Sunday, April 22, 2007

Walk 154 -- North Berwick to Aberlady

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 349 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 126 days.
Weather: Dull and overcast at first, brightening later.
Location: North Berwick to Aberlady.
Distance: 10½ miles.
Total distance: 1279½ miles.
Terrain: Nearly all firm flat beach sand, a few dune paths and a little road walking.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.80, Peffer Burn at Aberlady.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.2, Dirleton Castle and Gardens.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.46, taking us round the Nature Reserve at Aberlady where there were ground-nesting birds.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage at Grantshouse. We drove to Aberlady where we parked in a street near the church. There are no public toilets in Aberlady, so I had to ask in a hotel if I could use their facilities. We caught a bus to North Berwick, but didn’t get off at the right stop and so had to walk back into town. Colin had to rush on to find the loo by this time — luckily they have them in North Berwick! We walked down to the seafront to the spot where we had finished the last Walk.
At the end we turned off the Golf Club road and up between two walls to the church. We had a cup of tea from the flask, then we drove back to the cottage.

Because of all our fussing about the loo this morning (the downside of getting older!) we didn’t get started on today’s Walk until twenty past eleven. I was stiff and achey after yesterday’s long trek, but Colin seemed to be bright and perky. While walking through North Berwick we passed a sweet shop called ‘The Sugar Mountain’ which had this poem on a board outside:
In summer when the sun is high,
And children’s lips are parched and dry,
An ice is just the thing to try.
So this young man who comes, ’tis plain,
From Saffron Hill or Leather Lane,
A store of pence will quickly gain.
“A lemon ice for me” says Fred;
Cries Sue “No, have a cream instead.”
“A raspberry!” shouts Newsboy Ned.
“What fun! Although we’re now in June,
It feels – says Ned “this afternoon,
Like eating winter with a spoon!”
Underneath the poem was a drawing of children, wearing Edwardian-style clothes, buying ice creams. I thought it was delightful!
On the harbour at North Berwick is the porch of an ancient church — the rest of it was swept away in a storm in the 17th century. A notice told us that it was ‘St Andrew’s Old Kirk’ and that this porch was used in the 19th century as a bothy for the Rocket Patrol. “The men of the volunteer Marine Rescue Service were equipped with rockets that would fire thin lines over stranded ships, so that the crew could pull thicker ropes in from shore, and escape. However the Rocket Patrol was replaced after the Bubona disaster. This vessel crashed ashore during a storm in 1859. Although four rockets were fired and landed on the ship, the crew were too exhausted to escape and drowned before the gathered townsfolk. A month later, two of the crew were found and buried in the nearby Kirkport graveyard. It was here in this porch that the lookouts would warm their hands on cold nights at the fireplace beside you as they awaited a distress signal. Nearby is a magazine building where they would store the rockets.” The only thing inside the porch today is a stonework skull and crossbones on the floor with the words “MEMENTO MORI”.
As it was low tide, the remains of the old open-air swimming pool were revealed on the beach just east of the harbour. A notice told us; “The open-air swimming pool was built in the 1840s and you can still see the old changing rooms today near the harbour. Nearby, the Saturday night dance at the Harbour Pavilion became the most popular venue in the county. Many people still remember the fun of travelling all the way to North Berwick to enjoy a day trip at what was called the ‘Biarritz of the North’.” The accompanying photograph shows the crowded swimming pool in full use as recently as the 1960s, so it claimed. On this cool and overcast April day in 2007, we couldn’t quite think that it lived up to that name for much of the year!
There is a bird observatory on the harbour with high-powered telescopes trained on the gannetry at Bass Rock. We went into the entrance, which was a shop selling bird-related tourist tat, and discovered we would have to pay to get into the observatory. We had a full Walk ahead of us, we were already running late and didn’t have time to make paying for the privilege of looking at the gannets in close-up worthwhile, so we walked out again. Outside there is a sculpture of what looks very much like penguins — a bit of a strange choice for this location? Or were they supposed to be gannets?We explored the harbour fully, it is very unusual. Steps and gangways have been built all over the jagged rocks with seats on observation platforms at the top. I was a bit wary about going down some concrete steps to a little quay because I have never forgotten that incident on Brighton Marina at the beginning of this Trek (nearly ten years ago!) and