Through the past two centuries, Dundee has been a working-class town with large numbers employed in the jute and textile industries. This industrial base has now all but disappeared leaving the town with one of the highest rates of unemployment in Scotland. Despite efforts to brush up its image and attract more inward investment, recent militant action and the departure of several large companies from the industrial scene is about all that has attracted media attention. Despite this, the city retains a certain earthy quality that visitors seem to enjoy.
In the seventeenth century, Dundee was considered to be the wealthiest burgh in Scotland, making good use of its natural harbour to trade. Its prosperity declined when the Duke of Montrose's army pillaged the town in 1645 followed by a second sacking in 1651 by an army of Roundheads, lead by General Monk. The burgh and its people suffered greatly from the second ravaging and did not re-emerge as a robust community until the mid-1800's with the coming of industrial expansion and occupations such as whaling and jute.
Today, the most impressive approach to Dundee is by the Tay Road Bridge, built in 1967 to replace the old ferries that crossed between the town and Wormit in Fife. The present town centre extends around a medieval layout with four principal streets or 'gates' leading to the High Street and old market area. The Cowgate, Seagate, Marketgate and Overgate still exist although the Overgate suffered unconsidered sixties re-development which replaced the crumbling old tenements and closes with a ghastly, concrete shopping tunnel. It remains an architectural eye-sore, set amongst some relatively pleasant Georgian buildings.
Dundee's renown seems to revolve around the delights of the palate with its celebrated Dundee Cake as well as jam and marmalade. Its most famous preserve, Keillor's Marmalade, was established in the eighteenth century when a trading ship was stranded by storms in port with a hold full of sugar cane and bitter Spanish oranges. James Keillor's wife, using a quince recipe, created the famous 'marmalett' or marmalade after purchasing the cargo, in danger of deterioration. Now, a local company, Mackay's of Carnoustie, is again making Dundee marmalade to the original recipe. The famous Keillor's name lives on as a trade mark for Scottish Spring Water.
The city centre
The main City Square is a focal point that houses the main tourist information office as well as the Caird Hall where many cultural events take place. Further along the High Street outside St Paul's Cathedral is a an oddly shaped statue to Admiral Adam Duncan, a local mariner, not very well known for his victory over the Dutch off Kamperduin in 1797. A walk north along Reform Street brings you to another group of distinctive buildings, the most impressive of which is the Victorian McManus Galleries containing the city's principal museum and art gallery.
The museum building, a splendid Gothic showpiece, contains an over-all impression of the area's history from the prehistoric Picts to the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879. There is a re-creation of an old pub with its original mahogany bar as well as insights into the town's social fabric.
Upstairs, the Albert Hall contains sculptures, silver and displays of furnishings while paintings from Dutch, Finish, French and British artists as well as frequent contemporary exhibitions are found in the Victoria Gallery.
The Gallery Café is found on the lower level and is good for a morning or afternoon snack but be wary at lunch time when, judging by the wait to be served, the staff seem to be taking their lunch break also.
The dark-red sandstone building opposite the gallery is the headquarters of the D.C. Thomson empire, publishers of universally cherished titles such as the Sunday Post, People's Friend, the Scot's Magazine, the Dandy and the Beano comics and many more popular journals.
Across the road is Dundee's oldest burial ground, the Howff, a fascinating place to stroll through if you enjoy tombstones from as far back as 1567. The Barrack Street Museum, in sight to the west, specialises in natural history.
One of the most interesting buildings that survived the many conflicts of Dundee's past is the Old Steeple or St Mary's Tower just west of the City Square, reached by following Barrack Street south through the Overgate. This fifteenth-century tower is a fragment of the largest medieval church in Scotland, burnt down in 1841. The City Churches now surrounding the tower, are nineteenth century.
Dundee's history as a major jute process centre is captured at Verdant Works in West Henderson's Wynd, west of the Marketgait. It was not so long ago mills like these were in full production, turning the Indian harvested jute into bags and carpet backing. The story is unveiled with multi-media displays, exhibitions and artefacts.
