Saturday, April 21, 2007

Walk 153 -- Dunbar to North Berwick

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 348 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 125 days.
Weather: Very overcast at first, and enough rain to cause a nuisance. Then it lightened up but remained cloudy. Not nearly so cold.
Location: Dunbar to North Berwick.
Distance: 13 miles.
Total distance: 1269 miles.
Terrain: Mostly firm sandy beaches, but some concrete, woodland and grassy paths. Flat. We waded across an estuary where there were quicksands!
Tide: Out, coming in.
Rivers: No.77, Biel Water. No. 78, the River Tyne (which we waded across!) No.79, Peffer Burn.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Ship’ in North Berwick where we sent back Kelburn Goldihops because it was off — it tasted horrible! We had Deuchar’s IPA instead.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.1, Tantallon Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage at Grantshouse. We drove to North Berwick where we parked in a free car park. We caught a bus to Dunbar and walked down to the pub where we finished the last Walk.
At the end we turned off the sea front and walked through some streets to the car. We dumped our rucksacks and went over the road to the pub. Back at the car we had a cup of tea from the flask, then we drove back to the cottage.

We started today’s Walk at the harbour in Dunbar where we left it at the end of the last Walk. Colin fancied a “quick ’arf” at the ‘Volunteer Arms’ where we had so enjoyed the beer two days ago, but it was only eleven o’clock and the pub didn’t open until noon so he was disappointed. Instead we looked at a board which displayed a painting of CATS ROW, a tenement block which was demolished in 1935 and replaced by houses.We moved on round the harbour to the ruins of Dunbar Castle. The sea has taken most of it over time, but kittiwakes now make full use of what is left. The noise was phenomenal! It is, of course, the laying season.We came across two other items of interest before we left the harbour area. There was a ship’s propeller on display, and a nearby board explained why. In 1803 a boy called Robert Wilson was born in Dunbar. As a child he was fascinated by the paddle wheels used to propel boats making them move faster than when oars were used. They worked fine when the water was smooth, but he noted that they were not so efficient in rough water. After watching the blades of a windmill turning he began to experiment with model boats — designing blades with a variety of area and pitch until he found a much more efficient screw propeller. Like many inventors, he had great difficulty in getting his ideas accepted by the Admiralty and was often in debt. He was in his seventies before they eventually came round to acknowledging his genius in designing the first screw propeller.
I was interested in this story because of my father’s work. When my Dad first joined the RAE (Royal Aircraft Establishment) in Farnborough as a newly qualified engineer in 1930, he was set to work on propellers and airscrews. He continued this work on refining the design of propellers for use in aircraft until jets came in towards the end of the Second World War.
The other item of interest was a couple of boards telling us about an open air seawater swimming pool that used to be near the castle. It started to rain while we were reading about it, so we stood under Colin’s umbrella to look at the old photographs displayed there. We were told: “…When sea-bathing became popular in the 19th century, this area was designated the “ladies’ bathe”. It had a changing pavilion and there were rules to protect privacy… In the 1920s, the area was walled off to create a huge outdoor pool for both sexes, with a boating pool beside. The pool held 500,000 gallons of seawater. The photographs show just how popular it was for the thousands of holidaymakers who flocked to “Sunny Dunny” each Summer. The pool remained in use up to the 1980s, and was dismantled when the new leisure pool was built…”
Not much sign of “Sunny Dunny” today with the rain pouring down. We donned our overtrousers, etc, and continued round all the little headlands alongside yet another golf course and discovered we were still on the ‘John Muir Trail’. Eventually we found a seat in a kind of shelter set in a wall where we were partly out of the rain. It was a bit smelly in there, so we ate our pies quickly — and then it stopped raining. We pressed on past a picnic area and a campsite.
Soon we came to a wide sandy bay with a river running through it. The tide was right out at this stage, and we were tempted to wade across the river to save us about half a mile of walking. We walked over the sand, but as we got near to the river we realised that it was too deep. So we walked up-river a little way until we came to a wooden footbridge which seemed to be isolated on the sand. Even this bridge is inaccessible for one hour each side of high tide (so a notice told us) but that was no problem at the time we were there.We crossed the river with dry feet, and struck out across the wide expanse of sand. It was difficult to see exactly what we should have been heading for, so we followed the footprints of a party of people who had recently walked the other way. After jumping across a couple of narrow rivulets, we came to the ‘John Muir’ path again where there was a car park, toilet block, information boards and a wavy seat! There the ‘John Muir Trail was signposted inland, so we diverted from it and never saw it again! We don’t know where it went.
