Sunday, April 06, 2008

Walk 169 -- Dundee, via Broughty Ferry & Monifieth, to Carnoustie

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 334 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 111 days.
Weather: Blizzard before we started — we drove to Carnoustie in a white-out! But it had all melted by the time we got to Dundee on the train, and the sun came out. A cold north wind all day, but it remained mostly sunny. Sleety rain started as soon as we got back to the car — what timing!
Location: Dundee, via Broughty Ferry and Monifieth, to Carnoustie.
Distance: 12 miles.
Total distance: 1413 miles.

Terrain: Mostly concrete/tarmac. Flat.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘Fisherman’s Tavern’ at Broughty Ferry where we enjoyed Orkney ‘Dark Island’ (Colin) and Nethergate ‘Essex Border’ (me).
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.10, Broughty Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.48 at the very beginning of the Walk where the waterfront path was blocked with building works. No.49 only a few yards further on where our way out of a ‘dead’ shopping centre was again blocked by building works. No.50 at Dundee Docks where we couldn’t walk along the public cycle path because we didn’t have a pass!
How we got there and back: We drove from Malvern to Montrose the day before — nearly 450 miles! We had booked a holiday cottage for two weeks overlooking Montrose Basin and within 200 yards of Montrose Station. In the morning we drove to Carnoustie in a blizzard! We parked on the seafront within a stone’s throw of the station, and caught a train to Dundee. From the station we walked down to the Tay Bridge where we had finished the last Walk nine months ago.
At the end, we got to the car just as an almighty storm began, throwing rain, hail and sleet at us all at once! We had a cup of tea, then drove back to our cosy cottage in Montrose.

Nine months before we are in a position to resume our Round-Britain-Walk, but what an exciting nine months it has been!

We’ve moved again !
We were beginning to despair of ever finding the house of our dreams. Things were beginning to niggle — we hadn’t lived in a flat, nor in rented accommodation, for nearly forty years. We had lived in a detached house for nearly thirty years, and are used to the privacy that provides. We were becoming increasingly uncomfortable, but none of the houses we viewed were right for us. We renewed the rental on the flat for another six months, and booked a month long holiday in Canada to take our minds off house-hunting for a while.
Then we saw it! A house advertised in the local paper caught our eye, and when we viewed it we both knew immediately it was exactly where we wished to live.
It is nothing like the house we thought we wanted!! But it is exactly right for us. We viewed it the week of the worst floods in history in our part of the West Midlands. Upton, Tewkesbury and a number of surrounding villages suffered the most — both towns were turned into islands and hundreds of families had to move out of their houses because of flood damage. Even Malvern, up on the hill, turned into a giant leaky colander after it rained hard and continuously for forty-four hours! A number of households found they were in the way of new springs which suddenly appeared, and got flooded out. The house we viewed was as dry as a bone! If it was dry that week, we knew it would always be so. We negotiated a very pleasing price because we were cash buyers and the owners were anxious to sell quickly. It was ours, just as soon as we could persuade the solicitors to get their act together! (Why is it that solicitors live and work in their own time warp?)
We had a wonderful holiday in Canada, exploring the Rocky Mountains and staying with friends for part of the time. What a beautiful part of the world it is! We did lots of hiking up mountain trails, and went on a fantastic guided hike to the Burgess Shales. From there we had magnificent views of folded mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and the glittering jewel of Emerald Lake far below. The fossils are 500 million years old, and showed us life-forms which predate the dinosaurs by 360 million years. We didn’t see any bears, but they were about — a mother and cub left pawprints in the mud on a trail behind us. We did see marmots, pikas and a wolverine — a rare sight! Our friends took us to some natural hot springs where we could bathe, and to a place called “Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump”!
When we returned we knew it was time to move — for the lady living three floors above had let her bath-water overflow, our landlord and agent had been in to see if there was any damage (there was), and a lot of our stored stuff including clothes in a fitted wardrobe was covered in mildew! The self-styled ‘chairman of the flats committee’ was objecting to our bird feeders, a drug addict in one of the other flats had been booted out and the couple living above us had been taken off to a home for the bewildered!
The agent found another tenant, so we didn’t have to pay the full six months rent we had agreed to just before we found the house. On November 5
th (remember?) we moved in to our own home once more! The house is in Malvern Wells, where we always wanted to live. We love it here — we are very cosy and have exceptional views across the Severn Valley to Bredon Hill and the Cotswolds which are thirty miles away. The Winter sunrises were surreal! (Now we don’t see them as we are still asleep.)
Despite being only fifty years old our house is quite quirky, that is what attracted us to it. It has more windows on the outside than on the inside! (Now work that one out!) It is an ‘upside-down’ house, typical of the Malvern Hills. We mostly live upstairs because it is bigger than downstairs. The house is built into the side of the hill, so from the back it looks like a bungalow. A zigzag path leads up to the front door, and our garden is a near-vertical slope. We had five enormous conifer trees felled as soon as we moved in, and Colin has already started attacking the laurels in our overgrown and neglected garden. The house is very comfortable as it is, and has not been recently ‘refitted’ so we can take our time to plan how we can alter it to make it really
We sit at the table and watch different weather systems blowing across the Severn Valley below us. The scene is never the same two days running, and is always fascinating to watch. Early mornings are usually the most surreal, when a mist often hangs over the Severn making it look mysterious in the early morning light.
We love it here!

