Gordon Street is probably the street in Glasgow I use most often, invariably darting along it at considerable speed to catch a train at either Central or Queen Street. It is the street that helped to inspire this Streets of Glasgowseries since it is despite being a busy, thriving city thoroughfare also architecturally stunning. I finally got round to it one wet Sunday evening with half an hour to kill before my train home. I started from the Buchanan Street end and reached the Hope Street in barely 10 minutes, having spent much of the time looking up and noticing many more details and stunning architectural features than I had previously appreciated. The Royal Bank of Scotland was the first building to give me pause – with its various heads and finer touches. I wonder if the folk dining in the heated tent below ever look up. It’s worth it at every turn on Gordon Street for most of the buildings will reward a closer glance, layered and diverse with each bound along the way. A particular highlight was the building above the Co-op, which houses offices for the legal firm Harper Macleod, which is all glass and reflects the tops of its surrounding buildings.
I had to stop outside Central Station and look back along at what I had missed. Even the building on the corner that houses Greggs is gorgeous, with a cupola on the top. Quite a few Greggs branches in Glasgow city centre are in nice buildings, like the one on Queen Street and the new one on Argyle Street next to Waterstone’s. The red sandstone building above the new Sainsbury’s, Standard Buildings, is also very handsome and detail-laden. I also stopped by the Citizen Firefighter sculpture outside the Grand Central Hotel. I didn’t know until I looked it up just now that the sculpture was designed to pay tribute to the firefighters of Glasgow, past and present. With the fire at Grenfell Tower in London still fresh in our minds, I can’t help but admire those who brave these conditions every day to protect us all. It is fitting and works with its surroundings too.
Of course the walk finished at Central Station, quite handily since it was where I had to get my train home. Central Station is the biggest and busiest station in Scotland and it is certainly the most architecturally interesting, with the possible exception of St. Enoch Subway nearby. As I walked up for my train, a CrossCountry express pulled up, bound for Newcastle. For a few moments, I was tempted to jump on it but that would have been too far for one weekend. Gordon Street manages to combine a lot in not a lot, roughly 300 yards to be precise, and it’s always worth looking up to find yet more, just like on a departure board when impulse wants to take you further. Another time, certainly, but I was happy where I was, awestruck once more by the beauty of this city, hidden in plain sight.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t sure whether a walk along Battlefield Road would work. I worked in the area for two years and it’s very familiar. There was a very real likelihood I would run into someone I knew en route. (I didn’t.) But I decided to give it a go anyway, since I knew I could spin this post into something a lot longer if I had to. I started from the Mount Florida end, passing the churches on the corner then a flooring showroom that was all glass on the outside, which seems to defeat the purpose. Under the railway bridge and up to the junction with Holmlea Road was all tenements, grey and red, non-descript Glasgow. I could be anywhere in the city. Then I turned the corner and the familiar skyline came into view, the chimney pots and the cupolas and spires of the old Victoria Infirmary, added to by the more recent angular outline of the Glasgow Clyde College. To the left was a line of food shops, separated by the Job Centre, currently up for sale as part of a Government cost-saving plan that has seen a local campaign start to save it, alas without success.
I soon came to the junction and stopped to look at the Battlefield Rest, probably the most elegant tram shelter in the city and now an Italian restaurant. There were plans afoot at one point to put an old tram car outside it to add to the dining experience but I think that might be too much personally.
Just behind the Battlefield Rest is the old Victoria Infirmary, now being redeveloped into luxury flats. I went on a tour last September, which I wrote about here. All the work seems to be internal just now so the building looks just the same as ever despite the boards on the outside advertising that they are now owned by Sanctuary Homes. The old Vicky still dominates the cityscape up and down Battlefield Road even while there is much less of a bustle now most of its operations have decamped to the new hospital in Govan.
On the left as I walked up the hill was Langside Library, where I worked for just over two years. Unfortunately by the rules of the Streets of Glasgow project, it is actually on Sinclair Drive as opposed to Battlefield Road so I couldn’t go in as I passed. Fortunately, though, the side of the building faces onto Battlefield Road so I can report that the garden was looking great and the building is now scaffolding-free after the issues with the cupola.
