The Geography of Dundee



On a world map the approximate co-ordinates for the city of Dundee are 56.4o latitude north and longitude 2.9o west. Located on the north bank of the River Tay it is Scotland’s only south facing city, when viewed from across its river. In terms of governance Dundee has a convoluted history. Originally in the Scottish county of Forfarshire, the county was transformed into the Tayside region in 1975 then it was reconstituted as Angus in 1996. That same year Dundee City became a unitary authority in its own right. Dundee city encompasses an area of 6300 hectares and currently has a population of some 142,000. Thus, despite being the fourth largest Scottish city by population it is also the smallest unitary authority by area in Scotland.

The river Tay is Scotland’s biggest river measured by its flow, which is eastwards into the North Sea. At the location of Dundee it is more correct to say the Firth of Tay - rather than the river Tay - which means Dundee, is on an estuary. ie. The tidal mouth of the river. On the opposite bank of the Firth of Tay is the town of Newport-On-Tay, which is in the county of Fife. There are rail and road bridges over the Tay between these two places, removing the need for a lengthy, 70km (50 mile) journey along the length of the estuary.  

The community of Dundee developed from the conglomeration of crofts along the banks of the Tay that were fishing and farming communities. The land around Dundee is good fertile farming land that owes its richness to the glacial movements of the ice ages. Most of this farming land is to the north and east of the city, heading out towards the coast. To the north west of Dundee are the Sidlaw Hills and then beyond them the Grampian Mountains. The surface geology of Dundee is mainly between 10 - 15 metres thick and is a pebbly silty clay, with some mudstones, which were all laid down by the retreating glaciers during the Quaternary ice age. In recent times alluvial flats have been reclaimed from the river Tay to straighten the waterfront line of the city. The action of the glaciers retreating also helped Dundee to become a world leader in Jute production. The numerous undulations they created were ideal for many small streams to form which could then be channeled into culverts. These culverts were then used to provide water power for the mills and a plentiful supply of fresh water for dyeing and bleaching processes. The dominant bedrock in Dundee is the Devonian Old Red Sandstone. However, the key geological feature for the city is the Dundee Law. This is a basalt plug for an extinct volcano which dominates the city’s skyline and was formed some 400 million years ago. Dundee is quite a hilly city, more so in the west of the city than the east. The highest point in the centre of the city is the location of the Dundee Law - c. 140m, whereas the highest point in all of the city is in the north west at c. 160m. Travelling west to east the ground becomes less hilly and in the south eastern corner of the city the height above sea level rarely rises above 10m.

Dundee’s residents would have you believe that their city is the sunniest and warmest in Scotland. Despite being on the east coast of Scotland, Dundee does benefit from the warming blanket effect of the North Atlantic Drift. Taking a long term, 20 year, average Dundee gets over 900mm of rainfall a year. However, in the year 2005 the actual figure for that year was only 610mm. Conversely, using the 20 year average that rain was spread over an average of 140 days a year.; whereas in 2005 their were 197 days of rain. Temperature wise, the 20 year average and the figure for 2005 concur with one another. The average January temperature is about 5oC and in July it is 15oC. These figures are higher than other nearby locations. However, this is almost certainly more to do with the city being protected by its surrounding hills rather than the city’s southerly aspect; it is often observed that when there is snow on the hills the city itself can be quite clear.

The abundance of sandstone in the area made it a natural choice for a building material until the production of clay bricks became easier and cheaper. House prices in Dundee are below the average for Scotland. In Dundee the average price is £126,000 compared to almost £150,000 as a national average. Also, the value of property in Dundee rises more slowly than most other places in Scotland. Over a 6 year period a Lloyds-TSB study reported in 2007 that in Dundee house prices rose by only 9%, compared to 25% in Aberdeen and 11% along Tayside in general.

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