Travel writer and blogger, Laurie Goodlad, shares her family-friendly weekend adventure in the Angus countryside.
This blog will look at what you can do over a weekend in Angus – this is just a mere snapshot of what this beautiful part of the country has to offer.
This blog is part of a paid campaign with Visit Angus and Blue Skies Cottage, Auchmithie, but all opinions and musings are my own.
Angus sits tucked away on Scotland’s gentle east coast. Set amidst rolling hills and glens and flanked by stunning coastlines, punctuated with caves, cliffs and sandy stretches, Angus is a breathtaking corner of Scotland.
And despite having been to uni in nearby Dundee, my knowledge of the Angus area began and ended with the infamous Arbroath Smokie – that famous reekie-smoked haddock so synonymous with the place – so I was keen to find out what more this area of Scotland had to offer.
Angus sits between Perth and Kinross to the west, Aberdeenshire to the northeast, and the university city of Dundee to the south. With a string of seven towns, including Arbroath, Carnoustie, Monifieth, Brechin, Montrose, Forfar and Kirriemuir, there’s plenty to explore.
Angus is also home to one of my all-time favourite children’s authors, J M Barrie, who penned Peter Pan. An inspiring destination, I was keen to discover my own version of Neverland over a sunny and chilly February weekend.
“To live will be an awfully big adventure.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Getting to Angus is easy; follow the A92 from Dundee or Aberdeen, depending on whether you travel from the north or south. We were coming from Aberdeen, and after a crossing from Shetland – complete with weather warnings for strong wind – we based ourselves in Auchmithie, a small former fishing village four miles outside Arbroath. The original cottages of Auchmithie cluster along the main street, following the curvature of the cliffs they precariously perch above.
Auchmithie’s fishery predates Arbroath by several centuries, and although many of the small cottages were built as farming cottages supporting the rich farmland that stretches far inland from the coast, creating a landscape of gently rolling hills, the village is best known for its fishing roots.
Historically, Auchmithie was the centre of fishing in the area, with the pebble beach creating the ideal haven for the deep-keeled boats engaged in whitefish fishing. As the industry grew, work on building a harbour began, and in 1890, once completed, boats no longer had to be physically dragged up and down the beach before and after each trip.
Today, Auchmithie is a quiet, picture-postcard-perfect community with elevated views above the towering 120-ft cliffs four miles northeast of Arbroath.
Home to the Arbroath Smokie, this is where I sampled my first smokie at The But ‘n’ Ben restaurant. In this family-run licensed restaurant, owners Angus and Margo are renowned for their signature Arbroath Smokie Pancakes.
Andreou’s Bistro, Arbroath
We dined at the renowned Andreous Bistro in Arbroath on our first evening. Andreous’ is a Greek-Mediterranean-style bistro just four miles from Auchmithie serving fantastic food with a Cypriot flavour.
With a selection of tapas-style sharing dishes and generously portioned main courses, Andreous’ offers excellent value, and tasty cuisine, in a homely setting. The continental smells emanate from the kitchen, and the chequered tablecloths give a distinct Mediterranean feel.
With a relaxed atmosphere, dinner is often served with a side of live music, and the Greek-style atmosphere felt hundreds of miles away from the biting February chill outside.
The following morning, with bellies still satisfied from the night before, we headed 13 miles north to Montrose to explore Montrose Beach. With its beautiful golden sand, the beach stretches three miles from Montrose to the North Esk River and is guarded by the impressive Scurdie Ness Lighthouse that stands sentry at the edge of town.
Scurdie Ness Lighthouse was built in 1870 by David and Thomas Stevenson of the famous Lighthouse Stevenson family and was automated in 1987. The Stevenson family’s involvement in lighthouse engineering began with Robert Stevenson (1772 – 1850). Formed to reduce accidents and losses at sea, the Northern Lighthouse Board was established in Edinburgh in 1786 to “deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective Aids to Navigation service for the benefit and safety of all mariners.”
Today, the Lighthouse Board maintains 207 lighthouses and 170 buoys across Scotland, including Scurdie Ness and the Bell Rock Lighthouse, one of Scotland’s most famous and greatest feats of engineering for the family. The Bell Rock is situated off the coast of Arbroath and is the world’s oldest working sea-washed lighthouse.
The beach was fantastic, stretching for miles; wrapped up against the chill north wind, it was the perfect antidote to the dull heads from the night before.
Montrose Basin Visitor Centre
Afterwards, we visited the nearby Montrose Basin Visitor Centre. Montrose sits on the edge of a nature reserve, providing a haven for wildlife – particularly wading birds. We spent several hours at the Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre warming up and soaking in the early spring buzz of birdlife.
