START: Arbroath, Angus
FINISH: Lunan Bay, Angus
DISTANCE: 12.3 miles (Total 454 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 5 hours
OS MAPS: Explorer 382
ACCOMMODATION: Bamse B&B, Montrose
Following the previous day’s encounters with Arbroath’s rogue seagulls (see Coastwalk #36) I was a bit wary of returning to the town’s harbour to face-off with them again. Fortunately when I got there it appeared they were a bit calmer, no doubt biding their time until they pounced on to their next unsuspecting victim.
Arbroath does have a picturesque harbour when it is devoid of vicious swooping feathery bastards. The present harbour dates from 1734 (which in turn was expanded in 1842 and 1877) and was built to replace the ‘Abbot’s Harbour’ which was destroyed in a gale in 1706. The Abbot’s Harbour was built in 1394 and takes it’s name from the Abbots who ran the town’s 12th century built Abbey.
In April 1320 the Abbey was at the centre of the “Declaration of Arbroath”, thought to be one of the most important and influential documents in Scottish history. The Declaration (left), the drafting of which was overseen by Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, was a letter written to Pope John XXII on behalf of Robert the Bruce and was sealed by eight earls and about forty barons (documents were sealed rather than signed at this point in time). It asked the Pope to put pressure on the English King Edward II to recognise Scotland’s independence and Robert the Bruce’s legitimacy as the King of Scotland.
The Declaration was written during the Wars of Scottish Independence which started in 1297 when King Edward I tried to invade Scotland. In 1306 Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne and defeated the English under the command of King Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Despite this the English still did not recognise Scotland’s independence or Robert the Bruce as the legitimate king of Scotland.
By 1320 Scottish relations with the Vatican were at crisis point after the Scots defied papal efforts to try to establish a truce with England. Following the Pope excommunicating Robert the Bruce and three of his barons, the Declaration was drawn up. It appears to have worked as the Pope wrote to King Edward II urging him to make peace. It took the King eight years to make up his mind however in 1328 Scotland’s independence was finally acknowledged.
In addition to the Declaration, Arbroath is also world famous for another reason – the ‘Arbroath Smokie’. As I set off walking from the harbour I came across a couple of buildings located along the back streets from which emanated a smoky fishy smell . These were smoking houses where dozens of pairs of haddock are tied at the tails and smoked over burning hardwood chips in square barrels. The result is an Arbroath Smokie. Under European Law the name ‘Arbroath Smokie’ has been given the same protection as ‘Champgane’ in France. If the haddock are not smoked within an eight kilometer radius of Arbroath Town House then they cannot be called an ‘Arbroath Smokie’. Makes sense really.
I followed a road that ran eastwards from the harbour along the seafront. This eventually brought me out onto a large green space – Victoria Park – alongside which a promenade ran beside the shoreline. Half a mile later the promenade and road came to an abrupt end at a car park. The reason for the abrupt end was the start of the Seaton cliffs which loomed above the car park. A path led up to the top of the cliffs so I followed this – mainly because it wouldn’t have been a good idea to swim around them which was the only real alternative route.
At the top the views were fantastic, despite it being a bit of a cloudy day. Arbroath could be clearly seen and right on the horizon I could see a dark smudge which I assumed was the Fife coastline. I continued along the clifftops following the path as it meandered it’s way along, passing by numerous rocky features hugging the side of the cliffs including a sea arch (below) known as the ‘Needle E’e’ which once over used to be a sea cave but has partially collapsed due to the constant pounding of the waves.
There were also numerous inlets and coves carved out of the red sandstone cliffs including a deep inlet called rather originally as Dickmont’s Den (above). There were plenty of seabirds squawking as they rested in nooks and crannies in the cliff face or as they swooped over the frothing sea looking for food. In addition to the cacophony of noise, there was also the strong unpleasant smell of bird poo rising up from the cliff face. Combined with the fantastic views it was a walk that overwhelmed the senses.
Past Dickmont’s Den the path continued to meander for a little while, passing by a sea stack called the Deil’s Head. Just after this was the start of the beautiful Carlingheugh Bay marked by an earthen rampart which is all that remains of a 2000 year old Iron age fort known as Maiden Castle.
Just after Maiden Castle the path dropped down into Carlinheugh Bay. The Bay’s raised beach was once home to a small settlement and in later centuries the fisherwomen from the nearby village of Auchmithie would come to the Bay to collect seaweed.
I ambled along the beach for a short while until the path doubled back on itself and headed up a steep flight of steps to the top of the cliffs. By heading this way I missed out a series of caves that are hewn into the sandstone cliffs at the north end of the bay with names including the Dark Cave and the Light Cave which go right through the headland and onto a secret bay on the other side. There is also a Forbidden Cave here, the name possibly linked to the smuggling that used to take place along this coast.
