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Charlotte's Stories
Angus Day


This is the first of our family "tour days" with Steve Mackie, of Rowan Travel, Auchterhouse, as our driver. I remember as a child, and into my teens, enjoying our holidays of "a day here and there" on Watson’s or Dickson’s tour buses. My mother, granny, brother and myself would get up early enough for my granny to do her usual job of cleaning out the fireplace grate and preparing the fire in our main room to be lit to warm the house, even in summer, when we got home, usually quite later in the day. My mother would put together some sandwiches, usually buttered bread or rolls with peppered tomatoes, sliced eggs, cheese or cucumber, along with some fresh fruit, usually Scottish apples or pears or an Israeli Jaffa orange or two, and some biscuits, to carry in her ever present shopping bag – and that’s the difference between the Royal Family and mine: the Queen carries a handbag with probably nothing in it, but my mother’s shopping bag carried her money, her day to day shopping and, on day trips, the lunch. And this picnic would always smokies if we went to Arbroath, baps if we went Aberdeen, bridies if we went to Forfar. A special treat was to stop in a tea room for "a nice cup of tea" – cups of tea were always "nice" to my mother and granny – where I got lemonade (which was really orangeade or Iron Bru) or a glass of milk to "skite the hunger aff us" before we arrived home in Dundee.

There is so much to see and do in Angus, the county of my birth (and also the name of my little Skye terrier here in Phoenix). To my family, this will be the first of our three Scottish day trips – a "Mystery Tour" to them where they have some idea of where they are going, but know there is an element of surprise in what road we’ll take, what we’ll do when we get there, and what the journey will be like. I think it’s kind of like what one of my teachers in Sunday School said to me, only a few years back, "Charlotte, when you start talking I have no idea where we’ll end up, but I know getting there will be a trip in itself."

Our Angus Day (Mileage/Driving Time approx 4 hours)

With history stories and additional interpretations and interjections as I learned them from my Granny, who learned them from her Granny, who learned them from hers!

Location

Route Planner

Dundee
Leave 8:30 am

Dundee to Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Barry, Carnoustie to Arbroath

Arbroath

Brief stop at Harbour to find smokies or visit fisherman’s museum; brief stop at Arbroath Abbey to consider the Declaration of Arbroath

Montrose

Letham, Inverkeilor, Lunan to Montrose, passing the nature reserve at Fowlsheugh, stopping at location of Clark home (4th great grandparents)

Stonehaven

Johnshaven, Inverbervie to Dunnotar Castle

One hour stop at Dunnotar Castle Stonehaven to view harbour, Laurencekirk

Edzell

Brief stop to view Edzell Arch, passing Caterhuns (ancient hill forts with fine views) and Fettercairn Distillery to Brechin

Brechin

Brief stop at Brechin Cathedral then to Forfar

Forfar

Brief stop to buy bridies, Finavon to Kirriemuir

Kirriemuir

Brief stop at Sir James Barrie’s birthplace, to Glamis

Glamis

Brief stop to view Glamis, to Auchterhouse

Auchterhouse

Stop to hike to Pictish/Dragon Stone at Baldragon

Bridgefoot to Dundee.

Bridgefoot to Strathmartine Road to Symers Street to Hill Street to the Law to Dundee

Angus was known as Forfarshire about a hundred years ago, and is now incorporated with what I knew as Perthshire into the governmental district of Tayside. The villages around Loch Tay (Aberfeldy, Kenmore, Fortingall) date from the Iron Age and the most beautiful of the Highland glens (Isla, Prosen, and Clova) are located in Angus. There is a roadside cairn at Dykehead, in Glen Prosen, which commemorates Scott’s ill fated expedition to the South Pole, 1910-11. Scott and his partner, Dr. Wilson, planned the expedition at Wilson’s home in Glen Prosen, Burnside Bungalow. Glen Isla is the route to Glen Shee where the river runs through a steep gorge, then falls 60 ft down to Reekie Linn, or "Smoking Fall." Kirkton of Glen Isla boasts an elegant iron suspension bridge, built in 1824, which provides a footpath across the river. The Great Glen is located in Angus. It is Scotland’s and is the home of Europe’s oldest tree, considered ancient even when, according to legend, Pontius Pilate close by. Once, when Queen Victoria was returning to London from Braemar, she had her driver stop so she could overlook Loch Tummel and Schiehallion, considered to be the most beautiful of the Scottish mountains. That site is known as the Queen’s View.

