Glen Esk is a beautiful place of mountains, forest, wildlife, peace and fantastic cycling and walking opportunities. It is located in the Angus region of Scotland, around 40 miles south of Aberdeen.
This is why you must visit this special place:
1. Mountain Scenery
Glen Esk is at the foot of the Cairngorms National Park so everywhere you look there is a vista of lush green Scottish mountains.
2. A beautiful road into the glen
A 16 mile single-track road from the town of Edzell is the only way into and out of the glen. The road has very low volumes of traffic and is glorious for cycling.
3. Queen's Well Walk
It is the strangest thing to see this crown shaped monument, with nothing but hills and sheep in the vicinity. It was built by local people to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria. You can reach it on a spectacular walk where purple Heather blooms in the summer months.
4. The Three Churches
For such a remote area with a low population it is quite amazing to find three churches in Glen Esk. All of them have their doors open so you can look inside and enjoy their tranquility, Maul Memorial Church is substantial with a tower, stained glass and high ceiling. Lochlee Church is tiny. In the yard there is an unusual gravestone, shaped like an anvil, that was created for the village blacksmith who had lived to the age of 90.
5. Glen Esk Folk Museum
This museum has a giant willow sculpture of a stag on the lawn. There is a collection of artefacts, costumes and reconstructions of what Glen Esk houses were like in the 1850s. This is the place to learn about the people of the glen and what their lives were like. There is also a cafe with excellent home baking.
6. Blue Door Walk
Open up the blue door and on the other side there is a special world of forest paths, rock pools and a fast flowing stream. It is a real life secret garden! The water is incredibly clear, providing a flawless view to the river's floor of pebbles.
7. Loch Lee
Loch Lee is located at the very end of the Glen Esk road. It is completely enclosed by mountains so has a feeling of great remoteness. There is a rough track along the shore which is great fun to cycle.
8. Invermark Castle
Also at the end of the road is Glen Esk's castle. It is a ruin and you cannot go inside, but looks great, so is ideal for your very own Scottish castle postcard photo.
9. Wildlife Spotting
Glen Esk is teeming with wildlife. There is a good chance of spotting a Golden Eagle, deer and red squirrels. One of the best viewing spots for squirrels is from the dining room window of the House of Mark guesthouse.
10. Stay in the House at the end of the Glen
House of Mark is the only accommodation in the glen. There are no hotels, pubs or shops. This makes it a unique and peaceful place to stay overnight. The interior has been kept true to its Georgian roots making you feel like you have gone back to a simpler and more elegant time. There are special touches like rooms scented of smoke from the fireplaces and a dinner table set with crystal glasses and white napkins. There are no televisions, but conversation with fellow guests and the hosts is much more entertaining.
Read my review of House of Mark
Getting to Glen Esk
It is about 30 miles from Montrose to the end of Glen Esk. If you travel from Laurencekirk the distance is around 23 miles. There are train stations at Montrose and Laurencekirk.
For more details about cycling to Glen Esk read my travel feature.
The Montrose Basin Cycle Route is an 11 mile circular ride that allows you to visit House of Dun, with its stunning plaster ceilings, the Caledonian Railway with its steam trains and the town of Brechin with its round tower. Montrose is less than 2 hours by train from Edinburgh or Glasgow, so this outing can be achievable as a day trip.
Step One: Cycle 4 miles from Montrose station to House of Dun
When you leave the station turn left to get to House of Dun. The cycle route is alongside the A935 on pavements or segregated cycle paths. After 3.8 miles you will reach House of Dun. This country house was designed by the famous Scottish architect, William Adam. You can take a tour of the house, explore the gardens and feast on the home baking in the tea room.
Read my blog about the House of Dunn
Step Two: Caledonian Railway
Almost opposite the entrance to House of Dun there is a turn-off for Bridge of Dun. Take this to reach the Caledonian Railway. On summer weekends heritage steam and diesel trains travel between Bridge of Dun and Brechin. This experience is about train travel for pleasure. This is all about stepping back in time to an era of carriages with compartments, windows that open and doors that you slam shut. Lock up your bike here and take the train to Brechin.
Read my blog about the Caledonian Railway
Step Three: Explore Brechin on foot
Brechin has a pleasant town centre with merchant's houses dating from the late 1700s. The round tower, next to the cathedral, is one of only two in Scotland.
Read my blog about Brechin
Step Four: Cross the Bridge of Dun
Return to Bridge of Dun on the Caledonian Railway and cross the spectacular bridge on your bicycle.
Read my blog about the Bridge of Dun
Step Five: Cycle around Montrose Basin
The Montrose Basin Cycle Route is an excellent example of forward thinking by a local authority. The busy A935 makes it daunting to come here on a bicycle, but by making the pavement shared pedestrian and cycle path it has opened up the area to cycle tourism. Some parts of the pavement are very narrow with little space for bikes and people to pass, but they have made the best use of the existing infrastructure to ensure that it is viable to cycle safely in this area. The cycle path will take you back to Montrose station.
Brechin is a pleasant town in Angus with interesting buildings, including a 1000 year old Celtic round tower. The most exciting way to reach the town is to cycle from Montrose to Bridge of Dun from where you can catch a steam train to Brechin.
The Caledonian Railway is a heritage railway that operates steam and diesel trains between Bridge of Dun and Brechin. This is the nicest way to arrive into the town. The train station is one of the most striking buildings in the town with a glass canopy and decorative ironwork.
Head to the High Street that has a steepness and collection of stone buildings that is reminiscent of Edinburgh's Old Town. The gable-ended merchant's houses date from the late 1700s. This style of building had the shop on the ground floor, the merchant's house upstairs and storage to the rear.
