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The ruined , built from local red .
The ruined Arbroath Abbey, built from local red sandstone.

Arbroath or Aberbrothock (archaic) is the largest town in the county of Angus in Scotland, and has a population of approximately 23,000 people (2001 census). It lies on the North Sea coast, around 17 miles north-east of Dundee and 51 miles south of Aberdeen.

The town is internationally famous as the home of the Declaration of Arbroath, the statement of Scottish independence signed by the nobility in the 14th century. The town's ancient ruined abbey is central to the story of the declaration and remains a key Scottish tourist attraction today.

A traditional fishing town, it has also achieved fame for its local delicacy the Arbroath Smokie, a kind of smoked haddock.


History of Arbroath

Early history

Missing image
View of Arbroath Harbour, showing floating pontoons added in 2004.

The modern name Arbroath became prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century as a colloquialism of the original name Aberbrothock. This Pictish title is a reference to the Brothock Burn upon which the town is built.

Arbroath Abbey was founded by King William the Lion in 1178 for monks of the Tironesian order from Kelso. It received consecration in 1197 with a dedication to Saint Thomas Becket. It was the King's only personal foundation, and he was buried within its precincts in 1214.

On 6 April 1320 the parliament met at Arbroath Abbey and addressed to the Pope the Declaration of Arbroath, drafted by the Abbot of the time Bernard de Linton. This document detailed the services which their "lord and sovereign" Robert the Bruce had rendered to Scotland, and affirmed in eloquent terms the independence of the Scots.

The harbour

The original harbour was constructed and maintained by the abbots within the terms of an agreement between the burgesses and John Gedy, the abbot in 1394. This gave way to a more commodious port in 1725, which in turn was enlarged and improved in 1839.

In 1807 Arbroath became the base of operations for the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. The shore station for the lighthouse - the Bell Rock Signal Tower - was completed in 1813 and acted as a lifeline for the keepers offshore. Today this building houses the Signal Tower Museum, a visitor centre detailing the history of the lighthouse.

Arbroath culture and tradition


The local specialty, genuine Arbroath Smokies are made from haddock using traditional methods dating back to the late 1800s.

The fish are first salted overnight to preserve them, before being left tied in pairs to drooth (dry). Next, the dried fish are hung in a special barrel containing a hardwood fire and covered with a lid. After around an hour of smoking, the fish are golden brown and ready to eat.

The preparation of Smokies remains a cottage industry in Arbroath, centred exclusively at the harbour area, known locally as the fit i'the toon (the foot of the town).

In 2004 the Arbroath Smokie was awarded Protected Geographical Indication, acknowledging its unique status. It is exported worldwide.


This event has been held in August every year since 1997 to celebrate Arbroath's close ties to the North Sea. Events include:

  • rescue displays by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution
  • performances by Scottish pipe bands, local brass bands and other artists
  • a raft race around the inner harbour
  • a yacht race which takes the participants past the cliffs north of Arbroath
  • the Gourmet Galley, where chefs prepare locally caught seafood dishes

In 2004 the Red Arrows performed an aerobatic display over the seafront.

Abbey pageant

Since 1947, a pageant commemorating the signing of the Declaration has been held within the roofless remains of the abbey. This is run by the local Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society, and dramatically re-enacts the story of the signing.

Arbroath in literature

The author Sir Walter Scott is famous for the Waverley series of novels, including Rob Roy and Ivanhoe. Scott is known to have visited Arbroath three times, and his personal favourite in the series, The Antiquary (1816) features affectionately fictionalised versions of both Arbroath ("Fairport") and Auchmithie ("Musselcrag").

Places around Arbroath

Missing image
View of a partially frozen Keptie Pond in Arbroath. The old water tower is prominent in the background.


Auchmithie, three miles north-east of Arbroath, is a tiny village whose residents originally earned a precarious living by fishing for lobster and crab.

Auchmithie is almost certainly where the Smokie originated. At the beginning of the 19th century the fisherfolk there (with surnames such as Swankie, Spink and Cargill) migrated into Arbroath, where the Smokie tradition continues today under the same names.

The rugged cliffs around Auchmithie create in the promontory of Red Head a number of curiously shaped caves and archways which attract large numbers of visitors.

St Vigeans

This local parish takes its name from a saint or hermit whose chapel was situated at Grange of Conon, just over three miles north-west of Arbroath.

At the 14th century Kirk of St Vigeans, 1 mile north, stands the ancient sculptured Drosten Stone, bearing what is thought to be the only legible inscription in the Pictish tongue.


Six miles west by south are the slate quarries of Carmyllie, the terminus of a branch line (opened in 1900) from Arbroath, which functioned as the first light railway in Scotland. The quarries and the light railway have been closed since the 1950s and the railway bed now serves as a nature trail from Elliot to Carmyllie.

Famous Arbroathians

See Also

External links



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