Lanterns select a path by the darkish marram grass. The constellations are clear above crescent-shaped Lunan Bay and the timber are floodlit. One sandy hole within the dunes, a pure amphitheatre, is studded with flickering fires. Xylophone gamers select bone-dancing music and a soundtrack of unearthly growls and crashing waves resolves into choral singing. That is Over Lunan, an outside theatrical occasion on the east coast of Scotland.
I’m staying about 10 miles south, in Arbroath, and the present is a part of the city’s delayed 2020+1 pageant marking the 700th anniversary of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath. In addition to cultural points of interest, the world has extra sunshine, no midges and fewer crowds than the west coast. On the finish of Over Lunan, all of us climb over the dunes on to the seashore, the place cloaked figures are watching from the cliff and a harvest moon is popping the tranquil sea to liquid silver. It’s the primary of many goosebump moments on a visit that seems to be stuffed with them.
Extremely, there are common buses to inside a mile of this rural seashore, even on a Sunday. Extra uncommon nonetheless, there are buses away once more till after 10pm. Public transport in Scotland is usually significantly better than in England, though practice journey right here has been hit by Sunday strike motion for the previous few months. I wasn’t trying ahead to the two-hour Megabus journey from Glasgow to Dundee to get right here (tickets from £5.10), however it was surprisingly painless with distant Stirling Citadel, the Ochils, and Dundee’s V&A museum, flashing previous within the night gentle.
Subsequent morning, the brand new cafe and restored fernery behind the pink sandstone towers of Hospitalfield House in Arbroath are a terrific distinction to the gleaming “cliff” of Dundee’s design museum about 20 miles west. The walled backyard at Hospitalfield is vivid with asters and marigolds, aromatic with candy peas and late-summer lavender. It’s newly recreated, however displays the location’s medieval roots as a monastic hospital; the cafe makes use of veg, fruit and herbs grown right here in contemporary, modern dishes or home made muffins to go along with domestically roasted espresso from Sacred Grounds. The cafe and backyard are open Thursday to Sunday and buses 39 and 73 cease often outdoors the gates (£6 backyard entry, £9 home excursions).
The humanities and crafts home is a neo-gothic fantasy of turrets and step gables and but seems like a part of the panorama. I’m not typically a fan of home excursions, however a guided wander by the rooms reveals unmissable interiors. The partitions are coated with work, tapestries or gilded leather-based wallpaper; the drawing room ceiling is carved into dozens of intricate footage of flowers from the Hospitalfield property, from bindweed and hops to dahlias and daffodils. Nineteenth-century artist Patrick Allan-Fraser married the property’s heiress Elizabeth Fraser and based a visionary college of artwork that also thrives immediately. A multi-faceted development project contains new lodging, which ought to open in 2023.
Ten minutes away on bus 39, the customer centre at Twelfth-century Arbroath Abbey not too long ago reopened with a brand new everlasting exhibition that explores the historical past of the abbey. A suspended bathe of arrows rains down in direction of a replica of the declaration with a cutting-edge audio-visual show (£4.50/£2.70 for adults/kids).
In 1320, Scottish Barons wrote this letter to the pope asking him to recognise Robert the Bruce as rightful King of Scotland. “It’s in fact not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we’re combating, however for freedom – for that alone, which no trustworthy man provides up however with life itself.” The abbey’s memento information (£1.50) feedback delicately that this “… plea for the popularity of Scotland’s autonomy continues to resonate immediately”. The red-walled abbey is closed, however I get a very good view and sense of it from outdoors and thru the exhibition home windows.
Nearly the one factor I knew about Arbroath earlier than I arrived was that smokies are produced right here: pairs of salted haddock, tied by their tails, are scorching smoked in barrels of burning wooden chips. Woodsmoke drifts by the lobster pots close to the harbour and I comply with my nostril to purchase a contemporary smokie, nonetheless heat from the kiln, and eat it on an empty stretch of seashore within the space referred to as Match o’ the Toon. Pudding is home made Italian ice-cream – chunky marmalade and foraged bilberry in a double cornet – from Marco’s on the Shore. Subsequent door, the good Harbour Nights guesthouse (doubles from £70 B&B) has wrought-iron balconies and geranium window bins, and presents smokies with poached eggs for breakfast.
