This was a bit of an experiment. It was a dark, December Sunday night and I was curious how my iPhone would cope with night photography. Plus I was toying with making Nelson Mandela Place, one of the shortest streets in the city, into a zine. I decided fairly swiftly to save that for a longer walk. I came in from the West Nile Street end deliberately since it gave a better view of the St. George’s Tron church that sits primly in the middle of the square. The street was busy with folk leaving the Chaophraya restaurant, not to mention buses which I had to dodge while snapping photos and avoiding being run over. This blogging lark should come with a health warning. This walk, all of five minutes, came with the soundtrack of a busker on Buchanan Street singing ‘Love Me Do’ by the Beatles, not badly at all, as it happens. I walked around twice, seeing what I had missed the first time. I quickly realised that the statues weren’t at their best in the dark.
Nelson Mandela Place was named after the South African leader in 1986 by one of our more left-leaning council administrations. They had already accorded him the Freedom of the City in 1981 and it just so happened that during those dark Apartheid days, the South African consulate sat in what was then known as St. George’s Place. Thus it was that the city fathers and mothers renamed the street Nelson Mandela Place. Mandela did come to Glasgow in 1993. I remember when he died in 2013 that there was a vigil and tributes left outside the St. George’s Tron Church on the street that bore his name. John MacKay presented the STV News from there too that night. This I thought about later. While I walked around Nelson Mandela Place, though, I just looked up and around at my surroundings. The church was designed by William Stark in 1807-1809, influenced by Wren, according to my Pevsner’s guide, which describes the church as forming ‘an arresting point-de-vue at the western end of George Street’. I took pleasure at walking around and enjoying the church from various angles.
During one of my circuits, I noticed a glass on a railing point, perhaps the title of a poem or a shit indie song one day. I looked up into Urban Outfitters and saw great coloured loops in one of the windows. The Chaophraya’s tall, elegant, poised Buddha in the doorway lent a certain surrealism to proceedings, or rather gave them perspective. It is easy to forget that there’s a whole big world out there. In a city built in no small part due to the efforts of slaves, it is right that we have a street named after someone who did his utmost to ensure equality was brought to his country and the wider world. I enjoyed my few minutes’ walk around it and especially being able to ignore the sensory overload of the Christmas lights for just looking up.
It boded well that as soon as I stepped onto Hope Street a suitcase ended up bashed against the back of my legs. I was stood outside one of Central Station’s many side entrances, trying to get a photo of a Hope Street sign, as is traditional, and despite trying to keep out of everyone’s road, I failed dismally at being invisible. Damn. As I walked on, I looked across to the Solid Rock Cafe, which has a mural above the door in memory of the late Lemmy of Motorhead, who died around two years ago. Also above the door was that the Solid Rock Cafe had been established in 1987. I get annoyed at the branches of Tesco, thankfully not including the one on Hope Street, which state they were established in 2015 or whatever. 30 years, I suppose, is long enough to note in some way.
Hope Street has the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluted streets in Scotland, according to the most recent figures. There is an air monitoring station which sits starkly in the middle of the pavement near Central Station. It is a green box with some stickers and part of a tourism advert on one side. On another side were the words ‘La Street C’est Chic’. Included in the chicness of Hope Street, though, on that bright, cloudy Sunday lunchtime were fish and chip boxes abandoned from the night before plus some pavement pizza that may have resulted from the fried goods once therein. What was more poignant as I continued to pass Central Station was some chalked words on the wall in tribute to a fallen friend.
There is a whole lot of red sandstone on Hope Street, looking very Glaswegian and how I imagine a lot of the city centre being at one point in the mists of time. There were a fair few finials, including on the corner of St. Vincent Street on a particularly fine building which had a tower, railings above ground level and a feast of visual details at every turn. On another building across the street were waves carved into the white walls. Carvings were ten aplenty on this walk, with one even netted off on a slightly ramshackle building nearer Sauchiehall Street. Hope Street is probably second only to Ingram Street in how much of the walk I spent with my head high in the air. The cricked neck is a small price to pay, mind.
