Edinburgh has Gorgie Road, for example, South Bridge and quite a few others. Glasgow has Union Street, one of many, but with any city street, it is worth looking beyond the obvious, up and often out, even at bonkers blobs in shop windows or above KFC with its Rennie Mackintosh stylee and the waft of Popcorn chicken on the breeze.
A few months ago, I wrote a post about Hampden Park, Scotland’s national football stadium, in which I expressed the hope I would actually get there to watch Queen’s Park play at their home ground. The thought of a lower league match being played out in a 52,000 seater stadium appealed to me greatly and I hoped I could make it happen:
But I would like to see Queen’s Park most of all. The Spiders are 150 years old this year and make a virtue of being the last amateurs in the senior leagues in Scotland. They also play at Hampden to an average crowd of 645, some 51,000 fewer people than the ground’s capacity. It’s that which makes me want to go, as well as Hampden being a mere 4 miles from here. Plus it would back up that I’ve often said that Queen’s Park is my Glasgow team, owing to my deep dislike of Celtic and Rangers. I’ve checked and there are a grand total of two Saturdays this season when Hibs aren’t playing but Queen’s Park are at home, on 11th November against Arbroath and 6th January against Stranraer. Hopefully I’ll get there. I don’t imagine 645 people can roar that hard but I hope to be proven wrong.
Well, Saturday 11th November was yesterday and I was indeed to be found among the 764-strong crowd who braved a cold November afternoon in Mount Florida to see Queen’s Park beaten by Arbroath by two goals to nil. I had been to Hampden only a month or so before to see Hibs play Celtic in the League Cup and I was in the same part of the ground. They only bother opening two sections of the William Hill South Stand for Queen’s Park games with the two sets of supporters segregated. That and the numbers of stewards were probably unnecessary. Apart from that and of course the huge screens and even bigger food prices, it was quite a small operation with lots of families and a souvenir stand with strips on a rail. Plus you could sit where you liked.
I turned up about half two and after getting some pies, I grabbed a seat, half-way down the stand with a good view of the action. I am used to Easter Road where the teams are usually out warming up. By this point at Hampden, however, there was nothing doing. I was one of a handful of folk actually in the stand, even a half-hour before the game started. Queen’s Park don’t do a paper programme, instead they do a digital one, downloadable from the club’s website. I had looked earlier in the day to see if it was there but it was only when I reached Hampden that it was available. It was a decent effort, almost like a fanzine, with the usual column from the manager and a decent page about Arbroath as well as a couple of good articles about old football grounds and even older Queen’s Park games. One’s iPhone also furnished the team lines and I saw that Arbroath had Scott Martin playing, who is on loan there from Hibs. At least I recognised someone.
It being Armistice Day, the game was preceded by a minute’s silence, immaculately kept. The game began and for the first bit, the teams were quite evenly matched, though Arbroath edged it. They scored in the 17th minute, the goal from close range by Gavin Swankie, and never really looked like losing after that, especially after their second from Colin Hamilton after 55 minutes. Queen’s Park weren’t great, not really getting going except for a few half-decent runs from midfield. The home support were vocal, with a few loud cries from men and boys of ”Mon the Spiders’ or ”Mon the Queen’s’, though most of it was out of frustration at their team’s efforts. To be fair, they were mince, with the possession statistics of 48% to Arbroath’s 52% not taking account of how little they made their possession count. Their two best players were their top scorer, Anton Brady, and their number 3, Scott Gibson, who won Man of the Match. Gibson wasn’t bad at all and deserved the bottle of Irn-Bru or whatever he got from the sponsors, AG Barr.
As a neutral I greatly enjoyed my afternoon. If I was a Queen’s Park fan, I wouldn’t have been so pleased. They are now four points adrift of Forfar at the bottom of League 1, with no immediate prospect of moving from the bottom spot, especially since they haven’t won very often lately. That might not change with the visit of Dunfermline of the Championship next Saturday in the Scottish Cup. Arbroath, who climbed above East Fife into fourth, were good value for their win, working quite well tactically with Scott Martin mainly on the wing, changing sides halfway through the first 45. Their fans were quite vocal too, even branching into that perennial favourite, the Weegie song, heard from many fans whenever they visit a ground in this fine city, about how those resident here are only happy on Giro day.
Next Saturday I will be back to Easter Road to watch Hibs play St Johnstone, back in my season ticket seat and back being partisan. Being a neutral yesterday lowered my blood pressure considerably, focusing only on watching the match rather than bothering about every decision that goes against my team. When I’m in my seat next weekend, I will be checking the Queen’s Park score, though, commiserating with those poor souls who will be back at Hampden, all for the love of the game.
