Hamilton lies just 11 miles south of Glasgow off the M74 motorway and has never really managed to escape from its bigger neighbour’s shadow. The town often displays a grey and depressed mien, although this is belied both by its inhabitants, who are amongst the friendliest and most accommodating in the land, and the fact that it is the birthplace of The Cat. The architecture is very much small-town West of Scotland with a smattering of posh harkening back to brighter times. The Duke of Hamilton, who also held the French title of Duc de Chatelherault, is eponymously associated with the area with a number of landmarks such as the mausoleum and the restored William Adam Hunting Lodge at Chatelherault Country Park celebrating the time when he was one of the most important nobles in Scotland. The hunting lodge was built by Adam for the 5th Duke and was part of the estate at a time when Hamilton Palace was associated more with courtly love and duels than Courtney Love and fights as it is now.
If aliens were to abduct you, play with your mind and then leave you dazed, reeling and sore in the middle of Hamilton you would not take too long to find your bearings. A quick look at the diminutive, under-nourished, shell-suit-and-baseball-cap toting locals would immediately and clearly yell “Lanarkshire”.
As is the case with most like-sized Scottish towns, the centre has been raped by the retail park developer. Sadly, this sorry and all too common pattern has been extended to the local football club, Hamilton Accies, who have suffered more than most. A lucrative deal saw the grand and atmospheric old Douglas Park sold to supermarket giants Sainsbury to be replaced by the bleak and soulless IKEA-stadium we have all come to loathe. For lovers of trivia and rhyming slang, the North Stand at the Accies’ Ballast Stadium is sponsored by the Spice of Life restaurant. Local stories of financial irregularities are rife with players threatening to strike over unpaid wages and numerous boardroom shuffles and takeovers regularly featuring in the local rag. Where did all the money go?
Shopping in Hamilton is an unrewarding experience unless you are a Nissan Micra driver (there is a really big Asda in the new retail park). Glasgow is 11 miles away.
Where To Eat
Hamilton itself offers plenty of cheap and cheerful pub grub as well as a branch of the Italian DiMaggio’s chain – which is good for the kids – but you might need to venture further afield if you want something a bit more palate-challenging.
If you’re hell-bent on Hamilton try the Avonbridge Hotel for lunch. The menu, despite being international and extensive, is well-presented and the food is tasty. Be prepared for a wait, though.
Dinner options are pretty well limited to Chinese, Greek and Indian with Chim’s in Bothwell Road (Tel 01698 284803), Costa’s in Campbell Street (Tel 01698 283552) and the excellent Bombay Cottage in Lower Auchingramont Road respectively all worthy of a visit.
Alternatively, a short taxi ride to Bothwell will take you to the outstandingly friendly establishment that is the Cricklewood. Originally a coaching house, this grand Victorian stone building sits in its own modest grounds just outside Hamilton. The food is interesting, if a tad too international, but
is always a wee bit different. Children are welcome, there is good beer and even a beer garden for the one night in the year when it’s warm enough to sit outside. There is ample car parking in the adjacent car park or streets. An added attraction of the Cricklewood, if you like that sort of thing, is its reputation as the watering hole of choice for the Scottish professional footballer. So whether it’s taking the wife out for a Saturday evening meal or drinking yourself insensible after being dropped from the first team, the Cricklewood is yer man.
Booking is recommended. Tel 01698 853172. Oh, and remember. No nudging or pointing.
The Plumbers are told that the erstwhile unvisitable Hamilton Town Hotel has had a makeover and that a promising young chef has been poached from elsewhere. This has yet to be corroborated.
If you fancy a drive into the Clyde Valley then the Popinjay at Rosebank is well worth a visit. Excellent, if a bit pricey, food and a unique interpretation of the word service mean that you should come prepared with a fat wallet and a wheen of patience. Alternatively, take a drive out to Strathaven and visit one of their excellent restaurants, including The Tavern on the Town, the Cabin Tel. 01357 522555 or Super Mario’s Tel. 01357 522604.
Where To Drink
Pubs abound in Hamilton but like most other towns in the area a modicum of care is sometimes required later in the evening. Near to the racecourse you might want to try The Bay Horse which is popular with students from nearby Bell College. The Stonehouse in Cadzow Street is busy with the pre-Palace set and the Silver Tassie up near the old County Buildings in Almada Street usually has a bit of a buzz about it on a Friday night. Be warned, though, that the live entertainment can be a bit on the noisy side. Quality is variable to say the least.