Beyond the library were quite a few Battlefield-named businesses, reflecting the wider area’s claim to fame as the scene of the Battle of Langside on 13th May 1568 between the forces of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Earl of Moray over who ruled Scotland. It certainly wasn’t for Queen Mary as her forces got decisively gubbed. A lot of the streets around Battlefield Road have names relating to Mary, Queen of Scots and her life, including Dundrennan Road named after the Abbey where the Queen spent her last night in Scotland and Lochleven Road after the Castle where Mary abdicated. I walked up to the monument at the top of the hill, passing a blockish electricity substation apparently an example of the ‘Wrenaissance style favoured by Glasgow Corporation’, according to my Pevsner’s guide. I spent a fair bit of time looking at the details and flourishes of the obelisk from all angles around the roundabout. The monument was dedicated in 1887 and it shows judging by the style of the sculpture and most certainly its scale. Standing by the monument gave a great view down Battlefield Road towards the College and the Battlefield Rest but also the other way to the Church on the Hill restaurant, once Langside Hill Church, a fine classical structure with pillars. It, like the monument, was designed by Alexander Skirving.
Thinking on it later, this walk was a closer look into the familiar rather than yielding much fresh insight. It was nice to be there as a person rather than for work though being there as a blogger with a purpose outweighed the emotional attachment I would otherwise have felt to a place I spent two happy years. I’m quite sure I’ll be back, though, in one way or another.
This month I haven’t been terribly far. Just working a lot, living life, all that jazz. I’ve had to look at the photos on my phone to see where I’ve been that’s worth noting. On 2nd June, I was at the dentist. Just before I went in for my scale and polish (no fillings required), I had a wee turn around Elder Park, donated to the people of Govan by Isabella Elder. I have written a post about Elder Park, which will be published on the blog in late July, I think. I don’t get down that way as often as I used to, even while it is barely a mile away.
The following night I went out to dinner in Glasgow city centre. I had time to kill before my train home so undertook one of the Streets of Glasgow walks down Queen Street. It wasn’t my favourite of the series but I particularly liked the building above Greggs.
Friday 16th June I went on the trail of the Billy Connolly murals. I went on the bus into the town, along Paisley Road West as I sometimes like to do, just observing the city going about its business. I liked the Billy Connolly murals immensely, particularly the Vettriano one. I walked from the third mural, the Rachel McLean one on the Gallowgate, and down through the Gorbals to start another Streets of Glasgow walk, this time down Cathcart Road. I just felt like walking and I enjoyed watching the world change past my feet. I sat in Cathkin Park a while and noticed that it was looking very overgrown, though some of the posts have been painted green and white for some unknown reason. Third Lanark played in red so goodness knows. After that, I did the second Streets of Glasgow walk of the afternoon, this time along Battlefield Road, which despite being familiar was enjoyable and yielded a lot of interest – post appears sometime in the next couple of weeks.
That Sunday was the day of the Open Day at Easter Road and it got considerably warmer and sunnier as I travelled eastwards. Easter Road was mobbed but it was good to be back. I wrote about it the other day. Afterwards I walked up to Ocean Terminal, changing into my new Hibs top as my T-shirt was drenched in sweat. It was really too warm. I got a bus to Elm Row and then another out to Prestongrange, my old work, where I wandered about Morrison’s Haven before sunbathing for a bit. I then headed over the way for a walk around the site, reliving old times and trying to imagine what had once happened there. A real Carlsberg sort of day.
Most of the rest of my photos for June reflect that I worked nearly all of the rest of the month. When I was walking home one night, I stopped on the flyover at Cardonald and noticed how I could see for miles across the city, to the University, Park Circus and the riverside at the Science Centre. I like a view like that, not quite synoptic but good enough.
Today I was in Dunfermline, really just for lunch, then went home via Edinburgh. It was nice to be out of the routine, even for a little while.
July looks set to be interesting. I am away for the day tomorrow and football starts again so I will be out and about across the country. I have a few days up for grabs and I have annual leave at the end of the month too. Maybe a Streets of Glasgow walk or something else. We’ll see what happens. Until then, thanks again to all readers. Post on Sunday is about the greatest band in the world, The Proclaimers. Stay tuned.