Trust me to miss some architectural wonder. I got home from this one and picked up the wonderful Look Up Glasgow by Adrian Searle and David Barbour, a book all about the best bits of Glasgow that are above our heads, and I missed ‘winged mythical creatures’ above Starbucks. To make matters worse, the carving by James Boucher dating from 1875 has a pithy description in the book that the creatures judge ‘you for getting whipped cream on your latte’. I had thought that a lot of the architectural interest on West Nile Street had been on the other side of the street and here I had missed something. Damn and blast.
I started this walk from the northern end near the bus station, first taking a proper look at the building that houses La Bonne Auberge and the Holiday Inn, which has the look of an old warehouse or alternatively a mill building. Then again right now I seem to think everything looks like a mill building. The contrast of the building’s cupola with the tall cinema behind it was quite striking.
West Nile Street is another of the city’s main thoroughfares, vertical on the grid like Renfield Street, Hope Street and Queen Street. I usually cover its length at a very good lick, since it is downhill, as invariably I am rushing from the bus station to catch a train. This day I wasn’t rushing, which was good since my Vans weren’t made for speed or much beyond decoration. Most of the interesting parts of the street were on my right, or the western side of the street, though there were some good points on the other side too, like the Glasgow Stamp Shop whose website is pennyred.com, a neat philatelic reference and straight to business even in their web address about what they actually sell. (Also agreeably cheesy is their slogan, the unbeatable ‘Where no-one is second class’.) It reminded me of Stephens the bakers, a Fife company based in Dunfermline, where I had just come from. Stephens are particularly renowned for their wonderful steak bridie. So renowned indeed are these particular delights that the company’s website is steakbridie.com. Despite not being a cyclist, I invariably look into the cycle shop on the left side of the street, usually marvelling at the breadth and depth of their wares.
Also of interest was the back of the new retail development on Buchanan Street which is sleek and modern with an older pillared section in the middle. A lot of the buildings on West Nile Street are older, more than Renfield Street, with a fair few of the old bank buildings with a high central atrium and offices above. Some of the modern office blocks up towards West George Street have also adopted this trend. The old bank buildings aren’t banks any more, though, with fancy burger shops in the two I could see. The one which houses Shilling Brewing Company is austere art deco, if there can be such a thing with a few floral flourishes above street level and some pillars between the high windows. Handmade Burger Company has some striking Greek-style sculpture above the high pillars. I like old bank buildings and Glasgow has a few crackers, the high atria and offices above reminding me a bit of the Bank of England in London, always a bonkers looking structure with pillars upon pillars.
Keeping up the food theme for ages I’ve admired the red sandstone building on the corner of West Nile Street and West George Street which houses the Nippon Kitchen Japanese restaurant. It just looks quintessentially Glaswegian, red sandstone, stylish without being over-the-top, though strangely right for housing a Japanese restaurant too.
This was another busy walk, undertaken on a busy Friday teatime, so I had to do my best to get photos without getting run over or in the road of folk just trying to get home. Glasgow is one of the loudest cities in the world and unlike many others, people actually talk in the street. Sometimes you hear more than you want, like from the group of students talking about their pal who lots of folk think is a bit mental but really isn’t. That’s a bit tame, though. I’ve sometimes hurtled down West Nile Street on Saturday nights in full swing with gaggles of drunken people about the place, me of course being entirely sober at the time. Being able to slow down and just look around without needing to hurry was glorious, even if I missed the grotesque creatures judging the punters in Starbucks.
Source and further reading –
Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books
I started October on annual leave so plenty of rovings to report this month, beginning with a Sunday sojourn down the coast. I had a notion to go somewhere and decided on a wee spin on the train. From my bit of Glasgow, there are direct trains to Wemyss Bay on a Sunday and I soon stepped out of a train in the beautiful glass station, taking in the Victorian architecture. I was tempted to walk down the boardwalk to the ferry to Rothesay but the weather was wild and windy and the decision was made easier just to keep on dry land. I was going to have a wander but with the wind I just took a few photos and scurried across for the bus to Largs. The road from Wemyss Bay to Largs is one of the best in the country, suitably dramatic with views to Cumbrae, Bute and Cowal, only better with the white-topped waves. As I walked in Largs, the wind and the rain nearly blew me off my feet so I only went a little way before retreating to a coffee shop then the train home.