We removed our overtrousers, etc, as the weather seemed to be brightening up, and we didn’t need them any more that day. We took a pleasant path alongside some woods at the top of the beach, and after about a mile we came to the estuary of the River Tyne. The tide was way out by then and the river looked like a tiny stream wiggling across the middle. We both asked, “Can we wade across this one?” That would save us at least three miles! So we walked out close to the river to have a look.
The first place we looked at was a no-go because there were too many mussels in the sand. They would be quite painful to walk over in bare feet. We moved along to a sandier place, but we could see it was too deep at that spot. We reminded each other of when we waded across a river in northern Iceland back in 1991 (was it really that long ago?) We had laughed at some girls in our group who had got their knickers wet, whereas we had chosen to cross nearer the sea where there was a little bit of a sand bar. The water had been barely above our knees and we crossed with dry nether-garments.
So we moved along nearer the sea and sure enough, the water looked as if it was shallower there. Colin removed his boots and socks, and rolled up his trouserlegs. Tentatively he stepped into the river (Brrrr!!) and waded across — the water didn’t even reach his knees. We were delighted! He dumped his bag and came back across. I removed my boots and socks, and rolled up my trouserlegs. Then I stepped into the water — it was freezing! Colin walked just ahead of me carrying both pairs of boots so I could concentrate on not falling over.It was slightly slippery in places, and I was mightily glad to get to the other side. We walked to a sand spit in bare feet because the sand/mud we were walking over was still very wet. In fact it was quicksands in places, but not the quicksands of cartoon films or comics which suck you down in seconds (do they really exist?) If we stood still our feet began to sink, but it took several minutes to suck us in ankle deep. We did it for fun, but were careful to stand within reach of each other and only to let one foot sink at a time. It was a weird sensation.
On reaching the spit where the sand was solid, no longer wet and there was some grass, we sat on a bank to dry our feet by waving them in the air (we hadn’t brought any towels). We ate our lunch, then finished off the drying process with gloves. It was lovely to get boots back on our cold feet! Then we walked the length of the spit — along the top of the sand though there was a grassy glade in the middle. As we neared the end a little family emerged from the woods with buckets and spades to play on the beach.There was a pleasant path leading along the shore just inside the woods so we had glorious views of the beach through the trees. We came to a little headland, called St Baldred’s Cradle according to the map, which we walked round and then down on to a long sandy beach. It is so wonderful to walk on firm sand with dunes to one side of us and waves to the other. There was a definite lightness in our steps! We could see Bass Rock in the distance. Near the end of the beach we stopped to eat our apples, then paddled across another burn. This was so shallow we didn’t have to take our boots off this time!By then the tide was coming in fast. We ran out of sand, rocks are too complex to walk over, so we reluctantly exited the beach by some cottages. For a while we walked along a concrete road, then round the edges of a field. This was not so good. As we approached a high wall which loomed ahead of us, we climbed over a low fence to our right in order to look for any vestige of a path on the clifftop. It was thigh-deep in ivy, but someone had recently tried to cut a path through it — and that path led round the end of the wall. Bass Rock was looking nearer.
On the other side of the wall was a post with steps cut into it. We didn’t know what it was for, but Colin climbed it because it was there. (I always said he was up the pole!) There was also a steep dry valley with a track leading down it to a gate. This led us back on to the beach, but we were able to stay on a grassy bank just above the rocks until the beach turned sandy.We had even better views of Bass Rock from there, and also of the silhouette of Tantallon Castle on the headland ahead. It was good to be back on the beach. There were a group of surfers paddling out on their little surf-canoes as we passed, so we stopped and watched them for a while. Colin used to go surfing like that for many years off the coast at Felpham with his good friend John. Sadly John succumbed to bowel cancer eighteen months ago, despite leading a healthy outdoor life. At sixty, he was younger than both of us. He is sadly missed, and Colin was a bit wistful and melancholy.
We sat on the beach eating our chocolate, but all the while there was a vague smell of sewage. We thought there must be an outfall pipe somewhere, but we couldn’t really work out where it was coming from. We passed a cave, named St Baldred’s Cave according to the map. (This St Baldred seems to get everywhere, yet we’d never heard of him — or her — before today!) There was no way we could continue along the beach after the cave because the sea came up to the bottom of the cliffs. So we went up a track — got a bit lost as it went round in a circle in the woods as a kind of one-way system for cars — and passed a barrier asking us for £2! We assumed this was just for cars, and anyway there was no one about to collect the money. A man walking down the track asked us if we knew the way to the ‘sea-cliff’. We could only point back the way we had come. Very reluctantly we walked out to the main road, there was simply no other way we could get to North Berwick. Whatever happened to that ‘John Muir Trail’?
