Arbroath is an ancient port with origins dating back to Pictish times. It entered recorded history with the founding of Arbroath Abbey in 1178, which probably displaced an earlier monastery at St Vigeans. There was a wooden pier at Arbroath by 1194, and the first harbour, know as the Abbot's Harbour, dated from 1394.
Arbroath's name comes from its position at the mouth of the Brothock Burn: it is a shortened form of Aberbrothock. The town's name has since reached a world-wide stage for two very different reasons.
In April 1320 Bernanrd, Abbot of Arbroath, drafted the Letter of Arbroath, thought by many to be the most important document in Scottish history. This was a letter written to Pope John XXII on behalf of Robert the Bruce, and signed by most of the great and good of 14th Century Scotland.
It asked the Pope to put pressure on Edward II of England to recognise Robert as the legitimate King of Scotland; and it also asked him to remove the excommunication that had been placed on Robert after he had murdered the Red Comyn in a Dumfries church in 1306.
Arbroath is also renowned as the home of the Arbroath Smokie. These are pairs of haddock tied at the tails and smoked over burning hardwood chips in 1.5m square barrels. This process still takes place in any number of back street smokeries close to Arbroath's harbour: and the delicious product can be sampled from the many traditional fishmongers still operating in the town. The good news is that under European Law the Arbroath Smokie has been given the same protection as Champagne: if they don't come from Arbroath they can't be called Arbroath Smokies.
If Arbroath's early growth depended heavily on Arbroath Abbey the last few centuries have seen it look to the sea for its prosperity. And not just to fishing, though this has been and continues to be important to the town. The 1394 harbour was built at the interestingly named Danger Point, and remained in operation until destroyed in a gale in 1706. Its 1734 replacement was expanded in 1842 and again in 1877, and Arbroath in its time has been an important trading port with destinations in Scandinavia and as far afield as North America.
Near the harbour is the Signal Tower Museum. This was built in 1813 as the shore station for the Bell Rock lighthouse, erected by Robert Stevenson in the years up to 1811 to warn mariners of notorious rocks 12 miles south east of Arbroath.
This was the first time anyone had ever built a lighthouse on a rock that was submerged every high tide and the construction of the 115ft high structure marked the pinnacle of the lighthouse building achievements of the Stevenson family. Lighthouse Keepers' families lived in the signal tower until 1955: it is now a free museum. Bell Rock lighthouse was automated in 1988.
Arbroath's harbour and its abbey are connected by a largely pedestrianised High Street which with the surrounding town centre offers the full range of shops and civic buildings you'd expect from somewhere with a history quite so long and prestigious. A mile north of the centre of Arbroath is the superb St Vigeans Museum of Carved Stones, on the site of an early Pictish monastery.