This article was brought to you in association with Ortlieb.
Missed any of the earlier issues of this feature series? Catch up here.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
With nowhere in particular we had to be, we found ourselves in the heart of the cloisters within the Glasgow University quadrangle.
Channelling pure Harry Potter-esque ambience, the main University building is a masterpiece of the neo-Gothic.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
This article was brought to you in association with Ortlieb.
Sanny and Rory used the following Ortlieb kit: