An account of the third and final part of the circular tour of Leith in which I led ten others in celebration of the Terminalia Psychogeography Festival (23rd Feb, annually). Happily coinciding with the Women Who Walk Network and Audacious Women Festival (AWF)
In Walking Between Worlds – 2, we had got as far as the North Leith Burial Ground. So, I pick up the account there.
Along the road and down to the right beside Coburg House artists studios (well worth a visit) is the gloriously orange, former St Ninian’s Chapel (you can see St N (360 – 432 AD) carved onto the doors of fellow Saint, Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. Ninian represents the Picts). A 15th century bridge chapel, it is part of the complicated history of North Leith Parish Church which can be found on Wikipedia to get you started.
As we crossed Sandport Bridge, I drew attention to Broad Wynd on the left, where the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society hospital and clinic were first situated (of which, more later).
Along Tolbooth Wynd we wandered, and on to Queen Charlotte Street, named after the Queen of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). She is remembered in Queens Square, Bloomsbury, London with a statue (see above). The Leith stories were starting to fit into themes: Charlotte was an immigrant and did not support slavery. Also a botanist, she founded Kew Gardens, was married to King George III, had fifteen (that’s 15) children and was, famously, painted by Allan Ramsey and is owned by the Scottish National Galleries (also an anti-slavery campaigner) in 1762 when she was aged 17 years. Recent articles have posed the question, is she of African origin?
At the Hideout Cafe (where I had a delicious and expensive hot chocolate on a previous occassion), we turned onto Constitution Street which is currently shut to traffic on account of the endless and frustrating tram works, but is therefore blessedly quiet to walk along. We continued on, past St Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic church, to the South Leith Parish Church and its graveyard.
St Mary’s Star of the Sea is the home of the missionary oblates
Hail, Queen of Heav'n, the ocean Star,
Guide of the wand'rer here below!
Thrown on life's surge we claim thy care,
Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea,
Pray for the wanderer, pray for me
Based on the anonymous Latin hymn, Ave Maris Stella
I spent some time researching the women in this kirkyard, trying to find out their stories, but to almost no avail. I focused on another Charlotte, Charlotte Lindesay (1780-1857 aged 77), and discovered that she was one of a brood of six from Feddinch in Fife, and that her parents were William Lindesay and Elizabeth Balfour. In 1805, she married her cousin, Patrick who was very active in the community. Amongst other things, he was the president of the Leith Dispensary and Humane Society (see above) which was formed 1825 on Maritime Street, later to become Leith Hospital on Mill Lane, and bringing healthcare (via a clinic and hospital both initially in Broad Wynd) to the poor. I like to imagine Charlotte accompanying him, or even visiting the needy with a basket over her arm as portrayed in countless Jane Austen films, but I am woefully ill informed about her particulars.
Some of my information was gleaned from ‘The Jacobite Grenadier’ by Gavin Wood.
(Incidentally, the Leith King James Hospital was demolished in 1822, and part of the wall can still be seen today, forming the boundary between the Kirkgate and the South Leith Kirkyard).
Some other women associated with this church
Mary of Guise (also called Mary of Lorraine), ruled Scotland as regent from 1554 until her death in 1560. A noblewoman from the Lotharingian House of Guise, which played a prominent role in 16th-century French politics, Mary became queen consort upon her marriage to King James V of Scotland in 1538. (Wikipedia). She worshipped at this church in 1559 and her coat of arms is displayed in the entrance today. Mary had fortified the town and she was in Leith being guarded by the thousands of French troops stationed there at the time.
There is also an altar dedicated to St Barbara who had a very sad and sorry life – wanting to dedicate herself to Christ instead of marrying the man her father wanted her to (Dioscorus 7th century), she was tortured and her head was chopped off by said dad. He got his comeuppance, apparently, being struck by lightening and reduced to ashes. She is, therefore, invoked in thunderstorms and is also the patroness of miners, although I am no sure why. (From the Britannica and Archdiocese of St Andrews on facebook).
When excavating for the trams, they found mass graves. There were 50 per cent more bodies of women than men, and everyone was smaller and showed signs of malnourishment compared to the national average. An exhibition and book were made and it was posited that it had something to do with the plague and/or that they were from the workhouse.
As a way of paying respect to the women whose names I discovered here, I read out a list of them, together with their relationships, but omitted the names of their male relatives. I was attempting to recognise how many there were who we know so little about, and the manner in which they were remembered.
I have used the original spelling from the graves. They are referred to by their maiden names.
- Elizabeth P. K. Smith Known as Betty by her friends
- Helen their daughter whose dust reposes in the Church-yard of Thurso in Caithness being there suddenly cut off in the flower of her age
- Elizabeth Maxwell, Maiden Lady Daughter of…who liv’d much esteem’d and Died regrated by all who had the Pleasure of her Aquaintance
- Mary Jackson his Spoufe who departed this Life…much and juftly regrated, being poffeffed of the moft amiable accomplifhments…also near this lyes three of her Children who all dyed before herfelf
- Ann McRuear Relick of…
- Barbara Adamson, Spouse of…
- In memory of his grandmother Mrs Ann Kerr… aged 76 years, His aunt Jean Tait.. aged 40 years, His mother Robina Tait… aged 44 years, His niece Jane Briggs Dickson …aged 33 months
- Here lyth Jeane Bartleman Spouse to…
- Sacred to the memory of Jessie Blacke..Beloved Wife of…Also of her infant baby…aged one month
- Juliana Walker Wife of …. Janet Scott their third daughter of…
- Catherine Stewart Rennie (wee Kitty daughter…)
- Mary Finlay or Best …. And of her Grandchild Margaret Dick who after a few days illness … aged 18 years Let the Young Reflect on the Uncertainty of Human Life…
Once in Robbies bar on the corner of Iona Street and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start, I summed up the walk: It had taken us approximately 2.5 hours and we mused and meditated on boundaries and borders – between one community of people and another, day and night, on the cusp of the new moon; on women’s stories and how they are so often seen through the lens of their menfolk and are hard to celebrate in their own right; of the hardship of life in centuries gone by; and death, its symbols and community rituals.
I explained that I hoped to make a map which somehow denotes and represents this event, that will contain some of its psychogeography: Wikipedia quotes Guy Debord on this: psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” I think of it as a map with humanity, not simply measurements and precise locations, but including feelings, activities and conversational responses as well.
I would like to thank everyone who came along with me. If you have information about these women, have walked a similar walk, or would like to share anything about these subjects, please do so in the comments box below.
For a lovely blog on Warriston Cemetery, see Edinburgh Drift
An account of the second part of the circular tour of Leith in which I led ten others in celebration of the Terminalia Psychogeography Festival (23rd Feb, annually). Happily coinciding with the Women Who Walk Network and Audacious Women Festival (AWF)
Focus on women
I chose to focus on women’s stories during this walk, because, as a woman and a feminist, it is necessary to know about who came before me, I need to know my backstory. I find that it helps me sense my place in the continuum of the generations. There were also women’s events taking place in the city that weekend, under the banner ‘Do What You Always Wish You Dared’. I was involved in the 2019 Audacious Women Festival, sitting on a panel which looked at women who travel and move to different countries: how we support ourselves, make friends, manage the language difficulties and so on. That women-only event engendered a lively discussion with the audience, women of all ages sharing their emmigrent and immigrent experiences. This guided walk was open to men and women, children and dogs, and it was something I was daring to do for the first time!
After leaving the Rosebank Cemetery, we crossed Bonnington Road, a toll road at the end of the 18th century. We entered into what would have been Bonnytoun (pretty village in Scots), encompassing mills and land which was part of the Barony of Broughton (mentioned in a Royal Charter 1143). Flanking both sides of the road are modern estates as well as the much older red stone, Burns Tenements (on the right) which used to be the tannery. Incidentally, we were going to be seeing the graves of leather workers with their pincer tongs and other tools adorning them in the North Leith Burial Ground, further along the way. Using the power of the Water of Leith, there was a conglomeration of businesses in the area and there is one existing mill wheel in the mill lade at Bonnyhaugh Cottages (on the left).
Second on the right is Elizafield, named after Eliza, a native of Leith, and the woman who bore Dr. Robert Grant. I have not been able to find out anything about her and her life – her story has disappeared, perhaps deemed less important than his, despite the fact that he would not exist if it weren’t for her, not least because birthing was such a dangerous task in the 1780’s. Grant was a surgeon and left Leith in his twenties to settle, very successfully, in South Carolina (US) marrying Sarah Foxworth. The rice plantation he established in Georgia (US) was also named Elizafield, and, as was the way then, it only drew the produce and profits it did, due to the female and male slaves who carried out the work: they were, ‘the driving force behind the success of the plantation’. (Amy Hedrick, author on glynngen.com)
Historically it [birth] was thoroughly natural, wholly unmedical, and gravely dangerous. Only from the early eighteenth century did doctors begin getting seriously involved, with obstetrics becoming a medically respectable specialty and a rash of new hospitals being built. Unfortunately, the impact of both was bad. Puerperal, or childbed, fever was a mystery, but both doctors and hospitals made it worse. Wherever the medical men went the disease grew more common, and in their hospitals it was commonest of all.Druin Burch (2009) https://www.livescience.com/3210-childbirth-natural-deadly.html
We turned our backs on Elizafield to view Flaxmill Place. Flax was used to make linen, most of which was exported. It was so successful (employing 10 – 12000 workers, many of whom would have been women although the data is unavailable), that we know the Mills were able to loan Edinburgh Council a great deal of money. The Bonnington Mills, on the banks of the Water of Leith, made woollen cloth as well as linen and much of the wool was produced by women in their own homes nearby. The owners were always aiming to improve profits and cut corners, which resulted in the controversial introduction of Flemish and French workers (accommodated at Little Picardy(ie), the current Picardy Place). The women and girls spun the cambric yarn (for the close-woven, light type of linen), to try and improve the quality of the cloth, but this took away the local jobs (sound familiar?)
In 1686, the first Parliament of James VII passed an ‘Act for Burying in Scots Linen’, the object of which was to keep the cloth in the country. It was enacted that, “hereafter no corpse of any persons whatsoever shall be buried in any shirt, sheet, or anything else except in plain linen, or cloth of hards, made and spun within the kingdom, without lace or point.” Heavy penalties were attached to breaches of the Act, and it was made the duty of the parish minister to receive and record certificates of the fact that all bodies were buried as directed. On hearing this, we can imagine that the women in the graves we were visiting may have been bound in just such a linen shroud, made right in this place.
Before the Industrial Revolution, hand spinning had been a widespread female employment. It could take as many as ten spinners to provide one hand-loom weaver with yarn, and men did not spin, so most of the workers in the textile industry were women. The new textile machines of the Industrial Revolution changed that. Wages for hand-spinning fell, and many rural women who had previously spun found themselves unemployed. In a few locations, new cottage industries such as straw-plaiting and lace-making grew and took the place of spinning, but in other locations women remained unemployed.
