START: Lunan Bay, Angus
FINISH: Montrose, Angus
DISTANCE: 8.6 miles (462.6 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 3 1/2 hours
OS MAPS: Explorer 382
ACCOMMODATION: Bamse B&B, Montrose
It was Wednesday, the third day of my coastal trip to Angus. I had originally planned to use this day as a rest day, however the Met Office had been warning all week of a storm they had named Hector which was said to bring heavy rains and strong winds on Thursday. As a result I decided to bring Thursday’s walk forward one day and have a rest day when Storm Hector came blowing through Scotland.
And so after breakfast I was on the bus from Montrose to the stop at the turn-off to Lunan. I had about a mile’s walk before I reached Lunan where I could continue the coastal walk. This didn’t take too long, especially as it was pretty much downhill all the way to the small village of Lunan (above).
From Lunan I had a choice of routes. Either I could head back towards the Bay and walk along the beach for half a mile before coming inland to the hamlet of Braehead of Lunan, or I could walk along the minor road that linked Lunan with Braehead of Lunan. I chose the latter route as it was much quicker. Whilst it would have been nice to head down to the beautiful Bay, it would have meant that I would have had to climb back up again and as my legs were tired I didn’t really fancy this.
So off I went along the narrow road towards Braehead of Lunan. As the road was a good height above the sea I got excellent views across Lunan Bay (above) which was bathing in the glow of the June sunshine. There weren’t many cars on the road so I didn’t have to step out of the way too many times before I reached Braehead of Lunan. This was a slightly unusual settlement as sitting in the middle of a half-square of bungalows was a forty foot high monument (below) dedicated to Lt Col. James Blair, a commander in the Bengal Army. Blair, who was born in 1792 according to the inscription on the side of the monument, died on board the ship Madagascar whilst on a voyage to the Cape of Good Hope on the 13th August 1847, supposedly undertaken for the good of his health. I don’t think it worked. For the dozen or so years prior to his untimely demise, Blair had been in command of the Cavalry Division of His Highness the Nizam’s Army in Bengal, India.
Leaving Braehead of Lunan behind I continued following the road, occasionally stopping to get a view of Lunan Bay. At a second set of crossroads I took the road to the right which I hoped would take me back towards the coast. This road edged around the estate of the 19th century Dunninald Castle. This castle is actually the third such to have the name Dunninald. The first (also known as Black Jack) was situated on a clifftop site overlooking the North Sea and was built roughly a thousand years ago. This was abandoned when a second castle was built further inland in 1590. The present castle was built in 1824 when the new owner, Peter Arkley, asked for a new castle to be built.
I didn’t actually set eyes on Dunninald Castle as it was hidden behind a thicket of trees, no doubt planted there to keep the likes of me from being able to see the castle. Anyway my route took me away from the castle and a little further ahead I took the right hand road at a T-junction which took me towards the hamlet of Boddin.
The road headed downhill towards the coast, crossing a bridge over the Dundee to Aberdeen railway line, before coming to a small cluster of farmsteads and a bungalow which is all that makes up the sleepy hamlet of Boddin. It wasn’t always like this though. Passing through a gate I headed down a grassy track which took me downhill towards Boddin Point at the tip of which stood a lime kiln (below) – a crumbling monument to Boddin’s industrial past.
The lime kilns date back to the 1700’s and were built at a time when improvements in agriculture created a huge demand for lime which was used to reduce acidity in soils. By the 19th century other methods were used for this and as a result many lime kilns, such as the one at Boddin Point, were closed down – the one here being abandoned in 1831. Since then they have been left to crumble into the North Sea. As such I wouldn’t recommend going inside them to have a look around as they could collapse at any minute (admittedly I didn’t follow my own advice and foolishly went in a little way to have a look)
Near the lime kilns are the crumbling remains of what used to be the harbour. The slipway down to the sea has now almost gone, and the decaying salmon boats like ‘Sandra’ (above) hint at an industry that has long disappeared. I decided to have a quick break next to the boats, to rest my legs and also take in the peace and quiet of Boddin Point. It must have been a busy place back in its heyday but now it was one of the many almost-forgotten places that dot the British coastline.
