Often overlooked by holidaymakers intent on discovering the grander landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, the ancient county of Angus has lots to offer visitors at any time of the year
Angus occupies a large chunk of eastern Scotland, stretching north from the estuary of Scotland’s longest river, the Tay. The mountains and glens in the northern part of the county form the southern periphery of the Cairngorms National Park (www.cairngorms.co.uk) while miles of dramatic coastline dotted with long sandy beaches and spectacular geological formations border the North Sea. It is the perfect destination for a short break packed full of things to see and do.
The county has a rich history. The market town of Forfar was the ancient capital of the Picts. Remains can be found at Restenneth Priory, on the outskirts of the town, at Aberlemno where Pictish standing stones and an eighth-century carved Christian Celtic cross have been preserved, and at Eassie where an elaborately carved Pictish monument stands in the churchyard. Pictavia visitor centre (01356 623050; www.pictavia.org.uk) in Brechin charts the area’s Pictish history, complete with interactive exhibits.
In the 14th century, the historical focus switched to Arbroath. The famous Declaration of Scottish Independence was signed at Arbroath Abbey (Abbey Walk, Arbroath DD11 1EG; 01241 878756; www.historic-scotland.gov.uk), under the watchful eye of King Robert the Bruce. The abbey ruins are open all year, from 9.30am-4.30pm.
Enthusiasts of historic mansions and castles are also catered for. The House of Dun (0844 493 2144; www.nts.org.uk/Property/32/), by Montrose, is a Palladian mansion designed by William Adam and built in 1730. The gardens are open all year from 9am until dusk while the house is open from April 1 to October 31 (closed Mon & Tues). Glamis Castle (01307 840393; www.glamis-castle.co.uk), Glamis, near Forfar, was the childhood home of the late Queen Mother. It is reputedly haunted by several spectres. The castle is open all year.
The county’s largest town, Arbroath, grew up around its fishing harbour but boomed during the Victorian era when holidaymakers flocked here from the industrial west. It became a thriving resort, grand hotels and seafront caravan parks catering for the huge influx of families seeking two weeks in the sun. Sadly, the growth of package tours during the 1970s saw Arbroath’s popularity decline but there is still plenty to see and do. The beaches continue to attract sun-worshippers while pleasure boats and sea angling trips ply the coastal waters where dolphin and porpoise may be spotted.
At the northern end of Arbroath, the Seaton Cliffs Nature Reserve is a must for birdwatchers. An airy cliff-top trail winds its way past some real geological gems including 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. Further on is the Deil’s Heid, an impressive sea stack.
Although the Angus fishing industry is now a shadow of its former self, boats continue to land lobster, prawns and other shellfish at Arbroath. The town’s most famous delicacy is the Arbroath Smokie, a smoked haddock dish. Dating from the 18th century, the traditional method of production continues to this day. After being gutted and washed, the fish are salted and left overnight. They are then tied in pairs and hung over a pit of smouldering beech chips. Smokehouses run by descendants of the original fishing families – where fresh Arbroath Smokies wrapped in newspaper can be bought – are to be found to the north of the harbour.
The ever-popular Scottish fish supper – battered haddock and chips – is very much in evidence in all of the main Angus towns where chippies provide sustenance for those seeking a quick and easy meal. Look out too for the county’s other traditional dish, the Forfar Bridie; seasoned mince and onion wrapped in a semi-circular pastry case.
Those seeking outdoor adventure should head for one of the five Angus Glens (www.angusglens.co.uk) – Glen Clova, Glen Esk, Glen Prosen, Glen Isla and Glen Lethnot. Clova is the most popular and provides access to a cluster of Munros – Scottish hills over 3,000 feet. The public car park at the top of the valley offers a great starting point for high and low level walks and peaceful woodland tracks that are perfect for traffic-free cycling. One of the best-known paths is Jock’s Road, a high level route linking Glen Clova with Braemar. A shorter but no less impressive walk climbs from the hamlet of Clova to Loch Brandy, a deep pool of water overshadowed by brooding crags.
In Glen Isla, a circuit of Backwater Reservoir offers a good taste of the county’s spectacular open country, while trails suitable for mountain bikers can be found in the forests of nearby Glen Finlet and at the head of Glen Isla where a track strikes north into Caenlochan National Nature Reserve.
Shorter walks can be found at Crombie and Monikie country parks (www.angusahead.com), near Carnoustie. Monikie also offers canoeing and windsurfing lessons and equipment hire for children and adults. For golfers, there are over 20 courses in Angus, including Carnoustie’s famous championship links course (01241 802270; www.carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk).
Kids are well catered for too. One place sure to fire their imagination is the birthplace of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie. The National Trust for Scotland runs the cottage at 9 Brechin Road, Kirriemuir (0844 493 2142; www.nts.org.uk/Property/37/) where he grew up as a museum and a statue of Peter Pan can be found in the centre of the town.
If the sun is shinning, children will love Kerr’s Miniature Railway (01241 874074; www.kerrsminiaturerailway.co.uk), West Links, Arbroath, and the nearby recreation area. It includes a paddling pool, go-karts, pitch and putt and trampolines. Fun family activities can also be found at Montrose Seafront Splash where there is an adventure playground and paddling pool.
Larger trains can be found at the Caledonian Railway (Park Road, Brechin, DD9 7AF; 01356 622992; www.caledonianrailway.com), a preserved line offering steam and diesel services from Brechin Station to Bridge of Dun.
Angus is very accessible, whether by car or public transport. Drive north on the M90 from Edinburgh to Perth, then east on the A90 to reach the county via Dundee.
There are railway stations at Dundee, Carnoustie, Arbroath and Montrose, on the East Coast Mainline. Bus services in the county are operated by Stagecoach Strathtay (www.stagecoachbus.com/Strathtay/).
Where to stay
Overlooking Arbroath harbour, the Harbour Nights Guest House is a comfortable and friendly family run establishment offering B&B from £25 a night. Be sure to ask for a sea view. If you are heading for the hills, the Clova Hotel, is a great base for exploring the Angus Glens. In addition to B&B from £45 per night, it has a bunkhouse with five four-bed family rooms and dog kennelling. Prices start at £14 a night per person self-catering. There is a restaurant and cosy climbers’ bar.