Friday, 16 November 2018

North Berwick to Gullane. Adventures on the Golden Coast.

                                                 ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
Another bus trip out east to avoid the gloom and wet weather of the west coast and the gloom and increasing shambles of Brexit. This was another section of the John Muir Way. Well, my John Muir Way as I'd be following the coastline and beaches whereas the actual route heads inland after North Berwick. I had explored this coastline before but it had been as part of a solo cycling tour decades ago so I hadn't walked the full route to Gullane along the coast. North Berwick and town beach above. High tide during this walk but still ok to complete the route.
Getting closer. The no 124 from Princes Street to North Berwick is coloured with green and so is the bus stops it arrives at, letting you know that's where to stand to catch it.They also have 124 marked on them. One every hour I think.  Edinburgh local buses are traditionally maroon and cream coloured but East Coast buses are normally green and service a different area, commonly known as the Sunshine Coast. And it was.
By going into North Berwick itself I was walking in completely the wrong direction to where I was going but I couldn't resist visiting this small coastal town again and seeing this... Bass Rock.  A soaring volcanic monolith  rising from the Firth of Forth and home every spring to one of the largest colonies of northern gannets in the world. Over 100 metres, 350 feet high,  at the summit but made even more impressive with vertical cliffs guarding every part of it except the lighthouse, castle, and landing area.
A gannet. A large seabird with a dagger like beak- useful for diving at speed from height into the sea after fish. 150,000 of these elegant streamlined birds live here, nesting in spring and summer on the rock, turning it white, before leaving in the winter months although many stay here all year round depending on what the fishing is like. With expert flying skills Africa, Spain and the Med is a short hop away if a hard Scottish winter sets in.
Even on its gentler side it is often impossible to land due to a large east coast swell and landing nowadays is strictly controlled here anyway. When I first visited in the 1980s, if I remember correctly, it was first come first served and it didn't cost very much to visit in an oversized wooden rowing boat with an outboard motor at the rear. Health and safety or bird welfare almost non existent.

Now, I believe, you have to book months in advance for a place due to popularity and a range of different trips are available. On the one I was on we visited all the other islands as well.
Several other islands dot the Firth of Forth in this vicinity, the furthest out being the Isle of May, seen here, once the base for opportunistic pirate ships lurking unseen in the days of sail, ready to pounce on slower merchants loaded with goods.
Berwick Law, seen here, is another prominent volcanic plug, which sits directly above the town, in an area which has several more scattered around.
So golden sandy beaches, blue skies, vast horizons and volcanic thimbles sticking up dramatically in an otherwise flat landscape are main features of this walk. Bass Rock and Berwick Law seen here from the beaches near Fidra. Around seven separate beaches separated by small coves and cliffs lie between North Berwick and Gullane and make an enjoyable scenic walking trip. Three separate offshore islands  add further interest.

Craigleith, Lamb, and Fidra, which you pass as you walk westwards towards Gullane. Uri Geller owns Lamb, a bird reserve as are the other two islands.
Rocky Fidra, seen here on a zoom, was an early inspiration for writer Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island as he knew this area well as a boy and teenager. It has a dramatic profile from all angles so you can see why it would attract his youthful imagination. It also has a curious doughnut type hole cutting straight through the centre of it.
A different view of Fidra from another beach further on. So near yet so far. An uninhabited bird reserve now like all the others I've mentioned. Once you leave North Berwick behind you also leave the crowds and the next stretch was noticeable for its solitude, only a few other walkers making it this far and none near me, just specks in the distance.
Wildlife took over as my companions. Pied wagtail here looking for lunch crumbs.
Red Admiral. Seen a few of these over here now- not much else butterfly wise- strange with so many wildflowers around on the east coast.
Starlings by the shoreline.
Small boat out to sea, skirting the coastline.
Intrepid pilot up above.
treating me to an ariel display and several loop the loops. Need experience and big balls to go upside down in an open cockpit I'd imagine, even if strapped in.
More golden beaches. Fidra in the distance giving an idea of scale and ground covered. Around 4 hours fast walking along the coastline with no real stops plus 2 more hours exploring the town and walks between various buses and my house.
More wildlife.
Small hunter in the seaweed looking for bugs.
Geese overhead.
And landing later.
A cracking walk high tide or low but I was glad to see the last beach at Gullane come into view. The first community reached since North Berwick on this surprisingly empty and still remote chunk of headland. It was getting cold and the light was fading by this point so a 124 bus back from Gullane High Street to Edinburgh. Six buses in all. Around 12 km including town walking. 16km total overall from house. 12 hour day round trip. Pitch black start- pitch black finish. The nights are definitely getting longer. Dark by 4:30 pm in the afternoons now.