Getting run over isn’t, however, part of the fun. I was standing waiting to cross the road when two guys stepped out into the road, narrowly missing a taxi. The two guys were suited, one wearing a bunnet possibly to offset the fact he was follicly challenged, and the string of abuse that followed the taxi driver on his merry way included that he was a ‘pure rebel, man’, that rebellious act of course having the temerity to drive along a public highway and not having to swerve and avoid a pedestrian. I was of course minding my own business, being all psychogeographical and looking up at finials, all the while mentally shaking my head in disbelief. That was also the case a few yards later as I passed a pub, which was celebrating its 6th year of operation by touting various whiskies. I idly mused on how being 6 years old is neither old enough to drink nor to be a decent malt and walked on.
As I reached Sauchiehall Street, the Theatre Royal, Royal Conservatoire and the National Piping Centre came into view. To the left, a row of grand tenements led to Cowcaddens Road, bearing the city crest and noting that they were built in 1907. There was an abrupt gable end, though, with the Royal Conservatoire behind, one to be chalked up to Glasgow’s atrocious urban planning in decades past, rendering our city centre a great hotch-potch of old, new and not gracefully aging concrete. At ground level was a restaurant with the curious name of Ardnamurchan. I assume it serves Scottish cuisine, cranachan, haggis and stuff, though the name puzzled me since Ardnamurchan is a very isolated peninsula sticking out into the Atlantic quite a bit north and west of here. Across the road, the Theatre Royal was modern but suitably sweeping, looking all theatrical in white on Hope Street before lapsing into modern glass on the corner with Cowcaddens Road.
Of the three parallel streets that lead vertically through Glasgow city centre, I would have to say Hope Street is my favourite. Architecturally, certainly; it is more open and less claustrophobic, despite its considerable problem with air pollution. This walk was undertaken on a cool, bright Sunday December lunchtime, a great time to be able to take my time and look up, even if suitcases bashed my legs and taxis had to take evasive action.
December gets forgotten as a month in the whole whirl of Christmas. I myself was focused on getting done with work. Still I managed to be out in the world a wee bit over the time, even with the ice, with a few rovings shoehorned into an otherwise busy existence.
Friday 1st December I went to see a friend who was over in Edinburgh for the weekend. We’ve had many good adventures over the years, usually involving loads of good chat too, and this time was no exception. We went to the Portrait Gallery, a good favourite place of both of ours, and there was a nice exhibition of portraits of modern Scots, including a fair few writers, poets and folks of all backgrounds. The Portrait Gallery cafe also does good cake. We also headed out to Portobello where we had lunch, went to a few shops and wandered along the Prom. After we parted, I went on a long urban ramble from the Botanics to Waverley Station via Leith.
The following day Hibs were playing at Partick Thistle, only a few miles across the river from the house. I didn’t have to leave until 1, getting the bus to Dumbarton Road then walking up Byres Road from there. It was a nice sunny afternoon so I dawdled the mile or so to Firhill, stopping on Queen Margaret Drive to look up and down the Kelvin. I also paused not far from the ground to look at one of the Stalled Spaces that have emerged to try and make artworks or gardens out of forgotten corners of our cities and towns.
That Sunday, instead of staying in bed like a sensible person, I was to be found on my way to Kirkcaldy to my favourite art gallery. It felt like an art gallery sort of day and I wandered around my favourite rooms and sat by my favourite paintings. I also took a few minutes to walk down to the sea and felt refreshed after being witness to the stunning sunset over the Forth, particularly looking towards Edinburgh. That day I also undertook two Streets of Glasgow walks, which will appear here later in January, I think, Hope Street and Nelson Mandela Place, the latter in the dark.
