Our second day in Scotland began cloudy and damp and as the forecast for Blairgowrie was for more of the same we decided to head out to Dundee for the day. That way, if the weather turned foul we could find things to do indoors. So, after a leisurely breakfast of fortifying Scott's Porage Oats we got underway and hit the road.
Our previous visit to the fouth largest city in Scotland, which sits on the north bank of the Firth of Tay, had been a wet, cold and windy experience and we hoped for better this time. After a pleasant drive through a largely agricultural landscape we arrived in Dundee and parked at the Wellgate shopping centre.
It was cloudy but fine and we did a lap of the city on foot starting down at the quay with a brisk walk along the riverside feeling the keen cutting edge of the wind as it swept in from the North Sea. There's lots of renewal going on in Dundee, much as occurred along the Clyde in Glasgow in recent years, and new apartment blocks are springing up in the dockside areas. Even so Dundee is not a pretty city; it bears the scars of its industrial past and, while it seems to be slowly transforming, it gives the impression that it is struggling economically and is definitely a work-in-progress. We noticed that just off the pedestrian mall in the centre of the city many high street shops were boarded up and for sale or rent.
Having said that it does have many points of interest and some cool, if somewhat stark and utilitarian, architecture and there is a £1,000,000,000 master plan to regenerate the city and to reconnect the Waterfront to the city centre. This commenced in 2001 and is set to continue over a 30 year period. The Dundee Victoria & Albert Museum currently under construction on the banks of the Tay is due to open in 2015.
We checked out The Unicorn which is the oldest intact ship still afloat and which is now houses a display of the ship's history. Interestingly, the ship never saw action and was retired immediately after construction as the Napoleonic Wars drew to a close and demand for war ships suddenly ceased. Probably just as well considering it took 1,000 oak trees to provide the wood to build just one ship of her size.
A quick visit to the Overgate shopping centre hoping for lunch and a spot of shopping proved futile and our exploration of the nearby streets looking for a Pizza Express proved equally so as it seems there is no longer a branch of the franchise in Dundee. Failing on all counts we decided that our visit to Dundee was complete.
On the plus side the weather was holding up and the cloud clearing to give us blue sky so we took to the road again and said farewell to Dundee (webcam link).
With no particular destination in mind we headed for the coast, taking the Angus Coastal Route along the A92, through Arbroath and Montrose and ending up in - Stonehaven!
By now the day was simply glorious; beautiful blue skies with not a cloud in sight and Stonehaven was filled with visitors making the most of the sunshine.
Our last visit to Stonehaven was for a brief overnight stay in 2007 as no more than a way-point on our road trip and our focus then had been Dunnottar Castle. Little did we know what a popular place this town is; in fact in 2010 it was voted the best seaside town in Scotland - and for good reason. On a day like today it's not hard to see why.
We finally found some lunch at about 2 pm at a little bakery and cafe, Robertson the Baker, in Allardice Street. Duly fed (on a very nice cheese and onion panini with a side salad and coleslaw) and watered (a quite reasonable latte for me and an Irn-Bru for Alex), we ventured out to explore this amazing seaside town.
The day had evolved into a warm(ish) and sunny explosion of summer weather and it looked more like the scene at an Australian beach than a former fishing-village on the East coast of Scotland as the photos will attest. It even came complete with several surfers (true optimism there given the size of the waves).
We also witnessed something I have never come across in Australia given that all the beaches are sand, and that was the amazing sound made by the pebbles as the waves pushed them onto the shore and then dragged them back out to sea. Aside from the usual crashing of the waves we could hear the pebbles tumbling over one another making an entirely unique - and incredibly cool - sound. (Simple things make me happy )
The shoreline and harbour were a hive of activity. So many families out with their kids and dogs enjoying the day. It was gratifying to see the number of parents interacting with their children. I have become used to seeing whittering children being hauled around by parents who studiously ignore them or, if they do manage to break out of the cone of silence and lift their head from their smartphone for a second, effectively stifling any curiosity and crushing any sign of creativity and imagination with harsh words. This was such a refreshing change that after a couple of hours walking the shoreline and seeing kids enjoying themselves and being allowed to play, and people walking and playing with their dogs (yes Australia! On a public and popular beach not relegated to a less desirable "dog beach" where all the pooches are obliged to gather away from the main-stream beach-goers), I came away smiling and feeling good about the world. (And frankly after hearing that Tony Abbott is Australia's new PM I needed some serious cheering up!)
We put in some serious walking time; saw ducks and sea birds, numerous dogs with lots of varieties of spaniels enjoying the water, a few Westies, a very proud and imperious Shih-tzu, an energetic curly-coated retriever and a very busy Jack Russell but after a most relaxing two hours our parking time was up and we headed back to the car for the trip back to Blairgowrie.
Taking the roads less travelled we came upon a few little treasures along the coast including a little fishing village called Gourdon complete with harbour and operational fishing fleet, which we came across by chance.
The weather held all the way back to Blairgowrie where the clouds sat sullenly above the town ready to dampen the Braemar Day celebrations that were in progress. On winding our way back through town, the traffic was insane as visitors fought for parking places and tour buses hogged the narrow streets. We made a quick stop at Tesco for some supplies and escaped the madness to our reclusive haven that is The Jute Store.
At 9pm we heard the fireworks that signalled the end of Braemar Day and we had been hoping to see the display from the balcony at the mill but there were too many tall trees between us and the town to see anything but brief flashes of light. If the bangs and booms were anything to go by, it was an impressive display.
On the positive side it may have been raining in Blairgowrie while we were sunning ourselves not too many miles away in Stonehaven, but that same rain meant that the water coming over the weir at the back of our lodgings had increased ten-fold. On the first day it was a trickle, this morning the flow had noticably increased and was coming over the wall in half a dozen spots, this evening the water was spilling over the weir in about ten separate cascades. I'm hoping that by the time we leave that we will see a solid wall of water rushing over the wall.
It must be the Pisces in me but I love water! Ironically not to swim in or be on but to be near, and to be able to hear the sound of rushing water (the original white noise) or hear waves crashing onto rocks simply invigorates me. That's why I come on holiday.
So, here I am at the end of Day 2 and feeling good! Tomorrow - hiking!