Lunan Bay is a broad east-facing beach of beautiful sand backed by dunes that is framed by low cliffs to the north and south. From its northern end near Boddin Point, about three miles south of Montrose, it stretches for over two miles south to Ethie Haven. Lunan Bay has to be on any list of Scotland's best beaches, alongside the likes of Sandwood Bay, Achmelvich, Sanna and Balnakeil Bay.
Half way down its length, Lunan Bay is interrupted by the curves cut into the beach by the Lunan Water as it escapes into the North Sea. High on a grassy bluff overlooking the river and bay are the ruins of Red Castle. The long length of wall that still stands was built in the 1200s, with the tower house being added in the late 1400s. (Continues below image...)
William the Lion (William I) used the castle while hunting and it stayed in royal hands until given by Robert the Bruce to the Earl of Ross in 1328 (see our Historical Timeline). It is said that it was later visited by Mary, Queen of Scots during one of her tours of her realm.
The story of Red Castle's demise is a sad one. In 1579 the wedding took place between the castle's owner, Lady Elizabeth Beaton and James, son of Lord Gray. Unfortunately James then fell in love with Lady Elizabeth's daughter. He was kicked out by his wife, but returned with supporters and over the following two years mounted a series of attacks on the castle.
Red Castle did not fare well from the experience, and although it was lived in by a local church minister in the 1760s it never really recovered. Today it is in a very precarious state, and visitors should take great care. Information about how to get to the castle is contained in our feature about it.
Lunan Bay has become much more accessible in recent years with the building of a car park behind the dunes. This has made it more popular than it used to be, but there's still more than enough beach to go round. A particularly welcome addition has been the rather fine cafe built, with its own car park, next to the farm a short distance inland from the dunes and beach car park.
The beach is popular with surfers and horseriders, and traditional fishing still takes place here, with nets strung from poles on the beach to trap fish in the falling tide. The bay also has a reputation for being a good source of agates and other gemstones. These are best found in the areas of tiny pebbles spaced amongst the sand, and after storms. But you do need to know what you are looking for: the real thing is heavily outweighed by the large numbers of other pretty stones that catch the eye in the wetness of the retreating waves.
Slightly inland from Lunan Bay is the hamlet of Lunan. A quiet place, this centres on its small and attractive church, set close to the narrow bridge taking the minor coast road over the Lunan Water.
At the southern end of Lunan Bay is the tiny hamlet of Ethie Haven. Once home to a significant fishing community, it has more recently been redeveloped as holiday accommodation.
Lunan Bay also has an interesting place in aviation history. On 13 February 1913 five aircraft of No 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, took off from RAE Farnborough under the command of Major C.J. Burke. The epic 450 miles journey north took 13 days and the air station was initially established at Upper Dysart Farm, close to the northern end of Lunan Bay. The site was far from ideal, and by the end of 1913 the move was underway to the new location on the north side of Montrose where today you can find the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre. Nonetheless, Upper Dysart Farm was, briefly, the site of Britain's first operational military airfield.