December 2021 saw us restart our previously curtailed Scottish expédition, and amid an outbreak of the Omicron COVID variant, we headed to Dundee.
I had been double-vaccinated and had my booster jab, and Carol had been double-vaccinated and had recently recovered from a bit of a cold during which she had tested positive, so we were both feeling as protected as we could be, and after 3 months of working from home, I felt good and very fit for travel.
Our plans were loose to say the least. We set the satnav to Dundee, just to have somewhere to aim for, but with no accommodation booked, and no real idea if we would make the 758km trip in one go, or whether we would tire and pull in before then, perhaps somewhere like the Lake District. We started off well prepared with warm and waterproof winter clothing, and even a couple of quilts and sleeping bags in case accommodation was a problem, forcing us to sleep in the car.
Well we did make it to Dundee in one go, a drive of around 9 hours, and shortly before arriving we booked a room at The Best Western Queens Hotel. We needed to stretch our legs after being cooped up in our car for so long, so we immediately went out to see what the city had to offer.
The recommendation upon check in was that we should visit the waterfront and that’s where we headed and found Discovery Point, Home of RRS Discovery. The RRS Discovery is a barque-rigged auxiliary steamship built for Antarctic research. Launched in 1901, she was the last traditional wooden three-mast ship to be built in the United Kingdom. She was quite impressive in her night-time colours!
To add to our quota of experiencing local culture, we headed to The Phoenix, a locals pub. We grabbed a quick drink before heading back to our hotel for the night. Nigel had a pint of ‘heavy’. Well, when in Rome..
It would apppear that religion plays a large part of life in Dundee, with no fewer than five large churches visible from our hotel. From memory, there may even have been more churches than bars. From our visit to The Phoenix, which was absolutely packed, I suspect it’s the pubs that attract more ‘worshippers’.
The next day after a freshly cooked and tasty breakfast we headed into the main town and discovered something we weren’t aware Dundee was famous for, being home to DC Thomson the comic publishers. Growing up we were both familiar with the Beano and Dandy but never knew its Scottish links. Dundee clearly celebrates its comic book history with sculptures of Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx.
Dundee also bases its Christmas decorations on its DC heritage although in the lights it was difficult to identify who was who!
With no fixed itinerary, our time was our own, and we decided to give 3 nights and 2 days of our time to Dundee. So what else was there to see and do in this major industrial city?
Well football is always high up on my agenda, and Dundee is very famous for that, with not one, but two teams representing the city in the Scottish Premiership. Dundee and Dundee United are not in the east and west ends, nor even north and south. Separated by The River Tay perhaps? Not a bit of it. They are both in the same street! Admittedly, opposite sides of it, and around a hundred metres apart, and the walk from one ground to the other takes less than a minute. I know because I took that walk. It’s a shame that one of the teams is currently bottom of the league, and in pure footballing terms neither team is overly laden with recent trophies, but they are special in terms of their proximity, nobody can take that away from them.
Cake and Christmas Market!
We’ve all heard of Dundee Cake, right? So it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a slice in Dundee, right? Wrong! We had to visit several coffee shops and cake shops before we could find anywhere that sold it. Eventually, after asking a few people, we found Fisher & Donaldson, a bakery that’s been in existence since 1919!
We took our cake and ate it at the local Christmas Fayre, washed down with some mulled wine. It was Christmas, it would have been rude not to, however the market was a little sad with hardly anyone there. We had a fun and chilled few days in Dundee, grabbing some much needed down time after the long drive but it was time to head on.
We decided the next place to rest our heads would be Aberdeen, and what a lovely drive we had there, with many interesting and beautiful stops along the very scenic route.
Located in Broughty Ferry, an area just 8 minutes from the city centre of Dundee, Broughty Castle Museum is lcoated on the banks of the river Tay and was completed in 1495. This was our first stop on our drive and we spend a little time learning exploring the views and learning about the life and times of the people in Broughty Ferry in the museum.
Located in Carnoustie, Barry Mill was our next stop, possibly one of the only water powered corn mills remaining. There was a big fire here in 1814 and it has since been rebuilt. It appeared closed when we visited and was a little out of the way. If this is your thing then I would suggest checking the opening times; however we were quite underwhelmed. The area around it was very pretty though.
Arbroath Abbey was our next stop, located in the town of Arboath the abbey was consecrated in 1197. It is perhaps most famous for being associated with the 1320 Scottish Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately the Abbey fell into ruin after the Reformation and its stones were raided from 1590 to be used in building of other properties in Abroath. Today there is not much remaining but it does have a fascinating history.
The House of Dun is a National Trust property located in Montrose and overlooks the Montrose Basin reserve. Unfortunately we picked a day when not much was open but the house and the grounds were well maintained and impressive. The Dun Estate was home to the Erskine family from 1375 to 1980 and John Erskine was a key figure in the Scottish Reformation.
St Cyrus National Nature Reserve is described as one of the most diverse reserves in the world. In winter, large numbers of waders, ducks, geese and swans visit the estuary. And native Scottish cattle breeds graze the reserve from April to October. We popped by as it was on our way and only 10 minutes (6 miles) from House of Dunn. It was a lovely spot but very chilly so we had a quick walk and then headed back to the car.
Onwards to Dunnottar Castle, a fortress surrounded on 3 sides by the North Sea and possibly the most stunning castle we have ever seen! Perched at the top of a 160ft rock it was spectacular and a haven for those instagrammers who wanted those picture perfect selfies. It has a fascinating history which you can read about here.
We arrived a little late in the day to actually go into the castle but we were happy enough just enjoying our views. If you want to go in tickets cost £9.50 for adults and £4.50 for children. There was plenty of parking also.
Our final stop for the day was Aberdeen Harbour; we had a long day with loads of lovely stops and this one was no exception. The harbour has now as of 2022 been renamed as the Port of Aberdeen and has the biggest berthage in the whole of Scotland. It stretches from Union Square in the city to the mouth of the River Dee. It is large freight transport hub as well as providing berths for ferries travelling to the northern Islands including the Shetland Ferry.
Our resting place for the next 3 nights was the £29 a night Travelodge in the Town Centre; considering this was over New Year we didn’t think that was too bad! we headed to our quarters and had a wee stop at the local pub and the fish and chip shop to have some traditional scottish fayre – Irn Bru and deep fried mars bar!
More about our New Year adventures in the next blog post – for now we were ready for a biggg sleep!
Carol & Nigel xx