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Year of Coast & Waters

The year 2020 is a very special one indeed as the Year of Coasts and Waters is going to be celebrated up and down Scotland. And in any celebration of Scotland’s waterways, it is impossible to ignore the lifeblood River Clyde, which brought Glasgow fame and fortune as the Second City of the Empire and is now firmly back centre stage in Glasgow with the Clydeside Distillery starring at its heart.

It is easy to see why Visit Scotland have chosen our coasts and waters as a theme for their year-long extravaganza of events and celebrations. Few people outside Scotland and even within the country realise the sheer scale of the aquatic treasures we boast. Did you know that Scotland is home to over 800 islands and even without them our coastline is twice the length of England’s and three times larger than the littoral of both Spain and France? Indeed Scotland sports over 10% of Europe’s coastline.

Robin up a HillRobin McKelvie

And then there are those myriad lochs. I bet you weren’t aware that if you take all the water from all the lakes in England and Wales it still would not even fill Nessie’s bathtub, Loch Ness! Just think about that for a minute…

There is no overstating the importance of the River Clyde in Glasgow’s story. A small settlement was founded on its banks due to the proximity of water. It steadily grew until its most famous Golden Age in the glory days of the British Empire when Clydebuilt ships sailed the world’s oceans and Glasgow was a name synonymous around the world with shipbuilding, rampant trade and quality engineering. At one point the majority of the world’s great ocean liners hailed from the Clyde.

This massive success was impressive not least in that as a winding river prone to silting, that was still a distance from the sea, it wasn’t 100% suitable for shipbuilding. What it did have in abundance was affordable labour, an engineering heritage and cheap and plentiful supply of iron and coal. Glasgow was also on the ‘right’ coast being on the west on the fringes of the Atlantic, essential for the burgeoning transatlantic trade.

Aerial view of the Queen's Dock in 1950Queen's Dock, Glasgow

It was in this cauldron of productivity and energy on the banks of the River Clyde that the Queen’s Dock emerged. Its brainchild was none other than the great grandfather of the Clydeside Distillery’s Chairman, John Morrison. Morrison helped fashion this giant dock here in a central position on the bustling river in the 1830s.  

Today the distillery has not only fittingly been built by the Queen’s Dock, but even more remarkably using the elegant old Pumphouse. It is a glorious blend of the old and new that has quickly become a distinctive icon on the Finnieston stretch of the Clyde alongside the Riverside Museum and the Finnieston Crane. Explore the fascinating Pumphouse building on one of the distillery tours and discover the important role it held back when the SEC area was formerly the Queen’s Dock.

robin stillhouseRobin at The Clydeside Distillery

In this Year of Coasts and Waters, the Clydeside Distillery is certainly putting the water of life back into Glasgow as its chairman Tim Morrison proudly recognises: “After more than a century copper stills are producing spirit on the banks of the Clyde”.  He adds, “Glasgow has an affinity with Scotch whisky unlike any other city in the world with the Queen’s Dock previously witnessing the exports of whisky, with ships sailing past the Pump House destined for all continents of the world. Of course, for me and my family, there is a very personal link knowing that my great grandfather built the Queen’s Dock where the Clydeside Distillery now sits.”

During the Year of Coasts and Waters, myriad events are going to grace waterways all over Scotland, with existing festivals being given a theme year makeover and also one-offs specially curated for the year, such as the theatrical productions that will be starring on CalMac ferries out to the west coast islands.

In Glasgow, there will be a raft of events to tie in with the Year of Coasts and Waters. One of the best fits is the Clydebuilt Festival, which is taking on a palpable theme year sheen. The key dates to look out for are the 19th and 20th of September. The good news is that entry to the festival itself is free. There will be the chance to get out on the water in canoes and coracles and enjoy traditional live music, with a market on hand for shopping too. A star attraction will be ‘From Castle to Crane’, with 13 miles of competitive rowing from rugged Dumbarton Castle right by the Clydeside Distillery to the Finnieston Crane. Look out too for tickets for the rollicking evening party, which are on sale throughout the day.

All year round you will be able to continue your Year of Coasts and Waters explorations at the glorious Clydeside Distillery. I never get tired of visiting this distillery for myriad reasons. Not least because it’s a design icon in itself on the banks of the river that brilliantly weaves together the past and the present. And it also represents a rebirth that has brought new life and energy to those iconic banks. You can explore the history of the Clyde and The Pumphouse on their guided distillery tours. Or perhaps, relax and enjoy one of their classic whisky flights in the Clydeside cafe, aptly named after some key phrases used in the shipping industry. What could be more in keeping with the Year of Coasts and Waters?

Robin McKelvie Enjoying a dram in the Clydeside Distillery CafeRobin enjoying a dram in the Clydeside Cafe