Fife Coastal Path: North Queensferry to Dalgety Bay

Start of the walk – Forth Bridge

Remember the fabulous weather we had at Easter? On Good Friday, we decided to take advantage of it to walk part of the Fife Coastal Path. We’ve done the sections between the East Neuk fishing villages on several occasions, so chose something different this time: North Queensferry to Dalgety Bay and back, approximately 5 miles each way.

Last year, we both ascended to the viewing platform at the top of the Forth Bridge and also sailed under it on the Maid of the Forth. This year, we left the car at its base and merely walked under it to the start of the path where there are two ancient wells.

The path leads up between them, decorated by a series of collages made by local school children and set into the stone wall.

We then climbed up and under the bridge again to reach Carlingnose Point Wildlife Reserve, named because of its resemblance to an old woman’s nose. (Carlin means old woman: Scottish but of Old Norse origin.)

Here, there was a poignant memorial bench – Wee John was only 23 when he died. I thought at first the shells were attached to the arms but they were loose – possibly left by mourners, or maybe just by kids playing.

Although sunny and warm it was quite hazy, so the views weren’t very clear. In one direction, we looked back to the Forth Bridge. In the other, we could see the beginning of Dalgety Bay. The old World War I jetty offshore is now a breeding site for tern.

As we passed through a disused quarry, we spotted a modern house perched above it. That is certainly a room with a view! It seems a Hibs fan had been here before us and left graffiti – I do hope it wasn’t anyone I know 😉 .

By the next bay there was another poignant memorial, this time to a young man who died in the First World War. From here, there was a less interesting part of the walk as we negotiated a working quarry and a scrapyard (just visible in the view below), followed by a boring stretch of road into Inverkeithing. However, Inverkeithing’s historic centre more than made up for the tedium and we took time out to explore.

First we came to the remains of a late medieval Franciscan Friary. The Hospitium (guest house) of the Grey Friars is the best surviving example of a friary building left in Scotland and the garden contains earlier 14th century ruins.

We saw the birthplace of a Russian Admiral:

The Mercat (Market) Cross has another of those Scottish Unicorns:

The cross is said to date from c. 1400, but the unicorn wasn’t carved until 1688 by, according to the plaque, “Mr John Boyd of South Queensferry to secure his admittance to the Inverkeithing Trades Guildry”. Literally a “master” piece?

The town has many other fine buildings:

Then we were out the other side of it, past some pretty cottages.

And back onto the coastal path towards St David’s Harbour. Someone is a Last of the Summer Wine fan here.

St David’s Harbour, an area still being built, is the beginnings of Dalgety Bay. To me, it looks attractive in a soulless, rather clinical sort of way.

Dalgety Bay is a new town, built in the 1960s on the estate of the Earls of Moray. As we discovered later when we left the coastal path in search of somewhere to eat, the further you got from the sea the less grand are the houses, but they are still a huge contrast to the fishing villages further round the coast. Everywhere is pristine – it looks as though the garden police will come round if there is a blade of grass out of place. Although I admit to envying one or two of the balconies, which must have amazing views, on the whole I didn’t warm to this chunk of Suburbia-by-the-Sea.

Parts of the old estate, Donibristle, remain. In the late 20th century the wings of Donibristle House and the nearby stable block were restored as housing, and a new apartment building was erected in place of the main block of the house.

A short way off the path is the mortuary chapel (1731) in which nine earls of Moray are buried. This is definitely more my sort of thing!

The estate’s woodlands have been taken over by the community – and a very nice job they have made of them too with lots of colourful information boards.

We decided to carry on as far as the ruined St Bridget’s Kirk before turning round. Originally dating from 1178, it was altered for Protestant worship in the 17th century. As usual, we enjoyed an extended tour of the graveyard and its interesting old stones.

From here, we went up into Dalgety Bay for a (very late) lunch, then returned to the coastal path to retrace our steps. I didn’t notice these elephant gates in Inverkeithing on the way out.

Eventually, we arrived back in North Queensferry, passing back under the Forth Bridge to return to our car.

By the time I got to bed that night, my Fitbit was registering over 15 miles, and my feet certainly felt as if they needed a good long rest, but it was worth it for a glorious day out.