Rather spookily it is said that if you venture into the Forbidden Cave (which is only accessible at low tide) you can hear the ghostly sounds of bagpipes. According to legend a piper entered the cave with his wife to take shelter and both were never heard from again.
From Carlingheugh Bay the path wound its way along the clifftops. At either side of the path was tall vegetation covered in bees and butterflies. I rushed through this section as some of the bees were getting a bit curious as to what I was doing and flying a bit too close to my head. The path came to Castlesea Bay (above) before heading inland around a small deep valley and beside a cluster of cottages. The path returned to the clifftops again and wound its way along these for half a mile until it reached a line of cottages. Here the path joined a narrow road which took me into the former fishing village of Auchmithie.
Standing 120ft above a derelict harbour, Auchmithie (above) used to be an important fishing village in the 19th century, having a population of about 400 people in the early 1800’s. The harbour was home to a sizable fishing fleet consisting of six herring boats, twelve white fish boats and twenty small fishing boats used to catch crab and lobster.
Auchmithie can lay claim to being the original home of the Arbroath Smokie. A local legend suggests that the recipe for a ‘smokie’ was discovered following a fire in a cottage where fish were stored. What is more likely is that the ‘smokie’ is linked to the village’s Norse origins meaning that ‘smokies’ have been made in the village for over a thousand years.
Auchmithie’s importance as a fishing port came almost to an abrupt end in the 1800’s when Arbroath Town Council improved the town’s harbour facilities and made land available for skilled fishermen who wished to build housing there. Many of Auchmithie’s population were enticed by the new facilities in Arbroath, resulting in the village’s harbour being virtually abandoned. The ex-residents of Auchmithie took the recipe of the ‘smokie’ with them to their new home, resulting in the birth of the Arbroath Smokie.
Nowadays Auchmithie is a quiet little village. I wanted to have a look at the harbour, hoping that there was a suitable place to have my lunch there. A track led me down to the harbour from the village coming alongside an old fishermen’s hut. The harbour itself was now crumbling into the sea, the constant pounding of the waves demolishing the concrete walls until little of it remains. Just off the pebbly beach laid the rotten remains of an old fishing boat (above). I always imagine what stories these boats could tell if they could speak – what journeys they took out into the North Sea and what tales they could tell of the people who rode in them.
I didn’t have my break right on the harbour as the rocky beach was a little uncomfortable to sit on, so I headed back up the track until I reached a conveniently placed bench which overlooked the harbour.
My break over I headed back into the village up a flight of steps which brought me on to Auchmithie’s main street (above). The street was lined with attractive single-storied fishermen’s cottages. The ones on the seaward side must have had fantastic views of the coast from their back windows. At the end of the main street a track headed inland away from the village. I followed this for a little while before coming to a T-junction. An Angus Coastal Path sign pointed down the track to the right so I headed this way until I reached a bend in the track where a mound of rubble marked the remains of an old farmhouse called ‘Rumkemno’.
Here the track bent to the left becoming much narrower before swinging right towards the farmhouses at West Mains. This track was overgrown in places (above) but once over it would have been the main route between Rumkemno and West Mains. In the peace and quiet it wasn’t too hard to imagine a horse and cart rattling its way along the track driven by the farmer who was on his way home to his family at Rumkemno after a hard day’s work in years gone by.
RED HEAD, ETHIE HAVEN AND CORBIE KNOWE
I walked through the farmhouses at West Mains, following a metalled road as it headed northwestwards. A short walk brought me to another T-junction where I decided to take the track to the right as this would take me towards the coast again. Ten minutes later the track came to a dead end at Red Head, the highest point on the Angus coastline (below). These huge sandstone cliffs tower eighty-one metres above the churning sea.
Thanks to its height and position overlooking the sea, Red Head was once home to an Iron Age fort which was only re-discovered by archaeologists in 1961. Two thousand years later the advantages of Red Head were once again realised when an observation post was built here during World War One.
The going was a bit tough from Ref Head to Ethie Haven. I followed the edges of numerous fields filled with the bright yellow flowers of oilseed rape, keeping a crumbling stone wall to my right which kept me from falling into the sea. I could now see Lunan Bay in the distance, where I could see a number of ships anchored up out in the water, probably waiting to head into Montrose’s port which was a little further up the coast.
The path was starting to drop down now although the going was still tough. I came across a small pond at the top end of which stood the remains of a chapel dedicated to St. Murdoch (below). The chapel was the kirk of the parish of Ethie which was subsumed into the neighbouring parish of Inverkeilor in 1611. The chapel has origins dating back to the 7th century AD and there once was a graveyard here although this has now long disappeared. There is a local story of an old soldier who having lost a leg asked to be buried in the graveyard right next to the gate so that when the day of Resurrection came he could be the first one out, thereby avoiding being crushed in the rush by those with two legs.