On our outing, we’ll stop at some of the places my mother took me on day trips when I was a lass:

Arbroath

We’ll pass Carnoustie, home of the championship golf course on our way to Arbroath. Also on the way at Barry Mill, two miles west of Carnoustie, is a water powered oat mill, dating from 1814 and operated until 1982. There was an oat mill established here as far back as 1539. Arbroath’s 12th Century Abbey is the location of the signing of Scotland’s declaration of independence (from the English) known as the Declaration of Arbroath. This site is near the west front where the gatehouse tower flanks "pend" (arch) which was beneath the room where the Declaration was signed. This Abbey was founded by William the Lion in 1178 and is dedicated to Saint Thomas a Becket, the "troublesome priest" that his supposed friend Henry II had murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. Very stirring stuff taught to me in my primary school history classes, and by my mother who was a fount of general knowledge – the King is annoyed by Sir Thomas, calls out (rhetorically it seems) to his nearby Lords, "Will noone ride me of this troublesome priest?" The Lords take him at his word and go galloping up to Canterbury, canter down the knave of the Cathedral, and kill the "troublesome priest" right at the alter. King Henry felt so bad that he had done this that he had himself whipped by monks and wore a hair shirt in penance the rest of his life. And Sir Thomas became St. Thomas. King William the Lion dedicated the Abbey in 1178 with the intention that it become the most important Abbey in the country and his burial place. After the reformation when, encouraged by the likes of John Knox, Scotland’s abbeys and monasteries were destroyed to one extent or another by Reformationists. In the 18th Century, the Abbey, believe it or not, became the town quarry and much of the formerly magnificent Abbey’s stones were used in the construction of homes in the town. The Abbey stands close to the sea and its beautiful circular window was kept permanently lit to be a navigation beacon to ships in the North Sea. And, a final note re the Abbey – I remember being thrilled as a young girl that some of our brave Scottish patriots (actually a group of young Scottish Nationalists) had stolen the Stone of Destiny back from those thieves in England who had been holding on to it since Edward Ist (yes, that one) took it down there and it ended up in Westminster Abbey so English, and not Scottish, kings would be crowned above it. After a great deal of excitement, these young men gave the Stone back and left word where it could be found – wrapped in the St Andrews flag (or Saltire) on the remains of the high alter, symbolically in the place where our Declaration had been signed so very long ago. Arbroath, now a quiet little town, was established as a royal burgh in 1599 by King David, but is probably more well known as the home of the "smokie", sweet and juicy line caught haddock smoked whole over oak chips – although the first smokies really came from Auchmithie another little fishing village, perched on high cliffs a few miles away. I remember every summer going up to the Harbour and buying smokies from a "fishwifie" there – and some still wore the traditional black and white striped aprons then. We once took a tour around the cliffs surrounding Arbroath – my mother was petrified, but she did it for me. I loved the spray of the waves on that little boat – not much more than a rowboat with a gas engine – and the smell of the sea and remember seeing cormorants and puffins nesting. The Signal Tower Museum was the shore base for the Bell Rock Lighthouse, completed in 1811 by Robert Stevenson, significant for lighthouse design. Stevenson designed a prefab construction of the lighthouse because there were only four months in each year when building on the tidal rock was possible. When St Vigeans Church, north of Arbroath, was built 32 pictish stones were found, although many were damaged. This was probably another important pictish religious site. St. Vigean’s Museum is a converted cottage near the Church and house the Drosten Stone, which is one of the few existing pictish stones showing an inscription in the roman alphabet.