In autumn and winter, the basin is home to over 100,000 migratory birds, including pink-footed geese, wigeon and a variety of other waterfowl and waders, while during the spring and summer months, the estuary supports various breeding colonies, including sand martins, common terns and eider, making the basin a fantastic place to visit all year round. Hides are dotted around the bay, allowing the perfect vantage points for viewing wildlife – and you may even see a seal.
Our host, Alison, told us that when the centre opened in 1995, they could expect 40,000 pink-footed geese, but today the basin hosts up to 90,000. These geese that descend on the region annually make a 1,500 km journey from Greenland and Iceland each year – I know this because the centre has a brilliant interactive display showing the earth and, at the push of a button, the migration paths of many of their species flash up in glowing flights on the globe, bringing the whole experience to life.
New scopes installed at the end of 2022 allow visitors to observe the birds and seals – all in the comfort and warmth of the centre with its panoramic windows facing the entire basin. The day before we arrived, Alison spotted a kingfisher. We observed a woodpecker, yellowhammer, godwit, redshank, oystercatcher, seals and a host of other ‘little brown birds’ that my limited birding skills couldn’t identify beyond the sparrows!
A tern raft in the centre of the basin was quiet, but come summer, Alison told us it was home to a colony of noisy terns – my favourite bird and one I’ve just had inked to my body. Terns, for me, are the sound of summer, a welcome sight and sound after a long winter. They have one of the longest migrations on earth, following the sun from the polar south north towards Arctic regions, their forked tails and shrieking cry making them easily discernable.
With breathtaking views across the basin, and a kid’s corner full of interactive activities, the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre is the ideal place to while away an afternoon and connect with nature. The shop sells tea, coffee and light snacks, and the ever-changing basin provides hours of entertainment. The centre is an unmissable stop for anyone with even a passing interest in birds.
But n Ben Restaurant, Auchmithie
After tearing ourselves away from the scopes and basin life, we hit the road again and returned to Auchmithie for lunch at The But ‘n’ Ben Restaurant.
Best known for its seafood dishes and traditional Scottish country cooking and baking, they offer a great selection, including Arbroath Smokies, fresh mussels and oysters from Shetland and the west coast, along with crab and lobster from local waters.
For those who don’t have an appetite for fish, The But ‘n’ Ben also serves Aberdeen Angus beef, venison, and game sourced from the estates around Royal Deeside.
Newton Farm, Forfar
From here, we headed 17 miles west towards Inverarity, near Forfar, where we met Louise and Rhiannon at Newton Farm to tour their 550-acre farm set in the beautiful rolling hills of Angus. They grow cereals, grass, potatoes and peas on the farm and a whole host of livestock, including sheep, cattle, goats, alpaca, donkeys, and a docile old micro-pig called Lucy.
Graeme and Louise Nicoll, and their family, have been working the farm since 2001, but farming runs through their veins, going back generations.
Their business has many facets, which predominantly relies on cattle and sheep farming, but has branched out into holiday accommodation, farm tours, and even alpaca experiences. Most of their cereal crops are barley, grown for the whisky industry, and as an essential winter feed for their cattle herd, kept indoors over the winter months.
In many ways, winter and early spring is the best time to visit the farm as the cattle are kept inside and are easy to access and hand feed. The children in our party – and a few of the adults – loved the experience of getting up close and personal to the cows, goats, alpaca, and even the great bull to hand-feed them from buckets.
From the cow sheds, we were taken to meet the alpacas, who were curious and greedy to get to the buckets promising food. Alpacas have incredibly fine fleeces. We had my mother with us, and, as a spinner, she was keen to learn more about their fleeces and left the farm with two fine alpaca fleeces from alpacas Clunie and Jackson which she plans to spin into yarn for knitting.
Following the tour of the barns, we were taken into the fields where we met the farm’s latest additions, the two docile donkeys Nutcracker and Bobby Dazzler. Six-year-old Lena was particularly taken with the donkeys who she could walk on a halter around the fields as I tried my hand at cleaning their hooves!
Next door to the donkeys, micro-pig Lucy, was lazily basking in the early-spring sunshine. Louise told us that they rescued her from a flat in Dundee in 2014, where she had spent her first eight months indoors. She said Lucy – who is not as small as you may imagine a ‘micro’ pig to be – was delighted when she came to the farm and got to feel fresh grass under her trotters. Every animal on the farm serves a purpose, and it’s Lucy’s job to act as a four-legged lawnmower around the farm. If you’re visiting, give Lucy a belly rub – it’s her favourite!
