A wander around Dunbar

Having to leave the campervan to be cleaned meant that we had three hours to kill in Dunbar. Following Spott Road in towards the town centre we first had a short walk on the East Beach although the tide was in. There were a few dog walkers out but otherwise it was very quiet.

Cromwell harbour had a few people working on boats. The first harbour was constructed in 1100 at what is now known as Belhaven. The next was stone-built nearer to the castle in the 16th century. After storm damage in the 1650s, Cromwell repaired it to enable English ships to supply his army. Herring fishing was important; In 1819, 280 boats with 2000 men and in bumper years some 700-800 boats would arrive. In the 18th century merchants traded with Europe and in 1828, 203,276 gallons of whisky were exported from Dunbar. The heyday for oyster fishing was from 1770 to 1790 and whaling was undertaken from 1751 to 1802.

The Castle ruins stand beside the harbour. It was built on the site of a Pictish fortress, the first stone castle being constructed in 1071. There were numerous attacks and rebuilding over the centuries and Mary Queen of Scots visited on several occasions. The ruins now provide a cliff-like place for gulls to nest on.

In 1844 a new harbour entrance was blasted through the remaining castle ruins and Victoria Harbour was built by the engineer David Stevenson. We walked around the walls watched by a pair of gulls.

In the 19th century potatoes were taken to London by sea. This continued until 1914 when Lincolnshire began to grow large crops of potatoes. In the 20th century lobster and crab catching increased to supply the demand from local, Edinburgh and London hotels. More recent work on the harbour in 1988 revealed the Harbour Vaults. From the items found in the underground passages, it is assumed they were related to the whaling industry.

In the High Street we found a coffee shop with comfortable sofas and had our first coffee in a cafe for several months. Opposite was the town house museum – the first home of John Muir.

The west end and Belhaven Bay will need to be explored on another day as our three hours had gone and it was time to collect the van.

Discovering North Berwick

Having moved last autumn before the last lockdown and only recently been able to go beyond our local council area meant that in addition to settling into our new home, we have at least had time to explore the area. East Lothian is relatively flat, mostly arable land with the Lammermuir Hills and Traprain Law to the south and the Pentlands to the west. Like Edinburgh, there are volcanic mounds including the Law

the Bass Rock.

Fidra,

Criagleith

And the Lamb.

There is evidence of early settlers in the area to the south of the Law including 18 hut circles, middens and a field system dating back 2,000 years. The first record of the town being referred to as North Berwick (to distinguish it from South Berwick as Berwick on Tweed was known as) was in 1250. The town developed a place on the pilgrim trail much earlier; a ferry to Earlsferry in Fife being established in 950AD for those heading to St Andrews. The pilgrimages continued until the mid-16th century. St Andrew’s Auld Kirk is situated down by the harbour on what was a tidal island. It was reduced to ruins by a storm in 1656.

Our house is situated alongside the southern edge of the Glen. There was originally a Mill Pond at the entrance to the Glen and now a culvert passes under the road. Lochbridge Road got its name from the bridge over the reservoir. The water was controlled by a sluice gate and provided power for the three mills which were situated there. Now only the ruins remain. The first path through the Glen was opened in 1856.

The burn flows into what was known as the Mill Sea which later became Milsey Bay and is our nearest beach.

I have been looking at Canmore maps online. The 19th century ones show an iron foundry established in 1821 in the East Bay. Coo’s Green or the East Links where golf was played before 1798 was where the burgesses could graze their animals for a fee until the popularity of golf increased.

Our house is situated on what was part of Rhodes Farm. It also had limekilns and employed several men. In 1904, Abbot’s Croft House was built along with the lodge. In the 1930s Lime Grove social housing was built on some of the land to the east. In 1993 some of the land surrounding Abbot’s Croft was sold to build two houses on each side. Ours is one of the two on the west side, abutting the Glen. Two further housing estates were built on the farmland: Rhodes Park and Ben Sayers Park.  The Lochridge Toll bar at the foot of Heugh Road was installed in 1805 but townspeople did not have to pay tolls. There is now a small roundabout there at the junction with Tantallon Road.