Glasgow Gallivanting: April 2019

April is John’s birthday month! How do you buy gifts for someone you’ve known for almost four decades without repeating yourself? It’s impossible, so I now give “experiences” rather than objects. This year, on the day itself, we enjoyed a Chinese dinner in Opium, an “oriental fusion” restaurant in the city centre. The weekend before, I surprised John with tickets for a very special Glasgow tour.

Above right is Cam of Once Upon a Whisky. Now, if a young man in Glasgow tells me his name is Cam I would normally assume it was short for Cameron, or possibly Campbell. However, meet Camilo from BogotĂĄ: formerly Colombian Ambassador for Glenfiddich, a well-known whisky brand, he came to Glasgow to do an MBA and never left. (Well, why would anyone IMHO?) Now he runs a variety of whisky tours and events – I chose the West End Whisky tour which consists of four drams in four bars and a lot of stories along the way. Despite living in the West End, and being reasonably knowledgeable about whisky, we learned a lot and had never actually been in two of the bars before so we can now add them to our repertoire. It was also fun chatting and comparing notes with the other two couples on the tour.

I highly recommend Cam’s tours – here’s a wee video of him in action.

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

In April, the weather took a definite turn for the better, Easter Weekend being particularly beautiful. It was great to get out for more walks, some of which might eventually end up on here as complete posts. Queen Elizabeth Forest Park is one of our favourite places to go, but I’ve written about it before so I’ll just give you a quick gallery of our Easter Monday visit.

The Abbess of Crewe

It’s been a busy month at Glasgow Women’s Library, the highlight for me being The Abbess of Crewe. Since before Christmas, the Drama Queens group, of which I am a member, has been reading Muriel Spark’s 1974 novel, adapting it into a play and rehearsing for a dramatic reading (close your eyes and it should be like a radio play). This month, we presented it to an audience and they loved it, even laughing in all the right places! The dress code was black but with fabulous shoes. Now, after a foot injury some years ago, I don’t do fabulous shoes, but Marks and Spencer came up trumps with a pair of silver brogues which I’m sure I’ll never wear again, but at least I looked the part on the night.

Dippy on tour

Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s replica Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton, has been visiting Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. We caught him almost at the end of his trip. Can you spot the woman in the padded dinosaur costume in the third picture? I wouldn’t have liked to have her job!

We also viewed an exhibition of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and listened to part of the daily organ concert so, all in all, it was an excellent afternoon, and I haven’t even mentioned the lunch. Kelvingrove rarely disappoints.

Random Ramblings: West End Mews

There are days when I can only keep my step count up by going on a random walk around the neighbourhood or taking a large circular detour to my destination. This can get quite boring, so I’m grateful to Neil of Yeah, another blogger for his idea of setting mini-challenges, in his case Seeing Green: A Philadelphia Story. I’ve done this a few times now – here’s one where I set out to find as many mews properties as I could. Although our home is modern, it’s on the edge of an area of Victorian and Edwardian terraces and villas so there are plenty of lanes tucked away behind where the stables and carriage houses have been converted into attractive dwellings. Look out for more Random Ramblings as I warm to my theme!

Just because I like them

These don’t fit any particular theme, but here we have the Doulton Fountain on Glasgow Green, St Andrew’s in the Square, reflections on the canal, and the Suffrage Oak which is showing a pleasing amount of regrowth this Spring after the extensive storm damage it suffered two winters ago.

The last bit

You could catch something from this sandwich …

Spotted by John at a street-food stall, which I shan’t name and shame, this might make you smile. I think a heavier black marker is required to obliterate the unfortunate typo which originally appeared instead of herbs.

And finally to the Scottish word(s) of the month. One of the people we met on the whisky tour was from Portugal, and she was astonished at how little Glaswegians wore in what she considered quite cold weather. It’s true, the slightest hint of sun and the parks are covered in half-naked bodies (never mine, I hasten to add). This is known as taps aff weather (tops off) when people discard as many claes (clothes) as possible and prostrate themselves under the sun’s rays. Sometimes there are sights that you wish you could unsee …

That’s it for April’s (slightly late) roundup. Have a great May!

Abernethy and Elcho Castle

Abernethy Round Tower

Abernethy is a picturesque Perthshire village which we’ve never visited before. Intrigued by the description of its Round Tower, we set off last Sunday to put that right. The first place we called into was Berryfields Tearoom – don’t judge! It was because they hold the tower key – and what an impressive key it is. Not one you could lose easily.