My break over I headed back into the hamlet of Boddin, following a grassy path which wound its way along the clifftops. I passed by the ruins of an old salmon fishing station – now only a bare shell of a building (below).
The path soon came to a remarkable rock formation called ‘Elephant Rock’ (below) named due to its resemblance of an elephant dipping its trunk into the North Sea. A narrow path snaked its way onto the top of the Rock, however a steep drop either side of the path put me off from walking along it as one wrong step could send me hurtling to an untimely demise on the rocks below.
Lying on the clifftops adjacent to Elephant Rock (also known in times gone by as Rock of St Skae) was a hidden gem – an old overgrown cemetery (below). I had a quick look around the smattering of gravestones and a couple of old mausoleums which were covered in ivy. The mausoleums stands on the site of a 12th century chapel dedicated to St Skae, the ruins of which were converted into the mausoleum in the 19th century. One of the gravestones, marking the final resting place of George James Ramsey, had a glaring mistake on it. According to the gravestone Mr Ramsey was born in 1859 but unfortunately passed away in 1840, nineteen years before he was born. Quite how the obvious blunder was missed is not known, but the gravestone was never corrected and the mistake remains there for all to see.
Leaving the graveyard behind I continued to walk along the clifftops, edging around a large filled with crops. The way was quite overgrown and every time I moved I kicked up a load of pollen from the grass and wildflowers which covered the path. Naturally this sent my hayfever into overdrive and by the time I finished the walk in Montrose I could hardly see and my nose was red raw from all the blowing into tissues.
FISHTOWN OF USAN
Anyway, I soon came to a cluster of houses which made up the small hamlet of Fishtown of Usan. I climbed over a stile and came to a small car park. Next to the car park was a gate, behind which was a salmon fishery. This was built amongst the ruins of fourteen former cottages and an old signal tower (above) which was once the old fishing village of Fishtown of Usan.
Next to the car park a path led down a set of steps towards the old harbour (above). I had a look round here for a bit before getting myself a bit lost. I passed an old 19th century ice house where once over salmon packed with ice was stored before being sent by ship to Billingsgate Market in London. I clambered over a load of fishing material to get to a set of steps which took me around the back of the salmon fishery. At this point I was just making up a route as I couldn’t see how to get back to the coastline. Fortunately next to a ruined fishing cottage was a stile which allowed me to cross into another field filled with crops. Cue more sneezing and blowing.
At the other side of the field was an open gate which led into a huge field that was fortunately not filled with crops. This headed downhill towards the coast and was quite a pleasant part of the walk. At the bottom of the field a set of stone steps was cut into the wall. I had a little break here and also a bite to eat which was quite hard especially when I was still sneezing and dribbling snot everywhere. Not a pretty sight.
Break over and whilst still sneezing and snotting I climbed over the stone steps and followed a farm track which led through another large field towards an open gate at the other side. Here the track headed slightly uphill, coming alongside a cluster of ruined buildings (above). The building on the left complete with chimney was once a corn mill known as Chapel Mill. The small ruin on the right was the remains of St Mary’s Chapel which became a mausoleum (below) dedicated to the Scott family who lived at nearby Usan House.
I continued past the ruins, coming to a farm called Mains of Usan. Here an Angus Coastal Path sign pointed me down a farm track which led through a field filled with cows. The cows kept a curious eye on me but did not bother me in the slightest, despite my bouts of sneezing. The track rounded a little bay and then a headland before passing through a narrow strip of land between the shoreline and a rise on the left. It was a nice peaceful part of the coast and I stopped a bit to watch a boat pass near Scurdie Ness Lighthouse which was just ahead.
