Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Northeast - Coasting

At the height of midgie season in Scotland there's only one place to escape to where you can enjoy unhurried picnics and relaxed evenings at the tent - the east coast. Here's a wee cycle tour I did with bike buddy Graham a couple of weekends ago that hugs the northeast coast between Stonehaven and Dundee.

Straight out of Stonehaven there was a wee climb that provided a great view back over the town's picturesque harbour with its crescent of fisher cottages.

Just around the next corner were the atmospheric ruins of Dunnottar Castle, sitting on a rocky promontory poking out into the North Sea. Perhaps it wasn't atmospheric on this occasion at the height of summer with screaming bairns and a hot food van! The castle dates from medieval times and was the hiding place of the Scottish crown jewels from Oliver Cromwell's invading army in the 17th century.

The road south from here picked its way along quiet country back roads that cut across the golden fields of late summer and through little hamlets before it dropped to the beach again at Inverbervie. 

From here we bumped along the coast on a grassy track to the old fishing village of Gourdon. Some miles further on we parked up the bikes and ambled down to the beautiful, wild beach at St Cyrus. The dunes were dotted with wildflowers and seabirds wheeled above in the crags.

The bike route from here was a pleasant pootle to Montrose through woods filled with the aroma of pine trees warmed by the sun. We cycled across the links at Montrose on an old military airstrip before detouring up to Montrose Basin, a vast tidal basin picked over by waders at low tides. We watched an osprey eating a fish, terns nesting on platforms in the water and sand martins flitting in and out of their nesting holes. 

We returned to town for a sit-in chippy then found a gorgeous wild camp spot out on the links. It was close to an old fishing station and the lines for drying nets were silhoutted against a fiery sunset. There were no midgies.

Next morning more quiet back roads took us south to Arbroath and we nosed around its busy harbour looking for a morning coffee but the only place open was a kiosk selling the famous Arbroath smokies. 

On the south side of town, we paused at the beautiful sculpture marking the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath. This was a declaration of Scottish indepenence made in 1320. It was said to be one of the earliest declarations in the world of popular sovereignty, that is the idea that government is a contract and kings can be appointed by the community rather than god. 

The cycle onwards from Arbroath to Dundee followed miles of traffic-free bike paths, lined by the wildflowers of summer, before entering the city through its industrial port.

Fact File
Start: Stonehaven by Edinburgh/Glasgow to Aberdeen train.
Finish: Dundee for trains to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and Stirling.
Map: Sustrans NCN1 Edinburgh to Aberdeen
Route: From the train station in Stonehaven cycle to the waterfront and pick up signs for National Cycle Route 1 south. We followed the route south all the way to Dundee. Dunottar Castle is right on the route. Montrose Basin is a short detour to the right as you pass the viaduct that brings the train line into Montrose. The statue of the Declaration of Arbroath is another short detour from the route - where the route enters an amusement park turn right and follow the road round to the left and under the railway line - the statue is straight ahead.

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