Thursday, April 19, 2007

Walk 152 -- Cove to Dunbar

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 346 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 123 days.
Weather: A really cold wind all day. Cloudy, with black clouds looming over most of the time. A sharp rainstorm near the beginning of the Walk.
Location: Cove to Dunbar.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 1256 miles.
Terrain: Down a cliff, over rocks, up a cliff, field edge, road, track, woodland glade, beach — and we had only gone quarter of a mile! Then we found the ‘John Muir’ trail which was mostly on grassy paths and almost flat. Concrete walkway round the nuclear power station.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers: No.72, Dunglass Burn. No.73, Bilsdean Burn. No.74, Braidwood Burn. No.75, Dry Burn. No. 76, Brox Burn. All were crossed on little bridges.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.131, 132 & 133, all before the power station.
Pubs: The ‘Volunteer Arms’ in Dunbar where we drank ‘Arran Blonde’, a delicious ale!
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage at Grantshouse. We drove to Dunbar where we parked in a free car park. We caught a bus to Cockburnspath where we picked up the Southern Upland Way and walked a mile along it to Cove.
At the end we came across the pub while we were still exploring the harbour in Dunbar. I declared the Walk to be at an end! After a jar of simply spiffing beer and a chat with some friendly locals, we went straight back to the car and had a cup of tea from the flask. Then we drove back to the cottage.

