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.

An emotional journey

My first visit to Scotland was when I was six weeks old; with my parents on their motorcycle and sidecar. Other relatives were there earlier. Here is my grandfather having a break at Shap on his way north in 1952.

In the late 1960s, my father left Rolls Royce and got the job as Chief Engineer with Alexanders Coach Builders in Falkirk. I had done just over a year at my first primary school and attended two others in Scotland and two high schools because we moved to Dunblane in 1975. We had spent many family holidays camping on the west coast near Oban. After five years at Aberdeen University and house jobs in Inverness and Fort William; I met my husband during my surgical house job in Stirling. My psychiatric training began the following year in Edinburgh and James started his general practice training. It was our intention to stay in Scotland but although it might be hard to believe now when there is a shortage of GPs; in 1989 over 100 people were applying for GP jobs in Lothian. Eventually, one of the consultants he had worked for said that her friend was looking for a new GP partner in South Cheshire. So, in early 1990 with two cats and myself 24 weeks pregnant with our son, we drove south to a building which would be our home and the GP surgery for four years. In 1994 I had worked as a research assistant and been appointed as a Lecturer at Keele University. The practice needed to expand and we could now afford to look for our own place. In August moved into Bank House Farm.

26 years and two days later, we sold up and moved out, returning to Scotland which we had been planning for some time. Our neighbours and church gave us a wonderful farewell and we set out; James driving the campervan and myself the car. The heavy rains and flooding meant that on the motorway between junctions 18 and 19, four lanes were reduced to two. I found myself in very slow-moving traffic sandwiched between a Porsche and a Jaguar. Otherwise the journey was uneventful and we installed ourselves in the Edinburgh flat. A few days later we viewed a house in North Berwick and put in an offer which was accepted. I had not expected that to happen quite so soon but the completion date was a few weeks further on to allow the sellers to pack up and find somewhere to rent. We have some time to kill in between a couple of commitments in the meantime. Fortunately, things are starting to open up a little after lockdown. I had spotted a Cubism exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art so booked tickets and walked down there a few days ago. We were a little early so sat in the grounds.

There was an interesting illuminated message over the front of the building.

I am not so sure that we can be quite so optimistic at present.

The small exhibition had works by familiar artists such as Picasso and Braque but also many by less familiar names.

I am hoping to have more time to devote to art and abstract art in particular now that I do not have ¾ acre to look after.

Yesterday we decided to spend some time looking around North Berwick as the weather looked more promising. We were there early enough to get parked down on the sea front.

We wandered along the High Street, had a coffee and then on further east along the shore.

North Berwick Glen has a footpath taking you uphill from the east beach to near where our new home is. The Glen contains several ruins.

The oldest are of the Mills of Kenteath which are thought to date from the 1300s. They were used to grind grain until the 1840s. The Waulk Mill was built in 1738 at the bottom of the glen to provide fabric for the local weavers. It was replaced by a washhouse which also later became a ruin. There are numerous other interesting places to explore in the local area, some which I have not been to for a long time; others I have never visited.

The Water of Leith

The Water of Leith runs for 24 miles from its source in the Pentland Hills to the Port of Leith where it joins the River Forth. Historically it supported more than 70 mills producing flour, fabric and paper. Construction of the Water of Leith Walkway began in the 1970s and it officially opened in 1981. Over the years we have walked various sections; the last in 2017. We have never done the whole 12 miles from Balerno to Leith in one go but are now members of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. Our most recent wander followed an afternoon which we spent walking around the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill with some friends, clocking up 4.1 miles. The next morning walking down to Leith, the city centre was eerily quiet and it was relatively easy to keep a safe distance from others. The replacement building for the old St James shopping centre has progressed and the extension of the tramline to Newhaven is underway. On reaching The Shore, we had our first coffee inside a café since pre-lockdown in March. Afterwards, we took a quick look at the port which was filled up with static merchant and cruise ships going nowhere.