Montrose

A castle once stood in Montrose Basin, guarding the city from invasion from the North Sea. Montrose Castle has an unfortunate history, being captured in 1526 by Edward Ist, who called himself the Hammer of the Scots, but we called him Longshanks because of his height and his long legs. Edward 1st stripped John Balliol of his badges of royalty here, but that didn’t bother us Scots much because we were already calling him Toom Tabbard (empty coat) because he was nothing more than a puppet of Edward’s. (The Scots lords couldn’t agree on who should be King, so they went to Edward asking him to select one of them to be King; Edward picked the weakest, John Balliol, and then promptly invaded Scotland and claimed us to be his "vassals" or dependants.) The year after Toom Tabbard was stripped, William Wallace captured Montrose Castle, then it Robert the Bruce later destroyed it. Montrose, an ancestral home of my grandmother’s mother’s family, has a history as a major merchant center and fishing port. The High Street, where my husband and I lived in a bed and breakfast place when we were first married, has the widest High Street in Scotland. There is a museum at Montrose Aerodrome recalling mementoes (including hangers and sheds dating from 1914) and heroes of the Montrose Royal Flying Corps and RAF Air Station and the men who fought, and died, as part of the first operational air station in the United Kingdom which served in both World Wars.

Dunnotar

Dunnotar Castle was another holiday visit as my mother and granny and I would take our summer bus trips. It’s been used in several movies requiring castles and blood and gore – the first one I remember seeing it in was "The Vikings" with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, and most recently I recognized parts I explored as a girl in "Hamlet" and "Braveheart." But when I think of Dunnotar I remember this as my first date with my husband, a US Navy sailor based at RAF Edzell. I gave him a tour, remembering to tell him that during one of the many English invasions of Scotland the crown jewels were brought here and safely hidden until their safe return to the capital.

Stonehaven

Stonehaven, another North Sea fishing town, has a beautiful circular harbour and, in my day, an outdoor swimming pool which filled and emptied with the tide.

Edzell. Most recently I saw Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle on American television in a program called "The Great Race" in which competing teams of couples had to get from Aberdeen to Dunnotar to Stonehaven with only vague directions and obtuse clues.

Brechin

If you are really interested in the Picts, Pictavia is a museum here full of interactive exhibits and artificacts. This is appropriate, since Brechin was first settled, guess?, during the time of the Picts. The Cathedral was founded by David 1st in 1150 and is now Brechin Parish Church. The Round Tower is only one of three in Scotland and, according to my memory of primary school, was partly a lookout tower and partly a place of refuge. The Tower is noted for carvings of crucifixes and priests. Like many religious sites, it was ruined after the Reformation. In the southwest corner there are several carved stones and grave slabs (flat tombstones) from the 1`0th and 13th centuries. The "Auld Brig" over the River Esk is believed to be the oldest bridge in Scotland.

Forfar

My son John loves Forfar bridies on the rare occasion I make these. I am quite convinced that it had to be an Angus lad who went to Mexico and other Central and South American countries and introduced the people there to "empanadas"; and of course this same adventurer must have journeyed through Cornwall and taught the people there how to make "pasties" as he traveled on his way spreading this culinary delight throughout the world. But, apart from bridies whether with or without onions, Forfar was an important site even in Pictish times. It was a capital during the era of the Picts and is where Malcolm Canmore, the King who united the picts into the first formations of our country,

First conferred surnames and titles and created the foundation of Scotland’s nobility. There is a turret on Canmore Street which marks the site of Canmore’s castle. Scotland’s wild past is also noted in the Meffan Gallery which shows recreations of old street scenes, including during the 17th Century witch trials for which Forfar become notorious. Outside of Farfar is the Tealing Dovecoat, built in the shape of a house with its initialed lintel dated 1595. Pigeons were raised for meat to break the monotony of the sparse winter diet in the middle centuries and this is considered one of the oldest and largest in Scotland. Near by is a long curving underground passage, approximately 80 ft long and over 6 ft high, lined with large stone slaps. This is known as a souterrain and is probably an underground grain store which dates from 1st or 2nd Centruy and may have been also used to collect tribute for the Romans. There are other souterrains at Ardestie and Carlungie near to Carnoustie which we passed previously.

