I have travelled widely in Scotland but the east coast region of Angus is not one I was hugely familiar with. Thanks to some great ideas suggested by a tourism initiative, The Angus Tour, I came up with the idea to explore the full length of the coast by bike, kayak and on foot – and to discover what makes this destination so attractive.
An adventure plan in Angus
There are always so many new outdoor adventures to be found in Scotland and an invitation to visit Angus got me thinking about how to discover more about the region.
I was already aware of some its more famous assets, including the Arbroath smokie, which is haddock smoked over wood fires (note, it turns out I was wrong about the origins of this delicious fish); red sandstone cliffs and rocks; and Lunan Bay.
I had also ticked off a few Munros in the region, including Mount Keen and Mayar and Dreish, and taken part in the Montrose Triathlon many years ago.
But I was keen to find out more about the area and I decided that a self-propelled journey along the coast, from north to south, would be the perfect adventure.
Angus Tour: Montrose to Monifieth
Of course, I could have driven the length of the Angus coast in just over 35 minutes, but why would I choose to do so when I could take a day to fully immerse myself in a journey by bike, kayak and on foot?
I wanted to enjoy different aspects of the landscape and coast by travelling on various modes of self-propelled transport along the entire length of the region. It often seems to me that we are too keen to get somewhere quickly, rather than enjoying a slower journey during which we can better experience sights, sounds and points of interest at first hand.
For the A-to-B adventure, I called on the help of a driver friend to deliver my various bits and pieces of kit to me each time I changed mode of transport– and I was hosted by Cameron of Arbroath Cliff Tours for the kayak section. However, it would be possible to recreate the journey by carrying more items with me and making the trip a return journey. There is also a train service along the coastline as an alternative way to return to the start.
For much of the cycle, I followed Sustrans National Cycle Network Route 1, which is part of the longer Coast and Castles North cycling route from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.
Angus coast end-to-end: The details
I cycled 28km (17 miles) from Montrose, at the northern limits of Angus, to the small village of Auchmithie.
From there, I paddled on a two-person sit-on kayak with Cameron from Auchmithie to Arbroath, which is around 5km (3 miles).
The final part of the journey was a run of 23km (14 mile) from Arbroath to Monifieth, at the southern limits of Angus.
Angus coast end-to-end: The bike ride
It was a Scottish morning that could have brought any kind of weather, from drizzle to heavy rain to sunshine, and it’s fairly to say I got a mix of all three during the 28km road route. The day also started with a typical east coast Scotland haar.
However, the weather didn’t dampen the experience because the route was so pleasant. Quiet country roads undulate through picturesque farmland with plentiful views of the sea.
I started at a statue in Montrose that remembers a hero sea dog called Bamse. The St Bernard dog lived during World War II and was owned by Captain Hafto from the Norwegian Navy. Bamse went to sea with his owner on the mine-sweeper Thorodd and the dog achieved legendary status as a naval mascot. The Thorodd was stationed for a time in Montrose.
Bamse died and is buried in the town and more recently Montrose Heritage Trust was instrumental in installing the statue, which features Bamsde looking towards Norway.
It seemed like a fitting start given I was going to be looking out to sea for the cycling section of my journey.
After leaving Montrose town behind, I detoured on a short out-and-back section of road and then path to reach Scurdie Ness, where an historic lighthouse is located. Scurdie Ness Lighthouse was built in 1870 by David & Thomas Stevenson. The lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in 1987.
Back on NCN Route 1, I continued to cycle south and then south-westerly skirting around fields, through farmland and past scattered houses. I hardly saw a vehicle and while still chilly in on the early spring morning, there was little wind. The haar added a sort of early beautiful atmosphere to the views, although it chilled the air.
I enjoyed a few easy gradient climbs to warm up and then some lovely descents. After one longer climb, I sensed the downhill was heading to the edge of the land and as I cycled over the brow of a hill, a huge expanse of sand opened up. Lunan Bay is a place I’d heard a lot about but never visited before.
