Tour of Britain, The McManus and Verdant Works

Last week, the Tour of Britain cycle race passed through East Lothian as part of Stage 4. My two cycling pals and I had hoped to cycle up to Redstone Rig (video), a high point in the Lammermuir Hills, where points were being awarded for the King of the Mountains contest, but one was injured, so we went by car. On a sunny day i.e. the day before and the day after, there are spectacular views across the hills and out to the North Sea from Redstone Rig but on the day of the race, it was dull and a cold east wind meant that spectators had to be well rugged up. We could see the riders approach from the west, as police motor cars and motor cycles sped up the hill past us.

Tour of Britain 2015

Tour of Britain 2015

The leading group passed up, followed by the main peloton soon afterwards. As amateur cyclists, we were glad to see that even some of the professionals were finding the Rig a difficult proposition although their speed was still much faster than ours. Getting up Redstone Rig is an achievement in itself for me – it’s a bit easier for my two much fitter pals. It was a lively occasion with many local cyclists in the crowd and it was a real treat to see the race so close up and, because of the steep climb, at a slower speed. After the peloton, the team cars came by with spare bikes on the top and we amateurs looked on enviously at these superb – and very costly – bikes.

Peloton at Redstone Rig in the Tour of Britain

Peloton at Redstone Rig in the Tour of Britain

Team cars at the Tour of Britain

Team cars at the Tour of Britain

We spent a couple of days in the town of Carnoustie (good photos) with a very good offer at the Carnoustie Golf Hotel. On the firs afternoon, we had a very pleasant walk around Monikie (pr Mon-ee-ki) Country Park. The sun came out and the clouds reflected in the water, as in the photo below, taken on my phone.

Monikie Country Park

Monikie Country Park

The following day was a complete contrast with constant rain and a cool easterly breeze. We set off by train to Dundee (good photos), the historic city by the River Tay. We went to the tourist information service in the city square and a very helpful young man told us what we should visit. The tourist office is next to the magnificent Caird Hall which even on a wet day – photo below – looked impressive.

Caird Hall, Dundee

Caird Hall, Dundee

Our first visit was to the equally grand McManus galleries and museum which has a range of galleries which relate to the history of Dundee as well as contemporary and historic art. We focused on the Victoria gallery. Two paintings particularly caught our eye. The first was John Lavery’s depiction of a hospital ward at the start of World War One, entitled The First Wounded. There are many stories in this painting. At the forefront a nurse in a formal, starched uniform is tending to a soldier’s arm, while in the bed behind, another soldier with a head wound looks in pain. Next to the bed, a man casually reads the paper and smokes a pipe. Today of course, you would not see smoking inside a hospital and indeed you rarely see a man smoking a pipe any more. In the background, a one legged soldier on crutches makes his way down the ward while another soldier, perhaps also having lost a leg is in a wheelchair. The painting superbly contrasts the calm, cleanliness and brightness (the sun reflecting the windows on the floor) of the ward with what must have been the chaos, dirt and dreariness of the battlefield.

The First Wounded by John Lavery

The First Wounded by John Lavery

The second painting was The Blackbird Song by Edward Hornel. This is a much different and more romantic topic and painting, with the three young girls listening to the blackbird and surrounded by flowers and trees. The detail is magnificently drawn and there is a dreamlike quality to the painting, an image of innocence and perfection.

The Blackbird Song by Edward Hornel

The Blackbird Song by Edward Hornel

After lunch, we walked – still with umbrellas up – to the Verdant Works a museum telling the history of the jute industry in Dundee. This is a fascinating visit with a helpful guide at the start and then a tour of the museum which features photos of jute plantations in India. I have to admit that I had always thought that jute was a material, but it is a plant which grows to about ten feet tall in India/Bangladesh and the fibres are processed to make sacking, ropes and carpets. The jute industry employed thousands of people – men, women and children – in horrendous conditions in the 19th century when the process was mechanised and huge factories were built. For the owners this was very profitable but for the workers it meant hard work, no health and safety and short life spans. Some good images of the machines can be seen here – the harsh lighting made it difficult to take photos in the museum.

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