Thursday, April 26, 2007

Walk 157 -- Musselburgh, via Port Leith, to Cramond

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 353 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 130 days.
Weather: Sunny and warm with a refreshing breeze—a beautiful day, ideal for walking!
Location: Musselburgh, via Port Leith (Edinburgh’s port), to Cramond.
Distance: 12 miles.
Total distance: 1303 miles.
Terrain: Nearly all concrete. Flat.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.82, Water of Leith at North Leith. No.83, the Almond at Cramond.
Ferries: No.13 across the Almond at Cramond — except that it closed in 2001 and there are no plans to reopen it!
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘Old Dock Bar’ in Port Leith where we drank Hill Island Peninsula Porter and I had some more Bajithka because I liked it so much. ‘Starbank Inn’ at Newhaven where we drank Stewart no.3 Sinclair Equinox (nice!) and Bellhaven Sandy Hunter.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage at Grantshouse. With one bike on the back of the car, we drove to Musselburgh where Colin dropped me off. I spent a pleasant hour and a half wandering around this pleasant town, especially in the gardens by the river. Meanwhile Colin drove to Cramond where he parked the car and cycled all the way back through Port Leith. It was only when we met up again in Musselburgh that he realised he had left the bike lock key in the cottage at Grantshouse, nearly forty miles away! So he padlocked his bike to a post, and we had to leave it there overnight hoping it would be all right.
At the end we walked part way down the ferry steps and looked forlornly at the other bank of the river so near yet so far! We went to the car which was parked nearby, had a cup of tea from the flask, then drove back to the cottage.

