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Tom Shields

Author chooses his top 11 must-visit places from his book

February 05, 2020

No matter how well you think you know Glasgow, there is so much more to discover in Tom Shields’ book ‘111 Places in Glasgow That You Shouldn’t Miss’. The unique take on the classic guidebook uncovers the stories, quirks and hidden gems of Glasgow. Tom Shields is an author and journalist whose career spanned five decades with the Herald and Sunday Herald.

From The Tall Ship to Tam Shepherd’s Trick Shop, from the Battlefield Rest to Byres Road Lanes, each entry in ‘111 Places in Glasgow That You Shouldn’t Miss’ is written in Tom’s insightful and witty style. Here, Tom had the not-so-easy task of choosing just 11 of his favourite entries to share with us, with short excerpts from his book included.

1. The Arboretum

The Arboretum is a quiet corner of the Botanic Gardens where most of the top 20 trees in the Botanic’s tree trail can be found. The collection of trees from all over the world were gathered by plant hunters over the past two centuries.

"Seek out the small but perfect Paperbark Maple. Of Chinese origin, its name comes from its coppery-cinnamon bark, which peels into translucent swirls. In autumn, the bright green leaves transform into a riot of pink and vibrant red."

2. Cup Tea Lounge

The city centre based Cup Tea Lounge, known for its scrumptious afternoon tea, features a stunning Victorian tiled interior. Designed in 1888, the building includes ornate tiled walls and pillared archways, which were unforgivably hidden behind plasterboard for decades.

"Much of Glasgow’s finest art is hidden. The communal interiors of many of its old residential tenements are exquisitely decorated with glazed tiles, mosaic floors and stained glass… One of the city’s most glorious tiled interiors can however be studied at your leisure, for the price of a pot of one of their 48 varieties of tea."

Interior tiled wall and archways of Cup Tea Lounge. Image Credit: Cup Tea Lounge

3. The British Film Institute (BFI) Mediatheque

The only BFI Mediatheque in Scotland is housed in the former Olympia cinema in Bridgeton in the east of the city. Devoted to all things film and video, the extensive archives, including the Scottish Reels, which celebrate over a century of Scottish culture on film, are well worth exploring and cannot be found online.

"So what you have here is your own free cinema, where you can enjoy movies, TV programmes and documentaries selected from the BFI’s extensive archives – the largest in the world… Put on the headphones, select your film, and you are in your own private movie world."

Image Credit: CSG CIC Glasgow Museums

4. The Glasgow Police Museum

The free-to-visit Glasgow Police Museum (winner of the 'Best Day Out Award' at The Glasgow Awards 2019) tells the story of the UK’s oldest police force – Glasgow’s police force predates the London Metropolitan by 29 years!

"This fascinating collection of artefacts from over 200 years of police history was put together by former police officers, who also take turns to be on duty, imparting information to visitors on constabularies both local and international. It’s great: the public get to interrogate the polis. ‘Polis’, it should be explained, is Glasgow dialect for police."

Image Credit: Glasgow Police Museum

5. St Nicholas Garden

St Nicholas Garden can be found within the oldest part of the city, beside the Provand’s Lordship. The name comes from a former 15th century hospital on the site, with the garden servings as an oasis of serenity; although keep your eyes peeled for some medieval mask-like stone carvings!

“Its imaginative design and use of materials make it evocative of medieval times without descending into pastiche. Inside is a physic garden, with a collection of plants and herbs of the types that were used in medieval medicine. At the centre is a knot garden in the shape of a Celtic cross, with water lapping gently from a granite font.”

Image Credit: CSG CIC Glasgow

6. The Mitchell Library

The Mitchell Library is one of Europe's largest public libraries, with the impressive domed building matched in brilliance by its impressive collections. Especially worth a visit is the special collection dedicated to Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, which includes over 5,000 items.

"Visitors can, for instance, read the words of Auld Lang Syne in the poet’s own handwriting while gazing, should they wish, at a cast of his skull. Auld Lang Syne is the most famous song in the world, with the possible exception of Happy Birthday to You. It is sung at New Year, an emotional time when loved ones are remembered. It has brought a tear to the eye in more than 40 movies, including It’s a Wonderful Life and When Harry Met Sally."

Image Credit: CSG CIC Glasgow Museums

7. The National Piping Centre

Set within a beautifully converted old church, The National Piping Centre celebrates Scotland’s national instrument - the bagpipes. Be inspired by seeing Bonnie Prince Charlie’s very own set of pipes and book a place on the Meet the Piper Tour to try your hand at playing this difficult to master instrument.

"The building’s conversion to the home of piping was celebrated with three new stained glass windows, which reflect in visual terms the history, beauty and complexity of the Piobaireachd, a classical form of bagpipe music unique to Scotland. Two of these allude to the landscapes and seascapes of Scotland, which have inspired numerous pipe tunes. The third is about the bagpipe on the battlefield."

8. Fairfield Heritage

For over half a century, the River Clyde was the undisputed centre of world shipbuilding. Fairfield Heritage tells the story of Scottish engineers, innovators and local shipyard workers, known for their humour and hard-work, who launched 30,000 ships on the River Clyde.

"In the early 1900s, its nearly 50 shipyards made one-fifth of the world’s entire annual output. At the heart of this great industry was Fairfield in Govan…. The story of this amazing shipyard is told in the splendid Victorian edifice that was Fairfield’s headquarters… In 1880, the yard built an opulent steam yacht, the Livadia, for Tsar Alexander II. At the launch, his naval adviser Admiral Popoff declared, ‘Govan is the centre of intelligence of the world."

Image Credit:

9. Buffalo Bill Statue

Discover a little-known and unsavoury history in Dennistoun. A statue of Buffalo Bill (Whitehill Street), sitting astride a bucking bronco, stands as a marker of the time when Native Americans ended up performing in Dennistoun for three months as part of the Buffalo Bill Wild West show in 1891.

"Shortly after the shameful day when 279 men, women and children from his tribe were murdered at the battle of Wounded Knee, Kicking Bear was arrested for his resistance activities. He was given the choice of jail or leaving his homeland to join Buffalo Bill’s show. Kicking Bear ended up in Dennistoun, suffering the indignity of performing his tribal dances in a circus setting."

Image Credit: Discover Glasgow

10. University of Glasgow Cloisters

The University of Glasgow’s main building is an exemplar of gothic revival architecture, with the atmospheric undercroft beneath the Bute Hall, known as the Cloisters. It’s no wonder that this building was rumoured to be the inspiration behind Hogwarts.

"The newly graduated gather under its archways of fluted columns and ribbed vaults to celebrate with a glass of something fizzy. It is also a place of contemplation, where generations of eminent alumni and visitors have trod, and where in 1933 Albert Einstein famously popped out for a smoke after being given an honorary degree."

11. Caledonia Road Church

The Victorian architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson has left his mark across Glasgow, with his Greek and Egyptian inspired architecture found in rows of tenements, suburban villas and three Presbyterian churches. Unfortunately, the interior of Caledonia Road Church can no longer be accessed by the public, yet it remains standing as a fitting reminder of his classical style.

"Glasgow's most elegant ruin. He designed what have been described as three of the finest Romantic Classical churches in the world – all three of them in the city. The Caledonia Road Church was the first; he was also a member of its congregation."

The exterior of Caledonia Road Church

You can purchase a copy of Tom Shield’s '111 Places in Glasgow That You Shouldn’t Miss' in many local gift shops and Waterstones. For more ideas of places to visit in Glasgow check out our First Time Must Sees.

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