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Issue 54 - The home of the three Js

Scotland Magazine Issue 54
December 2010


This article is 8 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The home of the three Js

Gilly Pickup takes us round her birthplace

I’ve always had a soft spot for the city of Dundee, my birthplace. With the silvery River Tay on its doorstep and a swathe of heather covered hills and tumbling glens as its beautiful backdrop, Scotland’s fourth city, a modern metropolis, has much to offer At school I learned that Dundee is famous for its three Js – Jute, Jam and Journalism. Journalism is still much to the fore with more than 10 million newspapers, magazines and comics rolling off the presses each week.

Indeed, the home of Desperate Dan, Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids is the Courier Building in the middle of town. Sadly the Jute industry, which dominated Dundee employment from the 19th century is now no more, a far cry from its heyday, when its economic importance earned the city the name Juteopolis. The jam industry, in particular the famous Dundee marmalade created by local woman Janet Keiller has also gone the way of jute.

However, Dundee does not dwell on the past and of course there is more to the city than the ‘three Js’. Dundee’s new economy includes biomedical and biotechnology research and development and a flourishing computer games industry, while looking ever forward, 2014 will see the opening of the V&A Museum, the only one outside London.

The £67m complex will be Scotland’s leading centre for design and is set to house major touring exhibitions from the V&A as well as artefacts from international museums and galleries.

Dundee reinvented itself as the City of Discovery, the title taken from the name of Captain Scott’s ship RRS Discovery, the city’s main attraction and indeed, where better to start the day’s explorations? The ship built in Dundee for scientific purposes and launched in 1901 was an engineering feat of its time built to withstand Antarctica’s harsh conditions.

The Discovery returned to Dundee in 1986 and now, restored to its full glory resides alongside a state-of-the-art visitor centre with audio-visual and interactive displays.

While there, you will see the other landmark which dominates Dundee, the Tay Bridge. First opened in 1878, this was the longest bridge in the world on completion at a stretch of more than two miles. It cost a massive, in those days, £300,000 to build but in December 1879 the centre of the bridge collapsed during a severe storm while a train was crossing and 75 people plunged to their deaths in the icy Tay. Queen Victoria had crossed the bridge in June that year on her way south from Balmoral. She wrote in her diary, “Mr. Bouch, who was presented at Dundee, was the engineer. It took us, I should say, about eight minutes going over.

The view was very fine.” Maritime enthusiasts can head to Victoria Dock to see the oldest British-built wooden frigate still on the water, the Frigate Unicorn. Built in 1824 at Chatham for the Royal Navy, she was an impressive warship carrying 46 guns and now gives visitors an insight into life on board wooden sailing ships in the time of Nelson.

Hie off to another popular visitor attraction, the Verdant Works in West Henderson’s Wynd, one of Europe’s best industrial museums housed in a former jute mill. The museum tells the story of the industry when jute was king and Dundee jute capital of the world because of its associations with weaving, whaling and shipbuilding. In the 19th century, Dundee was an established centre of textile production while the local whaling fleet supplied the oil essential for softening the raw material.

Dundee’s ship building industry, another offshoot of the whaling heritage, constructed the ships that brought the jute from India. Discover fascinating snippets like the fact women outnumbered men three to one in the factories and mills gaining Dundee the nickname ‘she town’. These were a tough breed of women, ‘overdressed, loud, boldeyed girls’ according to one observer and apparently often ‘roarin’ fou’ with drink’, characteristics that caused consternation among the ‘gentlefolk’ of Dundee At its height some 40,000 people were employed in Dundee’s mills and factories but jute production declined in the 1920s due to fierce competition from India.

Swing from the past to the future by visiting the Sensation Science Centre in Greenmarket. Science boring? Think again. More than 50 whizz-bangpoppery hands-on interactive exhibits for kids of all ages let you discover things like how a dog hears the world, find out how good you would be at keyhole surgery and how to move a ball using nothing but your brain waves!

If you’re beginning to feel peckish with all this sightseeing, you can eat the atlas in Dundee.

Whether your bag is Mediterranean, Turkish, Mexican, Thai, French, Indian or Scottish, you’ll find an eaterie to suit you. For snacks, there are plenty of coffee shops and cafes offering a pleasant pause and a decent cup of coffee. If however the sea air has given you a more serious appetite and you want to savour the views as well as the food, the restaurant called Bridgeview Station (Riverside Drive) located within a Victorian railway station has unrivalled views over the Tay Estuary. Its chef has an impressive culinary pedigree too. Two AA rosette Alchemy Restaurant in the Apex City Quay hotel offers French brasserie dishes with a Scottish twist, or the blast-from-the-past Deep Sea (Nethergate) is a no-frills favourite which has been serving fish and chips since 1939.

