“A Life Less Ordinary”: Glasgow, Scotland

View from the Glasgow Necropolis

I LOVE GLASGOW. This January we traveled to Scotland’s most populous city to fulfill our teenage dream of seeing Cake play a live show. Wintertime Scotland may sound intimidating, but so worth it.

Pro tip: If you’re cheap like me, traveling off-season is a great way to save money on transportation and accommodations (flights and apartments are usually a lot less expensive) meaning more funds for whiskey and postcards. We’re walkers–our favorite way to travel around a new city is on foot–so we definitely packed our winter-wear for this trip. For me, this meant double leg warmers and wearing something other than flats.

This is a really long post but Glasgow is too amazing to not discuss #allthethings. Get ready for a an extra intense history overview and too many cemetery pictures.

Why “a life less ordinary”? This quote was written on the floor of the entrance to Hillhead Bookclub, where we had dinner our last night in Glasgow. Is this also an excuse to reference Danny Boyle’s 1997 film starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, and Holly Hunter? Am I pressuring you to listen to the soundtrack that includes the best version of REM’s Leave? Yes to all those things.

Ewan McGregor is Scottish so I feel like this fits the overall theme.

Where are we?

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland and known for its industrial landscape. While the origin of the name is under debate, it is believed that Glasgow is derived from Middle Gaelic, meaning “green basin”. The city has the largest percentage of Gaelic speakers outside of the Highlands and Islands. Although the indigenous language is not recognized by the United Kingdom or European Union, Gaelic is an important part of Scottish culture and history.

Alexander’s School was built in 1858. I just love the building.

A great source of fishing, the River Clyde and the surrounding areas were settled by many different communities near Glasgow. In the 6th century, Christian missionary Saint Mungo (you know, THE St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries in Harry Potter) established a church where the current Glasgow Cathedral stands.

The Gallery of Modern Art building was previously the mansion of slave owner William Cunninghame. He owned 300 slaves.

Walking through the Merchant City area, I was surprised to see a sign for Virginia Street; ever the pochemuchka (the Russian word for the one who asks too many questions) I had to learn more about the connection between the American south and Glasgow.

Many of the streets and buildings still bear the names of the Tobacco Lords, the group of merchants that made the most profits from transatlantic trade (and some owned plantations in the New World too) although there have been calls to hang plaques to tell the full story.

Buchanan Street, one of Glasgow’s most famous areas, is named for Andrew Buchanan, a Tobacco Lord during the 1700s.

Glasgow became a central trading port following the Acts of Union in 1707–the treaty that combined the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland–and played a large role in transatlantic trade and slavery. A central part of the triangular route, much of Glasgow’s wealth was derived from slave labor:

“There are 19 recorded slave voyages which left from Glasgow’s satellite ports of Greenock and Port Glasgow over a sixty year period from 1706 and 1766 – with these direct voyages estimated to have carried around 2 to 3,000 people directly into slavery.

Yet Glasgow was far, far from being an innocent bystander in the slave trade.

The very reason the Tobacco Lords became successful – and why the city prospered as a result – was because they were able to monopolise the produce grown by slaves on the plantations of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, namely tobacco and sugar. So much so, in fact, that for 50 years from 1740 to 1790, Glasgow became the hub for the world’s tobacco – at times trading more than all the English ports put together.

A trade built almost exclusively on forced slave labour. ”

Williams, Craig. 2018. “The History of Glasgow and its Relationship with the Slave Trade.” Glasgow Live. Available here.
A store front in Merchant City, Glasgow. The “Tobacco Lords” built the area as a testament to their wealth.

While the city profited from slave labor in the New World, many Scots and the University of Glasgow played a large role in the abolitionist movement. Following American independence, Glasgow continued to grow during the Industrialized Revolution, which saw steel making, shipyards, and heavy industry further the development of the city. After WWII, economic decline led to de-industrialization of the city.