I have also been looking at some of the older buildings in town. St Andrew’s Kirk sits behind the High Street. It was built between 1665 and 1664 to replace the older church.

By 1873 the congregation had overgrown it and in the 1880s moved to St Andrew Blackadder’s Church in the High Street. The Lodge, a group of whitewashed buildings sit in grounds at the bottom of Quality Street.

They were built in the 17th century and originally owned by the Dalrymple family. The tower behind is said to be where St Andrew’s well was. The buildings are now apartments, and the grounds are a public park and gardens.

In 1889 the first reference to the town being called ‘The Biarritz of the North’ was by Edmund Yates, editor of ‘The World’ a weekly society journal. By this time, large numbers of people were visiting on the trains including golfers. Robert Stevenson’s family, including his grandson Robert Louis Stevenson used to spend summers in North Berwick in the 1860s. During the pandemic the town has been very quiet but no doubt that will change when it is over.

Memories of the Himalayas

The recent floods arising from the collapse of a dam in northeast India reminded me of an experience with floods in the Western Himalayas over ten years ago. My son and I had arranged to go trekking in Ladakh in Kashmir with some people I had met the previous year on a fundraising trek in southern India. We had a few days in Delhi before flying to Srinagar. Here we began our high-altitude acclimatisation. Srinagar is at 1585m and while staying on a houseboat on Lake Dal

we visited three Mughal Gardens and had a walk up to 2,000m.

Time had come for us to leave and travel overland in a bus to Kargil and then onward to Leh.

We passed the High Altitude Warfare School and drove over the Zojila pass at 3,528m. En route we stopped at Sonnamarg, an alpine meadow at 2615m with glacier and had to wait for a convoy before we could leave.

We were not far from the line of control. Near Dras the bus had a puncture.

We eventually arrived in Kargil for the night. Kashmir is predominantly Muslim so the muezzin is a reliable early morning alarm and we set off over the highest point on the Srinagar to Leh road: the Fotu Lah pass at 4,108m.

After another puncture and the bus getting stuck on hairpin bend and having to be dug out, we arrived in Leh at 10pm. Ladakh is 80% Tibetan Buddhist and before we left on our trek, we spent a day exploring Thikse Monastery, Leh Palace, Stokna Gompa and Shanti Stupa.The following morning, we visited Spituk Monastery and then walked to the pony meet at Spituk Bridge to join up with the pony train which transported our tents and all our camping equipment. Spituk Bridge is at 3,214m.

The first part of the Markha Valley trek was a hot walk in the sun.

After lunch we descended into Zingchen Gorge which was more sheltered and camped at Zingchen at 3,396m.  The following day we walked to Yurutse and I began to suffer from altitude sickness and central cyanosis so I rode on the horse for the last part of the day. We camped at 4,150m. Our third day was a very hot climb up to the Ganda La pass at 4,900m. I crossed this on the horse and sat at the top admiring the view before the others arrived.

After a long, slow descent we arrived at Skiu, a small village at 3,500m. We had a relatively lazy day with some yoga and a short walk to the local gompa.

Heavy rain the next morning flooded one tent and delayed our start. The following night there was a major storm and a mudslide. Getting to Markha was impossible as the river was now too deep to cross so we returned to Skiu. Storms continued and we had to evacuate our tent at 3am because the river flooded due to a flash flood coming down the gorge.

