From my childhood home to my current home now, with a recent weekend visit by a group of friends from back in Northern Ireland having enabled me to see the city of Glasgow through fresh eyes, despite having lived here for the last several months. Being in the middle of an MA at a city centre university campus, and living in the Shawlands area, much of my experience of Glasgow up until now has been limited to the centre and certain areas of Southside. But my friends’ visit allowed me to see the city almost through the lens of a new tourist, and has subsequently inspired me to write about it from such a perspective.
Saturday morning saw my friends arrive at their hotel and arrange to meet up for breakfast at the Camperdown Place Wetherspoons on George Street. The meal setting us up nicely for the day ahead, our first port of call was Visit Scotland on Sauchiehall Street, where a two-day ticket for the City Tour bus was decided on as the best means of exploring Glasgow to its fullest. A quick prelude saw me showing my friends around the Glasgow Caledonian University campus, the newest of the three city universities, via the towering Cineworld building at the head of West Nile Street. With building work ongoing to update the campus, they admittedly didn’t get to see GCU at its very best, but they were still able to get a sense of the sleek, modern quality of the university, much as I did for the first time back in September. Emerging out the other side onto North Hanover Street, we decided to catch the Tour Bus outside Glasgow Cathedral, and headed that way via the City of Glasgow College and Strathclyde University campuses.
Few people would argue that Strathclyde is the city’s most aesthetically appealing university, but I would suggest it has a rugged grandeur of its own, its series of sloping hills and archways, extensive accommodation village, and towering Students’ Union (a far cry from the three floors of the GCU Students’ Association) casting an impressive, if perhaps imposing figure over the East of the city centre. Emerging onto Castle Street, and opposite Glasgow’s oldest house, Provand’s Lordship, we were met with the iconic sight of the Cathedral, resting in the shadow of the Necropolis behind it- a walk, we remarked to each other, strangely not unlike Edinburgh’s Carlton Hill- just with more graves.
The interior of the Cathedral itself was suitably grand, the dedications and engravings within cast into rich illumination by the stain-glass filtered light, while the Lower Church below invited a feeling of history and vague foreboding that made the skin tingle. Our group paused for a moment to reflect on the sense of culture and achievement represented by the building, whatever one’s religious persuasion, or lack.
Finally hopping on the Tour bus following some photos outside one of the many police boxes scattered around the city, we made our way down High Street and into the Merchant City area, travelling towards Glasgow Green and the striking Templeton on the Green (and a quick mention, at this point, of the humorous audio description of Glasgow’s legal system as we passed the High Court, including the remarkable ‘Not Proven’ verdict unique to Scotland, pithily described as; ‘we know you did it, but we can’t prove it, so don’t do it again’), before getting off at the Marriott Hotel (a rival contender with Strathclyde for least-inspiring architecture in Glasgow, though with all the finery and polish of a respected hotel inside, to give it its due), where one of my friends had organised afternoon tea for us. An enjoyable selection of sandwiches, pastries and cocktails saw us well satisfied for the afternoon, before we resumed our way along the Tour bus route, a journey which took us towards Pacific Quay and then into the West End , of which more shortly.
That evening, once off the bus, we enjoyed a wine and cheese event at my friends’ accommodation, the Z Hotel, including, among the selection, the absolutely delicious Clava Brie made in Inverness, a connection that proved a pleasant discovery for me, given my particular love for that city. After getting ready, we headed out for a hearty dinner at Browns at the corner of George Square, before going onwards to some city centre bars for more drinks.
On Sunday, two of our group had to fly back to Northern Ireland early, so the remaining four of us made a day of exploring the later stops on the Tour bus. Pacific Quay, being home to the STV and BBC Scotland buildings, gives a particular shiver of excitement to a screenwriting student like myself, with STV having been the venue for a great evening back in November celebrating the last few years of my course and the achievements of last year’s alumni. Stopping at the Science Museum first, the four of us spent a solid two hours enjoying the exhibits and attractions inside, including an especially addictive interval trying to go better than three or four seconds in a balance and equilibrium test (none of us managed very well). Passing Glasgow Tower, which boasts the unique feat of being the only building in the world capable of rotating 360 degrees into the prevailing wind, and the impressive SSE Hydro building, we made our way to the Riverside Museum, with its selection of buses and transport from earlier decades, mock subway system and, best of all, replica Victorian Street complete with authentic-feeling cobbles, shops, cafes and bars. For a moment or two, it’s hard not to feel that you’ve truly gone back in time by more than a century.
As exciting as Pacific Quay is, though, it’s cast (along with the rest of Glasgow, many would argue) into the shade by the West End, the next area on our trip, its plentiful green spaces and beautiful architecture lending it a greater similarity to Edinburgh than the rest of the city around it. I’ll post a dedicated piece of writing on this section of the city in due course but, for now, suffice to say we only got a brief flavour of the area, having left it a little late to get any longer than about twenty minutes in the magnificent Kelvingrove Museum, managing only the Egyptian and some natural history exhibits on the ground floor before it was time to leave. But with Kelvingrove the setting of my planned summer script project for the MATV course, I’ll have plenty of excuse to spend a lot more time in the West of the city in the coming weeks and months.
Despite having continuing access to the Tour bus, my friends wanted to try the Subway system at least once while in town, so we all decided to head underground to get back into the city centre. It’s of course nothing like the intricacy of the London Tube network, but it was still nice to get a brief, reminiscent flavour of that transport system, albeit on a much smaller scale, given that my usual, more straightforward method of travel between uni and the Southside is by bus. Emerging onto Buchanan Street, surely one of the grander shopping streets in the whole of the UK, with its pedestrianised, gradually sloping appearance and array of boutique shops, we all headed for one last evening meal before it was time to part ways with my friends at St Vincent Street for their bus back to the airport.
Their weekend visit was the chance to see Glasgow anew through fresh eyes, and it certainly achieved that for me. I’ll be living in this charismatic city for some time yet as I complete my MA and work on my summer script project, and so I hope to be able to explore its secrets to a much greater extent than I have so far. In particular, I’ll be seeking to visit the West End much more often, not least to get as rich and detailed a feel for the area as possible as I begin writing my TV pilot set there, and, based on initial impressions, I keenly look forward to every moment of that.