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.

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.

Birdwatching by the motorway and the scenic route home

I woke on Friday morning to find some rather wet snow outside. It had melted by sunrise. We drove up to Edinburgh to spend the weekend with a friend and stopped for a break at Johnstonebridge Services. On the way in we had to stop to allow some geese to cross the road. I was photographing them as they hunted around for melted puddle to get a drink when a guy sitting in his van told me that they are always around and in the summer have their goslings with them. They are not wild geese but are clearly resident in the vicinity.goose-at-johnstonbridge-13-jan-2017-1-of-1
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I do a lot of bird-spotting rather than watching as I am driving or sitting on a train. Today we had seen a large starling murmuration just south of Carlisle. There are usually ducks at the pond at Tebay Services and I have photographed them on previous occasions. They are mostly Mallard with a few interlopers.
Ducks at Tebay 26 Mar 2016-1
In summer bird food is sold at Tebay to discourage people from feeding them bread which is not nutritious for birds. The guy in the van at Johnstonebridge also told me that Black-headed Gulls nest on the island in the middle of Killington Lake so later in this year I will make a stop there to see them. Fortunately we heard in time that an accident had closed the A702, so left the motorway at Moffat and drove up the A701 as the sun was setting.
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We spent Saturday showing our friend around some of the parts of Edinburgh she had not seen on a previous visit. Sunday morning saw us in North Berwick> The Scottish Seabird Centre is here, down at the harbour but we did not have time to go there today. These Herring Gulls came over to see if we had anything to eat, better than the piece of plastic one was waving around.
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The Bass Rock is home to the largest colony of Northern Gannets who are named after them: initially Sula bassanus now Morus bassanus. In summer you can do a boat trip around the rock in an open boat. Choose a calm day to do this as it can get a but rough on the side away from the shore. We did it many years ago and it is something I would like to revisit in the summer.
From North Berwick we drove to Haddington, over to the A68 and then the A7. The snow had disappeared from the lowland areas.
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There was still some on the Eildon Hills where the hill sheep were scraping it away to find grass. Descending into Langholm we encountered mist.
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Mist, cloudy greyness and rain were our companions for the remainder of the journey.

Jazz by night – the beach by day

Yesterday we had expected the electricians to arrive to rewire the flat but this had to postponed as someone was off sick. We had a number of things to do in town (dodging the rain) and then met up with some friends for a meal. Without planning it, our time here for the rewiring coincided with the Edinburgh Jazz Festival so it was off to the Old Tron Kirk for some music. We all had to confess that we had no idea what the word ‘tron’ meant despite this church and another in Glasgow with a similar name. Subsequent research has established that it means ‘public weighing beam’ and one used to stand there. It ceased to be a church in the 1950s and excavations at the time revealed some of the Old Town beneath it. We enjoyed a very lively set from Mr Sipp and the resident band although there was a little too much bass at times.

Mr Sipp (1 of 1)

This morning we headed for North Berwick as the weather promised to be a little better. In addition to the beaches it has a secondhand bookshop so I found three volumes for my collections of natural history books and old travel guides. The bookseller was entertaining his grandson with a jigsaw puzzle and we spent a little time chatting about Jurassic Park lego. Walking along the West Strand and up over the cliffs at the end there were lots of wildflowers in bloom and I also made a note to complete the rest of the John Muir Way. A few years ago we had done the Musselburgh to Aberlady part but have not got round to doing the rest which goes all the way to Berwick on Tweed. It is now part of a longer trail which runs across from Dunbar to Helensburgh on the west coast.

Coastal flowers (1 of 1)

West Strand North Berwick (1 of 1)

Beachcombing in North Berwick

Having to escape from the flat all day as the hall floor is being restored today was a good excuse to head out of town. I followed the exodus of students from Marchmont, across the meadows and towards the university but left them as I was heading towards the station. It was a lovely sunny, still morning without the cold wind of the last few days. On the station platform I was sitting next to a lady with a West Highland White Terrier. The dog looked hopefully at me but I had to explain that as my dog was not with me today, I didn’t have any dog treats in my pockets. On the train I was back with the students as far as Musselburgh where they all got off for Queen Margaret University. It was then quiet until we reached North Berwick. The tide was out so beachcombing on the East and West Strand was essential and I added a few pieces to my sea glass collection plus a fragment of shell which has provided inspiration for an abstract painting. On the West Strand a group of children were litter picking. I had not been to the Scottish Seabird Centre for several years so I enjoyed wandering around there, looking at the submissions for a photography competition they were running and really getting to grips with my new telephoto lens. It is a little too early for the gannets and puffins to have returned to the Bass Rock but the staff said that there were some gannets on the north side, not visible from the centre. However, this pair of gulls was very obliging and posed for a shot.

Gulls N Berwick Harbour 25 Feb 25 2015 (1 of 1)

The harbour was quiet as expected in winter but had some very brightly coloured doors.

Coloured doors N Berwick Harbour 25 Feb 25 2015 (1 of 1)

The second-hand bookshop was finally open and I found a volume to add to my New Naturalist collection and in another shop, a birthday present for a friend. Knowing that I could not get back into the flat until 7 or 8pm meant that a bag of chips from the North Berwick Fry was needed to keep me going. I would have walked up the Law if the weather had stayed as it was in the morning as the view would be tremendous and it would be good training for hiking up Mount Etna and Stromboli in September. However, the weather was deteriorating so I headed back to town. A slow and circuitous route back to the flat finding some more National Geographics in a charity shop to plug the gaps in my collection plus some time in a library researching our Lincoln Highway route for next year meant the floor was dry when I returned. Even without the Law, the pedometer on my phone says I have waked 23,112 steps and 18.4km today.

Bass Rock 1 Feb 25 2015 (1 of 1)