The town of Kirriemuir stands on the north side of the broad valley of Strathmore in Angus. To the north the landscape is dominated by the southern edge of the Cairngorms, deeply riven by the Angus Glens. The town itself probably has ancient roots. There is evidence of Bronze Age settlement in the area, and a little later the Romans passed by. Move forward a few more centuries and Angus was at the heart of the lands inhabited by the Picts, who left evidence of their presence here mainly in the form of intricately carved stones.
The first glimpse of Kirriemuir in the written record comes rather later, however. In 1459 the burgh of "Kerymure" was created by James II. This allowed those living here to hold weekly markets and annual fairs, and the town began to grow as the focal point of a large and highly productive rural area. Over time the early wooden buildings began to be replaced in stone. Meanwhile the name was being heard differently by different generations of cartographers, and as a result is recorded as "Kelliemoor" in about 1600 and "Killymure" a century later.
Kirriemuir was an early example of specialisation. In the 1760s a local weaver developed a double-thickness cloth that was the ideal material to be made into corsets. This formed the foundation for Kirriemuir's growth as a textile centre and by 1860 there were 1500 hand loom weavers in Kirriemuir and 500 more in the surrounding area. It is estimated that Kirriemuir's weavers produced over 9 million yards of linen per year through the 1860s. And most of this depended on the continuing fashion for narrow waists in women's clothes.
The disappearance of such fashions in World War One brought to an end 150 years of prosperity for Kirriemuir's weaving industry. However, some of the industry still remains, including Britain's only surviving jute mill in the Marywell Works.
Kirriemuir itself is a place of narrow winding streets and intriguing nooks and crannies. The heart of the town is surrounded by a traffic management system that funnels vehicles one way around the centre. Inside this area is the oldest and most picturesque part of Kirriemuir. It has to be said that on our most recent visit there were a number of buildings in need of more than a little TLC, but such is the innate character of Kirriemuir it is possible to hope that, for example, the prominent and obviously derelict Airlie Arms Hotel and Bar might at some point be brought back into productive life.
In the mains square, opposite Visocchi's excellent ice cream shop, is the the old Town House, dating back to 1604 and distinguishable by its small tower. This is home to the Kirriemuir Museum.
As you wander around Kirriemuir it soon becomes clear that the town has not forgotten its most famous son. J.M. Barrie, lived from 9 May 1860 to 19 June 1937 and was a novelist and dramatist best known for inventing the character of Peter Pan. Wherever you look in Kirriemuir you see reminders of him. In the centre of the town is a statue of Peter Pan, while nearby is the J.M. Barrie Memorial Fountain, erected not long after his death.
At the start of Brechin Road as it leaves the centre of the town is the J.M. Barrie Birthplace museum, in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Visitors can view the recreated kitchen and bedroom upstairs, look at exhibitions downstairs including Barrie's writing desk, or find out more in the small museum in the upper floor of the neighbouring house. And while you are looking at the size of the accommodation, remember that it housed a family with ten children. Outside is the preserved wash room that served this and other houses in the area. A nearby garden comes complete with another statue of Peter Pan.
More brown signs from the town centre lead you up the Hill of Kirriemuir to the north. Here you can find the Kirriemuir Camera Obscura, built into a cricket pavilion gifted to his home town by the 70 year old J.M. Barrie in 1930. This is also in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. The Hill is also home to "Neverland", a Peter Pan themed children's play area complete with a large pirate ship, while J.M. Barrie is buried in a family grave in the cemetery on the south side of the hill, overlooking the town.
On our most recent visit the lovely character of Kirriemuir did serve to highlight one issue. Someone in Angus Council has apparently decided that it might be a good idea for "general waste" wheelie bins to be a livid purple colour. Wheelie bins are a blight on historic environments (or, indeed, any environments) at the best of times. But liberally scattered bright purple wheelie bins? It is difficult to imagine how the historic character of any town could be more effectively undermined.
And, finally, it is worth noting Kirriemuir's contribution to popularising hillwalking in Scotland. Not so much as a base in itself, though there are high mountains at the head of nearby Glen Clova, but rather because it was near Kirriemuir that Sir Hugh Munro lived, the man whose name has forever since been linked with Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet.
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