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Great and good get view of city from on high

PEOPLE have blind spots concerning their own towns and cities.

Just as there are many Parisians who have never climbed the Eiffel Tower, and New Yorkers who have never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, there are many Glaswegians who have never visited the city's vast Necropolis - and I was one of them.

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I'm trying to think why. The pathetic answer is that it's a bit out of the way. Not out of the way in that it is miles from civilisation like Mount Kilimanjaro. No, just that, tucked behind the Cathedral, it's in a part of the city that you don't really wander past. Or is it just not very welcoming? There were always lurid tales in the press - I might have written one or two of them - about vandalism, drunks pestering visitors, or even urban myths about the occasional roe deer among the trees being shot with crossbows.

But there are lurid tales about many parts of the city which are in fact friendly places, so you don't want to believe all you read in the papers.

Nor do I have a distaste of graveyards as I have strolled through the best of them in New Orleans and Paris, and even taken a vaporetto to San Michele, the cemetery island in Venice. So surely the Glasgow Necropolis is of similar interest. After all, more than 450 visitors out of 500 on holiday website Tripadvisor rate it as very good or excellent. Can't be many crossbows to dodge there after all.

To help me, Ruth Johnston of the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis, shows me around.

The background is that the Necropolis is on what was called Fir Park. No, not the Motherwell football ground, but the highest hill in the then Glasgow boundaries. It was owned by the Merchants' House who, when the church graveyards filled up, thought they could make a bob or two by turning Fir Park into a cemetery for mainly the great and the good in the 1830s. Those with the cash paid the best architects of the day to build them mausoleums and monuments. Others less wealthy were remembered by friends who raised the cash to put up memorials.

As Glasgow's Billy Connolly once put it: "Glasgow doesn't care much for the living, but it really looks after the dead."

So you enter across the Bridge of Sighs beside the Cathedral, and my first surprise is how many people are walking around. Tourists really do flock to the Necropolis, certainly on sunny days, and it is the number of visitors which is the best antidote to anti-social behaviour. Stroll up the curving road until you get to the John Knox Monument - coincidentally he's facing Ibrox with his back to Parkhead - and the next surprise is how captivating the view over the city is. It's a vantage point that gives you a fresh perspective on Glasgow, no matter how long you have lived there. Look down on the green-roofed Glasgow Cathedral, and for the first time, because of the height, you can appreciate the size and intricacy of the building. It really is hidden away when you drive past.

Over the hill, the next surprise is how vast the Necropolis is. There are 50,000 people interred here, although there are only 3500 memorials.

Ah the memorials. Choosing what ones to look at is like choosing chocolates from a vast gift box.

One of the more ornate memorials is to actor and theatre owner John Alexander complete with carved curtains and footlights, with an epitaph which floridly begins: "Fallen is the curtain. The last scene is o'er."

It ends, rather touchingly: "Unnumbered parts he played, yet to the end his best were those of husband, father, friend."

Life clearly was not dull in those days for the well travelled Glaswegian, although it could be a tad hazardous.

A memorial erected by friends of John Ker explains he was "accidentaly drowned while shooting wild fowl from a small boat off the coast of Romagna".

At least I think it's Romagna, an ancient part of Italy, but the lettering is a bit worn.

A simple granite obelisk to the memory of writer John Baird Smith includes the grievous information that one son was killed in action in France during the Great War and is buried there. A second, who was a fellow of the University of Rangoon, and worked for the Scottish-owned ferry company the Irrawaddy Flotilla, was buried at sea.

The styles of the monuments race from the Gothic to even Egyptian. There is a Moorish monument to solicitor William Wilson which would not be out of place in Palestine.

There are angels of course, many angels, some male, some clearly female as a naked bosom or two reveals. And even a football.

Yes, an old-fashioned laced football carved out of granite on the monument erected by the SFA to its first secretary, William Dick, who died in 1880 at only 29 after working for the football authorities for ten years.

Ruth tells me that it is a constant struggle by the Friends to raise funds to maintain and restore the memorials. Some rich merchants left thousands to upkeep their graves but the money has disappeared. Funny that.

The council does its bit by keeping the grass cut and paths maintained. But the Friends have ambitious plans to restore more of the buildings.

They have tours on Saturdays and Sundays which help raise money for their projects. Find their website and book up for them. Sometimes it's eye-opening to be a tourist in your own city.

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