The tower is one of only two remaining Irish Celtic-style towers in Scotland (the other being in Brechin). It dates from around 1100 and, as well as functioning as a bell tower, it has served as a secure place for local people and their possessions in times of danger.

Inside, about 100 steps lead to the roof where there are good views of the village. Despite being April, and theoretically Spring, it was perishing cold up there so we didn’t stay long.

Back outside, we looked at the jougs on the wall in horror – a medieval iron collar and chain used for punishment. Less unpleasant was a stone carved with Pictish symbols, maybe from the 7th century, which was found nearby.

Abernethy village

On returning the key, the smell of food was so enticing that we stayed in the tearoom for lunch (and a warm-up). Good food and friendly service – we recommend it. Fortunately we were planning a walk to get rid of some of the excess calories! First of all, though, we took a gentle stroll around the village which we found very attractive with its pretty cottages.

We also loved Nurse Peattie’s Garden. Nurse Peattie was the District Nurse who served Abernethy from 1936-1963. She travelled around by bicycle until, as she aged, the community clubbed together to buy her a car. The garden was dedicated to her in 1966 and has been maintained and improved ever since – what a lovely story!

Abernethy Glen

A slightly more energetic circular walk of about 3.5km took us to Castle Law via Abernethy Glen. Part of the walk was on a rough track called Witches Road, named after a coven of 22 local women who, according to legend, were burnt to death on Abernethy Hill. Another horrible piece of history.

Elcho Castle

After we’d finished our walk it was still only mid-afternoon, so we drove a few miles further to Elcho Castle, a place we have visited before but not for many years. Built around 1560 by the Wemyss family (pronounced Weems), the fortified mansion is one of Scotland’s best-preserved 16th century tower houses (though it still has a few floors missing as you can see in the gallery).

A short walk away, next to the duck pond, is Elcho Doocot (dovecote) which has to be one of the prettiest I have seen.

After that, it really was time to head for home and put our feet up for a well-deserved rest.

Dunkeld

River Tay at Dunkeld Cathedral

Between Christmas and New Year we spent a few nights in the pretty Perthshire town of Dunkeld. John was just recovering from a Christmas cold and I started snuffling and sneezing on the journey, so it wasn’t our most energetic break ever but we enjoyed some gentle strolls around Dunkeld and along the Tay to its neighbour, Birnam.

Dunkeld Cathedral was built between 1260 and 1501, and although the Choir is intact and still in use as a parish church the rest is ruined.

The Cathedral is surrounded by trees, including the Parent Larch or Mother Tree, the only survivor of five seedlings planted in 1738, the first larches in Britain. 14 million larches were planted from the seeds of these five trees!

On the other side of the Tay towards Birnam are more interesting trees. The Young Pretender (left below) is a sycamore with a girth of 8 metres, so-called because it looks of similar age to its neighbour, the Birnam Oak, but is much younger. The oak, now supported by wooden stilts, is said to be the last survivor of Birnam Wood, made famous by its role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It’s girth is 7 metres.

Another walk took us up a tributary of the Tay, the River Braan, with its waterfalls and cascades. This is Black Linn, including a short clip of water pouring over it. Such power!

And here we are at Rumbling Bridge, looking happy despite our colds.

Overall, this was a lovely short break before we returned home to celebrate Hogmanay.

Glasgow Gallivanting: March 2019

One of the best things that happened in March was that Janet, an old friend from university days, visited for the weekend. We hadn’t met for over 30 years, but it could have been yesterday. Janet was one of my flat-mates the year that I met John – he lived in the flat above us as I’ve recounted before. Apart from lots of chatting and catching up, we braved the terrible weather to visit two museums.

Scotland Street School Museum

Scotland Street School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh between 1903 and 1906 for the School Board of Glasgow. Now a museum, it tells the story of 100 years of education in Scotland, from the late 19th century to the late 20th century. Amongst other features, it has three reconstructed classrooms: Victorian, World War II, and 1950s/60s. The last one reminded me very much of my own school days. Spot the class dunce!

