The River Clyde is the dominant physical feature of Glasgow and its environs, an area that comprises the largest urban concentration in Scotland, with almost two million people living in the city and satellite towns. Little of this hinterland can be described as beautiful, with crisscrossing motorways and grim housing estates dominating much of the landscape. Beyond the sprawl, however, rolling green hills, open expanses of water and attractive countryside eventually begin to dominate, holding promises of wilder country beyond.
West of the city, regular trains and the M8 motorway dip down from the southern bank of the Clyde to Paisley, where the distinctive cloth pattern gained its name, before heading back up to the edge of the river again as it broadens into the Firth of Clyde. North of Glasgow trains terminate at tiny Milngavie (pronounced “Mill-guy”), which acts as the start of Scotland’s best-known long-distance footpath, the West Highland Way.
Southeast of Glasgow, the industrial landscape of the Clyde valley eventually gives way to a far more attractive scenery of gorges and towering castles. Here lies the stoic town of Lanark, where eighteenth-century philanthropists built their model workers’ community around the mills of New Lanark.
There’s a good range of accommodation in Glasgow, from a large, well-run hostel by Hostelling Scotland through to some fashionable (and not overpriced) designer hotels in the centre. In general, prices are significantly lower than in Edinburgh, and given that many hotels are business-oriented, you can often negotiate good deals at weekends.
“The Clyde made Glasgow and Glasgow made the Clyde” runs an old saying, full of sentimentality for the days when the river was the world’s premier shipbuilding centre, and when its industry lent an innovation and confidence that made Glasgow a major city of the British Empire. Despite the hardships heavy industry brought, every Glaswegian would follow the progress of the skeleton ships under construction in the riverside yards, cheering them on their way down the Clyde as they were launched. The last of the great liners to be built on Clydeside was the QE2 in 1967. Such events are hard to visualize today: shipbuilding is restricted to a couple of barely viable yards. However the river is once again becoming a focus of attention, with striking new buildings including the titanium-clad Armadillo concert hall, Glasgow Science Centre and the Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum.
On the south bank of the river, linked to the SECC by pedestrian Bell’s Bridge, are the three space age, titanium-clad constructions which make up the Glasgow Science Centre. Of the three buildings, the largest is the curvaceous, wedge-shaped Science Mall. Behind the vast glass wall facing the river, four floors of interactive exhibits range from lift-your-own-weight pulleys to thermograms. The centre covers almost every aspect of science, from simple optical illusions to cutting-edge computer technology, including a section on moral and environmental issues – all good fun, although weekends and school holidays are a scrum. Meanwhile, a bubble-like IMAX theatre shows science- and nature-based documentaries, while the 416ft-high Glasgow Tower, built with an aerofoil-like construction to allow it to rotate to face into the prevailing wind, has a viewing tower offering panoramic vistas of central Glasgow.
One of Glasgow’s best-loved treasures is the Waverley, the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world, which spends the summer cruising “doon the watter” to various ports on the Firth of Clyde and the Ayrshire coast from its base at Glasgow Science Centre. Built on Clydeside in 1947, she’s an elegant vessel to look at, not least when she’s thrashing away at full steam with the hills of Argyll or Arran in the background. Contact for sailing times and itinerary.