Glasgow is known for its architecture; there are a large number of historically and culturally important buildings throughout the city. During the Industrial Revolution, many of Glasgow’s red and blonde sandstone buildings were covered with a black layer of soot from industrial pollution and furnaces. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1956 and many of the city’s 1,800 buildings were restored to their original appearance.

In 2013 “People Make Glasgow” became the official motto for the city.

The Sites:

University of Glasgow:

Glasgow University Union. The University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The University is taking steps to reconcile its connection to slavery. They published the Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow report in 2018.
It took me a while to find the Cloisters (we actually stumbled upon them after leaving the Hunterian Museum). University of Glasgow graduations are held here.
The Cloisters can be seen in a number of TV shows and movies including Outlander and Cloud Atlas. I actually just saw Cloud Atlas for the first time this summer–thanks Bri!

The People’s Palace:

I loved visiting the People’s Palace! The palace was opened in 1898 in an overly crowded part of the city with the intent of providing a cultural center its inhabitants. The site features a museum and gallery of the social history of Glasgow.
Smudge, the celebrity cat of the palace, was “employed” in 1979 by the museum to control the rat population. In the 1980s, following NALGO’s (National and Local Government Officers’ Association) denial of her admission as a blue collar worker, she was granted membership to the General, Municipal and Boilermakers Trade Union. She passed away in 2000, but lives on through the plaque dedicated to her services.

George Square:

George Square was named after King George III and developed around 1790.
Originally a pasture and unpaved road used to bring cattle for milking, the area grew rapidly during the 1750s from the influx of wealth from cotton, sugar, and tobacco from the New World. It is now the principle civic square for the city.

Glasgow Cathedral:

The Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis are absolute must-sees if you’re planning a trip to Glasgow.

The Glasgow Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland and the oldest building in Glasgow.
The University of Glasgow held classes at the Cathedral before it was established in 1451.

Glasgow Necropolis:

I know its incredibly morbid but I love visiting cemeteries. The Glasgow Necropolis is one of the city’s most famous sites. Between 1831-1851 over 50,000 people were buried here.
The Victorian Glasgow Necropolis opened in 1833 as an interdenominational burial ground.
The first person buried here was Joseph Levi, a Jewish jeweler.
Me right before I slipped and fell 100% in the mud. Classic Ashlyn.
Architectural historian and architect James Stevens Curl described the Necropolis as “literally a city of the dead”.
In typical Victorian style, the layout of the Necropolis is similar to a park, with multiple paths and 3,500 statues and sculptures.
The view from the Necropolis includes the Glasgow Cathedral and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Ashton Lane:

Absolutely beautiful Ashton Lane! The street is lined with a number of great bars and restaurants including Brel, Innis & Gunn, and Ubiquitous Chip.

Glasgow Botanical Gardens:

One of my favorite places in Glasgow! The Botanical Gardens are over 200 years old and were established by Thomas Hopkirk, a Glasgow botanist.
Jurassic Park vibes.

More Beautiful Places:

Bath Street
Woodlands Methodist Church
View from Kelvingrove Park
St. George’s Place

Restaurants & Pubs:

Drygate Brewing:

Located right next to the Glasgow Necropolis, Drygate Brewing is a great spot for a beer after a day of exploring (or drying off if you fall in the mud and are covered in muck from head to toe like I was).
We had the Seven Peaks (IPA) and the Disco Forklift Truck (pale ale).

Innis and Gunn:

We loved Innis and Gunn! They had a great menu with a ton of vegetarian and meat options, plus good beer too. Chris ordered the burger (of course).
Halloumi fries with peanut sauce—so good! I love halloumi anything but this was the first time I had the option of this salty cheese in fry form (highly recommend). This is probably my second favorite Halloumi dish after I ordered a vegetarian kebab in Prague that included both halloumi AND falafel.
Thai fried cauliflower
Halloumi flatbread (you’re sensing a theme now right?).

Chinaski’s:

An amazing secret speakeasy in Glasgow, Chinaski’s is named for Charles Bukowski’s alter ego and the space is a small homage to the American writer. We LOVED this spot and had to order their truffle fries and macaroni and cheese along with our cocktails. Absolutely highly recommend!

