Dundee lies on the east coast of Scotland, around 40 miles north of Edinburgh. It is the fourth largest city in Scotland. It used to be known for the 3 “Js". jute, jam and journalism, of which journalism is the sole survivor. It is the home of the Beano and the Dandy comics started in the late 1930s. Bronze statues of three characters from the comics, Desperate Dan, Minnie the Minx and Gnasher adorn the city centre. The city has undergone quite a renaissance in the last 20 years, beginning when the ship Discovery, built in Dundee, which transported Scott to Antartica, was brought back to the city. I was born in Dundee but only lived there until I was five years old. I have seen such a positive changes in the city over the years. It really has pulled itself up without becoming too pretentious or gentrified.
Dundee is a compact city with wonderful views over the Tay Estuary. I think it is ideal as a short break destination as there are the attractions of the city; a choice of shops restaurants and cafes plus visiting the Discovery, the Verdant Works, an award winning industrial heritage museum and a beautiful sandy beach at adjacent Broughty Ferry.
Dundee's location at the mouth of the River Tay has shaped much of its history. Dundee is documented as being a trading port from the 12th century. There were imports of wine, grain and later wool and linen. Dundee was the port for many whaling ships. Dundee was already established as a textile manufacturing centre wit the weaving of linen and sail cloth, when a new innovative jute spinning process was developed there in 1833. Dundee then became the centre of jute production and earned the nickname of “Juteopolis". However the industry slid into decline in the 1920s
Two thousand ships were built in Dundee between 1871 and 1881. The Discovery, which was used to transport Scott's ill fated expedition to the South Pole was built in Dundee in 1901. The Fleming Investment Trust company was started in Dundee in 1873, by Robert Fleming a jute baron when he started to invest in the growing US economy. His grandson was Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books.
In June 1878 the Tay Rail Bridge opened to great acclaim, it was the longest bridge in the world. It reduced the journey time from Dundee to London by 5 hours and was used by Queen Victoria to reach her Highland retreat, Balmoral Castle. However the bridge collapsed during a severe storm in December 1879, with the loss of 75 train passengers. The bridge was rebuilt opening in 1887 using some of the original bridges girders. You can still see the stumps of the former bridges piers running alongside the current rail bridge. The Tay Road Bridge was opened in 1966, after a three and a half year construction period. I have a vague recollection of there being constant banging noises during the construction.
Dundee certainly suffered from the demise of its traditional industries which led to high unemployment and poverty. However I feel that the city really has picked itself up over the last couple of decades. I was born in Dundee but only lived there until I was five years old. Over recent years when I have visited the city I have witnessed many improvements. The city centre has been greatly improved, more attractions have been opened. Dundee is now a world class centre for biomedical research. Real Time Worlds, the developer of the computer games, Lemming and Grand Theft Auto is based in Dundee. It is also emerging as one of Scotland leading retail centres.
What to do
The ship Discovery is probably the jewel in the crown of the reborn Dundee. The ship and the visitor centre give you an insight into Scott's Expedition in his race to beat Amundsen to the South Pole. If you are interested in ships, the Frigate Unicorn and the Lightship North Carr are located at the Victoria Docks only few minutes along a riverfront walk way from the Discovery. The Unicorn is a 46 gun wooden warship, built in 1824 and the oldest British built warship still afloat. The City Quay shopping centre is at the other side of the dock. Sensation is a hands on science museum with over 80 interactive exhibits. It is very popular with families and as offers fun education about science. The Verdant Works is a former European Industrial Museum of the Year winner, telling the story of the jute industry in Dundee. There is a film show, computer displays and original machinery to help you recapture the past.
Mills Observatory, tel 01382 435967, is the only full time public observatory in the UK. The main telescope, a Victorian 10" Cooke Refractor was manufactured in 1871 but is still going strong. There are regular talks and displays.
St Mary's Tower, know locally as the “Old Steeple" is the highest existing medieval tower in the UK. It stands at 488 metres, and has 232 steps. It is the oldest surviving building in Dundee. The Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre encompasses a cinema, exhibitions, events and talks. There is Dundee Rep Theatre which is home to the Scottish Dance Theatre, The Rep company is on the road in 2007 performing the new highly acclaimed “Sunshine on Leith" musical with music from the Scottish twins, The Proclaimers.
Broughty Ferry is a seaside town now part of Dundee. Broughty Ferry Castle was built in 1496, rebuilt in the 1860s, now houses a museum. The castle sits beside the long golden beach. Broughty Ferry was used as the northern port for passengers travelling north by rail before the first Tay Rail Bridge was constructed. It was home to the mansions built by the jute barons, away from the industrial city. It was known as “The Brighton of Scotland" as it was a popular seaside resort for day trips and holidays before the advent of package holidays to warmer climes.
Glamis Castle the childhood home of the Queen Mother, lies 12 miles north of Dundee. The castle was first constructed in the 1400s, on the site of a royal hunting lodge. Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth 11 was born here in 1930. You can buy a Royal Discovery Pass which gives you reduced joint admission to the Discovery and Glamis Castle.
You can read the full guide with photos and a selection of accommodation at: http://www.europealacarte.co.uk/Scotland/dundee.html
Karen Bryan is a UK based independent travel consultant and writer. Her website Europe a la Carte, http://www.europealacarte.co.uk , features less well known destinations in Europe. Karen believes that if you venture even slighly off the beaten tourist track that you will see more of the real Europe.