Montrose Coastal Rowing starts our voyage on Montrose Basin. The basin defines the town of Montrose and dictates the rowing here with 750 hectares of tidal mudflats in a sheltered estuary. The Basin fills and empties through a stretch of river less than 100m wide which scours a deep harbour and produces a fast tidal stream under two bridges, limiting access to and from the sea to a short period through a busy commercial harbour.
We get Goose into the water at Montrose Sailing Club, on the western edge of Rossie Island. The long established sailing club have been very supportive of us rowers and they hosted our launch. We set out on a slack to falling tide to avoid the power of the water rushing in or out of the Basin, not least as we have to navigate the pilings of the rail and road bridges and out through the harbour past the ships serving the North Sea oil industry. Once we are in the channel, on the north shore is Montrose with its long history of maritime trade including some inglorious whaling and involvement in the tobacco trade. The beautiful Montrose kirk steeple can be seen over the elegant Georgian riverside buildings and newer port sheds. On the south shore we pass Ferryden fishing village where colourful houses follow the line of the river in rows up the bank to the fields above.
We are to meet our friends from the Gourdon crew just off Montrose beach and so we take a course following the line of the harbour channel for some way – well off shore to avoid the notorious Annat Bank before turning north for the short row to wait for Maggie.
Maggie appears and we row over to take the baton from the familiar crew and turn south to set out past Scurdie Ness lighthouse which marks the beginning of our voyage. Our crew are a mixture of more experienced rowers and build crew who have been looking forward to taking the skiff they built out into the North Sea. Some of our crew have rowed the Castle to Crane a few times and Goose entered the 2019 Dumbarton to Glasgow race a couple of weeks after she was launched with a mixed crew of two Montrose rowers, two Catterline and a Gourdon rower. The 13 mile long race was good training for Len, Fiona and Giles for today’s row who are joined by skiff builders Linda, Linda and Therese with other crew, Pete and Stuart,
The row begins along the rocky shore to Usan, one of the last sites in Scotland of the salmon netting industry, and on towards the massive limekiln at Boddin and the Elephant Rock arch. We know that the shore we row along is rich with plants – Kidney Vetch (which supports a community of the rare Small Blue butterfly), Ladys Bedstraw, Wild Thyme, Nottingham Catchfly – and the sea is busy with cormorants, terns and gulls. Harbour porpoise and dolphins are often seen and the humpback whale breaching and blowing just offshore a couple of years ago became a local celebrity. We don’t see dolphins today but there are plenty of seals and to our great surprise several Peacock butterflies fly by from the open sea, heading towards land. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been startled, knowing the great journeys beautiful migrants like this make and it seems a privilege to see these light and fragile insects finishing what may have been a much longer journey for them than ours will be today.
We pass the long and lovely beach of Lunan Bay, punctuated by the ruins of Red Castle. The beach gives way to the cliffs at the old fishing village of Ethie Haven. From now on, the shore is dominated by cliffs with few opportunities to make land. We pass Red Head, the highest point and the Deil’s Heid rock stack until a brief rest at the harbour at Auchmithie to change crew. In the eighteenth century the laird of Red Castle, Lord North Esk, seemed to consider the fisher folk of Auchmithie as his belongings when he tried to use an ancient feudal law to prevent many of the fishers moving south to Arbroath, taking their recipe for smoked haddock with them to become the famous Arbroath Smokie. Like the fishers we leave Auchmithie behind passing Carlingsheugh Bay to come into Arbroath. As we row along the town front we must have passed the position where in 1781 privateer William Fell, under a French flag, tried to hold the townspeople to ransom to the tune of £30,000, threatening to bombard the town from his vessel unless paid. It was easy to evacuate people further inland beyond the range of his guns however and Fell left with very little to show for his venture.
We finally skirt the harbour and pull up onto the slip next to the Bell Rock Signal Tower to await the call from Broughty Ferry to pass on the baton as it travels south.
Of course Covid-19 has prevented us getting out this year but we’re looking forward to the boat and coastal rowing becoming a part of the Montrose community once again as soon as we can get out safely.