Regular readers may have noticed that posts lately have tended towards essays about life, the universe and everything rather than tales of my travels up and down the highways and byways of Scotland. So far this year the vast majority of the times I’ve been out of Glasgow have been to watch Hibs and while accounts of the trials and tribulations of the Scottish Cup holders (and still Ladbrokes Championship leaders) have their drama, I usually go to watch the game then go home. I haven’t been anywhere else, really, save my few days in Northumberland in January and a very pleasant if cold day along the Ayrshire coast about a month ago. I have itchy feet in a major way and it’s why I decided to take the scenic route to Dundee on Friday. I was going to watch Hibs but this time I would squeeze some roving into the day too.
I rocked up to the bus station around lunchtime. I had hoped to get a wee while in Anstruther and Cellardyke, possibly getting the bus to Kirkcaldy and then another along the East Neuk, but time got the better of me. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Instead I went with the old day trip backup, the mighty X24 to St. Andrews, crossing the country in a two-and-a-half-hour journey passing through Cumbernauld, Kincardine, Dunfermline, Glenrothes and Cupar. Disgracefully, I hadn’t been on it in yonks, for nearly a year, I think, though once it seemed I was in St. Andrews at least once a month. That journey is brilliant for catching up with yourself, watching the world go by or reading and drowning that world out with good music. Friday’s journey was busier than normal with a few students heading for the delights of St. Andrews. My earphones couldn’t quite block out their box-stacking techno shitey tunes or their chat but it wasn’t that bad, merely mildly irritating. It was cloudy and dull for most of the journey, though we had soon lost the rain that fell back in Glasgow.
When I go to St. Andrews, I tend to be there for about an hour so I have a fairly well-defined walk: along South Street and past the shops to the Younger Hall, up to the Castle and down to the pier. From there I double back along the Scores to the Martyr’s Monument then back up the road to the bus station then home. That’s normally what happens but I lingered a bit longer this time, gazing out to sea and pondering as I plonked myself on various benches and for a while at the end of the pier.
For a while I’ve wondered if I’m invisible. That’s not always a bad thing – fitting into the crowd makes life easier on occasion – but it was apparent as I sat on the harbour wall and two students, a guy and a girl, talked right by me, standing at the landing light just above where I sat, entirely oblivious as they gabbed on. I think they might be in the first throes of a relationship. Good luck to them. I’m clearly either invisible or just not a threat. Either way is fine. I wasn’t really listening – I was watching the horizon towards the Angus coast or gazing at a tree branch drifting out to sea or to the seagulls swooping low over the foreshore.
As I got on the bus to Dundee, I looked around me and had the sudden realisation that I was at least five years older than the majority of folk on the bus, mainly students on their way to Leuchars and the trains that would whisk them far and wide. I was inwardly thankful when an old guy came on and sat down but then again a white beard might be the latest hipster trend so he might not have been so venerable.
The bus was soon crossing the Tay Road Bridge, less dramatic and more functional than its counterparts across the Forth, with Dundee looming towards you with the bus’s every bound. Dundee is all hills and over one of them, I could see the evening’s destination, Tannadice, with United’s rivals’ home, Dens Park, only a few yards away. To get to the bus station, the 99 went around the city centre, giving a good view of progress of the new V and A museum plus the building up of the city’s commuter traffic. I’m not usually a fan of hulking monolithic architecture but the new V and A (I know it doesn’t look right but I can’t stand the ampersand or & symbol) makes it work as it looks like a ship setting off from the river and one in dock from the land. There is also an inspired comic strip all around the edge of the construction site alluding to Dundee and Scotland’s design traditions – if you’re ever in Dundee, go have a look. It was cloudy but with tinges of sunlight hitting the Tay as I walked by the river. The tide was out so I got a glimpse of the stumps that remain of the old Rail Bridge.
As I walked back towards the city centre for some scran, I passed the train station – itself in the process of construction – where the first Hibees were streaming out and already in full flow, enlightening the City of Discovery’s commuters of the result of last year’s Scottish Cup Final, reminding any Hearts fans there present of its veracity and inviting them just where to put any discussions of 1902, all in one neat little ditty. (Look up ‘We Are Hibs’ on YouTube.)
After I ate, I took a slow walk up to Tannadice, detouring past the DC Thomson building on Albert Square, which I’ve always liked for its elegance and how it could fit in with the skylines of New York, Liverpool or even Glasgow. It looks even better without the scaffolding. Across the road is the McManus, which I’ve written about before so won’t repeat myself except to say it was looking good with its lights. Dundee was once known for the jute industry – indeed it is often referred to as the city of the three j’s, jute, jam and journalism – and many of the city’s buildings were once mills, some derelict and a few now converted into flats. As I walked up Dens Road, there are at least three old mill buildings, plus markers on some of the walls showing where mills once stood. If it wasnae for the weavers, where would we be, eh?
Since I was still too early, I took a turn around the block. Tannadice is only a few yards from Dens Park where Dundee play. Dundee United, like Hibs for the moment, are in the Championship while Dundee are in the Premiership. I have never watched a game at Dens though hopefully I will next season. There’s a quirky little tradition that due to the distance, the players walk to their rivals’ ground and, I understand that they might even change into their kit before they go. Anyway, I decided to do a recce, past the Archibald Leitch-designed main stand that sits on an angle on Sandeman Street, then around the back of the Derry End, which I gather is where the more lively Dundee supporters sit. Two of the stands at Dens are modern, boxy things but the Derry End is a terracing with a roof on it, more traditional and more interesting. Through the gates I could see staircases leading up into the stand all eerie and empty in the dull twilight.
On the way back down from Tannadice, I spotted the Tayside Islamic Centre, which is on Victoria Road in what looks like an old church. I’ll have to look into that one – I like buildings getting reused in new and imaginative ways.
The bus back to Glasgow was uneventful, rolling through the night, the bus about half full. As it pulled off the M8 and through Cowcaddens, my iPod struck up with ‘Midnight’ by Ray Charles, probably one of my Desert Island Discs if I’m ever asked and entirely appropriate since it was indeed just after the midnight hour and all was quite still, chilled out, mellow after another win and a day like the old days, wandering along the shore and amidst history, recent and not so recent.