The following Sunday Hibs were playing Celtic at Easter Road. It was cold, very cold. After the game, which was at lunchtime for the benefit of those watching in the pub or their hoose, I walked along the Water of Leith as far as Canonmills. The Water was frozen over at several points, including by the Shore in Leith. It was a beautiful walk all the same, all the better, due to the cold. I took a bus across town from Canonmills to George IV Bridge, managing to get a sneaky peek at the new Muriel Spark exhibition at the National Library of Scotland, which was marvellous, arranged chronologically telling the story of Spark’s life through manuscripts, images and text. NLS also had a cracking display of documents out relating to the Reformation.
That Wednesday Hibs were playing The Rangers, again at Easter Road. I took the scenic route to the capital, travelling from Central via Shotts and Livingston rather than the usual Queen Street via Falkirk and Linlithgow route. I like a change of scenery. This one was notable for a delay getting into the East Stand at Easter Road due to ice. Apparently Hibs, Edinburgh City Cooncil and the polis had forgotten that the slope that leads from Hawkhill Avenue to the stand would be very icy. So, those of us who get to the football early were treated to a formation of Edinburgh’s finest with shovels and salt bags in their hands gritting the slope. It was a formation, something that wouldn’t have gone amiss on a battlefield. Better than the football, as it turns out.
That Friday I was in Edinburgh again. On my way back from my shopping, I walked up Regent Road and in the low winter sun the view across Edinburgh city centre was gorgeous.
The following day, Hibs were playing at lunchtime in Aberdeen. Aberdeen. ABERDEEN. Yep. I was there. I left Glasgow at an agriculturally early hour and made it to the frozen north in time to slide across the ice to Pittodrie in time to see Hibs get absolutely gubbed. The pies were decent, though. Rather than hang about, owing to the cold, ice and foulness of my mood, I went to buy a bus ticket straight home. I have never been happier to see Glasgow. I have nothing particular against Aberdeen as a place. It was just baltic, beautifully so as you will see below, and my faith in my fellow humanity had been shaken just a bit too.
I wasn’t well for much of the end of December. My first trip out, besides work and Christmas family stuff, was a spur-of-the-moment trip for a wander at Fisherrow Harbour. On the way back through, I went the long way, via the Forth Road Bridge and Dunfermline, bopping around on buses, just watching the world go by.
On Saturday 30th, Hibs played Kilmarnock. I was there. Before going to the game, I walked via the New Town, down Dublin Street and along East London Street to Gayfield Square, a nice saunter through the lesser-spotted bit of the New Town.
In blog business, I had three spurts in numbers in December. The Streets of Glasgow posts about Ingram Street and Edmiston Drive were particularly popular in December, as was the Books of 2017 post, which ignited a fair bit of interest. Nearer Christmas, the Best of 2017 post got shared a bit owing to its mention of the Glasgow Women’s Library.
So, that’s the December digest. I have a post backlog again so Wednesday will be a two-post day too. The morning one will be about natural light this time of year, the evening one about the trains stopping but one day a year. It’s nice to be back.
Whenever I see an idea that might work for my writing, I usually send myself an e-mail. Sometimes they come from Twitter or the Internet more generally. It means that my inbox gets clogged with potential ideas, some goers, others really not. A wee while ago I wrote a post which sought to get some of them out there – Commonplace inbox – and I felt it’s time to do it again. Some might still appear in a post sometime in the future, however, but I have the feeling the time might have passed for others.
At the start of September, the new Queensferry Crossing opened, the third bridge across the Forth between South Queensferry in Edinburgh and Fife. It’s a stunning structure, fitting in quite well with the existing Forth Road Bridge and the mighty Forth Bridge, the one with the trains. Everybody and their granny in the Scottish press was writing about the new bridge and briefly I was going to but didn’t get round to it. One angle, covered in The Scotsman, was about how 50 years ago the Forth was traversed by a ferry, only stopped by the opening of the Forth Road Bridge.
