Saturday 2 July 2011

Going Green in Glasgow

The trials and tribulations of taking your green ethos to a new location

Every time I put my veg peelings into the landfill bin a little bit of my spirit dies, its a fight against my better instinct, but what can I do? When I first moved in I collected up a massive container full of compost, until I finally accepted the fact that I had nowhere to put it or take it to.

I moved up to Glasgow in mid May and I have been in my new flat for almost a month now. I do have a shared garden, but it doesn't have a compost bin and my logic makes me reluctant to make the effort to make a compost heap when no-one is going to make use of the resulting compost (I'm probably here for less than a year). I have tried to go and find local allotments where I could 'donate' my peelings, but to my dismay they are locked up behind big wire fences and although there are quite a few community gardens in Glasgow the nearest one is a good 15minutes cycle ride away. I do live right next to a wonderful country park and I have considered taking up guerilla composting, but that feels a bit more like being a civil nuisance than a responsible citizen. So the compost conundrum remains unsolved. I think it may end in a small compost bin in the garden, but I still have to organise it and reassure the rest of the tenants that it isn't going to smell/ attract rats.

As well as worrying about what you are going to do with your veg peelings, moving to a new city poses the challenge of where you are going to get you veg from in the first place. It didn't take me long to track down the wholefood shops in Glasgow and to go and check out what delights they had on offer. The discovery that one of them has an entire wall of herbal teas to choose from made me a very happy hippy indeed, especially the discovery of tulsi (holy basil) tea that I had discovered in Inverness on my Otesha tour last year and then never seen since.

Unfortunately though the fresh fruit and veg selection was not as exciting, although one of the shops has an entire greengrocers, so a good array to choose from, but it was not necessarily organic and very little of it was local.

Get a veg box I hear you say. Well I did! I found three different possibilities, but I decided which one to try out first (as they had the option of a UK box) and after sorting out all of the logistics I got my first box on Thursday! Its wonderful to have local, organic veg again, but its quite a bit more expensive up here than it is in Norwich. Its easy to forget how easy we get it in Norwich, being in the middle of a massive arable area. Scotland is rather more livestock orientated, which is not quite so good for a vegetarian...

Trains, planes and pedal power
Generally travel is further and longer in Glasgow than in Norwich. Glasgow is considerably bigger and quite a bit further way from, well, most places. I didn't have my bikes with me when I first arrived so the first aspect I explored was public transport and Glasgow does have a fairly awesome public transport system. It has one underground line that goes in a big circle around the city centre, which is pretty useful as it takes a good 30mins, if not longer, to walk across the city centre. And at only £1.40 a journey its pretty good value. But the subway is only useful if you are in the city centre and I live further out than that.

But here Glasgow gets one up on Norwich, it has the most amazing network of urban railways. Within 15mins walk of my flat there are no less than 5 train stations, on two different train lines with regular services into the city centre taking only 10minutes and costing only £1.25 off-peak single.

This makes me very happy as I have always preferred trains to buses and although there is a good network of regular buses around Glasgow that are pretty good value, they take a lot longer and you have to pay the exact fare. They will not give you change. So if you don't have the correct money with you then you just have to pay more. I think that this is a shocking, profit making tactic. Bus drivers are bad enough in Norwich, being unwilling to accept notes, even though ATMs only give £10 as the smallest denomination and therefore there is no easy way of getting smaller change. But to give no change at all? So I am kind of boycotting the buses out of annoyance at having already paid at least £1.50 more than the actual fares since I have been in Glasgow, as I didn't have the correct change at the time.

On a positive note, when I looked into going to visit my parents I was astounded to discover that it only takes 4 hours on the train, which is incredible as it is the same time as it took me to visit them from Norwich on public transport, despite it taking 2.5hrs to drive from Norwich and something like 6.5hrs from Glasgow! It is of course quite a bit more expensive if you buy your ticket on the day, but if you plan in advance a £13 advanced single is pretty good going for travelling almost 400miles. Unfortunately though longer distances mean more carbon emissions, so my transport carbon footprint is going to suffer :(

But I do finally have my low carbon vehicle with me, my wonderful bicycle. When I first came up I couldn't bring my bike, so I tried to get a cheap secondhand one to see me through until I could bring my others up. However, secondhand bikes are soo expensive up here. Where as you can get a bike in Norwich for a tenner (probably not a good one, but anyway) on Glasgow gumtree the cheapest bikes were £30 and they really didn't look that good. So I never did get round to buying a bike, instead I bought my town bike up on the train when I went down to move all of my stuff out of my Norwich house. Unfortunately the excitement was short lived as my poor little bike, who was brilliant for pootling around Norwich, wasn't up to the longer distances, hills and potholes of Glasgow. I need to replace the front wheel and get the gears working at the very least! So the bike saga continued.

Finally, success! I now have my more robust touring bike up with me as well and it is doing me proud. This week, Kristina and I took the plunge and decided to cycle from work back home, a distance of 6 miles. And it's amazing! A beautiful cycle along the national cycle network, following the river through parks and quiet residential streets and it only takes us 45mins! Thats faster than the train and so much more enjoyable. We were so impressed and enthusiastic that we cycled to work and back on both thursday and friday. This was however a fairly ambitious start and I am rather tired today from so much exercise all of a sudden!! But it is definitely worth it.

Transition times
Lastly, but definitely not least, I haven't found a lovely group of Transitioners in Glasgow yet who I can share my low carbon living attempts with. I think we are very lucky in Norwich to have our transition circles and such a supportive community of people trying to live differently rather then just focussing on projects. So I miss you all, but I am very happy to hear all of the wonderful things you are still getting up to.

I am having a marvellous time up here in Glasgow, but it is definitely a challenge to my low carbon lifestyle. I am finding some things are easier and some things are harder, but hopefully I can take inspiration from all we have achieved in Norwich and make some suggestions for enabling low carbon living up here.

Photos: The shared garden of my flat, a grow wild veg box and the view from my local train station.


  1. Good to hear from you Kerry! I hope that you are coping with the Glaswegian language and that the flat is better insulated than your Norwich house - they have proper winters up there!

  2. Hi Kerry - great post. I love Glasgow though have not yet had chance to live there. Hope you're settling in well and the locals are proving friendly. Not sure about central Glasgow but in the West-End, on the Great Western Road somewhere between Hillhead and Byers Road you'll find a lovely big organic and eco grocery store - can't remember the name, sorry! (Also great area for vintage and charity).
    For eco treats, when you need them, there might be some interesting places in the arcade on Creswell Lane (off Byers) and the Tchai-Ovna Tea House on Otago Lane (off GWR) is lush, if it's still there! Enjoy :)