For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure if I was actually on Cathcart Road. I had walked from the city centre through the Gorbals to where I thought Cathcart Road started, by the Brazen Head pub, but it was only when I checked Google Maps and a nearby bus stop that I was certain I was in the right place. The first Cathcart Road sign didn’t appear until I had crossed the motorway, well into the walk. This walk was the first of the Streets of Glasgow series to brave the south side of the city, a grievous oversight since I actually live south of the Clyde, and Cathcart Road was picked owing to its proximity to the city centre but also because it crosses a fair bit of the south side in its 2-mile stretch. I hoped it would be interesting and so it proved pretty much immediately as I came up to the ruined Caledonia Road Church, which had been part of a project called Stalled Spaces during the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and still had signs of development behind a fence. The frontage is stunning, an Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson design with Greek and Italian touches. In all the time I’ve lived in Glasgow, I never stop being surprised by the beautiful buildings I encounter in all parts of the city. The Gorbals and Govanhill, where I would be in a few minutes, are both places with more than their fair share of problems though they also have a fair few cracking buildings.
Across the road was the head office of First Glasgow, the city’s main bus operator. First aren’t the best though they are better in Glasgow than they used to be in the east coast. It says it all, though, that the two cars nearest the entrance were both Jaguars. Perhaps they are washed just along the road in a car wash dubbed World’s No. 1, which made me wonder how these things can possibly be measured objectively.
Govanhill is one of the most ethnically diverse places in Scotland and it very swiftly showed as I crossed the motorway in the great variety of people around me from all parts of the world. The shops also gave a clue, with considerable culinary choice, including at least two that served up both sweets and kebabs, an odd mix but one I could understand given that some Muslims have very sweet teeth. The displays in the clothes shops around Allison Street are incredibly vivid and colourful and I enjoyed just looking around me on this part of the walk. Having said that, Govanhill also is a place many people don’t feel comfortable lingering in. I walked at a steady pace, interested in my surroundings as ever but hastening on nevertheless.
When I reached Albert Road, there was a noticeable difference, as if that was where Govanhill stopped and Crosshill began. The buildings even changed colour, the older red sandstone tenements giving way for a bit to more modern grey and white clad houses. The railway bridge above Crosshill Station was more traditional, though, the product of good old Victorian engineering in Motherwell. I soon came to Cathkin Park, a place I know well, once the home of Third Lanark, now a park with terracing being slowly taken into nature. I paused there only to take a photo – it is on Cathcart Road, after all – but returned a bit later to pause, ponder and scribble notes from this walk.
A few minutes later, I came to the junction with Prospecthill Road and thus into Mount Florida, the street red sandstone like Govanhill but a bit more affluent and posh Western, including the peculiar juxtaposition of a trendy chip shop with a cheesy name like Hooked. Also there was a gift shop which had window displays marking that Father’s Day was coming that Sunday, including the immortal legend, ‘My Paw Is Pure Braw’. Now, I don’t know if anyone in Scotland, let alone this city, outside of The Broons, refers to their faither as Paw but I know that referring to something as ‘pure’ is a Weegie expression while ‘braw’ is an east coast word, with most usages in Glasgow probably by me. It’s a linguistic and dialectical mishmash but it’s a nice one so we’ll let it slide this time.
Before the walk finished, I had two more good buildings to look over. One was Mount Florida Primary School, an old fashioned Victorian schoolhouse in red sandstone like so many others in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, while the other was the Clockwork Beer Company, which I am told is a fine drinking establishment, with a cupola and elegant decoration on the gable in the centre. As I reached Holmlea Road, still short of Cathcart but the end of its Road, I thought on how I had enjoyed my walk a lot, the longest of these walks so far but also the most diverse in a lot of ways, taking me through at least four distinct parts of the city in just shy of an hour. There were a few ideas of places to read more about, like the Caledonia Road Church, but in the meantime I backtracked to Cathkin, leaving the city street behind for a few minutes for the eerie still of the park.
Psychogeography is a funny thing. It is a concept about trying to understand cities better. Perhaps not at 8.30 on a Saturday night, though, especially when the only person sober within a five-mile radius. I had some time to kill before my train home and on the spur-of-the-moment I decided to do a quick Streets of Glasgowwalk, this time Queen Street, which leads from George Square to Argyle Street. Very swiftly, though, I had a very powerful feeling of being ‘other’. I’ve experienced that a fair bit in my life. I am an autistic, library-assisting, Hibs-supporting, Glasgow-dwelling person after all so it’s hardly new but particularly when all these things come together and I’m trying to see a city street as if for the first time as merry folk shuffle and hustle past. It’s especially hard standing by the statue of the Duke of Wellington when two guys out their faces imitate my photo taking but a glare seemed to have done the trick. But we persevere and eventually I managed to forget it was Saturday night in the centre of the biggest and busiest city in the land and just get down to business.
