John Allan: Bridgetown WA, June 2021
After the 1821 census, Glasgow’s population was greater than Edinburgh and so it appointed itself the moniker “Second City of the Empire”.
Statements of it’s great power, wealth and confidence could be seen all over the city in it’s fine Georgian and Victorian architecture. No more so than at Charing Cross, about a mile from the city centre.
In the 1960s the wise men of the Glasgow City Council and/or the Roads department thought it would be prudent to obliterate the Grand Hotel to the left and all the buildings to the right to dig a gigantic pit so that a major roadway could plough it’s way through the centre of the city. Thankfully Charing Cross Mansions (circa 1891) and the fountain were spared and are still standing today (below).
In the mid 1970s, I would stroll up Sauchiehall Street from my workplace at Cuthbertsons in Cambridge Street to visit a school chum of mine, Colin, who worked in a hi-fi shop. This wasn’t your cheap and cheery discount warehouse sort of place. This was a top end salon for the discerning of supreme sound quality who had big spondulix to throw around. All woofers and tweeters and I’m not talking nature lovers. Think Bang & Olufsen and the like. This meant that Colin only saw one or two customers a day and welcomed my visits and wee chats. We might even slip out for a pint of real ale at the Bon Accord along the road. A warm and cosy little hostelry until you staggered outside to look down into the abyss as six lanes of motorway trundled by under your feet.
What were the planners thinking ?
Surely some sort of ring road around the city centre like other UK towns and cities would be preferable to the near destruction of an architectural gem a mere mile from the city’s heart ! “All those in favour of changing the motto from ‘dear green place’ to ‘trust in tarmac’ say aye.”
They even constructed an overpass which just halted mid air in front of some tenement buildings. Decades later ‘The Bridge to Nowhere’ was converted into offices but it still doesn’t disguise the folly.
Compare that to another of my 70s haunts about 10 miles away (and less than 5 from the family home) on the A809 to Drymen.
The Carbeth Inn stood alone by the road in what I suppose was the gateway to rural Scotland even being that close to the city. Opened in 1816 and mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Rob Roy’ in 1817 it was a favourite with both bikers and hill walkers.
Every weekend it was wall to wall leathers or cagoules. Abercrombie and Kent versus Harley Davidson. A juke box tussle between ‘Get your motor runnin’….’ and ‘I love to go a wandering….’. I think I fitted into the latter category – I certainly wasn’t a biker as I couldn’t drive back then.
When I say bikers, it wasn’t gangs of tattooed knuckle dragging mouth breathers with matching sleeveless denim jackets…. no, it was more quantity surveyors and tax accountants called Torquil and Farquhar who squeezed themselves into tight leathers and revved up for the weekend. As some sort of right of passage motorbikes would scream pass the pub, some doing wheelies, before back tracking to the car park. There would be a lot of engine envy going on. I remember one poser running alongside his bike, hands on handle bar about to jump on when the bike stalled and he flipped over his machine much to the cheers and laughs of those congregated. He ‘tummled his wilkies’ as they may say in these parts.
Many years later as a student nurse in orthopaedics, I looked after a lad who took the bike bravado a bit too far and mistimed a corner near Carbeth. He carried a macabre folder of photographs and x-rays taken whilst in casualty. If you think part of a femur can’t pierce leather and stick out at 90° from the hip then I can assure you I’ve seen the grizzly evidence. And that was the leg the doctors managed to save. The other was amputated just below the knee.
I think I was part of the Venture Scouts although I don’t remember any initiation ceremony or sewing patches onto any uniforms. We did various activities including hill walking and sailing but inevitably ended up 6 to 8 of us crushed into the back of expedition leader Alan’s Jaguar XJ screaming along the A809 at breakneck speed (maybe that was the initiation ceremony). I remember the nervous laughter as I watched the trail of sparks as Alan launched his Jag over yet another bump in the road and the feeling of relief as we cruised into the Carbeth to take our place among the throng.
There were another group who mainly kept to themselves. The Hutters. After WW1 the local landowner Allan Barnes Graham permitted campers to set up on his land. Huts were developed after WW2 mainly for displaced people after the Clydebank Blitz and these were passed down to family members. Although very basic without electricity or running water these must have been havens for the working people of Glasgow and surrounds. I wonder what they thought of this intrusion to their local.
I hear now that the Carbeth Inn is no longer and has been replaced by a drive thru coffee shop. What with a clamp down on drink driving it was inevitable that such an iconic country pub would be a casualty.
I continued my walking into the 80s and would often traverse close to Carbeth. I’d like to think my love for the countryside (and real ale) was fostered on some of those walks now that I’ve got my own little bit of acreage far from the madding crowd – and a lifetime away from any motorway !