Angus is crying out for an official coastal trail. The county’s shoreline is littered with geological gems and hidden treasures. As yet no official route exists, although the local authority is looking at plans to create one and their job will be made easier by the fact there are already paths and tracks in place for much of the way.
Broughty Castle, a once strategic stronghold on the Tay Estuary, would be an ideal starting point for such a trek, although Angus does not officially start until you reach the outflow of the Dighty Water at Monifieth, a couple of miles east of this historic landmark. But while Monifieth Sands and the parkland above the shore are ideal territory for the coastal walker, there has long been a major impediment to further progress – the Barry Buddon military camp. A quick look at the Ordnance Survey map presents a less than enticing prospect. The area is dotted with pink ‘Danger Area’ warnings and, in the past, public access has been limited to times of military inactivity.
Now, however, following work by Angus Council and the Ministry of Defence, a 3km path has been created. It skirts along the north side of the range, following the railway line and keeps walkers and cyclists away the rifle and grenade ranges. With this new right of way opening up the coast ahead, I bid farewell to the sturdy blocks of Broughty Castle and set off on my coastal crusade. My mission was simple – to see if I could walk the length of the Angus coast, spending as little time as possible away from the sea, and staying off-road as far as I could.
The Barry Buddon path may take walkers away from the sea, but it is only a brief interlude as the shoreline beckons once more at Carnoustie, a town with a proud golfing heritage. The links courses occupy the coastal ground here and as they are technically owned by the towns’ folk, access has never been an issue for non-golfers.
The fine sandy beach soon surrenders to a rockier foreshore but there is a good path to West Haven, a tiny suburb of Carnoustie where early residents relied on fishing for a living. Now most of the occupants are content just to enjoy the peace and quiet and stunning sea views their homes afford.
The beach beyond leads to Panbride Works where the outflow of the Monikie Burn forced me inland. It was just too wide to ford but I found a convenient detour past Panbride House.
I followed the road east, crossing the stream below leafy Craigmill Den and, a little way on, a track led back to the coast. From here the walking was easy to my next port of call, East Haven. This picturesque hamlet of cottages once boasted a bustling little harbour, a natural cove in the rocky foreshore offering shelter for fishing boats. A few locals still lay creels for lobster and prawn and, in-keeping with their ancestors, they use vintage tractors to haul their boats from the water at the end of the day. The bay can also claim royal patronage; when the Queen and the late Princess Margaret were youngsters, their mother brought them here to paddle and build sandcastles during holidays at Glamis Castle.
The beach can be followed from here all the way to Arbroath. But my legs craved a more solid underfoot option and I found a good path skirting over an inland field just up from the shore. It picked a course through the sand dunes, running almost parallel with the railway line. After crossing scrubland pitted with rabbit burrows, it emerged on to a wide plain of grass before dropping to join a track parallel to the railway. A new bridge spans the outflow of the Elliot Water, leading to playing fields and a surfaced walkway through the West Links Recreation Area.
A wide esplanade took me to Gayfield Park, home of Arbroath Football Club, and on into town. Arbroath can trace its history back to the 12th century when the abbey – where the historic Declaration of Scottish Independence was signed in April 1320 – was constructed. Monks built the first harbour and it grew to become the focal point of a thriving fishing industry. Sadly, only a handful of commercial boats remain but there is a bustling marina and a visitor centre with a welcoming café.
Aside from its sporting glory of yesteryear and a place in the history books, Arbroath is perhaps best known for the Arbroath Smokie, a smoked haddock delicacy produced by local merchants in backyard smokehouses. The aroma of smouldering wood and smoking fish filled my lungs as I tramped the narrow streets between the tightly packed seafaring cottages in the fit o’the toon and pressed on across Victoria Park.
At the northern end of this long, curving parade of grassy football pitches lies the start of a coastal path through the Seaton Cliffs Nature Reserve. The route climbs above red sandstone cliffs and wends its way past such geological wonders as the Needle’s E’e, a rock with a hole worn right through it by the power of the sea, and Dickmont’s Den, a deep gash in the coastline where any hopes of peace and quiet are dashed by the squawking gulls that perch upon guano-encrusted rock.
A little way on from here is one of the real gems of the Angus coast, the Deil’s Heid, an impressive sea stack which, when viewed from the right angle, does indeed boast the lines of a rather evil face. Having visited this spot many times in the past, I have often wondered if anyone has ever attempted to scale it. Local research has drawn a blank and I guess the menacing herring gulls nesting on top must be putting climbers off.
Carlingheugh Bay, known locally as The Flairs, lies beyond the stack and there are caves to explore at the northern end of the stony beach. One is set into the cliff above the bay and has long been used as a shelter by travellers while another cuts right through the headland, emerging into the next bay.
