Monday, April 07, 2008

Walk 170 -- Carnoustie to Arbroath

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 335 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 112 days.
Weather: A cold north wind, but otherwise fine and sunny. We had a hail shower near the end when we were already in Arbroath, so we went to the pub until it was over!
Location: Carnoustie to Arbroath.
Distance: 7½ miles.
Total distance: 1420½ miles.
Terrain: Grassy fields, firm beach sand, dunes and a little concrete/tarmac. Mostly flat.
Tide: Out, coming in.
Rivers: No.101, Craigmill Burn. No. 102, Elliot Water. Both of these widened out and ‘braided’ across the beach so we were able to paddle across quickly without getting water in our boots.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pub: ‘Corn Exchange’ (Weatherspoons) in Arbroath where we had Robinson’s ‘Top Tipple’ and Cain’s ‘Bock’—a dark beer which I didn’t like
at all. We also had a meal as they had a special offer of fish ’n’ chips for only £2.99, and we fancied it after our Walk.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.11, Arbroath Abbey, which we looked at next day in the rain.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in Montrose. We drove to Arbroath where we parked near the harbour. We walked to the station and caught a train to Carnoustie. Once there, it was only a few yards from the station to the car park where we finished our Walk yesterday.
At the end we had a cup of tea from our flask in the car, then drove back to our cosy cottage in Montrose.

Although we hadn’t experienced any rain while setting up this Walk, there were wet pavements when we arrived in Carnoustie. We had just missed a cloudburst, and we felt a bit smug! We started the Walk at a quarter to ten, and were quite pleased with ourselves at being so early. The people we met in Carnoustie were pleasant and cheerful — most wished us a bright “Good morning!” This put us in a good mood for the day.
As we left Carnoustie we walked through a residential area, and came across the public toilets right next to someone’s house — I wouldn’t like to live there! Somehow we got into a private road, so we took a short cut through a boatyard in an attempt to get back on to the beach. A dog came out followed by an old fisherman. He was very friendly and told us where the path was as we seemed to have mislaid it! I liked the way he pronounced the word “burn”, rolling his rrrs in a broad Scottish accent! We went down on to the beach at the burn, and ran across it at its shallowest point as there was no bridge. We both managed to get across without getting water in our boots. Colin saw a kingfisher! But it had gone by the time I looked up.
We stayed on the beach as the sand was firm. In fact we did most of the Walk on the beach next to the rolling surf, occasionally moving up to the dune path when the sand got soft. This is what it is all about! Walking along remote beaches by the rolling surf on a clear sunny day — it really made us feel good!
We could see Bell Rock Lighthouse way out at sea, it is eleven and a half miles from Arbroath. This lighthouse is built on a notorious reef off the coast of Angus, where it is very dangerous for shipping because most of the reef is under water — but only just. The present lighthouse (now automatic) was built at the beginning of the 19th century. According to legend, before that time a bell was placed on the rock by the Abbot of Arbroath (Aberbrothok) because so many ships had come to grief on the reef, formerly known as the Inchcape Rock. This is immortalised in a 19th century poem by Robert Southey;

The Inchcape Rock
No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,
The Ship was still as she could be;
Her sails from heaven received no motion,
Her keel was steady in the ocean
Without either sign or sound of their shock,
The waves flow’d over the Inchcape Rock;
So little they rose, so little they fell,
They did not move the Inchcape Bell.
The Abbot of Aberbrothok
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock;
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.
When the Rock was hid by the surge’s swell,
The Mariners heard the warning Bell;
And then they knew the perilous Rock,
And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok
The Sun in the heaven was shining gay,
All things were joyful on that day;
The sea-birds scream’d as they wheel’d round,
And there was joyaunce in their sound.
The buoy of the Inchcape Bell was seen
A darker speck on the ocean green;
Sir Ralph the Rover walk’d his deck,
And fix’d his eye on the darker speck.
He felt the cheering power of spring,
It made him whistle, it made him sing;
His heart was mirthful to excess,
But the Rover’s mirth was wickedness.
His eye was on the Inchcape Float;
Quoth he, “My men, put out the boat,
And row me to the Inchcape Rock,
And I’ll plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”
The boat is lower’d, the boatmen row,
And to the Inchcape Rock they go;
Sir Ralph bent over from the boat,
And he cut the bell from the Inchcape Float.
Down sank the Bell with a gurgling sound,
The bubbles rose and burst around;
Quoth Sir Ralph, “The next who comes to the Rock,
Won’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”
Sir Ralph the Rover sail’d away,
He scour’d the seas for many a day;
And now grown rich with plunder’d store,
He steers his course for Scotland’s shore.
So thick a haze o’erspreads the sky,
They cannot see the sun on high;
The wind hath blown a gale all day,
At evening it hath died away.
On the deck the Rover takes his stand,
So dark it is they see no land.
Quoth Sir Ralph, “It will be lighter soon,
For there is the dawn of the rising Moon.”
“Canst hear,” said one, “the breakers roar?
For methinks we should be near the shore.”
“Now, where we are I cannot tell,
But I wish we could hear the Inchcape Bell.”
They hear no sound, the swell is strong,
Though the wind hath fallen they drift along;
Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock,
“Oh Christ! It is the Inchcape Rock!”
Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair,
He curst himself in his despair;
The waves rush in on every side,
The ship is sinking beneath the tide.
But even is his dying fear,
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;
A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,
The Devil below was ringing his knell.

