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’ café. 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.

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 café) 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 café 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 café 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?

The road and the miles to Dundee

Apex Hotel, Dundee

Our second weekend away last November was to Dundee. We wanted to see the new V&A which had opened in September and, as Dundee has several other museums which we had never visited before, we decided to book a three night stay with John taking the Friday and Monday off work.

The title of my post is taken from a Scottish folk song which begins:

Cauld winter was howlin’ o’er moor and o’er mountain; wild was the surge on the dark rolling sea.

Our journey was nothing like that, well, apart from the cauld (cold) winter bit. We drove up the motorway and stopped in Perth for lunch and to stretch our legs. Perth is my second favourite Scottish city I think, and I’ve published several posts about it in the past. This time, something caught my eye that I hadn’t noticed before – the Sandeman pub which was previously a public library (you might have to enlarge the second picture to see the inscription above the door and windows).

I chose the Apex Hotel because, although I have never stayed overnight in Dundee before, I had visited it a couple of times for conferences and knew it was good. The location, right on the waterfront, is excellent and only a short walk from the V&A. It’s not the most exciting of buildings, but the surroundings were attractive at night (see top of post). Berthed nearby is HMS Unicorn, launched by the Royal Navy in 1824 and now the world’s last intact warship from the days of sail. We’d like to have visited, but just didn’t have time.

The hotel was also handy for a good range of restaurants. On the following evenings we would eat Chinese and Thai food. This first night we chose The White Goose – I can’t remember now what we ate but I know it was delicious, and I liked their goose mural shown above. We returned to our room eager to get a good night’s sleep to prepare us for our visit to the V&A the following morning.

Linked to Cathy’s On journey strand, though my journey is nothing like as exciting as her tales of the Camino.

Glasgow Gallivanting: November 2018

We didn’t intend to visit GlasGLOW, a Halloween event that ran in the Botanic Gardens for almost two weeks, but after passing by one night and seeing what we could from the road, we changed our minds. About the only tickets left were for 9 o’clock on a Monday night so, after dinner, we wrapped up warmly and strolled through the lights for an hour or so.

Kintyre and Dundee

We had two weekends away in November! Firstly, a couple of nights near Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula, then three nights in Dundee, mainly to visit the new V&A Museum. Country life and city life: couldn’t have been more different. More on both to come in due course.

Blogger shout-outs

I met another blogger in real life, which I think brings my total to seven – I’ll be losing count soon. Jessica of Diverting Journeys and her partner, Marcus, visited Glasgow for a long weekend and we met up on the Sunday afternoon. We visited the viewing platform at the Lighthouse which, unusually, contained a piano and a mural reading: We should have it all. We certainly should!

Then we went in search of Billy Connolly murals before repairing to the Scotia, one of Glasgow’s oldest pubs. It was great to meet them!

There’s been much discussion lately amongst bloggers about comments, and how difficult it can be to make them sometimes. I’d been having terrible trouble – even clicking Like was problematic.  I don’t think WordPress is blameless but, because weird things happened with Blogger too, my chief suspect was a recent update to Apple’s Safari browser. I had no idea how to fix it though, and I’m therefore hugely grateful to Jemima Pett for publishing When Privacy stops you Blogging – Safari and Comments. I’ve made one simple change in my settings and everything is now (almost) hunky-dory. Whoopee! Thanks, Jemima.

A musical month

We found time for three gigs this month. Two big ones: King Crimson, because John likes them, and Seasick Steve because we both do. He was great! The support band, Prinz Grizzley and his Beargaroos, was awesome too.

But my favourite was maybe the small pub gig where my friend Lesley was part of both support (the Carlton Three) and main act (the Carlton Jug Band). Previously, I’d only heard her sing her own music in her own band, Kittlin, which is very Scottish, so I was surprised when this turned out to be another dose of Americana. I’m not complaining – and we got to eat pizza at the same time so it was a great night.

The last bit

I’ve been to two women’s history events this month, but Glasgow’s biggest women’s history event of the year (ha, ha) is still to come. Me! Gulp! On Tuesday 4th December there’s an afternoon of Suffrage talks at the Mitchell – and I’m one of the speakers. This explains the lack of posts recently – any writing time I’ve managed to find has been dedicated to my talk which is still, by the way, five minutes too long. I’m working on it – wish me luck!

Maybe after Tuesday I’ll get back to regular blogging, and finish off my Hebridean Hop. December should be a quiet month – shouldn’t it?