Joyce Burnett (2008) This webpage has some fascinating pictures of women spinning at home and in the factory
A little further up the road was the original site of the Chancellot Mill (now on Lindsay Place) and this was where corn was ground into flour (perhaps the reason for those corn cobs on the Persevere flag?) It was steam powered and had an 185 foot high clock tower. Producing 43 sacks an hour (twice the original prediction), it was described as ‘the most handsome flour mill in the world’!
They were growing cannabis in the basement of The Bonnington and it spontaneously combusted in the middle of the night, causing the whole building to burn down. True or false?
Water of Leith
I invited the group to look into the water and think of the phrase ‘time immemorial’. Legally, this refers to the years before 1189, being the date set in 1275 as the time before which no one could remember, and therefore no legal cases could deal with events before that date. ‘Time out of mind,’ recorded from the fifteenth century, is just the plain English version of the same thing.
My information came from here: https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/21/messages/258.html and http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-tim1.htm
As we crossed Anderson Place, I read out a quote from the Tao Te Ching: The Master gives herself up to whatever the moment brings. She knows that she is going to die, and she has nothing left to hold on to: no illusions in her mind, no resistances in her body. She doesn’t think about her actions; they flow from the core of her being. She holds nothing back from life; therefore she is ready for death, as a woman is ready for sleep after a good day’s work. (50)
North Leith Burial Ground
After rounding the corner of the Water of Leith and meeting the confluence of the wonderful network of Edinburgh cycle paths, we mounted the steps onto Coburg Street where the North Leith Burial Ground is situated. According to The Spirit of Leithers (a Facebook Group) it is ‘The dead centre of Leith’!
The memorial stones are old (1664 – 1820) and varied: grand mausoleums, individual slabs – some half buried and unintelligible, and almost all with engravings worth seeing. This was a good time for a ‘treasure hunt’: to search for the grave of Lady Mackintosh; a long bone; angels and hourglasses (some on their sides and others upstanding, the sands of time sifting down through the narrow neck as life passes by).
Lady Mackintosh is famous for raising a regiment for Prince Charlie’s 1745 uprising (variously known as the Jacobite, the ’45 rebellion or the ’45). It was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart.
In fact Lady Mackintosh is not here – she probably lies under the flats next door! How many people know that they are working or living over the top of dead bodies?
The walk continues in the final blog of the series, Walking Between Worlds – 3
January 2020. The third and final section of the Berwickshire Coastal Path (BCP), Scotland. 25+kms (15.5 miles minimum). There are facilities at the Pease Bay Leisure Park (perhaps 6.5 hours in – the Smugglers Restaurant), otherwise, not until Cockburnspath, unless you count behind-the-bracken as a facility! It is a difficult walk for those who haven’t recently done Scottish cliff walking. Total 7.5 hours.
It takes quite a while to get to St Abbs from my home in Edinburgh by public transport (train then local bus), so this time I went the night before and stayed at the Seaview B&B 6, Brierylaw, St Abbs. I highly recommend it. The owners are really friendly and generous with their time, and they went out of their way to make me comfortable (I had a luxurious bath), and ensure I was well-fed.
Maps and interesting facts
I took photos of the Ordnance survey (OS) Explorer map 346 entitled Berwick-upon-Tweed, Eyemouth, Cockburns Path etc, before I left my accommodation.
I left at 8.30am and walked the St Abbs to St Abbs Head path again. The National Nature Reserve is a paradise for birdwatchers, hikers and great fun for tiring out children. I scouted round the first little mound to save my legs at this early stage and remembered nuggets of information I gleaned from the Ruth and Barry at Seaview:
- that the guillemots are starting to return from their winter sojourn
- that you can see up to 1000 seal pups (a great piece in the Herald by Virginia Wilde about seals) on beaches near here in the season (October / November)
- that, ‘St Abb’s Head is carved almost entirely out of lavas, which are flows of molten rock across the earth’s surface. These lavas were sticky and flowed slowly because they are composed of a silica-rich rock called andesite (named after the Andes Mountains).’ from the Edinburgh Geological Society pdf
- that the sea cleanses west-east along the coast making for the calm waters which delight scuba divers.
This is a walk with wild and varied terrain
Then the first climb: I had to stop several times because I was so unused to it; I realised that my poles were uneven (one for a child and the other more sturdy, for adults), and the new gaiters which were discovered in the back of one of mum’s cupboards had long straps which are supposed to be trimmed before using – they kept getting in the way. I could feel a headche looming (a reminder to drink water regularly as I hike), and the cold wind was at the nape of my neck. I was mighty glad for the rucksack protecting my kidneys – it would have been freezing if I hadn’t been properly dressed. Let’s hope, I thought to myself, that it’s 8 and not 10 hours as some of my treks have been. It looked so easy on the map!
I could feel Xmas, heavy and bulky around my waist. Wow! was it hard work up and down what I discovered were the highest cliffs in Berwickshire. Overhead, pairs of birds were chasing each other, long-necked with a wide wingspan.
The closer I got to the water, the louder the seabirds and the wind. The white sky was dissected by the trail of a plane, and I had forgotten the red, the pink-burgundy-purple of the land round here. ‘Between each lava flow there is commonly a reddened zone, because the lava may have been weathered for hundreds of years in a subtropical climate until the next lava covers it’ (Edinburgh Geological Society pdf as above).
Sniffing on account of the cold wind, I came to my first path dilemma – do I go by the road or off to the right? There was no sign. I chose the road, but was very unsure and got into a bit of a (short-lived) state about it, trying to look at the photos I had taken of the OS map without my phone being blown out of my hands, and comparing them to the insubstantial BCP leaflet while the wind was coming towards me like nothing on earth. There was a sign further on, so the road was the correct course of action.
The second female runner, red faced, grinned as she ran on, then stopped to hold open the gate for me. As she disappeared into the distance, I was left with the sound of the waves. I adore the quiet.
My poles stuck into the soft, brown clay which soon changed to clods around the edge of a field where cattle had clearly been. The cow pats had orange fungus (pezizales) on them and there were great clumps of shiny, black pastilles, deer droppings.
It struck me how little I know about so many jobs: diving, fishing, farming, lighthouse keeping, all of which I depend on. Such things I mused as I walked.
I heard the birds going sweeeak, squweeeak, sqweeeak, sqweeeak, sqweeeak, tda, tda, tda very fast!
I, on the other hand, was going so, so slowly and feeling incredibly unfit, breathing heavily on the ascents – great exercise for inner and outer health. As I paced, I could feel my heart sighing. My head was still zizzy and a bit anxious, but I could also actually feel myself grounding, as if lead was working its way down my legs which of course made them feel altogether too heavy to climb hills. My system was settling. The intense breathing had cleared away some of what was clogging my lungs; the bowel clearing which went on an hour after starting, resulted in a very easy sensation in my abdomen. This was good for me.
Cliffs, stiles and wind turbines
What sort of terrain was it? Two stiles, a little burn, up a very steep bit, over a stone wall, ribboned white, and through a gate with a metal spike to shut again after me – I struggled with it. More stout stiles, wind turbines and wet burns (where your water bottle might fall out of its pouch, getting muddy even around the lip under the lid), even more stiles (too high for short legs), curving round contours and up more slopes – pwhew!
After the highest cliffs (the Tun Law Forts) and the two admiralty poles (to measure nautical miles), the path hugs the coast (I went inland by mistake). The sea was all glassy, rippling gently in the wind. The wind was incredibly heavy up here, but down at the sea it looked magical. The path is sometimes dizzingly close to the edge of steep gorges with white foam at the bottom. The gorse was olive green from a distance, and their glorious sunshine flowers matched the yellow arrows.
Then there was a beautiful flat stretch: Small brown birds were tweeting. They appeared and disappeared like helicopters doing vertical take-off and landing practice (skylarks?). I couldn’t see any dolphins or whales, which I always wish I could, but then I realised how lucky I am to see seals almost every day outside my house. Gulls with black wing tips were gliding over the sea. There were feathered swarms, like bees, inland over the sheep-filled fields.
I heard the sound of a quad bike before I saw it, like the brrr you do with your lips, spitting saliva a bitty, to make a baby laugh. Then I saw a man holding back a collie dog with great difficulty. He gestured and spoke, but the wind stopped me from hearing what he said. I got the gist and waited. They were driving the escaped sheep back up the cliff and we all had to be very careful in case they panicked and rushed in the wrong direction, to their death.
This was my first ‘proper’ walk after injuring my left foot on the Portuguese Camino. It had taken months to heal and I was nervous about future walks, but I became more confident as the day progressed. My ankles felt weak – that was the lack of Scottish hill walking practice – and so I was careful to place my feet flat where possible, which sometimes hard on the side of these hills.
Higher and higher, I looked back at the most wonderful rocks which angled down and reached their guano covered fingers into the sea, some with athritic knuckles all jagged as if they had rough skin.
For the first time I saw sheep head-butting each other, their hind legs sort of bouncing off the ground as they did it. As soon as I stopped to watch, though, they stopped too, like embarrassed teenagers caught doing something they shouldn’t be – it was so funny.
Three hours in and the ground was flatter – forest and fence, new coppice of some type of pine. Ditches full of rainwater were squidgy to negotiate. There was not much sign of a path here until the next metal fence and a gully with thorn trees, inland.
On this walk, you just keep on going and you eventually get there. I arrived at Dowlaw (say doolaw) farmhouse at 12 noon – 3.5 hours exactly which was good going given that the time for this stage was listed as 3.5 – 4 hours. As you approach the dwelling, remember to turn right through a small copse, do not take the left at the farm machinery.
The half way mark – Dowlaw
I lay down and rested out of the howling wind for a few minutes, but it was very wet. I had been hearing a conversation going on beyond my left shoulder which when I stopped I couldn’t identify the origin of. Slowly I realised it was the wind turbines turning, chatting away to themselves.
I followed the road and then left it as the map showed, perhaps too early, because there was a dearth of signs. I traversed grass with almost no noticeable track to speak of. Yes, the signs were unclear, seeming to point across more moorland, but I was unsure. There was a car with its engine running, a solo man in it, a big screen on his dashboard that he was watching, despite facing out to sea.
I was very, very tired by this time, so I was glad that it was more level, overall, on this final stretch. I was amongst the sheep, passing through gate after gate, and molehills were everywhere. It must all be taken carefully – the route twists and turns, over waterways and round field corners. When you doubt that you are on the right track because you come to a junction where there are options, scan far, far ahead into the distance looking for a small pole with a yellow arrow and a blue and white sign to guide you.
