Lock-down Walks: Three Ships, Two Bridges, And A Bad Poet

2.6 kilometres
25 metres of ascent

Riverside walk
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Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

This one’s just a short, level stroll along one of the more interesting sections of Dundee’s waterfront on the Tay estuary. It also goes off-book a bit by being a one-way stroll—linking the two ends of the journey is left as an … ahem … exercise for the interested reader.  Even while the two-metre physical distancing rule is still a thing in these parts, it’s easy enough to navigate the route, though probably best avoided on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Every now and then, on a busy day, a perfect crowd-storm can brew up in the three-metre gap between the river and the new flood-defence wall—sea-anglers on the left, a couple sitting on a bench to the right, an inattentive family group coming from ahead, and cyclists arriving silently from behind.

So, I started at Victoria Dock. This was once a bustling harbour area, with a tannery and a sawmill, a small shipyard and even its own railway station. But it fell into disuses as ships got larger, and now the old buildings have been replaced by shops, restaurants, offices and blocks of flats. It contains precisely two ships: the well-preserved H.M.S. Unicorn, almost two hundred years old; and the much-decayed North Carr Lightship, less than half that age.

Frigate Unicorn, Dundee
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North Carr Lightship, Dundee
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The Unicorn, oddly enough, has always had its strange roof—it has never been under sail. By the time it was built, the Napoleonic Wars had ended, and it turned out to be surplus to naval requirements. So the hull was roofed over and laid up. It eventually found its way to Dundee as a training ship later in the nineteenth century, and has been here ever since—a rare surviving frigate from the days of sail.

Between Victoria Dock and the waterfront, amid all the modern construction, there’s a little cobbled street lined with original dockyard buildings, now converted to flats, and evocatively named Chandlers Lane.

Chandlers Lane, Dundee
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The Lane brings you out on the Tay estuary, just east of the Tay Road Bridge, and close to an elegant viewing platform. To the west, all was sunshine:

Tay Road Bridge from near Chandlers Lane, Dundee
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But to the east, the North Sea haar was billowing coldly around the oil-rig decommissioning works at Port of Dundee.

Haar on the Tay, Dundee
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A little detour then took me to the strange perspective-defying artwork on the pillars of the bridge approach road:

Tay Road Bridge pillars, Dundee

For more about that, see my post on Perspective Tricks.

Then back to the shoreline to visit the Telford Beacon.

Telford Beacon, Dundee
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This used to stand on the west side of the entrance to King William IV Dock, which disappeared under reclaimed land in the 1960s—which is why Dundee’s Dock Street is no longer next to a dock, and Shore Terrace no longer leads to a shore. The little lighthouse (named after Thomas Telford, who designed the docks), incongruously survived the infilling of the surrounding waterways and the clearance of the harbour buildings to make way for the Tay Road Bridge. It then stood forlornly for decades in a little corner of parkland, marooned a hundred metres from the sea, just to the left of the old western off-ramp of the bridge. But with the remodelling of the Dundee waterfront and the bridge approaches back in 2011 there was a problem—the new off-ramp was due to go right through the location of the beacon. So they moved it:

At least it now has a view of the sea again.

Tay Road Bridge monument, Dundee
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From there, I strolled past the commemorative monument to the opening of the road bridge, which reproduces one of its support pillars and always reminds me of a giant incisor tooth, and then headed along towards the mad architecture of the new Victoria and Albert design museum.

V&A Museum, Dundee
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Next to that is the R.R.S. Discovery, the Dundee-built ship that took Robert Falcon Scott’s British National Antarctic Expedition to the Antarctic. After many wanderings, and considerable neglect, she found her way back to Dundee in 1986, and now sits in the old Craig Harbour.

RRS Discovery, Dundee
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Before the road bridge was built, the jetty of Craig Harbour, just to the right of the Discovery in the photograph above, was the departure point for the Dundee & Newport Ferry, universally known in Dundee as the “Fifie”—because it took you across the estuary to Fife:

And next to the Discovery is the Discovery Point museum, with its appealing penguin-dotted forecourt.

