Dundee: City of Jam, Jute, Journalism, Cutting Edge Design and Cool Cafes

HMS Discovery docked next to the stunning new V&A Dundee
HMS Discovery docked next to the stunning new V&A Dundee

A glorious, late winter’s day provided the ideal excuse to venture over to the east coast for a mooch round Dundee: Britain’s ‘coolest little city’  (according to GQ magazine) and the UK’s first designated UNESCO City of Design.

Almost 40 years had elapsed since I last visited Dundee and, even then, in the midst of the devastating manufacturing decline of the early 1980s, it retained its vibrancy and creativity and was home to a thriving student community. Today, two of its famous Three Js – jam, jute – have virtually disappeared and, like all other publishers of print journalism, DC Thomson has reduced and restructured in the face of online media.

The restored HQ of DC Thomson, birthplace of Desperate Dan, Oor Wullie and the Broons.
The restored HQ of DC Thomson, birthplace of Desperate Dan, Oor Wullie and the Broons.

But, throughout its history, Dundee has been nothing if not innovative and, while once famous for Keiller’s marmalade and the Beano, it is now renowned as the creative centre of computer gaming.

One of the sad looking penguins circling the Discovery
One of the sad-looking penguins circling the Discovery.

The opening of the V & A Dundee, Scotland’s first museum of design, in September, is eagerly awaited, particularly as its first major exhibition – currently at the V&A in London – will showcase the speed and style of the great ocean liners that revolutionised travel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and whose design and construction are irrevocably associated with Scotland.

But there’s more to Dundee than Grand Theft Auto and the new V & A. Dundee’s origins date from pre-history and its location at the mouth of the Tay estuary ensured its importance as a trading centre over the centuries.

The imposing and impressive McManus Galleries
The imposing and impressive McManus Galleries.

The re-furbished McManus Galleries charts the city’s development throughout the ages.  It also houses two paintings by Thomas Musgrave Day illustrating Grace Darling’s rescue of passengers from the wreck of the Forfarshire (built in Dundee) in 1838. The bravery of Grace and her father, setting out in their rowing boat into high seas and a Force 10,  was one of my favourite childhood stories.

The Doric pillars of Dundee High School date from 1832
The Doric pillars of Dundee High School date from 1832.



As befits a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, Dundee contains many impressive buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. It has also benefitted from the bequests of several famous entrepreneurs and industrialists; such as the Caird Hall, named after its benefactor, the jute baron James Caird. One of Scotland’s premier concert venues, it has hosted the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Sinatra, amongst many others.

Jute provided great wealth to a few in the city, but subjected many of Dundee’s population to dreadful and dangerous working conditions.  These are vividly recreated at the excellent Verdant Museum, housed in an old jute works: another must-visit.

The Firth of Tay on a beautiful winter's day, with the its historic rail bridge in the background.
The Firth of Tay on a beautiful winter’s day, with  its historic rail bridge in the background.

So, a nice little taster for a further visit later in the year.  And, despite the bitterly cold east wind, no trip to Dundee is complete without a glimpse of the the Tay Rail Bridge The replacement for its ill-fated predecessor, the bridge is now 131 years old and still links Fife with Angus and Scotland’s north east.

But, despite the city’s many and varied cultural attractions, the piece de resistance of my day out in Dundee was the discovery of The Bach, a gem of a cafe/restaurant near the McManus Galleries. Not content with providing an imaginative and reasonably priced menu and serving up first class, locally roasted coffee from Sacred Grounds of Arbroath, it is also a proper dog cafe, welcoming  each canine customer with a fleecy bed, bowl of water and small treat. Wonderful!

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Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017

After missing last year’s event through negligently failing to apply for tickets in time, I did manage to remember this year’s date and successfully secured my place several weeks ago.  Undeterred by a foot injury, even a perfect spring day, – the hottest so far, this year, in the city – couldn’t keep me away.

The Briggait: Glasgow's wonderful Victorian fish market
The Briggait: Glasgow’s wonderful Victorian fish market

The Victorian splendour of the Briggait Glasgow’s old fish market, provided an appropriate setting for the profusion of gleaming brass and chrome on display across the main hall.

One of the great advantages of living in Scotland’s biggest city these days – up there with better cycling provision and ever-expanding foodie options – is the amazing variety of locally roasted beans now available, as well as the burgeoning range of indie and speciality cafes where they can be sampled.

Highlights were discovering some new kids on the block; Davide for his very informative backstory of Ovenbird (about to try my first flat white with Wegida Blue Natural); McCune Smith for the scrumptious amaretto and Glenfiddich brownie; and the lovely lady from Indycoffeeguides.

Essential packing for trip north in the summer
Essential packing for trip north in the summer

Armed with my new Scotland copy, complete with its essential advice on cycling friendly establishments, I’m well set for my trip north to Skye later in the summer and a detour to Dundee now looks to be in order, en route to the Fife coast  in the autumn.

Thanks to Dear Green for an excellent (on the house) flat white and for hosting the event.  I’m still hopeful you can come up with some letterbox-friendly packaging so your beans  can be delivered straight to my door later in the year!

Roll on 2018.

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