May 30, 2012

Glasgow’s West End

Filed under: travel — Frederick Noble @ 10:05 am Share RSS

We spent much of our time in Glasgow in a charming neighborhood in the northwest side of town, not far from Glasgow University. After the maelstrom that is a child’s 4th birthday party, we trekked around the corner to Botanic Gardens, a park with a nice playground, kids gardening area, and a couple of lovely greenhouses.

Botanic Gardens

Botanic GardensDegenerates that we are, we brought booze to the picnic, only to find it forbidden by park rules. We kept it under wraps and had a fine afternoon.


Decorative wrought iron, cast iron and other metals are everywhere in Glasgow. So much so that the Tardis couldn’t find a place to land.


Glasgow City Crest Lamp PostRemember the city crest discussed briefly last episode? Here it is again in lamp post form. I asked a couple of Glaswegians about it. “It’s about the… uh… fish that never swam, the bell that never rang, the tree that never grew and the bird that never flew. Or something.”

“Well that’s cheerful,” I giggled. But if you asked me about the meanings behind some of the seals used in the U.S., I wouldn’t have a clue, so we looked it up. It’s too much to retell here but the Glasgow city government has it covered here.


Just outside the gates of Botanic Garden is a former church turned trendy restaurant, Oran Mor, pictured above. At some point during the week, we stepped in to get a look around. It’s lovely inside, but we never did find a rumored ceiling fresco done by Alasdair Gray, artist and author born in Glasgow.

Hillhead BookclubJust around the corner is Hillhead Bookclub, another historical building turned trendy restaurant. We stopped in to visit the arts and crafts fair they were hosting, and just to get a look at the place. Later, we’d try to have lunch there but the service was so slow they didn’t get to us before we changed our minds. The room is nice, however, and they have an extensive beer and booze selection, including a few specialty cocktails. Like everywhere else in the UK, drinks ain’t cheap.

Instead, we hunted down a traditional plate of haggis, tatties and neeps.

haggis, tatties and nips

That’s haggis, mashed taters, and turnips for us ‘Mericans. The best we found came courtesy of Ubiquitous Chip, a fancy place that combines a bar, a bistro and a restaurant cobbled together in a series of pretty rooms with skylights and balconies. Every dish we sampled there was delicious, perhaps the best food I had in Glasgow.

Glasgow University was founded back in 1451. The campus was moved to the current location in the 1870′s and built up in glorious Gothic Revival gingerbread.

Glasgow University

Glasgow UniversityWe trekked around campus for a bit while She Who Shall Not Be Named grumbled about the English Literature and Philosophy departments being moved out of one of the historic buildings to make room for the business department. I suppose this could be a metaphor for Glasgow, the UK, or even the entire culture of Western civilization.

Glasgow University

However, not everything on campus is a call to the past.

Glasgow University

Like all of Glasgow, the ancient is nestled in with the new. Some of the new is pretty, some of it not so much. But the mix is what I like about the town. It gives it a feeling of life.

West End

Back to the university campus, I was interested in the Hunterian Museum. Scotland’s oldest public museum was built to house the collection of former University president Dr. William Hunter. They had a small and somewhat disappointing new permanent exhibit, Romans in Scotland During the First Century AD. Unfortunately, there’s just not that much to display from that period and the British Museum in London has a ton of similar stuff. However, the Hunterian does have a very inspiring collection about the Enlightenment, showcasing scientific discoveries during the period. But what fascinated me was their collection of… oddities?


Ol’ Doc Hunter and his successors collected some pretty freaky stuff. Sure, it expanded the field of science, but some of it can be a little shocking. For example, this preserved human womb and fetus…

Hunterian Museum

But it’s not all body parts, anatomical diagrams, and deformed pigs. There are fossils, minerals, artifacts from distant cultures and centuries past – a sampler platter of planet Earth, all housed in a beautiful space.

Hunterian Museum

Hunterian Museum

Charles Rennie MackintoshAs if that’s not enough, in a building across the street from the main campus is a reconstruction of the home of designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He and his wife, Margaret MacDonald, did some amazing work together – furniture, fixtures, architecture, paintings - and it shows in their home. Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t allow patrons to take photos and there are guards stationed in every room to make sure you don’t share your experiences with the outside world. (I got a lone picture of a lamp in the hall, shown to the right.)

A flyer we found at another gallery listed the entry fee at £3, but we arrived to find it had been raised to £5 because, “the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society had run out of money. Actually, that’s an old flyer, we just can’t afford to reprint it.” The museum is nice, featuring furniture and paintings by the couple, but in retrospect I wish I’d been motivated to tour the art school and gotten better photos of the tea room. Ah well. Guess I’ll have to do that next time!

Our hosts treated us to some fine food at their flat, including a selection of local brews. My favorite – Innis & Gunn. They had a couple of flavors of oak aged beers, including both a whisky and rum finish. The whisky finish was a bit too funky for my palette but the rum finish is a delight (surprise surprise.) Anyone know where I can find this stuff locally?Innis & Gunn

Haggis CrispsI like haggis. I don’t much like potato chips, or “crisps” as them foreigners call ‘em. Haggis crisps – also not good. But our hosts made happily drove us around, picked us up, delivered our luggage and generally went above and beyond the call of duty.

For example, our host lead us out of the house for a night on the town.

“What are you interested in?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe a bar with good rum and a raucous band playing in the basement?”

“Oh. I just happen to have that in my basement!”

This is not at all how the conversation actually went. However…

The Captain's Rest

If I recall correctly, the middle story windows above were our guest room.

The Captain’s Rest – or just “The Captains”, as they had removed “Rest” from their signage – specializes in rums and has a small live music room in their basement, all within literal crawling distance of our hosts’ flat. Their list of upcoming shows included Atlantans Gringo Starr. The night we visited, we got The Others. They spoke, in thick English accents, to the small crowd of cheering and jeering fans about having not been around for four years. I googled them when I got home and found that Q Magazine had rated their 2005 record as one of the worst 50 albums of all time. Live, they weren’t in the bottom 500 of acts I’ve seen.

The Others

The fans sang along and attempted to get a tiny mosh pit going. Someone would stage dive every few songs, hoping his handful of friends would catch him. As often as not, the lad would just end up in a heap on the floor.

The Others

The Others

The punky, sweaty, sloppy show reminded me of locals All Night Drug Prowling Wolves on one of their boozier nights. The venue as a whole reminded me of Dottie’s/Lenny’s, back before the place went to hell, moved and folded. If I lived two floors up, they’d be carrying me out of the place regularly.

That’s it for the west side of Glasgow! Next episode, we head east and south before heading even further south to London.


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