So this feels very appropriate. A classic by a singer/ songwriter/guitarist who has been around since the 1960s. Co-founder of The Youngbloods. Great evocative violin/fiddle accompaniment here. Grows on you this one does.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Colours of Autumn. The Greatest War of All... still ongoing in 2018.

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With remembrance Sunday approaching and the First World War on the news and in other media outlets generally over the last month I thought I would borrow a few poppies for an often overlooked casualty of any war and all wars throughout history. The planet and the wildlife on it. Tens of millions of horses, cattle, donkeys, elephants, etc etc... basically anything that could carry men, ammunition, guns, supplies, or anything else helpful to the war effort was gathered up and drafted in to do a job, right back to the first civilizations and often treated with unbelievable cruelty and hardship. Some acts of kindness as well but war, by its very nature, is generally not the place for sentiment or much compassion. It's too brutal an arena for that.
Canada Geese flying into the UK for the winter. Also factor in the hundreds of millions of animals killed in any war zone, the loss of habitat, and breeding areas and it far outnumbers any human casualties. Humans are on the increase year by year, greater numbers now than ever before, despite our constant 'wars to end all wars'- out-breeding the planet and its remaining resources. Animals, insects and oceans, are in steady decline, pushed out to the margins by modern consumerism and growth- a collective mania to buy things we don't really need, then throw away months or a few years later, to end up in rubbish dumps so we can buy even more junk to squeeze into the few remaining holes left- as that's the way we have learned to function. To enjoy ourselves spending on anything and everything in sight. Disposable trinkets of every description. Beads and mirrors in exchange for our souls. No more make do or mend required. To have fun in rampant commerce instead and new toys every month, throwing out the old even if unbroken. To make us all happy? Getting rid of the unnecessary Secret Santa craze every year in modern offices would be a good start. That could fill a stadium sized hole in every country by itself. A tiny part of a deliberate propaganda and business model over the last 60 years carefully cultivated by an elite group of shadowy individuals who run our world completely. Not politicians, or kings and queens, or heads of state. They are just the visible pawns but the real people who mold and shape our world, deliberately destroying and altering it to suit themselves are mostly low key and hidden from view, competing with each other for the time honored delights of power, ambition, greed, religious conviction or even just for relieving boredom. It's not really about money anymore- they have countless billions already. Like every other human on the planet they are driven and motivated  by personal obsessions- only in their case it's a need to succeed- to go further- to beat everyone else- to preserve a lasting a generations long global empire. Countries and all political parties bow down to them as they pull the strings behind the curtain. And we probably end up paying them for each new recession to bail us out again.

 Since the 1960s they have escalated this trend towards cheap disposable goods at an ever increasing rate but not to our benefit. Certainly not now in the long term. According to various reports three or four people today own more wealth than the poorest 50 percent on the planet will ever acquire.  Or put another way one percent own the other 99 percent.... a situation that's a more extreme division of wealth than ever before in the modern era. I wouldn't mind that but instead of swanning off and enjoying it they always find new ways to exploit the world make more, to change our situation year by year and gain even more control over us in the process. The 1970s/1980s is when this new disposable trend started so it's back to a future before that if we even want a future to look forward towards.  Are certain technological advances really helping us improve our lot or just dumbing us down even more- just made for greater profits and a handy collar and chain for the servant's neck? A trusty safeguard to keep us compliant. All over the world right now employees are already getting micro-chipped... for security purposes in their jobs. Tracked and coded. But once that becomes normalized in the workplace, who knows what else.  Programmable particles are also being developed in labs, tiny robots so small they can enter our bloodstream- for good or ill. Sadly, not for much longer the realm of science fiction novels like Michael Crichton's excellent 2002 book -Prey. Will we even have a choice when it comes down to it? Did we have one with smart phones? And is that a wise move forwards for humanity?