Strictly speaking, George Square isn’t on Queen Street but I like it anyway. The City Chambers is the nicest civic building in the country. Look for the statue of Liberty below the flagpole. That night the street was mildly busy but earlier in the day it had been jumping, according to the news, with folk marching in favour of Scottish independence. The remnants were still there of the recent vigil in remembrance of and solidarity with the victims of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester. I am writing this post the next morning having just been hearing about another attack in London. All I can say about that is that we cannot ever let the darkness win. George Square is where our city gathers in times of joy as much of sadness and sorrow. I cannot help but think that those times of sadness and sorrow are coming a wee bit too often.
The traffic lights at the junction of Queen Street, George Square and St. Vincent Street seemed to take an age. That wasn’t a bad thing as I could start my walk properly and just look up. Queen Street is barely a half-mile from one end to another and so I could quite clearly see Debenhams on Argyle Street and most of the street’s buildings. At the time I wasn’t sure how much of an essay I could get from such a short walk but then I looked above Greggs and found that the building is rather handsome in yellow sandstone with railings half-way up it. My lovely new Pevsner’s guide to Glasgow tells me that it is called Olympic House and describes it as a ‘speculative office block of 1904-6 by James Miller, with the popular Edwardian formula of tower-like outer bays flanking colonnaded upper storeys’. James Miller designed quite a few prominent buildings in the city and beyond, including the Grand Central Hotel and Clydebank Town Hall, incidentally. Something being described as a ‘speculative office block’ is an absolute beauty and sums it up succinctly. It isn’t really trying to be an office block, especially with some of the others down the way not even bothering to be speculative about it.
I wrote about the Gallery of Modern Art in the Ingram Street post so won’t duplicate that but will rather write about the statue outside it. Not so long ago, it came out that Glasgow City Council was spending a staggering sum of money trying to remove the traffic cones that are ever appearing on the statue of the Duke of Wellington, either on his head or that of his horse or both. Now said statue (complete with cone) appears on much of the city’s marketing, some of it funded by that same City Council and its agencies, as an example of how our great city is pure dead brilliant and a bit quirky. I approve of a lot of what the City Marketing Bureau does. They make a virtue of highlighting the lesser-spotted pleasures of our city, including street art. People Make Glasgow is a nice, neat slogan. I’m not bothered about applauding what is essentially vandalism but surely there are better bits of our city’s character to show in our promotional materials, like wit or rain, to name but two. Anyway, I digress. The statue didn’t have a cone on top this time, I think for the first time since I moved to Glasgow, rather an umbrella since it had been raining and hailing earlier in the day, indeed the pavements were still wet from the last downpour. A cone did sit underneath the horse, though, for later reinstallation.
The best architecture on Queen Street comes at either end, at George Square and GOMA or nearer Argyle Street. There’s a building just by Primark and Next which houses offices, a branch of Subway, a coat shop and a bookies. It was another of those buildings with railings but in red sandstone and bearing quite a few elegant lintels and features around each window of its seven levels. Queen Street here is a wee bit run-down with a few shops up for sale or otherwise vacant. It is one of those streets which is purely a thoroughfare, a street you use to go somewhere else. It isn’t the finest street in the city but shows another side, particularly on a Saturday night with the dark, decadent and downright debauched very much on show. It is just another facet to Glasgow. It is a very busy place at night. That isn’t a bad thing, as long as people are happy and safe. In these times, joy should be cherished all the more, whether that is found in a bar or a club or indeed walking a city street looking up and down and recording what is there.
Sources and further reading:
Searle, Adrian and Barbour, David, Look Up Glasgow, 2013, Glasgow: Freight Books
Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press
May 2017 has been busy with work and life but I have also managed to cram in quite a few interesting adventures along the way. Some of them have been written about here, some haven’t, but I’ve decided to start writing a monthly digest of my doings, beginning with May. I seem to be so busy with stuff that being able to sit down and reflect has become difficult. Almost immediately I seem to have one experience then straight onto the next. I get like that with blog posts too and indeed more than once I’ve looked at the stats and seen a post getting read a few times and I’ve had to think which one it was. The idea came reading another blog, The Glasgow Gallivanter, which had something similar. Hopefully she won’t mind me shamelessly appropriating the idea.
