Streets of Glasgow: Union Street


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.

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Streets of Glasgow: West Nile Street


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

 

Digest: October 2017

The Battery, Dunbar
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.

Wemyss Bay
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.

Portobello with East Lothian in the background
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.

Perth Museum
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.

Berwick
Berwick
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.

Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries
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.

Broughty Castle Museum
McManus Galleries
V and A under construction next to the RRS Discovery in Dundee
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.

Posts this month –

Fidget

Thinking about a wander

Murals in Paisley

Digest: September 2017

Down the harbour 

Wemyss Bay/Largs

Streets of Glasgow: Renfield Street

Scotland by museums

Cathkin Park

Road from Hampden

Stations

Muriel Spark

Photographs

 

 

Stations

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.

Glasgow Central
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.

Dunbar
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
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
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
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.

Streets of Glasgow: Renfield Street


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 HeraldSunday 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.

 

Walk this way

img_3031
Where it began: Buchanan Street
For the last couple of months, I have been writing a series called Streets of Glasgow, basically essays about walks along the full length of Glasgow streets, part-psychogeography, part-stream of consciousness. The last one I wrote (early summer), Ingram Street, was the one I enjoyed most and I feel I am getting into the stride, so to speak, of this project. Hopefully you find them interesting. Anyway, I wanted to write about the process of them, how I come up with the street and then what I do on the actual walk.

The street usually comes down to where I happen to be that day. Buchanan Street and Ingram Street were both near places I was on training courses that day, Byres Road is by a bus stop and High Street was a chance glance out a bus. I have a few contenders for the next few – Queen Margaret Drive, Wellington Street, Waterloo Street, St. Vincent Street and George Street – though as ever when I get down to them will come down to when I can fit one in. The walks so far have been brief, 15-20 minutes in length, and that’s not stopped the writing flowing, I have to say.

Very often I have to walk up part of the street to get to an end of it, as with Ingram Street and High Street in particular. On that part, I am not thinking so much about what I’ll see, though I might spot something and file it away to look properly later. When I get to the start, I switch into full-on psychogeographic mode, looking all around and keeping alert for the sights and sounds of the street. So far I have relied on my memory and also iPhone photos. It has sort-of become a tradition that all SofG photos are phone photos since they are more spontaneous, a reaction to a moment in time. All of these walks so far have involved good weather, impressively, and there have been some interesting overheard conversations – Byres Road being particularly good for that. As I walk, thoughts might come about how the blog post will form, though usually that all comes later, usually at the end of the walk when I sit down and scribble a page or so of notes of thoughts and observations. This is a bit I particularly like as it tends to involve sitting on a bench somewhere pleasant – Byres Road led me to the Botanic Gardens, Ingram Street I sat outside the Gallery of Modern Art.

Later that day or the following day I sit here and the words appear on the screen. I liken writing to crossstitching, in that lots of patches and bits are brought together to create a greater thing than the words itself. Hopefully.

Streets of Glasgow has been enjoyable because it is on-the-spot and instant, the impressions I get would never be the same on another day. It is portable and also quite a bit educational, as with Ingram Street and the research I did to make sure I could write something worth reading about it. I never know when the next one will come but I am averaging one or two a month at the moment. Hopefully it will be soon, even while I am not sure where it will be. It has helped me understand Glasgow better and that is no bad thing, even while some people go their whole lives and never understand a place. I am getting there, though.

Digest: August 2017

It doesn’t feel so long since I wrote the last one of these. I seem to have been here, there and everywhere in August. I spent the first part of it on annual leave then much of the rest of it in transit. August seems to have been spent either at work or in the east of Scotland, mainly Edinburgh, with not so much time spent actually writing here. As ever, I have my iPad in front of me with photos to help me remember what I’ve done this month so here we go.


1st August I went to Dumbarton Castle. I had been away to East Lothian the day before and a lie in was required after a busy day. I was in the house around lunchtime and decided on the trip across the Clyde. I’ve been to Dumbarton Castle quite a few times but not since I stopped working in the town in late 2015. The train journey up from Glasgow was surreal, familiar terrain but not covered for a while, remembering past commutes and people I knew when I worked up there. It was a pleasant day, well, mostly, since it started raining while I was there, but I enjoyed the walk around the Rock, looking up the Clyde to hills and sea lochs and across the landscape to city streets and the Vale of Leven.

The following day was my birthday and I went to my favourite art gallery, Kirkcaldy Galleries, and spent a wee while amidst the Colourists, MacTaggarts and Glasgow Boys paintings.