We have become grandparents again, twice over !
In 2007, both our sons decided to start their families. We already have two grandchildren, born to our younger daughter — Jamie, now aged eighteen and Kelly, aged sixteen. They both live in Bognor, so we saw them often as they were growing up. For many years we thought they would be the only two.
In October, just before we moved, Paul’s daughter was born eight weeks early! Natalie Rose weighed little more than a bag of sugar, and it was a very anxious time those first few weeks. She was so tiny we were almost afraid to hold her. It was a great day when she at last came home from hospital. She has overcome many hurdles and is now making excellent progress. She is a tough little bundle, and really beautiful!
In November, just after we had moved, Christopher’s son was born three weeks early. However, Franklyn Shane weighed six pounds and has no health problems so we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. He is absolutely gorgeous!
Natalie lives in Cambridgeshire and Franklyn lives in London. Getting to see them on a regular basis is going to be problematic — that is my main worry. They change so quickly during their first few years, and I don’t want to miss out. We shall have to make concerted efforts to get across the country to see each of them at regular intervals, for both it is at least a three hour journey each way. It is an unfortunate sign of modern times that both parents in most families have to work in order to make ends meet. Time is very precious to them, they have very little of it. So it is up to us to get over there more often, as they have very little time to spare to come over here.

2008 started badly. Colin went down with influenza and I have never known him to be so ill. He was so weak he couldn’t get out of bed, but when I called the doctor a locum flew in, stayed about five seconds and pronounced him ‘perfectly healthy’! Fortunately I didn’t catch it — in fact I can’t remember the last time I had even a cold. I put it down to all those years I spent in schools with children coughing and sneezing all manner of bugs at me. It does wonders for the immune system! Colin did recover, but it took some weeks and it really knocked the stuffing out of him.
It was while Colin was lying in the downstairs bedroom so ill, on a dark morning when it never seemed to get light, that Annalise, our younger daughter, rang me. She had just received a call to say her husband, Mark, had had a stroke, was unconscious, and would she come to the hospital immediately! Mark is only in his thirties, but had major heart surgery four years ago to repair a leaky heart valve. We thought he was completely better!
I then spent the whole day not knowing if my son-in-law was alive or dead! I sat at the table looking at our marvellous view, trying to do things to take my mind off my worries. Colin was too ill to focus, the sky got darker and darker, and then it started to snow! I thought, “If Annalise wants me to go to her down in Sussex, how am I going to leave Colin in his sick-bed and how am I going to drive in this snow?” Still the phone remained silent!
At last she rang back! (She had to take her mobile outside the hospital before she was allowed to switch it on, of course.) Mark had regained consciousness but couldn’t remember what had happened and was talking nonsense. The whole of his right side was affected, but already he was beginning to regain a little movement in his arm. This was all good news.
Mark did make a full recovery eventually. He was very lucky that someone had called an ambulance immediately and he got treatment quickly. His medication was adjusted, and we have been assured that it is extremely unlikely this will happen again. We certainly hope so!

I felt we deserved a break, so as soon as Colin was upright we went to Madeira for a week. We hired a car and explored the whole island, including some caves underneath and the top of the mountain which is very high. We did lots of hiking, but were disappointed that the famed levadas are so inaccessible, especially where they go through narrow tunnels. We were there for Mardi-Gras, and the carnival processions were colourful and noisy. We loved it! We came home — to our new home — feeling more or less back to normal.

