Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Walk 155 -- Aberlady, via Cockenzie and Prestonpans, to Musselburgh

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 351 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 128 days.
Weather: Threatening clouds, but no rain where we were — we could see it falling behind us, where we’d been!
Location: Aberlady, via Cockenzie and Prestonpans, to Musselburgh.
Distance: 11½ miles.
Total distance: 1291 miles.
Terrain: Some beach walking (wet!) and some concrete, but mostly grassy paths. Flat.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.81, the Esk at Musselburgh.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘Prestoungrange Gothenburg’ at Prestonpans where we drank Prestonpans 80/- and Gothenburg Porter. The ‘Volunteer Arms’ at Musselburgh where we imbibed Abbeydale Absolution and Grand Union Gold.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.3, Seton Collegiate Church.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.47, between Prestonpans and Musselburgh where they seemed to be moving the earth large-scale!
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage at Grantshouse. We drove to Musselburgh where we parked in a free car park by the river. We caught a bus to Aberlady and got off at the church. We walked down to the Golf Club road between two walls.
At the end we crossed the river by the first footbridge and went looking for a pub Colin particularly wanted to visit. We eventually found it, and after a drink and a rest, we went to a chippy. We followed that with a cup of tea from the flask, then drove back to the cottage.

It was eleven o’clock before we were in a position to start our Walk today, so we didn’t have time to spare for looking inside Aberlady Church. There had been an odd-looking man in a po-hat and wearing an old-fashioned canvas rucksack at the bus stop. He followed us down the path between the two walls, and then stomped past us on the Golf Club road. As he did so, he indicated the golfers on the course and said, “They don’t like us walking this bit!” He marched on before we could answer, but we did not find his remark to be true. Ever since we crossed the border into Scotland, all the golfers we have passed — and there have been many — have been very friendly and tolerant towards hikers. There was a path all round the golf course just above the beach — this path was even marked on the map!
We could see across the estuary to the bird reserve we’d had to walk round two days ago, and we could still see North Berwick Law in the distance behind us. As we walked further round the golf course we were in for a treat — for there were twenty seals lying on a sandbank a little way offshore! We watched them for a little while, then moved on and chatted to some lady golfers who were very friendly. They told us the seals are often there, sunning themselves on that sandbank.
We came to Gosford Bay, and it seemed that we would have to turn a little back on ourselves if we followed the shoreline. The tide was out and the sand looked firm, so we decided to take a short cut across the beach. Mistake! (How often have we made similar errors of judgement? — And we never learn.) The going got a bit soft, and the wet patches became larger until it was impossible to avoid them. When we found we were walking through water almost too deep for our boots, we made for shore, ducked under a pipe and clambered up on to the grass. We hadn’t cut off any distance, so it had all been a waste of time. We didn’t want to walk along the road which lined the shore for most of the rest of today’s Walk, but we didn’t have to because there was a path between the road and the beach. To our astonishment, we met up with the John Muir path again. We don’t know where it had gone since we lost it miles back around Dunbar, but here it was once more like an old friend!
We had just passed a manor house called Gosford House which looked like a fortress with a dome rising from the middle. It reminded us of a film we’d recently seen called ‘Gosforth Park’ which was about a murder which took place during a weekend party at a country manor house in the nineteen-thirties. We only went to see it because it starred a number of top-class actors. But it had so many characters we couldn’t make head nor tail of the story, and we left the cinema with our heads in a whirl none the wiser as to who had ‘dunnit’ nor why!
On the beach we could see what looked like the skeletal remains of a wooden ship buried in the sand. The path wound its way past strips of woodland and grassy dunes with flowers all the way to Seton Sands where it became a cycleway and therefore wider and more even. We had bought a huge meat pie, so we stopped in a grassy glade to attack it. It was too big to eat in one go, so we walked on a couple of miles before stopping to consume the rest.
Seton Collegiate Church
About a quarter of a mile inland from Seton Sands lies Seton Collegiate Church, which we visited on one of our ‘rest’ days to save time during the Walk. A parish church has stood here since 1242, and a local wealthy family, the Setons, rebuilt it in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1492 they established a college of priests to pray for their souls and eternal salvation. This demonstrated their social status in this world, and guaranteed them a place in the next — so they thought.
But those days were numbered. In 1544 the church was damaged by marauding English troops, and from 1560 the Mass was outlawed — the Reformation was in full swing. Briefly it once again became a parish church, but the Setons were a rich and powerful family. Soon they took it over as a private chapel for their exclusive use.
A board continued with the story: “In 1603 James VI was on his way to his coronation in London, but stopped here to attend the funeral of his friend, Robert, 6th Lord Seton.
The Setons were Jacobites, and lost their lands after the 1715 Rising. The building was looted and ceased to be a place of worship. At one point in the 19th century it was used as a carpenter’s shop. In 1878 the Earl of Wemyss, the new owner of the church, restored it as a family burial place.”
Hence it has been preserved as one of the finest surviving collegiate churches in Scotland. We enjoyed our visit to this imposing building, and also toured the gardens. It was bitterly cold inside the church, I don’t think it has ever had any heating.