Our cottage at Grantshouse is now about fifty miles from where Colin had to leave the car at the end of today’s Walk — at Cramond — so we thought that to succeed in getting the Walk set up by 11.15 was pretty good. Also, Colin could be forgiven for forgetting his bike key, and fortunately he had the open padlock so he was able to lock his bike securely to a post in Musselburgh when he arrived. There was no way he could return with the key to unlock it this evening after the Walk, so we just had to hope it would be okay overnight. It is an old bike, insignificant and nothing special, so I was confident it would still be there in the morning. Colin wasn’t so sure.
I had just spent a pleasant hour and a half admiring the gardens alongside the river in Musselburgh. Swans were feeding by the weir, I suppose that’s where there is most food in the fast-moving water. We walked along the west bank until we reached the sea where we were plagued with sand flies — most unpleasant. By the time we reached the pretty little harbour at Fisherrow we were out of them. So we sat in the sun by the harbour to eat our “bridies” (Scottish word for pasties, apparently) which I had bought in Musselburgh a couple of hours earlier. We used the toilets there which were pristine as usual — a standard we have come to expect in this part of Scotland.
While we were sitting there admiring the scenery and thinking how lucky we were to have the health and strength to do all this walking, some people sauntered along pushing a young man who was heavily strapped in a wheelchair. His head was lolling, his arms were flailing about in all directions and every so often he let out a loud wail. It made us think again about the ethics of constantly resuscitating badly brain-damaged babies, keeping them alive at all costs. If such a scene as this is all the quality of life they have to look forward to, why? They suffer dreadful frustrations themselves in their twilight world. They are a terrible burden to their families, siblings as well as parents, and their care often causes huge rifts. Surely it is better, in many cases, to allow the infant to die with dignity and the parents to grieve in the natural way? I don’t know how I would have coped if any of my children had been afflicted in this way, but I don’t think I would have had the courage to carry on. I think I would have preferred a dignified natural death at the outset.
With these sobering thoughts, we continued. The prom came to a dead end in a children’s playground, so we went down on to the beach for a bit. Then we climbed over a wall into some gardens, but eventually had to retreat to the road. We were passed by a long-haired girl in a sporty car — the car was shocking pink in colour and so was her hair! She looked terrific, but unfortunately I couldn’t get my camera out quickly enough to take a shot.
Soon we came to Portobello which we really liked. It has a super beach, and the sand was being ‘groomed’ as we passed. It was ‘Arty’, but in a jolly kind of way. It wasn’t off-putting (vaguely threatening?) in the way that we experienced in Prestonpans a couple of days ago. A gravelled area had some Grecian columns which were highly decorated. There were gaudy murals of underwater scenes in a children’s playground. And inlaid pictures on the prom. We sat on a bench to eat our sandwiches, and decided we really liked this place.We eventually came to the end of the prom where we found our way blocked by some car showrooms. We had to go behind them, and found ourselves back on the road. Looking south across the road, we noted ‘Arthur’s Seat’ rising craggily from the centre of Edinburgh less than a mile away. It was while walking this road along its narrow pavement with tall buildings between us and the sea that I got s**t on by a seagull!! The ultimate insult, but it’s supposed to be lucky, isn’t it? It missed Colin by a whisker but I got it full head! He thought it was hilarious, but I didn’t think it was quite so funny. Now if it had been the other way round….
The road crossed a railway, but there was a path down behind the track so we didn’t have to cross it there. We next passed the sewage works where the pump failed last week sending thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the Firth of Forth. We hear a different story every time we listen to the News — people trying to cover their backs, but it is the usual tale of slack leadership, lack of communication between departments, and simply people not doing their jobs properly. There was even one myth put about that it was a cunning plot by Sassenachs from the south of England (where only ‘softies’ live as you well know) to poison the noble Scottish race! I can say categorically that it was nothing to do with us! The most deplorable thing about the whole affair was that the authorities didn’t say anything about it for two whole days. Only when people were asking, “What’s that smell?” did they admit there had been a leak. Even then they tried to play it down.
No smell today as we passed by. We decided not to try and go round the works on the seaward side as we classed the whole area ‘Industrial’. We crossed the railway at a level crossing and continued once more on the road — not very interesting. A notice on a wall told us that 42 Bernard Street was Leith’s oldest unaltered public house (1785), but we only found the notice, not the pub. Soon we turned into the dock, and found the pub where we’d had an indifferent lunch the other day and I’d had a difference of opinion with the waiter about where we sat. That waiter wasn’t in evidence today (perhaps he got the sack!) and we weren’t having lunch, but at last I was able to clean my hair properly after the seagull episode. As a consolation, Colin bought me a glass of the delicious Russian lager called ‘Bajithka’—Mmmm!
Refreshed, we continued our Walk through the newly refurbished dockland area — in fact so newly refurbished it was only half finished. The heavy industry which made Port Leith the industrial heart of Edinburgh has gone away, and they are trying to turn the district into a tourist attraction. Thousands of visitors come to Edinburgh every year to see the traditional sites around the Old Town. Why not beckon them one mile northwards to see the docks which made Edinburgh what it is today? Old ugly buildings have been knocked down to be replaced by apartment blocks with waterside frontages. Old pretty buildings have had a new coat of paint to make them look quaint and even more appealing. But the star attraction is, of course, the Royal Yacht Britannia and its adjacent shopping mall — now with free parking! We crossed the river on a metal bridge, and left the dock area just beyond Britannia.