I read somewhere that six cruise ships are moored up at Leith. We certainly spotted a P&O ship and then began the walk. Buddleias line a lot of the pathway here

and also, the problematic introduce plant Himalayan Balsam which I photographed in 2017.

The Conservation Trust had a removal project in 2013 but it is incredibly difficult to eradicate completely because it shoots its seeds far away and additionally, they travel downstream on the water. Following the decline of industry along the river, wildlife has prospered. Today we saw gulls, mute swans and a grey heron but you could be lucky and spot a kingfisher.

Fish have returned to the river and otters have also been observed. There are several examples of street art along the path.

The walkway is closed in a few places. We had a diversion due to repairs underway on the Newhaven Road South Bridge which had become dangerous. Signposting of the diversion was not great but I managed to navigate us to rejoin the riverside walk. Near the Dean Path, there has been a landslip and other problems at other sites. After passing through Canonmills, we left the path near Stockbridge and found a seat to have our picnic lunch on. It was then time to return to the flat so we continued through Stockbridge, Hanover Street and tried to avoid the busier West End of Princes Street. Up Lothian Road and then along quieter Brougham Terrace to Bruntsfield Links, where I was very happy to see that sections had been left un-mowed and were filled with wildflowers for the pollinators. We managed to get back to the flat before a heavy rainfall mid-afternoon, having walked 10.3 miles. I am sure we will return to do another section or attempt the full length at some point.

Abandoned Places

 Abandoned places have always intrigued me. I wonder about the story behind them and the people who lived or worked there. A recent article in The Guardian by David Bramwell described the ghost towns in Britain as mostly having been abandoned after the Black Death in the 14th century. The worst affected areas were Norfolk and Suffolk where the plague-infested ships landed. There is little left of many of them. Some were requisitioned by the military for use at the outset of World War 2 and practices for the D-Day landings. In East Anglia and other parts of the East coast, erosion is also a major problem due to rising sea levels. In late May this year, people in homes on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent were evacuated. As I write, one home has fallen from the cliffs and others are threatened. On our journey around the British coast we visited Rattray in Aberdeenshire which was abandoned in the 18th century when shifting sands blocked the harbour and covered the buildings.

Growing up in Scotland, the Highland Clearances which took place mostly in the 18th and 29th centuries are never very far away and the ruins of old crofts are found in many places. When we visited Sutherland in 2015, I learnt that people farming in the glens were removed to the coast near Bettyhill. Unfortunately, they did not know how to fish or possess any boats. We stayed for a week in a cottage near Skerray Harbour. From the harbour, Eilean nan Ron – the Isle of the Seals is visible, with ruined houses on it.

Between 1820 and 1938, this was home to several hardy families. They were forced to leave as the population was reducing in numbers (some having emigrated to North America or Australia) and getting older; making it hard navigate the 90 steps up the steep cliff from the harbour to the homes. They tried to settle nearby and were given £100 by the Duchess of Sutherland. In 2018 we visited the St Kilda archipelago which lies 40 miles beyond the Outer Hebrides.  Having been inhabited for 4,000 years, it was abandoned in 1930. It now has a military and a radar base and a few National Trust for Scotland employees are there for part of each year as well as a flock of Soay Sheep.

On our trips overseas we have also found derelict and abandoned places. Route 66 passes several towns left behind when the interstates were built.

The Meramec Bridge in Missouri carried Route 66 after its completion in 1932. Resorts arrived and working-class resort called Times Beach opened nearby in 1925. It was home to almost 2,000 people. In the late 1960s Interstate 44 arrived and bypassed this and many other communities. Times Beach was evacuated in 1983 because of dioxin contamination resulting from contaminated fuel being used to deal with a dust problem in the streets and to deter birds from crops since the 1970s.

In 2011 we travelled on the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Sydney. The route crosses the Nullarbor and is the longest straight stretch of railway in the world at 478km. We made a stop at Cook in South Australia, a town created in 1917 when the railway commenced. It depended on trains for food supplies and now all their water as well. When we visited, we were told that the population was two people and one dog. It became a ghost town in 1997. The eucalyptus trees were planted in 1982 and do provide some shade. We had a couple of hours to wander around before getting back on the train.

Somewhere to visit on a future trip to the South West USA is Cerro Gordo, an abandoned silver-mining town which was purchased in 2018 by a guy who wants to restore it. It is about 200 miles from Los Angeles. In the 19th century around 4,000 miners lived there. It was renowned for gun fights and there is even a rumour that Butch Cassidy was there once. The town was abandoned in the 1930s and the 22 buildings were just left. The guy who now owns it plans to restore it and provide accommodation for visitors.

A trip to South Africa 36 years ago

In my final year of medical school we were given a two month period to carry out an elective project of your choice. I spent January and February 1984 in South Africa. I took my first long haul flight there to work at Mseleni Hospital in northern Kwa Zulu; only 60km from the Mozambique border. South Arica was still in the midst of apartheid then, so the medical staff were all missionaries and it was run by the African Evangelical Fellowship. It is now government-run. While I was a student, I had spent my holidays working at a local restaurant. The owner was a member of the local Rotary Club, so they gave me a donation to cover the cost of my flights and I was to give a lecture to them on my return. The hospital provided accommodation and food. A friend lent me his Pentax Spotmatic and I took slides for the lecture. It is only recently while in lockdown and packing up to move house that I found them again and scanned them. The Aberdeen flight shop had recommended Air Portugal to me. I flew from Heathrow to Lisbon. Unfortunately, the connecting flight was delayed so I had a night in Lisbon but only saw a hotel and the airport.

The following day after a refuelling stop in Brazzaville, I arrived in Durban. From there, a Mission Aviation Fellowship plane took me to Mseleni. They also provided transport to distant clinics and took seriously ill people down to the hospital in Durban.

I learned a lot at the hospital helping out with operations, ward reviews and several outlying clinics that we served.

Most of the local Zulus were too poor to own cattle and most of their diet consisted of mealies (corn) and vegetables with a few eggs. The children commonly suffered from Kwashiorkor. We had a unit for their treatment.

A New Zealand scientist was working on a way of increasing protein in the diet. He had tried bringing in guinea pigs from South America but they all died from a virus. He was then trying more successfully with goats. Hence, I added milking goats to my list of skills.

My project was focussed on exploring the reasons for non-compliance with tuberculosis treatment which was an issue in the area. In addition to clinics at places including Mabibi and Mbazwana Forest, I also visited some of the kraals in the area with the community health worker. I had learnt a little Zulu (I still have the phrasebook found in Foyles) but he acted as interpreter.

The hospital was close to Lake Sibhayi which was a pleasant walk to when we had some time off.  You can take a boat on it but hippos are dangerous and could attack it. I often watched the sunset down there and on one occasion acquired a tick bite which gave me tick bit fever which was treated with a tetracycline.

Towards the end of January, two cyclones: Domoima and Imboa crossed the Mozambique channel and travelled inland. The area had the most rain it had had for at least 100 years and there was extensive flooding

The hospital was on a hill with a spring for water, so we were OK although the air strip was out of action and many of the local roads were blocked. The nearby Pongolapoort Dam was at risk of overflowing or breaking so they had to open the flood gates.

We had to treat one man who had been struck by lightning and there were reports of Zulus having climbed up trees to escape the floods but not wanting to go into the rescue helicopters because they had never seen them before. The waters eventually receded and at the end of my time I flew down to Cape Town to visit some South African friends before heading home. It was my first visit to the city, so I took the cable car up Table Mountain for the fantastic views

My friends took me to Fishoek

And the Cape Peninsula

Where baboons regularly attacked cars.

All too soon it was time to return home, write my report, get back to my studies and give a talk to the Rotary Club.