IT may already be a popular and established district in Glasgow’s west end, but North Kelvinside remains full of wee surprises.
This buzzing neighbourhood on the north side of Great Western Road has a number of obvious attractions, not least of which is the glorious Botanic Gardens. But what makes the place extra special is the community spirit.
The North Kelvin Meadow and Children’s Wood epitomise this ethos, a green space locals fought hard to save, transforming it from neglected gap-site under threat from developers into a vibrant community garden, entirely looked after by residents, that attracts and inspires visitors from across Glasgow and beyond.
North Kelvinside shares the G20 postcode and a parliamentary constituency with neighbouring Maryhill, but has a different feel. Bound to the south by the River Kelvin (hence the name), the district was originally part of a country estate that was the birthplace of Liberal prime minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.
The estate was developed into streets, crescents and terraces of tenements and townhouses in the mid to late nineteenth century. In 1839, the Glasgow Botanic Gardens (founded in 1817), outgrew its original home at Sandyford, just off Sauchiehall Street, and moved to the current site in North Kelvinside. Originally only open to the public at weekends, it charged an entrance fee of one penny. The Kibble Palace was moved from its original site on the banks of Loch Long to the Botanics in 1873, hosting concerts and speakers such as Gladstone and Disraeli.
Queen Margaret Drive is the main artery in the neighbourhood, a name that is still synonymous with BBC Scotland; until 2007 it was the corporation’s Scottish headquarters. All the residential streets that comprise North Kelvinside are just a short walk from its amenities.
With beautiful architecture, enviable green spaces, great cafes and shops and an unbeatable location, the neighbourhood remains popular with bohemians, families and students alike.
Over the years well-known residents of North Kelvinside have included actor Robbie Coltrane, film director Lynne Ramsey and members of countless Glasgow bands. The former Crosslands pub at the north end of Queen Margaret Drive was the location of the famous “balcony” scene in the film Trainspotting, where hardman Francis Begbie starts a riot by nonchalantly throwing a pint glass.
What to do
A walk through the leafy streets and terraces reveals much about the social and economic history of North Kelvinside. Start at the south end of Queen Margaret Drive, taking in the upmarket terraces of Kelvin Drive and lovely blonde sandstone tenements on Clouston Street. Take a right up Garrioch Road and note the attractive red sandstone variations, which look particularly striking against a blue sky. The bridge on Kirklee Road – which takes you into plush Kelvinside – is a great place for pictures and river-watching.
Back on Garrioch Road, take Hotspur Street, then Sanda Street, coming out at the aforementioned North Kelvinside Meadow and Children’s Wood. With different areas and textures, from raised beds and wild flowers to fruit trees, it’s bursting with urban bird, insect and small mammal life, and makes for an ideal stroll with the dog, quiet seat or picnic. Look out for the year-round kids and adult gardening and education events, all of which are run by local volunteers. The uplifting story of how the community harnessed people power to save the Meadow when developers tried to turn it into flats been featured in an array of books and articles and has been an inspiration to communities across the world.
At the other side of Queen Margaret Drive, take Wilton Street along to Belmont Street, where the handsome Kelvin Stevenson Memorial Church stands. Nearby St Charles Oratory, on Kelvinside Gardens, was designed by pioneering Scots architects Gillespie, Kidd and Coia in the Modernist style.
Join the Kelvin Walkway and walk back west towards the Botanics, taking in the Sixty Steps, a local landmark designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson in 1872. While in the Botanics, local Kirsty Anderson recommends going off the beaten track. “Find quieter hidden gems such as herb garden, Arboretum planted with trees from around the world,” she says. “Near the arboretum there’s a bend in the river that my boys love to skim stones in. The Ha’penny footbridge is also a must-see.”
Fellow North Kelvinside resident Fiona Rintoul recommends keeping going. “Keen walkers and cyclists may wish to extend their route all the way from the Botanics to Dawsholm Park or even Loch Lomond. Indeed, from the canals of Maryhill you can also go all the way to Edinburgh.”
Where to eat and drink
Queen Margaret Drive has an array of great places for brunch, lunch and afternoon tea.
Kirsty Anderson is a fan of William Café. “The vegan breakfast bowl – complete with avocado and tattie scone – is delicious,” she says. “The homemade cakes and sweet treats are amazing, too.”
North Star serves-up authentic Italian soups, sandwiches and pasta dishes with a warm welcome. The coffee is great, too.
Caffé de Sara also serves excellent coffee, gourmet sandwiches and delicious homebaking, while Comet Pieces is known for its Signature Rolls, all priced around £5. The Philly – brisket, onions, peppers and homemade nacho cheese sauce – is delicious and filling, especially with a poutine on the side.
Further up the road towards Maryhill, Francos – named in honour of Trainspotting’s Begbie – used to be the aforementioned Crosslands. It’s now a hip pizza and craft beer joint.
Where to shop
Queen Margaret Drive is also home to some great independent shops.
People in the know come from all over the city to peruse Ae Fond Kiss and its lovely selection of jewellery, clothes, accessories and gifts.
Opal Moon is, according to Fiona Rintoul, “top-notch for all your spiritual and magical needs”.
Nearby Wizard of Paws is a pampering paradise for our canine pals that also offers puppy training and a doggy creche.
The Hidden Dram, meanwhile, stocks a wide array of craft beers from all over the world. There’s an excellent selection of wines and spirits, too.
Where to stay
Riverside: The Ambassador Hotel on Kelvin Drive is just moments from the amenities on Queen Margaret Drive and the Botanics. Rooms from £58.
Upmarket: The Hilton Grosvenor, on Great Western Road, is housed in a stunning A-listed building right across from the main entrance to the Botanics. Rooms from £100.
Home from home: The Queen Margaret Apartment offers up to eight guests a luxury self-catering experience right in the heart of North Kelvinside. From £120-£300 a night.
Cosy room: The Hamilton Room, on Airbnb, offers elegant and spacious accommodation just off Queen Margaret Drive, in a handsome Victorian building. From £40 per night.
What to do nearby
Just a 10-minute walk north away on Maryhill Road, the beautifully restored Maryhill Burgh Halls is a community hub that celebrates the heritage of the area. Home to the Maryhill Museum, there’s also a fantastic café as well as clubs and social enterprises.
Just across the bridge in Kirklee, the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre has been investing in puppet artists and entertaining and teaching children of all ages and backgrounds for more than 30 years. A theatre, museum and education centre all rolled into one, there are regular shows, performances and workshops. It’s a quirky and fun place to have kids’ parties.
Fans of BBC Scotland comedy Still Game will want to take the 25-minute walk from Queen Margaret Drive to the canal-side flats on Collina Street, Maryhill, that doubled for the Craiglang home of much-loved characters Jack, Victor, Isa and Naveed.
In the coming weeks I’ll be visiting Blairgowrie, Pittenweem and Dennistoun. Send your recommendations, hints and tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org