Clydeside: A region around Glasgow in the Central Belt of Scotland.
We have visited Glasgow many times over the past few years, and have enjoyed what this fascinating city has to offer, but we felt a trip to its surrounding areas was much overdue. We had always wanted to visit the Charles Rennie MacKintosh designed Hill House in Helensburgh, so we decided to check out the northern shore of the River Clyde, to the west of Glasgow and see what other attractions we could find.
Between A Rock and Hard Place - Dumbarton Castle
First up was a 30 minute drive from Glasgow to Dumbarton. As we were approaching this town, we soon caught sight of what we had come to see – the imposing Alt Clut (‘Rock of the Clyde’).
This volcanic rock on the shores of the Clyde rises almost vertically into the sky. It is also the site of the oldest continuously fortified site in Scotland. Its recorded history goes back 1,500 years, and was once the capital of the ancient Briton kingdom of Strathclyde.
After the unification of Scotland under Kenneth MacAlpin in the ninth century, the site continued to be important, being a border outpost defending Scotland against the Vikings. A medieval castle was then built on the rock by Alexander II around 1220, but all that can be seen nowadays are the substantial artillery fortifications built in the 1600s and 1700s.
It became obvious quite quickly that we were in for a strenuous walk up the hill – prepare to climb many stairs to get to the two peaks (unfortunately Dunbarton Castle is not suitable for visitors with mobility issues).
Smelling the flowers at Geilston Gardens
After catching our breath, our next stop was Geilston Gardens, which was a fifteen minute drive to the outskirts of Cardross. The gardens are run by the National Trust for Scotland, and if you are lucky, there may be rhubarb for sale which has been grown on site!
Geilston Garden is dominated by a mammoth Wellingtonia tree, which sits pride of place within the walled garden, which dates back to 1797. There is also a walk around the extensive kitchen garden and a wilder trail down along the Geilston Burn.
Charles Rennie MacKintosh's Masterpiece
Hill House is also a National Trust for Scotland property, and was a further 15 minute drive west to Helensburgh. We are great fans of the architect Charles Rennie MacKintosh and his wife, the artist Margaret MacDonald, and this extravagant house must go down as his masterpiece.
Hill House was commissioned by the Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie, and the husband and wife pair designed everything, from the building itself to the furniture and textiles. Hill House was built between 1902 and 1904.
As we walked around the house, our eyes were drawn to all the trademark MacKintosh details, although we did think that maybe as a home, Hill House wouldn’t work so well. It may have felt too much like living in a design study! Still, for us visitors, it is feast for the eyes.
Outside, Hill House is set within a beautiful garden, which looks much as it would have when the house was first built.
The Giant Titan Clydebank Crane
From Helensburgh, we headed back towards Glasgow, stopping off at the old ship building town of Clydebank. Our particular destination was the Titan Clydebank - a 150-foot-high (46 m) cantilever crane which was constructed in 1907. It was designed to be used in the lifting of heavy equipment, such as engines and boilers, during the fitting-out of battleships and ocean liners at the John Brown & Company shipyard.
Immediately on arrival at the crane, we were greeted by a brave soul bungee jumping off the end of the structure. Thankfully we hadn’t signed up for this!
As it was, we were in for a disappointment, as the crane’s lift had broken down just that morning, and visitors were not being allowed up to the top. The bungee jumpers had special dispensation as they were covered by insurance to climb the stairs, but unfortunately, normal visitors were not covered. It wasn’t a wasted journey, however, as the volunteers running the museum gave us complimentary tickets for the next time we were in the area.
While in the museum at the foot of the crane, we had a fascinating talk to the volunteers, finding out all about the fitting out basin that the Titan Clydebank serviced. We were delighted to hear that in this very place the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liners were constructed. This was of great interest to us as we had visited the now retired Queen Mary liner in Long Beach, California, just last year.
Our day trip came to an end just as the rain started to come down, so we took this as a sign that it was time to head back to Glasgow and call an end to our day.
Join us next time when we visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels!