Walking Between Worlds – 3

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.

One of a flock of goosander on the water of Leith close by Coburg Street, Leith
Old map showing St Ninian’s Chapel, Leith
Old St Ninian’s Chapel (1675) with a golden cockerel weathervane on the top of its Dutch-style steeple, Quayside Street, Leith, Scotland

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.

Back by the water, I spotted this little talisman when I did my rekkie, but it was gone when I visited there, later, with the group. It reads, ‘1 in 4 children live in poverty’.

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).

Queen Charlotte in Bloomsbury Square, London

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?

St Mary’s Chapel (1483) at South Leith Parish Church, not to be confused with St Mary’s Star of the Sea further down the road. Looking blue at dusk

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
See how this woman is named a ‘relict’ of her husband, South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

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.

The South Leith Parish Church seen through a stone arch in its graveyard, Leith, Scotland

(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).

These iron gates (often seen in Edinburgh kirkyards, see how they swing on a central axis) protect the corpses and predate 1832. We know this because it was the year of the Anatomy Act which allowed medical schools to legally acquire subjects for dissection and so there was no need to rob graves after that! South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

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.

Saint Barbara, whose altar sits in South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

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).

A beautiful clay memorial to those who were buried around the church, but in unmarked graves (2009), South Leith Parish Church, Scotland

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…
Rosemary for remembrance, South Leith Parish Church, Scotland
After paying our respects to a further queen: Victoria (see previous post), high on her plinth outside Lloyd’s Pharmacy, we made our way up Leith Walk to Robbies.

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.

We walked together at the new moon, just over the border from one cycle to the next.

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.

Walking Between Worlds – an introduction

Walking Between Worlds 1

Walking Between Worlds 2

For a lovely blog on Warriston Cemetery, see Edinburgh Drift

Walking Between Worlds – 2

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)

Graves often have angels or birds at their tops and a skull and cross bones at their base – the body dies but the spirit soars to heaven, according to Christian tradition. The way, according to the ancient Chinese, is not so very different – the soul has different aspects to it, two of which are the Po which goes down to the earth at death, and the Hun which rises out of the top of the head and joins our ancestors

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!

The tools of the leather workers’ trade on a grave stone in North Leith Burial ground, Edinburgh

Bonnington

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).

Who was Eliza?

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.

Women at work at the Burton’s Biscuit Factory, Edinburgh

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

The current Chancelot Mill on Lindsay Road, Edinburgh, Scotland
Very blurred, but you can make out the yellow corn cobs on either side of the Leith flag

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’!

Site of The Bonnington pub, now destroyed several times over, Newhaven Road, Edinburgh

Urban myth

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?

We then started to walk along the edge of a section of the Water of Leith, the border between land and liquid. Bonnington Bridge, Newhaven Road, Edinburgh

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’!

Here is the plaque saying that Lady Mackinstosh is under this ground, but is she?

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).

The graves are thicker than usual, and this one has a skeleton head on one edge and an angel’s head on the other – death and life, North Leith Burial Ground, Leith
Angel and skull, North Leith Burial Ground, Leith, Scotland

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?

Sadly, it looked as if this was someone’s more contemporary (and probably rather cold) resting place. There are many homeless people who seek shelter in Edinburgh’s graveyards. North Leith Burial Ground, Coburg Street

Previous: Introduction to walking Between Worlds and Walking Between Worlds 1 

The walk continues in the final blog of the series, Walking Between Worlds – 3

Berwickshire Coastal Path: St Abbs to Cockburnspath

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.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Old photo of fishermen on the River Tweed with the iconic bridge behind them. Berwick-upon-Tweed railway station, England

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Monument with a coat of arms which has a cow in a gold chain on it, Berwick-upon-Tweed, England

St Abbs

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.

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St Abbs, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Another shoutout for the Old School Cafe at the Ebba Centre. Full story of their delicious cakes and kindness here here (day 2 of the Berwickshire Coastal Path)

Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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St Abbs over the undulating hills, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

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I saw two joggers and a birder, but no hikers during the whole day, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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!

