Wanderer at Large: Glasgow

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This autumn, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the Scottish Lowlands & Midlands, including Borders, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and St Andrews.

Bridge over the River Clyde

Glasgow is situated on the banks of the River Clyde towards the western end of Scotland central urban belt. Its name apparently derives from the ancient Gles chu meaning green place. The original town is said to have been established in 543AD, when St Kentigern (aka St Mungo) built a wooden church on the riverbank. The city motto is: ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’. There are no royal palaces here, the city is functionally mercantile with its wealth historically built on rum, sugar, tobacco and cotton.

It has to be said, that over the 20th century, Glasgow gained a reputation for social ills and all the attendant health issues, particularly around the Gorbals, Govan and the East End districts. The city worked hard towards a regeneration, but it was slow progress. Then in 1990, the effort paid off when it was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture. Glaswegians seized the mantle with aplomb. Since this boost to local pride, the Glasgow Renaissance has really taken off.

Students and lovers of fine architecture will find Glasgow a treat. The city exploded in size during the Industrial Revolution, and a drive through the central grid system of 19th century streets is fascinating. The poet John Betjeman called it the ‘Greatest Victorian city in the world’. George Square has recently received a makeover and features statues of Sir Walter Scott, Robbie Burns, and the engineer Sir James Watt (1736-1819) who studied at Glasgow University. The square is named after George III but apparently this monarch has no statue here as he lost the tobacco colonies! Meanwhile the Merchant Quarter situated to the south of George Square is known for its fine Georgian buildings. If you get a chance, pop into the much-lauded Art Deco Willow Tea Rooms designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh in the 1920s. Actually, if you get a chance, stay for tea!

The cultural jewels of the Burrell Collection and Pollok House are situated near a convergence of the M8, M74 and M77 motorways (an example of Glasgow’s fascinating incongruity). The Burrell Collection is housed in a modern exhibition centre with plenty of space. Those with an interest in medieval art will absolutely love it. Pollok House is a 19th century Glasgow merchant’s residence with a good collection of Baroque paintings. Pollok Park is also a very pleasant space to relax. The Kelvingrove Museum is in an impressive building, with the sort of exhibits you would expect from a large cultural museum. But what makes it different, and is of particular interest, are the galleries showcasing Scottish art. The Provand’s Lordship, the oldest dwelling house in Glasgow, dates back to 1471.

Glasgow Cathedral by Michel Curi. CC license BY 2.0

Glasgow Cathedral is a magnificent gem. Surviving the Reformation realtively unscathed, it is the most complete original medieval cathedral in Scotland. Seek out the ‘Black Adder crypt’. Tie a visit to the cathedral to a walk around the adjacent Necropolis, a spooky hillside cemetery that overlooks the city.

Reflecting the city’s contribution to the the world of technology, the Glasgow Science Centre is a recent visitor attraction housed in a huge silver blob on the banks of the river Clyde.

Well, that’s some of the main cultural highlights covered. But for a real authentic and more primeval Glasgow experience, try to get tickets for a Celtic vs Rangers football match. Ah, but at which stadium? Some prefer the amphitheatrical atmosphere of Celtic Park but others the intense passion of Rangers’ Ibrox. Either way, and irrespective of the politics involved, the ‘Old Firm derby’ is truly awesome. Truly something else.

Local Hero
At Blantyre, on the south-eastern outskirts of Glasgow near Hamilton, you can visit the David Livingstone Centre. At one time, Livingstone was the great Victorian figure every British schoolchild had heard of, but probably didn’t know enough about. The centre, which includes his birthplace and a museum, is currently undergoing a much-needed investment process. It examines his background and remarkable adventures as explorer, missionary and doctor in ‘darkest’ Africa.

Livingstone was born into a Scottish crofting family in 1813. As a young man he worked in a local mill. Without proper schooling he managed to get into Anderson’s University in Glasgow and Glasgow University. He paid his way through college, qualified as a member of the Glasgow Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and found work as a doctor in the city. Then he decided to become medical missionary. In 1840, aged 27, he left for South Africa, learning cartography during his voyage. He travelled from Cape Town to Dr Moffat’s missionary station at Kuruman. He learnt the language and culture of the natives and used medicine and his Christian faith to engage and convert them.  One amazing episode occured when he was mauled by a lion that had been stalking a village. He shot the lion, then repaired his own injured arm. He put live maggots in the wound to eat the rotten meat. He arm was crippled but he was nursed back to health by Moffat’s daughter, Mary, whom he later married.

Livingstone then documented ‘darkest Africa’ during his ‘Great Trek’, which included naming the largest waterfall in the world after his queen, Victoria. After 16 years he returned to Britain a hero. His bestselling adventures captured the public imagination.

Buoyed by his success, he set off on another expedition to map the east coast of Africa. It was a disastrous venture. 12 of his team died, including his wife. He returned home and was this time jeered in the press. Craving credibility he set off again in 1866, this time to search for the source of the Nile. He disappeared for five years and was reported dead. In 1871, after a seven-month search, journalist Henry Stanley discovered the explorer living in a village near Lake Tanganyika, and uttered the immortal words: ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume.’ Two years later Livingstone died on expedition. His devoted African porters carried his body for 10 months across 1,500 miles. The Royal Navy was deployed to bring him home and he was buried in Westminster Abbey. The last words on tomb are from his final letter beseeching the world to abolish the slave trade: ‘Help to heal this open sore of the world.’ A great man, and this centre is a surprisingly fascinating tribute to him.

A statue of Livingstone designed in 1875 by the artist John Mossman stands in the Glasgow Cathedral precinct.

There are plenty of good eateries in Glasgow, especially in the regenerated Merchant City Quarter. Also recommended is the posh cuisine at the Du Vin Bistro in Kelvinside; the Glasgow-Italian experience at the La Florentina on Paisley Road; the original Glasgow-style curry at the Shish Mahal on Park Road; or the Scotch pies at the Horseshoe on Drury Street!

Glasgow: an immediate sense of longing, when you leave the old city behind.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Lowlands/Midlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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