Gareth Huw Davies

Travel / Travel Blog

Glasgow’s Grand Central recalls great days of station hotels

From train to hotel - a short walk in Glasgow

From train to hotel – a short walk in Glasgow

I have experienced several spirit-sapping, early morning departures from UK airports (mainly Luton) recently. This makes me wonder, and not for the first time, whether flying (early, it is always early) with budget airlines was worth the effort.
On one occasion, at Luton, we had to leave the car we were travelling in well short of the airport. There was congestion at 6 am, linked to works on the terminal. We had to climb a barrier and walk a third of a mile to the airport.
The queue through security was pergatory. The wait in a crowded departures area, and the queue onto the plane were no better. Then the tedious drive the other end to the hotel.

The rule of budget flying (because you didn’t pay much for the flight) is that you put up with the dismal experience, and hope to shake off the memory when you walk into your hotel room.

Scenic route

Let me contrast this with travelling to Glasgow on a pleasant summer afternoon recently. On this occasion we didn’t take the train. We were giving a lift to our nephew, who is a student in the city, and had the great pleasure of driving through the Lake District and the Southern Uplands of Scotland. Here the road is rarely congested.

But it is travelling by train I want to recommend. I have done it before and since from London. Passengers enjoy that same, exhilarating trip through the Lake District, and the Scottish Borders, where the line follows the route of the M6 and M 74.
It used to be the case, when you traveled to and from the great railway termini, that you could start and finish your journey at some fine hotel, owned by the railway company, adjoining the station. Some of those hotels still stand, so it’s still possible in a few places, but nowhere is it so exquisitely convenient as at the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow.

Short walk

I estimate the distance from Glasgow Central station’s ticket barrier to the very discreet rear entrance of the hotel at about 100 metres. Say one minute for the average non-sprinter. Even at its front entrance, the hotel, recently restored with decoration and colour to reflect its railway links, manages to keep itself discreet, despite opening onto one of the busiest thoroughfares in Glasgow.
The Central Hotel was built in 1883-4 in the North European Renaissance style. They extended it in 1907. In 1927 the world’s first long-distance television pictures were transmitted to the hotel by John Logie Baird.
In the 21st Century hotel group Principal Hayley acquired it. After extensive renovations the hotel, described as one of the most beautiful buildings in Glasgow, re-opened in 2010 with 186 rooms. Features in the bedrooms include rainfall showers and ceramic roll-top baths.We stayed on the fifth floor, in new bedrooms, made, I assume from offices or staff quarters. There was a book telling the story of the hotel and its transformation in our room.
Much of the original interior work survives in the public rooms. The architects have reinstated period features and installed a chandelier cascading alongside the central grand staircase, over a polished floor and under a reflective ceiling. The renovation included raising the grand ballroom’s ceiling by 3m (10ft), uncovering windows that had been blocked for decades. A champagne bar overlooks the station concourse.

Exhilarating city

The renovations have added  distinction and pride to this hotel. It is a good, central, base from which to explore this exciting, exhilarating city.
The hotel, and the train journey to it, chime with a developing concept in tourism, the “experience” holiday, or break. So rather than measure a holiday by time on the beach or by the swimming pool, or in the hotel bar, or by coach trips to places we could probably see more cheaply ourselves, we are being encouraged to enjoy bespoke visits, taking memorable meals, seeing artisans at work and so on.
The “experience” might include the journey itself. Which would automatically rule out any budget airline flight.
In my opinion, a weekend trip to a city or town by train (let’s assume you have a seat and didn’t have to sit on the floor) and then walking into a comfortable, nearby hotel counts as a experience to be enjoyed – no check in, no security, no degrading body search, no tedious shuffle to the gate.
I believe the journey from any station in the south to Glasgow, preferably on a train passing through the Lakes in daylight, then taking those few steps straight into the Grand Central, fits that model perfectly.