Before we reached Cockenzie and Port Seton we sat on a grassy bank to eat our sandwiches. The area was once a popular holiday resort, its main attraction being a large open-air swimming pool known as ‘The Pond’. This was built by local voluntary labour and opened in 1932. It was an Olympic-size pool and had a diving area — the high-diving board being 33 feet above the water. It was enormously popular, and the swimming galas they held there attracted famous sportsmen and capacity crowds.
While we were reading the board telling us its history, a local lady with a small child (she was about to go and meet an older one from school) told us it had been a “lovely pool”. All the locals had deeply regretted its closure in 1995. “They built flats on the site,” she continued scornfully, “and now the youngsters don’t know what to do with themselves except get into trouble!” We had seen evidence of this in the dunes we had just walked through where we had come across an awful lot of broken glass.
She didn’t tell us the reason for the closure, bet it was cost or ‘health & safety’ — or both. These local authorities are so short-sighted, why don’t they weigh up the cost of vandalism and court cases against the funds they would need to set up activities that would appeal to the youth of today and keep them off the streets? Young people, especially boys, need to dare and to take calculated risks. If we didn’t take risks we’d never get out of bed (I think I’ve said this before!) The promenade looked very pretty with mosaics and inlaid pictures on a seaside theme, freshly painted railings, sculptures and ‘designer’ picnic tables. But these don’t give the youngsters something to do, a swimming and diving pool does.
Cockenzie and Port Seton (yes, it does have the double name) has two harbours. The first one we came to was almost completely full of sand and therefore not used anymore. A board told us: “The inlet on your right, known as the ‘Boat Shore’, is a perfect natural harbour. It may once have been known by the Celtic name of Cul Cionnich, ‘The Cove of Kenneth’, which is thought to be the origin of the name Cockenzie. It became the heart of the old harbour around which the fishing village grew.”
The second harbour had water and boats in it. This was built by the local fishermen between 1877 and 1880 when they realised the smaller harbour was inadequate. The history board by the harbour (it was quite comprehensive) told us about the salt industry at Cockenzie. Evaporation pools would have been useless in this area of high rainfall, so they collected seawater in hand buckets and heated it in large iron pans using coal mined locally. The ‘Salt Master’ took a fixed amount, and the surplus was sold to local fishermen who used it to preserve their catch. The industry must have been quite lucrative because a row of cottages was built to house the salt workers. The salt works continued until the 1950s.
Coal has been mined in the area since prehistoric times, but it was at the beginning of the 17th century that it became an important commodity in the salt industry — it was used to heat the evaporation pans. In 1722 a wagonway was built from Tranent to Cockenzie, it was Scotland’s first railway. Each horse was able to drag a wagon containing two tons of coal along rails from the pithead to the harbour. Mining continued, though not the wagonway unfortunately, until 1961 when the highly productive Links Pit closed to make way for the power station.
We couldn’t miss the power station, it had been a blot on the landscape from miles back. But first we passed a modern standing stone on which were proudly displayed two plaques. They each said, “Calor Scottish community of the year” across the top. One declared, “2002 Older People Winner”. The other declared, “2002 Community Life Winner”.
We found we could walk round the power station on a concrete walkway, but not on the jetty which was barred off with razor wire. The water gushing out from underneath was a horrible colour, it looked most unnatural. We thought it would be warm too — Colin regretted not having his temperature gauge with long probes on his person. There were several fishermen with rods by the outlet, so we guessed the fish must quite like the warmth.
We could clearly see Edinburgh ahead, not very far now. We could see ‘Arthur’s Seat’ rising up in the middle of the city — it is the plug of an extinct volcano, and a very distinctive feature in Scotland’s capital city.
