Friday 19 October 2018

Scotland: Treasure by design on Cart and Clyde

Short breaks in the UK

Paisley's Town Hall, which was funded by the Clarks, owners of the Anchor thread mill. At one time, Paisley produced 90pc of the world’s sewing thread
Paisley's Town Hall, which was funded by the Clarks, owners of the Anchor thread mill. At one time, Paisley produced 90pc of the world’s sewing thread
Gemma Fullam in Scotland
Kelvingrove Gallery & Museum

Gemma Fullam

Millennials might not believe this, but there was a time when fast fashion did not exist.

Instead, many people made their own clothes - or were lucky enough, as I was, to have an obliging mother to run something up.

A shirt she crafted stands out in my mind's eye because of the exotic nature of the fabric's design: a swirl of twirly, leaf-like shapes, known as Paisley pattern.

I've no idea where that shirt is now, but its timeless design would still pass muster today, and, almost 30 years later, it was a special thrill to find myself in Paisley town, source of the iconic pattern; and, at one time, of 90pc of the world's thread, manufactured by the Clark and Coats families.

Paisley, which is bidding to be UK City of Culture 2021, has - along with the largest number of listed buildings outside of Edinburgh - a proud legacy proclaimed in its street names that bear testament to the town's textile history: Gauze, Cotton and Silk Streets, to name but a few.

There are plans afoot for a £42m transformation of Paisley Museum, in existence since 1871 thanks to the munificence of philanthropist and thread baron Sir Peter Coats (statue pictured above). Carlow man Dr Dan Coughlan, the museum's curator of textiles, showed me some of its priceless treasures, including the world's largest collection of Paisley shawls (and a Galway shawl; these were, fascinatingly, all made in Paisley). The work was highly skilled - the weavers were a well read and radical lot - and Paisley shawls, being cheaper than Indian cashmere, were coveted as a fashion item. Until, that is, the advent of the bustle, which did not combine with the Paisley shawl to make for a flattering silhouette.

Gemma Fullam in Scotland
Gemma Fullam in Scotland

Another of the museum's gems - viewing must be arranged in advance - is Audubon's work of ornithological art Birds of America, donated by Sir Peter. One of its life-size paintings (barn owls) inspired an album cover of Paisley-born Gerry Rafferty. Other famous Paisley 'Buddies' (a colloquial term for locals) include Paolo Nutini and actor Gerald Butler.

Many urban areas would love to have a measure of the pedigree that this post-industrial conurbation boasts. Aside from its textile legacy, and illustrious denizens - including 'Braveheart' William Wallace, who was educated here - Paisley, on the River Cart, has an incredible architectural heritage, from the 12th-Century Abbey, with its glorious Edward Burne-Jones windows, to its Victorian Observatory, to the stunning Art Deco Russell Institute. The decline of industry saw Paisley diminish from a proud centre of excellence to a place that suffered significant deprivation.

As with so many UK towns, the demise of the traditional High Street contributed to Paisley's slide, which, with the UK City of Culture bid, is now on the turn, through helping Paisleyites appreciate and cherish their considerable heritage, and reposition it proudly on a global stage.

Paisley is less than 10 minutes by train from Glasgow, and the adjacent municipalities make for a delightful twin-centre cultural break.

Our base for the duration was Glasgow's trendy, centrally located citizenM hotel, the rooms of which boast a room-control iPad, which allows one to customise one's room to one's own taste.

Glasgow, on the River Clyde, has a wealth of culture, but arguably its most famous son - after Billy Connolly - is artist, architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, father of the Glasgow Style: a unique Scottish interpretation of Art Nouveau.

Kelvingrove Gallery & Museum
Kelvingrove Gallery & Museum

A dashingly handsome man, his work went largely unappreciated at home during his lifetime, but is rightly celebrated today. His beautiful buildings dot the Glasgow cityscape, and include the Willow Tea Rooms, in which he and his wife, Margaret Macdonald, also one of the acclaimed Glasgow Four, designed everything down to the forks; and the new Glasgow School of Art, now the Mackintosh Building, recognised as perhaps his finest work.