Finally, with the sun low in the sky, casting long shadows over the cold earth and bathing the surrounding fields in a piercing golden light, we met the sheep, including the friendly Shetland sheep who, we’re sure, recognised that he was amongst his own flock and was keen to come home to the islands with us. Alas, Louise and Rhiannon were eager to keep him on the farm, so there he stayed.
Forbes of Kingennie Country Resort
With the golden end-of-the-day light kissing the tops of the hills in the glen, we made our way over Carrot Hill towards Forbes of Kingennie Country Resort, a tranquil spot just five minutes outside Monifieth. Forbes of Kingennie is a country resort offering luxury self-catering accommodation, including private lodges set in picturesque woodland – we know this as our dodgy sat nav took us into the woods on a detour. The resort also offers fishing, golf and exquisite dining with a varied menu packed with local produce.
Before our meal, we had a go of the maze. I admit this is the first maze I’ve ever attempted, and it was great fun. My sense of direction could have been better, and my husband Aaron, watching from the bridge at the end of the maze, had to direct me through the passages to make our dinner reservation on time.
The restaurant overlooks a tranquil loch or pond. I’m not sure when a pond becomes a loch or vice versa, but this one was beautiful, with a water fountain taking centre stage and small rowboats around the water’s edge. The complex has four lochans, where anglers can fish for trout – including rainbow trout all year round. The lochs are all accessible, with angling platforms and fishing lessons for the beginner. Forbes of Kingennie is also well placed for guests to enjoy a wider fishing retreat in Angus as it’s close to Dundee and near many of Angus and Tayside’s finest trout fishing rivers.
Following some spectacular sharing platters, I opted for the venison – when in Scotland, and all that! I love the chance to eat venison as we don’t have it in Shetland, and deer are abundant in Scotland, making it the ultimate sustainable meat. As deer are wild, they’re always free-range and not intensively produced.
Forbes of Kingennie was a fantastic place to enjoy our final meal in Angus – even if I did turn up to the swanky restaurant in my battered old hiking boots, smelling faintly of donkey.
Arbroath Cliff Tours
We awoke on our final morning to a bright, clear day with a stiff northerly breeze. The first skylark of the year was jubilantly singing in the hills beyond our cottage, a harbinger of spring. We made our way to Arbroath, where we met Cameron from Arbroath Cliff Tours at the end of Victoria Park.
Cameron Smith founded Arbroath Cliff Tours, which began after his love of the area snowballed on social media during lockdown. His passion and knowledge of the Arbroath coastline have now been built into a successful business. Cameron takes guests on tours of the cliffs, caves and waters around Arbroath. He offers cave exploration tours, kayak tours and coastal cliff walks. Along the way, he regaled us with stories of smuggling, smokies, and secret swim spots and showed us some of the hidden gems that the stretch of coastline between Arbroath and Auchmithie has to offer.
As a tour guide, I always aim to take a guided tour whenever I visit somewhere new, as it’s the best way to learn more about an area and with Cameron’s passion and knowledge, it was hard not to fall in love with this place. We saw things that we would have never found ourselves.
He took us along the wheelchair-accessible path and showed us the magnificent natural wonders of the area, including; the Needle’s Eye, a spectacular archway in the cliffs looking out to sea, the Mermaid’s Kirk, a secluded swim spot with glistening turquoise waters, Dickmont’s Den, a large geo, or inlet, where nesting seabirds occupy, the Three Storey House, a series of sandstone ledges, and a hidden house in the cliffs, The Deil’s Heid [Devil’s Head], an impressive, gravity-defying sandstone sea stack, and finally, the Mason’s Cave, a secret cave passageway stretching far inland from the sea where Masonic Lodges used to meet, their Lodge numbers carved into the stone at the back of the cave.
We also saw the tracks reputedly created when they were carting stone to build Arbroath Abbey in the 12th century. The world-famous Abbey was founded by King William the Lion as a memorial to his childhood friend, Thomas Becket, the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury and as a means of expanding the king’s rule in the northeast of Scotland. However, the Abbey is best known for the Declaration of Arbroath, setting out Scotland’s case as an independent, sovereign kingdom in the early 14th century.
The most famous lines from the Declaration state: “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.”
The walk took us to Carlingheugh Bay, where we turned and made our way back to Arbroath. This walk leads to Auchmithie – something for another day – and we had a fantastic time with Cameron.
And so ends our fascinating tour of Angus. We had a ball exploring this lesser-known area of Scotland. For anyone who is only in Scotland for a short time, Angus is easily accessible from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and gives a real flavour of Scotland
Many thanks to Visit Angus and Blue Skies Cottage, Auchmithie for having us – and all our hosts and guides along the way!
You can follow more of Laurie’s adventures on her blog and follow her online @shetlandwithlaurie.