Next was a farm yard with very pretty, nervous calves inside a barn, and three barking dogs, enclosed. Crows lined up on the telegraph wire. A sheep with a horrible rasping cough was on my left. It was if something had gone down the wrong way, most distressing. In the road in front of me were two running, waddling birds (game birds? I did hear shooting earlier). Every now and then they took off, their wings whirring as fast as those of flies. More cottages were ahead and smaller, brown birds with white tail feathers twittered away. They looped horizontally in and out of the hedgrows as if they were hanging the decorations.
Flora and fauna -Old Cambus
My eye was drawn to the catkins flibbaling in the wind, snowdrops harbouring under a stone ledge, pussywillow shining white, and hogweed/cow parsnip in flower. Thoughts flitted in and out about a book I was recently given: Melissa Harrison’s Rain. I wasn’t sure about it at the beginning, but it was starting to grow on me – four, easy essays written about seasonal walks in different parts of England, all about rain and the effects it has on animals and the earth – interesting facts, well written. I wondered to myself if she learned from books / the internet or if it was local lore from people she had spoken to along the way.
‘Here and there hazels have produced their yellow catkins; there are hips bright as blood, too, and beside the path a straggle of field mustard, most likely a farmland escapee…’
This was Old Cambus and I went straight on, as far as the T-junction, and there I thought I must be wrong. I was right! Retracing my footsteps (right hip and soles sore from road walking) I asked a woman getting into a car and she pointed me to the seagreen shed. I had to go past the garden with the tin / metal sculptures of a sheep and a pelican.
So, now I was going back in the opposite direction (sea on my left) to another sign in the corner of the field. Then, straight downhill (not left) towards the sea. There was a ruin up ahead.
Although the path goes inland here, I was able to get a photo, later, looking back towards the famous Siccar Point or Hutton’s Unconformity.
‘In 1788, James Hutton first discovered Siccar Point, and understood its significance. It is by far the most spectacular of several unconformities that he discovered in Scotland, and very important in helping Hutton to explain his ideas about the processes of the Earth.’
‘At Siccar Point, nearly vertical sedimentary rocks of Silurian age – greywacke sandstones and mudstones – are covered unconformably by a younger sequence of red sandstone and breccia.’ The Geological Society
‘Hutton used Siccar Point to demonstrate the cycle of deposition, folding, erosion and further deposition that the unconformity represents. He understood the implication of unconformities in the evidence that they provided for the enormity of geological time and the antiquity of planet Earth, in contrast to the biblical teaching of the creation of the Earth.’
Over a cattle grid I traipsed, and took a right with lots of signposts giving mileages to Cockburnspath which turned out to be erroneous, but kept me forging forwards at the time. A long stretch along the edge of a fence was very steep with very little space to walk.
Up a very steep road on the other side, past some houses, I joined the very end of the Southern Upland Way (which starts at Portpatrick, south western Scotland 214 miles / 344kms). More tough steps, this time, up.
Crossing a burn with little waterfalls on a boardwalk, I came across a sweet bay which could not be reached except by boat.
Cove and Cockburnspath
At Cove, there are caves in the red rock and stacks to rival Orkney’s. Striated rock comes down into the water. I spied a single cormorant on a rock with another swimming towards it out at sea. A solitary, brown, fluffy caterpillar was at my feet.
Past a field of prize-winning sprouts, this stretch is noisy with motorway traffic and, as I passed under the railway, yet another train sped across. I viewed the peace and biscuits graffiti which was exactly as ‘Ettrick Shepherd’ on the Walk Highlands website stated (long distance walks / Berwickshire Coastal Path / St Abbs to Cockburnspath). I am indebted to him for his account, which I read before I walked.
I arrived at Cockburnspath at 4pm, before it was dark. To get the bus back to Edinburgh, you need the stop on the Bowling Club side of the road. It turned out I could have got the 4pm bus, but I went for a celebratory cup of tea at the post office and village shop (which very sadly closes in 5 weeks due to bereavement) and so, missed it. I waited over an hour, regaled by very loud rock music coming from the house nearby, as it got darker. My right cheek was glowing hot from walking all day, much of it with the wind in my face. Thankfully, it’s a nice old fashioned bus stop with a covered wooden seat but, being wet throughout from the sweat of the walk, I chilled very quickly and so snuck behind and changed into dry clothes from the day before.
Really good leaflet on wildlife of the Welsh coast, many of which species can be seen in Berwickshire too. pdf
A walk from North Berwick to Dunbar, part of the John Muir Way, East Lothian. July 13th 2019. 30 kms / 18.6 miles
I remembered: the binoculars – definitely worth taking because East Lothian is a birdwatcher’s paradise. I saw 5 spoonbills through a kind man’s telescope (he had to lower it considerably so I could see, which was sweet of him). They looked like huge fluffy white poodoodles (or whatever they are called), with Edward Lear beaks (you know how he made drawings of amalgamated animals and kitchen utensils!) Also my walking baton pole which came in handy for the mud caused by the torrential rain.
I forgot: tissues / toilet paper and my mobile phone charger – when will I learn?
I lost: my sun hat. Twice. Once a motorist stopped and rolled his window down so I went back quite a long way to get it – all run over it was with muddy tyre marks. I wore it when the sun came out and then lost it again. Never to be found – not by me anyway.
I had not done a long-distance walk for a long time and I managed to get quite stressed to start with, meaning that more little things went wrong, until… I got into the first green part and the butterflies (some chocolate brown and others white – twice one kissed me on the cheek) were playing, and the raindrops sat bulbous on the bramble flowers catching the glint of the sun, and I got bitten by black and white flying beasties. I was back!
The man in a green National Trust for Scotland t shirt said ‘Lady on a mission’ as I swung through the gate and skirted around Berwick Law. I have been up to the top in the past and it’s well worth it, but today I was headed south through meadows and woods, around fields and coastline – it was delightful.
Two runners in electric blue went jogging slowly past, having a laugh. Several jaunty ladies wished me good day, and I rather rashly added to my brief conversation with a hiker going in the opposite direction, that at least it had not rained.
I squelched along a narrow way with piles of horse manure and single tyre marks which suggested other users I thankfully did not meet. When it rained I was on a long farm track which quickly became two channels of fast flowing water. There was a section which reminded me of a Kent walk, because it had serious new, silver metal fences on each side, and one smelly uphill section through the Drylaw Composting site where I discovered a make-shift children’s play area.
There was the unmistakable sound of a wild bee swarm several times along the way, and the hideous screech of racing cars around East Linton. One blissful result of the downpour was that they stopped, although they restarted when the sun reappeared.
There are lots of plants, a Victorian tea room (soup, salads, cream teas, delicious looking cakes), and a gallery shop selling all manner of paintings, cards and gifts. The staff were particularly friendly and helpful while I dried off a little in the sun – boots off and not so waterproofs laid out on the table.
You could be forgiven for thinking there was no bee or butterfly problems if you saw the number of them I did on this walk. There is a beautiful long stretch along the river where comfrey grows in abundance and the sliver green fronds of the willows dip into the water.
There were so many wild flowers I lost count: chamomile with green orbs which had lost their white petals – not just short stalked, but long and waving in the breeze;
elder flowers practically turning into berries as I passed; ripe cow parsley covered with Comon Red Soldier Beetles; ox eye daisies amongst the fields of bearded barley; brilliant scarlet poppies in the hedgerows; and miles of roses, sweet secented and in a variety of firey colours.
As well as the spoonbills (above), there was a buttercup headed yellow hammer bathing in a puddle, gaggles of very excited sparrows with their wings all a flutter near the horse paddock, and a piebald square tailed kite sailing overhead.
The more you walk the better it is because there are so many memories of other treks gone by, people met, places visited. The first black raven crawed and reminded me of Orkney. The second clearly warned me of the coming shower, which I promptly ignored and so got very quickly wet through. I was still damp 4 hours later when I marched into Dunbar.
There are three bays at the end of the day: the flat wetlands of Tyninghame, the red sandstone stacks of Belhaven (not to mention the real ale, the yellow house, and the John Muir Country Park with its caravans and little swan lake), and finally around the golf links I went barefoot to the gull studded cliffs of Dunbar itself.
It’s a hedgrow and fields walk
Its a meadows walk
Its a skirting round the hills and not going up walk
It’s a coast to coast walk with arable land in between
It’s a walk full of wild roses,
A very well signposted walk
While the birds call all you have to do….. is walk!
I arrived at North Berwick around 11.30am, and in Dunbar 7 and a half hours later, with an hour’s stop and an extra 2 kms in the middle to and from the Smeaton Nursery tea rooms off the main route. I was reliably informed that the tea room at Tyninghame is also lovely.
I took the train from Edinburgh to North Berwick with Scotrail (who very kindly refinded my fare to Dunbar which I made by mistake – thank you). It took 45 minutes and cost £7 single. I might have rather annoyed the gentleman in a cravat opposite, but had lovely chat with a Northern Irish dog walker from Glasgow on his way to follow Mcllroy round the golf course.
Walk from the station in NB to Lady Jane Road, turn right up it and after a few minutes on the right you will find the John Muir Walkway signs. Alternatively start at the Seabird Centre and walk through Lodge Grounds by St Andrews Well. There is a lot to see in NB.
My return was by bus from Dunar on the Edinburgh Express which leaves at 29 minutes past each hour on a Saturday afternoon / evening and costs £5.70. It takes an hour, leaves from the high Street, and doesn’t put you down at the bus station but at Waverley Railway Station, Edinburgh.
More info about the walk on these two sites
The Independent Walk of the Month
Thanks to Lesley for her local knowledge.
I took the bus from Edinburgh to Eyemouth where I ended the previous stage of the Berwickshire Coastal Path (BCP). From there I walked to St Abbs (6 km, 3.5 miles) going north east wards, and on to St Abbs Head and the lighthouse. Then I hiked back again to get the bus! (The village of Coldingham is 1.5 miles inland). More practicalities are at the end of the blog.
As I left Edinburgh (on the 253 bus at 8am), almost everyone else was going to Monday morning work. There were four of us heading eastwards: a cyclist and three walkers including a second solo woman who was consumately prepared (that was when I realised I had left my pole at home!) She was doing walking the BCP over 2 days, for the second time.
Everyone was reading books rather than their phones as we passed through the pretty town of Haddington where children were making their way to school. Even before we drove into Dunbar, the odour from the Belhaven Brewery assailed my nostrils!
The others alighted in the sun at Cockburnspath, near the wee round-towered church, technically the start of the Berwickshire Coastal Path (BCP). I went on to Eyemouth and wondered why I was doing it backwards. It seems to be a habit of mine: reading the Sunday paper from the back to front; starting the Via de la Plata in Santiago de Compostella (rather than in Seville which I did later). What does that say about my personality?
