Paisley for me has always been an unusual place. Unusual in a good way – as Scotland’s largest town has always felt more like a city. Ever since the days when I passed through as a wee boy – heading from Glasgow to the Firth of Clyde ferry ports – Paisley has felt vital and important. It came as no surprise to me that Paisley was bidding to be named UK City of Culture 2021. Join me now as I take you on a journey to rapidly rising Paisley.
A town whose name is synonymous with the world famous ‘Paisley Pattern’, modern day Paisley is blessed with both remarkable architecture and rich heritage. This cultural legacy combined with the town’s vibrancy, has seen Paisley make an ambitious bid to become UK City of Culture 2021. I think it stands a good chance of winning! It is up against 10 other places, including Perth in Scotland, Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry and Sunderland in England and Swansea in Wales. The official bid will go in at the end of this week. The winner of the competition will be announced in December.
Paisley’s attractions are manifest. There is, of course, that iconic, teardrop design, known across the world from Cumbernauld to California. But did you know that the town centre boasts more than 100 listed buildings – the highest concentration in Scotland outside Edinburgh? These include Scotland’s oldest public observatory and the largest Baptist church in Europe. Then there is Paisley Museum (lookout for the Star Wars Toys exhibition on until 29th May), which is slated to benefit from a massive transformation. The 12th-century Paisley Abbey, with its Royal Stewart connections, meanwhile boasts a magnificent choir area and stained glass windows.
Booming Arts Scene
The local arts scene is booming too. PACE Youth Theatre is one of the largest youth theatre groups in the UK, with actors Richard Madden and James McAvoy both learning their craft here. The grown up version – PACE Theatre Company – performs regularly at Paisley Arts Centre, which is a favourite with comedians and musicians. It has a wonderfully intimate atmosphere and celebrates 30 years in October. The venue’s opening run was of John Byrne’s ‘The Slab Boys’, which the famous artist and playwright says was inspired by his upbringing in the town in the 1950s.
The restaurant scene is enjoying something of a renaissance with newcomers Trattoria Genova (winner of Best Newcomer at the recent Scottish Italian Awards) and Saporitos – restaurant and wine bar – joining local institutions such as Castelvecchi, the fish ‘n’ chip shop run by Paolo Nutini’s folks, and Cardosi’s. The Cardosi family have been operating cafés and restaurants in Paisley since the 1920s and will soon add a much-anticipated 124-cover restaurant to their other eateries. ‘Pendulum’ will offer a restaurant and cocktail lounge in a much loved-listed building with great views of the Abbey, when it opens in May.
If it’s a quick pit stop you’re after, Blend Coffee Lounge is a favourite with a New York Times writer who recently visited. But be warned, their ethos of serving delicious hot beverages and home baking “round the campfire of coffee” might make you want to linger for longer.
Paisley’s historic streets are studded with some wonderful shops including Abbey Books in the west end and independent record store ‘Feel the Grove’. There’s also a resurgence of Paisley’s traditions in crafts and design, with InCube a veritable treasure trove of textiles, ceramics, jewellery, artwork and more from new and established local designers. You’ll find design of a different kind at Shoe52. The store is the only Scottish stockist of Italian brand, oBags, which is like Build-a-Bear but for bags! You can customise the colourful EVA rubber “bodies” with various handles and trims to create something that is totally unique.
For something more traditional what about a kilt? Houston Traditional Kiltmakers – a fourth generation family business – claim to stock the largest range of tartan samples in Scotland, with additional designs conceived by MD, Kenneth MacDonald.
The shopping scene neatly sums up Paisley 2017 style. A town where you can enjoy a range of rich retail experiences, from those borne through years of tradition, through to the creations of young cutting edge designers who are blooming as part of the town’s rebirth. Come to Scotland’s largest town today and not only will you think it feels like a city, but also one well deserving of the title of UK City of Culture.
Getting to Paisley is a breeze, as Glasgow Airport is just ten minutes away, the M8 artery runs nearby and there are regular services to Paisley Gilmour Street station. Similarly the town is an ideal base for exploring the nearby green lungs of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park and Finlaystone Country Estate. The former has acres of space and offers a raft of outdoor activities. Visitors to Finlaystone meanwhile can while away the hours exploring tranquil gardens and woodland overlooking the Clyde Estuary.
Two More Huge Reasons to Visit Paisley in 2017
British Pipe Band Championships, 20 May, St James Playing Fields
This is the second year (in a three-year run) that Paisley is hosting the British Pipe Band Championships – one of the premier competitions in the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association’s calendar. Last year saw a record entry of more than 4,000 competitors, with more than 15,000 visitors enjoying the traditional music extravaganza.
Sma’ Shot Day + Weave Festival, 1-2 July
The hugely popular Sma’ Shot Day is inexorably woven into the cultural and social fabric of Paisley. It has its roots in a famous dispute between the local shawl weavers and manufacturers in the 19th century, which is marked with a spectacular parade through the town every July. This year it has been extended especially for Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, accompanied by a wrap-round cultural programme called ‘Weave’. The entire weekend will be played out across Paisley’s historic town centre featuring the traditional, colourful pageant, music, poetry, dance, crafts and kids’ activities, telling the story of the weavers’ rebellion and the iconic Paisley Pattern.
*This blog comes in association with Paisley 2021.
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