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I am so grateful for my decent boots, mismatched walking batons and new gore-tex gaiters (waterproof material which you wrap around the lower legs to stop mud and water entering over the edge of boots or up the bottom of trousers). They still had the security tag on them which Barry kindly released me from before I left). Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

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Mire Loch and the North Sea in the distance, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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Mire Loch and the yellow gorse, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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).

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Going downhill on the road, the silence descended and the view opened up again, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Gorgeous Geology

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.

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When I rounded the headland to be faced with this bay, I was astonished to remember reading someone who said he hadn’t noticed the strata of rock, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

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In the distance, a single fisherman in his orange all-in-one suit was chugging along at the same time as laying his nets. He was followed by squawking, white birds. Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

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The stunning landscape of the Berwickshire Coastal Path is, generally, well signposted. I was warned by two sources that it is easy to get lost – maybe my several years of experience paid off, because I only went off-course for a sum of 10 minutes or so over the day. Here you can see the various possibilities which converge at one point

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.

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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.

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The fawn-deer-brown bracken was lying almost flattened to the ground after winter storms. Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

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Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

More sheep

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Torness shining in the distant sun, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

Cow parsnip hogweed (heracleum sphondylium)

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.

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Turn right at this cottage, walk straight down the left hand side of the field and then, although it is counter-intuitive, turn right (do not go across the farmyard full of wood even though there is a sign pointing left there). Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

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The ruin seen from the other side. The day was brightening as it came to its end. Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Siccar Point

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.

Siccar Point (Hutton's Unconformity)
Siccar Point or Hutton’s Unconformity, of immense geological interest, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

‘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.

Pease Bay

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There was Pease Bay  ahead – how did they ever get planning permission to fill the bay like that with caravans? Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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I sat for five minutes and ate some sugary snacks before stumbling down a long flight of wooden steps to Pease Bay, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

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Crossing a burn with little waterfalls on a boardwalk, I came across a sweet bay which could not be reached except by boat.

Beach cusps link to Coastal Wiki
Beach cusps – scallop-shaped patterns made by the sea at the edge of the shore where waves have collapsed into a thin bore. Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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The complicated coastline of Berwickshire with the picturesque houses of Cove and Torness Power Station in the distance, looking towards Edinburgh, Scotland

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.

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On one side a man mended his car, on the other, a funny dog jumped off the ground in his enthusiasm to be petted – cute or what! Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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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.

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Never mind the spelling, it’s the sentiment which counts! Berwickshire Coastal Path coming into Cockburnspath at the end – hooray! Scotland

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.

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Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Birdwatching on the Berwickshire Coast

Really good leaflet on wildlife of the Welsh coast, many of which species can be seen in Berwickshire too. pdf

You might also like Day 1 of the Berwickshire Coastal Path and North Berwick to Dunbar

North Berwick to Dunbar

A walk from North Berwick to Dunbar, part of the John Muir Way, East Lothian. July 13th 2019. 30 kms / 18.6 miles

John Muir Way signpost to hill
The mound of Berwick Law. You can just see the chapel and the famous herringbone on the summit

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.

Water with trees reflected in it
Pool at the foot of Berwick Law, near North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

Blue sky with plants and wall
A rather picturesque Wall I thought

Landscape between the stones
Looking through the gap in a stone wall to the wheat beyond

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!

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Arable fields, East Lothian, Scotland

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.

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I smiled out loud as I made my way through an ash wood, all smooth, straight, pale trunks

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.

Dark brooding clouds in East Lothian
The very definition of a lowering sky!

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.

Paintings for sale in the gallery
Half way I stopped for refreshments at Smeaton Nursery where there is a gallery and shop. Helen Gray is the Smeaton Estate Artist

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.

Big old trees
The mature trees of Smeaton Nursery grounds where there are woods, a lake and pony arena

Red brick building seen across a wildflower meadow
Preston Mill reminding me of a disused oast house in Yalding

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Stunning weeping willows along the River Tyne outside East Linton

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.