After scuttling back and forth through this 30-metre long tunnel, I hauled myself up on to the cliff-top and followed a relatively recent footpath to Auchmithie, another former fishing village built around a natural harbour. There was once a good hotel here, with great sea views, but unfortunately it is no longer in business. The cosy But n’Ben Restaurant does, however, offer food.
There is no coastal path between Auchmithie and Lunan Bay, my next port of call, and following the shoreline is not an option as the cliffs plunge straight into the sea. But a network of inland farm tracks and minor roads enables progress to be made and the ocean is never very far away.
I aimed for North Mains Farm at Ethie and from here took the track towards the coastal hamlet of Ethie Haven. It descends through fields to the cliff top where a path branches left to Corbie, an encampment of beach huts and caravans. The people who spend cherished time here clearly take a pride in the place – the huts are beautifully maintained and the grass neatly mown.
Corbie sits at the southern end of Lunan Bay, an extravaganza of golden sand. It regularly polls high in surveys of Scotland’s best beaches and were it on the Med a line of high-rise hotels, bars and cafes would doubtless flank it. Scotland’s rather cooler climate has protected it from such a fate and while, on hot summer days, the bay attracts flocks of sun seekers, for much of the year it is the preserve of hardier walkers and surfers.
Below the crumbling ruins of Red Castle, I paddled barefoot across the outflow of the Lunan Water and headed inland to the beach car park. Unfortunately there is no easy route from the northern end of the bay to Boddin Point. Once again, sheer cliffs force the coastal walker away from the water and the fields above are peppered with obstacles. Instead I decided to venture on to the road.
Old county guidebooks make reference to a hotel at Lunan but it is some years since this last traded and the building is now a nursing home. Joining the public road here, I trod the tarmac up towards Dunninald Castle, skirted the walled policies and descended over the railway to Boddin Point.
An old limestone kiln occupies the flat promontory here but my route struck out on a grassy track before the last house at the end of the public road and I contented myself with admiring the solid structure from a distance. The way runs behind a cottage and some ruins to a small cemetery perched above Elephant Rock.
The graveyard is worth a visit, if only to see George Ramsay’s headstone. The stonemason must have been having an off day as the inscription reads: ‘In Memory of George James Ramsay, Born November 24, 1859, Died December 17, 1840’. There cannot be many people in the world recorded as having died before they were born.
After marvelling at this unusual headstone, I left the cemetery and followed the edge of a field before rejoining the foreshore at Black Craig. A path led on to the beach at Usan, where small fishing craft sat at anchor in a sheltered harbour, their nets hung out to dry on the beach. Although the original heart of this tiny hamlet, a row of cottages and a tower, lies derelict, other cottages remain occupied.
I stayed on the beach, spotting oystercatchers, gannets, shags and various gulls, for as long as I could before hiking through fields to Mains of Usan Farm. From here a track and path made light work of the journey to Scurdie Ness where a lighthouse dominates the headland.
Across the mouth of the River South Esk I could see Montrose, a town dominated by its pharmaceutical plant. A single track road runs parallel with the river to Ferryden where the route crosses the river as it leaves Montrose Basin, a muddy and, at times smelly, haven for wading birds.
The town’s main thoroughfare was busy as I pushed on through, battling the crowds of shoppers. I found escape in a side street that whisked me away from all this hustle and bustle to South Links where, concealed by grassy dunes, I found serenity once again at Montrose Bay.
The beach – another long strip of golden sand – stretches north for a good five miles to the estuary of the River North Esk, the northern boundary of Angus and the end of my journey. Here my way was blocked by a loop of water slicing the sand in two. Ahead the coastline belonged to Aberdeenshire and another day. With just a couple of inland detours and some short sections of road walking, I had succeeded in my quest to hike the length of the Angus coast, suggesting the creation of a marked trail is a very viable proposition.
My journey along the Angus coast was 56km/35 miles long and I covered this in two and a half days. Daily distances will depend on where you plan to stay overnight – whether you are seeking serviced accommodation or are travelling with a tent and are prepared to rough it. The low-level route is for the most part flat and any ascents are short and well graded.
Walkers are rarely very far from a community of any size where shops, places to eat and overnight accommodation can be found. Although there are no hotels or guesthouses on the coast between Arbroath and Montrose, accommodation can be found a short way inland, the village of Inverkeilor one option. Wild camping is possible at some of the beaches and coves, but common sense should prevail, particularly in places where there are houses or farmland nearby. Formal campsites can be found in Monifieth, Carnoustie, Arbroath and Montrose.
The Angus coast is well served by both bus and rail services with train stations in Carnoustie, Dundee, Arbroath and Montrose. By bus, Strathtay Scottish, part of Stagecoach, ( www.stagecoachbus.com) serves all communities along the way.
Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50,000 sheet 54 covers the Angus coast while OS Explorer 1:25,000 sheets 380 and 382 offer more detail.