It’s May, my favourite month and also (in my opinion) the best time for visiting Scotland. Except this year, because the Coronavirus crisis has everything in Lockdown mode.
Being confined to the house does make it rather hard to write a Travel blog.
Fortunately, I have a bit of a backlog of road trips to write up about and one that I’ve been meaning to do for a while is a report on our visit to Angus last October. I should perhaps clarify that Angus is not a person. It is a region on Scotland’s East Coast that is bordered by Aberdeenshire to the North, Fife to the South, the North Sea on the East and Perthshire in the West.
For some reason, Angus is a part of Scotland that doesn't get much attention from visitors but it has a lot to offer. To show you what is on offer, we spent a few days in the region last October recording just a few of the attractions that are worthy of your attention.
We based ourselves a few miles outside of Arbroath in a self-catering cottage on the Kinblethmont Estate. This was a wonderful choice and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend their self-catering accommodation.
The great thing with Kinblethmont is that you feel as if you are Lord and Lady of the manor and can wander around the extensive estate grounds and walled gardens without seeing another soul. Our October visit coincided with a bountiful windfall in the fruit tree orchard and we gorged ourselves on enormous cooking apples that made the most delicious Apple Crumble Pie we’ve ever tasted. Autumnal bliss.
Arbroath is a good base for exploring this region as the town sits on the coast with a network of roads that let you explore north, west, and south. It is also home to the historical Arbroath Abbey and one of Scotland’s greatest inventions, the Arbroath Smokie!
Arbroath Smokies are smoked haddock, but so much more than an ordinary smoked haddock. The flavour and texture are quite different to the smoked haddock you get in a supermarket. It’s a much fuller smokiness… more Oakey and natural. And the flesh is flakier.
You have to try it. And the best place to do it is in Arbroath itself. Ideally with some new potatoes, spinach and some lemon butter. There are two smokehouses near the harbour in Arbroath so just follow your nose.
So if we’ve sold you on the idea of a stay in the Angus area you’ll now want to know what else there is to see. To help you out with this, we’ve compiled a shortlist of some of our favourite places
Please note, this is just a summary of places that we’d recommend you consider. It’s not an exhaustive list, but enough to keep you busy for several days.
A few years ago, we would have said Dundee was just a place to visit for a few hours and then move on. But the city has gone through a transformation and there’s a real sense of energy and reinvention going on in Dundee.
The biggest transformation in Dundee is its waterfront. For many years this was a bit of a barren no-mans-land and an uninspiring welcome for anyone arriving in the city via the Tay Road Bridge.
That’s all changed now!
The Waterfront of Dundee is arguably its best asset. Today you cross the Tay Bridge and are greeted by a wide-open public area called the Slessor Gardens. These gardens are really quite minimalist, but this works as you really don’t want to try and upstage the amazing architecture of the new Victoria & Albert Museum.
The V&A is a simply stunning building. Some people might hate it, but we love it.
And right next door to the V&A is the Discovery Point, an exhibition about the early research voyages to the Antarctic aboard the Dundee built RRS Discovery tall ship. We rate this as one of the best tourist attractions in Scotland and we are glad that the V&A building has been designed in such a way that it integrates the beautiful RRS Discovery sailing ship into its surroundings.
If sailing ships are your thing, then you may also want to walk along the waterfront promenade from Discovery Point to the Victoria Dock where you can find HMS Unicorn, one of the oldest wooden battleships still afloat.
HMS Unicorn dates from the early 1800’s, but she was built too late to see any action in the Napoleonic Wars. Consequently, she spent her life as a Royal Navy reserve vessel and was never fully rigged out with masts hence her rather disappointing “roofed” hull.
We understand that there are plans to raise enough money to complete the vessel with the masts and riggings that she should have had. These additions will make HMS Unicorn a really impressive addition to Dundee’s list of attractions. As she stands, the Unicorn is still worthy of a visit and you can explore virtually every corner of the ship for a modest entry fee.
We’re pretty certain that you’ll leave feeling very grateful that you didn’t have to live the life of a deckhand in the 19th century Royal Navy.
Heading into the city centre, you’ll find that Dundee has a great collection of museums, art galleries, restaurants, shops and grand 19th century buildings that hint to Dundee’s prosperous past as a centre for industry.
The history of the city can be absorbed at the beautiful McManus Art Gallery & Museum (Free entry).
There is also the Verdant Works museum which tells the story and social / cultural implications of the Jute industry on the development of Dundee. One interesting aspect of the culture of Dundee is that women formed a large part of the workforce as they were employed in factories weaving and sewing products made from jute. Consequently, women were often the bread winners in working class families and the menfolk stayed home to look after the kids.
An obvious one but it has to get a mention if only for the reason that it claims to be the most haunted castle in Scotland. It certainly has lots of good stories and enough rooms to keep lots of secrets hidden.
To learn more have a look at our information page on Glamis Castle.
Another place with lots of good ghosts stories, but the thing that makes House of Duns interesting is its originality.
This fine example of Georgian architecture was home to the Erskine family from 1730 until 1980. They seem to have had a thing about never throwing anything out so the house is a very complete time capsule right down to the smallest of items.
Tours of the house are done by guides and we were very impressed by the depth of their knowledge about all the objects in the house.
This castle is a ruin but was once the grand residence of the Lindsay family. The distinctive feature of Edzell is its walled garden which was created in 1604 and features fine stone carved decorations in the walls.