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Bridge over the River Tyne

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.

Pink flowers and green leaves
Wild flowers

wild flowers beside a field
Pink rose bay willowherb contrasting with yellow ray flowers

whisps of barley growing
Barley tickling the ground

Three flowers heads
Cowparsley

North Berwick to Dunbar
Dog roses in the hedgrows

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.

Stripey caterpillars
Caterpillars having a feast – there were about 20 on this one plant

Shiny, black slug crawling
Squelchy slug – one of the biggest ever – seen in the dappled woods opposite the East Links Family Park where there were emus grazing alongside llamas and donkeys

Clusters of wild flowers
Red beetles on cow parsley

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.

River flowing under bridge
Old stone bridge over the River Tyne, East Lothian, Scotland

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.

Scots Pine
The distinctive Scots Pines of Tyninghame Bay, East Lothian, Scotland

North Berwick to Dunbar
Creek at Tyninghame Bay

North Berwick to Dunbar
Bass Rock and Tyninghame Bay, East Lothian, Scotland

North Berwick to Dunbar
Belhaven Bay, East Lothian, Scotland

North Berwick to Dunbar
Coming through the arch into Dunbar Bay, East Lothian, Scotland

North Berwick to Dunbar
The man himself – John Muir, featured in Dunbar Bay, East Lothian, Scotland

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!

Practicalities

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.

The John Muir Way

More info about the walk on these two sites

Visit East Lothian

The Independent Walk of the Month

Thanks to Lesley for her local knowledge.

Berwickshire Coastal Path: Eyemouth to St Abbs Head Lighthouse

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.

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The Journey

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?

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This stretch has the second highest cliffs on the east coast of Britain

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.

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A giant red forehead looks out over Eyemouth Harbour and sands

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.

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Eyemouth Fort – all grass now apart from the guns, and the  stone shelter which you can see on the left. Scottish Borders

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.’

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Monumental

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.

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The land juts out into the ocean and there is a wonderful view

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!

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Rock strata of varying hues

The wind was so strong that it moved my camera as I pointed it.

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Spectacular landscape

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A series of wooden bridges boasting various signs including the BCP one (blue circle with white wave)

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A freestanding wall of rock on the right and a hard-packed, cracked and curving path to the left

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Across the first wooden bridge the path wound down a river valley to the huge foamy rollers –  water reflecting the blue sky in the distance

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.

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A rusty metal drill bit is sticking out of the grass on the left and on the other side, picnicking, sit an Australian woman and her most protective black and white shortie

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.

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Sunshine flowers – gorse against azure and underneath them hidden blue birdseye (speedwell) to match the sky

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Purple ploughed fields with very loud birds on the left (the ones which make the sound of unoiled wheels) while the peep peeps of the oyster catchers reached my right ear on the breezes

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Coldingham Bay in the distance

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.

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Jagged rocks

The wildflowers were all yellow here (the photo was not good enough to use): celandine, dandelion, daffoldils and gorse.

Coldingham

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Coldingham Sands (11.30am) with its brightly coloured beach huts

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Memories of playing with the children when they were little and them not wanting to get out of the sea “not ever”!

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Coldingham Sands – a blue flag beach

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In Memory of Isabel Cowe , well known business woman and suffragist

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.

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Easy to miss the mossy sign to the Creel Path off the road – this time I had read the instructions in advance so I knew to go over the stile

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The thickets of the Creel Path

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 Malcolm Canmore and St Margaret 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.

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Aubretia and hawthorn as I entered the village of St Abbs (arrival at noon), at the end of the Creel Path

Earlier I spotted the old, brown seed heads of tansy and teasal, 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!

St Abbs

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.

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Memorial

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.

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St Abbs harbour

St Abbs with its super clear waters is a favourite place for scuba divers, including beginners. For details of the new bunkhouse, see below.

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The Ebba Centre and Old School Café – highly recommended

The cafe is named after Ebba, ‘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.

