Being a tourist in your own city... how well do you really know Glasgow?
Amy Lyall and Amy Campbell are two student journalists at the University of Strathclyde. They came along on a tour on a chilly November day to discover their own city from a new perspective, here's what they had to say...
We spent St Andrew’s Day with a local tour guide to put this to the test.
Over two million tourists make the journey to Glasgow every year. It is Erin Duffy’s job to
guide them through the history of the city centre, while sharing her love of all things
By Amy Lyall and Amy Campbell
In her orange cagoule, emblazoned with Walking Tours in Glasgow, 22-year-old Erin Duffy welcomed us outside the City Chambers with a radiance that mirrored George Square’s glittering backdrop of Christmas lights and market stalls.
“Coorie in!” she called, against the distant warbling of Mariah Carey. Our hat-topped, scarf-wrapped team of ten – comprised of two Mexicans, a lady from California, a couple from Chester and a cohort of Londoners – shuffled nearer, abiding by her traditional Scots instruction to “come close”.
Erin began by sharing the city’s foundation story, spotlighting some of the monuments which surrounded us. Pointing her mittens - which she revealed were donated by a previous tour-goer - we swivelled towards the towering pink poster which broadcasts the iconic motto: People Make Glasgow. Our laughter punctuated her performance as she teased about the city’s evident superiority... an unbiased opinion, of course.
“Don’t forget to look up!” Erin called before setting off, referring to the ornate architectural details which are often missed by those who keep their eyes at ground level.
Alongside studying Spanish and Linguistics at the University of Glasgow, Erin has been a tour guide with Walking Tours in Glasgow since August this year. Growing up in Cambuslang, she regularly visited the city – from picnics in Glasgow Green to student nights out in Ashton Lane. After spending two years studying in China and Spain, she realised that she wanted to
discover more about the history of her home.
“My relationship with Glasgow over the past few years has been missing the city. I don’t think you actually appreciate your own area until you live somewhere else,” she explained.
“When I was 18, I lived in Tianjin, which is the third largest city in China. The population is around three times the population of Scotland, and it felt so impersonal. You would never get on a bus and see someone you knew, whereas here, I might be walking along the streets doing my tour and I’ll be waving at people who I recognise. Also, people in this city start up conversations with you - that never happened in Spain. In that respect Glasgow feels small, even though it is a fairly big city.”
Photo: Amy Lyall. Showcasing the Strathclyde Wonder Wall, Erin ensured to engage every member of the group by quizzing our existing knowledge and explaining any cultural references.
Marching towards Glasgow Necropolis, Erin’s breath was white against the frozen air, reminding us that December would arrive the following day. She sprinkled our route with knowledge of the city’s role in the Slave Trade, Strathclyde University’s symbolic murals, and revealed the story behind the Glasgow crest which adorned every passing lamppost.
“Comparing it to the other places I have visited, I realised that Glasgow is just homely, even for people who aren’t from here,” she paused, smiling at the memory which floated to mind:
“There was a girl on my tour a few weeks ago, and when I asked who in the group were Glaswegians, she raised her hand... later she told me she was from Pakistan. I questioned why she had said she was Glaswegian. She replied, ‘I am now.’”
Erin continued, “It has shocked me that so many people are visiting Glasgow from all over the world. We mainly get visitors from the US or Canada on the tours, and a lot of people from England. The city is becoming more international I think, even if you go into the West
End you see all the different cuisines and restaurants that are popping up - I love it! Glasgow is a very diverse city, and I think that is why it is so award-winning.”
“We also get locals on the tours, which is great as they can sometimes relate to specific stories you tell and give an insight to their experiences. I just love it when people in the street get involved - they might interrupt with a bit of humour or ask questions. You could easily get annoyed and say, ‘Stop heckling me!’, but that is sometimes the best part of the tour. You can’t tell your tour group that ‘People Make Glasgow’ and then just ignore the locals when they demonstrate this to be true. That is the unique thing about this city.”
Turning the corner, Glasgow Cathedral’s presence was astounding – its mint-tinted roofs and spires brilliant against the cloudless sky. Stained-glass rainbows danced over the Victorian gravestones, under the gaze of John Knox from the tip of the necropolis.