And so we came to Prestonpans, a very odd place. We found it had a lower concrete prom, so we walked right by the rocky beach where we saw what looked like a bedstead thrown down there. Above us were sculptures which we were too tired to climb up and look at. There was plenty to look at on our level — several murals depicting the local and traditional industries of this stretch of coast. Excellent paintings, and we really liked them. But why was there a totem pole opposite the pub? What has that to do with local industries? A notice on the seawall puzzled us, it said: “Passageway across the baronial foreshore is governed by the Byrlaws available for inspection at the Prestoungrange Gothenburg” (that is the pub opposite the totem pole.)
It was a ‘real ale’ pub and in Colin’s book, so we went in. (We never asked to inspect the “Byrlaws”!) It was a weird place. Dark and gloomy, and there were a number of notices about the ‘Goths’, whatever they are. (I think our fifteen-year-old granddaughter is under the impression that she is one and that is why she likes to wear black. But I can’t keep up with these teenage fads, I don’t understand them.) We were the only customers that afternoon, and we felt most uncomfortable in there. The beer was indifferent anyway, so we left as soon as we could.
We walked along to a viewpoint where we sat and ate our chocolate, musing about why we both felt so very tired. We wondered if we were up to all this walking. The move from Bognor to Malvern has thoroughly exhausted us both, and that was only three months ago. We haven’t had time to recover, and anyway it isn’t over yet because we are still looking for our ideal house. We are living out of boxes as we’ve only partially unpacked and we know we still have a lot of anxiety to come. Although we are delighted with the move so far, we can only really relax into retirement when we are once more living in our own house.
After the viewpoint we had to divert along the road because there were very busy workings along the seafront. A lot of earth-moving seemed to be taking place behind high fences. On the opposite side of the road was an early steam engine that would have been used at the coal pit, and another mural illustrating local industry. We were soon able to turn back to the sea, but were still barred from the actual seafront by security fencing with a rough road behind it. Huge lorries and earth-moving vehicles were rushing along it at great speed, taking stuff from ‘ash pits’ to fill in a hole, so we were told. Perhaps they are going to make up the seafront into a nice prom when they have finished, but everything was a mess when we walked along.
We passed a concrete arrow laid in the grass. A plaque on a stone told us: “This concrete arrow was renovated by cadets of 297 Squadron, ATC In recognition of its original purpose of training Bomber crews by aligning their aircraft up with a target in the Firth of Forth”.
At last we turned in a smooth curve to walk alongside the River Esk into Musselburgh. I was all in — extremely tired. But the riverside is very pretty. We passed a swan proudly sitting on her nest on an island, and found some rabbits under a bush. It didn’t seem as if we were within the urban fringes of a capital city. Well done Musselburgh! We crossed the river at the first footbridge.

That ended Walk no.155, we shall pick up Walk no.157 at the footbridge over the River Esk in Musselburgh. (Walk no. 156 will be an historical tour of Edinburgh.) It was a quarter to seven, so the Walk had taken us seven and three quarter hours—much longer than I had thought. We then started to look for a pub Colin particularly wanted to visit, but we couldn’t find it. I sat down in a bus shelter and told him to go look for it himself, I’d had enough! He went right up the road and back, and was very gloomy because he couldn’t find it. Then he said, “Oh! There it is!” — we had passed it before we got to the bus shelter and it was right behind us! (‘Senior moment’, I think!) After a drink and a rest, we decided we couldn’t face the thought of a long drive back and then cooking — so we went to a chippy. Colin had soggy fish and chips, but I had a rather nice baked potato with cheese and sweetcorn in it. We both felt a lot better with full stomachs! We had a cup of tea from the flask, then drove back to the cottage.

No comments: