Montreathmont Moor

Montreathmont moor forest

Historic moor and forest

I went for a bike ride the other day along the tracks through the forest behind my house, returning on the roads that encircle it.  Variously pronounced “Monrummond” (which is what appears on the oldest maps), “Montrimont” and “Montreathmont”, this lovely stretch of mixed woodland lies in the triangle between Brechin, Letham and Friockheim in central Angus.

It’s been woodland for a long time.  It’s mainly Forestry Commission spruce nowadays, what’s known as a PAWS (that’s a Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site, I think).  But there are large areas of Scots pines, birches, oaks, beeches and other broadleaves to lighten the gloom.  Tracks through the wood are popular with walkers and, apparently, husky trainers – though I’ve never met any, and most of the tracks don’t connect to each other, making round trips tricky.

Two years ago, foresters were thinning the Scots pine along one section of track.  I was talking about it to one of my neighbours, who was at school back in the mid ‘30s in what’s now my house.  It turns out he’d helped plant those trees about 70 years earlier, just after World War II.  It must be very satisfying to watch them grow and see them harvested; not many people live that long.

Wildlife and other residents

All sorts of birds and other wildlife live in Montreathmont forest, from wood wasps to (according to Walk Scotland) red deer and even capercaillie.  Hmm.  It’s not exactly the Highlands…  I’ve seen plenty of roe deer but never their larger cousins, and I seriously doubt caper would survive the numbers of people and dogs that roam the woods.  I have seen red squirrels, though.  There are buzzards a-plenty, some owls and all the other woodland birds you’d expect to find, bats and, apparently, goshawks in one patch.  Even the spruce isn’t quite silent.

Montreathmont forest was a royal hunting ground centuries ago and probably saw hunting parties from the several castles that surround it (Guthrie, Gardyne, Melgund, Kinnaird and the now-demolished Aldbar and Balgavies).  I’m sure the wildlife feels safer now, though in a clearing a while back I did come across a fallen tree with a cleft stick stuck in the ground in front of it, looking very much as though someone had sat there quietly waiting to shoot deer.

Montreathmont History

Montreathmont Moor has remains of what may be Pictish cairn-burials or stone houses (they’re in too poor a state, and surrounded by too many trees, to be certain).  Several kist burials have been discovered in the woods down the years, including one practically outside my back door that contained a jet necklace.  The booty can be seen in the Meffan Museum in Forfar.  It’s thought some of the cairns may commemorate a Pictish battle on the Moor.  In fact, the whole area is riddled with Canmore sites.

More recently, the forest was used to tether and hide airships during the First World War.  During the Second World War and Cold War it concealed a listening station.  The white main building is still visible, though I don’t know what it’s used for now (if anything).  Some of the Nissen huts that housed personnel are still occupied, but are now privately owned; you can see them from the Forfar-Montrose road.

Who knew that a patch of dark, regimented forestry could hide so many secrets?  It’s amazing what you can stumble across on a bike ride …

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Catterline Harbour

Catterline harbour and pier

Safe haven on a rocky coast

I have to admit to a special fondness for Catterline Harbour, as this is where Montrose Sub Aqua Club have their boathouse and bothy.  I’ve been a member of the club for several years and have dived in the harbour, and around the island further out in the bay, on many occasions.

Seals breed (and sing) on the island and occasionally you’ll meet some of the bolder ones, very briefly, under water.  Mostly they’re too shy because for years they’ve been killed to protect the wild salmon fishing industry up and down this coast.  There’s a lot of kelp and other seaweed growing in the bay, so they have plenty of places to hide from clumsy divers.  They may look ungainly and sometimes very uncomfortable on land but underwater they’re sleek and surprisingly fast movers.  Their song is a weird keening, other-worldly and infinitely sad.  You can see how legends like those of the silkies and mermaids grew up around them.

The pier and harbour

Catterline Harbour got its first pier in 1730, according to a notice on the pier wall. However, according to the Undiscovered Scotland site, the pier wasn’t built until 1810; maybe that was a replacement.  Catterline Harbour Trust keeps it in working order, and there’s an honesty box for donations from anyone who’s enjoyed their visit.Notice on Catterline Pier

The surface is uneven, made up of whatever rock came to hand, regularly patched and infilled to repair weather damage – but a walk to the end is the precursor to any dive trip.  How far down can you see?  Is it worth going in?

The pier would have been a welcome structure, whenever it was built, as the rocks in the bay form reefs that can do serious damage to a boat – one of them rises up right in the middle of the harbour.  Boats are launched and retrieved between the natural and man-made walls: dinghies, canoes, the dive club’s inflatables, Catterline Coastal Rowing Club’s wooden boat.  There are also a couple of permanently-afloat boats belonging to local crab and lobster fishermen.  It’s quite a bustling scene on a sunny Sunday!

The harbour has been used by fishing boats for over a thousand years, apparently, mostly on legitimate business.  But smuggling often helped to boost the fishermen’s meagre income, and one of the houses on the cliff overlooking the harbour was built for Customs and Excise men to watch for illicit landings.

Catterline’s claims to fame

Catterline has two main claims to fame.  The first is that it’s where St Ninian landed when he began the long and troublesome task of converting the Picts to Christianity.  The local church isn’t named after him, however: it’s called St Philip’s, though its site may have been holy right back to Ninian’s day.

The village’s other claim to celebrity is the group of artists who came to Catterline for its wonderful views and quality of light.  They included Joan Eardley, Annette Soper, Angus Neil and Lil Neilson.  It’s a great place for photography, too, especially when the waves are crashing over the rocks.

Rocks and boulders

On a small promontory stands Catterline’s most unusual feature, a vertical mudstone-and-boulder stack about 40’ high.  You can climb to the top if you’re brave – and come back down if you’re even braver.  I’m not!

The foreshore is a great place for rock-pooling.  Some of the pools are big enough for really quite big critters to survive in ‘til the tide returns.  It’s always worth a poke around and there’s usually a family group or two doing just that.  At low spring tides the harbour can look as though someone’s pulled the plug out.  The water recedes half-way across the rocky bay, which makes retrieving boats very hard work.

Without its pier Catterline might well have gone the same way as its neighbour, Crawton, abandoned by 1910 as the boats moved to the safe harbour of Stonehaven, a few miles to the north.  Instead Catterline survived and thrives.  It’s worth a visit – just avoid sunny Sundays!

Find out more

Catterline is on the coast between Inverbervie and Stonehaven; the OS coordinates are 56.895271, -2.214943.

Montrose Sub Aqua Club (BSAC500) is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MontroseSAC

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