Another potential idea was derived from a piece from The Daily Telegraph, entitled ‘Why do so few people visit Berwick-upon-Tweed?’ Since I read it, I’ve been to Berwick and I have a lot of time for the place more generally. It is a strange place, not quite Scotland, not quite England, and it has a lot of fine buildings, plus the views to the Cheviots, Bamburgh and Lindisfarne as well as out to sea. LS Lowry went there for his holidays. Plus it has a brilliant old-fashioned stationers where on my last visit I bought an OS map which got put in a black paper bag. Go to Berwick.
I also had a notion to write about the Caledonian Sleeper, the night train that runs from London to various parts of Scotland. I’ve been on it three times, from Edinburgh to London in the seats then from Glasgow to London and back in a bed, which was a fair bit more comfortable. The seated journey was memorable because I didn’t sleep at all. Get a bed, if possible. It was worth it, however, because I was then (and still am) an Open University student and at some ungodly hour I saw Milton Keynes Central out the window and waved at my university’s campus as I passed by. My preferred mode of travel to London is an early train down then the last one back, since at least I can sleep in my own bed without the juddering of wheels over train tracks.
Steve Silberman is an excellent writer, writing with insight about autism, amongst other things. I follow him on Twitter and in my inbox just now is a link he Tweeted to a TED talk with the wonderful heading: ‘Why autism is sexier than you think’. It can be, in the right context, you know. Good lighting in my case.
Sticking with Twitter, I follow the nature writer Robert Macfarlane, who has recently taken to Twitter with charming missives about words and their resonances. Much nicer than all the other miserable bollocks happening in the world right now. Two recent favourites are ‘geophany’ and ‘genius loci’, defined as an epiphany of insight about a particular place and the atmosphere and character of a particular place respectively.
Kevin McKenna writes for various newspapers including The Scottish Daily Mail (boo, hiss) and The Observer. I don’t always agree with his politics but I’m a believer you should read folk you disagree with. One of his Observer pieces that struck a chord with me was about whether Scotland’s islands are experiencing a resurgence due to tourism and infrastructure advances. I also have in my inbox just now a brilliant feature article from Susan Swarbrick in The Heraldabout the plane landing on the beach at Barra, something I would dearly like to see one day.
I also have quite a few articles and links about this great city of Glasgow. Two relate to a Streets of Glasgow walk I would like to do but haven’t managed yet along Cumberland Street in the Gorbals, which has some interesting architecture and public art. I also have a link from the excellent History Girls about murals in Possilpark Library, which I still haven’t seen – read their blog for more details. More controversially, an article also nestles in my inbox from Friends of the Earth about air pollution on the Glasgow Subway. In the pipeline, so to speak, is an idea I’ve had to walk the length of the Subway above ground so that will be relevant for that. What might also be relevant is an article from BBC News where the owners of the bus company McGills complain that government should do more about getting folk on buses than trains. In some of that, they have a point, though as a frequent user of McGills services myself, I would humbly suggest they stop making passengers their enemy and consider giving many of its drivers customer service training plus in some cases route knowledge.
VisitScotland recently announced that they intend to close 60% of their tourist information offices across the country. There is an element of sadness in that, since folk will lose their jobs and there will be some who will lose out on information about Scotland who may not have Internet access or a phone signal, come to think of it. I myself have used their services regularly over the years, though not for a while, plundering their stocks for the occasional day trip idea or bus timetable. Their staff are always very helpful and knowledgeable so it’s a shame that VICs will be closing. Then again the iCentre in Glasgow seems to move every year which seems counter-intuitive.
I think that’s my inbox a fair bit emptier now. I’m not sure how to keep it from filling up again, maybe saving links to Facebook instead or just writing them down in my notebook. Or simply reading less but I’m quite sure that won’t catch on.
