In Gaelic, Glasgow means ‘dear green place’ so now that the weather is beginning to brighten up, I am going to have a written walk through some of the [over] 90 parks in the city.
When summer solstice approaches, the nights get longer, and at 11pm is still light, it is not unusual to find groups of friends playing Frisbee, or having a late evening picnic (or drink) in any of the places I am going to mention. This tour along the four corners of Glasgow –North, South, East, West– will get us to discover art, music, monuments, fauna, flora, vegetables, archaeology, picturesque views and plenty of fresh air. To stop time and, with it, the inevitable winter (by September, some shops have already displayed their Santas), I am going to go anticlockwise.
I’ll start East, but near the City Centre. There we can find Glasgow Green, a vast expanse of grass where folk of the place congregate for citywide events such as Proms in the Park –the acclaimed BBC classical music festival–, the International Piping Festival or the Glasgow Show, where you will be able to see the most perfect carrots and most colourful tomatoes in the country. Glasgow Green, the oldest park in the city, fulfils the function of the apple tree under which Newton sat. As told by a commemorative sculpture –a boulder, more like– James Watt had the idea for the steam engine while he was walking through this well kept grass and, this, my dears, gave way to the industrial revolution. What a piece of history! Amongst the attractions of this park you’ll find the People’s Palace and its Winter Gardens, a museum about life in Glasgow and where you’ll be able to see the famous and original Billy Connolly Banana Boots. In case you don’t know him, he is a Glasgow-born comedian, a national institution with an impossible accent. Towards the East End of the Green you’ll find Templeton Carpet Factory, one of the strangest buildings in Glasgow. It’s mainly based on Venice’s Doge’s palace, built in orange, yellow and blue-coated materials. In Italy, you could understand such a splash but here, in the north of the British Isles, it is almost a surrealist vision. The good thing is that the lower floor of the building is inhabited by West, a German brewery with a wonderful selection of beers and a pretty good schnitzel.
To the south of the city, Pollok Country Park stands out. This was the winner of the 2008 Europe’s Best Park award. To get there the easiest way is by train from Glasgow Central to Pollokshaws West, two minutes away from one of the entrances to the park. Pollok is a very different proposition to the Green: this is a very leafy park, with a lot of greenery, many trees and even more birds. To cut it short: less tame, more savage. Walking through its paths, you’ll find many treasures, like the Burrell Collection –containing an extraordinary selection of Japanese vases, and paintings by Degas and Cranach– and Pollok House, with its spectacular gardens and one of the best collections of Spanish art outside of Spain.
West, you’ll find Bellahouston Park, the sportiest one of them all. This park has from a golf course to a ski centre, a running track, a hockey pitch and the Palace of Art Centre for Sports Excellence. You’ll need to go to House for an Art Lover (designed by Mackintosh but built years after his death), to rebuild your energy in their nice restaurant.
Kelvingrove Park is towards the Northwest of the City Centre. This is possibly the busiest one as it is located in the trendiest part of Glasgow, the West End. It is in the usual commute path of professors and students as on one of its sides you’ll find the renowned Glasgow University, designed by George Gilbert Scott (grandfather of the architect that built Houses of Parliament in London) and which was rumoured to become Harry Potter’s Hogwarts in some film shots. It certainly does not lack character! The park is really charming, with its gardens, the river Kelvin and some pretty good views. You can also play croquet, bowls and tennis there for free if you become a resident: you can book through Glasgow City Council, but there’s a considerable waiting list so be patient and plan ahead. Also on this park you’ll find the Kelvingrove Museum, the most visited museum in Scotland. It’s free too!
If you prefer more secret places, less busy and more secluded, go to Victoria Park, with its Fossil Grove, a very old wood with fossilized trees. Victoria Park, just like the Botanical Gardens –also in the West End–, has very manicured spaces, beautifully planted, with exquisite and colourful species so it is not difficult to find wedding couples being photographed. So, apart from art, sport, nature and culture, you can also visit Glasgow’s parks to check on wedding fashions.
It is impossible to get sunstroke –or get bored– in this city. There’s always a little green corner to take refuge, read, think, charge one’s energy, purify one’s lungs, spend energy in some healthy undertaking or learn something interesting about the place. Sure enough, it suits its name: Glasgow is a very green place, dear to the heart.