The origins of Arbroath date back to the time of the Picts, but the town first appeared in the historical records when Arbroath Abbey was founded in 1178. The abbey was believed to have been built upon the site of an earlier religious building known as the monastery of St Vigeans. The first wooden pier jutted out into the water here in 1194 and since then the town has been known as a harbour town, the first real harbour called Abbot’s Harbour was built in around 1394.
The name of the town is taken from its location at the mouth of Brothock Burn and is generally recognised as a shortened version of the full name Aberbrothock. Though a relatively small harbour town the name of Arbroath is now known the world over.
This is the birthplace of the Arbroath Smokie, and is what has placed this town on the culinary map of the world. The smokie consists of a pair of haddock which are tied together at the tail, they are then smoked over smouldering chips of hardwood. This is still very much a local trade, with plenty of small traditional smoke houses filling the narrow back streets of the town situated around the famous harbour. There are many fishmongers here that are proud to offer the traditional smokies that the place is famed for. The Arbroath Smokie is protected under European Law, which means that unless these pairs of smoked haddock are produced within the boundaries of the town, they cannot be labelled as traditional Arbroath Smokies.
The early growth of the town was as a result of the Abbey, though it is the harbour and the sea that have provided the town with the majority of its growth and development. It is not only the expansion of the fishing trade that lead to the development of the town, but also the trade links that it offered to Scandinavia and the distant lands of North America.
Close by the harbour you will find the Signal Tower Museum, this was constructed as the shore station for the lighthouse and was built in 1813. The lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson in the early 1800’s as a warning of the treacherous rocks located a few miles to the south east of the town. The construction of the lighthouse was a major step forward in lighthouse construction as it was the first time one had ever been erected on a rock which, at high tide, was totally submerged. The museum offers free entry to visitors.
Arbroath has a pedestrian friendly high street which links the Abbey to the harbour, and the town centre is full of the retail outlets that you would expect to find, along with some local businesses and traditional craft stores. Take a short trip outside of the town centre and you will find the excellent St Vigean’s Museum of Carved Stones which offers some insight into the Pictish past of this ancient town. The museum is situated on the site of the early Pictish monastery and contains some incredible ancient carved and decorated stones.