I continued onwards past the chapel and the pond. A herd of Soay sheep were bounding along the clifftops trying to get away from me even though I was nowhere near them. The going was starting to get really tough at this point. What little path there was was now overgrown or slipping into the sea so I had to walk along the edge of a field which was brimful with waist-high crops. The seeds thrown up into the air by my movement kickstarted my hayfever and I ended up sneezing and sniffing for the rest of the walk.
Fortunately I didn’t have to walk alongside the fields for too long. A gap in the hedge which lined a field revealed a narrow trackway which led down to the beautiful hamlet of Ethie Haven (below). This tiny settlement which is hidden below the cliffs was once a fishing village, however is now only inhabited on a non-permanent basis, the former fishing cottages having been renovated into holiday homes. A locked gate led down to the hamlet, however I decided not to head down to Ethie Haven, instead following the track as it headed along the clifftops.
The path continued on this for a quarter of a mile before dropping down into another hamlet, this one called Corbie Knowe (below). This hamlet has a more recent history than that of Ethie Haven, with Corbie Knowe being more of a ramshackle of caravans and chalets which sprang up in the middle of the 20th century when planning laws were a bit less strict. This actually brings about a certain charm in the hamlet as each dwelling as its own distinct character.
I headed through Corbie Knowe soon coming to a beach which was lined with crumbling anti-tank blocks which dated from World War II. The beach marked the start of Lunan Bay – two miles of sands which curve northeastwards. According to the Angus Coastal Trail guide if Lunan Bay was in the Costa del Sol it would be lined with multiple huge hotel complexes and associated tourist attractions. As it is in Scotland, where the weather is a little less reliable it is one of the country’s most beautiful and unspoiled beaches. I headed along the beach for a little while, watching as the sun came out from behind the clouds. I imagined for a minute that I was actually in the Costa del Sol except in this case I had almost the entire beach to myself.
Lunan Bay was once home, albeit briefly, to Britain’s first operational military airfield. In February 1913, five aircraft belonging to the No 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, took off from RAE Farnborough in southern England, making the 450 mile journey to Lunan Bay in thirteen days. The airfield was based at nearby Upper Dysart Farm. In the end this location wasn’t suitable and at the end of 1913 the aircraft were moved to a new base further up the coast at Montrose.
About half way along the bay Lunan Water cuts through the beach which meant that I had to come inland. Near the mouth of Lunan Water was a small cluster of houses over which standing on high ground looms the ruins of Red Castle (below). A castle was first built here in the late 12th century for King William I of Scotland. It may have been built as a defence against Viking raids, however it was more likely used as a hunting lodge by the King.
The King obviously didn’t like the place too much as in 1194 he granted the castle and the estates to Walter de Berkeley, the Royal Chamberlain. The castle was rebuilt on a much grander scale in the 13th century and changed hands numerous times over the next three centuries until it passed into the ownership of Lady Elizabeth Beaton. In 1579 a wedding took place between Lady Elizabeth and James, son of Lord Gray. However the marriage didn’t last too long when James fell in love with Lady Elizabeth’s daughter. Lady Elizabeth, being understandably a bit miffed, kicked out her husband who responded by mounting a series of attacks on the castle for the next two years with his supporters. The castle didn’t survive the siege by James and fell into ruin.
I had a quick look round the castle which is now crumbling into Lunan Water. It is in danger of imminent castle so please be careful if you want to take a look around. A lot of the once-substantial stonework has disappeared in the last twenty-five years.
Leaving Red Castle behind I plodded back down into the small hamlet which sits under the castle and followed a road towards the small village of Lunan. I crossed a bridge over Lunan Water, passing by a small church (left) where in the 16th century Walter Milne was the parish priest. Milne was the last of the St. Andrews Martyrs, a group of protestant priests who were burned at the stake in St. Andrews before the Scottish Reformation changed the country from Catholic to Presbyterian. Milne had in fact been a Roman Catholic priest during his time in Lunan but changed denominations and as a result was accused of heresy and burned at the stake in April 1558.
I headed into the small village of Lunan where I finished the walk. I still hadn’t fully finished the day’s walking, however, as the bus to Montrose stopped on the main road which was just over a mile away. It didn’t take too long to walk there and on the bus back to Montrose I thought about what a wonderful day’s journey it had been and how beautiful the Angus coastline is. There was plenty of history on this small stretch of the coast and it is amazing to see what stories each place I pass through has to offer. I was really looking forward to continuing walking along the Angus coast – next up was the port town of Montrose which promised further tales and delights.
Red Head, Ethie Haven & Corbie Knowe
Carron, J., 2013. Angus Coastal Trail. 1st ed. United Kingdom: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.