Skinner's Burn walkway is a nice area of greenery between a stream and the rear of merchant's houses. The walk leads to the Cathedral.
Outside the Cathedral a man in a blue anorak with a Yorkshire Terrier at his feet said to me, "come in, come in. I am one of the elders. Everyone is welcome. It's a fine Kirk, a fine Kirk."
Once inside I found a peaceful and calming atmosphere, but it is outside that you will discover the most unique part of the building. This is the round tower, that dates from 1100, and is one of only two such towers in Scotland. They were much more common in Ireland and were bell towers. The tower at Brechin was here before the cathedral and incorporated into it.
When a settlement came under attack these towers were also used as a place of refuge for people and valuables. The door is very narrow and six feet above the ground for the purpose of providing this protection.
The doorway has beautiful carving, including a crucifixion at the top.
In Saint Ninian's Square I was approached by a group of teenage boys and asked if I was from Brechin. When I said no they questioned why I would to choose to come here. "They should drop a bomb on it," one of them said.
"Not when am still in it, idiot," his pal said.
Another asked me if I was a rock star! I think this was in reference to my hair, which was a bit too long. He then said, "climb in that," and pointed to the granite fountain. "You won't get out again. It happened to me and I got lifted."
"How did they get you out in the end?" I asked him.
"They got me out with ladders."
I was amazed that he managed to get into this fountain. It did not look easy. This encounter reminded me of how travellers and locals can have completely different perceptions of places. Whereas I found Brechin an enjoyable outing these boys were so bored that they risked climbing into a fountain and clearly could not wait for the day they could leave the town.
Take a train to Montrose. It takes around 1 hour, 40 minutes to 2 hours from Edinburgh or Glasgow, depending on which train service you travel on. It is a 4.3 mile cycle from Montrose station to Bridge of Dun, where the Caledonian Railway has a station. On summer weekends steam or diesel trains travel to Brechin.
The Montrose Basin Cycle Route will take you there, mainly alongside the A935 on a segregated path or on the pavement. After 3.8 miles you come to a sign for Bridge of Dun, take this left turn and at the bottom of this road you will come to Bridge of Dun station.
Both steam and diesel trains operate on the Caledonian Railway on weekends in the summer. If you have a preference for diesel or steam you should check the Caledonian Railway website to see which services will be running on which dates.
Read my blog about the Caledonian Railway
Why not visit the House of Dun? It is a short distance away from Bridge of Dun. Read my blog about the House of Dun
Considered the finest home of this size to be designed by the renowned Scottish architect, William Adam, the House of Dun boasts stunning plaster ceilings, tapestries and extensive gardens to explore. You can reach it easily on a bicycle as it is less than 4 miles from Montrose train station.
You approach the house down a tree lined avenue. As you go through the archway into the courtyard look up and notice the maker's name and 'Paris' on the clock face.
This is unmistakably Georgian architecture, with perfect proportions and symmetry. Everything matches. The first floor has tall arched windows that let the light flood into the principal rooms.
William Adam, the celebrated Scottish architect, designed the house for the Erskine family. It was inspired by Chateau d'Issy near Paris. Adam had three sons who were also renowned architects and throughout Scotland you will find many of their buildings. The Adam Style was the name given to the integrated interior and architecture design that was practiced by the Adams.
The main door into the house is framed by four ionic pilasters and an enormous archway.
The violin is not the only surprise in the house. There are also fake doors. The guide asked someone in my tour group to open a door in the hallway. There was a brick wall behind it. Some doors are simply there to create symmetry in a room. Those Georgians were so obsessed with symmetry that they were willing to spend good money on pretend doors!
The house has the expected antique furniture, ornaments and 17th century Flemish tapestries, but I am more interested in the unusual. The 'silent companion', a wooden cutout of a child, is something I had never heard of before. The guide told us that when the Lady of the house was on her own in the parlour she could ask a servant to bring the 'silent companion' for company.
In the servants corridor we stopped next to the bells, which had the names of the rooms next to them. Each bell had a different tone, so that the servants could recognise which room they should go to. The servants would not be able to read. The guide rang a couple of the bells to let us hear the different tones.
The house provides sweeping views towards the Montrose Basin, a tidal basin that is a home to many bird species.
The grounds and gardens are a delight to explore.
My favourite part was the woodland walk with twisting paths, pretty flowers and a river with bridge crossings. It is completely enchanting.
When I paid at the counter I bought some of 'Janet's tablet' to takeaway and dropped some coins in the Victoria bedpan they had for tips. I commented to the American lady that it looked like it was going to be a busy day in the cafe and she said, "I hope so, we do enjoy serving people."
House of Dun is a National Trust property and there is an entrance charge.
The Caledonian Railway is a short distance away from House of Dun. You can ride on steam trains to Brechin. Read my blog about the railway.
How to get there
Take a train to Montrose. It takes around 1 hour, 40 minutes to 2 hours from Edinburgh or Glasgow, depending on which train service you travel on. It is a 3.8 mile cycle from Montrose station to House of Dun, so a day trip visit to the house is a possibility.
The Montrose Basin Cycle Route will take you there, mainly alongside the A935 on a segregated path or on the pavement. The map shows the route to the Caledonian Railway and the House of Dun is marked with the castle symbol.
The Montrose Basin Cycle Route is an excellent example of forward thinking by a local authority. The busy A935 makes it daunting to come here on a bicycle, but by making the pavement shared pedestrian and cycle path it has opened up the area to cycle tourism. Some parts of the pavement are very narrow with little space for bikes and people to pass, but they have made the best use of the existing infrastructure to ensure that it is viable to cycle safely in this area.
Other things to see and do
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.