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On leaving the village of St Abbs – typical Scottish sentiment

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The coastline north of St Abbs has high cliffs and belongs to the National Trust for Scotland.  It is a popular tourist area both for bird watchers, wildflower lovers, and hikers

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.

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Looking back towards the village of St Abbs, Scottish Borders

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.

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Verdant pastures in the lee of the hill where lambs were supping at troughs, maaa-ing to their mums who were down on their elbows supping the new grass

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.

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The sun lit up the pink and gold rock formations

Going back I wasn’t the only one out on this beautiful afternoon – I discovered it is quite a busy stretch.

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Stacks and white waves

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The sun was already starting to lower throwing blotchy shadows

Gentle paths curve through the spring-green grass, undulating with the landscape – there is some good climbing to strengthen your thighs!

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Berwickshre Coastal Path – St Abbs to St Abbs Head part. Coming from the other direction, the stack  in the middle looked like a flat cactus

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

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The lighthouse at St Abbs Head

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.

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I went back the same way past this gate with a beatific, female face

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.

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I got a good view of St Abbs church which was beside the cafe where I had rested earlier and which I had also sighted on my initial approach from the Creel Path

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!

Practicalities

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.

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If you are planning to walk this way, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did

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 enquiries@scotborders.gov.uk www.scotborders.gov.uk

Bunkhouse email address: divestabbs@gmail.com (Paul Crowe, skipper of the boat MV> Topline who takes fishermen, tourists and divers out to see the area).

St Abbs Visitor Centre

St Abbs Marine Station (research into marine science, conservation and education).

National Trust for Scotland Seal pups at St Abbs Head

The benefits of walking on uneven ground

 

Berwickshire Coastal Path: Berwick upon Tweed to Eyemouth

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.

by Wendell Berry

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Sunrise as I waited for the bus in Edinburgh

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.

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Just a light pack today, including my new flask which Isobel gave me for Xmas

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.

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Arriving at Berwick-upon-Tweed station

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A detour almost, before I started, through Castlevale Park to the riverside walk, to take a photo of the brick bridge across the River Tweed

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!

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The upright Round Bell Tower, Berwick-upon-Tweed

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).

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Lord’s Mount, Berwick-upon-Tweed

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.

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The first bay

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A dead seal was washed up on the shore. A disturbing, though not an unusual sight

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.

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Looking back to the bay, Berwickshire Coastal Path

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Winter seedheads and kind grass underfoot, the sounds of waves crashing and my Camino shell clinking at the back of 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.

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Clattering seed heads above and the odd flower low down sheltering from the winds; a nettle, some brambles and litters of rubbish

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.

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Wind turbines lazily turned despite the knots, and there were rusty metal steps down to the beach

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The path curved round a mixture of natural rock and man-made straight lines with a very enticing cavern underneath

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.

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Marshall Meadows, a lovely name – the first signposted stop, 2.5 miles

The path follows the highly eroded coast line in and out; my nose was running, tickling; and my mind returned to other similar trails: Normandy,  Brittany, and Orkney.

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.

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The camera is not doing the colour of the rocks justice. They are almost carnation pink, practically unnatural except that they are all real

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.

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The upstanding and nearly empty sorrel had turned the same deep chestnut brown of the fields

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.

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White horses and rolling waves

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.

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A sea stack – close-up

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.

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A natural, geological arch

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!

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It afforded me a few minutes of shelter away from the sea’s edge and the wind though

Back onto concrete I immediately felt my sore feet and realised I hadn’t been aware of them since the pavements in Berwick.

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Aah a sign! As I pass through the site, I wonder if the people who hire these caravans realise that their windows will look out onto the railway

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.

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Crossing the border into Scotland (the sign is written in English and Gaelic)

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.

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I hastily put my hood back up over my woolly hat and found myself walking between two rows of barbed wire fence by signs saying to clear up your dog poo (it can be poisonous to farm animals)

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They were scared of me, yet interested. I think they were female sheep because they were multi-tasking: walking, eating and going to the toilet all at the same time!

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.

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I was interested in a ruined bothy on the steep slopes which only the sheep could negotiate, and went to the edge to take a photo. That might have been where I mistook my way

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.

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A bowl of dark boulders – I shouldn’t have gone down there!

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?

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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.

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A calm pool between the jet volcanic rocks and the pink cliff profile

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).

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Burnmouth – not a sign of life, not a soul

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.

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Burnmouth from the tops of the cliffs

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.

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The colours deepened, became lucid and my mood eventually mellowed

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Faint and fragile fingers against a mackerel sky

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See how the coastline meanders!

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The sky and sea got bluer and bluer. There were two options and I went over the wall, hoping it was the right decision. I found myself out of the sun’s warmth

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Self-portrait

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A yellow clad fellow walks southwards – that’s the right idea – wind at the back of him!

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I simply loved the contrast between the orange lichen on the wall and the blue and green beyond

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Rock macaroons

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The sun was starting to set. I felt chastened, very quiet inside

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I only got as far as Eyemouth, having lost valuable daylight time going the wrong way and needing to get the bus back

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.

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All’s well that ends well! (one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ from around 1600)

Train: Edinburgh to Berwick upon Tweed (Scotrail £14.60)

Fife Coastal Path: Wormit to Newburgh

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.

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Crossing the Tay back to Fife as the sun rose

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!

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Woodhaven Pier, between Newport and Wormit, River Tay, Scotland

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)……

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The air was very clear as I looked across someone’s wintry garden to Dundee, Scotland

….then taking a right onto Bay Road…..

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Tay Rail Bridge

….bypassing Wormit proper and heading straight to the beach where the FCP runs across the strand for a bit.

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I could see where I would be walking, Wormit Bay, Fife, Scotland

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.

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Tay Rail Bridge Memorial at Wormit Bay

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.

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Looking down onto the waterside

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Icicles in the dells

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The path wound through woods away from the coast, up and down steps and across wee burns

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Then it opened out – the arable fields were slopes of white and the copses made of bare twigs

Catkins dangled olive green, and other peoples’ footsteps showed me the way.

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Drawn to making more of my marks in the snow – the dynamic relationship between the elements of fire and water, sun and ice, passion and reflection

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Stripes of muted greys: snow, stone wall, shingle, the estuary and the white covered hills of Tayside in the distance

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There were occassional dwellings along the way. I saw no-one

There was a quiet, gentle lapping of waves on the shore as I went between two houses.

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A massive boulder covered in gorse-yellow lichen on the half-white beach. The rest was grey. A flock of oyster catchers whizzed past, low to the water, followed by a loner, white stripes flashing to match the snow

oyster catcher  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.

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Two little girls in their pink all-in-one ski suits pottered with their parents

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.

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The Fife Coastal Path between Wormit and Newburgh, February 2019

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.

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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.

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The hard climb rewarded this view – there are not many wide open vistas like this on the FCP

They made me think about hiking the Via Sacra in Austria and of some places I have walked in Switzerland.

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.

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Ruined castle at Creich, Fife

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.

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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.

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Serious, dark pines and red-brown crags, FCP, Scotland

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!

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Looking back I admire the Tay from a height

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.

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A tree platform had been erected; the puddles were deeply frozen; I spied various animal tracks in the snow as I passed Red Fox Wood

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.

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I was coming to terms with the fact that there was more climbing ahead which meant views revealing bodies of dusty blue water including one shaped like a bagel somewhere in the vicinity of Blinkbonny (another wonderful place name)

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Going slowly downhill but there was another challenge ahead: Glenduckie Hill

I zig-zagged around farmer’s fields – cows in one, sheep in another. It was 14.45 and the sun had come out.

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A brief lowland patch, past attractive cottages, well-loved gardens and woodland, nurtured sunshine anemones and snowdrops with their heads swaying from side to side in the breeze

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.

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With great views of the mouth of the Tay Estuary, Fife

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.

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No danger of getting lost on this continual farm track. Or so I thought…

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.