Just before we reached the car park in Cove where we were due to start today’s Walk, we came across a large circular concrete structure. We climbed up into it, and came to the conclusion that it was a gun emplacement left over from the Second World War. There was a good view of the sea, and it would have been an even better view before the intervening trees grew so large. Probably its position was of strategic importance because we were just entering the Firth of Forth — though the northern shore in Fife was still out of sight over the horizon.
We started the Walk at 10.35, and in a good mood as we passed a garden gateway with a jolly seaside scene painted on it. Next we came to a padlocked gate with a road leading to some structure to do with the local water board. That is where things started to go wrong. There were no paths marked on the OS map for most of today’s Walk, and we really had no idea whether we were going to be able to walk along the coast or have to retreat to the nearest road.
By the gate was a pictorial ‘No Entry’ sign. I said, “We can’t go in there, we’ll have to stay on the road for the time being.” Colin replied, “That sign is only for vehicles, we can walk in there because it’s ‘Open Access’ everywhere in Scotland!” At that point I shouldn’t have listened to him and stuck to my instincts; but he always makes such a fuss if I don’t agree with his crass ideas that I meekly gave in. We climbed the gate and found a sort of path next to a wire fence. When that came to an end we had the choice of walking round the edge of a crop field or scrambling down to the beach. Colin made me choose (he always does that so he can blame me if it goes wrong) so I chose the beach. I wasn’t allowed to complain about the steepness of the cliff because I had chosen the beach, and quickly everything became my fault. Despite his constant moaning we slithered over rocks, watching black clouds approaching very fast.
Then it started raining — my fault, of course! So it was on with wet weather gear, then I followed my grumpy companion along about a hundred yards of beach. By then it had got too rocky — the beach had become impossible (my fault for choosing it). So it was up the cliff again and along the edge of a neatly ploughed field where there was no path — so we had to walk in the brambles and climb over several barbed wire fences. We ended up a quarter of a mile along the road from where we had started, and it had taken us an hour!
Even Colin conceded that we couldn’t go on following every indentation of the coast like this, and there in the pouring rain we agreed to start again. The lane we were on descended into a woody glade where we crossed the burn on an old bridge where there was once a mill. There, joy of joys, we came across the ‘John Muir Trail’ which came down the woody glade next to the burn, crossed our lane and continued on towards the beach! We had no idea it was there for none of it was marked on our OS map which we had bought only recently. Colin offered the opinion that it would just lead us to the beach and stop. But it didn’t, it lead us all the way to Dunbar! Added to that, it stopped raining. So all the bad feeling melted away and we began to enjoy our Walk.
We followed the path down to the beach initially, where we sat to eat our pies. The well-marked path continued along the top of the beach past banks of primroses. Then it went through a ‘forest’ of little spikey bushes to another woody glade where there was a pretty waterfall. It was magical — I was looking out for fairies and elves! (As usual, we were completely on our own — I feel really sorry for all you non-walkers out there, you miss so much.) We crossed this second burn on a footbridge, then climbed up on to a low clifftop. We were amazed that such a well-established path should be completely missing from the map. Come on, Ordnance Survey, what are you at? The new series of ‘Explorer’ maps are supposed to be for walkers so they should be up-to-date with all the footpaths — that is why we have spent so much money buying the maps. Thirty-seven maps so far at an average cost of £7 each — equals £259! That’s an awful lot of money to pay for inaccurate information.We passed a natural rock arch, and later came to some funny little wooden seats to sit on and contemplate the view. Different kinds of wild flowers – some quite beautiful and unusual – and a flock of shaggy sheep completed the scene. We found this part of the Walk to be thoroughly enjoyable. Further on the rocks finished and the beach turned sandy. We clambered down on to it, and this was even better! Nearing the power station, we had to cross another burn on ‘sort-of’ stepping stones, but since the burn was very shallow this wasn’t a problem. In the surf we saw a seal momentarily! We got very excited, but it dived and we didn’t see it again.There was a caravan site overshadowed by the nuclear power station! It never ceases to amaze us how people seem to be quite happy to holiday within humming distance of such a place. (We remembered the beach huts next to Sizewell back in Suffolk.) I wouldn’t like to stay there, I was not even comfortable walking past. There were concrete walkways all round so there was no problem getting past. But we both found it to be a bit austere, even on the breakwater. We wanted to stop and eat our lunch by then, but I insisted we got well away from the area and out of humming distance. I found that sound to be quite unnerving.We came to a picnic site where we stopped to eat our sarnies. It was very cold in the wind despite the sun which had condescended to come out by then. We could only get out of the wind by hiding behind some old lime kilns which were there. They were huge — it must have been a big operation in its day.
We walked past a ruined cottage out to a little triangle on which was situated a War Memorial to six young men — boys really, for they were aged between 23 and 19 — who were killed in the Second World War. They belonged to a boys’ club in Edinburgh, but the memorial is on this spot by the beach because “they loved to camp here”. I always feel a touch of sadness at such memorials even though it was a long time ago. We almost lost our eldest son, Paul, when he was a 19 year old student, so I have some empathy with their families. Paul was involved in a mountaineering accident in which he was the only survivor — but at least he was doing what he wanted to do. These boys named on the memorial were probably conscripts and died in terrible circumstances. They didn’t want to be there at all, and died before they were adults fighting politicians’ battles so that we could live a free life. We have a lot to be grateful for.We continued along the beach, and came to another burn. A new plank bridge across it was unfinished, but we coped. We moved on across a grassy sward towards a lighthouse. Past that we sat near a spring, trying to keep out of the wind, to eat our chocolate. We puzzled over a wooden structure, was it part of a ship or a shelter on shore? Then there were more funny little seats on which to rest. On the map was marked a large quarry. From the road we had seen a huge concrete works as we drove by. But we noticed neither walking along the beach even though we were, according to the map, only within a few yards of the quarry edge. We were too interested in watching out for what was happening on the shore.By then the tide was in, breaking waves right next to us. We saw loads of birds — eiders, gulls, curlews, oystercatchers, guillemots, skylarks, etc — a birdwatcher’s paradise! Despite the cold wind, we were enjoying ourselves enormously.We rounded a headland and could see Dunbar in the distance. The last two miles into town were next to a golf course. This came right to the edge which was about one foot higher than the waves breaking by our feet. We thought it was wonderful! We were asked to wait occasionally while golfers were taking their shots, and we didn’t mind. Co-operation seems to work here, as it does with farmers — English golf clubs and farmers please note! Nearer the clubhouse the waves were actually breaking over our feet, so we had to retreat to the golf club road in order to keep dry.
In Dunbar we headed to the harbour first. On the way we passed John Muir’s birthplace. John Muir was born in Dunbar in 1838, but his family emigrated to America when he was eleven. He became an author, naturalist and activist, passionately interested in conservation. He was a man before his time, meeting much opposition to his ideas. But he is revered by the Americans, and rightly so, because he was influential in setting up Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. We came across a statue of him nearby, and on the plinth there is a quote:
“Around my native town of Dunbar, I loved to
wander in the fields to hear the birds sing
and along the seashore to gaze and wonder at
the shells and seaweeds, eels and crabs in
the pools among the rocks when the tide was low;
and best of all to watch the waves in awful storms
thundering on the black headlands and craggy
ruins of the old Dunbar Castle when the sea and
the sky, the waves and the clouds
were mingled together as one.”
He was a man of my own heart! I can relate to all of that, and the coast around Dunbar must have been his inspiration for the fantastic conservation work he did, against much opposition, to preserve natural America in those early days.
We came to the harbour. Inserted in a large decorated stone were a barometer and thermometer with an explanation of the weather patterns to expect if the barometer rises or falls. Above the barometer was a plaque which read:
and the date at the top was in Roman numerals which read: MDCCCLVI which I think is 1856. Not much prosperity these days in the fishing industry, though there were a few fishing boats in the harbour alongside the pleasure craft.
We explored the eastern wall of the harbour, then returned to the town where we had to skirt some buildings before we could explore the western part. Colin suggested we divert a few yards up the road to the pub which he had been dying to visit all day. I was pretty fed up too, so I declared today’s Walk over!
That ended Walk no.152, we shall pick up Walk no.153 next time at Dunbar Harbour. It was half past six, so the Walk had taken us nearly eight hours — far too long! We repaired to the pub where not only was the real ale delicious, but the locals were very friendly. It is so nice to walk into a pub as a stranger and the locals start talking to you. It is something we never experience in the South. One man, in particular, was very interested in our Round-Britain-Walk and impressed with our achievement so far. We then went back to the car which was parked just a few streets away, and downed a cup of much-needed tea each.
We didn’t have to worry about needing the loo because, in that car park, was the cleanest public conveniences we have ever used in our lives — you could have eaten your dinner off the floor! Everything was shining, smelt fresh, was in full working order and there were flowers everywhere. That morning we had both sought out the attendant separately and congratulated her, we were so impressed. On a high, we drove back to our cottage in Grantshouse.

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