After a quiet night at the Seaton Estate Caravan Park (not our favorite place…), we headed on into the centre of Arbroath to visit the famous abbey and seek a certain delicacy for which this town is known worldwide.
Arbroath Abbey is a place of great historical significance. From the Historic Scotland website:
“Founded in 1178 for monks of the Tironensian order by King William the Lion, Arbroath Abbey is famous in Scottish history for its association with the Declaration of Arbroath, in which Scotland’s nobles swore their independence from England.”
We are so glad to have visited this place. It is the most beautiful abbey we’ve seen yet. As most of the abbeys around the UK, it fell victim to Henry VIII during the Dissolution and fell into ruins. The sandstone is a lovely deep red, the grounds peaceful despite being in the centre of town, the grass very green, with scrubby plants flowering here and there among the stones and walls. There was a well-designed visitor centre with a great exhibit outlining the history and architecture of the place as it would have been before its demise. We both left saying to each other, “THAT was really cool.”.
We rushed back to the camper to avoid the rain that kept threatening to fall. In the safety of our dear Heidi, we sat for a bit and prepared sandwiches for lunch. While we were parked, a man came up beside us to get into his car. He noticed us and said hello, and peeked around to chat with the kids. Charlie had noticed a dinosaur toy on the dashboard of this man’s car and asked him about it. Well, the man told him that it was in his car because his grandkids liked it, but they were older now, so he decided to give it to Charlie and Flora! We asked him where the best place was to find an Arbroath Smokie and he outlined where we needed to go. An awfully nice chap, this. Everywhere we’ve gone in Scotland, the people are just as friendly as can be.
So we drove from the abbey down to the harbor. We were told that there were several fishermen selling smokies down there and that they were all pretty good. So we stopped in front of the first one we came to and purchased two vacuumed packages of Arbroath Smokies. We didn’t eat them until we were with Brad’s folks on Orkney and oh boy, they are G-O-O-D!!!!!!! If you ever get the chance to have a fresh Arbroath Smokie — do it.
Having accomplished our mission(s) in Arbroath, we hit the road once more. The next big town we came to was Forfar, home of the Bridie. We bought a couple from a bakery on the high street and they were really delicious. They’re like a Cornish pasty, but with no potatoes. The pastry was softer and the filling was mostly meat, making it very savory and hearty. Might have to try making those some day…
Next, we started plotting a course for Inverness. Along the way, we accidentally drove through the little town of Meigle, which we had read about because of a little-known museum of Pictish carved stones. We were surprised but really psyched when we realized where we were. We found the museum and Brad went in to have a look around. The woman who works there was just closing up for the lunch hour but insisted that Brad come in anyway. So he did, and took a lot of photos. What a great little gem of a museum. There are 27 carved stones dating from the late 8th to early 10th centuries. They are remarkably well-preserved, partly due to the fact that they have been preserved in the indoor space of the museum for the past 150 years. While Brad was perusing the stones, I waited with the kids in the camper and let them take turns pretending to drive. This has become our favorite pastime.
Beyond Meigle the land started to become a bit more contoured, with high hills getting higher and higher and the landscape getting more and more dramatic. We were in the highlands! We decided to stop for the night at a place near Aviemore in the Cairngorm National Park. We had read an article about taking a camper van to Orkney, and in this article is mentioned a lovely wooded campsite at Rothiemurchus, near Aviemore. So we tried to find it.
Turns out Rothiemurchus is a huge highland estate that has turned to outdoor sports and tourism as a means of funding and sustaining the estate. It is a beautiful place. We tried the main campground but they were full. They told us we could try the overflow parking lot at Loch an Eilein. We could not have dreamed up a better spot. There were only 3 other campers — all in tents. There was a picture-perfect loch with the ruins of a 13th century castle on a little island in the middle. There were lovely walking paths, a nearby toilet and sink, and beautiful views wherever we looked. Okay, there were a few midges, too, but they weren’t bad, and didn’t bother us once we were in the van for the night. We barbecued some yummy sausages, the kids ran around and played, and we had a delicious supper at our private picnic table next to Heidi. It was dreamy. And in the morning, when the estate worker came by (in his waistcoat and dress trousers) to collect our meager fee for staying overnight, he invited us to stay as long as we wanted and had a bit of a chat, as folks ’round here seem to be wont to do. It was absolutely lovely.
Then, back on the road…