The first time I was in Glasgow, I stayed in an apartment overlooking the Clyde. I had known about the river long before I saw it for the first time, singing along to Passenger’s “Feather on the Clyde” without realizing this song was about a river I would come to love. Passenger writes that, on one side, all the lights glow, “And the folks know and kids go / where the music and the drinking starts.” But on the other side, no cars go. A river running through a city – “it makes her but it breaks her”.
For many students, or people living and working in the West End or city centre, the Southside is unknown territory. Crossing one of the bridges is like crossing a border, the body of water a welcome boundary for those wanting to stay in their own happy university bubble. But for those willing to open their eyes – as everyone should – the Clyde makes the city. A living thing that holds Glasgow in her arms.
From the Firth & Clyde Canal to the River Kelvin weaving through Kelvingrove Park and the Botanics, the water is ever present in Glasgow. In “The Motherlode”, The Staves sing that “All men have left here but you have remained.” Applicable to any river, it rings true to the Clyde. The history of how Glasgow came to be, the ships being built on the banks of the Clyde, the place where trade happened and products and people from all over the world arrived is a tangible one. Not a history that should only be celebrated – think of the involvement in slave trade and protests of Clyde workmen – but nonetheless the reason we’re here.
When I follow the promenade on the Clyde-bank by bike, towards Glasgow Green, Pollock Park or the Tramway, cycling past the giant Finnieston Crane that used to load steam locomotives and other cargo onto ships while the colours of the BBC Scotland building and the half-moon shaped bridge reflect in the water, I somehow feel part of that history. At the Firth & Clyde Canal, information plaques tell me about the buzzing atmosphere of workmen on the banks, and while the path is quiet now except for an occasional dog walker or jogger, I can picture the energy and excitement.
I come from a city that’s known for its water, and on my wall, right above my desk, is a photo of Amsterdam by night. A row of canal houses and streetlights reflecting in a quiet canal that is crowded with boats and pedal boats during the day. While I miss Amsterdam’s steep, charming bridges, her cafes with ten different kinds of beer on the tap and bustling terraces sprawled out over pavements, Glasgow has captured my heart.
On our first date, we went to the Botanics and watched the whole world walking past – from parents running behind excited toddlers and tourists peering in guidebooks to students holding hands and elderly couples shuffling past, still in love. On our second date, we took the subway at Kelvinbridge and didn’t leave the majestic, yet loud orange train until we were back where we started, a full circle below Glasgow. We went to The Necropolis, meaning to have serious conversations about life and death but ending up laughing about the excessive monuments and pointing at the wind turbines on the hills at the horizon. I get lost with her. I strain my neck while walking towards George Square, continuously looking up, up, not to miss a single elaborate decoration on the sandstone buildings. While I wonder through Park Circus and Kelvingrove, she reads to me from “Poor Things”, letting go of golden leaves, like love letters falling to my feet. Unlike Archie McCandless, I don’t ask her to marry me at the fountain that fills the air with a summer song and brings people together, whatever season it is. In stead, as night falls, I take her to the top of the hill, in front of Glasgow University. When she paints the sky above the magnificent towers of Kelvingrove Museum hundreds shades of pink, I know that means “I do”.
Follow the Clyde and it will take you to the sea, to Loch Lomond, to the Kelpies in Falkirk, to Strathclyde Loch. And, fortunately, it will always take you back home again.