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REBECCA BAIRD: Finding adventures in Dundee – the city I’d been taking for granted

Scenic Scotland isn’t just on adverts, it’s right on Dundee’s doorstep.

Rebecca at the Riverside Nature Park viewing platform. Image: Rebecca Baird/DC Thomson.
Rebecca at the Riverside Nature Park viewing platform. Image: Rebecca Baird/DC Thomson.

There’s something that happens in the brains of Scots when they reach their late 20s.

Scientists should study it, honestly. Because I want to know which chemical change makes us suddenly start bouncing up hills, trekking along trails and diving in lochs as soon as 30 starts to loom.

Is it Celtic blood finally waking up, yearning for the glens? A desperate attempt to delay grown-up life and return to childhood by playing outside?

Or is this just what happens when you can no longer withstand hangovers and have to take your emotions into the forest instead of the pub?

Whatever it is, it’s fully taken hold of my little community of not-so-young people this summer, myself included.

Despite living in Dundee my entire adult life, I don’t think I’ve ever truly appreciated the access to nature that the city provides.

Sure, I’ve frequented the Law, Camperdown Park, Balgay and the Botanic Gardens during my time here.

But weeks go in fast and weekends even faster, so although I’ve been saying “I must check out all these other spots” for years, I just… never got around to it.

Also, I grew up in the central belt, in a Scotland of brown terraced towns and football scarves and dialect debates. To me, the place on the VisitScotland adverts was not the same one I lived in.

A perfect picnic spot at Loch Earn. Image: Rebecca Baird.

But now that my partner has moved up to old Caledonia, I’ve found myself looking at my adopted homeland of Tayside through his eyes, and realising how much every little pocket of it has to offer.

So during our recent Indian summer, I made the executive decision that we would turn off the TV and spend an entire long weekend outside, exploring our local area.

Loch Earn and a very special receptionist

On Friday, it was up to Loch Earn, for a walk and a dip. It was drizzly and misty, but less than 90 minutes in the car and it felt like we were in another world – or a VisitScotland advert.

I hopped into the St Fillans Four Seasons to use the loo, and was greeted by a very memorable receptionist – a sweet black Labrador!

A very special welcome at the St Fillans Four Seasons, Loch Earn. Image: Rebecca Baird.

And the entire afternoon, I’m sure I saw three times as many ducks as I did people. Bliss.

I still can’t believe how nearby this portal to peace is to my front door.

So naturally, I wanted to keep exploring.

Scenic Dundee is closer than you think

Even closer to home was the next day’s adventure – Riverside Nature Park.

A wee meander down Dundee waterfront is always a delight, but in my eight years, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never gone past the airport.

And I assumed the ‘nature park’ was just another one of those sanitised ‘green spaces’ that cities can be guilty of bigging up.

I was wrong.

With wildflower meadows, the occasional coo, and a wee lochan buzzing with waterfowl and insect life, this 30-minute trail is a treat – and a huge achievement, having once been a landfill area.

View from the viewing platform, Riverside Nature Park.. Image: Rebecca Baird.

My favourite part was the bird viewing platform, a wooden wall of windows at the end of an unassuming path, which lets folk peek out at the reedbeds and watch the wildlife without getting close enough to upset it.

Cutting back up through the Botanics – my first visit post-Covid – I was reminded of how much careful research and work is put into maintaining the huge array of exotic plants.

Rebecca looking at the rainbow eucalyptus tree, Dundee University Botanic Gardens. Image: Rebecca Baird.

One tree in particular – rainbow eucalyptus tree in the Australasia section – really captured my imagination, with its blue, orange and pink bark looking like something out of a cartoon.

Wormit: A beautiful bay with an ugly name

Finally, Sunday was the day for ticking off a long-held bucket list goal – walk across the Tay Bridge, and get a pint at the Newport.

A combination of sheer laziness and forgetfulness has meant I’ve never actually walked over the Tay Bridge.

But in the spirit of hometown tourism, off we went, buffeted by the wind but motivated by the pint that waited for us on the other side.

Dundee from halfway across Tay Bridge. Image: Rebecca Baird.

As the mercury was hitting around 26C and the sun was splitting the trees, we were glad of it. And sitting there, in a spot I’d imagined sitting in so many times over the last eight years, I was reminded how satisfying it can be to make time for our goals, no matter how inconsequential.

Walking on to the tragically-named Wormit Bay (who called it that?) I took the opportunity for a dip in the Tay. And though I’ve often walked along that scenic bay, there’s something different about looking at your hometown while swimming towards it.

Rebecca gazing at Dundee from Wormit Bay. Image: Rebecca Baird.

Right enough, even though the final leg of our outdoor weekend was spent walking back across the bridge, facing the skyline I’ve come to think of as home, it felt like I was returning to a whole new city.

I think sometimes it takes a new perspective to make the familiar feel fresh again.