The extensive beach is backed by sand dunes and framed by low cliffs to the north and south. I was immediately drawn to cycle towards the sand and leave my bike on a viewing deck for a stroll by the sea. The beach was almost empty except for a dog walker and a keen photographer. I enjoyed the peace and the huge open space.
The ruin of a fortification, Red Castle, sits on a hill overlooking the bay. It dates from the 12th century and was built for King William (the Lion) of Scotland to defend against Viking invaders. Only a tower added in the 15th century now remains but the ruin was a striking sight as I cycled by on my onward journey south.
I thought about times past and what the land would have looked like for warring Scots and Vikings. We are fortunate to live in times when our country allows us to roam freely and without battling enemies.
Route 1 took me away from the coast again and between freshly green fields. It would be interesting to return at the height of summer to see what the farmland looks like when in full growth. I stopped for a while to sit on a low stone wall and look out towards the sea. Again, I was struck by how quiet this area is.
The longest ascent of the bike ride came next, although I never needed my easiest gear. I stopped again to look across fields, allowing my eye to focus along lines between young crops and out to the sea. Strips of sunlight spread out from below the clouds and lit the distant horizon. The layers of cloud, sky and light were beautiful against the lush green fields.
Angus coast end-to-end: The kayak
As I waited for my friend to arrive with my kit, so I could swap from cycling for kayaking, I wandered the small village of Auchmithie. I discovered some fascinating facts on an information board.
The former fishing village of Auchmithie, which interestingly means The Field of the Cowherd, is said to be where there was the first recorded reference of the “smokie” in 1842. It’s claimed the fishing port pre-dates Arbroath as a fishing location by several centuries. So, perhaps Arbroath is not the orignal home of the smokie as I’d always thought.
Now dressed in sea-faring clothing, including a wetsuit and wetsuit boots, Cameron and I headed for the two-person sit-on kayak that was resting on rocks close to the water.
With two of us paddling, we made steady and fair swift progress, although I have no doubt we were being powered by Cameron and not me!
The journey was breath-taking as we looked up at a coast of spectacular cliffs and rock architecture. Cameron is born and bred in Arbroath and he knows the coastline intimately.
As we paddled he pointed out numerous geological highlights and guided us into stunning caves. I had no idea the rocks, cliffs and caves would be so magnificent. Many sea birds were beginning to take up residence on the cliffs, too, and Cameron told me it can become unbelievably noisy in summer. I didn’t doubt him since the cries and screeches of the birds, although fewer in number in spring, were already quite deafening at times.
Angus coast cave highlights
I wished I’d had more time to explore this coastline, although Cameron brilliantly showed me some of the highlights.
Brandy Cave: Historically used for smuggling because it is well hidden from view from the land.
Gaylet Pot: A long tunnel leads to a secret beach in a giant hole in a farmer’s field.
Deil’s Heid: A big sea stack that looks like a “Devil’s head” looking out to sea.
Seaman’s Grave: Many seagulls take up residence here during the breeding season. It was the location of a boating tragedy, where baskets were lowered down to save a few people.
Needle’s Eye: A giant hole in the rock, which is one of the most famous parts of the cliffs.
Stalactite Cave: Extending to more than 300ft long, the impressive cave features stalactites.
As we approached Arbroath, I could see why Cameron would have preferred to paddle at high tide. Due to weather and our availability, we had ended up on the sea at lower tide and while this was perfectly safe, it did mean a clamber back over rocks while carrying the boat.
We took our time, occasionally slipping and sliding on wet and seaweedy rocks. I had to swap arms a few times too relieve the muscle strain, but eventually we made it to a slipway at the eastern end of Arbroath.
I hope to return to join Cameron for a longer trip to visit more caves and secret beaches. What a superb coast to view from a kayak.
Angus coast end-to-end: The run
Another clothing and kit change saw me waving goodbye to my luggage transport friend, then jogging west and into the centre of Arbroath. By now, I was starting to feeling a bit fatigued and the sun had finally burnt off the clouds. I was also in need of some food.