That Friday, I had a turn around Glasgow, deciding to take in some of the lesser-spotted interesting bits of this great city I call home. First was the Buffalo Bill statue in Dennistoun, put up by a housing company to celebrate the East End Exhibition Centre that once stood nearby, hosting shows by Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley in 1891-1892. This statue stands in a square in the middle of a housing scheme, a wee bit of the Wild West in the East End. It’s a nice touch, paying homage to a past glory and also to the side of every Glaswegian, even us adopted ones, who aspire to be Americans. I hadn’t been to Dennistoun before and it was fine, particularly the stunning library building. I walked back into town along Alexandra Parade, one of those Streets of Glasgow walks, and it was nicer at the eastern end, I have to say, even with the church that looked like a fortress. I also did a Streets walk along Cathedral Street, which I know fairly well, but thought more en route about the ever-changing city landscape, sort of channelling Edwin Morgan. When I reached Queen Street, I ended up doing another of those things I had been meaning on doing for a while, on the train to Anniesland, via Maryhill and Kelvindale. It is one of the city’s branch lines, only opened about ten years ago and I wanted to do it because I had head it announced on the PA at Queen Street so many times as I was en route somewhere else. It was a brief journey, only about 20 minutes, and I mainly just looked out the window at the city passing by. I ended up on a bus from Anniesland to the Botanic Gardens, which spawned another post about the old railway there.

That Saturday I went to see Hibs at Easter Road. We won against Partick Thistle 3-1.


The next day I was away with my dad to Aberdour Castle in Fife and Elcho Castle in Perthshire. Aberdour is a castle I know well and I was glad to wander around the gardens and to get a gander at the painted ceilings, a lesser interest of mine. Thereafter we walked down to the harbour, looking across the Forth to Edinburgh. As we walked down the road, we passed two laddies who had peeled off most of their clothes and were headed for the water. Brave boys. As we walked back, they were out and clad in a towel to warm up. It was a full day and we headed to Dysart for lunch and then to Kirkcaldy for my second visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries in four days. Never object to it, mind. Elcho Castle was a new one to both of us and I liked it, particularly the little design touches characteristic of later Scottish castles.

The following Tuesday night, I was at Easter Road to see Hibs horse Ayr United in the League Cup. Beforehand I dined at an Italian restaurant in Ocean Terminal and sat on the veranda in the gorgeous Leith sunshine reading my book.


My next trip out of the west was Edinburgh again and Easter Road again. Prior to the game, I decided to go a slightly different route to the ground, going round the back of Meadowbank Shopping Park to the old Dunbar’s lemonade factory just behind the stadium.

Guess where I was the following day? Yep, Edinburgh again, Easter Road again, this time though for a play about the early years of Hibs, from its formation in the Cowgate to good days and bad, ‘A Field Of Our Own’, produced by the Strange Town theatre company and staged actually in the stadium, more precisely the East Stand concourse. It was excellent, thought-provoking and emotional at times. I left with my faith in Hibs very much restored after the dire performance against Hamilton the day before. I love my club. I walked to spend a few minutes with my favourite trees, the sequoias in the Botanic Gardens, sitting scribbling, reading and thinking. The evening was to be cultural again, this time an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival about the new book Who Built Scotland, featuring essays on 25 of the most interesting and important Scottish buildings written by Alexander McCall Smith, Alistair Moffat, James Robertson, Kathleen Jamie and James Crawford. I am a big Kathleen Jamie fan but sadly she wasn’t at the event. Instead the other four authors were interviewed by the splendidly acerbic Ruth Wishart, who is an excellent chair of these sorts of events, with the various authors talking about some of their chosen buildings, with the four authors expounding forth on pre-fabs in Kelso, Cairnpapple Hill, Bell Rock Lighthouse, Innerpeffray Library and Abbotsford.


My next trip to the capital came on Wednesday night. I was supposed to be going to a poetry reading at the Book Festival but couldn’t be arsed. I left work early and decided to head straight out of Edinburgh towards Musselburgh, having a chippy at Fisherrow and wandering around the harbour in the warm sunshine. I walked as far as Joppa and as I sauntered, I realised I wasn’t in the right mood for poetry. I headed back into the city, spent a few quid in the Book Festival Bookshop then came home, feeling the benefit of the quieter train home and being in my bed a few minutes earlier.

