Travel: Glasgow for pounds 19? It's no insult: Simon Calder swallows a dose of Scottish culture, as seen by a pop star

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The Independent Travel
Here's a trick. Catch the last train to Glasgow after work on Friday, and it will still be daylight when you get there.

Midsummer bestows upon Scotland's largest city a late-night glow, shrinking the spectrum to degrees of grey and softening the stern edges of its austere Victorian edifices I had, however, three better reasons for visiting Glasgow in June: InterCity is selling return tickets from Euston for pounds 19; Marti Pellow, singer with the chart-topping band Wet Wet Wet, has invited visitors to

follow in his tracks around the city; and, according to a travel trade journal, the Hilton offers a refund to any of its weekend guests who is offended by a Glaswegian.

Only the first reason, though, turns out to be rooted in reality. Until the end of the month, you can travel by rail to Scotland and back, and still have change from a pounds 20 note for 'half a heavy' at the station bar. The Hilton's free offer had disappeared in a puff of smoke, and neither Marti nor his shadow showed up for the walk. Luckily, I had had the forethought to pick up a map of the route from the tourist office - or rather a hand-out: a picture of our hero, a thin paragraph about the city's greatest hits and a matchbox-sized map of the Pellow promenade.

'There's no beginning,' warbles Marti in the middle of Britain's chart-topper, 'there'll be no end.' The map of Marti's tour, however, shows a definite start: Kelvinhall underground station.

Glasgow, like London, has Tube trains, but the Scottish system resembles a cute prototype of the real thing. There is just one line - circular - with 14 stations ringing the city. When it was built, at the tail end of the 19th century, passengers must have been a lot smaller.

Londoners will find it hard not to chuckle when the first little Fisher Price train (painted a nauseous E-number orange) toddles out of the tunnel. But the flat fare is only 50p and the system is clean and reliable. And you can get round all the stations in 24 minutes.

The theme of barely adolescent infrastructure is developed at the first call: the Museum of Transport. It begins with tales of maritime catastrophes, such as the sinking of the Comet ferry: 'She was suddenly struck by the steamboat Ayr and instantly went down, by which melancholy circumstance 70 human beings were in a single moment precipitated into eternity.' Journalism is not what it used to be.

Having started with disasters, the museum continues in the same vein with the Sinclair C5. Sir Clive's plastic car is hidden beneath a table, its tiny wheels glued to the floor, and it makes the adjacent Messerschmitt bubble car look positively grown-up. You will, though, search in vain for the battered Ford Transit which carried Wet Wet Wet on their early tours.

Instead, the theme seems to be wonderful inept ideas from the history of motoring: one of the last East German Trabants ever made, a wacky 1960s idea called the Mini Motel ('from a low trailer to a caravan in

seconds') and a Hillman Imp in mint condition. You might be surprised to learn that this Scottish-built car sold nearly half a million, presumably all of which had the usual modification of a couple of bricks in the front boot to impart a degree of road-holding.

Where to now, Marti? 'The famous Art Gallery and Museum', a huge and ruddy Edwardian pile as cavernous as a railway terminus, garnished with superfluous turrets and exuding a rather severe paternalism. The summer exhibition is a strident collection of wartime images from the Clyde. During the 1939-45 conflict, Stanley Spencer, the war artist , was dispatched to cover the shipbuilding industry. Canvassing the Clyde shows his deep reverence to the women and men who built the ships that helped to win the war. The rest of the museum is relentlessly good for you, instructional rather than inviting - like swallowing a dose of cultural castor oil. However, just when you are thinking that Glasgow could not be further from its popular image, there they are: perched on the stairs outside is an empty can of Tennent's Super, and next to it a pool of vomit.

The Wet Wet Wet tour starts to live up to its name when the drizzle begins, steel grey skies meeting the slate grey of the Glasgow University campus. This month, the students seem as gloomy, as you pass window after window of tortured, exam-taking expressions. But if you had to sit through hours of academic torture, you might as well do it amid the heroically overstated towers of learning.

You might be wondering how much it is costing to follow in a pop star's footprints. Nothing. No museum or gallery in Glasgow charges a penny in admission. Marti's pause on campus is the Mackintosh House, the treat of the tour.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was Scotland's finest architect. Despite his vision, he died a broke and broken man in 1928. The city rewarded his memory by knocking down his house after the Second World War, but a near-replica of 78 Southpark Avenue has been built on the university campus.

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.

University Avenue reaches a conclusion at Byres Road, 'where there's no shortage of excellent bars and restaurants', according to Marti. Well, if Marti knows the bars, they must know Marti.

'Never seen him in here pal,' reported the barman at the West End Hotel. The band, he said, originated downstream at Clydebank, and Marti now lives up the road at Hyndland.

I sought refuge from the rain in the Clutha Vaults, the pub which claims to be the oldest in the city. The volume of the adjoining conversation was turned up for my benefit.

'You want another drink?'

'No, I'm going after this one - there's too many fucking tourists in here.' I went outside before anyone invited me to.

A winning insult in the Hilton's weekend offer, if ever I heard one. But the hotel denied they had ever offered refunds to victims of vitriol. Good thing I didn't stay there, then.

VISITOR'S FACT FILE:

GETTING THERE: InterCity's fare structure could form the basis for a university examination. 'CrazyApex' tickets are on sale this month for pounds 19 return. You must reserve two weeks in advance (0800-450450), so booking today leaves three days to use it. Next cheapest is SuperApex, pounds 29, also needing two weeks advance booking but valid all summer. The Apex (one week in advance) is pounds 44, while a SuperSaver (avoiding Fridays and Saturdays) is pounds 59. A regular Saver is pounds 69.

ACCOMMODATION:

I paid pounds 42 a night at the Willow Hotel, 228 Renfrew Street, Glasgow G3 6TX (041-332 2332). The more central Stakis Glasgow Ingram Hotel, Ingram Street, Glasgow G1 1DQ (041-248 4401), charges pounds 49.50 for a double room at weekends.

SIGHTS: Museums (10-5 daily) are free. Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove, G3 8AG (041-334 1131); 'Canvassing the Clyde: Stanley Spencer and the Shipyards until 7 August. Museum of Transport,

1 Bunhouse Road, G3 8DP (041-334 1131). Mackintosh House, University Avenue, G12 8QQ (041-330 5431).

INFORMATION:

Scottish Tourist Board,

17 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5BL (071-930 8661). Greater Glasgow Tourist Board, 35 St Vincent Place, Glasgow G1 2ER

(041-204 4400).

(Photographs omitted)

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