The next day, for want of any better ideas, I went to Edinburgh. I hadn’t planned anything so just walked up Leith Walk with the hope that I would have a brainwave en route. Luckily I did and ended up on the bus to Portobello to walk along the prom there, the weather being sunnier and much nicer than the previous day. A few weeks previously, I had written a piece on old power stations (to appear here in due course) and mentioned the old power station in Portobello, now replaced by houses and five-a-side pitches. A photo I came across with the station’s demolition came to mind with King’s Road in the background and a massive crater where the station used to be.
That Wednesday I went to Perth, where I took in the ever braw Perth Museum and Fergusson Gallery. The Fergusson had a particularly intriguing exhibition of paintings and documents about Fergusson’s friendship with Charles Rennie Mackintosh. For those who will insist on asking me rather than utilising Google, it’s on until 29th January 2018. Perth Museum’s excellent exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science with very well-arranged stuffed huge animals is on until tomorrow, 4th November.
Before I went to Perth, I had time to kill so undertook a Streets of Glasgow walk along Renfield Street.
The following day I took a train to Berwick, loving walking the walls in the sunshine. I particularly relished being able to look in the distance to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh. As I walked, I tried to decide where I would head for next, down south or up north, eventually settling on Dunbar. I bought an Ordnance Survey map since unaccountably I had left the relevant sheets in the house and because I had notions to go to Dunglass Collegiate Church and the waterfall at Bilsdean, both close by each other up the coast nearer Dunbar. Sadly bus times were against me so I headed straight for Dunbar instead, soon avoiding high waves as I walked along the prom to the East Links. I hadn’t been in my home town for about six months and being on familiar turf was really what I needed. I hadn’t been to the Battery on Lamer Island for a while and was glad to be there to see the new art installations and interpretative boards around it. Looking out to the North Sea, St. Abbs Head, the Isle of May and the Bass was particularly good on that bright sunny day. My visit also included a walk along the Prom, where my spirit was washed a little cleaner.
It is mandatory when visiting Dunfermline (or Kirkcaldy) that I do my utmost to sample some of those lovely steak bridies from Stephens the bakers, regardless of the result. Thus it was that Friday that I was sat in Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline with two bridies, ensuring they were swiftly polished off. Dunfermline is a very easy place to reach from Glasgow and my plan was to take in the new Carnegie Library and Galleries, one of those all-purpose cultural buildings that spring up all over the place. It’s excellent, with a branch library and archives as well as museum and gallery space. Since I was on leave and I thus didn’t want to linger amidst the books, most of my visit concentrated on the stunning views to the Abbey as well as the art and museum objects. There was an exhibition of some of Fife’s considerable art collection, including a few Colourists and Glasgow Boys (and Girls) works familiar from trips to Kirkcaldy. Another highlight was the video of archive footage of gala days and the like soundtracked by Dunfermline musicians, namely the Skids, Big Country and Barbara Dickson, quite an eclectic mix. Honestly, it’s better than it sounds.
On the way back, I did a Streets of Glasgow walk on West Nile Street in the city centre.
Over that weekend, I went to watch Hibs lose to Aberdeen then on the Sunday I went to Cathkin Park, particularly liking being in that fine place in the midst of autumn leaves. Another Streets of Glasgow walk resulted, this time on Union Street in the town.
The following Saturday, Hibs played Celtic in the League Cup semi at Hampden. The unexpected pleasure of a comfortable leather seat only slightly mitigated the horror of losing to the lesser greens. I have a sort-of tradition of walking home from Hampden after semi finals and that was what I did, covering nearly five miles from Mount Florida to Cardonald. Luckily the sun had come out by that point and the autumn colours again made it a nice walk, soothing a brow furrowed by the football just witnessed at the National Stadium.
That Tuesday I was in the capital for the derby. Beforehand, I got there a bit early so had a psychogeographic wander around the New Town.
Last Friday, I was in Partick. After doing my business over there, I went to Kelvingrove, paying particular attention to my favourite painting, the Paps of Jura by William MacTaggart.
On Sunday, I went to Dundee with my dad. We headed first to Broughty Ferry where we lunched on a bench watching the local sailing club in action on the Tay. Broughty Castle with its art and natural history was very fine, though of course I proceeded to slip on the stairs, right in front of the bemused museum assistant who proceeded to ask if I was all right. It happens enough that I don’t even get that embarrassed any more. After Broughty Ferry, we headed into Dundee city centre to visit the mighty McManus Galleries. The Diam slices in the cafe are outstanding. We had a walk by the Tay quickly before it got dark.
