Traveller's tales

Thursday, June 29, 2006

First impressions: Glasgow

Nothing in the rolling countryside of the Borders prepares you for the huge city of Glasgow, heart of Scotland, though not its capital – Edinburgh.

Traveling up from Carlisle, over the border into Scotland, one is immediately struck by how less heavily populated Scotland is, as is Wales on England’s western flanks.

Mile upon mile of rolling hills, dotted with sheep, crossed with rivers and dammed into hydro-electric schemes, the borders of Scotland are beautiful – not as majestic as the Highlands – less austere, more cultivated, but with a charm that all rural areas in the British Isles possess.

Rushing headlong through the town of Motherwell, with its defunct steel works – the slogan ‘Save Scottish steel!’ surviving the weather, and reminding passers by of what has long gone, the train starts what is almost like a descent in an aircraft, slowing through the urban towns on the fringes of Scotland’s biggest and busiest city.

As we near Glasgow Central, the spires and towers, and the monoliths of Victorian wealth come into view. Here though, the stonework is different – a sandstone with a reddish hue in building after building, proclaiming the city’s importance and the origins of its wealth – shipbuilding, heavy engineering, and imports and exports to and from an Empire that once fed this teeming city and its people.

Of course, today, having the preoccupation of my visit to inhibit my wish to look round, that and my day return ticket to speed me round before final whistle sounding the exit of the last train for the south, I have to make do with fleeting glances down streets and along the Clyde.

George Square flashes past, its twelve statues beckoning me to alight from my taxi and read their names – Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and then James Watt, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns standing much lower, as though the Waverley novels were piled under Scott to elevate him above Burns and Tam o’ Shanter.

The last name I noticed as we left the square was Robert Peel (was he Scottish, I wondered), founder of ‘bobbies’ called Peelers in memory of a sometimes less than popular Prime Minister.

In Livingstone Tower, my destination, I found a statue of a sitting Dr. Livingstone; I presume, waiting for the unexpected arrival of Stanley, no doubt. I also found a welcome from the man I had come up to talk to, as well as friendly chatter about Italy’s chances in the World Cup and the like from cheerful Glaswegian taxi drivers talking almost unintelligibly to my untrained English ears, and the right amount and quality of information from security staff at gates and in offices in reception areas.

Leaving on the 4.10 to Plymouth, no less, I recalled some of the names of Glasgow’s thronged streets – Montrose Street, Dobbies Loan, Gordon Street, and of course, that most well known of all the city’s thoroughfares; Sauchiehall Street. Speeding out of the conurbations, I found myself wondering at the pronunciation of Cambuslang and Millheugh.

Luckily, I will be returning to Glasgow to learn more about a city that has been out of sight and out of mind for me, until today, that is.

Robert L. Fielding

Visit My Website