Travel: 48 hours in Mackintosh's Glasgow

You need a break - and a short cut to the soul of a city. This week, as Glasgow gears up to be City of Architecture & Design, Simon Calder sets out on the trail of Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Why go now?

By celebrating the city's architecture and design before the official party in 1999, you'll be able to contemplate its achievements in relative solitude. And because during the second half of June a glimmer of daylight hangs in the skies above Glasgow almost until midnight; midsummer bestows a late-night glow upon Scotland's largest city.

Beam down

Fly from Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Inverness, Leeds/Bradford, London (Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted), Manchester or Southampton. Most of these flights arrive at Abbotsinch airport, eight miles west of the centre, from where a pounds 2.50 bus ride takes you to Buchanan Street bus station. Some, from Stansted and Belfast, arrive at Prestwick, 30 miles south west; a train to Central station takes 45 minutes. Train and bus services from all over Britain will get you there more slowly but more cheaply; I booked a week ahead and travelled on the ScotRail Sleeper from London Euston for pounds 79.

Get your bearings

Glasgow sprawls for miles on either side of the Clyde. As in London and Merseyside, most of the action - including Mackintosh's work - takes place on the north side of the water. The city centre is relatively compact, a square mile hemmed in to the north and west by the M8 motorway and to the south by the river. In the east, the Greater Glasgow Tourist Information at 11 George Square (0141-204 4400) will kit you out with maps and information - including the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Buildings Guide 1998.

Check in

For comfortable and relatively cheap B&B, the best hunting-grounds are on and around Renfrew Street, in the north west of the city centre; and the Hillhead district, a couple of miles farther west. Both are well placed for a Mackintosh marathon. I paid pounds 42 a night for two at the Willow Hotel, 228 Renfrew Street (0141-332 2332). Later, I paid pounds 50 at the artless but extremely central Charing Cross Tower Hotel (10 Elmbank Gardens, 0141 221 1000), a hideous Seventies cubic office block that has been converted into a remarkably comfortable hotel. At the top end of the scale, you could try the sumptuous One Devonshire Gardens, whose name is its address (its telephone number is the more prosaic 0141-339 2001).

Take a ride

The little orange trains that rumble around the circular underground line are (a) cute, (b) handy for many Mackintosh locations. The flat fare is 65p. The drawback is that you'll see little of the city.

Take a hike

If it's Saturday at 10.30am, you really must tour the Glasgow School of Art - it's the last chance you'll get all weekend to explore Charles Rennie Mackintosh's greatest achievement. The underground will take you to Cowcaddens, and a steep hike will bring you to 167 Renfrew Street (0141- 353 4526). Admission pounds 3.50. Tours from 4 July; book in advance.

Lunch on the run

Ninety-five years ago Charles Rennie Mackintosh created the Willow Tea Rooms at 217 Sauchiehall Street. His client was Miss Kate Cranston, a well-known restaurateur. The tall, handsome structure fell into decline but 20 years ago it was restored, and leased to MM Henderson as a jewellery shop. The tea rooms were reopened; there is often a lunch-time queue, but hang on for a table at the first-floor Room de Luxe. Here, high-backed chairs facilitate conspiracy in a chamber crowded with elegance and hurrying waitresses. Alternatively, you can still find deep-fried Mars Bars on sale in some Glasgow takeaways.

Cultural afternoon

Head east along Sauchiehall Street then south past a couple of Mackintosh's journalistic achievements, the Daily Record building on Renfield Lane and the Herald building on Mitchell Street. At St Enoch, take the clockwise underground train three stops to Shields Road. In the Scotland Street School, just opposite, Charles Rennie Mackintosh compiled a civic amenity which it must have been a joy to attend. The school now houses a museum of education, but you can still smell the carbolic. The School (0141-429 1202) is open 10am-5pm Mondays to Saturdays and 11am-5pm Sundays, and, like most museums in Glasgow, is free.

An aperitif

Rogano's (11 Exchange Place, 0141-248 4055) was created after Mackintosh's death, but this beautiful Art Deco bar/restaurant pays tribute to him. You can see where the designers for some of the Clyde's great ocean liners got their ideas.

Demure dinner

Credit-card limit permitting, stay here to dine. Alternatively, take the underground to Hillhead. Many of Glasgow's most innovative restaurants are on and around Byres Road.

Bracing brunch

The strangest restaurant in Glasgow, if not Scotland, is on unassuming Woodlands Road, close to the junction with Lynedoch Street. Entering the Insomnia Cafe (0141-564 1700) is like stumbling into a set for some surreal Seventies album cover. This restaurant is open around the clock, but comes into its own on Sunday mornings with a repertoire of classic brunch dishes such as eggs Benedict and excellent cappuccino.

Sunday pm: go to church

It's not open on Sunday mornings. The global headquarters of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society is at 870 Garscube Road - and his memory is suitably sustained in the Queen's Cross Church that he built here. Mackintosh's excursion into ecclesiastical construction is one of his most intriguing designs, allowing his imagination to flourish while constrained by the needs of the Church of Scotland. From the enthusiastic staff here, you can enrich your understanding of Mackintosh - and sign up to the society. The church (0141-946 6000) is open 10am-5pm, Monday to Friday, 10am-2pm on Saturday, 2pm-5pm on Sundays.

A walk in the park

Just south of Junction 23 on the M8, in the north-east corner of Bellahouston Park, you discover a building that took nearly a century to be realised: House for an Art Lover.

In 1901, Charles Rennie Mackintosh entered a German magazine competition. Construction according to his winning plans finally began in 1989, and ended in 1996. This Mackintosh mansion embraces most of the techniques and touches that were his hallmarks - and boasts an excellent cafe. House for an Art Lover (0141-353 4449 for midweek opening times) is open every Saturday and Sunday, 10am-5pm. Admission pounds 3.50 for adults, pounds 2.50 for children, pounds 7 for a family.

The icing on the cake

Despite his vision, Mackintosh died a broke and broken man in 1928. The city rewarded his memory by knocking down his house, 78 Southpark Avenue, after the war. A near-replica has been built on the university campus, and is stuffed with salvaged chattels. The bedroom is a dazzling white feast, the five-poster (count 'em) bed balanced by a sleek fireplace and elegantly curved mirror. The seeds of Art Deco, not to mention Habitat, are evident. The Mackintosh House on University Avenue (0141-330 5431) is, however, not open on Sundays.

Comments