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Oil-slick-smooth harbour water and a trek along the front to the park where the FCP ends, Newburgh, Fife

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….

the end!
Hooray – I had finished. How peculiar I always look in selfies!

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.

Fife Coastal Path: Leuchars to Wormit

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.

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Looking back towards Arthurs Seat and the snow covered Pentland Hills

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).

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Sunrise over Fife

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.

 

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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).

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Part of the Leuchars RAF Base, Fife, Scotland

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.

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The Romanesque architecture (known in the British Isles as Norman) of St Athernase, a Church of Scotland with fine blind arched features and an half-round apse from 12th century

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Notice the weather vane – a golden cockerel

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.

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Pitlethie House

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.

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Not the FCP one but still, a sign!

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.

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Ducks majestically swam up a very narrow, but totally still, irrigation channel. Each individual blade of grass was carrying its own load of snow, the upper ones melting in the sun

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.

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Rabbit foot prints and a fence where the snow has settled on the pattern of the wire making it look like honeycomb

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.

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Rejoining the FCP

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.

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My walking pole got temporarily stuck between the planks of the boardwalk but I was still glad that I had bought it with me this weekend! Fife Coastal Path, Scotland

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.

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A sign warned of wild stock, and huge piles of manure testified to this – Highland Cattle with glorious horns were lowing loudly while they walked towards me, covered in blankets of snow

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.

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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.

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See how the sun shines off the snowy ground even at 10am!

‘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!

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The deciduous trees are white, the evergreens sprinkled

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.

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The smell had changed from the one of snowy air and open ground to one of pine, and yes, it looked just like a Christmas Card!

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!

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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.

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The horses come to the fence to greet me and I scrape some grass to feed them

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?)

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Trunks looking black against the white backdrop

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.

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The entrance to the car park and picnic area by Kinshaldy Beach and the Tentsmuir National Park, Fife

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.

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This sort of scene is the reason why I walk in these places!

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.

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Frozen pond

It was unspeakably beautiful in the brilliant sunshine against the blue sky with no-one around – just amazing.

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The aptly named Ice House originally built in 1852 for keeping ice to freeze the salmon from the River Tay. The ice was taken from local ponds (as above). Layers of heather or straw were used to pack around it ,providing insulation like a deep-freeze. The salmon was shipped to the south

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.

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The March Stone erected as a boundary marker for fishing rights in 1764. The word March denotes an area of land on the border, and this March was between the Shanwell and Old Muirs salmon fishing, making a straight line from Old Norman’s Law (a hill) which though it seemed ever so far away I was to find myself climbing the next day!

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.

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Spectacular isn’t it!

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There is something surprising about sand covered with snow somehow

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.

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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.

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Really I should have known and stopped, because if there were no signs I must be wrong. And I was

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.

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To get a view of the Tay

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Snow on the hills opposite

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.

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Making my mark

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.

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Bird tracks

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.

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I was lost until I came across these signs

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.

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Detail of the fishermen’s monument, close to The Harbour Cafe in Tayport.

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.

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Tayport Harbour, Fife, Scotland

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.

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Looking past the lighthouse, across the River Tay to Dundee, Scotland

I had pain in my right hip – first time for ages – and sore feet. Overall, though, I was feeling much more balanced.

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Modern sculpture by the entrance to the Tay Bridge, Fife, Scotland

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.

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The Tay (Road) Bridge still catching the sun although the rest was now in shadow, Scotland

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!

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The elegant architecture of the ferry terminal for the ‘Fifies’ (what Dundonians called the ferries), Newport-on-Tay, Scotland

‘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.

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This elaborate structure has golden herons, River Tay, Scotland

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.

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Right on the main road from Newport to Wormit were impressive homes with a view across the water, Scotland

‘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

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A last sight of the Tay (Rail) Bridge before sunset. The original bridge which collapsed in 1879 six months after it was opened, with the loss of all 75 passengers and crew and was immortalised in William McGonagall’s poems (‘a notoriously unskilled Scottish poet’ Wikipedia  

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fife Coastal Path – Kingsbarns to Guardbridge

Sunday 20 January 2019

I am not exactly following the Fife Coastal Path (FCP) official map, partly because the daylight is too short and partly because of accommodation and transport plans. 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 have come across 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.