Now to the Walk. We wondered what we were getting into when we left Montrose in a blizzard this morning, but by the time we had left the car in Carnoustie the snow had turned to rain, and by the time we reached Dundee a pale sun had actually come out. But it was still bitterly cold. So we sat under the Tay Bridge eating our pasties and chatting to some fisherman there.
We had a look at a tall ship which looked magnificent berthed near the bridge. I’d love to see it in full sail! We couldn’t work out why Dundee has a thing about penguins, for we found some different ones on the riverside to the ones we came across gambolling along a wall last time we were here. These ones were coloured as emperor penguins — having been to Antarctica we know our penguins — but had their heads bowed as if they were sad. (“Aahhh!”)
After that bit of nonsense, we moved on. But almost immediately found our way blocked by building works. It seemed we couldn’t get through, and had to go back under the bridge twice before we found a way round. At last we got to the Victoria Docks — we’d only progressed about fifty yards. We came across a lightship which was of great interest to Colin. We asked a man on the lightship if it was possible to get over the lock gates which were about two hundred yards further on. He didn’t know, so we decided not to risk it as time was getting on and we hadn’t exactly made much progress.
We went along the back of the docks through a ‘dead’ shopping centre. A notice told us it was supposed to be open from 11am to 5pm on Sundays, but it was all closed and the units were mostly empty. Another expensive bright idea that didn’t work, we assumed. We wondered if the local Council charged too much in rent — that’s the usual story. We got to the end, and once again found our way blocked by building fences. It seemed we weren’t supposed to ‘escape’ from Dundee! We had to retreat quite a way before we could get through on to the cycleway.
After that we walked for about a mile past all sorts of industrial stuff until we came to a gate manned by a guard. “Have you got a pass?” he asked. No. What do we need a pass for? This is a public cycleway, therefore a right of way, surely? “Would you like an application form so you can send for a pass?” What’s the good of that? We want to walk along the cycleway now, today, this instant, because we are here now and probably won’t be here ever again. The guard was adamant that we couldn’t walk along the public right of way ‘through the docks’ without a pass.
We had to cross the adjacent railway (a couple of hours earlier we had travelled ‘through the docks’ on a train without having a pass!) over a bridge and walk along the road until the next bridge when we were allowed to cross the railway again and rejoin the cycle path by the waterfront.
Mind you, on the road we passed a greensward with a host of golden daffodils!
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretch’d in never ending line
Along the margin of the road:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.
(With apologies to William Wordsworth!)
We would never have seen them if we’d walked through the docks. There are always compensations in life.
When we regained the cycleway we met some local people out for a walk, and we stopped for a chat. Their opinion of the arrogance of the local dockyard in asking people to obtain a pass to walk or cycle along a public right of way was that it is bureaucracy gone mad! They told us that it is legislation that has only come in recently, that there is not always a guard on the gate so many people go through without a pass, that it takes several weeks for the pass to arrive after you have applied for it, and that it has caused a lot of local upset. We told them that the Army are not nearly so fussy — we were able to walk round the range adjacent to Foulness simply by picking up a telephone at the locked gate and asking them to come along and unlock it. Similarly at Thorney Island on the south coast, where we occasionally walked when we lived in Bognor.
Now I have a suggestion for Dundee docks. How about moving the fence which runs alongside the northern edge of the cycleway a few yards across so it runs alongside the southern edge between the cycleway and all their precious secret docks? That way the public right of way would run
outside the perimeter fence of the docks, every one would be happy and there would be no need for passes or suchlike! It would save a lot of money and frustration. Simple, eh?
We carried on, pleased to be leaving Dundee behind. We had asked the family we’d just been chatting to about a ‘
ROAD CLOSED’ sign further up the road we were on, and they reassured us it was OK, we could get through as we were walking. We came upon a notice which told us we were about to walk on a ‘Grassy Beach’. It went on to explain:
Grassy beach is one of the few areas of original grassland left in Dundee. The bulbous buttercup which grows here is a good indicator of this. This coastal grassland is a unique area, home to many species of plants which are found in very few other places, if any, in the whole of Dundee & Angus.
But there was nothing of it! A narrow strip, about fifty yards long, of ‘grassy beach’ stretched away before us bisected by a wide tarmac path which seemed to take up half the area. We couldn’t believe how small it was, we were out of it after just a few steps. We think there must have been a lack of communication between the department which deals with nature and the department which laid the path! Probably all the bulbous buttercups were buried underneath the tarmac — we only saw a bit of flowering gorse struggling through a fence.
