A Look Back at the European Championships
I’m dead proud of my home city. This will not come as news to anyone that’s been with me on this blogging journey in recent years and my enthusiasm for Glasgow’s big personality is never stronger than when hosting major events. When the world is watching and we all get to have a renewed crack at dispelling myths and gauging whether we’ve been able to snare new fans who have seen past the industrial stereotypes and appreciate that Glasgow’s edginess makes it curiously unique. The Commonwealth Games of 2014 was a glowing tribute to the city’s architecture, infrastructure and local warmth. This month’s European Championships was not quite of that worldwide scale but has injected a renewed passion to remind us all that Edinburgh is not the only toon that likes the attention in August.
Shared with Berlin, who hosted the athletics, the inaugural European Championships continued a busy summer of sporting action for us all. The city centre and chunks of the West End have been consumed by event pandemonium in the last fortnight as cyclists, aquatics, rowing and gymnastics fans have descended on the city. 3000 athletes representing 52 competing nations have exerted themselves across 12 venues and 11 days of breathless sporting excellence. The weather gods have not been as kind as they were for the Commonweath Games – despite the best summer of weather in living memory for us lot – but the smiling faces and positive vibes have made even moody commuters look more upbeat and the city’s ability to absorb the challenges of large scale events has been affirmed once again.
The European Championships are to be staged every four years going forward and promise to be a diverse and exciting addition to the sporting calendar. I can say, in my proudest and most annoyingly self-satisfied voice, we got them off to a flyer!
In addition to getting a sense of the frenetic buzz caused by the Championships, this particular press trip was all about seeing what else visitors can get up to in these parts. I’ve recently given a detailed run-down on the importance of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to Glasgow’s identity and, in doing some consulting with Glasgow Life at the moment as well, I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of the man to the city’s tourism product in 2018. In addition to the long-established structural big-hitters, I’ll now enthusiastically encourage adding Mackintosh at the Willow to any visitor’s Glasgow itinerary. The original Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street were designed by Mackintosh in 1903 and their recent restoration sees an immaculately beautiful interior a stand out location for the most civilised of British distractions, afternoon tea.
Another is The Lighthouse. Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, this Mackintosh-designed beauty in the very centre of the city is a multi-functional space that hosts a dynamic line of exhibitions and events. While Mackintosh’s famous Hill House is undergoing some conservation work, much of the interior is residing here. And….its roof offers one of the best views urban views in the country.
Then there’s Kelvingrove. Another that I’ve sung the praises of incessantly over recent years, it was particularly nice to share and promote the place with international media colleagues experiencing it for the first time. The deep allure of its grand hallways, the magnificently opulent internal vistas and the constant buzz of captivated visitors makes it one of my favourite places in the world.
The default rural retreat for Glaswegians, the Bonnie Banks have it all. A massive body of island-strewn water, glorious mountain backdrops and recreational activities galore. The ideal choice for the open water swimming element of the Championships, this month saw my first go at speed boating on the Loch with the opportunity at a very different side to these familiar views. I love the character of Loch Lomond. It’s a moody bugger a lot of the time and, as the largest loch in Scotland by surface area, lacks the intimacy and a lot of the obvious charm of its smaller cousins. Yet still it impresses each and every time. The quaint little village of Luss has long been popular and the numerous cruise options have their own appeal too. But I’ve always enjoyed Loch Lomond most from above and the vistas from the Luss Hills, Ben Lomond and Conic Hill are amongst my earliest memories of outdoor Scotland.
Jumping aboard with Loch Lomond Leisure for a 1-hour charge across the water was exhilarating and embracing. The cruise ships simply can’t cover the distances in the same way and close-ups of the surrounding peaks and islands are added bonuses to this breezy adventure. Perhaps most interesting of all is the peaceful Inchconnachan Island, which is the bizarre home to a group of wallabies. The Australian species were brought over by aristocrat Lady Fiona of Arran in the mid-20th Century and remain to this day. This tour gives a rare opportunity to get up close to Inchconnachan, even if the local residents are likely to remain hidden.
5, 10 and 25k swims occurred over the course of the Championships and, while I’d be hesitant to ever join them, these paddle boarders and canoeists seem to have the right idea.
Host of the superbly memorable 2014 Ryder Cup, it’s fitting that one of the land’s best golf courses got in on the act for the Championships. The setting for the world’s first mixed gender golf tournament within the event, Gleneagles merges Highland beauty with immaculate class and hospitality. There were individual competitions for men, women and also a mixed team event as competitors from 15 countries went at it. With both Match and Stroke play being deployed it made for a curious and captivating mix of competition as another great stride for gender equality in golf was also reached. With a renewed personal interest in golf on the tele this year given the thrills of the Masters, the Open at nearby Carnoustie and next month’s resumption of Europe vs the US in the 2018 Ryder Cup, I watched with great interest over one of my personal Championship highlights.
A fabulous lunch venue and legendary hotel, Gleneagles has an aura. Standing at the first tee and imagining all the champions of the game who have had their wobbly-knee moments here in years and decades past is unavoidably awe-inspiring and I find myself wishing for a half hour to myself to have a go at a hole or two. It’s been years since I’ve played golf but I enjoyed it plenty growing up and there is something about the frustratingly difficult knack of not making a complete arse of yourself that triggers sporting addiction. The Highland peaks and stunning quality on show in the various building interiors make this a place worthy of admiration and a round here would be on the bucket list of any golfing fan.
As if that wasn’t enough, our press group were treated to a close up meeting with the resident birds of prey. A terrifyingly beautiful Golden Eagle stole the show as I got up-close with an animal I’ve only ever seen from majestic distance. With talons that would doom most land-based creatures and a facial menace that would intimidate even the most fearsome of beasts, these guys are up there with my Scottish favourites. A dramatic way to close and a powerful nod to the impact of a busy few days, with Scotland having done its utmost to impress the world yet again and display great unity with our European friends and neighbours. When’s the next one?
This post came as a result of a press trip with VisitScotland and Glasgow Life which I was kindly invited on in order to help with the promotion of the 2018 European Championships and the host locations. All within is an honest account of experiences that even I have yet to adequately enjoy in the past and I’m happily to recommend all as great destinations in Glasgow and wider Central Scotland.
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