As we regained the road, we were passed by a young couple on a wider stretch of pavement. I probably wouldn’t have given them a second glance except that something must have caught my eye to make me turn round and look at them again. The young man had sunk down on the pavement and was lying on his back at full stretch. He appeared to be conscious for he put his hands over his head to shield the sunlight from his eyes. The girl with him seemed quite unconcerned, so we didn’t go over to see if he needed help. She then flopped down with her back to him, all bent over revealing a bulbous midriff and quite a bit of ‘Builder’s Bum’! She seemed to be drawing in the dust. And there they stayed — we wondered if they were on drugs, as Leith has a reputation of being the drug ‘capital’ of Scotland.
We next had to negotiate a building site which was so new they had only just levelled the area. On our map it was marked as ‘wks’ and ‘mills’, but the whole district is being redeveloped at a phenomenal rate. A huge notice announced, “Edinburgh Forthside — completing the picture”, one of those meaningless ‘clever’ phrases that probably cost the company thousands to think up. At the other side of the site we came to Newhaven Harbour, a pretty little harbour which it looks as if they are going to keep.Opposite was the pub which Colin really wanted to visit today, the Starbank Inn. The landlord was very friendly and the beer was good. I said we were as near as damn it to the 1300 mile mark, so the landlord happily took a picture of us celebrating 1300 miles of coastline between Bognor Regis and Edinburgh — and we have walked it all!The evening was setting in by then, and we still had another three miles to go. So we got a move on, passing the larger Granton Harbour next. I was trying to take a photo of the breakwater without the lowering sun flooding my camera, when a teenage girl who was sitting there at quite a distance looked up, noticed me and lifted her jumper as I pressed the shutter. It was so deliberate and just plain rude! I didn’t even look to see if she had anything on under her jumper, I immediately deleted the shot and took another one further on. The girl laughed at her boyfriend, obviously thinking she had impressed him with her behaviour. It’s no wonder young people get such a bad press, I feel sorry for the majority who are polite, helpful and impeccably behaved, but get tarred with the same brush.
We didn’t walk round Granton’s breakwaters on the grounds that they were dead ends so we didn’t have to — but really we just didn’t have the time. The other side of the harbour was another area having a major makeover. A grandiose apartment block called ‘Corinthian Quay’ was in the final stages of construction, and had show apartments ‘now open’. On the other side of the road, now hidden from the sea by these new apartment blocks, was a little defunct lighthouse. Also an old warehouse ‘To Let’ with a picture of an elephant on the doors.We reached a cycle path, and we were heartily relieved to get away from the noisy road. It was a nice wide cycle path which led through a park, it was very pleasant. We were passed by lots of cyclists and joggers in both directions, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves in the evening sun. We caught our first exciting glimpse of the Forth Bridge from this park! The Firth of Forth was getting very narrow, and we could almost work out where we would be walking on the Fife coast, hopefully on the next trip. There were pretty Spring flowers in the undergrowth, and Colin even found a rope swing overhanging the beach. It was lovely to be out of the city, we are country people at heart.Unfortunately we were only a couple of miles, as the crow flies, from Edinburgh Airport. So all this ‘country bliss’ was somewhat spoilt by the constant noise of aircraft taking off or coming in to land. Can’t have it all ways, I suppose.As we neared Cramond, we could see Cramond Island at the end of a thin concrete breakwater that covers a pipe. The island is a tiny rocky outcrop which is accessible across the beach at low tide, but cut off when the tide comes in. We decided not to go out to it. We read the notices which seemed to be plastered everywhere. Yellow ones warned us of a public health danger, “Shellfish should not be collected from the foreshore as they may be contaminated”. This was despite another notice telling us the water quality was “ GOOD. White notices informed us “The safety guidelines that were previously in place have been lifted, and it is now a safe beach as normal. It is still advised not to fish or collect shellfish until further notice”. How many livelihoods have been damaged by somebody’s blunder at the sewage works last week?
We walked along the pretty River Almond to the steps where the foot-ferry used to carry walkers across to the beach the other side — so near yet so far. We had been told yesterday that the ferry finished operating during the ‘Foot & Mouth’ epidemic of 2001. They had no customers, and by the time the crisis was over nobody was willing to reinstitute the service. We walked down the steps and pretended to take the ferry! The river is so narrow, but much too deep to wade across even at low tide.

That ended Walk no.157, we shall pick up Walk no.158 on the beach at the other side of the River Almond — though how we shall get there I don’t know. We had both enjoyed today’s Walk a lot more than we had anticipated. I wasn’t nearly so tired as I was two days ago when we walked to Musselburgh — perhaps I’m getting used to it. We walked to the car which was parked nearby, had a cup of tea from the flask, then drove fifty miles back to the cottage. I was feeling quite chirpy this evening because we are nearly there! (At the Forth Bridge, that is!) Colin’s bike remained in Musselburgh all night, chained to a post. He doesn’t think it’ll still be there in the morning, I do.

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