Bedford Square, 14:30, 5th March 2016
Cold grey dampness set the scene for Glasgow. The cafe that microwaved my almond croissant set the scene for being trapped in the tourist trail. It was time to explore!
- George Square.
The beautiful gardens in the middle were locked, but the magnificent London planes rose up into the sky, pillars from the earth. None held Sir Walter Scott — they needed no such gilding. The other four statues I found — at each corner of the square taking the form of ornate lampposts. Each stood alone, guardians at the gateway Narnia. History oozed through the square, buildings blue with plaques in neat little rows commemorating the illustrious residents of old.
2. Gallery of Modern Art
The building was striking, boasting impressive concrete work for 1827. The stark brutalism of the structure contrasted with the Georgian townhouses around it — I longed to see inside, what treasures it might hold. Instead, I was accosted, “Are you a student?” “No.” “Are you a tourist?” “Er…” I went on to explain my quest, and was met with excitement and enthusiasm. We discussed how the idea could be carried on before I bounded off, grinning from ear to ear.
3. Hutcheson’s Hall
The building was a classic townhouse, but the detailing was intriguing. The myriad patterns in the windows, railings and fanlight made a pretty picture, while the gate took metalwork to another level. Much as I dislike spikes, if you’re going to have them, at least have the decency to cast each one as a bird.
4. Corinthian Bar
The guide book was right about the “extravagant interior”. The glass roof curved away, casting triangles of bright sunlight over the clean stone, classical porticos and (sadly ionic) columns. The the scale was overwhelming, as people scurried ant-like through the vast atrium, or paused in wonder. Definitely one hell of a bar.
5. Trades Hall
Now given over to fine art and dentistry, the Trades Hall forms part of a quiet courtyard. Though more subdued than Robert Adam’s typical work, the simplicity of the building held firm. A minute’s walk from the chaos of Tottenham Court Road and the hoards at the Corinthian Bar, this made a quiet interlude, a breathing space. Pause.
6. Tobacco Exchange
The hub of the old tobacco industry, surrounded by the wealth-generating warehouses of the Tobacco Lords, this insignificant building belies its grand past. Now a tagliatelle exchange, the Italian flag replicated in the street furniture, its past has slipped away.
7. Sheriff Court
Glasgow’s former town hall, this massive building fills a whole block, gleaming white, squatting like an overfed banker hoarding their bit of land. I found a playground in the square in front of it, and had some fun pretending to surf in the city centre.
8. Merchant Square
The city’s old fruit market is transformed from a place of commerce to a place of equality, rights and unity. The modern office building offers a glass and concrete front, a gentle curve announcing the entrance to a fairer world. The phone box opposite advertises the girls trying to eek out a living in an industry with no workers’ rights.
9. Glasgow Cathedral
The squat prefab hides behind a thick hedge, peering out onto the road, fearful of being noticed. The green roofs give it camouflage from above — this celebration of the wonder of God is the master of how not to be seen. The tower of a church on a nearby hill catches the sun, laughing at its lowly cousin.
The city of the dead, beyond the cathedral, offers a more intricate experience. Now empty tombs nestle by stone walls, memorials and temples brim with colour in a celebration of the life that came before. Even in winter, the place is rich in life. A magnolia shares its white blossoms, as crocuses and daffodils brighten the lawns. Children play, with adults at hand but out of sight — it is safe here, with the dead watching over them. If ever a place spoke of immortality of spirit, it was here, as new life springs from every stone.
And this is the first time I went on a tour of Glasgow. Over a decade ago...