These towns and villages are proud, insular, slightly forbidding,
defiantly old-fashioned and filled with history stretching right back to
BY KEITH AITKENSmall towns the world over are proud of their famous sons and daughters, and none more so than Kirriemuir. It was the birthplace of two very different icons of the young: J.M. Barrie, creator of the immortal Peter Pan; and Bon Scott, first frontman of the more mortal but still resilient rock band AC/DC. That both are commemorated by statues in the town centre may be no more than you would expect, but in the case of Kirriemuir there is a further imperative at work. The place longs to be known for something -- anything -- other than That Damn Song.
That Damn Song, officially The Ball of Kirriemuir, has been the source of pimply sniggers for generations of adolescent Scottish males. It is very often the first smutty ditty they learn. This is not the place to explore its riper verses (of which, according to author George MacDonald Fraser, there are more than 70), but if I tell you that the opening lines go: "Four-and-twenty virgins came down from Inverness / And when the ball was over there were four-and-twenty less"...you'll get the idea. It is commonly the first thing Scots hear about Kirriemuir, and sometimes the only thing. Enough to give any self-respecting burgh a chip on its civic shoulder.
To be frank, there is a faint chippiness about all the Angus towns, and about Angus itself. The county has something of America's Flyover States about it. People tend to think of it as "the bit between Dundee and Aberdeen." They know its coastal towns, because the fast road and the railway go that way: Carnoustie, with its championship golf course; Arbroath, with its ruined abbey where a declaration of Scottish independence was signed in 1320 (see Scottish Life, Autumn 2015); and Montrose, straddling a spit of land between a river basin teeming with wildfowl and the North Sea. If they are walkers, they may know the breathtaking Angus Glens (see Scottish Life, Autumn 2010), stretching like fingers into the foothills of the Cairngorms. But the old inland towns scattered across a rich Strathmore farmland summon relatively few images to the average Scottish mind's eye.
At best, each town is known more for a motif than as a place, and they hold on to these quirks with understandable tenacity. Forfar, the county town, is best known as home of a distinctive mince-and-onion pasty called the Bridie. Arbroath is known for the Arbroath Smokie, a delicious smoked haddock. Brechin is known for having a soccer team mysteriously called Brechin City, even though the "city" is not much bigger than a village. And Kirriemuir is known for, well, for That Damn Song.
They deserve better.
The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2017 issue of Scottish Life.
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Photos © Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland / Scottish Viewpoint; Allan Wright / Scottish Viewpoint