To get pretty much anywhere from where I stay involves transport of some kind. I don’t drive but thankfully there are enough buses and trains to get a lot of places in the city and beyond. However, two of the biggest shopping areas in the west of Scotland, Braehead and ASDA at Govan, are slightly awkward to get to without a car, despite being about a mile or so away. One bright day off, I decided I needed provisions and set off for ASDA on foot. It was a bright, crisp Friday afternoon and on the way I had the notion to do a Streets of Glasgow walk along part of the route, Edmiston Drive. It was only a slight detour since ASDA sits just off Edmiston Drive on Helen Street. Of course it started to rain, though only a wee bit but it was inevitable since it’s Glasgow.
I started at the corner of Craigton Road and Edmiston Drive, stopping to take a photo of a mural which parodies the city’s marketing slogan, People Make Glasgow. It reads ‘People Make Mistakes’, which I think is a neat and positive point about all of us being fallible. I am not quite sure who put it there – I gather there are others dotted around the city – so if anyone does know, please do let me know, either by e-mail or in the comments below.
Edmiston Drive is a mix of residential housing and industrial premises. Plus of course Ibrox Stadium. It also forms part of the A8 road, which crosses much of the Central Belt running pretty much parallel to the M8 motorway. It’s pretty much busy all the time, cris-crossing Ibrox, Drumoyne and Govan. I picked it due to its variety and points of interest, particularly nearer Paisley Road West. After the mural, the next thing I saw was a shopping trolley, abandoned, cowped in the grass, an archetypal urban spectacle. As I walked a bit further on, the views across the city, beyond the industrial estate, were great, with the spires and houses of Park Circus prominent on the horizon, as was the Finnieston Crane. The rain started as I reached Helen Street but I decided just to persevere, inhaling the fried chicken smell from KFC as I crossed the road.
It was strange being near Ibrox without a football match going on. I passed the car parks where on match days programme sellers and vendors hawk their wares to the fifty thousand-odd folk heading to the game, now deserted. Ibrox is of course where The Rangers play and I’ve been there to watch my own team, Hibs. It isn’t natural home territory for me and it was appropriate that a bright orange Mini passed me as I walked onto Edmiston Drive. The backs of the Broomloan Road and Copland Road stands have been daubed in red, white and blue expounding the history of its resident team. As I walked past the gates, a couple were taking a selfie in front of them. I refrained but stopped to get a photo of the sunlight reflecting on the gates.
Having been a football fan since I was a wee boy, the frontages of Ibrox and Parkhead were very familiar to me from countless sports bulletins on the evening news. Every time I walk along Edmiston Drive and see the red-brick frontage of the Bill Struth Main Stand, it always feels quite strange and it takes me back to being a wee boy. The edifice is the work of Archibald Leitch, architect of many grandstands in England and Scotland, though very few of them now exist. Ibrox has one of them, despite the modern interior, and the other is at Dens Park. Randomly this walk happened the weekend before Hearts played Partick Thistle before their new main stand, which replaced their Archibald Leitch creation. The Bill Struth Main Stand at Ibrox, whatever one’s thoughts on the club that play there, is a fine looking building, described in my Pevsner’s guide as marking ‘the pinnacle of Archibald Leitch’s career as leading designer of football grounds and at the time was the largest (with 10,000 seats) and most lavish stand ever built’.
At the other side of Ibrox was a statue to James Wilson, 1852-1906, a doctor and scholar who practised in the local area helping the ‘suffering and distressed’ in the area. It was put up in 1907 by a public subscription ‘as a tribute to his worth’, a very Scottish way of putting it. The houses towards Paisley Road West were classically Glaswegian red-brick tenements, with a lane between them. I always associate narrow lanes with the south side, particularly in Battlefield and nearer Hampden. Just before the junction was a tower block, though one under development with modern cladding and window boxes. All around it other houses are being built, making use of every spare bit of ground as seems to be the case across Glasgow and in Edinburgh too, come to think of it.
Edmiston Drive is one of those streets that conjures up an image. For me, like many people, it is football. For others, it might be industry or just a place to pick up fast food. It was nice just to set off from my house and end up on a psychogeographic ramble. You never need to wander far to find something of interest here.
