Dundee, Scotland Hotels, Resort Accommodations

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DUNDEE
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At first sight, DUNDEE can seem a grim place. In the nineteenth century it was Britain's main processor of jute, the world's most important vegetable fibre after cotton, which earned the city the tag "Juteopolis". The decline of manufacturing wasn't kind to Dundee, but regeneration is very much the buzz-word today, with some commentators drawing comparisons to Glasgow's reinvention of itself as a city of culture in the 1980s and 1990s. Less apparent is the city's international reputation as a centre of biotechnology and cancer research, a theme soon to be given a notable monument in the construction of a cancer care centre, the first public commission in the UK of Frank O. Gehry, the world-famous US architect responsible for Bilbao's Guggenheim.

The major sight is Captain Scott's Antarctic explorer ship, RRS Discovery . Verdant Works is a recreated jute mill which has picked up tourism awards for its take on the city's distinctive industrial heritage. You should also try to spend some time at the upbeat DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts), the totemic building of the developing cultural quarter around which most of the city's lively artistic and social life revolves. Four miles east of the city centre lies the seaside settlement of Broughty Ferry , now engulfed as a reluctant suburb. Comprising an eclectic mix of big villas built by jute barons up the hillside and small fishermen's cottages along the shoreline, "The Ferry", as it's known, has experienced a recent resurgence in popularity, and is a pleasant and relaxing spot with some good restaurants and pubs.

Even prior to its Victorian heyday, Dundee was a town of considerable importance. It was here in 1309 that Robert the Bruce was proclaimed the lawful King of Scots, and during the Reformation it earned itself a reputation for tolerance, sheltering leading figures such as John Knox . After destruction by the Jacobite Viscount Dundee, the city picked itself up in the 1800s, its train and harbour links making it a major centre for shipbuilding, whaling and the manufacture of jute . This, along with jam and journalism - the three Js which famously defined the city - has all but disappeared, with only local publishing giant D.C. Thomson, publisher of the timelessly popular Beano and Dandy comics, as well as a spread of other comics and newspapers, still playing a meaningful role in the city.

The best approach to Dundee is across the mile-and-a-half-long Tay Road Bridge from Fife. While the Tay bridges aren't nearly as spectacular as the bridges over the Forth near Edinburgh, they do offer a magnificent panorama of the city on the northern bank of the firth. The bridge, opened in 1966, has a central walkway for pedestrians. An 80p toll is levied on cars leaving the city, but you can enter from the south for free. Running parallel half a mile upstream is the Tay Rail Bridge , opened in 1887 to replace the spindly structure which collapsed in a storm in May 1878 only eighteen months after it was built, killing the crew and 75 passengers on a train passing over the bridge at the time.

Dundee's city centre is focused on City Square , a couple of hundred yards north of the Tay. The attractive square, set in front of the city's imposing Caird Hall, has been much spruced up in recent years, with fountains, benches and extensive pedestrianization making for a relaxing environment, though the grand old buildings and churches close to the centre have been rather overwhelmed by large shopping malls filled with a mundane mass of chain stores.

The main street, which is pedestrianized as it passes City Square, starts as Nethergate in the west, becomes High Street in the centre, then divides into Murraygate (which is also pedestrianized) and Seagate. Opposite this junction is the mottled spire of St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral (open to the public, though hours vary; free), a rather gaudy Gothic Revival structure by George Gilbert Scott, notable for its vividly sentimental stained glass and floridly gilded high altar.

At the other old church in the centre, St Mary's, now engulfed by the vast Overgate Shopping Centre, is an attraction called The Old Steeple (April-Sept Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-4pm; Oct-March Mon-Sat 11am-4pm, Sun noon-4pm; joint ticket with Verdant Works and Discovery Point). Led by a guide, you'll have to tackle a lot of steps, encountering along the way the belfry and the church's massive, seven-ton bells, followed by the mechanism for the steeple's clock. At the top you step out onto a parapet for great views over the city and the Tay with its bridges.

A hundred yards north of City Square, at the top of Reform Street, is the attractive Albert Square , home of the imposing D.C. Thomson building, Dundee High School and, on its eastern side, the McManus Art Galleries and Museum (Mon-Sat 10.30am-5pm, Thurs until 7pm, Sun 12.30-4pm; free). Designed by Gilbert Scott, the museum is Dundee's most impressive Victorian structure, with a delightful sweep of outside curved stone staircases and elaborate Gothic touches. Inside, the museum gives an excellent overview of the city's past, with displays ranging from Pictish stones to the Tay Bridge disaster. On the ground floor, the most impressive exhibit is the skeleton of a whale, washed up on a nearby beach in 1883 and eulogized in a poem by William McGonagall, a strong contender for the title of the world's worst poet ("'Twas in the month of December, and in the year 1883,/That a monster whale came to Dundee"). Upstairs, the magnificent Albert Hall - crowned by a roof of 480 pitch-pine panels in a Gothic arch - houses antique musical instruments, decorative glass, gold, silver, sculpture and some exquisite furniture. On the same floor, the barrel-roofed Victoria Gallery 's red walls are packed with nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings, including some notable Pre-Raphaelite and Scottish collections, William McTaggart's seascapes being a particular highlight.

Across Ward Road from the museum, the Howff Burial Ground on Meadowside (daily 9am to dusk) has some great carved tombstones dating from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Originally gardens belonging to a monastery, the land was given to Dundee for burials in 1564 by Mary, Queen of Scots. Five minutes' walk west of here, on West Henderson Wynd in Blackness, an award-winning museum, Verdant Works , tells the story of jute from its harvesting in India to its arrival in Dundee on clipper ships (opening hours under review - check on 01382/225282; joint ticket with Discovery Point and Old Steeple £12.15). In the nineteenth century, Dundee's jute mills employed fifty thousand people and were responsible for the rapid industrialization and development of the city as a trading port. The museum, set in an old jute mill, makes a lively attempt to recreate the turn-of-the-century factory floor, the highlight being the chance to watch jute being processed on fully operational quarter-size machines originally used for training workers.

  

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