I coast gently downhill from Arbroath station, the sea air kissing my cheeks in welcome as a cheerful little harbour comes into view. I know virtually nothing about this place, aside from a few brief mentions in some Alexander McCall Smith books, but my immediate impressions could not be more favourable! The sunshine never hurts, but I’m certain this town retains its charms on even the stormiest of days. Brightly painted buildings line Shore (not The Shore, or Shore Road – people here like to keep things simple, I guess!), giving the whole area a holiday atmosphere, while the boats floating atop the surprisingly tropical turquoise waters sway and dip merrily in the breeze.
There’s a distinct lack of bunting, but Arbroath doesn’t give the impression of being overly geared towards the tourist trade. Everywhere there are fishermen mending and painting and mooring their boats, the bustle of industrious activity hemmed in by stacks upon stacks of lobster pots and thick coils of rope. Oh but I do love a fishing town!
Arbroath is famous for being the home of ‘smokies’ (smoked haddock), but, being vegetarian, I’ve gambled that it might have a few other delights on offer. I’m booked into one of those cheerful and iconic buildings facing the harbour, a lovely wee flat at half the price thanks to yet another Air BnB host’s generosity! It’s clean and cosy with a wonderful view, and the bedding smells so fresh it’s a struggle not to jump straight in for a little nap. But the sun and the hills are calling, so I chuck my heavy saddlebags and head back out into the day.
A short cycle along the coast brings me to a steep path heading up onto an impressive line of sandstone cliffs. The best part about never doing any research about the places I’m heading is that I’m constantly surprised by stuff like this – these cliffs are apparently synonymous with Arbroath! But the thing with traveling in Scotland is that *everywhere* seems to have some glorious landmark, some breathtaking vista to distinguish it. Really I’d be more surprised at this point to visit somewhere that was just ugly through and through.
I’ve arrived quite tired, having dashed madly for the train after finishing a night shift, so I don’t explore the cliffs as thoroughly as they probably warrant. I do, however, stop to sit in a beautiful stone arch for a little picnic, where I can watch birds diving as the crashing waves do their best to jump up into my lap. Much as I’m always rhapsodizing about this country (see above paragraph) there are a few things I really hate, one of them being how utterly careless loads of folk are, always leaving rubbish and graffiti in even the loveliest of places. It’s like no one ever told them to Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute! I have to pick my way around shattered bottles all over the rocks, and I find it quietly enraging. This is partially because I have dressed in a woefully inappropriate fashion, and have been forced to remove my winter-weight woollen socks and my favourite mustard boots so as not to die of heat exhaustion. Other folk on the trail are looking askance at my bare feet, but I’m remembering summer holidays at my family’s cottage, running through the forest with nothing but the summer-hardened soles of my feet to protect me from the sharp earth. Luckily my life contains walking aplenty and pedicures a-few so my feet are still pretty hard. I like to think the people staring at me are all thinking about how tough I am, not how weird I am.
The evening is taken up piecing together a slightly post-apocalyptic little song that’s been building in my head ever since Trump was elected (many many thanks to Al Cook for singing with me on the recording above!), interspersed with quick jaunts out the door to check on the sunset and grab a few photos. I realise with disappointment that most of my travels in Scotland have been to the west coast, where I’ve encountered more than my share of truly astonishing sunsets, but now I’m on the east coast and the sun is sinking shyly behind loads of buildings and land and other in-the-way nonsense. I guess that just means I’ll need to see a sunrise! A more difficult proposition, requiring actual planning and a willingness to get out of bed (one that smells SO GOOD, as you may recall) rather than just stumbling outside sometime after dinner.
I’m up until 2 braving the dark and the freezing winds in an attempt to capture the beauty of a fishing town at night. The stars are out in force and I’m a little disappointed at how well lit everything is, making it impossible for me to photograph them! But I remember all that broken glass out by the cliffs and it seems ill-advised for me to go wandering alone along a pitch-black coast on a Friday night. So I stay in town and do my best, cursing the high winds that are the enemy of slow shutter speeds.
5am finds me rolling out of bed onto the floor in an attempt to shock myself awake. I get my feet under me and dress in a hurry, then jump on my bike and race along the waterfront. The path along the cliff face is so smooth and well-maintained that I have no qualms about cycling (carefully) along it, which is helpful because I’ve barely made it out in time to catch the sun coming up.
It’s worth the lack of sleep and my subsequent exhausted journey back to Glasgow, not just for the photos, but for that elusive lonely-clifftop-sunrise feeling. Catch it when you can.