Source and further reading –
Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press
So, it’s December. How on earth did that happen? This year has been so busy that I still think it’s some time in September and folk have their Christmas lights up too bloody early. Then again I think mid-December is too early for Christmas lights but I don’t think I’ll win that battle. The November digest will be a wee bit shorter than normal because I haven’t been roaming as much. Thankfully normal service should be resumed in December.
Thursday 2nd November was the day of the launch of the Nourish eBook, published by the Scottish Book Trust for Book Week Scotland. As regular readers may hopefully know, I was very lucky to have some words in that there publication and the launch was held in a bistro called Spoon in Edinburgh’s south side. Apparently JK Rowling used to write there sometimes. Social things very often make me nervous but this one was further complicated a week beforehand when the Scottish Book Trust asked me if I would care to read my piece out at the launch. I am fairly adept at speaking to people but I had never read my own work out to other people. I spent much of the week preparing and reciting. We rocked up at Spoon and found seats. I was reading second, after Ginny Clark’s Bramble Jam and before Elaine Loch’s story about porridge and Eleanor Fordyce’s wonderful onion rant. I walked up, all shaky, and was handed the microphone. I burbled out how much I had enjoyed reading the stories, made a suitably self-deprecatory joke, then read my bit. I know I’m okay when I can go off script and I did, making a couple of asides about sweary words and how the seagull had wrested the bridie out of my hand. It was a very nice night, with pleasant people and good words. Words about the steak bridie caper appear here or download the eBook or audiobook at http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/reading/book-week-scotland/nourish/ebook.
My next trip oot was to watch Hibs play Dundee at Easter Road. It was cold. I resolved to wear even more clothes next time.
The following Tuesday, I decided to go for a walk at lunchtime and ended up down by the Clyde. At Renfrew, the Clyde is quite industrial but much less so than it once was. I liked just being able to sit and eat my lunch and watch the ferry go back and forth. Looking back up river to Glasgow was pleasant too, a reminder of the scale of the west of Scotland that I could see Clydebank, the Kilpatrick Hills, Glasgow and the Cathkin Braes in one fell swoop.
That Saturday Hibs weren’t playing so I fulfilled an ambition to watch Queen’s Park play at Hampden, a lower league game in a 52,000 capacity ground. It was made more interesting because that week reports emerged that the SFA might ditch Hampden and hold big cup matches and internationals at Ibrox, Parkhead or Murrayfield. For what it’s worth, Hampden isn’t perfect but it’s ours. It could do with the stands being closer to the action but that’s about it. Anyway, I liked watching QP, even if they lost to Arbroath, and it was nice to watch a football match without my blood pressure rising. I wrote a post about it, which appears here.
The following day, I ventured out for a rare Sunday bus trip to St. Andrews. I was thinking of Dunbar but time was marching on. I like sitting on the bus as it wends its way through Fife and this time I spent much longer on the bus than I did actually in St. Andrews. It was beautiful in the cold November sunshine and I returned to Glasgow refreshed. Blog post here.
A week or so later, on a day off, I had the notion to go to Asda in Govan, which is about a mile or so away on foot. On the way I ended up doing a Streets of Glasgow walk along Edmiston Drive, which is part of the route. I hadn’t done a psychogeographic walk in a wee while but I liked this one. Hopefully you’ll like the result – it is published here this coming Sunday, if memory serves.
Hibs played St. Johnstone the following day. I wore more layers. My feet were clad in two layers of socks and were still cold. Hibs got beat. I listened to Johnny Cash on the train home. It made things better.
That is the extent of my November wanderings. I was due to go to Durham last weekend but I fell on the ice and hurt my wrist so it didn’t happen. My wrist is fine, it was just a bit sore for a day or two. As I say, I hope to be able to report more wanderings in December’s digest. Also appearing here in December will be the annual Best Of post, which in true blogging tradition I wrote about a month ago, which will be about the best places and experiences I’ve had this year.
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 South Bridge, for example, 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.
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.
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.