25 metres of ascent
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 But it fell into disuses as ships got larger, and now the old buildings have been replaced by shops, restaurants, offices and blocks of flats.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.
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.
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:
But to the east, the North Sea haar was billowing coldly around the oil-rig decommissioning works at Port of Dundee.
A little detour then took me to the strange perspective-defying artwork on the pillars of the bridge approach road:
For more about that, see my post on Perspective Tricks.
Then back to the shoreline to visit the Telford Beacon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.