I loved the reasons some parents gave for their children to be excused gym when the idea of removing garments became common in the 1930s:

  • My Bertie has never worn underpants, so he is not to take off his trousers
  • Nobody is going to force Marjorie to take off her clothes in public
  • I object to Harry exposing himself

What would they think of the minuscule lycra outfits worn by athletes today?

New Lanark

The cotton mill village of New Lanark was founded in the 18th century and quickly became known for the enlightened management of social pioneer, Robert Owen. He provided decent homes, fair wages, free health care, a new education system for villagers and the first workplace nursery school in the world. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Lanark is both a living community and an award-winning museum. Although we go there quite often, it’s usually for a specific exhibition or to take a walk to the Falls of Clyde – our visit with Janet was the first time we’ve been in the museum part for some time, and we’ve certainly never accessed the lovely roof garden before (see above, and below for specific features).

One of the mills has a working loom and its products are sold in the Visitor Centre shop. The mill worker looks tired!

We toured Robert Owen’s own house which, although much larger than a mill-workers house, wasn’t spectacularly grand. It can be seen on the left, below, from the Roof Garden.

I bet the bathroom facilities were better than those for the workers though! Stairheid cludgies (shared indoor toilets) were only installed in the 1930s.

It was interesting to see the schoolroom after our visit to Scotland Street the day before. It’s much bigger than the classrooms there, but children of all ages would have been educated in the same space.

Finally, we popped into the current exhibition, the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry in which communities across the world document their Scottish connections. We saw this in Paisley a few years ago, but enjoyed a second look. A small flavour:

The Tenement House

We also meant to visit The Tenement House with Janet, but ran out of time, so John and I went ourselves the following weekend. 145 Buccleuch Street in Garnethill appears to be an ordinary red sandstone tenement building from the late 19th century, but inside lies a time capsule.

Shorthand typist Agnes Toward (1886-1975) moved in to one of the first floor flats with her mother, a dressmaker, in 1911 and lived here until her last ten years which she spent in hospital. After her death, it was found that she had made so few changes over the years that the early 20th century interior was intact. When the National Trust for Scotland acquired the property and opened it as a museum in the 1980s, the only major change they made was to replace the electric lighting Miss Toward had installed in the 1960s with more authentic gas. Just looking round these four rooms took me back to my childhood because it reminded me so much of my paternal grandparents’ home, particularly the black range and the bed recess in the kitchen.

Garnethill (the clue is in the name) is quite hilly, so as we left we stopped to admire the view towards Glasgow’s West End.

Thomas Coats Memorial Church

My sister was up visiting from London over the Mothers’ Day weekend. We had family meals on the Friday and Sunday, but on Saturday she and I were free to wander around Paisley where Mum lives. The highlight was a tour of Coats Memorial Church, formerly known as the “Baptist Cathedral” of Europe. It was commissioned by the family of Thomas Coats (1809-1883), one of the founders of Coats the thread-makers, and held its first service in 1894 and its last in August 2018 when the dwindling congregation could no longer sustain a building designed for 1000 worshippers. It’s now owned by a Trust which is raising money to turn it into a venue for concerts, weddings, conferences and so on. As part of the campaign, there are open days every Saturday from 12-4pm.

The interior was every bit as grand as the exterior, though it was the behind-the-scenes parts that I enjoyed most. The splendid Doulton toilet in the vestry was something to see!

The last bit

First a post-script to my Dundee posts, in one of which I expressed the hope that the new V&A wasn’t sucking in visitors from other museums in the city. Quite the reverse! I recently read a report that showed numbers at the Discovery were up 40.5% in 2018, at the McManus 31.2% and at Verdant Works 23.8%. The V&A itself recently hit 500,000 visitors six months earlier than targeted. We visited all of those, so I’m glad to have played my small part in putting Dundee more firmly on the tourist map.

I gave my talk on suffragette Jessie Stephen again, this time at a suffrage event in Govanhill. As part of the associated exhibition artist Ann Vance has created a portrait of Jessie, and two beautiful banners were also on display.

I read a lovely article about new Scottish words which have been included in the latest Oxford English Dictionary update: Fantoosh sitooteries and more. However, I’m saving that as a rich seam for future posts and sticking to the word I had originally chosen for this month. You might have noticed that our Brexit deadline sailed past last week and yet we’re still in the EU. “Stramash” is a noisy commotion or uproar, and seems to me to describe recent proceedings in parliament perfectly. Who knows what will have happened by April’s gallivanting post?

