A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood | Part 5 – The Commuter Edition

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Think global, ride local

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Cast your mind back into the not so distant past and perhaps reflect on what used to be your commute. I suspect that like pretty much everyone, what was once the norm now seems like a half remembered memory. Only a handful of months have passed but it’s no exaggeration to say that the world has changed beyond all recognition. At the height of lockdown, it was fair to say that a lot of us, myself included, saw the opportunity which the new normal (whatever that may end up being) could present us. Less cars and a nation falling in love with cycling again as sales of bike boomed – 5% of the population having bought a new bike in the first three months of lockdown – teased us with the possibility of us no longer being wedded to the internal combustion engine.

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Glasgow without litter! Hard to believe!

In the spirit of embracing what may or may not to be a once in a lifetime chance, I decided to see for myself what the new normal might just look like and have a crack at commuting into the centre of the city. Would it be a new dawn or a fool’s errand? Only one way to find out. Joining me on my damn fool mission / utopian dream was my friend Rory, football and rugby commentator extraordinaire.

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No cars = Happy!

Stranger, Danger!

Heading down the back streets from Sanny HQ, we made our way through the leafy streets of Glasgow’s west end. Known as the “Dear Green Place” on account of the number of public parks, the city was doing a fine job of living up to its name. Despite being at the height of what should be rush hour, the roads were almost unsettlingly quiet. While the drone of traffic could be heard in the distance, traffic levels were still a bit below pre lockdown levels – long may that continue! Darting down a lane, we passed by a recently opened Indian restaurant – Chakoo.

chaakoo glasgow ortlieb
“I could fair go a cheeky wee peshwari naan……..”

Wondering out loud what it was like, a passing couple responded and waxed lyrical about the quality of the food albeit with portion sizes being described as a little bit on the small side. What followed was your classic Glaswegian conversation / debate over the relative merits of the city’s many excellent Indian eateries. Imagine trying striking up the same conversation with a complete stranger in London? They’d probably think you were some kind of sociopath and run away in a blind panic shouting “stranger danger!”

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Darting down lanes.

Memories of nights out.

Crossing an unaccustomedly busy Byres Road, we headed through Ashton Lane which is widely regarded as the beating heart of West End night life. At weekends, it is normally rammed but on this weekday morning, it cast something of a forlorn shadow of its former self.

Is this the new normal?

A striking piece of Covid street art drew the eye before we hit the main thoroughfare of cobblestones, bollards and boarded up pubs and bars. With bars having been allowed to open for several weeks in Scotland, it remains to be seen whether some will ever open up again or be able to attract former customers.

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Cool street art.

Glaswegians have long memories are not necessarily the most forgiving when it comes to perceived social injustices. When one of the bars in the lane announced the sacking of all their staff at the very start of lockdown, it was what could kindly be described as a spectacular own goal and prompted a rapid volte face. I suspect that the fallout from it may extend well beyond the here and now. 

About as busy as it will get, for the next wee while at least.

Muggles welcome!

With nowhere in particular we had to be, we found ourselves in the heart of the cloisters within the Glasgow University quadrangle.

Cloister shadow rider shot #3.

Channelling pure Harry Potter-esque ambience, the main University building is a masterpiece of the neo-Gothic.

I wonder who still thinks the Freshers Festival was a good idea?

With the students not yet being taught on campus, it is a lovely place just to sit and relax for a while. So we did. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have found myself on campus for no good reason other than to admire the architecture. It is truly world class.

The same, however, cannot be said of the library building opposite for which the phrase “pustulating abomination of a carbuncle” was quite possibly invented. If one was looking for positives (and believe me, you would probably need an electron microscope to find any), at least the adjacent bike shed features one of those really rather cool tool station stand and pumps which meant that Rory’s slightly deflated tyre could be addressed in jig time.

Firhill for thrills!

Back on our bikes, we made our way down quiet streets and back lanes before finding ourselves at the true home of football in Glasgow – Firhill Stadium. Forget your Celtic and Rangers, Partick Thistle (or Partick Thistle Nil as Billy Connolly used to describe them) are your definitive Glasgow club. Stopping to snap a few shots of Rory beside a large mural, he took it with remarkably good humour when I cheekily suggested that he was perhaps more voice of a football than the voice of football in his day job.