The lighthouse (above) was first lit on the 1st March 1870 at 6pm following a campaign by the residents of nearby Ferryden to have a lighthouse built on Scurdie Ness. This stretch of the coast had seen numerous shipwrecks over the years with great loss of life so the sea-faring community of Ferryden campaigned the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses to have a light built to reduce the danger to shipping. The lighthouse was automated in 1987 with the former light-keeper’s dwellings being sold off into private hands.
I had a short stop next to one of the old lighthouse buildings, taking a bit of time to look across the River South Esk. The river was a hive of activity as Montrose is an important port and base for the North Sea oil industry. I could see a number of large ships waiting out at sea to dock in Montrose. Up river there were a number of ships already anchored up in the port.
My break over, I followed a road which led away from the lighthouse towards Ferryden. I passed a couple of whitewashed stone pillars which according to an interpretation panel were known as ‘the Beacons’. Ships approaching the mouth of the River South Esk would steer to keep the two beacons in line, so avoiding any dangers lurking underneath the waters.
On the left hand side of the road, just past the ‘beacons’ were a couple of bricked shelters which were built during the Second World War to house mounted guns which would have had a clear line of fire on Montrose Beach. Presumably they would have fired on invading troops rather than holidaymakers enjoying a day out on the beach. Hidden from view built into the cliff face underneath the road are gun emplacements which were built and manned by Polish troops billeted in nearby Ferryden. A system of tunnels once connected these gun emplacements and shelters but these have long since collapsed. I continued past the brick shelters, soon coming to the former fishing village of Ferryden.
The village got it’s name from an ancient ferry which crossed the River South Esk. Ferry boats were still ferrying passengers across the river right up until the 1930’s, long after bridges across the river had been built.
A fishing village grew up on the south bank of the river thanks to the sheltered anchorage afforded by the South Esk and also plentiful bait provided by Montrose Basin. For centuries fishing was the primary occupation for the vast majority of Ferryden’s residents. Whole families would be involved in the fishing industry. Women collected the bait from Montrose Basin, shelled the mussels and then baited the lines. The men would then go out to sea to catch the fish, usually herring. The young unmarried women in the family would follow the herring fleet. Their jobs, the toughest of all, was to gut the fish, pickle it in salt and then pack them into barrels.
The two World Wars disrupted the export of salted herring and the industry never recovered. Ferryden’s fishermen sold their ‘difters’ (boats with drift nets carried to catch herring) and went back to line fishing cod and haddock. The centuries long tradition of sons following their fathers into the trade gradually declined, soon bringing about an end to Ferryden’s fishing heritage. The last Ferryden fishermen retired in the 1980’s.
I headed through the village, passing by old fishermen’s cottages.before coming alongside a huge warehouse. Ferryden’s decline as a fishing village came at the same time that it became a base for the North Sea oil support vessels in the 1970’s. A whole swathe of the south bank of the River Esk between Ferryden and the Montrose Basin has been taken over to support this important industry.
This also meant that I couldn’t follow the riverbank too closely, so I had to follow the road inland until I came to a large roundabout. I headed alongside the road towards Montrose, passing through Inchbraoch, which up until the latter half of the 20th century was actually an island until the southern side was filled up.
I crossed over the River South Esk on the ‘New Bridge’ which opened in 2004. This bridge was the fourth crossing over the South Esk here, replacing earlier bridges that had been built in 1796, 1828 and 1930.
I was at the end of the walk. I finished near a statue dedicated to ‘Bamse’ (above), a Great Dane who lived on the Norwegian minesweeper Thorodd during the Second World War. Bamse achieved great fame and there are many stories to tell about his life (more on him in my next blog post).
It had been yet another excellent walk along the Angus coastline. This one seemed to be that little more special as it was more off the beaten track than previous walks I had done. Every place I passed through (with the possible exception of Ferryden) seemed to have that feeling of being forgotten. These settlements such as Boddin and Fishtown of Usan were once teeming with life but are now slowly succumbing to the never-relenting passage of time, only offering glimpses to passers-by of the thousands of stories that happened here but which will soon be gone forever.
Fishtown of Usan
Interpretation panel produced by Ferryden and Craig Community Council