The Saturday saw yet another trip to Edinburgh, again for the Book Festival, this time for Ian Rankin. I had never seen Rankin live before but wasn’t disappointed. I’ve fallen in and out of love with Rebus but Ian Rankin is on a good run of form. He’s also a very captivating and compelling speaker and held court talking about Rebus in various media, writing and Police Scotland. I had once more left work early and got to Edinburgh earlier than I perhaps had to. I ended up walking up Easter Road and sitting by the Water of Leith for a bit in the sunshine before I walked along the side of the river back into the city to get a chippy before seeing Ian Rankin.


Very early on the Sunday, and I mean early, I left for Dundee. Hibs were playing on the live Sky game at Dens Park. I had a ticket for the posh seats, a very new experience, surreal but not altogether unpleasant, as it happens. Hibs should have won but it turned out 1-1. I also had my first taste of beef bourguignon, which was far better than the football. On the way back into town, my auntie showed me a trail of various murals in some of the city centre’s closes. I haven’t written a post about them yet but I like the idea of using hidden city spaces in that way.

Screenshot 2017-08-29 at 21.02.55

Right, that’s August. Today, Tuesday, is also the second anniversary of when I started this blog. In the last two years, my confidence as a writer and as a person has grown considerably. Let the words flow. Thanks to all readers and followers. It’s been fun so far. Tomorrow, there will be a post. It’s one I wrote absolutely yonks ago about the National Railway Museum in York. In conclusion, I would like to share a particular place and quotation etched upon it I’ve shared here before but means a lot.

August posts –

Digest: July 2017

Dirleton, Seton and a coastal walk

Streets of Glasgow: Alexandra Parade

Stairs

Places that can’t be reached by public transport

Streets of Glasgow: Cathedral Street

The Dunbar End

In praise of being alone

The Botanics

Castles as cardio

 

Streets of Glasgow: Cathedral Street


I’ve written here before about Edwin Morgan, a poet who wrote about many things, most notably about Glasgow, the city which he called home. As I started onto Cathedral Street, I thought about Morgan’s poem ‘The Second Life’, which is a meditation of a man in his forties about the city changing about him, regenerating and growing anew.

‘Many things are unspoken

in the life of a man, and with a place

there is an unspoken love also

in undercurrents, drifting, waiting its time.

A great place and its people are not renewed lightly.’

Glasgow is awash with development right now. It cannot be denied, however, that there are still problems and places and people in this city which are not being renewed. Cathedral Street changes every time I see it, seeing new buildings springing up regularly as part of the City of Glasgow College and Strathclyde University. It is a part of the city which has waited its time, though, with old 60s concrete replaced by swish glass and colourful designs. At the moment it is a work in progress with cranes, boards and construction happening all around.


I started from the Cathedral Precinct, stopping to scribble notes from the previous Alexandra Parade walk and get my breath back. I paused by the statue of David Livingstone, a much far-flung sort of adventurer, which I hadn’t really paid much attention to before. I also noticed for the first time a plaque dedicated to those who perished in the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. I remembered the beautiful Piper Alpha memorial which sits in the Kirk of St. Nicholas in Aberdeen and I was glad that my city had a small but thought-provoking memorial to those 167 people who died in the middle of the North Sea.

As I neared the junction with Stirling Road, where the Strathclyde University Library is, I distinctly heard skirling pipes. Not a single piper but a full band. As I looked to my left, into the student accommodation, I could see there was indeed a full pipe band, not all in Highland dress but in T-shirts and kilts, playing in the quadrangle. Whatever gets them through the shift. The World Pipe Band Championships take place in the city in the coming weeks so they may have been here for that.


There were also pipes in the street, with much of the section between Montrose Street and North Hanover Street being dug up. This was genuinely interesting, seeing the layers of the street and what lies underneath. Archaeologists getting in there would have a rare old time.


At that point, new buildings came thick and fast, the new City of Glasgow College building sandwiched between two in progress, one for the College and the other for Strathclyde University. The City of Glasgow College building is massive, with a huge frontage with stairs leading up the side of the building and lots of glass facing onto Cathedral Street.


Cathedral Street ends at the junction of Buchanan Street and Bath Street. Bath Street, which continues heading west, will be for another time. This time I stopped to look at the vast glass arch of Queen Street Station. Where at the start I heard pipes, now all I could hear was the booming PA of the railway station announcing the latest service to Edinburgh. I was heading for a train, not for the capital this time, but first to finish the walk, under Buchanan Galleries, another modern development in a street full of them, a couple of generations worth anyway and changing with every day that passes.

