It is not for riches we fight, nor glory, nor honour;Declaration of Arbroath 1320
but for freedom alone
which no honest man will lose but with his life.
East of Perth the land changes. The soil reddens, the climate is drier. The Carse of Gowrie and Strathmore is soft fruit heaven, prime agricultural land. It is a world of stone walls, windy fields, and muddy tractor trails on public roads. A world of cheap rural labour - once tinkers, tattie-howking bairns and travelling folk, today young East European migrants helping with the harvest. It is the world of Sunset Song, the only novel that's made me cry. "Help ma boab!" as Grandpaw Broon might say. Speaking of the Broons, how many of these other voices do you recognise?
"Jings!" said Oor Wullie. "Achtung, feuer!" yelled Jerry. 'A six-page photo story' trumpeted Jackie. "Great dodge, eh, kids!" winked Rodger. "I love cow pie!" said Dan. 'Hide those spots' advised Shout. The bairnhoods of several generations of British children were shaped by the comics of DC Thomson of Dundee - the Beano, Dandy, Jackie, Commando, Victor, Hotspur and others (including the Sunday Post).
Dundee - a city where Desperate Dan strides out in statuary in the pedestrian precinct - is the smallest of Scotland's four traditional cities, with a population around 150,000. The south-facing slopes of The Law sweep down to the Firth of Tay and the dramatic Tay Bridge, giving it the finest situation of any Scottish city, a city with a long and chequered history. Yet most of its historic buildings were pulled down in Victorian times - and in living memory, much of the Victorian streetscape was itself demolished for tower blocks. A ring-road and dockyard now isolate the centre of Dundee from its shore. The old industries, whaling and jute manufacture, are long gone. Yet its specialist technology universities and small but influential biotech and video games sectors give Dundee international prominence, and its local arts scene is more vibrant than that of Aberdeen, a larger and richer city. In 2017 London's V&A museum of textiles and design will open its first franchise museum on Dundee's waterfront, next to Dundee's current main attraction, Scott of the Antarctic's ship RRS Discovery.
Inland from Dundee is Strathmore, the heart of southern Pictland as testified by the number of old carved stones around Eassie, Dunnichen and Meigle. This was the powerbase of 8th century Pictish kings Nechtan and Oengus, who subjugated Dalriada, made alliances with Mercia, and campaigned in Ireland and England. They set up churches to St Peter in Restenneth (Forfar) and St Andrew at St Andrews, kicking the monks of Iona out of their kingdom and establishing firm royal rule over the church. Nearby is Glamis castle, ancestral home of the Queen Mother, said to be the most haunted castle in the whole of Britain's haunted isle. Further inland, just before the hills start to rise again at Dundee's weekend playground the Angus Glens, is the douce wee town of Kirriemuir, unlikely birthplace of AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, as well as Peter Pan author JM Barrie.
The steep-sided Angus Glens, Glen Isla, Glen Prosen, Glen Clova, Glen Lee, Glen Esk and Glen Dye, bite deep into a high heathery plateau, eerie and atmospheric, deadly in winter storms, stretching to Lochnagar and beyond. This is the Mounth, a historically important watershed separating the south of Scotland from the north, and all traffic is forced towards the coast where the strategically situated fortress of Dunottar awaits unwelcome guests. The Mounth's effectiveness as a barrier enabled the north of Scotland to develop its own culture, to remain a last bastion against Roman and English invasion, and to provide its own contenders for the early Scottish throne. The area where the Mounth meets the sea is called the Mearns and proved a rebellious and intractable area to early kings, even leading to the bizarre death of one at the hands of Finella.
South of Dunottar, tiny fishing villages like Catterline cling like limpets to the rocky coast, punctuated by two beautiful, sweeping bays - St Cyrus and Lunan Bay. It is a joy to be here at sunrise or sunset in winter, thousands of geese from the tidal flats of Montrose Basin honking their way in and out to surrounding fields, foam-flecked sea spray blown onto the cliffs and bare ploughed fields above. Sheltering from the weather are two historic towns: Montrose, home of Scotland's most heroic and sympathetic character, James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose; and Arbroath. Set amongst red sandstone seacliffs on this Pictish coast, Arbroath's ruined Abbey is one of the Scot's most talismanic sites. Despite defeat at Bannockburn in 1314, king Edward II refused to relinquish his claim of overlordship. Thus the Scots nobles convened at Arbroath in 1320 to sign a letter to the Pope, informing him and all Europe of Scotland's independence. It is a remarkable document, expressing sentiments not seen until the French Revolution and American declaration of independence 450 years later:
Yet if he [Robert the Bruce] should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for riches we fight, nor glory, nor honour; but for freedom alone, which no honest man will lose but with his life'.