The Sign Tower close by was in-built 1813 to ship messages to the Bell Rock lighthouse, 11 miles offshore. The tower is now a museum (free), charting the development of the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse.
Arbroath’s excessive avenue isn’t any exception to the malaise afflicting cities throughout the UK, however there are nonetheless craft bakeries and household butchers among the many whitewashed home windows. At Angus Cycle Hub (cycle rent £20 a day), close to the outdated Corn Alternate (now a Wetherspoon’s), they save outdated bikes from landfill and recycle them into new bikes. Additionally they restore and repair bikes, and organise free social rides on Saturdays. Arbroath and Dundee are on Nationwide Cycle Route 1, which runs from Dover all the way in which to the Highlands, and the hub can suggest numerous native rides.
Sammy Reid opened her plastic-free store Sea No Waste, on Keptie Road, close to the railway station, three years in the past and it has simply received an award as Scotland’s eco retailer of the 12 months. I purchase pure soaps made close to Lunan Bay to take dwelling. With coastal sunshine and woodsmoke blowing up from the harbour, the city has a utopian really feel. Even the bus station cafe, Papa J’s, has a riverside backyard.
Wandering north, I attain the well-kept Western Cemetery (buses 27 and 140 cease close to the gate). Rising above the graves is Arbroath’s reply to the Taj Mahal: a purple sandstone mortuary chapel that Allan-Fraser in-built reminiscence of his spouse after she died in 1873. It’s value making the trouble to see inside. Guides from Hospitalfield go to the chapel as a part of their programme of Meanders and may organise excursions for teams. There are delicate carvings all over the place: curling ferns, pairs of birds, rows of seashells, owls within the carved ivy, or a stone cat peering out of roses at a mouse in a cornfield on the subsequent column. The impact is grander than this sounds: the domestically quarried rose-coloured sandstone conjures up pink cities across the globe, Petra or Jaipur, whereas the carvings rival chapels like Rosslyn close to Edinburgh.
Subsequent day, I head to the fishing village of Auchmithie, unique dwelling of the smokie (bus 140). On the But’n’Ben restaurant, in a whitewashed cottage, I’ve a smokie pancake with double cream sauce (£14.95) after which a bowl of native strawberries (£6.75) to set me up for the five-mile stroll again to Arbroath. The sandstone cliffs are weathered into caves and pillars with resonant names, equivalent to Deil’s Heid and Mermaid’s Kirk.
After a few clifftop miles by field-edge flowers, steps lead down on to the seashore and the breakers are all of a sudden a lot nearer. There’s a scent of wave-churned kelp, spray on my face and pebbles rolling noisily over one another within the surf, percussive and elemental. There’s a bleached tree trunk on the sand, like an enormous bone, a purple rocky arch known as Citadel Gate, and sand martins chasing one another alongside the cliffs.
By the point I get again to Arbroath, the comfort-food high quality of a Scottish pub supper makes excellent sense: Stornaway black pudding with beetroot chutney (£6.75) and a pint of Caledonia Finest (£3.95) on the waterside Old Brewhouse are adopted by a slice of clootie dumpling filled with raisins and spices (£6.55). The beamed bar has battered church pews and framed maritime knots, and upstairs rooms with harbour views (doubles from £85, B&B).
On my final morning, I’ve a swim from Arbroath’s West Hyperlinks seashore – and a cup of tea on the sea-facing terrace of the Old Boatyard restaurant earlier than I head to the station. The caravans and McDonald’s close to the seashore don’t reduce the impression of the extensive, wild skies, the miles of sand and water. With a contemporary breeze and an east-coast dawn, it’s one other goosebump second. There are nonetheless extra to return, searching of the practice window on the journey dwelling: crossing the Tay Rail Bridge, its arches stretching into sea-mist, and racing previous and over the island-dotted Firth of Forth in direction of the distant crags and spires of Edinburgh.
This text was amended on 29 September 2021 to take away a picture that was captioned as displaying Arbroath however was really of Anstruther.