Sources and further reading –

Morgan, Edwin – ‘The Second Life’, published in New Selected Poems, 2000, Manchester: Carcanet

Streets of Glasgow: Alexandra Parade


Of all the streets in this city, there aren’t very many Parades. There can be parades on them, certainly, but not many bear the name ‘Parade’. Alexandra Parade was chosen for this walk because I happened to be going to Dennistoun anyway and it was a quick and simple route back into the city centre. It starts by Cumbernauld Road in Dennistoun and ends about a mile later by the Royal Infirmary at Castle Street. Unlike some of the streets in this series, Alexandra Parade was entirely new to me, only a name I had heard others speak about or that I had seen on the map. It was also the first street where I had the sweet smell of beer wafting through my nostrils, blowing up from the Tennents Brewery. Not altogether unpleasant, as it happens, despite that I don’t like beer that much.


James Miller designed some very fine buildings in his day, not least the Grand Central Hotel in town and Clydebank Town Hall. St. Andrews East Church isn’t one of them, looking very austere and just like a fortress. Apparently, according to my Pevsner guide, it is ‘an Arts and Crafts interpretation of the late Perp style, with a prominent Westwerk facing Alexandra Parade’. As a connoisseur of castles myself, it looks like it should have gunholes, archers and a portcullis about the place. It may have been the greyness of the day but it just looked grim. The church hall next door, which is now the proper church, looks a bit more appealing, thankfully.


Alexandra Park faces onto the Parade and I admired the flowerbeds around the gates as well as the cherubic figure sitting under a canopy at the park entrance. Glasgow seems to have a few of these kicking around; there’s another at Govan Cross, for example, and this one was painted in red, gold and black.

Much of the walk took me past fine tenement blocks, most in red but some in more yellow sandstone, some with very handsome roof features, domes and finials. As I walked further towards the city centre, I began to imagine this street bustling with people and lined on both sides by staunch, old-fashioned tenements. Not far along was Alexandra Parade Primary School, another handsome Victorian schoolhouse, this one with prominent Art Nouveau style lettering denoting the school’s name and that it was operated by the School Board of Glasgow. At the end of the playground was a decent sized house that may well have housed the school headie or the jannie at one point.


Closer to the city centre the landscape became a bit more modern with office blocks and industrial premises at either side. One of the office blocks, City Park, was previously a tobacco factory, one of quite a few in and around Alexandra Parade at one time. City Park is a colossal building, housing quite a few different companies. It also has some intriguing statues outside it, a male figure on one side and a female figure on the other. I also liked how an old cinema had been turned into a tyre garage. The only clue of its past use was the bold colours and curves on the front of the building, with the garage operating from the side.

Towards the end the M8 was beside me for much of the way, with constantly bustling midday traffic making their way through the city. I soon came to the Royal Infirmary, realising swiftly just how vast a complex it is, with boxy buildings at the eastern side to augment the grander edifice facing onto Castle Street. The hospital was busy too, with folk shuffling in and out and ambulances with their loud caterwauling wails never far away.

Soon I came to Castle Street, the point where Alexandra Parade ended. And, naturally, the rain started, as if just waiting for the walk to be finished. I sheltered for a wee while under a tree in the Cathedral Precinct, scribbling thoughts and reflecting on the walk just undertaken. It was good to be in an unfamiliar part of the city, discovering new architecture and making connections between names and places at last. The contrast between swish Dennistoun and Townhead with the constant whir of traffic made it all the more interesting but in all Alexandra Parade was a good choice, leading me back into the city and another wander about to begin.

Source and further reading –

Williamson, Elizabeth, Riches, Anne and Higgs, Malcolm, The Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, 2005, New Haven, CT/London, Yale University Press

Digest: July 2017

July has been busier with work than most months though I am now on leave so can slow down and travel more. I am starting this post on day one of my time off and in the diary I have football in Alloa and a day trip to Durham and Newcastle before the month officially finishes. The blog is even on hiatus until mid-August – this is the first post back – but I will probably be writing a fair bit while I’m off. Not too much, though.

Benmore
Loch Awe
Kilchurn Castle

So, to the month that was, and July began with a day trip with my dad to Argyll, taking in Benmore Botanic Garden near Dunoon and Kilchurn Castle that bit further north by Loch Awe. It was wet and grey at Benmore but we didn’t care, wandering amidst the trees and up to the shelter at the very top. The sequoias that form the entrance at Benmore are utterly gorgeous and the trip I’ve wanted for many years to Yosemite and Muir Woods in California was being mused about all the more under those fine trees in Argyll. We drove past Inveraray to Kilchurn and managed to park in a lay by just up the road. Kilchurn has long been on my list and it is in a stunning setting at the head of Loch Awe. It was well worth it. Read about this visit here – Kilchurn Castle

I spent an hour or two that week wandering about Glasgow’s West End in the rain, going to Kelvingrove and then to the Botanics, not for the first time pausing by the old railway and wondering what else lies under these city streets. Last week I was watching a documentary about the new Crossrail project in London and it was interesting to hear about what had been found about life in that great metropolis in centuries past.