After negotiating a few busy streets in the town, which is the largest in Angus, and passing the old harbour, I found a bench to sit on looking out to sea. I ate almost all the snacks I’d stashed in my running pack.
Did you know?
Arbroath is home to the famous Arbroath Abbey, where in 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath was signed?
There’s also an Arbroath Smokie Trail that reveals more about the history of the smokie at five key destinations.
Other things to do in the seaside town include visiting the Arbroath Signal Tower Museum, the shore station for the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which Britain’s oldest surviving off-shore lighthouse.
The run continues south
Feeling a little more energetic and watered, I carried on and followed signs of the NCN Route 1. It would make a very pleasant and flat bike ride, although on foot I was able to enjoy many more of the sights.
I was in no hurry and stopped whenever I fancied, whether heading down to a beach, reading information boards or taking in a view.
West Links beach, just west of Arbroath, is a beautiful stretch of sands and it was busy with families and dog walkers. I took a short break to listen to the calming sounds of the sea.
Route 1 stays close to the beach and I happily plodded along. The route then heads between the beach and Arbroath Golf Course, so the views were lovely on both sides.
I confess I am not used to so much flat running and on a hard surface, but the promise of what would I would discover along the coast kept me going.
East Haven beach came next with a gorgeous arc of sand backed by low dunes. A chainsaw carving by Iain Chalmers, from the Black Isle, remembers the role of fishing in the development of the community here. East Haven is one of the earliest recorded fishing communities in Scotland and dates to 1214.
Continuing along the coast, although a little further inland, I ran on to reach West Haven and then into the eastern end of another settlement, Carnoustie. If you are a golfer, you will already know all about Carnoustie, which is famed for its championship golf course.
There is another superb beach in the middle of the town. It stretches south and along the coast to wrap around Buddon Ness. Sadly, none of this is accessible due to Army training on Barry Links.
Barry Links is a huge area of heathland and dunes, which is largely occupied by a military training area and Barry Buddon Camp. It is also home to the largest rifle range in Scotland. The sound of gun shots was a little disarming as I ran along, although I knew I would be safe. The Route 1 path cuts across the Northern end of the large training area, located behind a hire wire fence.
By the time I started this section of the run I was feeling very weary. I was too hot, a bit dehydrated and dreaming of an ice cream. The flat path just seemed to go on and on and there wasn’t a great deal of anything pretty to see.
I kept hoping to glimpse Monifieth and the start of a beach that I knew could be accessed by the public.
I was also on the look out for the edge of Angus. There is a boundary between Angus and Dundee’s suburbs, or more specifically between Monifieth and Broughty Ferry, and this is where my run would finish.
I actually ran past the boundary line and eventually asked a local dog walker where Angus ended and Brought Ferry started. She pointed back along the coast and although a little peeved I’d run too far I was also very relieved to have finished. It has been a long day and I was ready for the ice cream I had been dreaming of for many miles.
Monifieth also has an interesting history and there have been many relics and archaeological sites found throughout the area, including Pictish stones in St Rule’s graveyard.
I also learned that in the 18th and 19th centuries whale and sea industry thrived in Monifieth and the town grew and prospered with the jute boom of Victorian times.
Today, Monifieth is renowned as a golfing destination. The links course has been used as a qualifier for the British Open Championship.
As I wandered through Monifieth to relocate my car (at walking pace!), I reflected on how rewarding it had been to really get to know the Angus coast on my cycling, kayaking and running journey. It’s a place I will return to, especially to paddle the coast in a kayak.
Further details: OS Map route.
See other adventure ideas: The Angus Tour.
8 more great gems in Angus
- I was assisted and hosted by VisitAngus to complete the self-created journey – and I received the kayak section courtesy with Arbroath Cliff Tours. There is plenty more to see and do in the region if you check out VisitAngus.