Full time student and urban explorer JENNI CHITTICK begins her search for some of Glasgow’s hidden treasures — from shops, to chatty traffic wardens to dead robots — it’s all in a day’s walk.
I love my Glasgow, but don’t really know it. I can navigate my way to the nearest coffee house, of course, but if I go any further than St George’s Cross, I feel the need to renew my passport. It’s time for a change.
My quest is to acquaint myself with every district, every street and every underground station in the city. I want to discover Glasgow’s hidden gems—the places which the travel guides miss. I want to find its unsung heroes and people who make the city a dynamic place.
Argyle Street is a bit commercial and grimy. Nearly all the shops are parts of chains, so I’m in search of more exquisite enterprise. I turn left and take a side-street just past an imposing supermarket. I happen onto Virginia Street which wins me over immediately, and not just because there’s a stocked fruit stall — the street has quiet charm and a particular old-fashioned sandstone building with a handsomely oxidised domed roof which makes a beautiful backdrop. Neighbours are strolling along, and the scene as well as the sunny day lures me further, to a boutique near the end of the street.
I step inside and fall in love. The owner of the shop and clothing designer, Andy, is one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in a commercial environment. I gush with excitement at finding an independent boutique with handmade clothes right in the centre of Glasgow, but I won’t utter the shop’s name because I respect how he prefers to keep a relatively low profile and keep his main form of advertising to word-of-mouth, but if you can find Andy, it’s worth the search. Clue: the shop has a white interior with workshop in the rear where the clothes are made.
As I leave Virginia Street, I pass the front of the handsome domed building I saw earlier and learn that it’s Glasgow’s famous Corinthian Hotel which was built in 1842, has housed the High Court, and has Ewan McGregor as a member. With these notes of interest in mind, I head for Buchanan Street. Apart from just two intersecting roads, Buchanan Street is 100% pedestrianized. The shops are grander than those on Argyle Street and the street is wider, which helps to overcome the claustrophobic city- centre feel. The street is also on a steady, steep hill, and by the time I reach the end and take another left, I’ve worked up a sweat.
Sauchiehall Street starts at the top of Buchanan Street, and has a lot in common with Argyle—half pedestrianized, long and home to a lot of tacky shops—so I decide to skip on a detour along Renfrew Street, which runs parallel and is surprisingly pretty. The Renfrew Street scene is calming. There seems to be a real community feel, with gardens in the front of the houses, neatly kept shrubbery and cycle paths. In addition, I find some lovely architecture here. Although obscured from one side by an ugly pre-fab office building, a favourite building of mine, the Old School House Hotel, perseveres with its columned façade and trimmed windows.
Back on Sauchiehall Street I arrive at Charing Cross, where the busy motorway cuts through the city. I’m excitedly looking for a new shop called Dead Robot on the promise of unique, independently made clothes, and I want to visit straight away— which I would do, if I could find it.
ME: Hi, excuse me, I’m trying to find St George’s Road.
TRAFFIC WARDEN #1: You are, eh? Why?
ME: I’m looking for a shop.
TRAFFIC WARDEN #2: What’s the shop called?
ME: Dead Robot.
TRAFFIC WARDEN #1 [blank-faced]: Marks & Spencer?
ME: No, Dead Robot. It’s a new shop. I was told it’s on St George’s Road—could you tell me where that is please?
TRAFFIC WARDEN #1: Aye, well, I don’t know what shop that is, but St George’s Road is just over there. [Points to a street on the horizon, over a sea of motorway traffic.]
TRAFFIC WARDEN #2: You’re going to have to cross these roads, you know?
ME: Yeah, I know. I’m sure I’ll be fine.
[Doubtful looks all round.]
The wardens continue telling me a little about Charing Cross. Apparently, it used to be a simple dual carriageway until those silly people in control of the roads decided to change everything… I say goodbye and take my place at the side of the kerb: I have four lanes of the M8 to cross. Only two have pedestrian crossings. I sprint and just make it across and over to the shop.
The first word that comes to mind when you step inside Dead Robot is “alternative”, and I can think of no higher praise. To me, the word suggests creativity, originality, mystery and lots of interesting facts for this article. When I meet Sarah, a friendly owner, I am not disappointed. As we chat, I learn more about the shop’s refreshing ethos. Some of the stock is imported from America, but plenty of the other clothing is designed by art students. The shop includes a second-hand section, a guy making beaded necklaces and jewellery, and still another makes custom- printed T-shirts. Sarah and I have a conversation. She tells me about her friend Neil who did some eye-catching robot illustrations on the walls in brilliant orange and blue colours. I begin to like the shop and its’ethos straight away, and begin to moan a bit to Sarah about the commercialism of the main streets and shares my dislike of their unoriginality: “It ends up that everyone wears the same thing. You know where they got their clothes from.” I ask her, with all going well with her current location, if she’d ever consider opening another shop in, say, Argyle Street. “I haven’t really thought that far ahead…for a spot in the centre, you’re talking about an extra thirty grand a year and it’s just not worth it.”
All in all, my first journalistic jaunt around my town was reassuring. Despite the dismal presence of supermarket depots and chain shops, it seems that there are glimmers of hope for the centre of Glasgow. Yes, you may have to look a little harder for what I consider worthwhile places, but with something interesting and unexpected around every corner, it really isn’t much of a chore. In fact, I found it a pleasure.
Jenni Chittick is a 19-year-old student at the University of Paisley. She has lived just outside Glasgow for most of her life, but the West End of the city has become her favourite place.