I’m terrified of green slime. Colin assured me it wasn’t slippery, but I took it very carefully. However, when we came to a metal ladder leading straight down to the beach where we wanted to go, even Colin jibbed at the idea! We went round the long way, and came across some colourful paintings/mosaics on the harbour walls.Down on the beach we found that North Berwick had some other surprises for us. A group of teenage girls were drawing portraits of each other in the sand. They were having a lot of fun, and when I looked more closely at their pictures they were really rather good. I praised the girls, and they shyly accepted my admiration of their work. Apart from the talent which was displayed there, it is such a delight to see youngsters enjoying themselves without being a noisy nuisance to passers by — and not a single swear word passed their lips, just laughter.There were houses along the top of the beach with steps leading down from their back doors. We sat on one of these steps to eat our pasties. On a garden wall were some engaging figures of Laurel & Hardy with a couple of singers. It all looked very jolly, but unfortunately they were covered in bird droppings — one of the perils of living by the sea!
Then we decided we must get a move on! Time was getting on and we hadn’t yet left North Berwick. There were few paths marked on the map and they did not all connect, but we found we could do almost the entire Walk on the beach. Luckily the tide was out which made it a lot easier. We passed an anchor displayed at the top of the beach, then walked for miles along the sands. There were several bits of rock out at sea, one with a lighthouse and some with other buildings on them. We could still see Bass Rock and North Berwick Law behind us.There were a lot of people about, but then it was a Sunday so most people had the day off. Even so, we felt that we met many more people than we would have done on an English beach at this time of year. Perhaps the Scots are more into walking than we are, and appreciate their coastline — they certainly have reason to, it is beautiful! Most people we met were very friendly. However, it was not quite all hunky-dory. We sat on a rock to eat our sandwiches, and a dog belonging to some people nearby was a bit of a nuisance. It was after the lunch that I was eating, and its owners made no effort to call it away. I got really cross with it in the end — I don’t mind dogs that are playful but this one was invading my space and I didn’t like it.We met some girls who asked us if they could get to North Berwick along the sands the way we had come. We told them ‘yes’ and that it wasn’t far. They answered, “Everyone says that! We’ve walked all the way from Dirleton!” (Dirleton was about one mile inland from where we were standing.) I nearly answered, “Well, we’ve walked all the way from Bognor Regis!” but these girls were American and I thought it would take too long to explain. Then they asked, “How will we know when we get to North Berwick, because we don’t want to walk straight past it.” We assured them there was no danger of that, they would see houses and shops, and come across a harbour barring their way. They looked at us as if they didn’t really believe what we were saying, but walked on. Like so many people, they were out walking without a map and had no idea where they were nor how far it was to anywhere. I couldn’t do that.
Dirleton Castle
We visited Dirleton castle on a different day because it is about a mile inland and we didn’t actually pass it. A board told us: “Dirleton Castle was for more than five centuries the stronghold from which a rich and fertile part of East Lothian was administered. The first landowners to establish themselves on this site were the de Vaux family, Anglo-Normans who came to Scotland in the reign of David I (1124-1153). They may have built a wooden castle, protected by a palisade and ditch, but certainly constructed a massive stone structure in the later 1200s. This consisted of a series of round towers linked by massive walls. It was like others of the period, at Bothwell and Kildrummy for example, intended to resist determined attack. The castle was in fact besieged by an invading English force in 1298, and surrendered after great wooden siege engines had been brought up to it. It was occupied by English forces until 1311, and after recapture by the forces of Robert Bruce would have been partly demolished."
A fortified manor house was built using the stones, but that was besieged by Cromwell’s troops in the 17th century and now lies in ruins. We had a wonderful afternoon exploring all the nooks and crannies of this castle, finding the garderobes, etc. It was great fun!
From the leaflets we had picked up, we had been led to believe it was more gardens than castle, but it turned out to be the other way round. We did explore the gardens too, but they were mostly 20th century — nice but not spectacular. What did interest us in the grounds was a 16th century dovecot which has been completely restored. We went inside — it is an amazing building!