This swept part of the village away and some trekkers died in the gorge. We spent the next few days trying to keep a supply of fresh sterilised water when the spring was accessible, treating injured people and giving a hygiene talk to the assembled 150 foreign youth and 40 Kashmiri support staff living in very basic conditions which meant that any infection would spread quickly. One of the villages had a radio and we heard an English Indian News broadcast which said that flooding and landslides were widespread in Ladakh and that 150 had been killed and 800 were missing. We should have left the National Park but could not so would be counted among the missing. An attempt was made to cross the landslide to the next village where there was a satellite phone to make contact with our relatives. Many lines were down but contact was made with a couple of people. Later, contact was only with Leh and Srinagar but they could not call internationally. The floods had become much more widespread and Jammu and Kashmir had declared a state of emergency. Pakistan had over 10,000 dead. We were promised a food and medicine drop (we had enough for seven days in our group and had started rationing). One of the Romanians had died but we could not bury the body as one day was inauspicious according to the locals and there was not enough depth of soil in the valley to dig a grave. Air burials are the norm in Ladakh: the Muslim person in the village will cut the body up and it is placed on a stone altar in the mountains and left to the birds. This was not acceptable to the person’s companions. There were more storms and a further flash flood. At 5am one morning we were woken by the sound of a helicopter. It was too small to be a food and medicine drop and turned out to be a stripped-down Puma helicopter which could fly at high altitudes belonging to the Indian Air Force. It had come to rescue us. It took three of us at a time and we could only take a small rucksack. We got back to Leh; caught a plane to Srinagar and then to Delhi and managed to make our booked flight back home.

East Lothian Beaches: Seacliff

Only three miles from our house, Seacliff Beach is accessible via a private road. Car drivers must pay £3 to open the barrier. On the path down to the west end of the beach, the ruins of Auldhame Castle, 16th century tower house are visible through the trees.

At low tide it is possible to walk around the cliffs to see Tantallon castle which is a little further along the coast.

The harbour, known as the Gegan was carved from the Ghegan Rock (which means Churchman’s Haven) and constructed in 1890. It is said to be the smallest harbour in Scotland but was empty when we visited on a cold January day. In summer the beach is popular with dog walkers, riders (there are a number of horses on the estate) surfers and picnickers.

The rocky outcrop which projects into the bay is known as St Baldred’s Boat and has a stone beacon with a cross on at the end.

St Baldred’s Cave is at the foot of the cliffs. He is said to have lived there from time to time. In 1831 a stone altar and bones of both humans and animals were discovered. They were thought to date from the Iron Age and to be the remnants of a sect which undertook human sacrifice.

At low tide there is an expanse of sandy beach to walk along. It was completely deserted on our winter visit.

The exit road out climbs up past the ruins of Seacliff House, a mid-19th century building constructed on the site of an earlier 18th century house and was destroyed by a fire in 1907. The owner did not survive. The road passes through an arch in the surrounding wall.

Various outbuildings on the estate were used as a secret naval base in World War II which focussed on navigation training and U-boat defence. They are now private homes. Troops were also stationed here to prevent landings during the Napoleonic War in 1798. Like most of the beaches on this portion of the coast, there are views towards the Bass Rock.

It is said that the rocks and the coastline here were the inspiration for Robert Stevenson’s story ‘The Wreckers’. Our first trip here for many years will not be our last now that we are living close by.

East Lothian Beaches: Yellowcraig to Canty Bay

Road trips and long journeys are in abeyance so in the last few weeks, weather permitting, we have been exploring our local area. Our nearest beach, only a short walk down the Glen is Milsey Bay.

In the other direction is the West Beach close to town which we walked to on a December afternoon.

While much of the country was covered in snow on 30th December, we woke to a cold but clear day. As it was James’s birthday, the original plan had been to meet up with some friends in the town to have a meal at a local restaurant. The post-Christmas lockdown meant plans had to be changed so we met up for a walk. Our friends live at the other side of town so we met at Milsey Bay.

From the east end of the beach, a path winds around the headland alongside The Glen Golf Course. This was created at the end of the 19th century when the council acquired the land from Rhodes Farm. The walk must be done at low tide as much would be impassable at other times. There are various rocks including the Leithies which are offshore at high tide; the Yellow Man island with a nearby rock shelter where heavy rain in 1905 washed down human remains from the field above and Leckmoram Ness where a bronze brooch from the 5th century AD was found in 1973. The Bass Rock is in view from many spots.

