33. Dundee Law, Dundee City

Dundee Law summit
The trig point on the summit of Dundee Law, with the city below.

Date: 5th June 2021, with Clare and Joe.

Weather conditions: A magnificent morning of blue skies and perfect temperatures.

County Top bagged: Dundee Law, which is — as its name implies — the highest point in Dundee City, at 571 feet/174m above sea level. The summit is marked by a trig point at NO391313; there is a huge war memorial on the top as well, though this does not quite stand on the highest point.

War memorial on the summit
More summit paraphernalia; war memorial, radio mast, car park.

Of the 44 Scottish Tops, whether historic or modern, this is the lowest by altitude. Although it has been resculpted by the occasional Ice Age over time, the Law is basically an old volcanic plug that has been eroding for the last 400 million years, and there is evidence that the site has been inhabited by humans by at least 3,500 years. In April 1689, when Viscount Dundee raised the Stuart standard here, the first Jacobite rising began: the sort of revolution that the UK hasn’t had for a very long time, but perhaps could do with again.

By altitude Dundee Law ranks 119th of the 172 modern Tops, and 140th of the full list of 196. You might think there would be more of these, but of all the Tops it is one of only three (along with Worcestershire Beacon and The Wrekin) that shares part of its name with the county or local authority in which it stands.

V & A, and Tay
The V & A museum building, the Tay road bridge, and a seagull.

[ << Corse Hill, East Renfrewshire (32) | (34) Moel Famau, Flintshire >> ]

Start and end point of walk: The walk can start and finish at Dundee railway station. We started at where we were staying, at the Travelodge on West Marketgait, and the map below reflects that. This is about 10 minutes’ walk from the station.

Pub at end: Like any city of comparable size Dundee has a number of pubs. Over the three days we stayed there the best one we found was The Caird, on Nethergate. Quite a few of the ones we passed on the walk, particularly around the football grounds, look like lockdown has taken them down permanently.

Distance walked: If you follow our route precisely, it will be a walk of around 3.9miles/6.25km, making this the shortest of my CT walks thus far. But there are many variations possible.

St Paul's Cathedral, Dundee
St. Paul’s Cathedral, passed near the end of the walk.

Feet of ascent: From the railway station, which is on the banks of the Tay and thus not far above sea level, the climb of the Law will be about 550 feet/168m straight up, without loss of height at any point. Our route then adds a little more around the football grounds, so let’s say a total figure of approximately 590 feet/180m today.

Difficulty: ★. It’s a steep climb up to the Law, but you’ll cope I’m sure. No need for the hiking boots on what is a wholly urban walk.

Ease of access: ★★★★. The walk is right in the middle of the city, and in that respect is highly accessible, but simple geography makes it seem wrong to give five stars. Although Dundee railway station has services to all other major cities in Scotland and quite a few in England, too, if they’re on the East Coast main line, it is too far north to do on a day trip for anyone living south of Newcastle. But most Scots could enjoy this walk at any time.

View west along the Tay
The view west along the Tay, from the war memorial.

Scenic qualities: ★★★. I nearly gave it four. The view from the top is stupendous, as good as you will see of any city in Britain from its highest point. It is an urban scene for sure, but for most of its length, a good-looking one.

The area: Although I had come to Dundee before, in 2015 (see commentary) that was for work, and so this weekend was the first time I had visited and really looked around the place. And there is plenty of interest here. Down the years the city has given the world the Dandy and the Beano, mass-produced marmalade, Grand Theft Auto, two European Cup semi-finalists and the ship Discovery, which first took Capt. Robert Scott to the Antarctic. Not bad going for a place of only around 150,000 people. Then again, one in seven of these are students — the second-highest student population, proportionally, of any place in Europe, after only Heidelberg in Germany.

Map of walk 33

Map: Purists might pick up OS Explorer 380 Dundee and the Sidlaw Hills, but trust me, it really isn’t a necessary item of luggage. The map shown here reflects the fact that we started the walk at our hotel, but as you see, it isn’t that far from the station.

Route: There is no need to follow our route exactly. No one is going to fail to find the summit of Dundee Law from almost anywhere in the city, unless you really do have a wilful neglect of basic information offered by your surroundings. Look for the big hill with the monument on top, keep going uphill towards it, and you’ll get there.

Approaching the summit
To reach the summit, go uphill.

We were staying at the Travelodge near the junction of West Marketgait and Ward Road, so started the walk there, heading along the latter until reaching the junction with Constitution Road, then turning uphill. To get to the same point from the railway station could be done by simply heading up West Marketgait, although there is a more direct route that requires walking through the Overgate shopping centre.

However you get there, head up Constitution Road past the Abertay University campus. You need to go under the ring road via an underpass, and after that just keep heading (steeply) uphill. The road becomes Upper Constitution Road, and comes out at St David’s High Kirk (church). Turn right here, then left up Law Road, which spirals around and takes you all the way to the summit. Although, you can bear off the tarmac to the right, up a path through a grassy area that leads more directly to the top.

