City tours can often be quite dull – too long, too many numbers and historic details or just not focused on the kind of things you’d like to know about a city. But there is a tour in offer that is totally different from anything I had experienced before: Glasgow Central Tours – and yes, that is Glasgow Central as in the train station. Before you wonder how obsessed with trains I am to actually recommend you to go and check out a train station in a foreign city, consider this: Glasgow’s Central station has witnessed some key moments in the city’s and Scotland’s history – from both World Wars to the rise and fall of the ship building industry; its roof with 48,000 panes of glass is the largest glass roof in the world; and over 38 million people come and go in this station every year.
Full of superlatives like this Glasgow Central is really rather impressive, both in history and architecture. Always digging for new and unusual things to do in the city I could of course not wait to try this myself, and so I signed up my mum, my boyfriend and me for a tour in early June.
The idea for a behind-the-scenes tour at Glasgow Central station was conceived in 2013 when Paul Lyons, who has been working for the national rail services for almost 20 years now, decided it was time to invite the public on a tour around the station and its roof on the city’s Doors Open Day, a day when random people like you and me get access to buildings and areas around Glasgow that they normally wouldn’t. With a proud smile on his face Paul tells the story of how there were only a few spots available for this tour, but hundreds and thousands of applications by people who wanted to experience the station in this new way.
He knew he was onto something. Fast forward to 2016 and Paul has been running the official Glasgow Central Tours for several years now and there is no end in sight. Anybody can now book one of four daily tours which lasts around 90 minutes and costs £13 per head. Once those exact same heads are well-protected by a safety helmet, the tour into the heart of the station begins.
The tour is as much about the train station as it is about the history of the city of Glasgow. Paul tells stories about the transformation of the building, from the earliest station built here in 1879 through various phases of modernisation and expansion. But what really seems to be close to Paul’s heart is to tell the stories of the people who frequented the station, and in particular the soldiers leaving Scotland by train for WW1 and their wifes welcoming them back home years later, or having to identify their bodies when they fell.
‘I’ll have you all greet by the end of the tour’, and in Scotland of course ‘greet’ means ‘cry’ – Paul seems pretty confident about that. And indeed it is hard to hold back the tears when he brings to life the stories of war widows and survivors found in the national archives and tells stories of men who changed or died in war, and women who had to pick up the shambles at home and find a way to bring home the bodies of their loved ones. Paul plans to commission some artists with artwork evolving around these stories to raise awareness of the effects and consequences the wars have had on the women of Glasgow.
As the tour goes on, we descend further and further down into the depths of Glasgow Central. Stories of ghosts and haunted tunnels, stories of murder and crime, stories of horses and rats – as someone of Tripadvisor writes about the tour: Paul should indeed be a TV historian. He is such a passionate storyteller and tour guide that by the end of the tour – at the old Victorian platform that he wants to renovate in the near future, nobody wants to go back up to real life. If only the tour could go on for longer.
The good thing about this is that all the money earned with the tours goes right back into new projects at Glasgow Central. Paul really loves the station and its history, and so he convinced national rail services to invest back into the renovation of even more sections of the old train station. He will also start to offer tours to the station’s roof again soon. With every satisfied tour participant, his leverage to do so grows and I hope that I can contribute to the development of this project with my voice here.
Book your tour online at Glasgow Central Tours’ website.
This leaves only one thing to say: if you come to visit Glasgow and want to have a unique and unusual experience with one of the city’s loveliest and most impressive people, Glasgow Central Tours with Paul Lyon will definitely make your day!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner (unless stated otherwise).