So, that’s October. The clocks have gone back and the nights are fair drawing in. I never used to like autumn though we have been lucky that it has been quite mild here in the west. Lots of good adventures this month. Plus I’m back studying too and even still ahead of the course calendar. Hopefully there will be more adventures (and ticks off the course calendar) to come in November.
Thanks as ever to all readers and followers. I am particularly proud of October’s posts, particularly ‘Scotland by museums’ and ‘Muriel Spark’, and I hoped you enjoyed reading them. The next post here will be on Sunday. It was going to be about Platform 9 3/4, delving slightly into Harry Potter, but instead it will be about studying. Often even more magical.
Back in this blog’s early days, I was told that one thing that would improve it was photos. They would break up the text. Ever since I’ve kept to that and indeed I often take photos specifically for the blog, sometimes on spec for a potential future post. I would like to share some of my favourite photos from the blog over the last couple of years, giving some of the context behind them.
This first one was taken at the Science Museum in London, with what might be the Rocket in the centre of the shot and a lighthouse lamp from the Western Isles to the right of it. The Science Museum is excellent and it is stunningly arranged.
This was taken in the old Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow during a tour just before the current works to turn it into flats. You can almost see the nurses, doctors and patients moving along.
This is the old Winterfield Pavilion in Dunbar, now demolished. It stood abandoned for most of my lifetime though previously it was used variously as a performance space and public toilets. I suspect my interest in abandoned structures may have started there.
This is Kev’s Beach, not far from St. Abbs Head in Berwickshire. It is a little cove with a pebbly beach just off the path. It does have a name on the OS map but it felt like my own discovery, hence its unofficial moniker.
Dryburgh Abbey is a stunning place just by the Tweed in the Borders. I’ve only ever been there on gloriously sunny days, including this summer when I sat a while by the river and read. Blessed in that dawn to be alive.
This is the back of the old James Dunbar lemonade works, behind Easter Road Stadium in Edinburgh. The South Stand at Easter Road is still referred to as the Dunbar End, not because it is in the general direction of Dunbar, which it isn’t, but for the works.
Last one is Cathkin Park, taken a couple of weeks ago, a beautiful autumn day just to ponder and wander.
Some of these were taken with my camera, which is a Nikon Coolpix L340, though most of the more recent ones were taken with an iPhone 7. The last two definitely were. I haven’t taken my camera out all that often recently but since it has been a gorgeous autumn, I may just have to change that.
The journalist Simon Jenkins recently published a book called Britain’s Best 100 Railway Stations, rating those stations on their architectural and other merits. Ten of those hundred – Aviemore, Edinburgh Waverley, Glasgow Central, Gleneagles, Glenfinnan, Pitlochry, Perth, Rannoch, Stirling, Wemyss Bay – are in Scotland, with the beautiful station at Wemyss Bay pictured on the cover. Of these ten, I have spent time in five of them, passed through Aviemore, Gleneagles and Pitlochry, and one day I would like to get to Glenfinnan and Rannoch.
My own top 10 would probably include Waverley, Central, Perth, Stirling and Wemyss Bay though I might add to the list Glasgow Queen Street, Leuchars, Linlithgow, Paisley Gilmour Street and Prestonpans, off the top of my head. On the subs bench would be Arbroath and Dingwall, probably Dunbar since it’s the station I’ve spent the most time on in my life. Haymarket’s recent revamp is rather fine too, managing to work in the handsome station house to the sleek modern glass and chrome affair that makes up the rest of the station. I’ve written about Waverley fairly recently – in Edinburgh Waverley – and Glasgow Central in the Streets of Glasgow post about Gordon Street. The others I’ve been to a fair bit, except Dingwall, which I’ve only been to once.
Perth Station is formed of two distinct sections, the shed I know best where the trains to Inverness and Edinburgh leave from while there are two bay platforms at the far end for trains to Dundee and Glasgow which I have come to know better in recent years. While Perth is huge, empty and rattly now, it strikes me as a place which has been bustly over time and it is quite atmospheric, resonant of past journeys and feeling far from anywhere else. The approach from Dundee is the best, passing across the Tay and Moncrieffe (or Friarton) Island along a bridge two storeys above street level into the station. It also passes near the Fergusson Gallery, which is situated in an old water tower right by the river.
Stirling is one of the few Scottish stations that appear in art, namely ‘Stirling Station’ by the Glasgow Boy William Kennedy, which currently resides in Kelvingrove. Stirling is smaller than Perth but quite pleasant in its way. The nicest feature is the main concourse with a curved glass roof sort of like the one at Wemyss Bay, though the main entrance with the jagged gable end is quite fine too.
