I was up and out of Edinburgh on the 9:04 train to Glasgow. Unfortunately, the original 50 minute“fast” service was not operating this morning so I was stuck on the hour and half mule train. I think we literally stopped at every town and village between Edinburgh and Glasgow. (Although no Fauldhouse. Sorry BB.)
Anyway, once I reached Glasgow it was a mere two minute walk from the train station to my hotel where I dropped off my luggage and met my guide for the day, Zhanna, who turned out to be a wealth of information during our five hour walking tour (yes five hours).
We started out on Buchanan Street, a major pedestrian walkway in Glasgow filled with restaurants, shops and buskers galore.
We weren’t five minutes into our walk before Zhanna pointed out a tiny, blue structure, which she identified as a police box. Apparently these tiny buildings were erected throughout the UK and used from the early 1920s to provide police and the public a means to call police. Each box contained a telephone with a direct connection to the local police department. Clearly these boxes predated two way radio communications, but provided a useful means during their day for someone to be directly connected to the police. So this not only allowed cops on the beat to stay in touch with their stations, but afforded the public a measure of protection. In addition, a light on top of the box would flash to alert an officer that they were requested to contact the station.
Now the police boxes are no longer in use, but many have been converted into little street stands where food and drink are served and where newspapers and the like are sold. Now I took a look a these little police boxes and have no idea how anyone could operate in such a tiny space, but good on anyone for doing so.
We next walked to nearby Buchanan Square housing the local cenotaph, a myriad of statutes of famous Glaswegians, as well as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Probably the most impressive site in the square was the Glasgow City Chambers building, a Beaux Arts style building completed in 1888. It was beautiful and included a carving of Queen Victoria over the archway with citizens of the Commonwealth. Lovely.
After the square, we cut down a side street where Zhanna pointed out that we were crossing into Merchant City, an area of the city that was historically known for the merchants conducting business in the area. In fact, the merchants’ insignia, a merchant ship, is seen throughout the city on the top of various buildings.
The next building up was the Edinburgh Gallery of Art and its rather infamous statute of the Duke of Wellington erected in 1844. Now the statute is not famous for the statute itself, but rather for the hilarious traffic cone that some Glaswegian started putting on the Duke’s head. Apparently, the prank began in the 1980s, and each time the cone appeared, the Glasgow police would remove the cone. This continued until 2005 when the police and local counsel demanded that it stop because of the damage being caused to the statue. In 2013, the counsel decided to replace the base on the statue to make it harder to put the traffic cone on the Duke’s head. Within 24 hours of the announcement, 72,000 people signed a petition demanding that the statute stay as is. The plan was quickly withdrawn and since then, the cone is periodically replaced with a new cone that signifies some kind of current event. For example, the plain cone was replaced in 2012 with a gold cone when Scotland did well at the Olympic Games. The present cone is believed to signify Pride Month. So kookie and hilarious.
So after the comedic interlude, we continued on where Zhanna pointed out two old bank buildings and another building that at one time was utilized for hospital operations and fund raising. While the building is not old, the two statutes in the portals on the front of the building date to 1639 and 1641 and depict two brothers, George and Thomas Hutchison, who helped fund the hospital operations. What was particularly funny about the building was that the statute of George depicts his death as 1663, but as the sign over the building sets out, George actually died in 1639. Apparently the statute originally had the death date as 1693 (transposing the 9 and 3) and when they tried to correct it they somehow ended up with 1639. Since the statutes are so old, they can no longer correct the error. And in classic Scottish tradition, no one really cares.
After a quick coffee break we continued on down the street where I first learned that Glasgow is known as the city of murals. Murals are literally everywhere and depict every kind of scene and person imaginable. Throughout the five hour walk, we saw a mural called “Our Scottish Friends” depicting Scottish animals over the seasons, a mural showing Glasgow’s contributions to science, a mural dedicated to motherhood, a mural of someone who looks very much like Robin Williams holding a Scottish robin, a mural of the Land Ship at Stathclyde University, which was a revolving platform with a Kelvin compass mounted on the top, used to teach the students the principles of compass adjustment, a mural of a Native American dedicated to COP 26 (the environmental conference held in Glasgow last year), and a mural of Glasgow comedian Billy Connolly. And we barely scraped the surface. There is actually a tour dedicated to seeing all of the murals.
