More than a decade ago, I spent Hogmanay in Glasgow. It’s immediately apparent on this visit that the city has undergone significant change. Even Glasgow Central Station looks unfamiliar, after its 2010 expansion. With yellow sunlight filtering through the glass roof, the stunning old building evokes a nostalgic image of the heyday of rail travel, despite its contemporary elements.
Central Station Glasgow was opened in 1879 and the adjacent Central Hotel came shortly after in 1883. Originally designed by Robert Rowand Anderson in Queen Anne style, with its picturesque details, intricate gables and multi-paned windows, the hotel underwent a multi-million pound restoration a few years back, and its plush lobby beckons. The Central Hotel took its place in history as the venue to which the world’s first long-distance television pictures were transmitted on 24 May 1927, by John Logie Baird. The soaring ceilings certainly instill a sense of grandeur as does the Hollywood guest list – Laurel and Hardy, Frank Sinatra and Roy Rogers have all laid their heads here. My friend Darryl and I are joining them.
Our corner suite is light and bright and I’m tempted to fill the claw-foot tub with bubble bath and while away the afternoon there, but Glasgow is calling. The winter days aren't long enough for us to dally, and we only have just under 48 hours here, so we have to get cracking. It’s chilly, but the sky is a deep blue and the sun is casting a warm glow over this historic city.
We pause for a moment at the Citizen Firefighter statue directly outside the hotel’s entrance. The somewhat intimidating bronze statue stands as a symbol of recognition for firefighters past and present. Leaving our hero to protect the hotel, we follow the curves of the station to the large glass-walled bridge nicknamed Hielanman's [Highlandman’s] Umbrella. During the Highland clearances in the 19th century, 30,000 Highlanders came to Glasgow to find work. They often met under the bridge, mostly at weekends. The moniker came from this, paired with the city's inclement weather. Today, underneath the umbrella is a bustling array of shops and bars that could keep any Highlander entertained.
We wander through the city, following whim and fancy, with no particular destination in mind. As the sun fades, we find ourselves at the medieval Glasgow Cathedral. Technically, it’s not actually a cathedral, but the title is honorific and deservedly so. The history of the cathedral is linked with that of the city, and allegedly, it is on the spot where the patron saint of Glasgow, Saint Mungo, built his church. After a circuit of the impressive façade, the final beams of daylight peek past the grey stone spire and we take our leave, ready for a bite to eat and a night of stand-up comedy in lilting Glaswegian accents.
The following morning again dawns bright and sunny. After a generous breakfast at the hotel, we stroll to the banks of the River Clyde. More than 70 bridges crisscross the river from the estuary to its source and our walk of discovery takes us past several. Few are known locally by their proper names. The Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge, an interesting modern construction formed of two angled triangles, is known as the Squiggly Bridge. The Clyde Arc, a curved dome that hints of the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri, is known as the Squinty Bridge, likely due to its angular path across the river. Bell’s Bridge, on the other hand, is named for Bell's & Sons, a whisky company that sponsored its construction. It seems fitting whisky should be linked with the construction of Glasgow.
This section of the river is particularly picturesque. The disused Finnieston Crane, a giant cantilever crane that is retained as a symbol of the city's engineering heritage, looms over the water, just along the bank from the Clyde Auditorium. It’s not hard to see why the Auditorium is known as The Armadillo, although its arches were in fact inspired by an interlocking series of ship's hulls, in reference to the Clyde's shipbuilding heritage. The SSE Hydro performance arena nearby looks for all the world like an alien spacecraft, hunkering on a circle of grass. On the opposite bank, the bulbous crescent of the Glasgow Science Centre reflects the sun on its titanium-clad frame and the squat, oblong BBC Scotland building mirrors The Armadillo in a perfect reflection on its windows.
From here, it’s a mile’s walk to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, housing one of Europe's great art collections. Before we start, we grab a bite at the KG Café in the Museum’s basement. The building is as impressive as the collection, built in a Spanish Baroque style, following the Glaswegian tradition of using Locharbriggs red sandstone. It is immense, and wandering its 8,000 exhibits takes us all the way to dinner.
In the Tempus Restaurant at the Grand Central Hotel, over heaped bowls of hearty Wild Boar Bolognese, we consider our plans for the evening. Glasgow’s nightlife has much to offer, but so does the Grand Central, and it’s the hotel that wins. The end of the evening sees us sipping cocktails at the Tempus Bar overlooking the station concourse, wondering where the hours have gone. We know 48 hours isn't enough, but I won't wait another decade to come back.