 You could argue that the vast movements of people seen today from poor to wealthy countries have been greatly facilitated by smart phones. Incentive images showing a better life, directions and methods of travel and entry, potential jobs, ease of networking and feedback from friends who have made the change already... all listed worldwide at the push of a button in mud hut or shanty town. Why wouldn't you grab that chance, however slim, compared to your surroundings when you see the opportunity of a better life elsewhere? Almost every day through your phone. A modern carrot on a stick. ( Of course wealthy countries only got that way by stealing the resources of poorer countries they exploited and controlled but I'll cover that topic in a future post soon as it's still happening today.) History is often what you choose to remember as a nation or individual, rather than the reality.

 To house computer in the corner. (my new and totally essential personal servant) " Hi little buddy, here's a question for you know every single thing about me, my bank accounts, my relations and colleagues, past lovers, and all I've ever done since birth. "
"Yes, I do my Master."
Aye, thought so.
We also need to learn how to get our fun in less destructive ways. It can be done. It doesn't take much thought at all. This is our war. Taking place now. The fight for the planet. I'm already in the resistance movement but more through natural lifetime inclination than deliberate choice.

So my poppies are for the planet. As what they are doing to it is not sustainable in any way, shape or form. And it's a deliberate act. You could argue that war memorials are part remembrance for those who have died and those affected left behind but it's also a form of propaganda in its own right. Any glance at history or around the world today will tell you that war is a large part of the human condition- and that certain people, already wealthy,  make vast fortunes in war- just as in recessions. Steady but slow peacetime prosperity is for plodders- no spectacular growth to be had there but a useful lull to get plans into place before the inevitable happens again. So war memorials serve a double purpose IMHO if peace drags on too long to remind the lazy population that they may have to do their bit again at some point---to always be ready to go off and fight as our ancestors have before- to fall into line... especially in a modern age when people are more cynical and less inclined to follow routine doctrine and may even realise the pointless futility of any modern war. What if, God forbid, the canon fodder simply refuse to fight anymore- then the generals will have to slog it out toe to toe- far less fall out involved in that scenario. So there is another reason for remembering a war fought 100 years ago. And it's not so it will never happen again.

                                                       Sunset over the River Clyde.
Unfortunately, humans, by their very nature, are easily provoked to fight. The people in charge know this only too well. All it takes is a perceived enemy... be that Communists, the Chinese, Islamic State, The backward Middle East, The corrupt West- anybody really will do. Any issue to baffle and motivate the masses.  Most of them funded and supplied of course by the elite at the top moving pieces on the board to maximize profit. Being at war means you can grab lands, resources, drain other countries wealth while improving your own - and generally have a great time- from the shadows. All things you can do much quicker and easier in a war.
                                                        From death comes new life.
Happily nature tries to tidy up afterwards, improve the chaos- but will that always be the case?
                                        Or will there come a limit to even her generosity of spirit?
Often the worst diseases appear during times of war and they can be worse than the war itself. Aids, Rabies, Plague- all flourished and spread during times of great human hardship. Our old enemy plague is still around today, lurking subdued on several continents, just waiting for a catalyst and the right conditions to stage a comeback. Wars are dangerous on many different fronts.
Many victims there as well but rarely talked about.
For two years during World War One, the 'Spanish Flu' pandemic spread world wide. The only country/continent not affected was far flung Australia which managed to quarantine itself in time by banning all ships. Being at war and vast movements of troops in close proximity meant it spread and evolved far more rapidly than a normal outbreak would do and by the end it had killed more than 50 million. It didn't start in Spain and is rarely talked about today so it was a real eyeopener of a programme for me when I watched it.
 Link here to this BBC 2 programme.

50 million is a conservative estimate as many Commonwealth countries at that time had poor hospital facilities, overwhelmed staff, and keeping records on the growing piles of dead was not a top priority. It could easily have been 100 million killed directly through this deadly flu pandemic - many times more than the total who died as a result of fighting in WW1 yet it is rarely mentioned at all. Equally heartbreaking for families I'd imagine as babies, mum, dads, teenagers, grannies and grandads all died together, often vomiting rivers of blood at the end as they gurgled and choked to death all in one house or crowded wards. Entire families and communities wiped out. The young, the old, the fit and healthy. Very few memorials or services to them around the world. I did check. So is it total numbers of dead who count in memorials- or the way they died... or the cause they died for?