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Due east of Cambo Estate, Fife

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.

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I retraced my steps by taking the early Sunday morning bus from Anstruther leaving 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, (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!

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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 into my face. I could see my breath ahead of me. 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.

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Past the place of no return?

Another golf course and stretches of golden sands stretch as far as the eye can see. So far it is low tide, thank goodness, which is what I am going to need to manage the next part. There are little pillar-box-red poles all the way along, perhaps showing where you can get down to the beach.

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The sheer sands near Babbet Ness, Fife

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 cold 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!

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Flocks and flocks of black birds, alighting and taking off, swooping around, fighting and jostling to find their place, mostly on walls, fence posts, electrical wires and strand

Inland

There was a detour inland to Boarhills where I crossed the Kenly Water – a well kept path beside mossy boulders and where water bumbled over stones. It was well signposted over a metal bridge, and then there was a tarmac farm road followed by an equally long, straight grassy way heading back to the shore.

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The corn bunting or corn dumpling, the Fat Bird of the Barley can be spotted near here. A Red List species, it flocks in winter, fluttering its wings and dangling its legs in its identifiable fashion

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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, and gasp at the intricate patterns which had developed over centuries.

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The Baddo Rock in the deserted landscape where I was surprised by another photographer

It is gentle land, unassuming and quiet, seeing to itself. Nature and birds are simply doing their thing – a situation which allows me to think what I want, do what I want, because it doesn’t care.

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View through the rocks, Fife

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 gray depending on the cloud movement.

glowing grasses

St Andrews in the distance
St Andrews started to show, glowing in the distance while the coast behind me when I turned round, was gloomy

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Up and down tons of steps, it was very steep and hard work. Then back on the shore before climbing again, Fife Coastal Path

A jogger running past. A man doing a pee, very embarrassed as he spied me.

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The sun went in and there was a definite sense that the rain might be coming on, then it cleared – it was changeable

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 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.

Rocky coastline
There was a white bit of plastic to step onto but my short legs couldn’t reach it! Precarious with a rucksack

Further along was the Rock and Spindle – an eye-catching, rather thrusting geological feature standing separate from the crowd just off the main shore.

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Stones are set into the grass for climbing – sometimes with wooden hand rails and sometimes not. Pointing to the skies is the Rock and Spindle. See how the sea has eroded the land making semi-circular furrows which fill with water around it

 

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The Rock and Spindle closer up. Walking on pebbles, squelchy and noisy

St Andrews

High up on Kinkell Ness I stopped a very tall gentleman in an orange top with a beard and a petite woman and labradour 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!

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St Andrews at last!

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 in the bay.

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East Sands, St Andrews

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.

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Jacob Polley’s poem, East Sands, Salt Prints winner of the TS Eliot Award for Poetry at East Shore, St Andrews

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.

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The Kirkheugh remains are near the Church of St Mary on the Rocks and St Andrews Cathedral on my right as I left the sea behind me

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Under the arch of the St Andrews Cathedral Priory Gatehouse – Medieval ruins

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 it is in many places 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!

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The St Andrews Old Course where the famous golfers play with the Old Course Hotel on the left, in front of which the cycle path and the FCP runs to Leuchars

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 askfor 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).

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This straight path takes you from St A to Leuchars, the next village, and tracks the main road

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.

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On the right is a Nature Reserve, close to Guardbridge and the mouth of the River Eden. Arable land (blackcurrants?) and pastures where sheep crop

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The evening light was low and the industrial warehouses and hills covered in snow in the distance were lit up

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.

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I have been reliably informed that Traveline (see the phone number at the bottom of the photo) is an excellent resource for buses all over Scotland.

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Walking Scotland’s Coast blog