The theatre of dreams!

I have to say jealousy is a terrible thing. I reckon he has a pretty plum job as a professional sports commentator. As we spoke of all things football, the shared memory from childhood awakened when on a Sunday afternoon, your eagerly anticipated fix of Scottish football was tempered by the groan of disappointment as you realised that the opening introduction from an ice rink meant that you would have to endure “yon bloody curling” for half an hour before the footy came on!

Is that ball really close or is Rory far away?

“Water” result!

Snaps taken, we nipped up onto the canal for the last section of our ride before heading back to base. In recent years, Scottish Water and a whole host of dedicated volunteers have done an excellent job of reviving the canal waterways between Glasgow and Edinburgh. What were once muddy and frankly unappealing areas of urban decline are most assuredly on the up and up. Canal boats now used as permanent residences line one side of the banking while a well maintained path skirts the other.

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Look serious, man! You’re not meant to be enjoying yourself!

Where the canal hits the centre of the city at Speirs Wharf, what were once grain stores were converted in the late eighties into apartments which kick started the ongoing redevelopment of the area. As a commuter route, it makes for an easy cycle into the city with precious few of the drawbacks.  With striking views over the city centre and to the hills beyond, it made for a fitting end to our urban commute.

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Classic cobled streets speak of the Victorian heritage.

Even post what would now nominally be rush hour, it was still busy with people taking advantage of the complete absence of traffic, whether walking, running, riding or simply stopping to take in the passing scene. When I worked in the city centre, this was my standard commuting route. Looking at it from the perspective of new normal, it was heartening to see that it is still well used. While commuters may not be using it in the numbers they used to, there is still a definite vibrancy to the area. During these unusual times, I reckon that is a pretty good thing. Not commuting – it’s the new commuting!

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Derek Zoolander – the wilderness years.

This article was brought to you in association with Ortlieb.

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Sanny and Rory used the following Ortlieb kit:

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By day, Sanny plies his trade as a Chartered Accountant and Non-Executive Director. By night, however, give him a map and the merest whisper of a trail "that might go" and he'll be off faster than a rat up a drainpipe on some damn fool mission to discover new places to ride. Rarely without his trusty Nikon D5600, he likes nothing better than being in the big mountains, an inappropriately heavy bike on his back, taking pics and soaking up the scenery. He also likes to ride his bike there too although rumours that he is currently working on his next book, "Walks with my bike", are untrue (mostly). Fat biking, gravel riding, bikepacking, road biking, e biking, big mountain adventures - as long as two wheels are involved, you'll find him with a grin on his face as he dives off the side of a mountain, down a narrow lane or into deep undergrowth in search of hidden trails and new adventures. His favourite food is ham and mushroom pizza and he is on a mission to ride all of the Munros, mostly as it allows him to indulge in eating more pizza. He has no five year plan, is a big fan of the writing of Charlie Connelly and reckons that Kermode and Mayo's Film Review Podcast is quite possibly the finest bit of broadcasting around.

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Comments (4)

    How old is this article?
    Because the traffic is back to 80% normal round our way.

    “How old is this article?”

    The dry streets, sunshine and trees covered in green foliage might be a clue

    (great article, and Chakoo is an indian “tapas” place, hence the small portions!)

    Still a good tour of the West of Glasgow. What a great city.

    We did the pics last month hence the foliage still on the trees although Autumn took a while to kick in up here. Definitely felt later than last year for sure.

    As a measure of how much things change in a short time, the traffic has dropped again since the new Tier 4 was introduced although Friday was mentally busy as the world and his dug seemed hellbent on visiting every shop that was open in Glasgow! It was like rush hour for the whole day.


    Cheers for the local knowledge of Chakoo. I will definitely need to give it a whirl.


    Glad you liked it!

    Hopefully you will have read or decide to read the other 4 pieces in the series. You will no doubt recognise a few of the locations if you know Glasgow and the surrounding area?

    The whole series was great fun to do.



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