Akbar’s Glasgow:

Akbar’s is a huge restaurant with an enormous menu. We stopped for dinner with the intention of heading out after but were so filled with good food (garlic and cheese naan bread?!) that we ended up calling it a night because nothing could top dinner. This (horrible) picture is their palak and paneer dish with a side of the amazing naan bread. SO GOOD.

Hillhead Bookclub:

The description for Hillhead Bookclub is one of the best you’ll find: a licensed land of milk & honey where the ping-pong is plentiful, the computer games are retro, the cocktails arrive in gramophones and the strawberry mojitos cost nought but 3 pounds. We went for dinner on our last night (sad face) and ordered sandwiches (amazing).
With double floors (including a top floor of just vintage games and pool), I really loved Hillhead Bookclub. I wish we could have tried their brunch but alas left before the weekend.

McCune Smith:

Named for James McCune Smith, the first African American to earn a medical degree (he graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1837), this small cafe was established by two brothers near the “old college” to showcase local and sustainably grown Scottish ingredients .
Chris and I ordered matching sandwiches: the Scottish take on a Reuben (mine veg and his with meat). So good! The ladies behind the counter were also arguing whether or not Merissa from the OC was a tragic figure and I almost just asked for a job application right then.
I just loved the atmosphere of this cafe. “A little history in every bite” is definitely a motto I can live by.

Artisan Roast:

Artisan Roast was our first coffee stop in Glasgow. The barista gave me a confused look when I ordered cold brew in January, but I wanted something cold after walking in my sweater+leg warmers+extra socks+boots. Their coffee was great and we loved the laid back vibe of the area too. They also plated “Cannonball” by the Breeders; a song I haven’t heard since roughly 1999.

Papercup Coffee Company:

Genuinely great coffee and an awesome brunch menu, we walked a solid mile and a half to Papercup because I read how they serve some of the best coffee in Glasgow. They were also playing the Juno soundtrack so extra bonus points for them! It’s a small space but totally worth the trek and waiting for a table.

++Special shout out to the Old Ship Bank pub in Glasgow too! We stopped by to use the bathroom and ended up hanging out with an older gentleman named James, a native of Glasgow, for hours. He told us about the history of the area, current politics, and his excitement for a date he had scheduled for the next day. The pub was awesome and just felt so Glasgow… that’s the only way I can explain the atmosphere. The entire space was filled with people who just returned from a funeral and, according to James, this is “typical” for natives of Glasgow.

Bookstores:

Voltaire and Rousseau:

Voltaire & Rousseau is located on the small street of Otago Lane, hidden behind old bicycles near the entrance. I. Love. This. Shop. While there may have been some kind organization when Voltaire & Rousseau originally opened, as owner David Yeats says, “things fall apart.” Virtually impossible to find a title you’re looking for, but I think the point of the shop is to feel like you’re actually swimming in a sea of books, an experience I can get behind.

I ❤ Glasgow

Moulin Rouge vibes

Don’t forget that you can download the MWA Map and have all of my food/pub/sites/bookstore recommendations with you whenever you travel.

Currently:
Reading: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Roxane Gay)
Watching: Big Little Lies Season 2 (HBO)
Listening: Burn it all Down

2 thoughts on ““A Life Less Ordinary”: Glasgow, Scotland

  1. Barbara Orr says:

    I’m so glad you’re having a great time. Me, I’m thrilled to walk to the corner and back! I haven’t been feeling very well. I’m trying to simplify my possessions and clothes, but I run out of energy quickly. I’m trying to find someone to help me. We will see. I miss you both! I wish I could visit you when I’m better. Love, love, love!!!

    Like

  2. Brí says:

    Gahhhh I love this! Photography – amazing. Cloud Atlas shoutout!? Squeee! Foooooood photos: drool. Braving the winter to explore? Priceless! Great post Ash!

    Like

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