Despite its industrial heritage Glasgow is actually one of the greenest cities in Europe, writes Helen Ochyra.
Clip clop. I am travelling at nineteenth-century speeds along the main road of a country estate. On one side are formal gardens, planted with shaped hedges in lush greens, on the other, open fields dotted with dun-coloured Highland cattle. As two tall Clydesdale horses, Baron and Duke, pull my cart through the bucolic scenery I feel a million miles away from anything remotely urban – and yet we are just three miles outside of what was once the UK’s greatest industrial city.
This is Glasgow, and it is full of surprises – many of them green. Although this is Scotland’s largest urban area, it is also home to more than 90 parks and gardens. In fact, Glasgow has more green spaces per capita than any other European city, and as you stroll along handsome Victorian streets or pass over the river that was once the centre of the British Empire’s shipbuilding industry, you are never far from a grassy square or a patch of parkland.
Pollok Park is the city’s biggest, at 360 acres, and the horse and cart rides are the best way to take in its vast scale. The park was gifted to the city in 1966 by Anne Maxwell MacDonald and represents the core of what was once an extensive family estate. Visitors can explore the Category B listed walled garden, laid out 250 years ago as a kitchen garden and orchard, and see plants discovered in the Himalayas by Sir John Stirling Maxwell in the woodland garden.
But the highlight of Pollok Park is its “fold” (group) of Highland cattle – the most accessible in Scotland. The Maxwell family bred prizewinning cattle on the estate in the nineteenth century and today the tradition continues. I am thrilled to meet the newest addition in the cattle shed, although his older stablemate’s long curved horns put me off getting too close. These are animals bred to endure the hardy conditions of Highland Scotland and I wouldn’t mess with them.
Back in the city centre, I find myself actively encouraged to mess with nature. I am spending the afternoon exploring the Botanic Gardens – but not just to look at the wide variety of plantlife found here. I am here to find dinner. Chris Charalambous, head chef of Cail Bruich restaurant, has been using foraged food in his dishes for about three years. He tells me that in Scotland there is the right to roam and that anything found growing wild can be picked, as long as it is for your own consumption.
I am a little sceptical but within just a few minutes of walking through the shaded woodland alongside the Kelvin River, Chris is rustling through the undergrowth and handing me leaves that have the unmistakable smell of garlic. I find myself gingerly nibbling one minute, happily munching the next, and by the time we return to the restaurant, I am converted.
Chris brings out trays groaning with produce foraged from right here in Glasgow. We try nettles, scurvy grass, wild chervil and gorse flowers. Every ingredient has a different flavour, from those reminiscent of fresh grass to those that shock with wasabi, and I am already thinking up ways to use Scotland’s bounty in my cooking at home.
I return to the Botanic Gardens to walk it all off and find myself immediately swallowed up by greenery. The gardens cover a whopping 42 acres and link the city to the West Highland Way. I explore the arboretum and stroll past blooming herbaceous borders arranged in chronological order of when the plants were introduced to Britain. It is highly educational, but also simply beautiful and again I forget that I am in the heart of a city.
The following day I take the short hop out to Glasgow’s loch, Loch Lomond. It is just 30 minutes by car, travelling alongside the river Clyde, and I am out of the city and into the countryside within minutes. At the loch all is quiet. In the distance the Highlands rise up, climbing into the sky as far as the eye can see. It is hard to take it all in from ground level and so I board a seaplane to take a flight over one of Scotland’s most famous landscapes.
All photos within the article by Helen Ochyra.
It is truly spectacular. Take off is smooth and suddenly we are sailing over the water looking down on the islands and hills below. This is the Highland Boundary Fault, the fault line that divides the Lowlands from the Highlands, and it is immediately obvious. On one side there are rolling hills, on the other rugged mountains.
And then I realize that that is Glasgow in the distance. A vast urban centre planted right in the middle of some of the world’s most dazzling scenery. The Gaelic translation of Glasgow is “Dear Green Place” and finally I can see why. Glasgow is competing to be crowned European Green Capital for 2015, and it’s certainly got my vote.
For more information on Glasgow visit www.peoplemakeglasgow.com.
Top image: Glasgow Botanical Gardens, Scotland © matthi/Shutterstock