Kirriemuir

We can’t drive near Kirriemuir and not stop at the birthplace of Sir James Barrie, author of Peter Pan. This has been restored to reflect how it was in Barrie’s youth. His autobiographical novel refers to Kirriemuir by its old name of "Thrums" and the title refers to the window in the washhouse where his father worked as a handloom weaver, which he remembered so vividly from his childhood. There is a statue of Peter Pan in "Kirrie’s" old market place beside the Tolbooth, which dates to the 17th Century. One of my favourite events each year was going to the pantomime at Christmas. One year, my mother took me to see Peter Pan on stage. The best part to me was when "Peter" flew over the audience. In the pantomime tradition the part of the "principle boy" was always a girl – that suited me just fine because I wanted to be like Peter Pan, never to grow up. I wanted so very much to be a boy when I was little – they seemed to have so much fun and opportunities for adventure! A few Christmasses ago one of my daughters (a mother herself) asked me recently which was my favourite Disney cartoon. I gave her my answer and when I opened her gift to me on Christmas morning, there was a DVD of Disney’s Peter Pan. I have it on the shelf beside my video of Mary Martin as Peter Pan and Spielberg’s "Hook" with Robin Williams, another great Pan.

Glamis

Glamis Castle, besides being mentioned in Shakespeare’s MacBeth, is the ancient home of the Earls of Strathmore. This is on land given by King Robert II to Sir John Lyon who married the king’s daughter, Joanna. Unfortunately the family lost the castle for a while in 1528 when the sixth Lord Glamis married a Douglas, another of Scotland’s powerful Clan Chiefs, or Lords. This was not a good idea because upon the ascension to the throne of James V, he remembered how badly the Douglasses had treated him as a boy. So, this King James seized the castle and had Lady Glamis burned as a witch. However, the Strathmores got the castle back after the King died. I always enjoyed going to Glamis Castle when I was a child and remember once going for a tour through it. I think we took the tour because my grandmother had memories of it being used as a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War I, the Great War in which her husband was killed. Not too far from Glamis is Meigle, which hosts the most important collection of Standing Stones, circular stone circles. Twentyfive carved stones were discovered here and have been dated back to the 8th and 10th Century showing this to be a site of important religious activity of the Picts. A large cross in Meigle Museum includes a representation of Daniel in the lions’ den, but legend claims this is the tomb stone of King Arthur’s wife, and depicts Queen Guinevere. A little word here about the Picts – carved stoneshave been discovered in Angus and Aberdeenshire showing traditional symbols – double mirrors, zigzags, crescents and real and imaginary animals. Some of the more frequently seen symbols are snakes, deer, bulls, dolphins, salmon. Battle scenes are also carved into the stones as well as hunting stories. Christian crosses are not uncommon. These carvings could represent pagan spirits or deities as well as pictograms of people living everyday lives – hunting, killing each other, worshipping, etc.

Auchterhouse and Baldragon

I was pleased the other day when I mentioned Dundee’s Dragon to my grandson that he was able to tell me the story, correct in every detail as I had received it from my Granny who, yes indeed, got it from her Granny. And my heart sang because here I am, seven children and eight grandchildren later, seeing the Scottish storytelling tradition continuing. The story of the Dundee Dragon and how Strathmartine Road got its name will go down was the first fairy tale I told my children – in fact I told it to each of them within moments of their birth so that I could say that their first story was a Scottish one, about Dundee, involving a cruel dragon, nine beautiful young girls – the youngest the fairest of them all, a farmer named Wells, and the people who lined the streets at the top of Hilltown’s hill, encouraging the enraged and heart broken father with calls of "Strik, Mertin, strik!" Baldragon is the location of a pictish stone, located in a field near Auchterhouse, that my mother and I made frequent hikes to when we went walking to the Sidlaws with Laddie, the border collie I borrowed from a neighbour because I loved dogs so much and didn’t have one of my own. But to those of us who believe in the stories of Scotland, Baldragon is no pictish stone, but is the commemoration of the place where Mertin finally caught and killed the dragon – because that’s the story that bairns like me heard from our Hilltown grannies.


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