Note to those who might want to do this: leaving Eyemouth (10.05am), be careful not to walk along the road as it is a dead end. Instead, go across the sands to the steps and up there are BCP signs. On the beach it was ever so warm, whereas at the top I needed a hat and a hood to keep out the gusts.
Eyemouth to Coldingham
I visited the site of two forts: one English (1547) and the other French (1557), neither of which survived due to changes to the Crown of the day. Guns mark their existence now, facing out to foreign lands – a sign of outmoded protectionism, sadly very present in current foreign policy.
I inhaled the smell of brine and sun-warmed turf. The woman walking in the other direction had a north English accent and needed sunglasses it was so bright. We both turned and looked up at the tuneful sound and when I asked her if she knew what it was she said, ‘a type of skyark, I only do generic when it comes to birds.’
Immediately there is a caravan park which was inhabited: a black labrador sitting patiently by the door; a woman inside with her hat on. There were daffodils lining the fence and Danger signs (people do disregard these and have serious accidents). Not much further along were lots of memorials – benches, bunches of dead or pretend flowers, and moving inscriptions, perhaps to those whose ashes had been taken by the wind out to sea.
Further along was a camper van and a coachload of German tourists, but they didn’t stray far – just had a quick look and then left. Of course there were dog walkers here too, close to the road where they could get easy access. One small hound barked vociferously at me and his owner said it was the rucksacks which set him off!
The wind was so strong that it moved my camera as I pointed it.
You could easily miss the tiny sign at the top of an orangy-red clay track to the right, but I had watched a hiker ahead of me turn down, so I knew to look out for it.
Just ahead is the sign that you are not advised to take to ‘Coldingham via Fleurs Farm’. There was a woman beachcombing at the next cove which was full of smelly seasweed.
There were violets by the path and the merest hint of primrose scent, taking me back to my childhood when we used to pick them at St Julian’s (Sevenoaks, Kent). Can I pick wildflowers in Britain? Technically yes if you don’t uproot them or take them from an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but think carefully first – they don’t last in a vase and do look ever so good in their native surroundings.
The wildflowers were all yellow here (the photo was not good enough to use): celandine, dandelion, daffoldils and gorse.
Here I saw my first bluebells of 2019 as I climbed very steeply up behind the beach huts and past the bed and breakfast (now a private house) where I stayed for my birthday with Lesley a few years ago.
At the T junction, the signs point left to Coldingham which this time I did not visit and I therefore missed the Coldingham Priory which was a Benedictine Abbey. There has been Christian worship on the site for over a thousand years and the present Priory Church building includes walls dated to around 1200. The Priory was founded in 1098 by Edgar, King of Scots, son of Queen Margaret (later Saint M) and Malcolm III, after recovering his kingdom from Donald Bane, his uncle, who had usurped it at his father’s death.
The first monastic community consisted of thirty Benedictine monks from Durham until 1590. The original Church, built in Edgar’s time, was destroyed by King John of England in 1216, but was replaced by a greater and more magnificent one, which in turn was largely destroyed in 1545 during the great raid of the Earl of Hertford, which brought ruin also to the abbeys of Kelso, Dryburgh and Melrose. The choir, however, though further damaged by the forces of Oliver Cromwell in 1650, survives and constitutes the present Priory Church.
I passed two other signs indicating that I could have taken earlier ways, but I was pleased to have walked along the famous Creel Path. It is so called because the fishermen used to carry their creels (lobster pots) along here to the beach in days gone by.
Earlier I spotted the old, brown seed heads of tansy and teasle, but here in the warmth that came off the earth were haphazard flies and in sheltered corners there were the new season’s flowers. What a welcome, bright sight they were attracting the first butterfly I had seen after the long winter. I was about to come across primula and pansies, even white garlic flowers on top of juicy wild garlic stalks. That confirms it, I thought to myself, no argument, Spring is here!
On entry down the hill, there was white washing fluttering in the breeze and a restaurant and visitor centre, both shut of course on account of the time of year.
Through the harbour and up the other side, to my delight however, was an old school building with an open cafe. I had a picnic with me, but can never seem to resist a hot cup of tea. The baking (avocado and courgette gluten free cake) was excellent and the staff were all kindness – initially organising a chair and table outside for me and then adding a cosy blanket for warmth. By the way, you can also buy a very pretty, homemade pink magic wand for £3.50 too!
After a break and refreshments in the sun (with wi-fi), I continued along the road and then entered the protected Nature Reserve to the St Abbs lighthouse at St Abbs Head. where I have walked many times before.
These small bronze figures are the wives and children of Charles Purves and brothers William and James Thorburn who were lost in the great storm of 1881 when 189 fishermen lost their lives. The harbour does not belong to the Council but to the local people via the Community Council and a Trust. There is an important Lifeboat Station here, privately funded and independent.
St Abbs with its super clear waters is a favourite place for scuba divers, including beginners. For details of the new bunkhouse, see below.
The cafe is named after Ebba (Ebbe), ‘Mother of Northumbria’, so the signs in the Ebba Centre told me. She was born c. 615 AD, daughter of Aethelfrith the first king of Northumbria and in 643 AD she founded a nunnery nearby which predates the priory mentioned above. Later she was made a saint.
I spent ages admiring the gliding birds with blanched tips to their tail feathers – they seemed effortless. Many were perched on the rocks like tiny pearls in an invisible hairnet. Apart from the bumble bee, everything here was white: feathers and wool, gulls chests, and the foamy most-white of the waves between the rocks.
I was reading about Sarah Marquis, a very experienced walker who could smell water when she was hiking in Australia. I believe I could smell the grass happily growing in the sun after being dormant for so long.
The path took me around and behind hillocks on the way, but I went up and over them on my return. Once I caught myself avoiding looking – the grandeur of the views, the colours – as if I didn’t know what to do with them they were so wonderful.
Going back I wasn’t the only one out on this beautiful afternoon – I discovered it is quite a busy stretch.
Gentle paths curve through the spring-green grass, undulating with the landscape – there is some good climbing to strengthen your thighs!
You can spot the Northern Brown Argus butterfly according to the sign, and it’s a bird watchers paradise (guillemots and razorbills, shags and cormorants amongs others). I watched a starling with its petrol green head, perched on a fencepost, feathers disrupted as the wind attempted to dislodge it.
St Abbs Lighthouse
68 Metres above sea level, the lighthouse was built by David and Thomas Stevenson. It is automated now, remotely monitored, so there is no lighthouse keeper. It flashes white every 10 seconds to warn sailors of the rocks below.
My walking future was ahead of me: a tarmaced road between knolls, jagged rocks and chiselled cliffs; the power station with a polluting cloud coming out of its tallest chimney; Berwick Law (a little hill all on its own near North Berwick); Bass Rock (an island off that coast); and Edinburgh beyond.
Back in the village, I was sitting dozing in the sun when William came up to tell me his life story. At 88 years he has had two sticks and two wives, he told me in his Sussex accent. He was born 2 months after his parents were married, he explained, which was why they left the place of his birth, but later they were forgiven and returned. He was a member of the fire service in both Salisbury and Hereford (both places I have relatives, I said, but he wasn’t really listening!). He was drawn to speak to me with my rucksack beside me because he is a lifelong member of the Berwick Ramblers.
After our conversation, the bus came into view and only then did I realise that I barely had any cash. The driver said coins only and waited while I dashed back to the cafe (visit #3 that day) where they gave me £2 (they couldn’t do cash-back) saying I could give it to them another time. What a fantastic gesture!
It was a short day’s walk (4 hours maximum) with quite a lot of climbing. I felt taller and prouder inside and only at the end did I feel a twinge in the instep of my left foot, otherwise no pain or difficulty at all. Less is more!
I advise you to walk in the other direction if you do not have a car and a friendly person to pick you up because there is nowhere to stay at Drylaw, only a car park, and it is too far (29 kms – remember that there are a lot of slopes and hills) to walk from Eyemouth all the way to Cockburnspath.
My timings: 2 hours on the bus from Edinburgh to Eyemouth; 1.5 hours walk to Coldingham Bay; half an hour on to St Abbs Village; 45 minutes to St Abbs Head lighthouse. You could probably do it quicker, but I savoured it all. The 235 bus from St Abbs to Berwick-upon-Tweed takes about half an hour (£3 odd), and the train from Berwick to Edinburgh about 45 minutes.
Remember to check the sunrise and -set, and co-ordinate with travel and walking times if you are also hiking in winter/early spring!
There is almost no accommodation along the path excepting at Berwick-upon-Tweed. If you know of any (other than the bunkhouse below) please do let me know and I will add it to the blog later. Of course if it was summer you could wild camp like Rucksack Rose.
For more information about the Berwickshire Coastal Path, please see the excellent leaflet produced by Scottish Borders Council Newtown St Boswells, Melrose TD6 0SA 0300 100 1800 email@example.com www.scotborders.gov.uk
Bunkhouse email address: firstname.lastname@example.org (Paul Crowe, skipper of the boat MV> Topline who takes fishermen, tourists and divers out to see the area).
St Abbs Marine Station (research into marine science, conservation and education).
National Trust for Scotland Seal pups at St Abbs Head
12th January 2019
The second highest cliffs on the east coast of Britain are to be found along this path.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
In the middle of winter I headed south on a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed along the coast of East Lothian with the sea on my left. It was just after 9am and I could see brown fields, a slate grey sea, even darker land on the other side of the Firth of Forth and the silhouettes of the trees without their leaves. As it lightened there was more detail: cows in coats; four-by-fours speeding between fields; ruined castles; and low, red-roofed farm buildings. The train was quiet.
I am hiking part of the Berwickshire Coastal Path (45.5 kms / 28.5 miles in total = a recommended 3 day walk). Berwick upon Tweed is technically in England (although their football team is Scottish!) and my destination is Eyemouth, 17km (11 miles) away.
The fields become green as I travel and on my left is the point of Berwick Law, the only high place in this flat landscape. Combine harvesters are frozen mid field; barrels of wrapped up straw lie waiting; there are borders of louring pines in the distance; and beyond, a complicated sky: wispy dark clouds against a bright blue though pale background and at the same time, little bands of cotton wool balls stretching from east to west.
Found photos of (from top left) Torness Nuclear Power Station, Dunbar Town House, St Abbs Head Lighthouse.
A few golden strips of corn have been left lying in the fields, birds are black shapes in the bright sky, the bare bones of the trees are like hardened and flattened seaweed fans. People were sniffing and blowing their noses all around me.
There were acres of half-built houses as I drew near to Dunbar, birthplace of John Muir, friend to all walkers and nature lovers. A small town with the arrow-head tower of the newly-painted-white, 16th century Town House; Saturday people with pushchairs; glimpsing the sea between buildings.