Tantallon Castle
We visited Tantallon Castle on a different day to save time on the Walk. Good thing, as it was closed by the time we walked past it on the actual Walk. As we have been members of ‘English Heritage’ for over a year (about fifteen years in actual fact) we have free entrance to all ‘Historic Scotland’ properties as well. Tantallon Castle was the first of many.
Tantallon Castle was built about 1350 as a fortress/residence for the Douglas family — the ‘Red Douglases’ as they were known. A board told us: “The Douglases, modest landowners before the Wars of Independence with England in the fourteenth century, emerged as a significant force thereafter through their close association with Robert the Bruce. Tantallon was built to demonstrate to all who passed by their new-found wealth and prestige.”
Another board told us there was always “large tabling and belly cheer” at the castle! Not all their guests appreciated the lavish hospitality, however. One guest was reported as saying “Musick they have, but not the harmony of the sphears, but loud terrene noises, like the bellowing of beasts” (Could they have been describing modern pop music?) Also we were told “The loud bagpipe is their chief delight”As we approached the castle we didn’t think there was much of the ruin left. But once we got inside we realised there was a lot more to it and we found it a very interesting place to explore. We both love ruined castles, far more interesting than mansion houses or Art galleries! I think it is the steeply twisting spiral staircases leading to nether rooms that appeals to us — and the inevitable dungeons, of course. Throw in an oubliette, and we’re sold!
Bass Rock
We had our best views of Bass Rock from Tantallon Castle. The day we visited the castle it was exceptionally clear, and we were able to observe it through our binoculars and telescope. Bass Rock is one of many lumps of basalt left behind in the Firth of Forth. A board told us that St Baldred, founder of Tyninghame Priory, (Ah! That’s who he is!) once used Bass Rock as a refuge and returned at a later date to live there as a hermit. (MAD, these monks!)
In later centuries a castle was built on the rock which was used as both a garrison and a prison. In the 16th century, over a hundred soldiers defended the Rock against the English. No supplies were ferried to them from the mainland, so they had to eat the fish which the gannets brought and keep warm by burning the gannets’ nest material. Getting to the rock was described thus: “Those that enter it must climb up by the help of a strong cable thrown down for the purpose; and when they have got with much ado to the foot of the wall of the castle they sit in a wide basket and in this posture are mounted up, there is no other way.”
A lighthouse was built on the Rock in the 19th century. But today only the gannets live there, 150,000 of them! It is the largest single rock gannetry in the world. The rock appears white with their guano, and actually looks quite pleasant in the sun. But the smell must be awful — apparently their droppings give off 152,000 kg of ammonia every year! Sir David Attenborough has described Bass Rock as “one of the wildlife wonders of the world”.We walked past the castle, and then the inevitable golf course. In the distance we could see another lump of rock which sticks up incongruously from the flat landscape behind the town of North Berwick. Geologically it is the same as Bass Rock, a piece of basalt left behind from some volcanic event millions of years ago. It could have been the ‘plug’ of a volcanic cone.
When we reached a caravan site, we were able to go down through this and eventually reach the beach once again. There were some girls playing organised games on the beach and really enjoying themselves like children used to before computers and mobile phones. We thought they were Girl Guides — well done the Guide Movement! We walked into North Berwick and turned off the sea front near the car park where we had left our car this morning.
That ended Walk no.153, we shall pick up Walk no.154 next time on the sea front near North Berwick Harbour. It was twenty past seven, so the Walk had taken us more than eight hours — no wonder we were tired! We dumped our rucksacks in the car and went to the pub. But the beer we ordered tasted dreadful because it was off and we had to return it — we were not happy. Back at the car we had some tea, then drove back to our cottage — a bit crummy this one — in Grantshouse. Colin watched a mouse walk across the living room floor the other night, so our landlady has left us a mousetrap!
The next morning we were listening to the national news on the radio. We heard that the authorities have admitted there is a faulty pump at Edinburgh’s main sewage works, and thousands of gallons of sewage per second have been pumped into the Firth of Forth since Friday. Thanks for taking two whole days to tell us! No wonder we could smell sewage on that beach yesterday — what about those poor surfers? I’m sure they would never have gone into that sea if they’d known.

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