The river and docks
Due to the town's nineteenth-century commercial interest in whaling, Dundee became a centre for ship-building. It was for this reason that Captain Robert Scott came to the town to find a ship for his two Antarctic expeditions. The story of the Discovery and Scott's quest to reach the South Pole is unfolded at Discovery Point, where the ship is now berthed, the strongest wooden ship ever built with a hull 75cm at its thinnest point.
In 1911, Scott and his companions died in sub-zero conditions only 11 miles (18km) from sanctuary. The RRS Discovery came back to Dundee in 1986 from St Catherine's Dock in London to great fanfare from the town's marketers.
Further east along the river-front at Victoria Dock, lie two other floating relics, the HM Frigate Unicorn and the North Carr Lightship. The Unicorn is Britain's oldest surviving battleship, a 46-gun wooden war vessel launched in Chatham in 1824 but never once firing her guns in anger. The adjacent North Carr Lightship did service off Fife Ness for more than 40 years. Currently it is not open to the public but this may change in the future.
For eating and drinking in this area, the Deep-Sea Restaurant in the Nethergate has been around for decades and serves an old-fashioned sit down meal of fish and chips served with white bread and margerine.
The Phoenix Bar along the street offers more good food and hospitality or try the Parrot Cafe a few blocks further west for a more demure snack. The Campbeltown on the Hawkhill is an unsophisticated example of how pubs in Dundee used to be while the Speedwell Bar nearby on the Perth Road serves some excellent guest beers.
East of Dundee towards the mouth of the river is the old fishing village of Broughty Ferry, now a suburb of the city but with its own distinctive character. It is a good place to walk around or visit for a meal and a drink in the evening. The ferry has a reputation for many good pubs and restaurants. There are interesting little shops, art dealers and gift outlets on Bruce Street and Gray Street. Along the foreshore, there are extensive views across to Fife and up the River Tay to the two bridges.
Broughty Castle stands at the mouth of the Tay, overlooking the harbour, built to defend the river from Crimean Russian warships. The existing castle is now a branch of Dundee Museums and, on four levels, it tells the story of the local fishing community, and whaling.
At Camperdown Park on the north-west edge of town there is a Wildlife Centre with brown bears, eagles and Scottish Wildcats along with a good, if rather hilly 18-hole golf course. There is a camping and caravanning park here also. Near Camperdown and well sign-posted is Shaw's Dundee Sweet Factory, where you can watch confectionery being made. Caird Park, at the opposite end of the Kingsway is the venue for Dundee's Highland Games in June and has one 9-hole golf course along with a relatively flat but testing 18-hole course.
For an overall view of the city and its surrounds, it is possible to drive 571 feet (174m) above sea level to the top of a volcanic plug, the Dundee Law.
The Tay Rail Bridge
In 1831, Scotland's first passenger railway, the Dundee to Newtyle line, ran through a tunnel under this hill, now blocked off. Balgay Hill is clearly seen from here and is the site for Britain's only permanently manned public astronomical telescope at Mills Observatory.
The Tay Rail Bridge, which you can clearly appreciate from the Law, was built between 1871 and 1878, designed by Sir Thomas Bouch. The first narrow, poorly designed structure collapsed in 1879 giving rise to the death of 90 passengers on board a train which happened to be crossing at the time. The second and existing construction is 2 miles (3 1/2km) long supported by 86 piers. The stumps of the original bridge can still be seen alongside the present piers.
For collectors of miniature castles and cottages, the structure
at the top of Claypotts Road (junction of the A92 and B978) might look familiar.
Claypotts Castle is the inspiration for the best-selling model probably due to its
stocky but classic castle outline. Built in 1588, its staggered, 3 unit, Z-shape
was highly practical, offering comfort and ease of movement to the occupants while
making it easier to defend.
Thursday, December 26th, 2019
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