Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Day trip to Glasgow, Riverside Museum and GoMA

There is constant rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow and the cities are separated by 44 miles, though in many ways it could be many more miles or even a song from The Proclaimers!   I can remember the old steam trains that went to Glasgow from Edinburgh Waverley, then a gradual replacement to diesel and faster connections in the 1970s. 

This is still a very busy route and there are several ways to go from both cities.  There are two routes from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central: one via Carstairs Junction and another via Shotts.  Technically there are an additional three routes to Glasgow Queen Street with services on the new electrified line via Bathgate to Queen Street low level; and services via two Falkirk loops to Queen Street higher level.  (In addition, I can remember being shunted around Larbert and ending up going backwards into Queen Street in the past). 

Current journey times are around 50 – 70 minutes.  With a disability card, an off-peak day return costs £7.55 bought from a ticket machine – using a sighted person’s eyes and card, of course!  There are restrictions with this fare, such as returning from Glasgow to Edinburgh by certain trains and times.  I wanted to go on the new service via Bathgate which joins up an old railway link which had been a goods line and gradually rebuilt and reopened in stages.

We caught the 12:07 from Edinburgh Waverley.  The weather seemed ok at the time, but after emerging from the tunnel at Haymarket it started raining.  (For those who are familiar with the tram saga in Edinburgh, there was a proposal for the tram connection to stop at Haymarket.  In other words passengers would have to get off at Haymarket which will cause many a grin, as this is an Edinburgh euphemism for something quite different.)  The final destination - and top marks to Scotrail telephone information service on this - is Milngavie, though this is pronounced as MILL GUY.  All Scotrail services which I have used have automatic station announcements and apart from one trip a helpful guard has been available. 

On travelling through Edinburgh I could make out familiar landmarks such as Murrayfield stadium, Corstorphine Hill, and what seemed the track bed of the old suburban line to Corstorphine which was closed in the 1960s.  Uphall station was the first stop beyond Edinburgh, then passing through Bathgate station which had been a dead end.  Intermediate stations which were not served on this train included Armadale, Caldercruix and Blackridge with a pretty loch along the way.  The train did stop at Airdrie and Coatbridge Sunnyside and then sped through the eastern part of Glasgow into High Street and then Glasgow Queen Street lower level, which is where I got off. 

I went upstairs to the main Queen Street terminus station and could last remember coming here in 1990 when Glasgow was European capital of culture.  I even bought the t-short, ‘City of Kulchur’.  I hadn’t been to central Glasgow since then, though a few years ago had assisted in navigation between Dumbarton and Edinburgh using the Great Western Road, Queen Margaret Drive, Mary Hill and the M8.  It was at Queen Street where a very friendly member of the railway staff asked me if I needed any help.  I was wondering to myself how the West Highland line trains left and this member of staff was a real mine of information, including giving out notice of places to avoid, especially with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who were filming in George Square at that time. 

This part of Glasgow has a grid structure and is relatively easy to navigate and I could remember most of the landmarks including the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) at Royal Exchange.  This is a beautiful building both inside and outside and though it was between exhibitions, the staff were very helpful and tipped me off about the new Riverside Museum, which houses Glasgow’s Museum of Transport.   There is a lift to the top of the GoMA, and if you have any peripheral vision it’s worth looking down the ‘concentric’ oval shapes of railings on the landings between the floors.

On leaving GoMA, I continued down Queen St to Argyle Street and I could make out in the distance to the right the Highlandman’s Umbrella and headed towards it, stopping at St Enoch’s underground station.  The Glasgow underground “is the world’s third oldest Subway, opened in 1896 after only London and Budapest.  Today, it’s one of the most punctual systems in Europe and is a crucial link in Glasgow’s transport infrastructure.”  (from A Guide to the Subway published by the SPT, www.spt.co.uk)  I was discussing going round the circular system at the ticket office when the ticket office staff suggested that I could readily visit the new Glasgow transport collection in the Riverside Museum, about 15 minutes walk from Partick station, so we took the train to Partick and found the Riverside Museum using a series of tactile crossings. 

Whitestick points the way!

There is a very warm welcome at the entry to the Museum, which is free, and floor plans are available and though there is no audio tour yet, all the staff are more than happy to guide and suggest items of interest.  The collection isn’t quite complete, but the main attractions for me were some of the old Caledonian Railway and North British Railway locomotives and the Glasgow trams which I remembered from the museum when it was based in Albert Drive in South Glasgow in the 1970s.  The collection has used original rolling stock from the subway system imaginatively.

Inside one of the original carriages.

The Riverside Museum (www.glasgowmuseums.com) was designed by Zaha Hadid and is situated between the River Kelvin and the River Clyde.  An interesting feature is the mixture of sound recordings with wonderful eaves dropping and jaw dropping conversations, including two girls talking about ‘getting off on a lumber’!  There are many interactive and touch screen points, but I found it was best to submerge ones self sitting in an underground railway car or on a tram and listening to both the recordings and video images flash by within the cars.  I made a rash comment about the only thing missing from the subway train was its distinctive smell, only for some wisecrack to reply "it was alright until you came in here.”  This sort of repartee is common in Glasgow and many people, young and old, were giving their collective memory a good backup. 

Reminiscing with other visitors

This is a very imaginative collection and though it’s not complete, will repay many visits.  The bookshop has some interesting publications, though for probably copyright reasons there are no facsimiles of some of the transport maps available.    I’m sure I have a Glasgow Corporation transport map from the 1960s somewhere showing the trolley bus routes. I remember seeing a trolley bus whose ‘antennae’ had come off the power rails and the driver had to remove a large pole from under the trolley bus and pull the sprung pantograph back into line.  The trolley buses were known as ‘silent death’ or ‘silent killer’ as they were so quiet and I remarked to the museum staff who were sharing the story that there was a plan in London to put hybrid buses in Oxford Street, which is of some concern to the visually impaired.  Needless to say, there was some good humoured banter at the expense of the Edinburgh tram saga, which had unfolded during the day of my visit (25th August). 

We then returned to Partick Interchange and took the Scotrail service into Glasgow Central lower level (£1.05 with Railcard) and ascended to the upper level terminus station.  Listening to the destinations being announced with some of the Glasgow place names always gives some amusement.  Glasgow has some of the largest suburban train networks in the UK after London and I couldn’t resist smiling when the train to Barrhead was announced, stopping at Nitshill and Crossmyloof.  I remember using suburban railway services in Glasgow while visiting relatives in Ayrshire and we would be met/dropped off at Giffnock when travelling by train or Moscow when travelling by bus, from the old Clyde Street bus station which was nearby. 

There was a Rangers match on the day of our visit and there were announcements that congestion was to be expected in the Ibrox area on the Subway.  We caught the 19:05 train to Edinburgh (the old Caley line which stopped at Bellshill and Shotts).  There is a large shopping area in St Enoch’s/Argyle Street.  This seemed to be a popular train for people shopping in Glasgow as it's one of the early trains with a restricted ticket.  There are small windows on the train which were suddenly closed as we experienced the odour of muck spreading in the mid Calder area.  For those who have some sensory deprivation, this was an added ‘bonus’ not fully appreciated by some!