Dolphins are magical creatures, and their appearance is a rare treat unless you are lucky enough to live near places where they regularly feed. So when I spotted some just north of Arbroath, it turned a spectacular clifftop walk into an unforgettable day.
There they were, a pod of them, jumping and splashing as they made their way up the coast. It was only by chance that a kindly birdspotter pointed them out, otherwise I would have been oblivious to their presence in the waters below.
The walk, from Arbroath Harbour and along Seaton Cliffs, starts at the centre of the world-famous Arbroath Smokie industry. Once, women would hang pairs of haddock – caught by husbands, sons and brothers – and smoke them until they were cooked through. Nearly 200 years later, there are still plenty of smokies to be found here.
Arbroath's history, of course, goes back further than that. In 1320, Bernard, the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey, drafted a letter from the earls and barons of Scotland, asking Pope John XXII for independence from England – with Robert the Bruce as king. Its words are still widely quoted today to defend Scottish identity, particularly the passage: "For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."
The walk leaves the town behind, but not its history, as it follows Seaton Cliffs – a haunt of smugglers in the 17th and early 18th centuries. However, in 1740, customs officers positioned the sloop Princess Caroline at Arbroath, and the days of smuggling on this part of the coast were brought to an end.
Now looked after by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the place has fantastic sandstone cliffs – just be aware of the large drops to the rocks below. Although the path is tarred, take particular care in windy weather.
There are many formations to look out for – the sandstone arch of the Needle E'e, then the great chasm of Dickmont's Den (true smuggling territory – there's even a cave on the left as you look down it).
The Deil's Heid sea stack is then seen, before you reach Maiden Castle – the grassy mound was actually an Iron Age fort about 2,000 years ago. The path continues much further, but by this point the main highlights have been reached and it is a good place from which to begin retracing your steps, looking out for dolphins along the way.
DISTANCE 4 miles. HEIGHT CLIMBED Negligible – one short slope to reach the top of the cliffs. TIME 2–2 hours. MAP OS Landranger 54. PARKing There is a car park right next to the harbour, signed from the town centre.
IN SUMMARY Go along the left side of the harbour (facing it with your back to the town) then cross a pedestrian bridge over a slipway to reach a large sea wall. Go left here, along a cobbled street that leads to the Old Brewhouse pub. Follow a lane (Seagate) on the left side of the pub. This changes name to South Street and continues to reach a promenade at Victoria Park.
Follow a path above the beach, round the bay, to the car park at the far end. A tarred path at the end of the car park leads to the top of the cliffs. Ignore a path going left, which leads back to the town centre, and follow the clifftop path all the way to the Deil's Heid sea stack.
After this, the path goes left and reaches the grassy mound of Maiden Castle (on the right). This is a good place to start retracing your steps.
REFRESHMENTS Try the Old Brewhouse pub, passed at the start and finish of the walk. Or, a few doors up the High Street, is the Sugar and Spice sweet shop,which has a tearoom.
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA The Signal Tower Museum (01241 875598, www.angus.gov.uk) has a wealth of exhibits on the seafaring heritage of the town, including the story of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which stands 11 miles off-shore.
With it historical significance, Arbroath Abbey (01241 878756, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk) is also well worth a visit.