Discovery Point museum, Dundee
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Heading back to the shore, I soon encountered the commemorative plaque for a record-breaking seaplane flight—6000 miles from the River Tay in Scotland to the Orange River in South Africa, in October 1938.

Maia/Mercury plaque, Dundee
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As you can see from the plaque, the aircraft involved were interesting—the Short Mayo Composite was a seaplane perched on the back of a flying  boat. This was an early solution to the problem of long-haul flight—the little Mercury seaplane was lifted into the air on the back of the Maia flying boat, and therefore didn’t need to carry fuel for take-off. The Maia could go on to carry passengers on local flights, while the Mercury set off on its long-haul journey with a full load of fuel. They were instrumental in the first non-stop trans-Atlantic commercial flight in 1938, but were overtaken by the Second World War and the improvements in aircraft design that came with it—only one Mayo Composite was ever built. Here it is in action during a test flight:

From this point, it’s a straight walk to the Tay Rail Bridge:

Riverside Esplanade and Tay Rail Bridge, Dundee
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If you enlarge the photograph, you can just make out the stubs of the support pillars of the Old Tay Bridge in the water below the current span—a remnant of the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879, when the old bridge collapsed in a storm while a train was crossing.

The original bridge had prompted a rhapsody by Dundee’s Embarrassment Laureate, William McGonagall:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
With your numerous arches and pillars in so grand array
And your central girders, which seem to the eye
To be almost towering to the sky.
The greatest wonder of the day,
And a great beautification to the River Tay,
Most beautiful to be seen,
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

He then went on to add insult to injury with another alleged poem penned after the disaster:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

For reasons lost in the records of some deranged town planning meeting, Dundee City Council decided to immortalize McGonagall’s earlier work in the form of McGonagall’s Walk, on the approach to the bridge:

McGonagall's Walk and Tay Rail Bridge, Dundee
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Lines from the poem are engraved in stone along the esplanade. And as if that’s not embarrassing enough for Dundee, spelling mistakes have been included, free of charge:

Misspelling on McGonagall's Walk, Dundee
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That’s really the end of the riverside walk. But since McGonagall mentioned Magadalen Green, I’ll just pop across the railway bridge to show you that this little area of parkland still exists, albeit unmown during the Current Unpleasantness. Dundee’s oldest public park is on the site of the mediæval chapel of St Mary Magdalene, and it boasts a rather spiffy bandstand, now well into its second century of existence.

Magdalen Green bandstand, Dundee
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7 thoughts on “Lock-down Walks: Three Ships, Two Bridges, And A Bad Poet”

  1. This lock-down report was especially interesting for me as I love walks along old waterfronts. I guess that nearly 30 years of working in a Port City, Fremantle Western Australia, will do that to you. Chandlers Lane looks great and I have seen streets like it in a number of ports around the world. My office for most of the last 20 years of my working life was in a reconstructed Chandlers Building – specifically an old Rope and Chain Warehouse.

    I was pleased to see the photo of the RSS Discovery just a few weeks after we discussed her on a recent post.

    The link to the short film about the “Short Mayo Composite” was also very interesting as while I have seen lots of photos of the planes I have never before seen film of them flying and especially not of the ‘separation’. Keeping a seagoing theme, I was fascinated by the fully rigged sailing ship in the background of the takeoff and landing shots. It at first appeared to have a row of gun ports down the side but they are probably drain holes. The shape of the stern makes me think that it may have been an iron hulled vessel with an auxiliary steam engine from the 1850’s to 1870’s.

    Back to your walk, I certainly could see the stubs of the Old Tray Bridge in your photo. I recall an interesting TV show by Rob Bell that covered the Old Tay Bridge.

    I first heard about William McGonagall by listening to repeats of “The Goon Show”. For years I thought that he and his poetry was just the result of the imagination of Spike Milligan! Surely ‘McGonagall’s Walk’ was create with a nod and a wink to his renown as a bad poet and was created in fit of good humour? the spelling error and its retention is of course unforgivable.