1st May was a public holiday so I had the day off. It was a bright sunny day and as ever I pissed about the house all morning trying to firstly get out of bed then decide where I wanted to go. The winner was Bothwell Castle, not far out of Glasgow in Uddingston, which I have been to a few times but was particularly good this time since castles often blend into one for me and there are architectural details I notice anew each time. I also wrote a blog post about it while actually there, scribbled into my notebook, and that post appears in June, I think. Rather than get the train back, I decided to go by bus instead and on the way through the East End, the bus came to Glasgow Cross and the idea came to do a Streets of Glasgow walk the length of the High Street. That walk was one of my favourites of that series so far, particularly for the phrase in that blog post describing an office block as being of the ‘middle finger school of modern architecture’. Each of the posts gives me an ever greater understanding and appreciation of this great city I call home and High Street was particularly valuable in showing the contrasts in architecture, demography and everything else that exists here.
That Friday I met a friend who was over from Ireland. I had some ideas but she suggested we go somewhere I had never been before. A surprisingly short time later, we walked in the door of the Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton. A month later, I am still inspired by having been there. Earlier today, I was thinking about the block in their politics section dedicated to the late Jo Cox. Civility and decency in politics would be a great blessing round about now. I wrote a blog post about our visit to the GWL and it generated a fair amount of blog traffic as well as some very lovely comments from the GWL. After we left the GWL, we went to the Necropolis, a beautiful and beguiling cemetery full of the city’s merchants and eminent folk, then to Glasgow Cathedral. Provand’s Lordship I hadn’t been to before but I was impressed by its displays showing the history of the city around this one house.
Dunnottar Castle was the following Saturday and I did write about that on the blog. I still can’t believe I walked along the coastal path in a thick haar but I’m glad I did for the effect when the sun came out.
Last Saturday, I went on a day trip to Fife. I got a bus to Kirkcaldy and the tale of a seagull and a steak bridie that transpired there has since appeared in the form of an entry to the Scottish Book Trust’s Nourish competition. I walked around the coast to Dysart, through the rain that soon stopped, and enjoyed a few minutes looking at the wonderful Landing Light sculptures and across the haze on the Firth. Since the day wasn’t up to much, I got on a bus to St. Andrews, passing through Methil, Leven, Lundin Links, Pittenweem and Anstruther along the way. Anstruther was absolutely jumping, it being a nice day again plus being the day of the Harbour Festival. A few years ago, I was in Anstruther that day and promptly did a walk along the Fife Coastal Path to Crail, which was brilliant even though I almost had to shepherd some cows. When I reached St. Andrews, I was soon on the bus back to Glasgow, which was fine with me since sometimes I like just watching the world go by, covering great distances but not venturing too far on foot.
This also helped since the following day, Sunday, I was out again, this time in Midlothian and the Borders with my dad. We went to Crichton Castle, a rare sunny day to see that place at its best effect since invariably it is moody and gloomy with the cloud. The courtyard at Crichton is magnificent, the product of the fifth Earl of Bothwell’s trips to Italy in the later part of the 16th century. We ventured down the A68 to Soutra, stopping off at the Aisle which was once a monastic hospital. It has some very fine views across East Lothian, to Edinburgh, Fife and even Perthshire. Stop off there, if you can. Jedburgh Abbey was where we ended up, a fine abbey, the biggest and boldest of the Border Abbeys in my view but still rather fine. Jedburgh is a pretty town with a distinct character, a very Borders sort of a place.
So, that’s the tale of my May adventures. Thanks to all readers and particularly to those new readers who have come this way lately. Until next time…
The fourth Streets of Glasgowpost was also the first one that actually involved research beforehand. I had a training course in the city centre one morning recently. The day before, I had the notion to fit in a Streets of Glasgow on Ingram Street, which adjoins Brunswick Street where the course was. The Merchant City is a part of the city I know vaguely, mostly for eateries and walks to other places. Many of its streets are named after eminent Glaswegians of the 18th century, many of whom earned their fortunes from tobacco and slavery. I wasn’t sure if Ingram Street was one of them though I discovered that it was named after an Archibald Ingram, the Provost of the City of Glasgow in 1762 and 1763. He was a Tobacco Lord and seems to have been involved in various city businesses in his day. Whether slavery was involved somewhere along the line, I am not quite sure. The street was originally named Back Cow Lane, which seems splendidly unlike the Ingram Street that exists today, which is grand and houses some of the city’s dearer retail establishments. It is one of the most picturesque streets in Glasgow and I don’t find myself along it very often, usually just en route to training courses, since I have little business to do in Armani and Hugo Boss.