Wemyss Bay is gorgeous, particularly the glass roof and its curves, the wooden curved walkway down to the ferry and the view outside. It’s well-tended and every time I’m there it feels like an adventure.
Glasgow Queen Street is in the midst of a refurbishment so it isn’t looking its best at the moment. I still always feel excited as I walk up the platform to the train, feeling palpably content under that elegant roof and walking on that polished floor.
Leuchars is an underrated pleasure. It is not on a direct route to Glasgow so I haven’t been there for a while. It has a single island platform sitting in the middle of a field, albeit one facing an army base. I’ve spent a fair bit of time there sitting looking out watching the world go by.
Linlithgow isn’t the most beautiful station but it has a great view from its platforms towards the Palace and St. Michael’s Church, particularly as the sun sets as it casts silhouettes.
Paisley Gilmour Street looks like a castle from the outside. It is fabulous for people watching. It is also an elegant big train shed, a bit like Perth, with trains to destinations across western Scotland coming in and out every few minutes. The new mural in the walkway is beautiful, fitting with Paisley’s hopes to become City of Culture in 2021.
Prestonpans is probably the least likely addition to this list. I like the murals painted on the outside of the old station buildings, including an image of Prestongrange’s Beam Engine and other allusions to the Pans’ considerable history including salt and brewing. There is also a very fine view across the fields to Bankton House.
The best bit of train travel is the travel itself, being on the train and seeing what is passed by on the way somewhere else. Stations make the whole experience better, well, some of the time and we are lucky in Scotland to have some very fine stations indeed. Writing this has encouraged me to spend some time this autumn exploring some of them, perhaps beginning with a return to Wemyss Bay and Perth. To the trains.
I have relatively few traditions. Most of them pertain to football in some way. When I go to Easter Road, for example, I always use the same turnstile and exit. I invariably walk the same way to the ground as well, though not always. Since Hibs have been promoted, I have different grounds to go to so new traditions to build and maintain. Other than Easter Road and possibly Stark’s Park, the ground I’ve seen Hibs in the most over the last few seasons is Hampden Park. I am actually writing this the night after an unsuccessful visit to the National Stadium, this time against Celtic. (Don’t panic – this is actually a psychogeographical post. I’m not going to go all self-pitying about the Hibs. Football posts don’t tend to be popular here, for some reason.) Whenever I see Hibs play in a semi final at Hampden, I usually walk home. From Mount Florida to where I live in Cardonald is 4.8 miles, or about an hour and a half. The first time I walked it was after the Scottish Cup semi against Dundee United or the Conrad Logan game – more about the Polar Bear here. Hibs had the eastern or Celtic end of the stadium and even without that, there was a lot of traffic getting out of Hampden then Battlefield and Shawlands. As I got towards Battlefield Road and the old Victoria Infirmary, I realised I might be quicker walking as no bus would get through the cars and coaches all heading out of the area at the same time. I got home and collapsed in a heap. One year later, after the Scottish Cup semi against Aberdeen, same scenario. This time I just decided to walk it, since it had become sort of a ritual whenever Hibs played at Hampden that I would just hoof it home. In fact, since I had prepared myself for Hibs getting gubbed by Celtic anyway (we got beat but not that decisively), the walk home was actually something to look forward to.
My route from Hampden mostly follows that of the 34 (or 34A) bus, operated by First Glasgow, which runs from Castlemilk to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital or Govan. Usually, I am one of a great crowd streaming out of Hampden and crossing the road at Mount Florida Primary School onto Battlefield Road. After the Aberdeen semi last year, I was surrounded by Doric-accented folk with red scarves, definitely marking myself out by my green scarf and mostly east coast accent. Past the coaches, the mass of people thins out by the shops on Battlefield Road, definitely by Shawlands, only a few or none beyond there. By the time I get to the northern gate of Pollok Park, the supporters coaches tend to start passing, as proved yesterday when coaches, pretty much all with Edinburgh numbers on the side and green-clad folk aboard, started streaming along towards the motorway. After the Dundee United semi, I was actually over the motorway when the United coaches started passing. Invariably by Mosspark and Paisley Road West, I am the only indicator that a football match had been happening somewhere as people just dot around doing shopping and whatever.
