11 September 2009--I'm getting absent-minded. The other night, I started out the door of the chippy without having
paid. Last night, I left the Dreel and got a hundred yards up the street before the cool night air reminded me that I'd forgotten
my hat. This morning, I'm missing the polarizing filter for my camera. No wonder I feel nervous in the days leading up to my trip
...I can't even remember what I might have forgotten.
I'm really sorry to leave Anstruther and the East Neuk. Before I do, I decide to drop back into Pittenweem to take a shot or two in the sun, and then visit St Monans, a few miles farther west. These towns all seem a lot closer together by road--of course I can drive in a few minutes a distance that takes an hour to walk, but it's also true that the roads are fairly straight, while the path along the shore is pretty curvy. St Monans is yet another pretty little harbor, and I'm beginning to feel that if you've seen one, you've seen them all. They each have their particular charms, though. At the eastern end of St Monans is a windmill, which apparently was used to draw seawater up into a row of panhouses, the foundations of which can be seen below the mill. There the water was boiled off to harvest salt, a profitable export item. It took three tons of coal to produce one ton of salt, but coal was plentiful and cheap in Fife in those days.
At the west end of town stands the Auld Kirk, reputedly the church built closest to the sea in Scotland.
I make a quick pass throught the twin towns of Elie and Earlsferry before heading north. St Andrews is not far out of my way, so I stop in at the Whey Pat and ask about my polarizing filter. It's there, behind the bar. At least I can remember where it was I forgot things. Sometimes.
There's a fair amount of traffic around Leuchars for the airshow, but I seem to have missed the worst of it, one way or another. Shortly I'm crossing the Tay Bridge. I should be able to hang a right on the far side and head right up the coast, but a construction detour has me wandering aimlessly around Dundee. I said some disparaging things about that city not long ago, and it seems now that the place is exacting its revenge. I was unkind to Aberdeen, too--better stay away from there. Finally get straightened out, and eventually pull into Arbroath [US], a town I've passed by in the past. I take an exploratory stroll down the High Street. There's a short stretch of interesting architecture, but on the whole, the town feels uninviting. These east coast towns, often built of dark and dour stone, seem to sing in a dim minor key that I haven't quite figured out. The gray weather doesn't help; nor do several empty storefronts. There are two things I want to experience here, though-- Arbroath Abbey, and Arbroath Smokies.
Arbroath Smokies are a local delicacy, haddock split and hot-smoked in pairs, traditionally in half whisky barrels. The technique came to town with relocated fishing families, apparently of Scandinavian descent, originally from the nearby village of Auchmithie. Down near the waterfront, up a narrow side street, I find a fish shop that sells smokies. This is obviously no tourist trap, but a truly local experience, the sort of thing that's getting harder and harder to find in the McDonald's era. In fact, "Arbroath Smokie" is an appellation protected under European law. I suppose that microwaving the dish is not exactly traditional, but the wad of newspaper on which it is handed to me seems authentic. I take it to a bench by the water and pick away at it. It's a delightful thing, despite the bones. [I learn later that there's a method for removing them; I'll ask next time.] I'll never pass by Arbroath again without stopping in for a smokie...I may find some charm in the place yet.
Back up inland, the abbey is physically pretty typical (you'll recall that I saw a few of them last year). But it holds an important place in Scottish history. The Declaration of Arbroath, so often cited these days as an expression of human rights, was in fact a bit of political propaganda, a request to the pope to lean on English king Edward II to recognize Robert the Bruce as sovereign king of Scotland, and to rescind Bruce's excommunication for the murder of the Red Comyn. It is nonetheless a seminal document, probably the first declaration of independence of any nation, and an influence on the American and French revolutions.
There's a bowling green just back of the abbey, and I watch for a while as some gents bowl away their lunch hour.
I leave Arbroath and make my way to Stonehaven. It's been a few years since I stayed with Lorna and Dennis, but I'm greeted warmly. Both the Marine Hotel and the Ship Inn are hopping on a Friday night, and I end up having dinner at an outside table at the Marine. Stonehaven's old harbor is a decidedly cool place to hang out for dinner and pints on a pleasant evening.