Just before Horseshoe Point are the remains of an old rusty fence which is referred to as the Old Fence on the 1888 Ordnance Survey Map so it certainly is old.

The west beach on Canty Bay is also known as Quarrel Sand.

Up the steep and rather slippery side of the headland you reach the Drift Café on the top with Ragged Rock just off the foot of the cliff. The café was developed by the Castleton farm and is constructed from wooden-clad shipping containers. During lockdown only the take-away trailer is operating but at least it was sunny enough to sit outside. The same farmer is now trying to obtain planning permission for a retirement village nearby but there is much objection.

The east beach at Canty Bay is not accessible by vehicles and can be reached on foot down the steep path on the other side of the headland. Its name means Bay of the Little Head, derived from Gaelic. It currently houses the Evans Trust: a Christian Residential and Activity Centre for young people. The Scouts occupy some of the old fishermen’s cottages. We will explore that side of the Bay another time.

Yellowcraig also known as Broad Sands is a coastal area of forest (planted in the 1960s), beach and grassland. Part of it is within the Firth of Forth Site of Special Scientific Interest and plenty of wildlife can be seen.

The John Muir Way trail passes through and Yellowcraig is three miles from town. On New Year’s Day the Sea Buckthorn berries were very prominent.

Lots of people were there and I am not sure how many were local. The annual Loony Dook usually takes place at South Queensferry where people jump in the very cold river and raise money for charity. This was of course, cancelled but police had to disperse a crowd at Portobello Beach. We saw two people in the sea at Yellowcraig.

Several others were drying off having been in the very cold water. Fidra lighthouse, built in 1885 by some of his relatives; is said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

There are more beaches to explore in either direction, weather permitting.

North Berwick Law

Volcanic activity created many of the hills in central and south-eastern Scotland including those with Edinburgh and Stirling Castles on, the Wallace Monument, Arthur’s Seat, Traprain Law and the Bass Rock. North Berwick Law’s conical shape makes it conspicuous on the rather flat lands around it and identifies its origin as being the remains of a larval volcanic plug from over 300 million years ago. It sits on the south side of town and we decided to walk up it with some friends on the one dry day last week. The Law is 187m high and the path we took is a short walk from our house.

The John Muir Way runs around the west side of the lower slopes. It is said that John Muir used to climb it during his childhood in Dunbar. On the south side there was a quarry where the red sandstone that many of the buildings are constructed from was obtained. In the mid 20th century shells, animal bones, food refuse and prehistoric pottery suggested date of human occupation around the time of the Roman occupation. There are also the remains of Iron Age settlements on the southern slopes. Later, Berwick Law was owned by the Cistercian Convent and used as a lookout to warn of approaching enemies. It is said that a nun lit a beacon on the summit in 1544 to warn of the approaching English ships. It was one of several signal stations in East Lothian in the early 19th century when Napoleon was threatening Britain and the ruins of a building constructed in 1803 remains on the summit.

There has been a whale bone on the summit since 1709. The original one had been replaced in around 1789. This blew down in a gale in 1935 and its replacement became dangerous in 2005. A fibreglass cast was made and installed in 2008. There are 360-degree views all around:

Towards the town centre and Craigleith,
the west end of town and Fidra
Towards Milsey Bay and the Bass Rock
Edinburgh the Pentland Hills and Arthur’s Seat in the background,
and all the new housing being built on the edge of town.

There is an interesting message on the trig point

The Law was also used in both World Wars as an observation post and the remains of those buildings are on the slopes. In World War 2, Dig for Victory allotments were created on the slopes and lasted until the 1970s. A bonfire was held on the summit for the 1953 coronation and a beacon lit for the 2012 Diamond Jubilee.

There was a lonely tree on the slope.

