Dundee Law (NO 391313, 174m)
183 metres of ascent
Another day, another park on the way to another Dundee hill. My starting point this time was the southwest corner of the steeply sloping Dudhope Park, on my way to the Dundee Law. Dudhope gets its name from the old word hope, meaning “valley”. Someone with a name like Dudda once owned the valley that separates Dundee Law from Balgay Hill, it would seem. And a law is an isolated conical hill, which is exactly what Dundee Law is. (Although, among Dundonians, it’s often known by the tautologous name “Law Hill”. Which is confusingly pronounced “La Hull”, just so you know.)
The Law is usually ascended from the town by any of several long flights of stairs, but these are narrow and run between high walls, and so are not ideal for maintaining two-metre separation from other walkers. So in the spirit of coronavirus lockdown, the route I’m about to describe follows paved roads and broad paths through parkland. It does contain a couple of very short sections that ascend narrow flights of stairs, but these are all easily negotiated by waiting for anyone coming in the opposite direction to get out of the way.
So I popped up some steps right next to the park entrance, and then headed upwards across the park, aiming for a northern exit that aligns neatly with the prominent memorial on top of the Law.
Another little flight of steps took me out of the park, from where I wove my up through quiet residential streets, gaining height all the time and beginning to glimpse views out towards the Tay estuary.
From the appropriately named Lawside Avenue I reached a junction with the appropriately named Law Crescent, which makes a three-quarter loop around the hill. I was getting out of the residential area and on to the wooded slopes of the Law itself. A jay started chattering at me from the trees, and I spent a bit of time fruitlessly trying to photograph it before pressing on uphill.
The route passes between two of the allotment garden areas on the Law slopes. Only a few people seemed to be working on their vegetable patches as part of their government mandated outdoor exercise.
Once I’d wound around on to the north side of the hill, I dived off-piste into the woodland for a short distance, so that I could show you something interesting:
It’s a Second World War pillbox (a Type 24, to be exact), embedded in the side of hill. (During the war, this was a bare hillside flanked by two quarries, so the firing slits would have had a considerably better view to the north.) Long abandoned and ignored, it has recently been “renovated” and turned into a bat roost (though I’m not sure that strictly counts as renovation).
At the top end of Law Crescent there’s another interesting building.
This has the style of an old dovecote, but it isn’t one of those. It’s usually referred to as the Water Tower. Built in the 1920s, it received water from a covered reservoir and pumping station on the north side of the Law, and passed it through a coal-fired heating system in a (now demolished) building just down the road, from which the hot water flowed on to houses farther down the hill, as part of the innovative Stirling Avenue District Heating System, which is now long-since defunct.
A few metres up the road from the Water Tower (we’re now on the appropriately named Law Road), there’s a sign marking the location of the Law Tunnel, along which horses used to pull loaded wagons to connect to the Dundee-Newtyle railway.
The south end of the tunnel is now bricked up, and the north end buried, but see here for a lovely history of the tunnel, including the adventures of some local lads who found their way in during the 1960s.
Law Road completed my first circumnavigation of the hill, and then gave me a second almost-complete turn as I spiralled towards the top, with its impressive war memorial and wide views across the Tay to the south, and towards the Sidlaw Hills in the north.
The bronze finial of the memorial is a brazier, in which a fire is lit four times a year: on 25 September, for the beginning of the Battle of Loos, which was a disaster for the 4th (City of Dundee) Battalion of The Black Watch; on 24 October, for United Nations Day; on Remembrance Sunday in November; and on 11 November, for Armistice Day. (Those last two dates sometimes align with each other, so the brazier is lit only three times in those years.)
The summit also bears a triangulation pillar, a view indicator, and the inevitable communications tower. Someone has painted the building at the base of the tower with a pretty mural, so I got a photograph of a jay after all.
Rather than retrace my long, winding ascent route, I took a more direct route down. A flight of steps descends into parkland to the east of the Law summit, but it’s easy to look over the railing, check for any approaching traffic, and skip down the first section of the stairs when the coast is clear.
A path through the park descends to Law Road, passing under a decorative iron archway in the shape of a whale’s jawbone. It’s a nod to Dundee’s whaling past, designed by Kevin Blackwell and erected in 2013 to replace a wooden version that was getting a little the worse for wear.
I retraced my steps as far as the Water Tower, and then headed south, picking my way through residential areas that include Stirling Avenue (the beneficiary of the the District Heating System mentioned above). Eventually I emerged at the northeast corner of Dudhope Park.
From there I took a little diversion for old times’ sake, to visit the mad Tudor-style splendour of the old Dundee Royal Infirmary.
It opened in 1855 and closed in 1998, and I worked there, on and off, for close to twenty years, often dashing in and out through the oddly unprepossessing entrance to the Accident and Emergency department, with its motto Pro Ægris Et Læsis—“For the Sick and Injured”. Nowadays, the whole building has been remodelled into flats.
Then back into Dudhope Park through its east entrance, from where I found my way down to Dudhope Castle, a rather splendid 16th Century edifice with a pretty garden in front, which nowadays houses city council offices.
From Dudhope Castle, it was just a stroll down the access road to return to my starting point. But the whale-jaw arch had put me in mind to visit a similar piece of sculpture nearby—Alastair Smart’s Whale’s Teeth, on Polepark Road. They evoke gigantic scrimshaw work, engraved with scenes from Dundee’s history.