A Plumbers’ favourite is Hardy’s in Campbell street. Beware of getting this one wrong, though, as there is also a Harley’s and a Harvey’s, so be careful in the taxi if you have had too much too drink or are a poor enunciator. Hardy’s is a small bar that tends to allow too many customers in for the available space. To remedy this, a conservatory was recently built; don’t expect a relaxing drink overlooking a babbling brook, however, as the view is of a busy main road. Otherwise there is a reasonable selection of drinks and okay selection of food. Being close to the Police Station, it would not behoove you to try and knock off a policeman’s helmet in some late night fol-de-rol lest a night in the cells be the outcome.
Where To Stay
The discerning plumber has a simple choice to make here. If Hamilton is a must then The Avonbridge costs £55 per night for a single room and is perfectly acceptable. Alternatively, take a small step up-market into fashionable (for the area) Bothwell and stay at the Bothwell Bridge Hotel.
Prices start at around £58 for a basic, single room. You could also stay close to the motorway in the Holiday Inn Express , making the visit to the ‘Number 1 Theme Park in Scotland’ a literal walk in the park.
What To Avoid
Eye contact in pubs. For many locals anyone over the height of 5’7″ is regarded as a threat. This threat seems to metamorphose into a challenge as the night develops.
The course has had a terrible reputation for pickpockets for several years although the Plumbers have never been victim to this particular personal violation as yet. Be wary though – it’s just common sense.
If you are a Nissan Micra driver then be aware that Hamilton Palace is not a Scottish Heritage building. Still, musn’t grumble. It has very much stolen the mantle once severally worn by Oil Can Harry’s in Falkirk, Flick’s in Brechin and Kirkcaldy’s Jackie O’s as the the popular younger Scottish person’s dancing entertainment centre with busloads of 18-30s arriving in full-on party mode. Its several bars and discos stay open until very late. For wildlife enthusiasts, a visit to the concomitant taxi rank around 3 a.m. should provide some interesting nocturnal viewing.
Culture in Hamilton used to involve watching it grow in the rooms of the Hamilton Town Hotel, but even that is a thing of the past, so the Plumbers are told. A visit to the Mausoleum in the Park is worth doing, as is a wander round the excellent Low Waters Museum near the Retail Park. The museum is home to a permanent collection of artefacts celebrating the Cameronians so any military historians amongst our readership will not be disappointed. There is very little of the dramatic in the area unless you visit the East Kilbride Arts Centre, replete with resident ghost, or make the effort to head into Glasgow.
J5 off the M74 and follow the signs for the Racecourse. Alternatively, take the more stressful option of relying on Scotrail to get you there. Hamilton West station is about 10 mins walk from the course.
Getting To The Course
The course is situated just north of the town on the road to Bothwell. Meetings are very busy so the traffic can be particularly difficult. Leave yourself plenty of time. If you are driving then it’s probably best to come off the M74 at junction 5 and head towards Hamilton/Bothwell. There’s a mini-roundabout where you need to turn left. There’s little chance of getting lost as everything is well-signposted and the huge traffic jams will give you a clue. If you take the train, alight at Hamilton West and get a taxi if you can find one. Alternatively, turn left at the top of the station stairs and walk along Clydesdale St. Follow the road round to your left, go past/through all of the big car parks and turn right again. Walk to the end of the road and turn left into Bothwell Road. The course is on your right hand side about half a mile in front of you.
Allow a good 10-15 minutes from the station. If you get lost ask a local but be prepared for a long story.
About The Course
Park is known as the ‘Goodwood of the North’ due to its layout of a right-handed loop with long, straight uphill finish. Many’s the time the Plumbers’ pound has looked safe with a furlong to go only to be pipped at the post by some unlikely outsider. Improved immensely since a £2.5m refurbishment a year or two ago, the course offers excellent views and facilities which seem to be aimed more and more at the corporate hospitality market. The quality of the 18 annual meetings (flat) is not always of the highest but there is usually an excellent turnout and some fine excitement to be had. Over the years a number of celebrity horses have visited including Sea Pigeon, Desert Orchid and HRH The Princess Royal Princess Anne.
You have a choice of grandstands: the plebs one at £10 entry fee offers the usual mix of alcohol and bookies; for an extra five quid you can enter the members enclosure which boasts a couple of extra bars and an excellent view of the winning post. Meet highlights must include the Saints and Sinners meeting in June and the Fair Friday meeting in July (to celebrate the start of Glasgow Fair fortnight). Both of these meetings are extremely busy so arrive early and watch your pockets.
What To Wear
Pretty much what you want as the course attracts an eclectic mix from the well-heeled Bothwellian to the plain old keelie. The annual charity meet, The Saints and Sinners, is well worth attending. It might not be Ascot, but many of the more extravert patrons use this as an opportunity to show off a bit of finery. At the very least, the shell-suit has been cleaned and pressed.
The Travel Guide recommends: John Butler, 5 Aqua Avenue, Hamilton, Lanarkshire ML3 9BA Tel: 01698 426839.