Have a great month!

The Scottish Unicorn

Glasgow Mercat Cross

I once mentioned that Scotland’s national animal is the unicorn. As one or two people expressed surprise I planned to write a post about unicorns, and Becky’s current March Squares challenge has given me just the kick I need. It’s Spiky Squares, and what is it that a unicorn has on its forehead if not a great big spike? And, to coin a phrase, I can gore two challenges with one horn by linking to Cathy’s Photography Theme invitation too!

The unicorn was first used on the Scottish Royal Coat of Arms in the 12th century. That might seem odd given that it’s not real, but it was chosen for its role in Celtic mythology as a symbol of purity and innocence as well as masculinity and power. You can see an example of the Scottish Arms at the end of this post, but before that here are some more spiky unicorn squares I’ve spotted on my travels.

The header image is Glasgow’s Mercat (Market) Cross, which looks ancient but dates from 1929/30. Below are two examples from the University of Glasgow – one atop the Memorial Gates, and the other on the Lion and Unicorn Staircase (the unicorn is on the left). The staircase dates from 1690 and is one of two structures which were moved from the old university site on High Street to its current home in Gilmorehill in 1870.

The next two are both winter events which we’ve attended in Edinburgh in the last couple of years – Ice Adventure and the Chinese Lanterns at the zoo.

Still in Edinburgh, the golden unicorn on the left below adorns the doors of the Queen’s Gallery. The one on the right is from HMS Unicorn in Dundee.

There are two versions of this straw unicorn because I think it’s so beautiful. It’s in Crawick Multiverse, a landscape art site in Galloway.

And finally, this is not my picture, but here’s an example of the Arms of Scotland as used from the 12th century until 1603 when James VI of Scotland updated it after inheriting the English throne.

Sodacan [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
So that’s my quick gallop through Scottish unicorns! Don’t forget to head over to Becky’s blog to see her Spiky Squares, running daily till the end of March, and to Cathy’s blog ~wander.essence~ for lots more travel loveliness.

Dundee: the road home

Seabraes Park, Dundee

Our plan was to leave Dundee after breakfast on Monday morning and stop at Bannockburn on the way home. We’d parked the car on Friday afternoon and, although we’d walked past it several times on our way in and out of the hotel, we hadn’t paid it close attention since. We were dismayed to discover that one of the front tyres was completely flat. John pumped it up, but we didn’t want to drive home without getting it checked out, so I Googled the nearest branch of Kwik Fit which turned out to be just beyond the University of Dundee’s campus.

The place was busy so we were sent off for a coffee until the mechanic could look at the car. Bad news came back: there was a small bolt embedded in the tyre which would therefore need to be replaced. A big marquee had been erected in part of the hotel car park for all their Christmas functions, so presumably we had driven over a discarded bolt when we arrived. The result was that we had an unscheduled hour for a final walk in Dundee. And what a lot of interesting history and culture we found!

First we passed this pretty little park, Seabraes, with a mini bandstand and three strange critters climbing a stone pillar. I had no idea what they were till I looked them up at home – they represent the video game Lemmings which was produced in a nearby studio in 1991 and was apparently a runaway hit. The bronze version was created by local artist Alyson Conway in 2013.

I visited Dundee with some friends one day last summer to walk part of the Women’s History Trail, and we came across a few of the plaques again. Miss Mary Ann Baxter (1801-1884) used her wealth to support missionary work abroad and good works in Dundee. At the age of 80 she founded University College, now the University of Dundee, to promote the education of both sexes. Frances (Fanny) Wright (1795-1852) was well ahead of her time. Daughter of an ardent republican,  she went to the USA where she became famous as a writer and lecturer. Controversially, she scorned religion and campaigned for women’s rights, free love and the emancipation of slaves.

Mary Lily Walker (1863-1913) was born in the house below and was one of the first female entrants to University College. As a young woman she became conscious of the appalling living conditions of the poor and went on to transform Dundee with baby clinics, health visitors, school dinners, children’s convalescent holidays and more.

Something I didn’t know about was the Tree of Liberty. After the French Revolution, civil unrest spread across Scotland, often symbolised by the planting of a Tree of Liberty. The original Dundee tree was planted in 1792 but was chopped down in 1930 as part of a road-widening scheme. The current Tree of Liberty resides in a rather sad-looking corner of the university. The plaque beside it relates to the original tree and dates from 1912.