The walk yesterday was brilliant, on a nice, cloudy-bright autumn afternoon. Battlefield was its usual, leafy elegance, with the exception that someone had just smashed the window of the Domino’s Pizza shop. I always like being in that part of the world and know it well from working there for two years. As I walked and thought over the game, my main impression was of the autumn leaves on the trees. Glasgow is a beautiful city at the best of times but very often it is best in the autumn. The trees are all yellow and orange at the moment and the route home from Hampden skirts the side of Queen’s Park as well as Pollok Park and Bellahouston for good measure. I had been along Mosspark Boulevard last Sunday en route to Cathkin Park and the trees were still turning and leaves falling. The game had finished around 2 and I got home around 3.30, having stopped only for a juice and a sandwich on Battlefield Road. I hadn’t been hurrying, just letting my feet guide me home, processing the game and thinking on future adventures. Pollok Park foremost amongst my priorities, given the wonderful autumn colours. It won’t be today, however, since I would rather be far away from the Motherwell-Rangers semi final at Hampden this afternoon.
Glasgow is an eminently walkable city. It can seem vast but it isn’t really. It is possible to cross the south side within an hour or two on foot, even a half-hour by bus. From Cardonald, it is possible to walk in any direction and end up somewhere. I can walk to Renfrew (and I have) or Braehead or Paisley (I’ve only done from Ralston home so far). Within Glasgow, I can walk to Govan or Crookston, Bellahouston or Pollok. Some of the Streets of Glasgow walks I have in mind are local ones, the long roads that pass through this part of the city – Paisley Road West and Govan Road are definitely ideas for the winter to come.
The walk from Hampden is a rare treat, like a visit to the National Stadium itself. I am lucky as a Hibs fan that I get to visit fairly regularly and even luckier that I can walk home in even less time than it takes some of my fellow Hibees to drive back to the capital, even if it might take longer to get over the game than just the walk home.
Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that certain places recur in posts here. Dunbar, where I come from, and Glasgow, where I live, foremost among them. Others include Edinburgh, Fife, Durham and Prestongrange. I’ve written quite a lot about locales located within these at one point or another. Cathkin Park is a place I’ve only been to in the last few years, since I moved to Glasgow and it has fast become one of my favourite places. It is like Prestongrange in the sense that it is a bit overgrown and sorry for itself, not quite doing what it has done before, even though there is a sense that it could be great again. Cathkin is an old football ground, still is, really, retaining the crucial components of grass, white painted lines and the occasional people to roll a ball across it. I make sure I get there a few times a year, though less so since I stopped working in that part of the city. I make a few circuits of the park then walk up onto one of the terraces to stand, stare and ponder awhile. Usually the same thoughts ensue. I try to imagine this place with thousands of people, thousands of bunnets, all around the terraces with a grandstand on the near touchline. I shiver slightly as I imagine my team going under, just as Third Lanark did in 1967. Apparently I am not the only one. Peter Ross wrote in his recent article collection, The Passion of Harry Bingo, of a Queen’s Park fan who thinks of the place like a church, a place to think. I do too, though usually I turn to happier images, like when Cathkin was the second Hampden Park and Hibs won the Scottish Cup for the first time, back in 1887 against Dumbarton. Sometimes there are other people around, like the other day when there was a mum and a boy walking their dog and a woman taking photos, who might have been an art student. It means different things to different people, a place to drink illicitly, maybe to reminiscence or to just to walk, with a dog, with family, friends or just alone. I’m just glad it isn’t so far away from my house, that I can be there in half an hour. One day, I think, I hope that Third Lanark play a league game there again, that these terraces are cut back and decent crowds stand or sit there, Bovril and pies in hand, watching the game and cheering just occasionally, because it’s Saturday and it’s Cathkin Park and that’s just what happens there.
Source and further reading –
Ross, Peter, The Passion of Harry Bingo, 2017, Dingwall, Sandstone Press
Now, this isn’t a League of Gentlemen thing, all about ‘local museums for local people’. In my years, I’ve been to more than a few museums, some big ones, the massive kind in big cities with security guards and Rosetta Stones and that, as well as smaller museums, the ones that fit into one room and have displays that might not have been updated in the last couple of decades. I try to take each one as I find them, seeking to be open-minded and curious even while I may not have much affinity with the place or with what is being displayed. Most towns and cities in Scotland have a museum, some, like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, have quite a few. The National Museums and Glasgow Museums get enough limelight. As much as I like traipsing around NMS, Kelvingrove, Riverside and the rest, I generally prefer the museums to be found outside of the Central Belt, even just outside Glasgow and Edinburgh. They tend to be less familiar and so have more to actually learn and absorb.
