A 100 days, and 10,000 km behind us – and it’s still not the end of the journey!
It’s hard to believe, but it seems the weather is improving! We don’t need to turn the heater on at night anymore, and the thermo-mats see less use than before.
There isn’t that much to see along this part of the coast; the towns south of Aberdeen are rather average – not ugly, but not overly nice, either. The coast, for the most part, is smooth, uneventful, and the countryside is now just fields and cow pastures – we are in Angus, and that means four-legged beef steaks walking everywhere (and an occasional ostrich, for some reason).
The castle of Dunnottar is by far the highlight of this stretch of coast; one of the most photographed views of southern Scotland, the majestic ruin straddles a rocky headland jutting out of a line of cliffs, joined only by a narrow strip of land with the rest of Scotland – not unlike Tintagel in Cornwall, and it’s that position that makes it such an attraction, rather than its historical importance.
The entry to the castle is a costly £6 per head, but you can access the surrounding cliffs for free, and make as many photos as you want – and that is what people come to Dunnottar for; otherwise it’s just another empty shell of a castle.
With most of the cliff-dwelling birds gone, we leave the nearby RSPB reserve behind, and pass the small harbour towns of Stonehaven and Montrose – the latter notable for being squished between the North Sea and a large tidal lake, Montrose Basin, notable for its globally important populations of migrant birds and fish.
We turn from the A92 towards the coast, along narrow country roads, lined with tall, almost Tuscan beeches and sycamores, before arriving at a small fishing village of Auchmithie; it’s a Saturday afternoon, and the sleepy, one-street village is empty and quiet. There is very little here of interest, apart from another tall cliff and a small beach, now covered with tide; and yet it’s an important place to stop, as it’s here that the Arbroath Smokie was born.
We do reach Arbroath itself a few minutes later; it’s a substantially larger settlement, a town, with a railway station – it was the station that gave the smokies their name, as this was the place from where it would have been reaching London during the smoked haddock craze of the 19th century. For that’s what a smokie is: a haddock (or rather, a pair) smoked in a barrel over a hardwood fire; this gives it a perfect, buttery texture, and a strong smoky flavour. It is now a specialty of Arbroath, where most of the fishermen from Auchmithie had relocated (to an area named “Fit o’ the Toon”, near the harbour), which is now filled with smokehouses and fish shops. We bought four smokies for the road – as much as we can fit in our small fridge.
Arbroath has a handsome, busy harbour, a ruined abbey, and a place in Scotland’s history as the place where the Scottish independence had been asserted once and for all before the Pope and God, in 1320 – and contains the oft quoted passage:
“…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
Or, as Mel Gibson put it less eloquently, “…OUR FREEDOM!!”
We return to A92 and enter another large Scottish city – Dundee; it seems to be in the middle of a renovation – the entire waterfront is dismantled and rebuilt. Dundee is new, big, crowded, busy and dirty; it has plenty of clubs, pubs, bars, and other haunts for young, hip people… but little else of interest. We only make a brief stop by the Tay side, in a place called the Discovery Point; here, between two famous Tay bridges, is anchored the RSS Discovery – the last wooden three-masted ship ever built in Britain; the mighty Discovery was built to take Shackleton and Scott on their first journey to the Antarctic, where it had withstood two years of being trapped in ice before returning to Britain in glory.
The Tay Road Bridge is a name we had been hearing a lot during this trip, in the traffic reports of BBC Scotland – as being often closed due to strong winds. The winds along the Tay, in fact, tend to be so strong, they had blown the previous railroad bridge over – back in 1871 – along with a train and 75 passengers; the remains of the old bridge can still be visible between the pillars of the newer construction.
Luckily, this time, the winds are slight and the bridge is open; we speed through it, leaving Angus and Tayside behind, and entering the ancient Kingdom of Fife.
Nydie is a surprising campsite; on the map, it seems to be in the middle of a rural plain, but once you get there, it turns out to be overlooking the sea – in the morning you are welcomed by a grand, sweeping panorama, with St Andrews on one side, and the Eden Estuary on the other.
The facilities have something of a farmhouse feel – could be better; the cost is £20 with hookup, which might be a bit steep considering the late season – but it’s very near the tourist magnet of St Andrews, and surrounded by world class golf fields, which might justify the fee.