Tunnel Vision – Exploring Glasgow’s Underground (photos: Luke Winter)
Beneath the bustling streets of Glasgow lies a largely forgotten network of disused train tunnels and underground chambers. This cavernous underworld, rich in its own history and folklore is quite irresistible to the urban explorer.
Investigating tunnels is nothing short of a thrilling experience, and one of the few activities today for which your essential tools are torches, boots and a treasure map procured from a wandering alchemist.
There is also plenty of research to be done on the internet: hiddenglasgow.com hosts some very informative forums supported by a core of tunnel enthusiasts. However, Glasgow City Council’s top pastime of digging holes and filling them in again means that information is often out of date, proving that nothing really beats reconnaissance in the field.
It is quite possible to gain access to some tunnels without causing criminal damage, though it often helps if some scallywag with a crowbar has already done the job for you.
According to our map, there are ten tunnels in the West End and six in the East End, although not all of them are accessible. Many an old seadog will claim he has been down the tunnel underneath the Botanic gardens; the once discussed site for another G1 drinking trough.
Unfortunately, the entrance to the tunnel in the Botanics is now fenced up to about ten feet high and topped with razor wire, and it would take more than just bolt cutters to get through the thick metal bars. The other end is padlocked, hence off limits to law-abiding citizens. We can also confirm that the St John Street/Ladywell tunnel has either been covered or is very difficult to find, and there is no chance of getting into the Buchanan Street tunnel.
We had more success in a tunnel running for just over a kilometre underground from Kelvinbridge and joining a live line near Exhibition Center. The most unexpected thing about this eerie space was its complete abandonment: no rats, no rubbish (save some small piles of vintage-brand Tennents cans here and there), and hardly any graffiti.
“If this was Berlin these walls would be covered,” remarks Luke, and it is indeed surprising that such a canvas, unique in shape and situation, has aroused so little interest.
Many of the city’s Victorian underground systems were closed in the 1960s as part of the Government’s reshaping of British Railways, and then they were forgotten until dance music was invented. In recent years, some of the tunnels found a new function as venues for the now legendary illegal tunnel raves. Deep into our tunnel we discover what would best be described as a general purpose rave kit consisting of a stage, fencing and a few sofas, again though we detect few signs of usage.
Glasgow’s subterranean network has a lot to discover, from underground train tunnels to freight shafts used by mills and factories as recently as the mid-eighties. There are actually mine shafts beneath the University itself, although the Estates and Buildings department assured me that there were serious health, safety and insurance issues with going down them.
Whilst scrabbling around elsewhere in low level Glasgow, searching for buried routes, you realise how much wasteland there is, walled-off and forgotten about right under our very noses. There is acre upon acre of semi-swamp that no one explores — that hardly anyone is even aware of — often hidden in the middle of areas with which we thought we were familiar.
Emerging into the daylight, one cannot help but see Glasgow with fresh eyes, and quickly find oneself longing to explore further.