We next started a walk up hill past the first of many churches that have been converted into theaters and other types of facilities (since church attendance has declined so much). First up was Barony Parish Church constructed in 1889 and now part of Strathclyde University.
And just down the street from the church was the Provand’s Lordship, constructed in 1471 and one of four surviving medieval buildings. The old structure originally operated as a hospital, but today is a museum (although still closed because of COVID). And across the street from Provand’s Lordship was the site (although no longer there) of the old jail and execution grounds.
And just a short walk past Provand’s Lordship had us staring at the front of the Glasgow Cathedral, originally a Catholic Church opened in 1171, but shut during the reformation and then subsequently turned over to the Church of Scotland (i.e. no longer Catholic).
We then walked past the cathedral (we were going to come back to that) and walked across a bridge to the Glasgow Necropolis. Now I knew absolutely nothing about the necropolis, but I have to admit, I was blown away. The necropolis aka a Victorian cemetery was built on 37 acres on a slight hillside opposite the Glasgow Cathedral. There are apparently fifty thousand people buried here with families buried on top of one another. And one of the really interesting aspects of the necropolis is the various stories written on the grave stones of people buried here. There was one particularly poignant story about a young 21 year old who accidentally drown “while shooting fowl from a small boat off the coast”…. Then there was a fellow who loved to act so much that his family constructed a mammoth tombstone which depicted the Greek symbols of comedy and drama (although drama was at some point stolen) and comedy no longer had a head (he literally laughed his head off … budum dum).
However, the best site I saw was the a carving of an hourglass with wings … “time flies”. Loved it. The whole cemetery was full of puns, symbols and double meanings. I could have spent a lot more time at the site, not because I am a fan of cemeteries, but because the Scots clearly retained their humor even in death. But it was now time to go back to visit the Glasgow Cathedral.
The Cathedral was comprised of four main parts: the nave, the choir, the church and the lower church. And while the guts of the building remained, all of the original icons and art objects had been removed during the Reformation. Even most of the stain glass windows were replacements. Nevertheless, the building was spectacular.
And the prime attraction at the Cathedral was the Tomb of St. Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow. Unfortunately, his body was not actually in the tomb, which was discovered empty when it was excavated. No one knows what actually happened to his body.
So after a wander through the Cathedral, we left the church and stopped for a quick lunch before continuing on down the hill and towards Glasgow Green, a huge park in the middle of Glasgow, which hosts huge summer concerts and various other events. On the way to the park, we passed the clock tower that once doubled as a debtor’s prison (right up my alley), the Purple Cat Café, where people can drink coffee and play with the 20 house cats (seriously), the location of the old tramway in Glasgow, which no longer exists, the Mercat featuring a unicorn (what else in Scotland) and not one, but two former churches that went by the name of St. Andrews (literally within a block of each other).
At the end of the street, we crossed over into Glasgow Green and passed through the McLennan Arch, which is either the entrance or exit to Glasgow Green depending on whether you are coming or going.
Now the McLennan Arch was originally part of the 1792 Assembly Rooms. When the Assembly Rooms were taken down, James McLennan saved the arch and over the years, the arch was moved from place to place to place finally ending up at its present site in 1991.
We left the park and then walked over one end of the Albert Bridge, which crosses the River Clyde. We then walked beside the river passing a former fish market and another St. Andrew Church before turning into St. Enoch square, the site of the first subway station dating to 1896, before meeting up with Buchanan Street where we began the walk back to my hotel.
It had been a long day, but I think I saw pretty much all there is to see on a walking tour of Glasgow. Tomorrow is the start of my tour through the Scottish highlands. First stop: Oban.