Berwick
Temple of Muses
Dryburgh Abbey
Introverted road
Dublin Street

The following Saturday I ended up in Berwick. Wandering the walls and looking into the distance was utterly ideal. I went to Dryburgh Abbey, read by the river then hoofed it the five miles to Melrose. The Borders Railway took me to Edinburgh where I had a psychogeographical meander before finally heading home. It was a brilliant, brilliant day. Posts – Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders and Introverted roads

That Sunday saw me at Easter Road for Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial. On the way back, I managed an impromptu Streets of Glasgow walk along Gordon Street, probably the finest and underrated thoroughfare in the city.

Bridgeton Burns monument

Saturday 15th July I was at a conference for radical library folk. It was held at the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton, and I walked from Central to Bridgeton and back, the return leg catching up with a friend who was at the conference too. Bridgeton has a memorial to Robert Burns, which I hadn’t seen before and liked immensely.

Newhaven
Wardie Bay
Granton
Cramond

Edinburgh is my go-to place when I can’t think of anywhere else to go. I didn’t have a plan that Sunday and on the way out of Waverley I decided on a walk up Leith Walk towards Newhaven. My feet finally stopped at the Barnton Roundabout, having walked all the way along the Forth via Granton, Wardie and Cramond, the last bit due to the buses not being that regular. My feet are sore just remembering that one but it was great just to look and see another side to our beautiful capital. Post – Edinburgh’s promenade

Tynecastle

My next trip out was to Edinburgh again one Tuesday after work. Hibs were playing but I got through to Edinburgh early. On the spur of the moment, I got off at Haymarket and walked along Dalry Road, all the way in fact to Tynecastle where I wanted a nosy at the new Main Stand currently being built by the Hearts. The big office bit at the back didn’t inspire me, to be honest, quite reminiscent of an out-of-town office block or something to be found in Cumbernauld or Livingston. I walked back into town via Murrayfield, where I paused by the war memorial (shown below), which is surprisingly subtle and elegant. I don’t normally pay much heed to war memorials, not out of any disrespect, but it gave me pause. As I reached Haymarket not long afterwards and the clock that stands there (shown below) as a memorial to those Hearts players who died in the two World Wars, I was thinking about how there are always things more important and before we consider rivalries, sporting or otherwise, there must always be empathy and respect for our fellow people who have gone out and made the ultimate sacrifice.

Hibs won in Alloa, as it turns out. I also managed to find time to get to Alloa Tower, a National Trust property which sits in the town centre. I liked it more the longer I spent there. I’ve been to a lot of castles in my time and too many of them have been built-up ones that were home to various entitled folk. But I liked it immensely, particularly the grand hall on the middle level, which had a gallery. The views from the top were fine, mainly across urban central Scotland towards Falkirk, Grangemouth and Stirling though also across to the nearby Ochil Hills, which were mostly shrouded in low cloud when I was there due to the often driving rain.

The day trip to Durham and Newcastle became a day trip to East Lothian instead. I slept in and missed the train to Durham, necessitating a change of plan. I had the idea to go east and ended up doing the whole thing by bus. I reached Edinburgh and got the bus to Dirleton Castle, one of the nicest castles in the country. The rain wasn’t too bad and indeed I sat for a while under a tree looking at the gardens, while it rained. It got nicer for a bit as I headed back down the coast to Seton Collegiate Church, one of the nicest, most peaceful places around. It was wet there too but dried up as I had a walk the few miles through Port Seton, Cockenzie and Prestonpans to Prestongrange. It was a great day, entirely unplanned at each stage, the best kind.

Dirleton Castle
Seton Collegiate Church
Prestongrange

Well, that’s the July digest. This is the first post back after the break and I have a few new posts ready to go. This week there will be posts on Thursday and Sunday. Thursday’s will be about the day trip to East Lothian while Sunday will be a brand new Streets of Glasgow post about Alexandra Parade. Thanks so much for reading as ever.

Posts published this month –

Proclaimers Live

Streets of Glasgow: Battlefield Road

Bothwell Castle

Kilchurn Castle

Walls, rivers and abandoned roads: a day in the Borders

Introverted roads

Streets of Glasgow: Gordon Street

New Town psychogeography

Hampden Park

Edinburgh’s promenade

The Bass Rock’s doppelganger

Following