Then once more rolling by the deep chestnut loam, and a more varied landscape. We were edging further from the sea where the iconic Torness nuclear power station like children’s blocks which have been fitted together wrongly. Sheep grazed in miles of brussel sprouts fields; low, dry stone walls divided; and a solo bird perched, waiting for the morning to come. We skimmed past the St Abbs Lighthouse, where I was planning to walk to today (see below).
I could see the path I was going to be walking at the top of the cliffs as they tumbled down to the rocks and the white waves below. Men in red and blue were playing golf, their trolleys angled beside them, pools of sand dipped in the ocean of green turf.
As always, it was difficult to find the beginning of the walk, so, here are the directions for you: come out of the station, go up the little slope, turn left and then take the first right.
A man with 2 dogs stopped while I was taking a photograph of the Round Bell Tower , not knowing that I was waiting for him to come into shot so that I could include him! He told me that he used to work for the local newspaper and one April Fool’s Day he took a photo of it leaning, said it was toppling over, and published it with the caption, The Leaning Tower of Berwick. Crowds of people came to watch it, he said!
Next to the tower is Lord’s Mount, Henry VIII’s gun tower (completed in 1542). Its massive wall contains six gun positions and a latrine. The artillery included ‘the falconet’ which fired a solid ball 1000 yards (914 m).
Before I even got to the sea I lost my pole, which I went back for and luckily found, and a glove which I didn’t.
The Northumberland people I met were lovely and friendly and gave me directions out of the town and onto the path.
Oyster catchers were wading and ridges of diagonal rocks showed dark against the washed yellow sands. I went down the steps to a tiny cove, and along the well-trodden beach full of footprints and seaweed. There was the sound of trickling water as I made my way up at the other end.
Up above were ranks of holiday caravans where shells had been hung between railings. I could see a red and white lighthouse beacon at the end of the pier in the distance and hear the single, shrill whistle of a bird overhead – just as if he fancied me.
Immediately I came round to the next bay. It was larger this time with delightfully pig-pink cliffs and tufty tops. The wind was trying to blow the pale, beige stalks seaward. Once again it was just me and another man with his dog. Vestiges of yellow flowered gorse gleamed on the bank opposite.
The squawk of the train reminded me that the railway line matches the path to the left, and I was walking between that and the sea.
The links (golf course) was on my left; slippy mud down to a little wooden bridge over a trickle of water; the sweet tweet of a leaf shaped bird overhead, its wings fluttering fast. It was a very narrow, windy and uneven part so I was glad that I had found my pole to steady myself – it is definitely not accessible to wheelchairs or baby buggies.
It is an impressive landscape: thin horizontal layers of pink rock, tiny slices but massive boulders. My eyes were getting a welcome break from the computer as I gazed out to sea and admired the hues and cries of this stimulating view and the birds who live here.
The sky was opening up; I could identify the peeps of oyster catchers and see sparks of black ravens; I was scanning the sea for any sign of whales. My forehead was cold as I walked straight into the northerly wind. How I appreciated not heaving the heavy rucksack for once.
I only stopped for a couple of minutes for a comfort break and to put some chapstick on my lips, but I was already cold afterwards. There were single, brown birds with long curving beaks (curlews, probably), and others in huge crowds sweeping around in the sky above me, sticking together in formation, communicating wordlessly. I was entranced by these murmurations.
For a moment I wondered why I do this, especially in winter when it is so chilly. Then I looked out to the horizon and saw the world – so much bigger than me, and down at the rocks and the majestic sea stack – the land simply missing between it and the cliff; and it was good to be reminded how small I am.
I saw the people in their cars rushing between Edinburgh and Newcastle on the A1, and the high speed train making its way down south to London. Here I was being blown and buffeted by the wind, breathing the fresh air, listening to the natural sounds around, the brushing of my feet as they passed through the grasses, stumbling and toppling over uneven ground which is good for balancing my brain, and looking ahead. Things were coming into perspective.
Up a short wooden ladder, over a stone wall and I discovered I was in a caravan park called Marshall Meadows. Much to my disappointment it was not the pastures I had imagined!
Back onto concrete I immediately felt my sore feet and realised I hadn’t been aware of them since the pavements in Berwick.
By this time I was looking for a place to shelter and sit for a cup of tea and a banana to keep my sugar levels up. I didn’t want to lose my sense of proportion, which has happened in the past.
The Cuddy Trail is here. Cuddy is Scots for a donkey and the ‘beasts of burden’ were used to transport coal and fish from the shore to Lamberton and the Great North Road.
I had to climb over the gate as the farmer, in his wisdom, had padlocked it shut despite this being a public right of way and well-known footpath.
Then I curved back towards the wild cliff corner and the sound of the crashing water. The wind was causing shadows on the ocean. It had that look about it as if it was rising up to the horizon and down to the beach. It was heaving. The surface colour looked flat and even, until I really paid attention to it. Then I saw the variations of the olive, seaweed and sage green, with slate, business suit, and pewter grays, all edged with white lace and set against a peach sky.
There were lots of helpful signs indicating that badgers, yellow meadow ants and peregrine falcons can be seen here, but not by me. I did get glimpses of the fulmars on the ‘cliffes’, nesting in their flint and white plumage, so far away that all the photos were too blurred to be reproduced.
Twenty minutes earlier I had passed two men getting out of a car and preparing to surf, clad in black wetsuits with their white boards. I bet they had a good time in those rollers!
It was then that things started to go wrong.
But I did. I thought, ‘really?’ but I couldn’t see anywhere else to walk as the railway came so close to the edge, so I went anyway.
I skirted the steep slope first of all, grabbing handfuls of grass to stop myself slipping and edging my feet into the side, until it became too hard going. Then I dropped down onto the rocks. They didn’t look too bad from a distance, but they were – it was really hard scrambling over them. I could see a way out on the other side and I still assumed that was the right way. I pushed and tore through the brambly undergrowth, I fell down and got myself back up. I persevered. My pole kept collapsing itself and up at the top was a sheep’s face peering over at me. I could see hoof marks where they obviously managed fine, but I sure was struggling. Was there a way? What could I do?
Go back, that’s what! It was impossible. I was very hot and bothered and there was nothing for it but to retrace my steps, which was easier said than done and something I don’t enjoy. I traversed the rocks closer to the sea which were slippery as well as treacherously uneven.
I had completely lost my cool until I came across such a beautiful sight that I just had to stop and breathe.
It took a lot of time (perhaps three quarters of an hour) and I used up a great deal of my available energy. And it took quite a bit of serious tramping to get over the anger and frustration of the experience. On the back of the BCP map it says: It may seem unnecessary to provide directions other than saying – walk north or south keeping the sea on your right or left!’ Am I the only person to have missed the most straightforward path?
Slowly I realised I had to relax and get back onto the right path. I had to let it go or I couldn’t enjoy the remainder of the walk, so I focused on anything but my feelings and picked up pace.
In my recording I said that I chose not to walk where two others were, around a field when I could clearly see a short-cut straight across the top of it. I saw the trampled down barbed wire and said to myself, I’m not falling into that trap again!
Next was a straight and concrete side road to Homestead, and I spotted a brightly coloured lifeboat chugging along. When I turned round, there was a deer lolloping in the undergrowth very close by with its beacon of a white tail. It seemed to be rather a special sight. The Medicine Cards say that when deer appears, ‘apply gentleness to your situation.
At 1.50pm, my phone battery was already down to 32% and I quickly came across another conundrum. I took a second wrong turn. This time I crossed a field to the left because it looked as if the alternative went over the edge. It was not clear, so I stood and debated and as the gate was open I chose to go through.
Right to the end of that green field I went, past all the sheep who may well have been watching wisely for all I knew! And then I didn’t know where to go but back – it was a dead end. Never again will I walk without an ordnance survey map, I declare to the sheep!
So I went through the other field (not in a straight line), climbed over a stile, and doubled back (presumably the path avoids the farm land).
There was the village of Burnmouth below me at last, tucked under the heights. I zigzagged steeply down in the opposite direction from the yellow arrows, behind the gardens and at last found a BCP sign. Amazing how this often happens at a time when there is absolutely no other possible way anyway! For some reason the walk is not as enjoyable if I am not going in the right direction.
Apparently Burnmouth was ‘once a hotbed of smuggling’ (tea, brandy, silks etc) engendering lively stories from 1780. A pretty but secluded village, it is divided into two halves with a harbour inbetween. Candy coloured cottages seemed to be for visitors. The tide was out leaving streaks of low rocks, as if someone had painted on a glassy surface and the paint had separated unevenly.
A man stopped to do up the zip of the woman he was with and my black mood meant I could barely manage to say a friendly hello. My knees hurt going down and my insteps going up. The sign pointed in the direction of two roads, one to the right and the other uphill. I took the path which ran to the right of a dour chapel, curving through woods, over a planked boardwalk, then up a steep hillside with a horrible groaning noise going on – something to do with the fishing in the harbour.
There was a handy bench ‘Dedicated to William Telford, born Burnmouth 1925’ for resting my weary feet and admiring the vista but I was very stiff when I got up. I hadn’t been walking for a month of so and it was showing. I thought I wouldn’t need the chocolate I bought yesterday and wished I hadn’t left it at home.
Blue tits played in the briars, zipping in front of me; silvery green lichen covered the branches. Humbled and cut down, I did not recover quickly. I was reduced to little more than zero miles an hour.
Once up high again and back into the windy onslaught, I needed a hat and two hoods – it was a mere two weeks after the winter solstice.
Then, halleluja! the sun started to show its lovely self. 3.15pm. What a wonderful light.
I had to ask for directions from a group of teenagers heading out for some fun, giggling. I wound my way along the jetty and around the end remembering that I was here for my birthday with Lesley in 2016. The wandering geese took no notice. I was aiming for the co-op store at the centre (ye cannae miss the co-op, it’s the biggest building in the toun I was told) and the most helpful girl who checked the bus times on her phone for me – my fingers were too cold to work mine and it was threatening to run out of battery.
I was focused now on getting warm and fed as I always am after a long day’s hike. I had to spend a great deal of time in a Wetherspoons in Berwick until my return train to Edinburgh, but I warmed up and rested my weary limbs.
I didn’t make it to St Abbs so I will have to start next time at Eyemouth and cover that stretch on day 2.
Train: Edinburgh to Berwick upon Tweed (Scotrail £14.60)
The final stage of the Fife Coastal Path (FCP)
Date: 3rd February 2019
From / to: Wormit to Newburgh
Distance: 15-18 miles (25-30 kms)
Direction: Walking east to west
Facilities: There are none on this stretch
Timing: Beware! the official coastal path website says this day’s walking takes 3-5 hours. I defy a human to do it in 3 hours – I think it is a mistake. I am not the quickest walker, but it took me 7 hours with 3 x 15 minute stops and a last minute detour
Overall: I would not recommend that people do this all in one day, especially immediately after the previous stage of the FCP, and with the transport difficulties and wintry conditions
Dundee to Woodhaven via St Andrews
My day began in Dundee where I had unwittingly spent the night. See Leuchars to Wormit for details. I took the earliest 99B bus to St Andrews (8.19) which was straightforward.