One of the reasons I started this project was because my head is always getting turned by some fantastic bit of architecture I had never seen before. Usually above my head. Ingram Street is looking up central. There was no real point in putting my phone back in my pocket for this walk since every few seconds it came out to snap another picture. It was a sunny and pleasantly warm afternoon, right at the height of the day, and around me were workmen and office workers out for lunch or otherwise taking the fresh air. I started the walk from the eastern end of Ingram Street, less rarefied than the end nearer GOMA with flats and a chippy on the corner of the High Street. I stopped almost immediately to admire some of the carvings on the doorway of an estate agent. By Albion Street was a car park, behind which was a mural, one of many fine examples around the city, though this one might possibly be my favourite since this one shows various animals, insects and plants through cracks and holes in the stonework. That description does it absolutely no justice but trust me, take a look.
Across the road was the Ramshorn Church, now owned by Strathclyde University, after the church’s congregation declined and closed in 1982. It now houses a theatre group. I don’t normally do graveyards and I had already been in one that week – Edinburgh’s Grange Cemetery, in fact, as written about in the post Hibstory – so I passed by. On the church’s steps were a gaggle of workmen eating their pieces in the sunshine.
Facing the Old Sheriff Court’s pillared frontage was Wheatley House, an office block named after John Wheatley, a Labour MP who had a key role in putting in place the welfare state in the late 1940s. He later became Solicitor General, Lord Advocate and Lord Justice Clerk as well as leading a review of safety at sports grounds following the Ibrox disaster in 1971. Given that Labour no longer controls Glasgow and indeed Wheatley’s native Shettleston now has a Tory councillor, I wonder what he might have thought of the state of things in this city today, or indeed a company bearing his name owning the city’s housing stock.
The Hutchesons’ Hall is easily one of the finest buildings in the city, once a hospital and now a restaurant, all white and topped with a tower. Two statues stand at either side of the front of the building, of George and Thomas Hutcheson, merchants and philanthropists who founded the Hutchesons’ Hospital in 1639. The present building came later in 1802, designed by David Hamilton. This part of Ingram Street is where the street gets stunning with railings atop Wheatley House and statues above the buildings on the corner of John Street. That’s not considering the old Trustees Savings Bank across the street, which is apparently ‘an interpretation of the Roman Baroque style’ with a dome on the top but not even above the level of the surrounding buildings. It now houses a branch of Jigsaw, a posh clothes shop, and I was tickled by the figure above the window surrounded by the one word ‘Frugality’, something it isn’t really possible to practise on Ingram Street, especially when not far away are Armani, Hugo Boss and other temples of Mammon, though there was an empty space where Agent Provocateur was until recently.
My walk soon finished outside the Gallery of Modern Art, once Stirling’s Library, before that the Royal Exchange and the Cunninghame mansion. A traffic cone inevitably appeared on the head of the Duke of Wellington outside GOMA. Ingram Street is only half a mile long and GOMA dominates for most of the way. It is not the only building that stands out, however, with the Ramshorn Church, Hutchesons’ Hall and the old Trustees Savings Bank just three of the buildings that compete for attention and that’s without considering the other architectural gems above the ground along the way. My walk lasted barely 15 minutes from start to end and I wasn’t even going that fast. It was, though, the most fulfilling of these walks so far, spending the entire time with my head aloft, very much in the heart of the city and its history, the best with Hutchesons’ Hall and perhaps the worst with many of the buildings around me built on the backs of slaves. This part of our city’s past is becoming more acknowledged with time, if not accepted. Ingram Street is a place of contrasts, at its western end full of privilege and money, offices and outlets of fashion houses, while at the east is less flashy and more humble, still nicer than some other parts of the city. It is amazing how a place can change within half a mile. I look forward to the next instalment of this series and what further insights can be found pounding the pavements.
This walk was utterly unplanned. It was inspired by passing Glasgow Cross on the way back into the city. Seeing the Tolbooth Steeple reminded me that the street that lies to its north is the city’s High Street, no less. It being a beautiful sunny afternoon, it was all I could do that I got off the bus at George Square and walked along George Street past Strathclyde University and its many murals towards the top of the High Street. With the Cathedral and the Necropolis in the background, I set off, stopping within a matter of moments to admire a mural on the gable end of one of the buildings, showing a beardy guy with birds around him. The avian kind, I should add.