We also took in the Mackintosh-designed Lighthouse, formerly home of the Glasgow Herald, and now a Mackintosh Interpretation Centre. Sadly, Mackintosh died a pauper in 1928; 86 years later, a pair of his iconic 'ladder back' chairs sold for £109,250.

Haggis was never going to be entertained by two veggies, but we found a delightful lunch stop in Chaakoo, an Irani cafe style establishment - dark wood, green leather banquettes, brass fittings - which had a mouthwatering selection of curries on offer.

The City Sightseeing Glasgow Hop-On Hop-Off tour provides easy access to the sights and many free-entry museums, with live commentary.

An unmissable stop is Glasgow Cathedral, home to the tomb of Glasgow founder and patron saint St Kentigern, aka St Mungo (it means 'dear one'). The ancient cathedral is the only one in Scotland to survive the Reformation intact. Mungo was bishop during the 6th century, and the city's coat of arms bears symbols of his four miracles: a bird, tree, bell and fish.

Indeed nearby, on the Glasgow Mural Trail, there is a beautiful depiction by street artist Smug of a modern-day Mungo, with a robin; the bird of his miracles. We came across several other of the murals on the trail, and no less than three 15m-high efforts commemorating the Big Yin, who is 75 later this month. We felt compelled to hop off the bus for a wee warming dram in his honour at the Old Scotia Bar, where, almost 40 years ago, the comedian played a regular gig with The Humblebums, along with aforementioned Paisley native, Gerry Rafferty of Stealers Wheel fame.

You'd need a week to enjoy all Glasgow's museums, but the Kelvingrove is a must-see. Situated in a leafy city district, it is one of the world's most visited museums. We cooed over the Van Gogh of Alexander Reid, a Glasgow art dealer and flatmate to the famous painter; and Turner's The Pifferari, showcasing his trademark mastery of light.

Dinner was in Glasgow institution City Merchant, where we feasted on a fabulous-value three course gourmet dinner (including neeps and tatties), along with wine; a mere £49.50 for the two of us.

Next day, it was back to Paisley to take in more historical sights, including Paisley Arts Centre, a former kirk (church), of which John Witherspoon was a former reverend. Having moved to the US, the preacher was the sole active clergyman to sign the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. We also popped into the Bull Inn, an Art Nouveau pub, the oldest in Paisley, which has featured in detective drama Taggart.

All too soon, it was time to head to Glasgow Airport, a mere hop from Paisley, but not before a spot of souvenir shopping at InCube Shop, a retail outlet for local start-ups. The merchandise included gorgeous Harris Tweed cushions by the Canny Squirrel (Harris Tweed had its genesis in Paisley), and Dainty Dora's cuter-than-cute Paisley Pins, a jewellery line that honours the iconic leaf shape of its town's eponymous pattern - which is about to blossom again, and become a vital symbol of a town reborn.

Getting there

Aer Lingus Regional operate flights between Dublin and Glasgow up to six times daily; lead-in fares from €29.99 one way, including taxes and charges (aerlingus.com).

Double rooms at citizenM Glasgow start from around £79 (breakfast not included; citizenm.com).

Regular trains run between Glasgow Central Station and Paisley Gilmour Street. Paisley is one of five destinations currently shortlisted to become UK City of Culture 2021.

 Paisley’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021 will use the town’s unique, fascinating story to transform its future, by putting the town in the international spotlight, attracting visitors, creating jobs and using culture to make people’s lives better. The winner will be announced in December 2017.

For further information on Paisley’s UK City of Culture 2021 bid, see paisley2021.co.uk. For further information on Glasgow, see peoplemakeglasgow.com.

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The Getaway: An unlikely gourmet break in Glasgow

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