Back on the coast we were really enjoying our Walk along the beach. Sometimes rocks blocked the way, so we had to scramble over them. Most people could cope, but there was one stretch where a couple turned back because the woman was afraid of slipping. I really felt for her, but we couldn’t afford to turn back as our car was parked several miles ahead. I managed to get over with Colin’s help — he now understands the problems I face because I do not have binocular vision. It is depths at short distances from my body that I find most difficult to assess, so walking over uneven rocks that are only a leg-length away is a nightmare, especially in ‘flat’ light. No wonder I used to trip over so often as a child! I didn’t understand it then, and was classed as ‘clumsy’ and ‘hopeless’. I don’t think the opticians, my teachers or even my parents understood it either — nowadays I would be classed as a child with ‘special needs’. But I got through, it probably did me good to have to cope on my own.
Occasionally there was an undulating path along the bottom of the dunes which got us past rocky outcrops. On one of these we passed a concrete lookout post left over from the Second World War — at least that’s what we thought it must be, it looked as if it had a huge bay window. We sat on a rock nearby to eat our apples. The rocks we passed were fascinating, we both wished we could have done this Walk with a Geologist so he or she could have explained them all. Hang on, I am a Geologist — but I’m afraid my knowledge has gone very rusty after nearly twenty years. Colin’s contribution was to describe a tiny waterfall bringing water out of the dunes as “pathetic”!As we walked, there were less and less people. But when we rounded a headland and came to Gullane Bay there were a lot more because there is a car park behind the dunes. We were amused to see, amongst the many footprints on the sand, a trail of marks left by a pair of stiletto heeled winkle-pickers! At every step that woman (we assumed it was a woman!) must have sunk several inches into the sand. We followed these prints for over a mile along the beach. We were giggling by the end — wish we’d seen her struggling.
A path took us past Hummell Rocks and Gullane Point on the grass. We had put the map away by then, and hadn’t realised it was a ‘double’. We thought we’d never get round the corner to see Aberlady in the distance (we were getting very tired and my legs were aching) but at last we did. It still seemed a very long way away! We scrambled down over the rocks and sat on a piece of wood to eat our chocolate. Then we walked the length of this beautiful sandy beach.At the end we started to walk out into the estuary. We could see Aberlady across the other side, dead opposite, and it looked as if we could walk across the lovely firm sand straight to it. But where was the river? I got out the map, and found the river channel was right over the other side hugging the coast by the little town. We couldn’t even see it from where we were and we had no idea how deep it was. Besides, with my aching legs I had no desire to wade across a freezing river today! So we decided to turn back and follow one of the paths marked as going across the dunes towards a footbridge.
We got a certain way along, and then came to a rope across the path and a notice about ground-nesting birds. Since it was the height of the nesting season we felt we couldn’t ignore it even though we were extremely tired by then, but the diversion took us a very long way round. It seemed that we were walking forever in the wrong direction, and I wasn’t at all happy because my legs had been aching something cruel for the past few hours. I began to wonder if I am really fit enough for all this walking. We did eventually come to the wooden footbridge across the river.
We then had a quarter of a mile to trek alongside a main road, then we cut across the village green to the Golf Club road. Halfway across the green I turned round to have a look at my surroundings, because when I am tired I forget to do this. I tend to look at my feet and just concentrate on getting there. Behind us was a church which had been converted into a house. Perfectly framed in an upstairs ornate window was a young boy with his back to the glorious scene of sea and sky outside. He was staring intently at his computer screen — such is the way of the modern child! Perhaps I have misjudged him, for I watched him for less than a minute — but I felt a wave of sadness for all modern children who live in a virtual world of computer games. So many are oblivious to the wonderful real world which surrounds them.
We walked along the Golf Club road next to the sea until it connected with a footpath leading down from Aberlady church.

That ended Walk no.154, we shall pick up Walk no.155 next time on the Golf Club road in Aberlady. We walked between two walls up to the church where our car was parked. My legs were still aching, and even Colin was too tired for the pub — we were really feeling our age! So we had our tea from the flask, then drove straight back to our cottage in Grantshouse.

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