Photo: Amy Lyall. In 2017, Glasgow Cathedral received a record breaking 36% increase (389,101) in visitors, and another 24% rise (482,783) the following year, as reported by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.
Californian graduate student, Shell Ramos, could not believe that many Glasgow locals have never taken the opportunity to visit the cathedral. This was her first visit to the city, and she commented on its tranquillity compared to her home of San Francisco:
“Glasgow is definitely not what I thought it was going to be... it is cool, and the people are nice! It is more modern compared to the other cities I have seen in Scotland, but it also keeps its history intact. It’s got its own past, present and future going on.”
Shell referred to the Duke of Wellington statue, complete with iconic traffic-cone hat - a perfect display of the city’s ability to juxtapose history and humour, not to mention resilience against the local council’s efforts to dismantle the creation of drunken modern art.
“When I understand a bit about the history of a place, it makes me feel closer to the local people and helps me appreciate the vibrant cultures that I want to experience when I travel,” she added.
As we headed towards Tolbooth Steeple, passing some old Glasgow tenements, Erin told the group about Mary Barbour and the 1915 rent uprising: “I think it is a brilliant story about female power in Glasgow. In general, women aren’t very well represented in this city - there
are actually more statues of dogs than females! That is why I always try to make sure that I tell these stories that people might not be aware of. Particularly because Glasgow is such a people’s city, full of people’s stories, and the women of this city are fascinating. I would love to write a tour dedicated to them.”
The all-female team at Walking Tours in Glasgow currently offer five routes, including a Street Art Tour, an Instagram Tour and a Pub Tour, as well as private sessions. The company was founded in January 2017 by Jenny Benson and Liv Barber, who had moved to the city to complete their studies and noticed an opportunity for sightseeing walking tours in the city centre.
“We both studied Business at the University of Glasgow, so we had a good understanding of what it took to build a small company. We were about to graduate that year and needed jobs so thought there was no harm in trying to create our own and seeing what happens!” said Liv.
Almost three years later, their pack of six Glaswegian guides welcome visitors to the city every day. In July 2019, the company also started offering walking tours in Stirling, Inverness and St Andrews.
She added, “Anyone who comes on our tours will get a complete snapshot of what Glasgow is about; from how it began right up to modern day. We don't try to hide anything about Glasgow's history, but instead make the tours like a walk with friends.”
Erin further demonstrated why walking tours are the best way to experience a city: “I do think that you see so much more on foot, because you can stop in front of a site, see the details and tell the story. It is more personal, because you are face-to-face, and you chat with the people in the group as you’re walking with them. That is a huge part of the tour itself. It isn’t just each stop where I am talking about the history; it is the parts in between
that you might not get on other kinds of tours.”
Even through double layered socks, our feet fizzed with numbness as we approached Glasgow Green. However, Erin soon warmed our spirits by presenting us with a gift: the taste of Irn-Bru. “Slange Var!” we chorused - the Scottish Gaelic version of ‘cheers’ – as we knocked back the traditional ginger delicacy.
Photo: Amy Lyall. In front of the McLennan Arch, Erin continued to bathe us in expertise. Her words flowed as smoothly as the river - perfectly paced and easy to follow.
Reenergised, the group started back towards Buchanan Street, brimming with local knowledge and appreciating Glasgow and its culture under a brighter light - one which illuminated why Erin loves this place so dearly.
“Of course, the history behind this city in amazing, but my favourite thing about Glasgow has to be people. I know it is cheesy, the People Make Glasgow thing, but I do think that it is a great motto, because it’s true! Locals actually care about their city and are proud to say ‘I am a Glaswegian’ – it’s like an identity. It feels homely and warm, but at the same time it
has got a tough side. The city itself has been through a lot and is not as picturesque as Edinburgh. Glasgow has had the industry and has never really focused on tourism at all until recently, which makes it authentic,” she said.
“Even though I love travelling, I think I will always live in Glasgow. It will always be my home.”
Photos: Amy Lyall