Unfortunately when I arrived at the St A bus station the bus company no longer operated out of it. I phoned up to find out where I could get the 77 back to the Wormit road, connecting to the ’emergencies’ line and feeling a little guilty as it was not exactly a life and death situation. I was concerned that I would not get to Newburgh before dark. The exceptionally kind man on the phone explained that there never has been a Sunday service of the sort I was waiting for! In the end, on hearing the note of desperation in my voice, he came up with a plan and 5 minutes later a second gentleman appeared in a van to pick me up. He had been called out of his bed to fill in for someone who was sick, left his own car at the depot and was on his way back to get it. He took me along with him!
It was half an hour’s walk from Woodhaven to Wormit, first along the B946 (a residential connecting road where the pavement was all slippery from the snow which had hardened into ice overnight)……
….then taking a right onto Bay Road…..
….bypassing Wormit proper and heading straight to the beach where the FCP runs across the strand for a bit.
Wormit to Creich
It took half an hour to get to the start of this stage, so yesterday would have been exactly 7 hours if I had finished and today I must add an extra 30 minutes to the walk if I am to reach the final ending point in Newburgh.
It was raining / snowing – a dull, grey day.
The local lady was right that I was due for a climb, despite the way it appeared on the map. She said she had avoided it because it was so slidey underfoot. I passed through the metal gates to keep the cattle in, and further on I appreciated the landlocked wooden seal sculpture.
Catkins dangled olive green, and other peoples’ footsteps showed me the way.
There was a quiet, gentle lapping of waves on the shore as I went between two houses.
A flying oyster catcher, Wikipedia.
Near here were plaques with children’s poems about the sea on them: I liked, ‘River lying patient and flat’
There is a stretch of stony beach at Balmerino – unusual for the FCP. I checked with three extremely well armed fishermen and yes, for sure it was along here and then through the woods. It was a great curving bay of bleak beauty.
I missed Balmerino Abbey which was marked on the map – it must have been inland, off the path.
At 11.30 I was having a lovely, peaceful, early lunch with my back against a gorgeous trunk with ivy vines twining up it, when the sounds of a boisterous group signalled they were clearly approaching from whence I had come. Surely they would have caught me with my knickers down had I followed the call of nature, so I didn’t do that! I hastily moved on and almost immediately passed another group going in the opposite direction. This pretty stretch is obviously popular for Sunday morning walking.
My thighs were tight and stiff this morning after yesterday, and I could feel the effects of carrying the heavy pack such a long way.
Leaving the water behind, I started on the long, steep and icy uphill part. I realised that perhaps the official website meant 3 plus 5 hours not 3 to 5 hours, and I worried that I would not make it before dark. I was not sure what to do, so I picked up pace.
Up high and with a right turn I was on hard ground which was much quicker to walk on, near a residential area. I was trying to remember to keep my eyes open for the signs which are always harder to see in this type of situation.
I passed places with names like Hazelton Walls, Creich and Pittachope (perhaps meaning ‘farm of the willow-place’). Black Craig Hill (203 m) was on the right.
Pittachope to Glenduckie
At 1.30 I was hauling myself gradually up a rural road with the cold wind on my cheeks. There was good visibility but with damp and wet in the air. It was a bit of a plod but I was focusing more on the moment than the future.
Then I took the left off the road to a steeper incline, passing a bearded man who cheerfully greeted me. His two boys were brightly clad in winter gear, and all three were pulling scarlet sledges up behind me, to play.
Ahead was Norman’s Law (285 m), the very same which was mentioned in the information I saw yesterday in Tentsmuir Forest. A law in this context, is a round or conical hill, often in isolation. It is at the eastern end of the Ochil Fault and you can walk in this place using the Walk Highlands directions. Also a hill fort site with its neighbour, Glenduckie Hill (what a great name!), you can follow Fifewalking’s instructions here.
What with the website duration being erroneous, gates which say ‘push’ when they mean ‘pull’, and these signs which say ‘keep left’ when they mean ‘right’ at the turn – nothing is as it seems – which exactly sums up my life right now!
It was misty at the top of the steep climb. Some of the snow was like soft egg-whites and therefore hard to walk on.
There was a gorgeous smell of burning pine, presumably not a natural occurrence in this icy weather. Maybe, I mused, it was not mist or snow blowing, but the smoke. I thought I was at the top and about to go down at last, but maybe not.
I sat for a cup of tea and meditated for 5 minutes. There was a cave opposite and rustles were coming from it; a bird was making the sound which a dog makes when it has a squeezy, squeaky toy in its mouth. It was a peaceful moment.
I zig-zagged around farmer’s fields – cows in one, sheep in another. It was 14.45 and the sun had come out.
Glenduckie was indeed an even steeper trawl uphill, albeit not to the actual summit. The path curved round and round, and up, and then there was a tiny slope down before another arduous climb.
I felt totally exhausted, but stopping meant that starting was well nigh impossible. It was still frozen underfoot – an icy rockscape and, beyond, windswept sheep.
The approach to Newburgh
A steady descent, bumpy and slippery, meant I could see what I assumed was Newburgh in the distance for a long time – tantalising!
Lindores Hill (172 m) was on my left and to the right the estuary looked wonderful. The water was almost completely smooth, like glass. It reflected the tufty grey clouds and already there were the very faint hues of the sunset.
I struggled to stop thinking how tired I was, how much my body hurt, and that I hadn’t understood how long the day was going to be in advance. I spent some time using Clean Language questions to honestly ask myself why I was doing this. I knew I would get there eventually and that I wouldn’t do this again all in one stage. Once started it was tricky to stop, especially as I was so close to the end.
According to the map, at Old Parkhill there should be a right – Newburgh was clearly there, but the sign was to the left, so against my better judgment I took it. Of course it was wrong! I went through one very difficult gate and then straight on where there were lots of roots to negotiate at the bottom of a tree-lined slope. I admit I felt a tad miserable.
I had to climb over two fences. There was a huge hay bale and the barbed wire had been pushed down, suggesting that I wasn’t the first person to make this mistake. I couldn’t get over because I was too short and had the rucksack, so I found another way through.
I was back on the A913, the Abernethy Road, going into Newburgh past the church where the bus I planned to take later rattled past me. I found my way to the water’s edge using google maps as the sun was going down.
This last trundle seemed very long and the signs were once again poor. A helpful dog walker directed me at the last. Under the arch in Mugdrum Park, Newburgh I went, alone as I started….
From a public sign: ‘The Kings have gone but the kingdom lives on! Locked between the Firths of Forth and Tay, Fife is island-like, resolute and proud. It was the Pictish province of Fibh, last ruled by a king in the 9th century. Today, Fife’s wealth lies in the variety of landscapes, seascapes and townscapes which you can savour. Some say it taks a lang spoon to sup wi a Fifer, but you can be sure of a warm welcome from the people of the Kingdom.’
I went through the car park, took a left down Shuttlefield Street and left again along the High Street, where I found the bus stop by the Co-op supermarket (chocolate was needed). Opposite was The Bear Tavern where I toasted myself with a reviving Famous Grouse (whiskey) at the fabulous price of £1.20. The pub is run by the friendliest of folk and full of locals who were curious to know why I was there.
The 36 bus took me to Glenrothes where I narrowly missed the connection to Edinburgh. Fortunately there was an X54 along soon after at 18.55, and I was back home in Edinburgh around 9pm.
You may like to know that there is a highly recommended Shiatsu practitioner and yoga teacher (Heidi) in Balmerino.
Saturday 2nd February 2019. An extremely challenging day’s hike in the stunning, snowy Fife countryside. 8 hours (probably 6.5 – 7 if I had not got lost) = approximately 30kms (16.5 miles).
Beware – lots of snowy tree photos ahead!
Two weeks ago I finished at Guardbridge, just outside the town of Leuchars. Today my plan was to get the bus back there from Edinburgh to resume.
There was snow last night and sleet was still pounding on my window in Edinburgh at 5.30am when the alarm went off. I was worried that I might not be able to make the journey, but I had booked my hostel and completed all the preparations, so I was determined. I did, however, change my mind and decided to take the train which is much quicker (and £2.50 more expensive). This meant I would miss the Guardbridge to Leuchars section (approximately 1 mile).
From the train I watched the sun coming up over the horizon. All the fields were white and the buildings etched with a black line. There were fields of dome-shaped greenhouses, some covered and some simply skeletons in the middle of winter.
At 8.36 I left Leuchars Station. There was a heavy, dull grey cloud cover above, but between that and the ground there were bare branches of trees showing against a delicate bird-egg-blue sky. In that space were horizontal clouds touched with peach, apricot and a darker, bruised blue. The land was glowing white, everywhere was covered in snow, although the roads were clear. Oh! the air smelled so crisp as it passed through my nostrils.
I turned left out of the train station. * Note that on Google Maps, ‘Leuchars Station’ is the Royal Air Force (RAF) Base. Make sure you look for the red train symbol if you are locating the railway station.
Although Leuchars is best known as the RAF base (which probably explains the amount of buses and the cost of the train), there must be others who live here because the out-of-breath man who ran up just as the train was pulling away had a cello with him.
I made my way past extensive barbed wire fences, cars rushing past. There was just one other man walking and he had a white Scottie dog. (I have called my Scottish blogs Walking Without A Dog because although I do not have one, it sometimes seems as if everyone else does).
I was setting off walking again and my tummy, which had been all excited for the previous two hours, turned over. My nose was sniffly from the cold. I found that I didn’t know which way to look when crossing the road, a throw back to all the hiking I have done on the continent! Here the temperature was a mere one degrees.
I was following signs to the Fife Coastal path (FCP) which took me by the road. On the right is a cluster of shops (a Spar supermarket with a butcher’s shop opposite) and a sign off to the left for it, but I recommend taking the left which goes steeply uphill for a few minutes to the beautiful Medieval church of St Athernase.
As usual it is hard to know where to find the way as you exit a town. There were clear signs for the cycle path and various ones for the FCP, but it was hard to know if they were for the cars or hikers. I headed off down School Hill / Pitlethie Road, hoping that was right. A merry hello was exchanged with two women. When I passed a slow lady with a stick afterwards which reminded me of my patients at the hospice, I felt grateful that I could walk.
As I started getting into my stride and the town started to peter out, the sun was out and the birds were singing. More and more of the sky was blue. My shadow was so long that my head was right over the other side of the road on a field looking very funny. Past Castleknowe housing estate and Pitlethie House on the left, I understood why people wear gaiters because the snow was going down the back of my heel, inbetween my boot and foot which very chilly. A blackbird was foraging in the snow.
