The predominantly agricultural county of Angus, east of the A9 and north of the Firth of Tay, holds some of the northeast’s greatest scenery and is relatively free of tourists, who tend to head further west for the Highlands proper. The coast from Montrose to Arbroath is especially inviting, with scarlet cliffs and sweeping bays. Dundee, although not the most obvious tourist destination, has in recent years become a rather dynamic and progressive city, and makes for a less snooty alternative to Aberdeen.
In the north of the county, the long fingers of the Angus glens – heather-covered hills tumbling down to rushing rivers – are overlooked by the southern peaks of the Grampian Mountains. Handsome if uneventful market towns such as Brechin, Kirriemuir and Blairgowrie are good bases, extravagant Glamis Castle is well worth a visit, and Angus is liberally dotted with Pictish remains.
Two roads link Dundee to Aberdeen and the northeast coast of Scotland. By far the more pleasant option is the slightly longer A92 coast road, which joins the inland A90 at Stonehaven, just south of Aberdeen. Intercity buses follow both roads, while the coast-hugging train line from Dundee is one of the most picturesque in Scotland, passing attractive beaches and impressive cliffs, and stopping in the old seaports of Arbroath and Montrose.
Since it was settled in the twelfth century, local fishermen have been landing their catches at ARBROATH, about fifteen miles northeast of Dundee. The town’s most famous product is the Arbroath smokie – line-caught haddock, smoke-cured over smouldering oak chips and still made here in a number of family-run smokehouses tucked in around the harbour. One of the most approachable and atmospheric is M&M Spink’s tiny whitewashed premises at 10 Marketgate; chef and cookery writer Rick Stein described the fish here, warm from the smoke, as “a world-class delicacy”.
Immediately north of Dundee, the low-lying Sidlaw Hills divide the city from the rich agricultural region of Strathmore, whose string of tidy market towns lies on a fertile strip along the southernmost edge of the heather-covered lower slopes of the Grampian Mountains. These towns act as gateways to the Angus glens, a series of tranquil valleys penetrated by singletrack roads and offering some of the most rugged and majestic landscapes in northeast Scotland. It’s a rain-swept, wind-blown, sparsely populated area, whose roads become impassable with the first snows, sometimes as early as October, and where the summers see clouds of ferocious midges. The most useful road through the glens is the A93, which cuts through Glen Shee, linking Blairgowrie to Braemar on Deeside. It’s pretty dramatic stuff, threading its way over Britain’s highest main road, the Cairnwell Pass (2199ft).
The tiny settlement of MEIGLE is home to Scotland’s most important collection of early Christian and Pictish inscribed stones. The exact meaning and purpose of the stones and their enigmatic symbols is obscure, as is the reason why so many of them were found here. The most likely theory is that Meigle was once an important ecclesiastical centre that attracted secular burials of prominent Picts. Housed in a modest former schoolhouse, the Meigle Museum displays some thirty pieces dating from the seventh to the tenth centuries, all found in and around the nearby churchyard. The majority are either gravestones that would have lain flat, or cross slabs inscribed with the sign of the cross, usually standing. Most impressive is the 7ft-tall great cross slab, said to be the gravestone of Guinevere, wife of King Arthur.
The presence of a statue of Peter Pan in Kirrie is justified, since the town was the birthplace of his creator, J.M. Barrie (1860–1937). A local handloom-weaver’s son, Barrie first came to notice with his series of novels about “Thrums”, a village based on his home town, and he wrote the story of Peter Pan, the little boy who never grew up, in 1904 – some say as a response to an upbringing dominated by the memory of his older brother, who died as a child. Barrie’s birthplace, a plain little whitewashed cottage at 9 Brechin Rd, has been opened up as a visitor attraction, with a series of small rooms decorated as they would have been during the author’s childhood, as well as displays about his life and works.
Scotland’s ski resorts make for a fun day out for anyone from beginners to experienced skiers and, given that Glen Shee is both the most extensive and the most accessible of Scotland’s ski areas, just over two hours from both Glasgow and Edinburgh, it’s as good an introduction as any to the sport in Scotland.
For information, contact Ski Glenshee, which also offers ski rental and lessons. Ski rental starts at around £16 a day, and a 90min lesson is around £15. Lift passes cost £24 per day or £96 for a five-day (Mon–Fri) ticket. For the latest snow and weather conditions, phone the centre itself or check out the Ski Scotland website. For cross-country skiing, there are some good touring areas in the vicinity; contact Braemar Mountain Sports for information and equipment rental.