Finally, on the way to collect the car, I admired the extremely distressed looking George Orwell pub with its pseudo-Penguin Books signage.

So – back on the road! And back to our original plan of visiting Bannockburn, site of a famous battle in 1314 when King of Scots Robert the Bruce was victorious against the army of King Edward II of England. It’s years, maybe decades, since I’ve been there, certainly long before the current visitor centre was built. Sadly, this proved to be our second set back of the day.

First stop was what the website described as the ‘award winning’ cafĂ©. We were latish for lunch because of the holdup with the car, but it was still only 1.30pm. Nevertheless, it was quicker to list what was left on the menu (not much) than what was not available, but we managed to find something to eat. I won’t be giving it any awards though.

Next stop the Visitor Experience. I have checked the website again before writing this and it is now made quite clear several times that entry is by pre-booked time-slots. The day we visited it merely stated ‘During our busy holiday periods, entry is by pre-booked time slots’ – I know that’s an exact quote because John put it in his (rather scathing) Trip Advisor review. We didn’t think a cold Monday in mid-November was a busy holiday period, so were dismayed to find we’d have over an hour to wait. We passed, and went to look at the outdoor site.

This has an impressive bronze statue of Robert the Bruce on horseback, and a rather less inspiring concrete rotunda. Both of these date from the 1960s and both have been restored relatively recently. They would be much more interesting if there were more information boards to tell you about the battle and how it related to the landscape in front of you. Still, we enjoyed a quick, cold walk round before heading for the car and then home for a warm-up.

Our Bannockburn experience was decidedly underwhelming, although I give the visitor centre one star for updating their website to make it much clearer what to expect. Perhaps they read John’s review – and several other similar ones. I’m glad we didn’t make it the main focus of our day: the unplanned walk in Dundee was much more interesting, so the flat tyre did us a favour, albeit an expensive one. Overall, Dundee was a great place for a long weekend and not somewhere I would have thought about a few years ago. I’m so glad we went.

Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi: Self Portrait as St Catherine of Alexandria

Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century, was born in Rome in 1593. Her date of death is unknown, but it must be after 1654 when she is recorded as living in Naples. Self Portrait as St Catherine of Alexandria (c 1615-17) has recently been acquired by the National Gallery in London, restored, and sent out on tour to unusual and unexpected destinations including a library, a school, and a health centre. The painting’s first stop is Glasgow Women’s Library where it is on display until 19th March, so hurry along if you are in the area.

Who was St Catherine of Alexandria? In the 4th century she was sentenced to death for her Christian beliefs and tied to a wheel studded with iron spikes. Although she was miraculously freed by angels, she could not escape a martyr’s death and was later beheaded. In Artemisia’s portrait she leans on the broken wheel with her left hand while her right hand holds a martyr’s palm. I spent an hour in the same room as Catherine / Artemisia and continually returned to that beautiful, clear gaze.

You can read more on the National Gallery’s site:

I wonder if Artemisia would approve of being added to a blogging challenge? If it gets more people looking at her wonderful painting, maybe she would. I’m linking to Becky’s Spiky Squares.

Dundee: RRS Discovery and Verdant Works

RRS Discovery

At the end of the 19th century, Dundee was a whaling port with a ship-building industry capable of constructing vessels strong enough to withstand the ice of Arctic whaling grounds. It was therefore the perfect place to build Royal Research Ship Discovery in which the British National Antarctic Expedition set sail in 1901, commanded by Robert Falcon Scott and including in the crew Ernest Shackleton. The expedition spent two years in the Antarctic in arduous conditions, resulting in a wealth of scientific information which is still used by polar researchers today.

In 1986, RRS Discovery returned to Dundee and was refitted as a museum which portrays both Scott’s and subsequent expeditions. I was surprised how much there was to see: I anticipated a quick tour round the ship, but there were also several interesting galleries before we boarded and in the end we spent all morning there. Highly recommended (and great mannequins, Jessica).

After lunch (tasty soup in Discovery’s cafĂ©) we headed across Dundee for our second museum of the day.