Although I knew I was heading out of town in the right general direction and knew where the sea was, there were no official indications (a sure sign that I wasn’t right!) I was on a country road now with no pavements, but with fields on both sides and well shaved hedges in blobs – thorny and prickly with flat tops. Some of the tree trunks were going off at a very acute angles implying how strong the wind could be here. I could see the forest in the distance.
Then I turned right to cross on a path between the fields, heading towards the coast. There was incredibly bright sun on my right, making the snow sparkle, and lots of footprints and bike tracks on the snow ahead of me, even though it was only 9am.
I heard shots off to the left – hunting or soldiers practicing maybe? It was bumpy and the ground was ice hard underneath so my feet crunched.
There were engine sounds emanating from somewhere. It was deserted. A tower in the distance was topped with a slowly turning satellite; cubes of houses with pointy rooves were covered in snow; tractor tyre grooves were clear; and shadows far, far longer than the height of the trees themselves.
A helicopter came loudly into view as I turned the corner and passed between pretty Scots pines and snow-covered gorse. I took my gloves off. Yellow flowers showed through where the sun had exposed them; and the silverbirch trunks matched the fields behind.
I needed a pee, but was sure I would be seen by surveillance given the nearness of the Base. When it became imperative, I imagined the soldiers having a laugh at the sight of me on camera. I left no trace.
Chaffinches sat on hawthorn bushes, tweeting and then swooping from top of bush to top of bush just ahead of me. There were sparrows too, and beehives on my left in a little clearing. The tree trunks were are all intertwining and covered in yellow lichen, positively glowing, one with its seedpods drooping and shiny.
My attention was attracted to the barbed wire strip at the top of the fence where each of the barbs had little piles of snow on them, softening the sharpness and making them look like embroidery, like a row of stitching with cotton knots at regular intervals.
Shush shush as I walked, a crunch at the end of each step as my toe pushed down into the packed snow. There was a constant sound of distant shooting and I realised that I was skirting the Base. I turned right at the farmhouse with the red door and went through a gate (remembering to shut it after me). There was a miniature thicket of trees which the sun didn’t reach so it was immediately cold, but not for long.
Then I was on the proper FCP with the correct signs. A gentleman dressed all in dark colours gave me a nice smile as he held the gate open and then briskly strode off with his head down.
Over a bed of pine cones I went, reflecting that that must have been some sort of detour I had taken. The FCP website said to allow 7 hours for this walk so even though some of it would have been from Guardbridge to where I started, nevertheless I didn’t really want to do any extra.
I took a sharp left which was signposted. There were two gates – the first said push but you had to pull! I was heading towards the trees and hills covered in snow, but away from where I thought the coast was – the cold breeze on my left cheek helped me to orientate myself.
Up and down and curving around went the path. Only one set of footprints were ahead of me now, with a dog. I took two steps for every one of his! The path twisted and turned, slippery and very uneven. Everything was so very beautiful, clad in white. The big trees were not covered in snow the same way as the small ones and the bushes were. There are fallen-down logs and the oh-so-delicate grasses carried their heavy loads – tilting and drooping with the weight of it all.
I amused myself with the tracks in the snow – the guy I fancied I was following seemed to have lost his dog – hmm interesting! It was useful to have the prints as it meant that I could see where the deep parts were.
The path wound between pine trees with various types of cones, rounder ones on the branches and long, thin ones on the ground.
‘There are two species of native conifer tree that produce cones: Scots pine and common juniper. The non-native black pine can also be found in the UK. All of these trees have different shaped pine cones and will hold on to the cones for different lengths of time.’ From The Woodland Trust. The red squirrels love to eat them!
The snow got thicker and there were two sets of dog paws, or maybe another sort of animal trails alongside the man’s now – it must be very interesting to be able to read them properly.
Bracken stalks cracked over from the weight of the snow. Black broom pods showed up starkly against the white.
I had a very quick stop – standing because there was nowhere to sit – for some absolutely delicious, warm jasmine tea. My pack was heavier than normal as I had bought enough food with me to last until Sunday night (two days). All I could think was, oh it is so beautiful!
There were mini pine trees growing between the massive trunks and because they were covered in snow they were lit up and my eye was drawn to them, back and back, layer upon layer of undergrowth where there were tiny, fine branches and twigs. In some places there was no snow, and it looked bright green, marvellous next to the white. As I walked, the snow fell from the trees down the back of my neck while at the same time my feet were tossing up snow which was going down my ankles. Brrr – cold!
I came to some sort of crossroads where there was a man with a bouncy spaniel, ears flying as he enjoyed the snow. I had a happy feeling and a sense of something, a sort of dropping down into my belly and a deep breath, like a much heavier lump, a weight. I was going along a road now, past the Polish Camp Road, and the signs seemed to be going straight on. There were cycles and cars ahead driving past. A woman with two great dogs assured me, yes, I was on the right track.
Beech woods now, a line of them and the smell had changed again, a different woody one. There were straplings, all bronzed and covered by the blanched quilt. Walking on the new snow rather than the slippy, packed stuff, I saw a light ahead like a fairy bower – silver and bright enticing me onwards.
Down a dip I tripped and went over on the same ankle I had sprained slightly in my Argentine Tango class a few nights ago. I felt it ricochet right through my system up to my neck, but thankfully there was no pain as I walked on.
When I came to the Kinshaldy Riding Stables three more horses were being led by a man with a little dog who had an overcoat on. A series of paddocks each had another horse in and children looked as if they were running just for the joy of it.
At 10.45am I was at the Tentsmuir National Park Road, the edge of the Nature Reserve. Today I was recording on my phone, experimenting with the idea of a podcast. In fact, unable to splice and mix, I transcribed them later at home. The sound of my heavy breathing on the recordings was off-putting apart from anything else! (It is not as easy as typing notes which can then be cut and pasted into WordPress. Maybe I could find an app which I can speak into which will transform that into the written word?)
Of course the last time I was walking in the snow was in Greece in November where I was looking after horses.
Creak creak went my boots on the snow when suddenly, there was The Crêpe Shack looking most incongruous after miles of nothing but gorgeous natural landscape. It was shut. There was also a playpark and picnic benches, so I sat down to have my elevenses. I was starving!
Traipsing between the dunes with a fuller stomach, I could not find any signs. I was pretty sure that in a few minutes I would see the sea and Kinshaldy beach so simply set off in that direction.
I get so fed up when I have to retrace my tracks, especially as deep snow is such hard work with a rucksack on. The path was not over the sand dunes (as the man with the horses had said), but back through the car park with spaces for coaches and where there are more playparks (so it is obviously very busy in the summer). I wiped away the snow and there was the sign I was looking for – heading back into the forest.
The snow was twice as deep: an inch (2 cms) rather than a half – solid and scrunchy. There was a sky blue as blue could be.
When I had stood up after my snack, I had a dizzy spell which was a first. The whole world span just like my clients described it to me, and the back of my left knee hurt.
The birds were tweet tweeting high up in the pines. Four or five bikes had gone ahead of me, and some people with dogs. When I looked closely at the trees, it didn’t really look like they were covered in icing sugar but with dust, the same way that really thick dust clings to every surface, all the twists and turns of something, like some sort of growth. Some looked like cauliflower heads, white like they say people’s hair sometimes turns overnight from shock.
I was thinking that this must be an old forest because there was no evidence of tree felling. Gradations of vegetation: from the little tufts of grass at the path edges, to the taller ones just behind, then the saplings, which were in front of the medium sized trees, and behind them the absolute giants. All were different textures, some more vertical, others more horizontal, with the vista occasionally broken by waterways.
It was unspeakably beautiful in the brilliant sunshine against the blue sky with no-one around – just amazing.
When I stopped and stood still there were only two sounds: distant waves that could have been traffic; and a sort of moaning, groaning, almost a woolf-type sound, but not at all scary. The latter was very difficult to reproduce and as I stood still it stopped. There were some logs which had been recently cut down in that part – I could smell the newly cut wood.
There were also paths off to the right at intervals, for access to the sea, but most of them were closed for building works.
Then wow! Once again I emerged from a long wander through samey landscape, lulled with the regularity of putting one foot in front of another, and suddenly was out of the trees. There was the matching blue water – I had reached Tentsmuir Point at the edge of the promontory where the land turns around the estuary of the River Tay. I stopped to admire the city of Dundee spread out on the opposite bank.
There seemed to be a area of ice where the land met the sea, and a sort of fence going out at right angles into the water. There were very gentle waves. Two gulls as white as the snow were catching the sun nearby, and hundreds more were floating miles away.
I walked on: a wee pond opaque with ice; thoughts of past love; a train trundling by; and guns sounding. I was at right angles to the point and it was so icy that my pole clattered. I was tired and my feet were aching, although my knee wasn’t. My eyelid did the annoying fluttering thing it used to when I was a teenager. Ploughing on, I heard pee por pee por pee por – thin bird calls, and the almost-sound of snow falling.
There were signs every now and then for the cycle path and forest trails but not for the FCP. A cyclist and women were coming towards me in pairs with hounds. I took a minute’s turn through the heather onto a hillock to get a view of the Tay . It was littered with gulls, and I admired the hills and wind turbines on Tayside. It was almost midday, so more melting was going on.
As I made hand prints in the snow I remembered a TV programme about the Pech Merle in Cabrerets in France perhaps 16,000 to 25,000 BC. Someone recreated them (maybe made by women), and they analysed why people were drawn to make these marks.
It wasn’t easy to locate the signs. Here was Tayport Heath at the edge of the forest and I was coming up to Lundin Bridge – a map helped me to get my bearings. After another tea break I picked up speed, when a sudden lick on my left hand made me look down and there was a young brown greyhound. Bounding beside her mistress was a much older wolfhound with glassy eyes who was more afraid of me than me of him. They were easily overtaking me so I must have been going slowly, what with the rucksack and it being my fifth hour.
As the dogs receded into the distance, they were growling and playfighting. There was a horrible smell of chemical manure.
I found myself at houses and ponds and when I looked at the map I was right in the middle of the forest again. There were no signs and when I asked three men, they confirmed I was a long way away from where I was meant to be. I took a right, following their instructions, and came to a dead end with clear signs saying Private. I went left and the snow got deeper and deeper, my feet plunging down. At a gate I was unsure if I should go through. Away from any sort of path, I was only just able to negotiate and it was really hard going. Swearing away I realised I had done an enormous loop – extra trekking – and as a result I was tired and fed up. It was frustrating to the point of tears.