The walls also have recesses for the planting of flowers and it is a lovely place to visit in summer when the garden is in full bloom. You don’t normally associate this sort of architectural flourish with 17th century Scottish castles, but this was built at a time when Scotland still had strong ties with France. Many Scottish nobles would have travelled in Europe where they would have been inspired by the Renaissance.
Like all good Scottish castles, it has a ghost and it may even have been captured in a photograph as recently as 1986. Legend has it that the ghost is the spirit of Lady Catherine Campbell who was married to the 9th Earl of Crawford. It is said that she fell seriousl ill and was mistakenly diagnosed as dead. Her body was then placed in the family mausoleum, but she recovered consciousness and returned to Edzell castle only to die of exposure outside the castle gates.
To learn more have a look at our information page on Edzell Castle.
Today, Claypotts castle is in a suburb of Dundee as the city has sprawled eastwards and Claypotts now rubs shoulders with some modern houses.
Despite the incursion of the modern world on this `16th century tower house, we still rate it as one of the prettiest castles in Scotland. Unfortunately, you can only get inside the castle by making an appointment.
Claypotts is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a lady who only appears once a year on the 29th May.
Red Castle guards the shores of Lunan Bay and is a distinctive landmark of the Angus coast. If you approach Red Castle from the west, it has a highly unusual profile and looks almost like the outline of a dog or the “Sphinx”.
When you get up close to the castle, you realise that its unusual profile is due to the amazing integrity of the mortar which is miraculously holding up a section of wall despite all the lower levels of stonework crumbling away.
For obvious reasons, it’s not a good idea to go crawling around below the castle walls, but it is said that the castle had dungeons dug deep into the sandstone upon which it stands.
We’ve mentioned Lunan Bay already as this is where you find Red Castle, what we didn’t tell you was what a fantastic beach there is here.
If you long for romantic walks on windswept beaches, Lunan Bay will keep you happy for quite a while. There’s 3 km of clean sandy bay to explore, but you can’t walk the full length as the beach is divided by a river that flows a bit too fast and deep to wade across.
If you drive to the end of the road into Glen Clova you enter a sparsely populated Highland landscape. The Glen Clova Hotel lies at the very end of the road and it is a nice drive to come here for lunch.
But before eating at the Glen Cova Hotel, we would recommend you work up an appetite by hiking up to Loch Brandy. It’s a great name, but don’t get too excited about the prospect of a loch filled with brandy. The name is thought to be derived from the Gaelic “Bran Dubh” which means Black Raven. I’m not fully convinced by that explanation as I've never seen any ravens here, but maybe it was different in the past when there were more trees here.
There is a good path that leads steeply up the hill behind the hotel and then levels out as it nears the corrie where you find the still dark waters of Loch Brandy. It’s a pleasant walk in late summer when the heather is in bloom. Allow ~2.5 hours for the hike.
You can combine a visit to Loch Brandy with a visit to Airlie Monument as it is located in Glen Prosen which lies just west of Glen Clova. The monument is a lonely tower constructed in 1901 to commemorate the 9th Earl of Airlie who died in the Boer War. It is a moody and melancholy place, some might even say spooky, but we don't know of any ghost stories related to the monument.
The monument is in need of repairs and is currently closed with warnings of falling masonry, but it has a commanding position overlooking the rolling farmlands of Angus.
We’ve already mentioned Glamis Castle, but we have to give a mention to the village of Glamis which is arguably the prettiest village in the region. The village was built in the late 1700s by the Earl of Strathmore who was relocating the homes of his estate workers. As a result, the village was planned to be a neat array of houses and it still retains its 18th century character.
Angus is rich with the history of the Picts and there are lots of places where you can find stones carved with Pictish art. It would take too long to list all of these places, but if you only visit one of them we’d recommend you head to the village of Aberlemno on the B9134 midway from Brechin to Forfar.
The stones stand right beside the road and are thus really easy to see, but the Pictish carved stone we like the most is the one to be found in the graveyard of the picturesque Aberlemno Kirk.
If you want to learn more, you can read a previous Blog that we wrote about the Aberlemno Stones.
Famous as the place where Scotland’s Declaration of Independence was written and signed on the 6th April 1320. This important document was written as a letter to the Pope and it stated Scotland’s historical right to stand as an independent Nation.
But the Declaration of Arbroath is held up as a globally significant document as it contains a revolutionary concept of democracy that was novel in a time where Monarchs assumed a position of absolute power over their people.
It was written in Latin, but it translates as follows:
“If this prince [King Robert] shall leave those principles which he hath so nobly pursued, and consent that we or our kingdom be subjected to the king or people of England, we will immediately endeavor to expel him as our enemy, and as the subverter of both his own and our rights, and will choose another king who will defend our liberties.”
To learn more have a look at our information page on Arbroath Abbey.
If you are a keen photographer or artist, we’d recommend a visit to this quaint old watermill as its setting in a wooded hollow with a babbling brook flowing by is a scene you’ll surely want to capture.
Amazingly, this watermill only stopped operating as a grain mill in 1982, but inside the mill has been restored to look and operate much as it would have done in the mid 1800’s. Sadly, the Mill doesn’t get many visitors and its future may be placed in jeopardy by the COVID-19 restrictions.
One of the earliest military air bases in the British Isles, this friendly little museum tells the full story from 1913 up to the closure of the base in 1952.
There are a few aircraft on display here, but this is primarily a museum about the Air Station rather than an aircraft museum.
It is a good attraction for children as they can climb into cockpits and try their hand at the controls of an early flight simulator for pilot training.
If you need more ideas for a holiday in Scotland, drop us an email, or browse our Scotland Tours.