So he got his comeuppance — wicked man!

We crossed another burn using a narrow plank bridge next to the railway line. A notice told us there was free access to walkers, dogs & cyclists, but all motor bikes were forbidden. But we went down on to the beach again, it was much nicer down there and we walked for miles completely happy.
We passed a smelly sewage works, and when we were out of ‘pong’ range we sat on a grass dune to eat an early lunch, only sandwiches. The wind was cold, but in the lee of the dune we were out of it and quite warm. It was mostly fine for the duration of the Walk, but we could see clouds constantly emptying themselves of rain out at sea.The beach got a bit rough, so we retreated to the dunes. Then we found we were cut off by standing water, but down on the beach the burn was shallow enough for us to run over without getting wet feet.
We approached Arbroath along the beach, but went on to the prom as soon as it started. We passed various seaside amusements which looked cold and empty on this freezing April day. Then we passed the Signal Tower, which is now a museum inviting us in. We didn’t visit it today, we came back the next to look at the exhibits. (A 1950s classroom set out in this museum made us both feel very old!) The Signal Tower’s original purpose was to act as a shore station for the Bell Rock Lighthouse. The two buildings communicated with each other using copper balls, one on the roof of each tower. We were told, “Every morning, the ball at the lighthouse was raised to signal that everything was in order. Staff at the Signal Tower responded by hoisting the ball at Arbroath. However, if the ball at the lighthouse was not raised, it meant that something was wrong and help was sent out by boat immediately. We were also told, “When a baby was born to one of the lighthouse keepers on duty at the lighthouse, the news of the birth (and whether it was a boy or a girl) was announced by running either a dress or a pair of trousers up the Signal Tower pole!
Just before the harbour there was police tape flapping in the wind at the top of some steps leading down to the beach. Only last week, two young local girls made a gruesome discovery when playing on the beach. They picked up a polythene bag and found it contained a severed human head!! Very distressed, they ran home to their mother who called the police. A search turned up a severed hand, then another. Eventually a suitcase was found with the rest of the body. It was very quickly established that it was the body of a young Lithuanian woman, a recent immigrant who had been living in the nearby town of Forfar. A couple of weeks later, two Lithuanian men were arrested, but I never did find out the end of the story. I wonder if the two little girls ever got over the shock of their find!
We came to the harbour which was being refurbished with sculptures and the like to attract tourists. But a history board told us: Arbroath’s first harbour was built in 1394 at Danger Point by Abbot John Gedy. It stood until 1706 when it was destroyed in a gale. Another harbour was constructed around 1734. The present harbour was begun in 1842 and was completed with the opening of the wet dock in 1877. It was originally a commercial port and Arbroath ships traded with North America and the Continent as well as around the coast of Britain. Arbroath Town Council invited some fisher families from Auchmithie to the town in 1830 and the local fishing industry developed from that date. Use of the harbour by other local industries such as textiles, farming and quarrying declined after World War I and now the town’s port is entirely given over to fishing.We were half way round the harbour when it started to hail! So we very quickly repaired to the local pub which happened to be a ‘Weatherspoons’ with good beer to Colin’s liking, if not mine! But I noticed there was a fish’n’chip deal for only £2.99, and rather fancied that to keep the cold at bay. It was very nice too, not at all greasy. By the time we had consumed that, had a drink and a nice rest, it had stopped raining. So we continued our tour of the harbour.
There was a strong smell of smoked fish, and we passed two outlets selling the world-famous Arbroath ‘smokies’. But we didn’t buy any, a bit too strong for me, I think.
We came to where the tide was racing under a bridge and up a stream. It was the outlet of the Brothock Burn, the stream which gave Arbroath its name. A plaque told us: This peaceful little burn from which Arbroath is named (Aberbrothock, mouth of the Brothock) was all important to the town’s industrial development. Its water power gave rise to a cluster of snuff and meal mills, plash and spinning mills and bleach-fields along its banks. In 1742 the largest occupational group were handloom weavers who were not superseded until 1847 when the first power loom came. By 1790 Arbroath was the main producer of sailcloth in Scotland. The Brothock Mill (1806) was the first steam driven spinning mill. At the peak, the flax industry had 34 mills. This great industrial growth was matched by a population growth to 22,000 by 1885. The change from sail to steam in vessels and the rise of synthetic fibres caused the decline of the mills.
We completed our tour by a restaurant called ‘The Old Brew House’ near where we had parked our car.
That ended Walk no.170, we shall pick up Walk no.171 next time by ‘The Old Brew House’ on Arbroath Harbour. It was a quarter to four, so the Walk had taken us six hours, but that included over an hour lingering in the pub! We had our tea and biscuits, then returned to our cottage in Montrose.

Arbroath Abbey
We visited Arbroath Abbey the next day in the pouring rain. This beautiful red sandstone abbey was built in the 12th century for a group of Benedictine monks from Kelso. It was finally abandoned in the 16th century because of the dissolution of the monasteries at that time.
It was raining so hard we nearly didn’t bother to go in, but since we can enter without paying, as members of English Heritage, we decided to have a quick peep in case some of the exhibition was indoors. A lot of it was, and we took several photos through the window of a viewing gallery! Then we rushed across to the Abbot’s House where there was another exhibition under cover, but very cold. We didn’t stay long, and didn’t look at the outside ruins at all. Needless to say, we seemed to be the only visitors that afternoon.

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