Listening to the River: the changing nature of one city waterway.

Glasgow’s had some balmy weather recently. We had many days over 20°, the kind of temperature where some ‘taps’ come ‘aff’. For those of us who keep our clothes on, double figures on the thermometer is still worth paying attention to. Many days have been known to pass in Glasgow between sightings of the sun. We like to pay our respects each and every time, just in case. On one recent summery day, I happened upon the river and decided to catch the last of the afternoon sun.

Glasgow’s most well-known river, the Clyde,  is a well-known point of interest in the city. It also flows through many of central Scotland’s towns – Including Lanark, Hamilton, Motherwell, Dumbarton and Erskine.

As seen from the Erskine Bridge.

The River Clyde is around 108 miles long (8th longest in the UK; 2nd longest in Scotland), and flows from the Daer water in South Lanarkshire through to Greenock. From here, the river spills to the sea through the Firth of Clyde.

A hint of an industrial past

In the city of Glasgow,  the river is central to neighbourhoods such as Dalmarnock, the Gorbals and Govan  The Clyde also features at many leading tourist attractions – including Glasgow Green, the Tall Ship, the Science Centre and of course, the eponymously named Riverside museum .

Riverside Museum and the Tall Ship

Of course there are also many notable points of interest for social history, one such being the Broomielaw. The Broomielaw is closely intertwined with Irish Immigration to the city, as well as Scottish Migration. It is also fondly remembered as the starting point of many  Glaswegian and Scottish family holidays, as families set sail ‘doon the watter’. Of course, I didn’t set sail but rather just sit doon next to the water. I lay on the grass for about ten minutes, closed my eyes and decided to pay attention to the sounds of the river. A ‘soundscape’ is an important part of pyschogeography and mapping a space. What you hear is an interesting way to gather clues to what’s taking place around you. In just a few minutes, I was able to note many sounds. The most intrusive included the ebb and flow of traffic at the lights behind me; I could also hear clearly the raucous shouts and chatter of a crowd of young, drunk people to my left. Intermittent noises included the shrill chirrup of a signalling bike bell on the pathway, and the whirr of cycle wheels spinning by. The soft slap of trainers on the concrete as runners’ passed.  Small children chattered and laughed with their families nearby, and the pleasant melodies of different languages being spoken. More distinct noises were heard – the pop of a cork leaving a bottle, the quiet thud of falling sycamore seeds hitting my notebook.

So, the Riverside offered up sounds that suggested it was a gathering-place, a place to meet, to socialise; a place of recreation and of individual sporting pursuits. The soundscape doesn’t just highlight what ‘is’;  the soundscape can also offer clues to what’s not around you. What was missing? Well,if the riverbanks were alive with people socialising, exercising and travelling, the river itself was surprisingly quiet. By no means is the river waterway redundant. Scheduled sailings still take place on the World’s last passenger-carrying, seagoing paddle steamer, the Waverley. Shipbuilding, although a shrunken and much troubled industry, still takes place on the banks of the Clyde. However, at the time of my listening exercise, I did not hear a single boat or rivercraft pass me by. This is particularly poignant when you consider that  Glasgow once made 20% of the world’s ships in her yards. The water that flows through the Clyde has been critical to the industrial development and success of the city of Glasgow.  The river was a key part of the story of population growth and the arrival and departure point of peoples’ journeys . Journeys to work, pleasure or to new lives. Whilst the Clyde continues to ribbon through the heart and future of the city, the recent history of de-industrialisation  means that  ships, steamers, ferries and boats have a strangely minimal role to play in the future life of the river. Unless of course, you’ve ‘heard’ differently…?