Follow the Mackintosh Trail to Helensburgh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Scotland’s most celebrated architect, left a beautiful and lasting mark on Glasgow. Despite the devastating fires at Glasgow School of Art you can still explore a fantastic collection of Mackintosh buildings, drawings and designs in the city, from Scotland Street School Museum to the Mackintosh house interior at the Hunterian to The Lighthouse in the city centre. And just a short train journey away is the Argyll town of Helensburgh. Here you’ll find even more magnificent work by Mackintosh, including The Hill House and Mackintosh Club. Here’s why you should follow the Mackintosh trail to Helensburgh.

The Hill House

Set high on a hill, overlooking the River Clyde, sits The Hill House, universally regarded as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s finest domestic creation. If you have a passion for design and architecture, you will love The Hill House. Working to a commission from publishing magnate Walter Blackie, the celebrated architect and his artist wife Margaret MacDonald created almost everything to see here, from the building itself to its furniture and textiles.

The Hill House Helensburgh Argyll

Perfectly restored, much of the house looks almost exactly as it did in 1904 and encompasses a visually arresting mix of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Scottish Baronial and Japonisme architecture and design – making for exquisite viewing. Look out for the ‘Glasgow rose’, which can be found all through the house, one of the classic emblems associated with Mackintosh. Don’t miss Margaret Macdonald’s sensual ‘sleeping princess’ gesso panel above the drawing room fireplace.

Outside you can wander round the beautiful garden, restored using plants that would have been available in the early 20th century.

Sadly, Mackintosh’s experimental design, coupled with his trial of new materials, has meant that The Hill House now shows signs of serious deterioration. The Hill House is currently closed as National Trust For Scotland construct a ‘box’ around the building that will allow it to dry out and enable crucial conservation work. You can currently see some of the fantastic items from the Hill House on display at The Lighthouse in Glasgow.

Mackintosh Club

If The Hill House is one of Mackintosh’s most famous buildings, less well known is Mackintosh Club in Helensburgh. It was designed in 1894 by a young Mackintosh, then only 25, and was his first complete commission.  This hidden gem was only recently re-discovered by Nicola and Bruce Jamieson from the architect firm Pure Green Space.  The upper floor, previously a billiard and committee room for the Helensburgh and Gareloch Conservative Association, had lain empty since the early 1970s. It is now reopened as a gallery and arts venue that celebrates the 'Glasgow Four' – Mackintosh, Herbert MacNair and artists Margaret and Frances MacDonald - with both permanent and visiting exhibitions. It’s thought that Mackintosh Club was possibly a prototype for Mackintosh's designs for the famous studios in Glasgow School of Art.

Mackintosh Club Helensburgh

There are other architectural gems in Helensburgh too. The Helensburgh Architectural Trail is a great way to discover them. It covers 25 buildings across the town centre, dating from 1853 to 2015. You could also to a take a trip to the nearby village of Kilcreggan. It’s thought to have the largest concentration of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson-attributed architecture outside Glasgow.

The coastal town Helensburgh is a lovely place to spend a day or two, with shops and eateries galore. Discover the town’s fabulous restaurants, including Cattle & Creel for the best Scottish steak and seafood right on the seafront and Sugar Boat which was recently awarded a 'Bib Gourmand' by Michelin.

Find out more about things to see and do in Loch Lomond & Clyde Sea Lochs