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Issue 17 - True pride on the Clyde

Scotland Magazine Issue 17
November 2004


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True pride on the Clyde

Clydebuilt is an astounding look at the shipbuilding at Glasgow's Braehead shopping centre. Dominic Roskrow reports

It’s not everybody’s idea of historic Scotland. It’s not very bonny. It’s not likely to end up on a biscuit tin. Indeed, it’s very Glasgow.

But as an eye opener it takes some beating. And if you want to make a day of it, a trip down the Clyde on the Pride of the Clyde ferry, a few hours in the stunning Clydebuilt museum and then some retail therapy in Britain’s second biggest shopping centre makes for an informative and impressive outing.

There’s nothing very flashy about the Pride of the Clyde. You board it just down from the Central Railway Station from a small pier sited under the busy road and rail bridges that feed Glasgow’s heart. The ferry makes its way between the great concrete pillars through murky brown water and you clamber aboard to be seated upstairs in the bracing Scottish open, or inside to Spartan benches and to a little retail area selling drinks, crisps and sweets.

The journey itself takes you past the sites of all the great shipbuilders, few of whom still operate. Now and again you’ll pass a tug loading up with scrap metal, and at a couple of points there is serious building going on still, with mammoth-like skeleton ships acting as a stark reminder of what once put Glasgow on the map.

The ferry arrives at its own pier at Braehead and Clydebuilt is immediately in front of you. There’s a children’s themed play area and outdoor seating area, and an indoor waiting room.

Clydebuilt itself is an excellent attempt to reconstruct the sheer scale of the shipbuilding on the Clyde, its centrepiece being the side of a ship that you walk up using gangways. Every few metres there are audio points where you can learn of the hardship and dangers of welding and riveting. The presentation is easy to follow and gives a succinct but pertinent summary of the history of Scotland’s greatest industrial river, the people who worked on it, and the ships that were built.

But what makes this museum special is in its interactive facilities. You can try and pick up heavy tools to get a sense of the sheer strength of the men who worked on the ships, or try to pick up rivets and place them in to holes.

For those of a more managerial bent there is the opportunity to navigate your own ship through the treacherous sand banks that silt up the Clyde – I was dismissed three times from my post without ever successfully reaching dock.

Or you can trade goods to the far reaches of the colonies and attempt to amass wealth through your transactions.

At the very top of the museum there’s a short film presentation overflowing with those emotional black and white films when thousands of workers poured in and and out of the shipyards.

It’s all beautifully presented and well thought out, and it tells a story about Scottish history every bit as important as that of Edinburgh Castle.

Afterwards there is the lure of the big department stores and a huge food hall for lunch. We chose to go straight back on the ferry with the memories fresh of when this part of West Scotland led the way in maritime innovation. And to gaze in silence at the industrial desert that is there today.