So spare some poppies for them as well and the millions of babies, women and children who died then in two short years. Or are they just put in with the war dead tributes- as that's not really made clear? It's like presenting a yearly history lesson from the past that we should remember forever because it's important and missing out half the picture. Or getting handed half the contents of a jigsaw puzzle.
 " Oh and a far greater number died afterwards away from the battle fronts but we don't talk about that bit- too messy and complicated."
I'm not diminishing the loss of loved ones during wartime in any way just that it really surprised me that this flu killed such vast numbers in every country worldwide at the same time as WW1 yet is so rarely mentioned at any point regarding this war. The forgotten victims. Or maybe that's just me and it's everyday knowledge as to the numbers involved?  Apparently Armistice Day 1918 was a huge boost to spreading this lethal virus with all the hugging, kissing and sharing of wine, beer bottles and celebrations going on. A great mix of people packed very close together, touching each other. An incubation chamber to improve the strain. These are the things that should be remembered by future generations as well to my way of thinking. Nature is really sneaky like that. Yin and yang. The ancient two handed Goddess. An expert at give and take.
Evening mist over the Dusk Water Valley.
Grey squirrel in woods.
Mist inversion over Lennoxtown.
Oyster catchers in flight.
A pastel blend of autumn colours.

And a beautiful happy video to end. No, it really is. Honest. I promise. This is a joy to watch. A film I haven't seen yet. Catchy tune and visuals that I suspect sit much better without any dialogue.


Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Hanging Gardens of Haddington. Edinburgh's Growth Rate.

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After the Gullane day out we headed for the Garleton Hills and Haddington where Gail had a few geocaches to find and collect  The Garleton Hills are of modest height and size but very scenic, topped by the Hopetoun Monument, seen here.
I've been up this to the top on previous visits and also the other prominent landmark tower on Mount Hill in Fife. It's not often anyone gets two large monuments dedicated to them so far apart so John Hope, 4th Earl of Hopetoun must have been very grand indeed in his day. Step forward that man from history. Born in the mid 1700s in West Lothian, a Scottish MP and a General in the British Army he fought in numerous battles around the world and gained various titles until his death in 1823 in Paris. I have to confess I didn't know much about him at all apart from visiting these two monuments so it was only when walking past this cul de sac area numerous times on the way to Edinburgh's main bus station and reading the name and info under this statue I made the connection. His horse and image stands here as he was also an early governor of this banking group.
Dundas House. This is it here and I only took the photo because the strong evening sunlight had turned this St Andrew Square RBS branch office from humble bricks into gold bars. Highly symbolic in a way. Set back from the road in the heart of New Town Edinburgh this is no ordinary Royal Bank of Scotland branch office but a grand town house fit for a Baronet, Sir Lawrence Dundas in fact. A man who is not well known today but made his fortune supplying the British Army with goods, also poured money into the building of the Forth and Clyde Canal which ran through his lands near Falkirk and developed the East Coast town of Grangemouth, turning it into a major port. He had estates in Scotland and England so this is no ordinary building inside but elaborately decorated in the finest materials and patterns that money could buy.
 Edinburgh, reading local reports in various city newspapers, has sailed through the 2008 recession and ten years of austerity cuts with flying colours and barely a blip, as Britain's third largest financial centre and one of the fastest growing cities in the UK over the last decade. This confirmed my own suspicions, just looking around the place, that Edinburgh will at some point become the largest city in Scotland, overtaking Glasgow, which is still shrinking in size unless a dramatic upturn and reversal of fortunes takes place. It just feels more vibrant, far more upmarket and always thriving on my frequent bus trips here so it's nice to have my own general feelings confirmed as hard facts.
 With global fingers in many pies RBS was one of the banks deemed too big to fail so they were taken over/owned by the UK government/ British Taxpayer for a while as vast sums of money was poured in to keep the ship afloat but they are now in profit once more so slipped back into private ownership. A licence to produce gold bars again instead of rapidly sinking bricks and back to business as usual it appears. There are downsides to growing too fast however-in banks and in cities--- over-tourism, city centre streets clogged with traffic and pedestrians, stretched public services, and a lack of affordable housing for those not working in high pay professions. Even Edinburgh is not immune from the two tier society effect with a large increase in crisis grants and emergency aid ( up 33 percent) due to welfare cuts and 'restructuring' (ie shrinking/ dismantling) of the benefits system.
Anyway, onwards to the inland market town of Haddington around ten km south from coastal Gullane. Gail had other geocaches here along the river walk through town and although I had visited Haddington many times on day trips I'd never had a chance to look around properly.
The surrounding countryside, like most of the East Coast, is very fertile- full of farms and sunshine drenched fields so Haddington as a central base is fairly prosperous with many fine buildings for a small rural town in the country.
With twice the sunshine hours of the soggy west 50 miles away they can grow wheat, barley, oats and abundant veg crops here - much more productive than the west. I remember growing up on the outskirts of Glasgow, in the 1960s, and at that time they did have a modest hay harvest there as well but it was probably a leftover from the Second World War approach where every spare available field was used to grow crops and this soon died out as it was less profitable than over here on this side. Especially with entry to the Common Market and the various surplus mountains of food and supplies that joining caused in the early years. Remember the handout tins of free green meat anyone?
The river walk in Haddington along the River Tyne is fairly pleasant but not something you would travel 50 miles to see. Fortunately Haddington has other delights in store and we had timed it perfectly for a spurge of late autumn colours. Some of the best I've seen anywhere, hence the 'Hanging Gardens' title.
Beautiful borders are dotted around the town.
All the colours of the rainbow.
Daisies, lilies, sunflowers and name it it's here.
Kniphofia- red hot pokers normally but yellow variety here.
Rudbeckia. Also called Black Eyed Susan with a darker centre ball than this type shown.
St Mary's Parish Church. Haddington.
Neilson Park is also a gem of a place in the centre of town.