The reservoir at the base of the western side used to supply the town’s water and the overflow becomes the Glen Burn which runs down the slope not far from our house and into Milsey Bay. Over time, growing populations and increasing demand meant that the water supply had to be obtained from further afield. The lower slopes can be accessed from other directions so there are several routes to explore in the future.

Blackford Hill

Blackford Hill is 164m high and sits on the south side of Edinburgh. It is comprised of some of the oldest rock in the city in contrast to the volcanic rocks which form most of the other hills in the city. From our flat we can see the summit and most days there is at least one person visible on the top. Together with the Hermitage of Braid it comprises a Nature Reserve. We often walk around there and it is very popular with dog walkers, families and joggers. There was an ancient hill fort on the summit and in the 12th century there was a castle built by Henri de Brad who was Sheriff of Edinburgh at the time. The Hermitage of Braid house was built in 1785 and was the residence of Charles Gordon of Cluny who died in 1814. It was gifted to the council in 1938 and is now a visitors’ centre which is closed at present due to the pandemic. The Braid Burn runs through the reserve and there is also Blackford Pond which has resident swans and is visited by other birds. On our last visit most of the swans were being fed at one end of the pond and this lonely gull was at the quieter end.

There are 30 acres of woodland, many trails and other areas of open pasture. It provides views of the city including Arthur’s Seat

and over towards the Pentland Hills

On one visit I was close enough to see this crow who had found something to eat.

It is a very popular spot to view the fireworks on New Year’s Eve and we have done that on a number of occasions, weather permitting

or to watch the sunset

On one visit in 2017 we found musicians performing on the summit

The hill is also home to the Royal Observatory which used to be located on Calton Hill but relocated here at the end of the 20th century to avoid light pollution. Here is one of the more interesting buildings.

There are gorse bushes on the slopes and it was still in bloom in October. There is an old saying that when the gorse is out of bloom; kissing is out of fashion but at least there is food for the pollinators.

Unfortunately, there is also some Himalayan Balsam

and I did spot an insect on some seed heads.

On our most recent visit the leaves were colourful.

North Berwick Law is higher and once we have settled I must go up there for the views.

Colinton Tunnel

The railway which ran from Balerno to Princes Street Station and passed through Colinton opened on 1 August 1874. Colinton Station was situated where the access road and car park are currently. Both the tunnel and road bridge were built at the same time. Predominantly used for transporting goods to and from the mills on the water of Leith; passengers were also carried but this ceased on 30 October 1943. All services were withdrawn on 4 December 1967 as part of the Beeching cuts; the tunnel was closed and bricked up. In 1980, the Water of Leith Walkway was created. The tunnel re-opened as part of it, was painted and lighting installed. However, over time the painted walls deteriorated. In 2019 the lighting was changed to LED and work began on creating Scotland’s largest heritage mural. The tunnel is 140 metres long and all of it plus an extension to the outside wall at the Slateford end has been painted.

The lead artist is Chris Rutterford and he has worked with a team of professional and volunteer artists illustrating Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem From a Railway Carriage published in his 1885 book A Child’s Garden of Verses.

The poem runs along one side and on the other are many images linking it to local history.

More than 550 local people and groups including schools have contributed. Around 3% of the walls are still damp so some of the work was done elsewhere on marine plywood and then attached to the tunnel walls. The project has already brought more people to the local area and businesses and got rid of antisocial graffiti in the tunnel. There were quite a few dog walkers, joggers and others on the weekday we visited. We started at the Easter Hailes End near the carpark and walked through to the other end.

An event to celebrate the finished work was planned for September 2020 but of course the pandemic put a stop to that.   

Exploring East Lothian: beaches and books

High meteorological pressure and sunshine meant that heading to the beach was a must last week. There are several, covering about 40 miles on the East Lothian coast but our first choice was Tyninghame. We had been there on a number of occasions a few years ago, once for a New Year’s Day barbecue. After parking at the end of Limetree Walk where the parking attendant had just arrived and was checking everyone had purchased a ticket, we took the left-hand path which runs through the woods

down to Tyne Sands, passing some concrete World War 2 anti-tank defences before reaching the beach. The coast from Peffer Sands to Dunbar Castle is part of the John Muir Country Park. The tide was out

and we walked along Sandy Hirst, a promontory. I found quite a few pieces of sea glass. One of the few people we saw was a metal detector.