The High Street represents a lot of Glaswegian stereotypes – red tenements, closed shops and it is a bit rough, a lot more so than Byres Road, the last street which featured in this Streets of Glasgowseries. Also like much of Glasgow, however, it has many fine buildings – it is always worth looking up. On the first stretch leading down to George Street, I not only appreciated the mural but also some fine finials, carvings and statues in the space of maybe 300 yards. I crossed the road by a solicitor’s office and was rewarded by looking up to see an elegant building, apparently part of a City Improvement scheme in the late 1890s, complete with curved windows and towers at the top. Across the road, though, was the first incongruous building, namely 220 High Street, the headquarters of Glasgow Life, which is a modern office block which looks like it’s composed of a box of ice lollies the wrong way round. In short, it’s part of the ‘middle finger’ school of modern architecture so I gladly passed by. The High Street has a mixture of old and new buildings, as most of Glasgow does, though there was a fair bit of empty ground across from the station which yielded a good view towards the Merchant City and Strathclyde University’s many murals.
Unlike on Byres Road, there were few folk walking the whole way like I was. There were a mixture of commuters despite the Bank Holiday and students heading in and out of the halls of residence further down the High Street. Across the road from the halls was a good reminder of how multicultural our great city is with an eastern European food shop next to a Russian food shop which sat next to a bookies.
Only a wee while later, I found myself back at Glasgow Cross, at the end of another walk. The Tolbooth Steeple dates from 1623 and sits like an island in the midst of a busy road junction. Or an archipelago really, since there’s also the Mercat Cross and the ventilation grilles of the old Glasgow Cross railway station around the junction. The steeple is, I read, the only surviving part of the Tolbooth which was once the centre of Glasgow’s civic life before being demolished in the 1920s. I noticed, though, that the plaque on the steeple, marking it as a city landmark, was not only on the road side with no pavement but also high above where anyone could see it without craning their neck. This walk was another around this city when I did that a lot. It is always worth looking up in Glasgow, wherever you are, but this walk was a great insight into this city, more so than Byres Road, a real, diverse, interesting Glasgow.
There are some streets which as important as they are invariably seem less interesting than what lies around them. Byres Road, at the heart of Glasgow’s West End, often feels one of them, surrounded as it is by Ashton Lane and other lanes bearing markets and restaurants, plus the University and the Botanic Gardens. It is one of those streets that is quintessentially Glasgow, stylish, lined with red and golden sandstone buildings for most of its length. Glasgow is of course a complicated place, full of contradictions and imperfections, and Byres Road is one Glasgow of many. It is very different from the other side of the river or even a short distance in Maryhill, more prosperous and vibrant than elsewhere, not necessarily a bad thing, just different.
I walked onto Byres Road around 3pm, straight from the Subway at Kelvinhall. My plan was to walk the length of Byres Road, sit in the Botanics for a bit and see where I got to after that. As I set off, I dawdled a bit, looking around me towards a car advertising the nearby TriBeCa cafe bar, not quite the New York taxi cab or the police car that often sits on Dumbarton Road. Glasgow has an American feel at times – I often feel it in the city centre looking towards the high buildings lining the straight streets – though it is quintessentially Scottish too, particularly when walking up Byres Road and looking towards the old school building in red sandstone with the Boys entrance clearly marked as in so many Victorian schoolhouses across the land. Byres Road, though, is very much in and of the West End and there are things there that would be seen nowhere else in the city, including a trendy chippy, a clothes shop with a jumper over the shoulders and a bulldog tied to a lamppost wearing a green neckerchief.
As I waited to cross the road at the junction with Highburgh Road and University Avenue, I just stood and tried hard to take in what was happening around me. Two guys walked to stand beside me, one offering the advice that ‘What you need is some public affection’, though what that form that affection would take was lost to the winds when the lights turned green. There were parents and kids heading home from school, one child earnestly discussing what she had learned that day about Hitler. Sometimes when walking alone you cannot help but listen, not from a want of company but to understand other people and the world just that little bit better.
Like on most of this city’s great streets, it is always worth looking up to imagine what once was. Above Nardini’s are the words ‘1876 Victoria Cross’, apparently a reminder of an old dispute when the city fathers wanted to rename the street after Queen Victoria, which didn’t ever quite happen. The back of the Western Infirmary, on the corner of Church Street, with crests and finely worked details around the windows, is also worth looking at, particularly when waiting at the traffic lights waiting to cross the road, invariably the best time to pause and look around and very often up.