This is as wide as it gets and is only a stone's throw in length yet it packs a lot into a small area.
including a fantastic wildflower meadow.
The best I've seen yet.
Packs a punch well above its modest size Haddington does.
The display that made me think of hanging gardens. I only had half an hour to capture it all but it's still more than I've had before on previous trips when we were only stopping off for food or a pint on the way to and from surrounding East Coast hills.
Like this one here. Traprain Law, 221 metres,725 feet high and one of many volcanic plugs dotted around this area and the ancient hilltop fort/seat of a powerful local iron age Celtic tribe, The Votadini. Traprain Law was also the reputed seat of King Lot or Loth who coincidentally has the same name as his former territory- Lothian... and has direct connections to King Arthur, St Mungo,  Sir Gawain and even Uther Pendragon the King of ancient Britain at that time, again according to legends and poems, in an age before accurate records and fixed dates existed on these shores. Although both King Lot and Arthur are mythical shadowy figures from the past, if they ever existed at all, this area has as strong a claim as anywhere else as a late power base for Arthur, Lot and Merlin fighting rearguard battles against the invading Romans and Saxons. Place names to these three central figures are all over this east coast area, even today, and several films have highlighted this in recent times, placing Arthur and Merlin fighting battles north of Hadrian's Wall instead of the usual Wales or Cornwall setting.... i.e based in Southern Scotland. Historically, many Celtic tribes who refused to submit were pushed out into the more mountainous regions of the UK by these powerful new invaders and some grains of truth can usually be found hidden within most legends, however distorted with new re-tellings of the story. The popular Game of Thrones is also a clever re-imagining of ancient Britain, its various kingdoms, and 'The Wall' only with dragons and more ice and snow thrown into the mix. Even in Victorian times, which was not that long ago, the culture and traditions of the Highland Clans had a dramatic makeover and many of the iconic things we now associate with Scottish highland life today, promoted and known around the world as intrinsically 'Scottish' is a relatively modern invention that didn't exist pre Victoria and Albert getting involved. Dreamed up by a German Prince and a German/English Queen which turned a mostly hand to mouth existence of grim savagery into a romantic, highly fashionable and perfectly safe Disneyland which people flocked to visit and embellish further. It was a successful rebranding and put that image of Scotland on the world map which has lasted to this day but also shows, in a fairly short time period, how reality can be erased/become fiction and visa versa.   
and his round table connections here. Brother in Law to King Arthur, Father To Sir Gawain, Grandfather to St Mungo. An outstanding pedigree for one single guy.

I'll end with one of Ireland's greatest folk singers for the last 40 years singing one of Ireland's best story songs. The subject matter is one that's not often mentioned in verse so eloquently as here but affects grown men, women and children in every corner of the planet. You have to wait until the last line to know what that subject is. When the artist stops singing that's the end even though this footage still continues for a few minutes more. A fantastic classic song I first heard decades ago. Still as vivid, raw, and powerful today. Excellent quality on this recording.
Christy Moore. Spancil Hill.