A guide to Ferryden
Have you ever picked a random place to stay just because you've never heard of it before or because it has a pretty name? I like to do this from time to time as I find it one of the best ways to uncover new hidden gems and this is how I ended up staying in Ferryden.
I was searching for last minute holiday apartments in Scotland for a short break when I came across a reasonably priced one in Ferryden. This is also a benefit that comes with staying outwith tourist hot spots - the overnight rates are usually far cheaper!
On further investigation I discovered that this former fishing village is situated opposite Montrose. As I didn't know this part of Scotland too well before my visit, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to rectify that.
I booked my accommodation through Airbnb. If you've not used Airbnb before you will receive a £25 discount off your first booking by using my personal link.
This doesn't cost you anything extra but I receive a little bit of travel credit if you do.
I immediately fell in love with the quaintness of Ferryden. Characterful buildings and people along with an interesting history were an unexpected surprise. Although it is small, it is the kind of place you need to walk around a few times to take in all the wee quirky details.
I have personally found that historic fishing villages in Scotland have more than their fair share of individuality and charm. I've previously written about Footdee in Aberdeenshire and Stromness in Orkney which also fall under this category. It is no wonder that coastal communities seem to hold so much appeal to me.
Many of the buildings look a little ramshackle but I think that is what I liked the most. While original buildings are in various states of repair, old boats and sheds have been repurposed as homes and outbuildings. Many of the houses are brightly painted with colourful tubs of flowers next to inviting doorways.
An old truck with vintage looking barrels is an unmissable advertisement for the popular Diamond Lil's pub. Neighbours sit out on benches and pass the time of day. Old washing lines strung out across the water are still used, making the most of the breezy gusts blowing in from the North Sea. Everywhere you look there are little quirky details that make you smile.
You might also like to read my blog post with my recommended things to do in and around Montrose
From the village there is a pleasant walk to Scurdie Ness Lighthouse (see below) and I wondered how Ferryden had never been on my radar before as it is exactly the kind of place I love staying in. It is also a great base for exploring Montrose and further afield in Angus. It is also just a short drive to the start of the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail which makes for a scenic east coast road-trip.
I couldn't find out much about Ferryden before I visited but I feel it is a place that is worth sharing so I hope you enjoy discovering more in this blog post. Maybe you'll even be inspired to visit for yourself or just take a chance on somewhere in Scotland you've never heard of rather than sticking to the well known destinations.
How Ferryden got its name
Ferryden is a former fishing settlement situated on the south side of the River South Esk where the river meets the North Sea. Today it is connected to the town of Montrose on the opposite side of the river by a bridge. However, prior to any bridge being built there was an ancient ferry crossing here which had been in existence for centuries. The name of the village is a clue to its origin.
The earliest mention of the ferry was in 1178 when the Montrose ferryboat and its lands were granted to Arbroath Abbey by King William I - know as 'The Lion'. It ran until the first bridge was built in 1795. It was started up again in the late 19th century and eventually stopped for good in the 1930s, long after the bridges were built.
Latterly many of the village workers employed in the mills of Montrose would take the ferry four times a day as they returned home for their dinner.
Ferryden's Fishing Village Origins
Ferryden first started to grow as a fishing settlement in the 1700s when many fishermen from Banff and other areas of the NE coast of Scotland were encouraged to settle in the area. It provided ideal fishing conditions with a deep anchorage near the North Sea and plenty of mussels in the tidal basin which could be used for bait.
Originally cod, haddock and ling were caught by line fishing but by the beginning of the 20th century, drift net fishing for herring took over. Herring fishing was carried out by large sailing drifters known as 'Fifies'. During the 19th century, the population grew from 190 to 679 and in 1882 it was recorded that about 200 men worked in boats. By the time WWI broke out in 1914, steam drifters had replaced the sailing boats.
Of course women also played a huge role in fishing communities. They collected bait, shelled the mussels and baited the lines. This was on top of looking after the home and raising large families. Young, unmarried women know as 'Herring Girls' would follow the herring fleet which travelled along the coast from Shetland to Yarmouth. Their job was to gut the fish, pickle it in salt and pack it in barrels.
They were paid according to the amount of completed barrels so they had to work at speed. The women also had to work outside and in all elements, typically for 12 hours or longer each day. Today there are an increasing number of 'herring girl' sculptures appearing in coastal communities to recognise the important role they played in fishing communities like Ferryden.
The end of the fishing industry in Ferryden
Like most small ports in Scotland, the booming fishing industry of the past has all but died out thanks to a combination of factors. The first major decline started during WWI when export trade in cured herring to the main markets of Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia was disrupted. After the war many Ferryden fishermen sold their boats and young men didn't want to follow in the family fishing tradition. By the 1930s only a handful of boats operated from the village.
WW2 caused further disruption and many fishermen were Naval reservists during the wars which meant abandoning their boats. After WW2, technical developments saw the introduction of more efficient vessels. The new methods of fishing led to over fishing of herring and there was a total ban on herring fishing implemented in 1977.
It is not quite true to say that Ferryden is no longer a fishing community. As I walked around I came across creels, baskets, ropes and even overalls hanging out to dry - all signs that fishing still takes place, albeit on a small scale.
From my apartment window I watched solo fishermen row out to their anchored boats before heading out to the unforgiving North Sea. Later that day they would return with their modest catch and I can understand why this way of life is not so appealing to the younger generation. It is definitely not an easy option for earning a livelihood.
Although the original part of the village still exists, Ferryden has expanded quite a bit over recent decades. There is now a large base for oil support vessels which is part of the Montrose Port Authority.
I was absolutely fascinated by the size and number of ships entering and leaving the port while I was there. From the upstairs of the waterfront apartment I was staying in I had a birds eye view of the comings and goings. I'm not exaggerating when I say that some of the passing ships seemed as high as the building. As outlooks go, it was pretty unique, and every day I sat with my coffee, mesmerised by the ever changing view.
Walk to Scurdie Ness Lighthouse
From Ferryden there is a pleasant coastal walk of about 1 mile along to Scurdie Ness Lighthouse. This stretch of water at the mouth of the River South Esk is a dangerous one with the shifting sands of the Annat Bank on one side and the hidden rocks of Scurdie Ness on the other.
This route is also part of the Angus Coastal Path so you can continue on past the lighthouse if you feel like a longer walk.
Due to these hazards, there were many shipwrecks and lives lost in previous centuries. To make the passage safer, in 1818 the most comprehensive system of navigation aids in Scotland was created. Look out for the remaining leading light and white stone beacons as you walk to the lighthouse.
The capstan that was once used to rescue ships that ran aground on the Annat Bank also remains. Teams of horses harnessed to the capstan would attempt to pull the ship off at high tide.
You can also spot WW2 fortifications along the trail including pillboxes, gun shelters and gun emplacements. Their main aim was to protect Montrose beach.
For most of the route you can see Scurdie Ness Lighthouse peeping up in the distance. Built by David and Thomas Stevenson, it was first lit on the 1st March 1870. It was automated in 1987 and the former lighthouse keepers cottages are now privately owned.
Interesting Fact - The 39m high whitewashed tower was painted black during WW2 so German Bombers could not use it as a guide!
The surrounding area has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Look out for the rock known as Ferryden Lavas, which is one of the oldest volcanic rocks in Scotland.
When you're ready, return by the same route.
Ferryden may not be a typical tourist destination but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and learning about the history. The village itself is interesting but I also managed to explore Montrose and some other nearby Angus attractions.
I now feel like I know this part of Scotland a good bit better and I was glad I took a risk on somewhere new.
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