We were approaching Broughty Ferry, a pretty place. The sun was shining — though the wind was still bitter — and it felt quite Spring-like. We passed an unusual seat, it’s back was boat-shaped made out of basket-weave. We rather liked it. Soon we came to the pub which was three fishermen’s cottages interlinked. I thought it was delightful, and Colin was satisfied with the beer choice — so we were both happy.
After we left the pub we sat overlooking the castle to eat our sandwiches. We noticed a ‘boat’ filled with flowers, and remarked that it reminded us of a James Bond film where he ‘jumped’ a speedboat over a narrow neck of land and landed neatly back in the water the other side. This boat looked as if it had missed, so they grew flowers in it! (I think the early Spring sunshine had got to our brains, actually.)
Broughty Castle belongs to ‘Historic Scotland’, but was open freely to anyone who cared to enter. It is small, and more of a fort really. It was built in the 15
th century, and was much involved in the wars with the English in the 16th century. By the 18th century it was a ruin, but it was taken over by the Edinburgh & Northern Railway Company in the 19th century. The railway had reached this part of Scotland by 1846, but there was no way it could cross the River Tay. So a railway ferry was run from Tayport to Broughty Ferry, about a mile across the river. The railway company did up the castle and built the adjacent harbour. Later a bridge was built west of Dundee and opened in 1878. Nineteen months later it collapsed as a train was passing over it during a storm, sending seventy-five people to their deaths. So the ferry came into play again until a new bridge of a completely different design was built and opened in 1887. That bridge is still in use today.
Meanwhile Broughty Castle was seen to be in a strategic position at the mouth of the Tay, so it was bought by the War Office in 1855. It was the end of the Crimean War, and the original idea was to defend Dundee from any marauding Russians. But there weren’t any! Then it was the French — but there weren’t any of those either in this neck of the woods. The castle was much fortified because of these perceived threats, and remained an important part of our defence system for another hundred years or so. We enjoyed looking round, especially as it was an unexpected treat to come across it. It didn’t feature on our ‘Historic Scotland’ map for some reason.
We moved on towards Monifieth, walking between the railway and the beach. There were lots of people out because the weather was nice (apart from the bitter wind which never died down) and it was Sunday. We came across a memorial bench to a young lady of forty-four who ‘loved to walk her dogs, Luna and Zara, on this part of the beach’. There was a photograph of the deceased which we thought was a lovely idea. She looked pretty and full of life — I wonder why she died.
Then we passed a campsite which was full of caravans, camper vans — AND ONE TENT! We shivered at the mere thought of camping in a tent in the present low temperatures — we wondered how they had coped in the blizzard this morning!
We crossed diagonally across a recreation ground, and passed the entrance to an Army firing range on a cycle path which we followed for the rest of the Walk. There is a triangle of dunes which is marked on our map as a
DANGER AREA and we had wondered if it really was. It was, and we were not sorry because it meant there was no way we could walk the long way on the beach round it. There were no passes required to bypass the Army range because the Army — so much more sensible than the dock authorities — had the sense to site their perimeter fence so the public right of way runs outside it. It was a bit of a dull walk, but it was straight and clear so we got through it quickly.
And so we came to Carnoustie, the ‘Mecca’ of the golfing world! This pukka golf course is the poshest in the country, if not the world! They have not one, but TWO special railway stations on the hallowed Links just for golfers. Neither of them were in use today because it is not the season, but there were plenty of golfers about practising their shots.
First we passed through a little garden where there were bird sculptures in wood flanking both entrances. We were told that the eider duck “has a powerful bill for collecting mussels”; that the ringed plover “lines its nest with pebbles and shells”; that the sanderling “runs fast to follow the retreating waves”; and that the goldeneye “throws his head right back and splashes water when displaying”. I thought it was great to be educated in such a delightful way! There was also a bench with stone two dolphins on it — there wasn’t much room to sit between them!
We approached Carnoustie’s Clubhouse, a huge building. Carnoustie Golf Club boasts it is the oldest in the country, more than 160 years old. It is believed that golf was already well established in Carnoustie when the Golf Club was formally instituted in 1842. Until fairly recently it was strictly a male preserve. In comparison the Ladies’ Golf Club, established 1873, is a tiny building! In these days of equality, they are not allowed to discriminate any more, thank goodness.
Finally we walked through some gardens where stone pillars were topped by large sculptures of sea shells. As we approached the station where our car was parked, the darkened skies began to throw down rain, hail and sleet all at once. We had completed our Walk just in time!

That ended Walk no.169, we shall pick up Walk no.170 next time in Carnoustie at the car park by the station. It was twenty-five past five, so the Walk had taken us just over six hours. We had our tea, then drove back through an almighty storm to our cosy cottage in Montrose. Our first Walk of the 2008 season had taken place in bright sunshine between a blizzard and a hailstorm, it had included a good pub and an unexpected castle, and we had enjoyed it enormously.

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