Glasgow Gallivanting: July 2018

Pollok House

As mentioned last week, we had a couple of boat trips in July – but where else did we gallivant? We enjoyed a sunny afternoon at Pollok House and gardens on Glasgow’s Southside. They spelt my name wrong on the potatoes though …

Dundee

I gallivanted off to Dundee with Women’s Library friends (Anna, Beverly and Mary Alice) to follow the Women’s History Trail. Basically a series of blue plaques, it was interesting but not especially photogenic.

More colourful were the comic characters around town created by publisher DC Thomson.

And there was one of those lovely public art trails – Penguin Parade in this case.

Finally, at Discovery Point we admired the new branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum which opens in September. It contrasts with, and also complements, RRS Discovery (Royal Research Ship), the last traditional three-masted ship to be built in Britain in 1901.

Irish and Highland Famine Memorial

A new garden and monument to commemorate those who died, or emigrated, in the famines of the 1840s (caused by potato blight) has opened on Glasgow Green near the People’s Palace. Some of the inscriptions on the upturned boat read “Even the birds were silent in grief” and “O, my native land, you are on my mind” – very moving, but rather spoiled by the amount of time we had to wait for three small boys to give up clambering all over it. There’s no notice asking people not to climb on it, but I feel there should be out of respect.

Close by are other monuments that I like – the peace memorial to those who opposed World War One, the International Workers Memorial (inside it says “Fight for the living ; Remember the dead) and the lovely inscription to mouser Smudge, the only cat to be a full member of the GMB Union!

Spotted around town

The longest Lego Bridge in the world is in St Enoch’s Shopping Centre. Who knew? Definitely not me!

Close by is an exhibition, presumably aimed at young people, on Civil Engineering. As well as photographs of current engineers it included some historic figures in superhero garb, and I was pleased to see some women amongst them. For example, Dorothy Buchanan who, in 1927, was the first woman to become a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Somewhere recently I read about Edward VIII pillar boxes. These are quite rare because Edward was king for less than a year (1936), but apparently Glasgow has several and three are quite near me. I thought I had saved the blog post / article or whatever it was – but if I did I can’t find it. If whoever wrote it is reading this, please let me know! Anyway, I was pleased to spot one in Hyndland (forgive the skinny picture below, it was surrounded by waste-bins which I’ve chopped out) and will keep my eyes open for the other two.

The shrouded figure sleeping on a bench is by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. It’s in Nelson Mandela Place (behind St George’s Tron Church) and is called Homeless Jesus. There’s a serious message here, but I think it’s lost through an obscure location – and something it has in common with the pillar box is that it was difficult to photograph because of the rubbish bags behind it. Another case of lack of respect?

Black and White Challenge

You’re all probably familiar with the Black and White Challenge – “Black and white photos of your life for seven days. No people, no explanations.” It’s been floating around Facebook and WordPress for ages, but it was on Twitter that I was challenged this month. These were my selections. Some you will recognise! I liked the way they turned out, mostly. B&W disguised some unwanted background details (e.g. – guess what? – a yellow waste-bin behind the fireman gates) and highlighted the sky reflected in the windows of the terraced house.

The last bit

I am finally completing Kim’s Sunshine Blogger Award with the last three questions!

  • In one sentence, what is your life philosophy? You never know what’s round the corner – so seize the day.
  • What do you want to do tomorrow? Well, “tomorrow” as I am writing this will be quite a routine day. “Tomorrow” on the day this is published, I hope to be near the sea again. I’ll tell you about it later if I am.
  • What is your favourite dish to cook, and why? John is a better cook than I am. I joke that my strength is bucket cookery – bung everything in one pan and, depending on the herbs and spices, it might turn out to be pasta sauce, curry, chilli or couscous. I’m usually in a hurry because I’ve found something more interesting to do and lost track of time.

Some updates from recent posts!

  • The Mackintosh Building is currently being demolished brick by brick, though the Director of the School of Art thinks it can be rebuilt. Residents and business owners who live nearby have not been able to access their premises for 5 weeks and are getting restive. I don’t blame them.
  • Remember the big Moon hanging from the ceiling in the Mackintosh Church? After Glasgow, it went on display in Bristol and was then bound for Austria – but it got lost in the post! Seriously – you can read about it here.
  • John’s sore knee is still sore, and is now officially arthritis. 😦 That’s a good lead-in to a Scottish word of the month – I’m going for hirple, which means to limp or hobble. We’re hoping the hirpling ends soon.

Let’s finish on a happier note – July was also my birthday month! How far can you stretch middle age out these days? A bit further than 61 I hope …

Have a great August!