Auchmithie is a small village on the coast of Angus some three miles north east of Arbroath. The village itself stands above 120ft cliffs, while below then is a pebble beach, an old and partly derelict harbour, and some fascinating rock architecture.
Much of today's village stands on a single street. At its south west end you find St Peter's Church and the Village Hall. The road then passes the village pub, the But n Ben and between rows of mainly single storey cottages. The village car park is on the left just before you reach the pub. You can drive through the village, but the road is a cul de sac, so at the far end you simply have to turn round and drive back.
In the centre of the village is a red sandstone square of cottages surrounding a watertank on a brick base. The central cottage has a doocot in its roofspace. The cottages on the seaward side of the village street back onto the cliffs. A track that emerges opposite the pub (and steps from further along the street) allow you to descend to the bay below: at which point you begin to realise just how precariously some of these cottages appear to be clinging to the top of the cliffs.
The bay below Auchmithie follows the curve of an attractive pebble beach. To the north the beach is terminated by sheer red sandstone cliffs. These are pierced by a number of rock arches and caves, the latter once making this a popular area for smugglers. The south end of the bay is home to Auchmithie's now derelict harbour, above which a few small boats are pulled up on the shore. The bay is otherwise empty except for a couple of sheds and a series of low concrete structures covered by hatches.
These are a clue to Auchmithie's main claim to fame. Auchmithie was once a thriving fishing harbour, which in the early 1800s had a population of some 400. The harbour was home to 12 white fish boats, 6 large herring boats, and around 20 small boats fishing for lobsters and crabs. Auchmithie was also where the Arbroath Smokie was first produced. This is a hot-smoked, headless and gutted whole haddock, sold in pairs. Processing took place in half barrels sunk into the ground covered by sacking. The origins of the smokie are confused by a story of their accidental discovery after a fire in a cottage in which fish were stored. The truth is much more likely to revolve around the village's Norse origins, suggesting that smokies have been made here for over a thousand years.
During the 1800s Arbroath Town Council sought to develop its fishing industry by improving the harbour facilities and making land available at the Fit o' the Toon for housing for skilled fishermen who wanted to move there. The result was the relocation of a large part of the population of Auchmithie to Arbroath and the virtual abandonment of Auchmithie Harbour. The new residents of Arbroath continued to smoke haddock by their traditional method, and the Arbroath Smokie was born. Today the name is protected by EU law: if it isn't made within an eight kilometer radius of Arbroath Town House it isn't a smokie. And as the modern pits in the bay below Auchmithie testify, some of those smokies are still produced where the process originated.
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