Jute allure; Dundee has lots to offer, discovers SIMON BELGARD.
WINKIE the pigeon will never be forgotten in Dundee.
On December 2, 1943, Winkie was awarded The Dickin Medal for devotion to duty while he was serving in a military conflict.
He flew 120 miles to Dundee to raise the alarm that a Bristol Beaufort Bomber had crashed into the North Sea after coming under enemy fire. A rescue team brought the airmen home.
Winkie's medal is now on display at the McManus Galleries, a fascinating stop-off on any visit to Scotland's fourthbiggest city. But first on the agenda was RSS Discovery.
The last three-masted ship to be built in Britain, she was launched in 1901 and used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his Antarctic exploration.
Now sitting overlooking the Tay river, which forms one of the boundaries of the city, climbing aboard her evokes the heroism of the age and the museum tells of Scott's team as they battled the ice and snow for two years.
Historically Dundee's fortunes were built on jam, jute and journalism and the McManus Galleries bear testament to these influences - and for some reason finding Dennis the Menace in a museum is particularly pleasing.
DC Thomson, the Dundee company responsible for Dennis, Desperate Dan and a host of other comic favourites, is still based in the city.
The museum also houses a splendid collection of 20th Century Scottish paintings, pottery and an insight into how the city developed alongside more eccentric features such as the skeleton of the famous whale and, of course, Winkie.
And so to lunch. My companion Helen and I chose Byzantium and it was an inspired decision.
Seafood risotto and halibut were followed by creme brulee and a glass of wine too many. But we were on holiday, after all.
Tottering off back into town we stumbled across the Verdant Works and what a discovery it was!
We'd been bickering over what jute was from the moment we stepped on the plane at London's City Airport.
I favoured something to do with the Scottish branch of Judaism. But an hour or two in the Verdant Works told all.
It turns out to be a material much used in making bags and sacking and carpets and a million other things in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Dundee boomed, the population grew and jute barons were some of the richest men in the world. The workers, crammed into tenements and getting mill fever and bronchitis as they laboured hour after hour, did less well.
After a dip in the Hilton hotel's pool we were set for the centrepiece of our trip. Dinner at the Dundee Rep Theatre cafe, followed by a performance of Sunshine On Leith - The Proclaimers songs turned into a musical. A sort of We Will Jock You. It didn't disappoint. Judging by the audience reaction, they'd gladly walk 500 miles to see it again.
The next day started with breakfast and a tour of the city. We took in the homes of Dundee and Dundee United football clubs - next to each other - and visited Broughty Ferry, but we didn't spot Lorraine Kelly, who lives there.
And on to Glamis Castle, the ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore and the childhood home of the Queen Mother.
I don't want to moan, and the guide was informative and amusing with the obligatory ghost story, but these places bore me to tears - all roped-off areas and portraits of long-dead noblemen.
That said, most of the party seemed to enjoy it and the Dundee cake from the shop was moist and tasty. Winkie certainly made a hell of an effort to get back to Dundee... I can see why.
SCOTAIRWAYS flies from London City Airport. Fares pounds 162 return. Visit www.scotairways.
co.uk. Double rooms at the Dundee Hilton cost pounds 98pn. Visit www.hilton.co.uk.
RRS Discovery tickets - adult pounds 7.75, child pounds 4.75, family pounds 22. Visit www.rrsdiscovery.com, call 01382 309060.
Best time to go: Yearround city break
SUPERB Dundee is worth visit ANCIENT Glamis Castle HELM Helen at the wheel AHOY Simon visits RSS Discovery