After my mini drama I spoke to Isobel on the phone by chance which gave me some perspective. I made my way out of the forest and into Tayport, stopping a woman and her bewildered daughter for directions, which were sound. I found a cafe very close to the sea (look left as you approach!) and fell in through the door to the amusement of a couple who wanted to know everything about what I was doing and why. Good question.
The Harbour Cafe was started 6 years ago as part of Tayport Community Enterprise. It is broadly run by volunteers and is amazing! It is just set back from the bijou working harbour which looked great in the sun when I emerged a while later, refreshed, to continue my walk.
I went along the disused railway line. Right down by the water’s edge, a good way away from me, there was a strip of green where the snow had melted. A row of orangey grasses was punctuated occasionally by a single tree and this strip of sunlit green was absolutely beautiful in the evening sunshine. The bridge was in full view, cars whizzing past and lots of industrial buildings on the opposite side.
I had pain in my right hip – first time for ages – and sore feet. Overall, though, I was feeling much more balanced.
Luckily I am separated from the road by a stone wall. There was a wren looping from fence post to fence post almost letting me catch up with her, causing me to smile. Wren song.
An hour’s walk to Newport, I went under the bridge. Weirdly, there were also signs up to the bridge – I didn’t know why unless it was for the view.
Around a white golden orb that is the sun, almost directly ahead of me most of the time. preparing to sink below the hills which are tapering down into the Tay Firth. A lot of conurbation ahead which could be Newport or Wormit (the end), but I suspected the former. I was trying not to think about the end at this stage other than planning to be in bed for a long period of time when I got there!
‘In 1715 a new pier and inn were built, the work being funded by the Guilds of Dundee which resulted in the settlement being called “New Dundee”. Thomas Telford built a new harbour in the 1820s, and the town expanded and grew into a commuter suburb of Dundee as the prosperous jute manufacturers, industrialists and the middle and upper working class of Dundee established fashionable residences in Newport.’ from Wikipedia
It was very, very beautiful. The water was shimmering and trembling. There was a long line of gold cast by the sun and the completely clear sky was amazing and impossible to capture on my camera.
At 5pm the sun had all but gone down and I was probably 5/10 minutes short of where I should have ended, but it was very nearly dark and I knew a bus was due. I had been checking every stop as I walked through the residential area, all on pavement, amusing myself by looking at the gardens and architecture.
‘Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay! I hope that God will protect all passengers By night and by day, And that no accident will befall them while crossing…’ From The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay
‘But when the train came near to Wormit Bay, Boreas he did loud and angry bray, And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay On the last Sabbath day of 1879, Which will be remember’d for a very long time.’ From The Tay Bridge Disaster
Aahh – I sat down at last on the 92A bus from Southport Road, near Woodhaven to go back to St Andrews. The bus driver was really sweet: I was the only person on the bus and he explained that although it doesn’t go the bus station anymore, he would take me to the end of the route in the town, wait 3 minutes and then drop me off where I wanted to go.
It was only a short stumble to the hostel where I had booked a bunk a week of so earlier but when I arrived it was unavailable – there was some sort of booking mix-up which he said had happened before. I was more than crest fallen when he explained that I would have to go to Dundee to get a similar priced bunk – St Andrews is an extremely expensive place – but happy that he allowed me to use the facilities and have a hot shower.
I took another bus to Dundee and stayed in the Backpackers Hostel there instead.
Sunday 20 January 2019
I am not exactly following the Fife Coastal Path (FCP) official map, partly because the daylight is too short to get to the starting place and walk the distance before it gets dark, and partly because of accommodation and transport difficulties. Judging by the website, the FCP people are guessing that folk will be doing it by car, although how they get back to their vehicles I don’t know unless someone picks them up at the end of each stage. I know one long-suffering wife who, together with friends, has been supporting her husband to walk around the whole coast of Scotland by ferrying him from Edinburgh, so perhaps this is more common than I thought! Be warned that although there are good places to stay if you look carefully, it requires quite some research and flexibility to do this.
I recently came across a woman who pitched her tent approximately half way along the path and went back and forth with her car, so that’s another way of doing it, but it will still require the taking of buses and taxis of course. Here is her blog.
I retraced my steps by taking the early Sunday morning bus from Anstruther leaving the hostel at 8.30am in the dark and waving goodbye to my dormitory companion who was making shorter stages. I watched her setting off with her head torch along the section I had taken the previous day.
Half an hour later I was set down close to the Cambo Estate entrance (the cafe opens at 10am), a place I would like to visit some time, and regained the Fife Coastal Path from the main road which took 20 minutes, passing the darkened kitchen window where the kind woman had directed me 15 hours before. From there I completed the final part of the previous day: Cambo Sands to the Kingsbarns car park (where there are facilities: picnic benches and toilets). There were people asleep in their camper vans and lots of dog walkers, even though it was not yet 9am on a Sunday morning). There were signs to The Cheesy Shack, but I could not see it!
Kingsbarns to Boarhills (around 1.5 hours)
I knew from the instructions that today ‘may be the roughest part of the whole route’, and that it ‘should only be walked at low tide’, so I was against the clock which caused some stress, day light being at a minimum in February and the high tide being around 1pm.
It was definitely colder than the day before, maybe because it was earlier or maybe because there was a slight breeze coming towards me. I could see my breath. It was brighter than Saturday with lots of cloud, but also an area of pale blue showing inbetween.
The first thing I passed was a warning of remote bumpy landscape beside a field with a very strong smell of brassicas which overwhelmed the sea scent.
Another golf course and stretches of golden sands stretched as far as the eye could see. So far it was low tide, thank goodness, which was what I was going to need to manage the next part. There were little pillar-box-red poles all the way along, perhaps showing where you can get down to the beach.
It was hard going as they warned it would be, especially on the sand, beautiful though it was in colour and smooth surface. People and dogs had been there ahead of me. Then back on the scrubby grassland beside the shore, the path was very uneven. The water in my bottle was almost too icy for me to drink which showed how cold it was. Just to think that when most of us are in our cosy houses in cities and villages, the birds and cattle are here all through the night wheeping away, floating on the waves and managing the elements, whatever the weather!
There was a detour inland to Boarhills where I crossed the Kenly Water – a well-kept path beside mossy boulders where water bumbled over stones. It was well signposted across a metal bridge, and then there was a tarmac farm road followed by an equally long, straight grassy way heading back to the shore.
Boarhills to St Andrews
Next was a further geological treat: Buddo Rock, a stack of pink sandstone with a muted rainbow of organic colours and weathered into fascinating shapes and spaces.
Though time was galloping along, I had to stay a while and explore the nooks and crannies, gasp at the intricate patterns which had developed over centuries.
It is gentle land, unassuming and quiet, seeing to itself. Nature and birds are simply doing their thing – a situation which allowed me to think about what I wanted and do what I wanted because it didn’t care.
Gorse and lichen, a matching yellow, were situated amongst twisted shrubs which were sharp and almost bare of leaves. I padded along soft paths at the sides of which the sun lit up swathes of bright beige grasses with lavender coloured seedheads. Drystone walls cut into the shoreline at right angles and the sea turned alternate shades of baby blue and slate grey depending on the cloud movement.
A jogger ran past. A man was doing a pee, very embarrassed as he spied me.
There were more walkers than I had seen before on any of the FCP – there’s nothing like the Real Tough Part for attracting lots of folk! Both enthusiastic and uninformed walkers were there, I would have said, given what they were wearing on their feet. It sure was tricky in places: steep like a roller coaster, and a real scramble up jaggedy rocks at others. The water came very close, even before the tide turned, but I didn’t get my feet wet!
In one place there was a thin plank, the width of one foot, over a narrow chasm and a couple were in front of me. The man went first with the dog and held it as it growled at me. As I passed I heard him murmuring, ‘mummy’s coming, mummy’s coming’ as the woman with beautiful makeup stood still and wondered if she wanted to cross. She took her time – there was no other way.
Further along was the Rock and Spindle – an eye-catching, rather thrusting geological feature standing separate from the crowd just off the main shore.
High up on Kinkell Ness I stopped to ask directions from a very tall gentleman in an orange top with a beard with a petite woman and labrador beside him. Yes! 15 minutes over the high ground, he assured me, and I would be in St Andrews – I had done it, with a real sense of elation. I even laughed as the rain came down!
I heard children and looked down the steep cliffs to the beach, but no, it was a trick of sound over water – about 8 of them were in a boat out in the bay.
The astonishing thing is that you do actually get there, however exhausted your muscles are, Mine were all tense and brittle from yesterday’s exertion. On the East Sand, people wore trainers and sauntered with coffees, barking dogs and there were four white sails in the harbour.
Reads, ‘to pry apart a sunbeam and find yellow like imperfect gilding, violet and purplish black laquer of a lobster claw, bottle-green depths and dandelion interiors, the frilly white of shoreline and seashell, and all light’s silverwork laid bare in a solution of common salt on the common sand.’
What did I find surrounded by a small crowd but the Cheesy Shack which I had seen advertised back at Kingsbarns Car Park!
There is the option here to carry on around the cliffs and past St Andrews Castle, or turn inland through the city. I did the latter. It was a bit of a walk as there are only a few places where you can cross the Kinness Burn and take the Pends into the city. I was pretty wet now and needed shelter.
I took a left along South Street to find somewhere to find hot food and somewhere to recharge my phone. The soup was spicy and warm at the North Point Cafe, an unsophisticated wee place where the staff were attentive.
Be very careful when picking up a path leaving a town – it is always one of the most difficult things on a trail like this. There is a massive and most famous golf course on the edge of St Andrews and in many places it is uncrossable, so do not skirt the sea (where the toilets were closed) or you will have a very long walk!
I eventually found my way into the club house and the receptionists were kind and let me use their sumptuous facilities!
If you too stopped here for lunch here is my advice: find the main road A91 out of the city (the continuation of North street), direction: northwards. Alternatively you could ask for the Old Course if you dare (it is assumed you know where it is, as it is so well known!). Keep to the left of it ie do not follow the coast road through the car park (West Sands Road) even though it does say coastal walk, but instead head for the enormous hotel and the facade which is facing away from the sea, inland. You are looking for the tree-lined North Sea Cycle Path which goes to the left of the Tom Morris Building (turf on the roof).
It was a long haul on hard ground after such a challenging day and there is little to entertain you but traffic noise. I changed into my other shoes, but it felt like I was wearing slippers and my feet were sore. You could always take the bus as they are frequent and cheap.
I was very tired and looking for the Guardbridge Hotel when I saw that I could get the X59 bus back to Edinburgh. I stopped and waited on the same side of the road where I had been walking until a local bus stopped and said I was on the wrong side!
Ten minutes later I was hurtling back across Fife, taking the route through Glenrothes towards the Forth Road Bridge and home in the dark. I hadn’t made it to Leuchars, the end of the day’s walk, but then again I had started at Kingsbarns instead of Cambo Sands.