Arbroath Cliffs Nature Trail

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, Dundee and Angus Branch, The Secretary, 2 Castle Street, Forfar Trail starts at St Ninian’s Well at the east end of Arbroath sea front promenade Map reference: N0659

3-mile clifftop footpath walk with one avoidable steep section exploring cliff and rock flora and sea birds

Illustrated trail brochure from Trust or local tourist office; car park on sea front World-famous for its smokies, the Royal Burgh of Arbroath is a popular seaside resort and a busy fishing port with a higher summer sunshine record than the coastal towns on the west coast of Scotland.

Built among ruddy-red cliffs of sandstone, the town has a long and rich history. It was an early Pictish settlement, and in 1178 King William the Lion founded the abbey which was later dedicated to St Thomas a Becket. The year 1320 saw Robert Bruce signing Scotland’s Declaration of Independence here, and over six hundred years later the Stone of Scone was discovered in the ruins of the abbey, after it had been removed from beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. The town’s former, unabbreviated name, Aberbrothock (so-called because of its position at the mouth of Brothock Water), is immortalised inSouth-ey’s poem and, disguised as it features largely in Sir Walter Scott’s

For the golfing enthusiast, there is the chal-lenge of the Championship Course (and an easier one) at Carnoustie, while the walker and explorer can plunder the treasures of an en-chanting three-mile nature trail and the mag-netism of caves along the coast.

The trail begins at the north end of the promenade, where there is ample space for parking the car. As this is a clifftop walk, any detour from the footpath could be dangerous; at places the sea pounds far inland into under-ground caves and crevices, and the turf under-foot can be slippery.

For miles along this Angus coast, the rocks form a mighty red cliff which can be seen from a boat several miles out to sea on a clear day. This sandstone is pock-marked with round pebbles in patches and cracked or faulted in others, so there is a fascinating variety of formations and flora to please the geologist and the botanist. Where the clifftop is speckled with stones, lime-loving clustered bell-flower and Carline thistle grow and the beach beneath is pebbly. Where the faults and weakness occur, the sea has taken advantage, and whipped the rock into pinnacles, arches and coves. In the salty air it is not only the maritime plants that flourish. Sea plantain, sea campion and scurvy grass are there by rights, but it is surprising to see the delicate primrose, violet and early purple orchis, which normally confine themselves to woodlands. Like the green-veined white, common blue and small heath butterflies that are a common sight, these non-maritime plants are happy in an environment where they are not crushed by human traffic, sprayed with weedkiller or munched by grazing cattle.

Springs of fresh water, like those at the beginning of the trail and at St Ninian’s Well, are flanked by marshy ground in which the vibrant purple marsh orchis, meadow-sweet and meadow cranes-bill appear. High on the clifftop, the ground is a profusion of powder-blue harebells, purple milk-vetch and sea-pinks in summer. Different species of snail can also be spotted: from the brown-banded pale pink or yellow shells of which is found well-camouflaged among fallen leaves among the rocks, to the brown or yellow mottled which likes nettles. Less common are the tiny which resemble pearl shirt buttons, found among the moss and short grass.

Common to the entire coastline of Scotland, and visible at several points along Arbroath’s Cliff trail, are raised beaches. Formed many thousands of years ago around the end of the last Ice Age, these platforms of springy turf were once lapped by the sea until the land was

elevated. Rising up behind these one-time beaches are the old sea cliffs, now covered with bracken, briar and blackthorn with patches of cow parsley, red campion and the ubiquitous nettle. The most outstanding geological phenomenon of this stretch of coast is the number of sea-sculpted formations. Needle E’e is a fine example of a natural arch, running parallel, not as is usual, at right angles, to the shoreline. One day the sea will probably erode away the arch itself, in the same way as it has reduced a cave system at Seaman’s Grave to an untidy tip of boulders and rubble. Mason’s cave is one of the largest caverns, and undoubtedly used for smuggling.- it is near an ancient earthwork called Maiden Castle.

Here and there an outcrop of sandstone has been left stranded several feet from the shore, as at De’il’s Heid (also called Pint Stoup or The Poll). Obviously composed of a much harder sandstone than the surrounding cliffs, in com-mon with an isolated stack at the entrance to Dickmont’s Den, it is the perfect sanctuary for colonies of sea birds.

Herring gulls, fulmars and terns wheel and cry over the cliffs and build their ragged nests wherever there is a ledge. Tiny crevices and dark caves appeal to house martins and rock doves, while out at sea, stripey-beaked puffins, guillemots and cormorants skim the water in

Only the south transept gable and the west front remain of the once-magnificent Tironensian Abbey at Arbroath, but the abbot’s house, intact with a 12th-century kitchen, is well-preserved and open as a museum. The town’s Signal Tower museum covers a wider history of local natural history and there is also an art gallery with a fine gallery of pastels and watercolours by J W Herald.

Also in ruins is Red Castle, an austere 15th-century edifice of red sandstone which probably replaced a defence stronghold of an earlier period against raids by Danish pirates. Kelly Castle, south of Arbroath, is genuinely ancient, with parts dating back to 1170. It has been imaginatively and skilfully converted into a modern home, and some of the rooms house a gallery of Scottish arts. Here artists and craftsmen from anywhere in Scotland can exhibit and sell their work.

Miles of sand, safe-bathing beaches and indoor and outdoor swimming pools make Arbroath a popular seaside resort. It is a favourite spot with anglers, too. Codling, plaice and flounder are common catches from the shore, and from a boat there is a good chance of cod, mackerel, pollack and, naturally, haddock. As smoking is still a cottage industry, it is possible to get a private catch cooked this way.

With such a sea harvest, it is small wonder that the cliffs of Arbroath are haunted with the plaintive cry of seagulls.

Below, which contain an enormous sundial.

Glamis was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and the birthplace of Princess Margaret in 1930. The castle’s Royal connections had a more turbulent history in 1537 when Janet, Lady of Glamis was burnt at the stake for witchcraft and for