I don’t know how lucky he was going to be.

On the way back to the car I foraged some blackberries. On the way back to Edinburgh we stopped off in Haddington; sitting in the sun outside Falko’s with a coffee and then exploring the nearby Reading Room, a secondhand bookshop which also sells a few ornaments and confectionary. I found a missing volume of my New Naturalist and was very surprised to find that the bookseller was unaware that this was a collectible series. We wandered around the town centre for a while, noting some of the businesses that were here but not in North Berwick and a few of the older buildings, one of the which had been a Primitive Methodist Church. I had not known they had got as far as Scotland. The movement began at Mow Cop, not far from where we used to live and the bookshop I volunteered at supported the work of the Englesea Brook Museum of Primitive Methodism.

A few days later we met up with some friends from Cheshire who were camping at Yellowcraigs just east of the town on the coast. We arranged to meet at the lifeboat station and just before they arrived, I had a little wander around. On the shore is a statue ‘The Watcher’ by Kenny Hunter which looks out towards the Bass Rock with binoculars. Even he had a mask on!

In front of the seabird centre are the remains of St Andrew’s Auld Kirk. All that stands now is a small white-harled building that was the porch and some low walls behind. The church was destroyed in a storm in 1656 but there is said to have been one on the site for 1000 years prior to this. Pilgrims would come to North Berwick to catch a ferry to Earlsferry in Fife en route to St Andrews. There are some information boards inside the porch which contain information about some of the finds during archaeological digs on the site.

With our friends we walked along the West Beach which had quite a few dog walkers and others on it.

I spotted a curlew down by the water’s edge with some gulls. Afterwards, we had a coffee together. Before we left, I popped into the Pennyfarthing, a shop that sells antiques and secondhand books. On the way back to Edinburgh we passed a load of portable toilets and another of generators going to Archerfield which holds events. This was a little surprising in the midst of a pandemic. At Longniddry Bents there were a large number of wind surfers but I think that they could maintain social distancing on the water at least. There is a lot more to explore and we are looking forward to moving here in around a month’s time.

A windy walk in the Pentlands

Having several weeks to wait until completion on the house we are buying happens means we have some time to spend exploring our local area. This has been limited by some very heavy rains but Saturday’s overnight heavy rain had ceased but it remained very windy. We had arranged to meet up with some friends for a dog walk because new pandemic rules meant that we could not meet up with them and another couple for a meal that had been planned for the following week. The Pentland Hills Regional Park is outside Edinburgh but the part we visited is only six miles from the city centre on the north slopes of the hills. There are access points from other places and a visitors centre at Flotterstone on the A702. Clubbiedean and Torduff reservoirs are close to Bonaly and south of the city bypass. They were constructed in 1850 and are managed by Scottish Water who have some works ongoing nearby. After parking, we walked up the path to the first reservoir; Tarduff.

As it was a weekend, the track was fairly busy with walkers and cyclists. At this time of year, it is also good place for foraging with blackberries, rowan and hawthorn berries and rosehips to be found by the side of the path. Wild camping is permitted and I spotted one tent on the other side of the water. The regional park is large and there are many other paths around it, including loops around each of these reservoirs.

Clubbiedean reservoir lies above Torduff; they are two of several in the park and the surrounding hills have views over the city, the River Forth and over to Fife. There are the remains of an ancient fort consisting of a ditch, stony bank and stone wall on the other side of the water from the track we were on. Fishing licences can be obtained and a number of people were fishing when we visited. There is a café next to Clubbiedean run by a relative of our friends which was a great place to stop before returning back to the city.