Every so often, a new local museum springs up. When I was off recently, I took a trip to Dunfermline, an old haunt of mine, to go to the brand new Carnegie Library and Galleries. Dunfermline already has a museum all about Andrew Carnegie, who was born in the town, and it is quite fine. Since Carnegie donated money to build libraries all over the place, including a fair few here in Glasgow, it was only natural that he bunged his home town a few quid to build a library, which opened in 1883. That building was refurbished and enlarged over the last few years with a suitably grand Victorian exterior on Abbot Street and a more modern wood, glass and boxy affair looking onto the garden and the Abbey beyond. Inside it is stunning. The library is agreeably old-fashioned looking with wooden shelving and the archive bit manages to combine wooden shelves and looking quite swish with a mezzanine level. It was filled with light and lots of gaps to see the light and the rest of the building at different points. The museum and gallery spaces were much more modern and the tone was set by the entrance to the building, which housed panels, some audio-visual, with images of Dunfermline and its prominent citizens and pursuits over the centuries, as well as a Vespa scooter. Not sure quite why but I liked it all the same. What tickled me was that the museum featured photos of well-kent folk from Dunfermline, including Jim Leishman, who is perhaps best known as a football manager for Dunfermline and Livingston, amongst others, as well as occasionally scribbling doggerel poems to inspire his teams. Referred to as the ‘Lochgelly Messiah’ in Ron Ferguson’s Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, Leishman is now a Labour councillor and the Provost of Fife, no less, and there is a plaque by the reception saying that he officially opened the place, as well as featuring in the exhibits. Legend. Another highlight was the video featuring local scenes, probably from the Scottish Screen Archive, though it featured a soundtrack of music by local musicians, including Barbara Dickson, Big Country and, wonderfully, Into The Valley by the Skids. I’ve written here before about one of the highlights of watching a game at East End Park in Dunfermline being the steak bridies made by Stephens. Another is hearing the Skids belted out at full volume as the teams come out. The video in the museum was originally playing in the background though cleverly it got louder as I walked towards it, sitting down in front of it on a comfy cinema-style seat. I could have sat there all afternoon, to be honest. The museum didn’t suffer from being quite bitty and thematic, as so many museums tend to be nowadays, going into some topics but not following a strict linear chronology. The architecture of the building, inside and out, was cracking and I just liked walking around it, looking out the window and down and up and through the place.
The fact I know Dunfermline fairly well probably affected my response to its museum. If it had been a place I know less well, the museum may not have resonated as much with me. A couple of days previously, I was in Perth. I like Perth – it’s a douce, prim sort of town, a traditional market sort of place. Its highlights for me are the Fergusson Gallery, dedicated to the work of Colourist artist JD Fergusson, and Huntingtower Castle, which sits just at the other side of the A9 at the edge of the city. This time I went to the Fergusson, where there was a good exhibition linking Fergusson to Charles Rennie Mackintosh (on until 29th January 2018, incidentally) and for a daunder along the Tay. On the way back, I hit Perth Museum and Art Gallery, which sits in an elegant building with pillars and an atrium just up from the river. The first time I went to Perth Museum was a few years ago and I remember being struck by how dated its displays were. Some of the displays about the local area were produced in 1990. This was well into the noughties. I was born in 1989 and at that point I could vote and everything. Thankfully, it has been spruced up since then though it is about to shut for a refurb again. The natural history and geology bit, which is much the same age as I am, was fine though it was hard to get into. It was a lot of reading, which is fine, though not knowing Perthshire very well or much about its geography or wildlife, I was a bit lost. The current exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science (on until 4th November) was great, with lots of taxidermy on show as well as good, absorbing exhibition panels about the society’s activities. I go to enough exhibitions to know when a curator has had fun putting an exhibition together and the curator at Perth had clearly been loving their work, displaying all these stuffed animals in such a way that really stood out.
Scotland is far more than Edinburgh and Glasgow. Or indeed more than Loch Ness or Stirling Castle. It is those places that aren’t always obvious. One of the best museums in the country is the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath, another is Broughty Castle Museum in Broughty Ferry, just outside Dundee. The other day I was thinking about being at the opening of the museum in Musselburgh a few years ago, which manages to combine a whole lot of the history of that fine burgh in a space about the size of a newsagents. There are still loads I haven’t seen. For years, I’ve been meaning to go to the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright, which is apparently from a bygone age, and indeed to the Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura. It’s a fairly difficult part of the world to get to, Dumfries and Galloway – as written about a wee while ago in Awkward – so it will probably be a while until I get there. I still haven’t been to Eyemouth Museum, which has a good collection about fishing, despite it being fairly close to Dunbar, where I grew up.