    I see that Scotland has now dropped the ‘5 mile rule’ for most of the country. I guess that you will be out into the hills as soon as possible.

  2. I’m glad it was of interest.
    I enjoyed Bell’s discussion of the old Tay Bridge–I hadn’t realized that its collapse had contributed to the rather over-engineered look of the Forth Rail Bridge.
    Dundonians have a bit of a tooth-gritting relationship with McGonagall–he’s such a figure of fun that we find ourselves stuck with a “if you can’t beat them, join them” role. We did once have a bar called McGonagall’s on the Perth Road, back in the ’70s and ’80s. Weirdly, it had a downstairs cocktail bar called Sammy Cahn’s–I have no idea of the connection between McGonagall and Cahn. And now, after several name changes, the place is called the Hunter S. Thompson … It’s all very disorientating.
    Whoever chiselled the McGonagall Walk inscription misspelled “beautiful” four times–if memory serves, only the first occurrence is spelled correctly.

  3. Good morning Dr. Grant.

    Fascinating as usual. I never realized some people roofed over hulks!

    When I saw the first picture, but before I read the text, I initially thought “When did the Brits acquire a Korean turtle ship?”

    And I enlarged the picture to see if there were spikes on the roof and when there were none I then thought of what was called a hurricane deck, which some ships in the tropics have to permit deck operations in foul weather. An extensive one to be sure, but you guys *are* fond of traipsing about the Artic and I thought it may have been a one off design.

    Such wholesale conjecture from a single picture! (And why is a Mark Twain quote circulating through my head at the moment?) 🙂

    Mr. Kirkham, I too have spent most of my 60 years of life within earshot of sea gulls and foghorns. Been across the Pacific and Indian oceans no less than five times. The long way no less.

    And I absolutely adored Perth when I was there. The only reason Singapore edges Perth out of the top spot I’ve been to is I got to go to Singapore more often, oh, and finding out that despite looking a tremendous amount like any beach bar area in San Diego, California Australia isn’t California. Why, we had the beach to ourselves after dark. We just thought it was because it was a week night.

    Never crossed our minds for a second that the really big piece of driftwood just *over there*, about 50 feet away, was actually a 20 foot long saltwater crocodile. Space is short, but hilarity did ensue shortly afterwards.

    And I do believe he was sneaking up on us.

    Yeah, that was a bit of a buzz kill, I tell you true.

    1. Until fairly recently, I had the idea that we should spend some money on “remasting” the Unicorn, to make it more of a companion to the Discovery. Picture my surprise when I discovered the damn thing had never had masts in the first place.

  4. Hi BigDon nice to see you posting. You are probably not aware that we have actually exchanged posts before. I post on the Cosmoquest Forum as Ozduck.

    I think you must have been on a beach a fair way north of Perth. We certainly have nasty saltwater crocodiles that do exactly as you said but they rarely come down the coast of Western Australia closer than about 1,300 km north of here. But those ones up there would happily snap up an unwary beach-goer.

  5. Ozduck! I’m so pleased to hear from you again!

    We may well have been sir. We were being driven about by locals, usually after dark and at high speeds with the roads outside of cities at the time were pretty much unlit so we often had no idea as too how far we’d gone.

    For instance, after Google Earth came out I was stunned just how far inland our hosts lived from Perth itself, a cattle ranching/mining town nearly 130 miles away into the interior. (and after a steady diet of distilled water from the ship’s boilers the town’s tap water was so alkaline as to be undrinkable! According to the residents if your only source of water was the taps, your kidneys would fail within two years.)

    Beer was really popular there…

  6. I am please that you are pleased 🙂 The water in those little country towns that are not on the main water supply can certainly be pretty ‘hard’ and beer is always popular. When you taste the local water supply in places like Norway you really notice the difference.

    Western Australia is big and the towns very spread out. My daughter and her family are currently on holiday in the north of the state right in crocodile territory. The last spot we have heard from them was Kununurra. That town is a little over 3,000 km (around 1,900 miles) by road from here but still inside the state.

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