Tannadice Street
Tannadice Street; home of Dundee United (ahead), and Dundee (to the right as the picture is being taken).

The massive war memorial there was completed in 1925, and a flame is lit atop it on significant anniversaries. The views of the city, the Sidlaw Hills to the north and the Firth of Tay are magnificent, and all easily appreciated from the balcony that runs below the monument. But this construction does not stand on the highest point — this is, instead, marked by the usual Ordnance Survey trig point, further over towards the radio mast.

One could just return straight down to the city from here but we extended the walk slightly by visiting one of the city’s distinctive sights, or rather two, namely the grounds of its two football clubs, Dundee FC and Dundee United; the particularly distinctive thing about them being that they’re basically adjacent, and thus the two senior grounds in the UK that are closest together. Dundee were historically the more successful team, but have been usurped by United in recent decades.

Mains Road mural
Mural on Mains Road.

To reach the grounds, bear left at the bottom of Law Road and head down Hill Street until reaching the bottom (where this rather good mural resides). There, head down Mains Road and the grounds are ahead, with Dens Park, home of Dundee, being reached first. But if you don’t take this detour, or after doing so, just head straight down the street of Hilltown and this will return you to the city centre.

We thought it best to end the walk by attaining the waterfront. To get there from Hilltown, carry on straight through the shopping centre, and carry on down Murraygate then Commercial Street, past the little cathedral of St Paul’s (pictured further up the page). Dundee doesn’t seem to make as much capital out of its riverside as some other cities, but there’s still the impressive V & A (Victoria & Albert) design museum, and next door, the Discovery, the ship that took Robert Scott and his team to the Antarctic in the early 1900s; we looked around the latter and very interesting it was too, and a surprisingly large vessel once you were aboard it — not that I would want to spend six months on it trapped in pack ice. Whether you do this or not, the railway station is then right outside these museums.

Joe and Dundee
Joe and Dundee, which may or may not become his home.

Commentary: The reason we have come to Dundee this weekend is that Joe has applied for a place at Abertay University, and it seemed right to check the place out before he committed to coming here for four years. This has worked out well. We saw the city at its best today, I think. Everyone seemed comfortable enough with the thought that we might be abandoning our only child to the tender mercies of this city, so the application was confirmed, and assuming he gets the necessary grades, it looks like we’ll all be seeing more of this place. Let’s hope he likes it as much when the inevitable mists roll in off the North Sea in November.

I have been here only once before in my life, six years ago, when I visited a colleague at the city’s other HE institution, the University of Dundee. I was here on 7th May 2015, the night of the General Election when the Tory party came to full power (for five years prior to that date they’d been, technically, partners in a coalition government). On that date, the seeds of Brexit were sown; in his apparent triumph, David Cameron did not anticipate that he had only just over a year in power to come. That was also the Election at which the Scottish National Party took nearly all the seats north of the border. The repercussions of both these electoral earthquakes have yet to be resolved. Scotland seemed to be saying, pretty clearly, at the time that they no longer felt common cause with the English — and I can’t say I blame them.

The V & A again
The V & A, again.

I have decided not to follow through on the plan to get in a third Top, tomorrow — I was possibly heading for Mount Battock to the north, but paradoxically, the weather is too good; I’d rather go to the seaside to be honest. We’ll be back in Dundee at some point, as I said. So the next CT walk is not going to be until later in June, possibly early July.

By that time we might see a final removal of lockdown, but don’t hold your breath. The media flurry now over some ‘new variant’ or other is just ridiculous, but there are enough lockdown lovers in positions of power to make it a genuine risk that there won’t be the promised easing of the last restrictions on 21st June. Despite the fact that half the country has been vaccinated by now (what for, if not this?), despite the fact that we’re all going to be catching this (mostly harmless) virus for the rest of our lives, as it becomes endemic.

Maxwell Centre, Hilltown
The Maxwell centre, in Hilltown.

At what point do we say no? When do we assert the importance of meeting people face-to-face in the office, or at festivals, or in university classrooms? And the value of foreign travel both into and out of the country? Later this year? 2022? Or some indefinable point in the future? Dundee seemed healthy enough in some ways but bloody hell, there are so many closed shops and pubs that are clearly never reopening. The devastation lockdown has wreaked to towns and cities across the land is nothing ‘natural’, this is the real scandal, but still apologists in the media (some of whom like to think they’re hip and radical) say that there has not been enough lockdown, that it came too late and that we need more of it.

If, after four years here, Joe is still expected to wear a mask to enter a public building and to never gather in a party of more than six; then it will be his future we will have wrecked. But I am having no part of it. I do not accept it. Condemn me if you wish, but my eyes are open.

The Law from Newport
The Law, seen from Newport, across the Tay.

8 thoughts on “33. Dundee Law, Dundee City

  1. Good view and good rant at the end. Why the heck are we still locked up? Viruses mutate – it’s what they do – and we are now supposed to have vaccinated the most vulnerable. None of this makes any sense to me. OK no vaccine is ever 100% effective but at some point – soon – we all have to get on with things before there is nothing left.

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