An afternoon on the Antrim Coast

It rained for most of our time in Northern Ireland last week but our last full day there was dry, so we headed to the coast. Portballantrae is a small community with a population of 734 in the 2001 census.

The harbour it was very busy with lots of paddle boarders and several people taking turns at jumping off the harbour wall into the water.

There were a few people sitting at the back of the beach but no-one else walking on it. There was an incredible amount of plastic waste among the rocks and on the sand, some of it very small. It made me feel very grateful for all the people who pick up the rubbish on the beaches of our home town. I did manage to find a few very small pieces of sea glass.

At the other end of the relatively small beach we walked up the pier and back to the road we had parked the car on.

The next stop was the more familiar Whitepark Bay, a three-mile beach we have visited on numerous occasions. It has been under the care of the National Trust since 1938.

There is a Youth Hostel there and a farmer is allowed to graze his animals on the land. Apparently, the cows and sheep can sometimes be seen on the beach although there were none there on our visit. The National Trust says that they are the most-photographed cows in Northern Ireland and that they appear in numerous selfies.

Fossils of creatures called Belemnites can be found here in the rocks. They were marine animals belonging to the phylum Mollusca and the class Cephalopoda. Their closest living relatives are squids and cuttlefish. I have a small collection from previous visits.

The beach was much busier than we have ever seen it before. As I was walking back up to the car park, I met a wedding party heading down to the beach for photographs. A long wedding dress and bridesmaids’ dresses, stiletto heels and smart suits for the men did not look as if they would cope with the sand. They were struggling a little with the steep steps down to the dunes. Some of their elderly relatives or friends were struggling with the steps so I did wonder how they would manage the path through the dunes where the others were heading.

It was time for us to head back for our last evening with James’s parents and prepare for our departure the following morning.

Street Art

Our first trip to Northern Ireland to visit my husband’s parents in almost two years coincided with an art project on the North Coast which it was hoped, would increase footfall to the area again. It began in early August and involved street artists from the UK and Ireland to add murals to towns on the coast between Limavady to Ballycastle.  On our visit, not all were completed but we managed to see some. In James’s hometown of Ballymoney which is also known as ‘cow town’ there is a cow on the gable end of a building

and another by Shane O’Driscoll elsewhere in the town.

Queen Street, Coleraine has a large work by artist EMIC.

Port Stewart has two; a Sea Eagle by Danleo adorns one building

and a monochrome one by JMK sits below the Dominican College.

There are five works in Limavady, off Market Street but we did not have chance to see them. Two more are due to be unveiled there. There is also one in Castle Street, Ballycastle but we missed that also.

We have seen a lot of street art on our journeys including a mural of Amelia Earhart in Cuba.

The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas on Route 66 has regular updates from the public.

This is in Lisbon, Ohio on the Lincoln Highway which we drove in 2016.

Here is a side street in Melbourne, Australia which we found on our journey round Highway One in 2018.

In 2017 we saw a Banksy at Jökulsárlón, Iceland.

St John’s church at the west end of Princes St in Edinburgh has a group of artists who regularly paint a mural on the side of the building, often commenting on current issues. This one was done in December 2016 after a small child migrant’s body was washed up on a shore in the Mediterranean.

I always enjoy spotting some new street art wherever I am, even though it is not something I have tried myself.

A night by the canal

Our first trip to England since moving back to Scotland in the autumn of 2020 was back to South Cheshire and was our first night in the van since autumn 2019. We are members of Britstops; a list of places which allow you to park a campervan overnight for free. No facilities have to be provided but many are public houses or cafes and benefit from the custom. The Broughton Arms in Rode Heath is one of such venues and sits on the Trent & Mersey Canal. It was close enough to where our son and his partner live so we had arranged to meet them for a meal that evening.

The Trent and Mersey Canal is 93 miles long, has 76 locks and opened in 1771; engineered by James Brindley. The canal runs from Preston Brook and the connection to the Bridgewater Canal down to Trent Lock at Derwent Mouth where it joins the River Trent. The Broughton Arms is situated between Bridge 140

and lock 54. The towpath is accessible from the side of the bridge in front of the pub.

It abuts Rode Heath Rise which used to be the site of a salt works. Brine was pumped up from underground and heated in large pans until the water had evaporated. The salt was transported to the rest of the country via the canal. The salt works were abandoned in 1930 and the land reclaimed for public use in 1980. There are open areas, woodland

and plenty of wildflowers.

Each year on 5th November, a large bonfire is held here. I did wonder if the pile of old beer garden furniture in the corner of the car park was being saved for that. Further east, past the junction with the Macclesfield Canal is the Harecastle Tunnel, constructed to carry coal to the kilns in the Potteries and was one of the longest in the country.

The Macclesfield canal was very close to our home when we first moved down to England. We had to find a building that could house the surgery for my husband’s GP practice and accommodation for us. After four years we could afford to move out to let the practice expand and find our own home. Living so close to the canal was great for a walk but also meant that I made sure that our son learnt to swim. I had just thought ‘what if he runs out of the garden and down to the canal and falls in?’ The gates were open much of the time to provide access to the surgery parking. A few years later, when I was working at the Parent and Baby Day Unit, we had a staff outing which was a day trip on a narrow boat on the Macclesfield canal. We hired it and drove it up towards Congleton, stopping before the locks to have a pub lunch and then returning to base. I have known and still do, several people who love narrow boats and even live on them by choice but that is not for me. I did enjoy seeing some of the Mallard ducks and ducklings.

The following morning we drove to Shropshire to give my Dad his Fathers’ Day present and then headed back north to Scotland.

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.