A short trip out of town is Broughty Castle, four miles to the east of the city, built to defend Dundee from marauding English ships. It houses a museum detailing the history of Dundee and the whaling fleet, once the largest in Scotland. The Castle overlooks a golden sandy beach in the seaside suburb of Broughty Ferry once called the ‘richest square mile in Europe’ due to the proliferation of mansions built by Dundee’s jute barons. Nowadays its beach is renowned for an annual charity event known as the ‘Ne’erday Dook’ when swimmers brave the freezing waters to take a New Year’s Day dip in aid of good causes.

If you prefer to stay in town, head for The McManus, (Albert Square, Meadowside) Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum housed in a magnificent Victorian Gothic building. Eight galleries allow visitors to embark on a journey through millions of years and witness how a small settlement developed into the City of Dundee as it is today. From exhibits relating to the life of early man in the area, paintings and decorative art through to artefacts from industries past and present, the City’s collections give an insight into Dundee and its people.

For those who want to hit the shops, the Wellgate Shopping Centre has all the familiar High Street names under one roof, as indeed does the newer Overgate Centre, the only single-sided mall in Europe. Fisher and Donaldson (Whitehall Street) is a fourth generation family bakery/ cafe famed for its Dundee cake and steak bridies, while Westport Gallery in the street of the same name is an Aladdin’s cave of arty pieces including paintings, vases, lamps and lighting.

For all things Scottish, Sutherlands (Nethergate), still going strong after 90 odd years, is the place to go if you want a kilt, Quaich or even a ‘See You Jimmy’ bunnet.

If you like green spaces, Dundee doesn’t disappoint. The 400 acre Camperdown Country Park (Coupar Angus Road) has around 190 tree species and is home to a wildlife centre, Clatto Country Park (Dalmahoy Drive) has an area where kids can make merry and is popular for picnics while the peaceful Dundee Botanic Garden (Riverside Drive) provides year round interest. A rainforest greenhouse holds banana trees and citrus fruits while its pond is stiff with giant water lilies. The coffee shop is popular for its homemade cakes and hearty soups. While out in the fresh air, make your way to the Dundee Law (Law Road), an extinct volcano. If you can hoof your way to the top, you’ll be rewarded by swoony views. On clear days visibility stretches over 45 miles which means that besides the city, you can see across to Fife, the Tay Estuary and Perthshire.

When evening comes, you could take in a show at the Dundee Rep Theatre (Tay Square). This theatre and arts company stages its own productions and also hosts visiting works including drama, musicals, contemporary and classical dance, children’s theatre, comedy, jazz and opera.

The on-site cafe bar and restaurant is a popular place to relax after a show. Another popular theatre is the art deco Whitehall (Bellfield Street) which started life in the 1920s as the ‘Alhambra’, a small scale cinema and theatre for amateur productions.

Nowadays it offers excellent regular family musical and theatrical entertainment.

For something a bit different on a fine night, Mills Observatory (Glamis Road, Balgay Park) the UK’s only fulltime public observatory, is where to reach for the stars. Planetarium shows project a simulated night sky onto the ceiling allowing onlookers to see stacks of stars and the Milky Way.

Those who fancy taking their chances with Lady Luck meanwhile, might like to enjoy an evening in Dundee’s newest hip nightspot, the G Casino (Marketgait).

Dundee isn’t short of stylish hotels either. If you want somewhere to hang your hat try the stylish Hilton Dundee, (Earl Grey Place) with its river front location, within walking distance of most of Dundee’s attractions or Best Western Invercarse (Perth Road), a former private mansion house in wooded grounds.

Endnote for those out-of-towners unfamiliar with the Dundee dialect which can on occasion be almost incomprehensible. One sound that you may find strange and which you will frequently hear is the sound ‘Eh’ which can be translated in three ways. ‘Eh’ meaning, ‘Eye’; ‘Eh’ meaning ‘I’ and ‘Eh’ meaning ‘yes’. Probably the best Dundee phrase of all to demonstrate this is, ‘eh’ll hae twa plehn pehs an’ an ingin ane an’ a’. Translates as ‘I’ll have two plain pies and an onion one as well.’ (Dundee is famed for its pies.)

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