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Angus Glen feature article from the pages of Scottish Life Magazine

The Angus Glens

Often overlooked by natives as well as visitors, these quirky and magnificent glens
hold picture-perfect little settlements and fantastic scenery in abundance.

BY KEITH AITKEN

One summer half a century ago, two little boys, one Scottish and the other American, spent a carefree few weeks together at a home owned by the Scottish boy's parents at Glen Isla in the Scottish county of Angus. The families had met through business and the boys, too, would remain friends into adulthood. Both were privileged children. Bill Gammell, the Scottish lad, would go on to attend the exclusive Fettes school in Edinburgh alongside future Prime Minister Tony Blair, play rugby for Scotland, and run a successful international oil corporation, Cairn Energy, ending up as Sir William. Great things were likewise expected of the other little boy. He, too, would work for a while in the oil business. His name was George Walker Bush.

The other North Americans, besides collectors of presidential trivia, who tend to know of the Angus Glens are those who've worked at the shadier end of the United States Navy. From 1960 to 1997, a disused Royal Air Force base and former motor-racing circuit near Edzell at the foot of Glen Esk was home to a highly sophisticated Circular Disposed Antenna Array, or CDAA, part of the United States' High Frequency Direction Finding (HFDF) network -- a secret Cold War chain of listening posts. Some 3,000 U.S. personnel worked there amid high security across nearly four decades, until technological change and geopolitical common sense made the system redundant.

Otherwise, the glens are little known outside Scotland; nor as well known inside it as you might expect. Hillwalkers, anglers, bird watchers and the modern menace of mountain bikers prize them. But Angus is the Scottish equivalent of the flyover states. Most Scots think of it, if at all, merely as the bit between Dundee and Aberdeen -- a fast road through the fertile coastal farmlands, with occasional glimpses west to the Cairngorm Mountains. They know things about some of its towns: Kirriemuir, birthplace of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie; Arbroath, where a Declaration defying English rule was signed in 1320; Forfar, home of the world's best savoury pastry, the bridie. But the county itself somehow rarely registers.

Which is a shame because those who do know them count the Angus Glens among the true scenic gems of Highland Scotland, and they're within day-trip distance of most of the major conurbations. That being said, a big part of their appeal to the knowing is their sense of profound peace and quiet. Greater awareness would mean less serenity. As it is, you can feel almost like an explorer. That mood is harder to summon if you have to queue to get on to the footpaths, or take in the scenery from behind a convoy of mobile homes. The Angus Glens, to their great glory, are rarely if ever like that. And the scenery, on a clear day, will take your breath away.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2010 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos: Dalhousie Arch, Edzell and Glen Clova © VisitScotland / Scottish Viewpoint