Verdant Works

At one time, Dundee was undoubtedly the jute capital of the world. Around the year 1900, more than 50,000 people (out of a population of 161,000) were employed in over 100 mills. The Verdant Works transports us back to that time.

First we visited the Lodge Keeper before going into the Works Office. Most of the furniture and fittings in the office are original, dating to 1890-1900, so when the Dundee Heritage Trust bought the Works in 1991 it had to do very little to restore it.

The contraption in the last picture above is a copying press. In the days before scanners and copiers – or even carbon paper – an original written with copying ink was placed against a moistened piece of tissue and put into the press. The pressure forced a copy onto the tissue. Let’s be thankful for modern technology! When it works …

The machine hall took you through the process of making jute from fibre to fabric – lots of big green machines.

The biggest machine of all, however, is in the High Mill. The Boulton and Watt steam engine (1801), which we saw demonstrated, is too big to show successfully in one picture, but here are some impressions.

I liked the way the High Mill was decorated with images of its workers over the years, mainly female. Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills, creating the original house-husband and giving Dundee the epithet She Town. This was also addressed in one of the social history galleries upstairs – it really is worth expanding the explanatory panel to have a read. Here’s to over-dressed, loud, bold-eyed girls!

Once again, this was a museum we thoroughly enjoyed and we were the last people to leave – we thought we might have been locked in when we found the main gate closed! Fortunately, there were staff in the cafĂ© to let us out through the Lodge House. Our short break in Dundee had been wonderful, and we had plans for our journey home the next day. They didn’t quite work out – read on next week …

Dundee: the V&A and the McManus

V&A Dundee and RRS Discovery

London’s V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) claims to be the world-leading museum of art and design, so there has been great excitement waiting for its Scottish branch to be completed. V&A Dundee opened in September 2018 and the main purpose of our weekend trip in November was to check it out. The ship next to it in the image above is RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, the last traditional three-masted ship to be built in Britain (in 1901). We visited the following day, so more on that in my next post.

I always assumed the exterior of the V&A was meant to represent a ship, to complement Discovery, but I read it was intended to look like sea-cliffs. I can see both things in it. Architect Kengo Kuma has also said he wanted to create a “living room for the city” for everyone to visit and enjoy and I think he has succeeded in that too.

 

There are two main parts to the museum: a gallery for temporary (paid) exhibitions and the permanent collection. While we were there, the exhibition was Ocean liners: speed and style (now ended). I thought this was very well done: spacious and with a clear path through it so that, although busy, you weren’t falling over other people. The large hall with models dressed elegantly for bathing and dining was superb.

 

This panel from the Titanic also caught my eye (click to enlarge explanation).

 

On emerging from Ocean liners we decided to have lunch, but both the cafĂ© and the restaurant were packed full so we ploughed on to the permanent exhibition, the Scottish Design Galleries. I admit to recoiling in horror when we opened the door. After Ocean liners the space seemed small and cramped with no obvious route through it and people everywhere. There were two things we really wanted to see: Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room, a tea room interior created in 1908 which has been in storage since the 1970s, and the set for The Cheviot, the stag and the black, black oil (1973). This was a play by 7:84, a theatre company which took its name from the fact that 7% of the world’s population owned 84% of its wealth. Playwright John McGrath wrote of the exploitation of the Highlands between 1746 and 1973 which artist John Byrne illustrated in the form of a giant picture book which could be carried from venue to venue strapped to the roof of a van. The cast turned the pages as necessary – in the museum in November it was open at a war memorial scene (more info here).

 

We need to go back to give the permanent gallery more attention when it has been open longer and is (maybe) quieter. In the meantime, to recover from cultural overload, we went into the city centre for a quick lunch – and then went to another museum! The McManus is Dundee’s civic art gallery and museum, and it was much quieter – I hope it’s not going to suffer too much from the competition of the V&A. The building is Victorian Gothic and quite spectacular (photos taken the following evening as we don’t seem to have any day time ones).

 

Nor do we have many interior photos, and the ones we have I can’t remember what they are! One picture below might give me some ideas for my Scottish words feature. The coloured glass bottles in the other were an installation running from top to bottom of the building’s stairwell.

 

We truly were punch drunk with culture by this time, so we returned to the hotel for a reviving cuppa before heading out again for dinner. The following day we had plans for two more museums. Would we last the pace?