This is why I am in no particular hurry to travel abroad. Where I live, or near to it, is interesting enough already. The museums especially.
The idea to do another Streets of Glasgow came on the train into town. I was due to go somewhere else but I had 40 minutes to kill before the train. Then the deliberation over which street to do. In the proximity of Central Station, I had already done Gordon Street, Buchanan Street and Queen Street, but that leaves quite a bit of choice. I ended up walking out of Central and happened to look left. I thought ‘hey, Renfield Street’. For those who don’t know, Glasgow city centre is arranged on a grid. On a map, Renfield Street is vertical, going from Union Street through the town up into Cowcaddens. From the junction at Union Street, I could see the top of Renfield Street, the offices of the Herald up there and all the traffic and people in between.
It was lunchtime on a weekday so naturally Renfield Street was very busy. I had to take particular care not to get in anyone’s road as I looked up or snapped away. My main impression of Renfield Street was of its scale. From street-level, the buildings seemed medium-sized, only growing towards the top, particularly when all the buildings are dwarfed by the massive Cineworld, which may well still hold the record for the tallest cinema in the world. The street seemed to be a hodge-podge of different styles, some red sandstone buildings with finials and stylistic touches, others more modern with advertising on the corner (Yorkshire Building Society at Gordon Street, Tennants Lager at Sauchiehall Street), still others grey office blocks. I also had a sense of a few more derelict buildings, including an old cinema which may well become offices. Given that Glasgow once had a very high number of cinemas and picture houses, it seems grimly ironic. Also on this walk I passed by the old BHS shop feeling sorry for itself and Sauchiehall Street, which always seems down-at-heel compared to Buchanan Street and Argyle Street.
When I reached the Pavilion Theatre, I looked at the listings, including a play about Paul Gascoigne and, since we’re marching through October, the Christmas panto. Over the door of the Pavilion are the words ‘Scotland’s National Theatre of Variety’, which I like as a selling point. About books, I’m of the school that as long as people are reading, it doesn’t matter what they read. On theatre, I am much the same. There are people who look down on variety theatre, just as there are those who think plays and productions staged at the Tron or the Citizens Theatre are not for the likes of them. As long as people enjoy it, then the job’s a good ‘un, as they say. The Citizens Theatre, which is in the Gorbals area of the city, does good work reaching out to its community, providing discounted tickets and running initiatives for folk in the Gorbals and beyond to get involved in drama. All too often we get hung up on these things without trying them. Whatever works.
At the top of Renfield Street are the offices for the Herald newspapers. Next door used to be STV until they moved to Pacific Quay, the site now occupied by Tesco Bank. From outside the Herald offices, a bit higher up, there was a great view back down to Union Street. I stood there for a few minutes watching the city move back around me. Right by the Herald offices is what I thought was a war memorial, looking quite like a mercat cross, topped with an unicorn. though it turned out it was a drinking fountain donated by the merchant and publican William Annan in 1915. It used to stand elsewhere in Cowcaddens until the whole place was levelled. Drinking fountains were once prevalent across the city with others in Townhead, Govan and Alexandra Parade, that I’ve seen.
I have had an interest in the media for a long time and I’ve noticed lately how a lot of newspaper offices in particular have been scaled down with the demise of print sales. The Herald offices also house advertising and web businesses, as do the Daily Record premises by the river. I noticed, however, that the front of 200 Renfield Street advertised that it was the home of The Herald, Sunday Herald and the Evening Times but there was no mention of The National, another of the Herald and Times Group’s newspapers, launched in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. I am unsure about what I think about Scottish independence and writing this in the week following the horrific events that surrounded the Catalonian independence referendum, I am quite firmly of the view that all views should be represented and listened to. The National fills a void since only its stablemate the Sunday Herald is also sympathetic to independence. Our politics is more polarised than ever before with a complete lack of empathy or listening. People get their news in a great variety of ways but their views still often come from their newspapers, or rather the way the news is framed in the case of online. Pluralism isn’t a bad thing.
Renfield Street was very busy when I was there, with constant traffic, cars, buses and people out on their lunch. It is one of Glasgow’s urban canyons, a long narrow street lined by tall buildings though not as claustrophobic as Hope Street, in my experience. It has a lot more to it than it seems, just like every other street in this great city, with more to be gained from looking in at what stands there as much as looking up. Not bad for a notion stood at the traffic lights.