Byres Road isn’t a street I am massively fond of. It isn’t the prettiest in the city, neither is it the most historically or architecturally interesting. It can be hipsterish in many respects, incurably and insufferably middle-class, which makes it so much harder for me to relate to the place. But I don’t dislike it. It has some great music and book shops, plus it is very close to some of the best places in the city, Kelvingrove and the Hunterian, the Botanics, plus it also has some very interesting inhabitants. Walking its length was an insight into a Glasgow I don’t see very often, with its infinite varieties of people, shops and entertainments, in short a city of kaleidoscopic difference. It brings to mind the quote from Peter McDougall, which I have by my bed as I write this:
‘Glasgow is not a geographical site; it’s a state of mind’.
After this walk, Glasgow very much remains my state of mind, today as four years ago when this first became my geographic site. It will hopefully remain for a long time to come.
I’m not very impulsive. I usually think on things then never act on them. Occasionally I do but there’s usually a day trip involved somewhere along the line. A few weeks ago, I was in East Lothian for the day, a fine visit to my home county on a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon. We had just been to Tantallon Castle, possibly one of the finest castles on this great planet of ours, and were driving to Pressmennan Wood when on impulse I asked my dad to stop the car at a place called Pitcox, not far from Dunbar. The reason I did was because of an old signpost that stood at the road junction there, produced by East Lothian County Council at least before 1974. The signpost marked four directions, towards Stenton, Garvald, Gifford, Pathhead Farm, Halls Farm, Bourhouse, Spott and Dunbar. I can’t quite explain the attraction of the signpost beyond I just like the link to the old-fashioned way of doing things. East Lothian is still a very old-fashioned sort of place and there are a few of these signposts dotted around the county, including one in the very heart of Haddington on the junction of Station Road and West Road. In this age of sat-nav and Google Maps, navigation by instinct, knowledge and simple guiding seems to have gone by the wayside. The world is deeply complex and all we can do as people is find something to relate to, even if it might not be totally obvious. It’s the psychogeographer in me that made me stop. There are wonders to be found in the unlikeliest of places. The Impressionist Camille Pissarro said it best:
‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing’.
I realise I haven’t written so much here about psychogeography. I became interested in it a few years ago after reading some articles on the subject by the novelist Will Self who walked from his house in west London to New York, or at least from his house to Heathrow then from JFK into Manhattan. I think Will Self is up his own arse – he tends to throw spanners into the dictionary and use a polysyllabic word when a decent, shorter one might do – but psychogeography struck a chord with me. It is a French Situationist concept come up with by a philosopher called Guy Debord, who sought to make sense of the anonymous big city by getting lost in it on what he called a derive or aimless drift. His big city was Paris. Mine was Edinburgh.
The capital of Scotland is a city I know very well. I was born there, I went to primary school there. I’m even going there tomorrow to see Hibs. One of the reasons I know it so well is because when I used to go on day trips, all I could often afford was to go to Edinburgh and explore. I often went on derives around the New Town, often starting on Dublin Street by the Portrait Gallery and seeing where I ended up. Waverley Station was inevitably my final destination but it was the getting there that made it interesting, following psychogeographical concepts and taking random left and right turns. I haven’t been on such a walk for a while but I still turn off on a tangent from time to time even when I supposedly have a fixed route in mind to follow. The other week I was heading to Easter Road and walked up Leith Walk since I was running early. I ended up taking a diversion through the New Kirkgate shopping centre (less said the better) and found Trinity House museum then ducked through the very fine and springlike South Leith kirkyard.
The project I started a few weeks ago, Streets of Glasgow, has a psychogeographical dimension to it. I’ve lived in Glasgow for nearly four years but I still haven’t scratched the surface of it yet. Far from it. The walk on Buchanan Street was brilliant, a few snatched minutes in a lunchbreak from a training course, and I hope to get out some more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there are always new things to spot when looking the right way, like the ghost sign I spotted on Nelson Mandela Place walking back from the bus station the other week.
Just shy of a year ago, I went to York, one of my favourite cities. One of the highlights was the National Railway Museum, which I always refer to affectionately as the most autistic place on Earth. In the Station Hall was a signpost which tickled me when I saw it then and sums up much of my outlook on life. One direction points ‘To the glorious and unknown’. It might be just a little bit impulsive but that’s all good with me.
Before I forget, very soon, probably some time in June, will be the 300th post on this here blog. I like to mark these things, as with The things I love are not at home and Post 101: Talking, so for the first time, I am going to crowdsource what I write about for the 300th post. So, if there are any suggestions, based around what tends to appear here, please do let me know, either through the comments section or by other means if you know them.