Monday, 6 June 2011
Dunbar.Bass Rock.Tantallon Castle Traverse.Fidra.
Yup ! Good to be back on the sunshine coast again.After a month of mixed weather on the west coast of Scotland I got fed up with endless dull drab clouds and headed off to sunnier climes.A visit to the east was a breath of fresh air,even if that air was coming at me at 60 miles an hour.
I was here for four reasons.I fancied seeing how the gannets were coping in this unseasonal windy weather...I wanted to do the traverse at low tide from Seacliff to under Tantallon Castle.....I`d picked a day of high tides and high winds on purpose for big seas....and lastly I simply fancied a walk along nice sunny beaches without the rain coming on all the time.All four would be excellent...even two I`d be happy with.
First stop over in East Lothian was Belhaven Bay,one of my favourite beaches in Scotland.Despite a gale blowing and myriad rivers of sand snaking in unison all along this coast off the dunes making seeing anything in the direction of the approaching wind difficult there were a few hardy folk walking along at an angle.Not much in the way of big rollers( needs an east to west wind I now know and this was west to east) but the attraction here was the gannets diving ,hitting speeds of 60mph (100kmph) as they plunged after fish.Due to wave action further out they were diving close to the shore as they need to be able to spot the fish from the air.
Even at that my camera still wasn`t fast enough to catch them mid plunge but I did get the splash.The John Muir Way passes near here as it runs along the coast from Musselburgh to Cocksburnpath.He grew up in Dunbar before finding fame in America as one of the founding fathers of conservation.The way passes through some interesting and lovely country but to see it at its best you` ve really got go off route slightly and walk along the various beaches nearby.I tried to cycle it once years ago by using all the beaches at low tide from Dunbar right round to Gullane.An epic tussle involving a fair bit of portage and occasional cliff scrambling, bike tied to my back.The perfect section is from North Berwick to Marine Villa which is just smooth hard flat sand bike skimming along near the waves.
Dunbar came next with its quaint harbour, its palm trees and clifftop path.I started off at the large car park beside the harbour,getting blown down the grass slopes to the sheltered enclosure below.Even though there was a wind roaring past the high walls of the harbour the water inside was flat calm.
Different tale past the entrance slot though which looks tricky to find if you don't know the layout in high seas.
Dunbar harbour at this time of year is something of a bird reserve in its own right.Every ledge of the ruined castle had a kittiwake bottom sticking out from it......
....and any unlucky latecomers had to make do with the more exposed outer walls beyond this harbour.
Where they really had to cling on with beak ,claws and feathers.
Had a scramble along the base of these cliffs at Dunbar,smashing outcrops of old red sandstone all along this coast.Even here the eider ducks were hunkered down waiting for better weather conditions.
Seacliff came next,through the £2 gate entry to the bay then a very windy exposed traverse along the bottom of the cliffs to the waterfall under Tantallon Castle.Always wanted to do this but never got the tide right.Actually got blown right over twice but at least it was sunny on an other wise dull drab month.
The only thing still in the air by now were the gannets and an occasional low flying gull.It surprised me how little wave action there was considering the wild conditions.Now I`ve done it there are very easy ways up the cliffs here so escape if the tide comes in is not any problem.
Out here is the best place to see Bass Rock from if you don't want the bother of booking a seat in a boat in advance,which is great but can be cancelled by adverse weather conditions.Even Sir David Attenborough had his fair share of problems getting out to the rock but when he eventually made it he described seeing it in spring as one of the twelve wildlife wonders of the world....and who better to know?
Its the largest single gannet colony in the world , home to approx 150,000 Atlantic gannets.
In the days before health and safety I took a round the rock tour on an over sized rowing boat with a normal outboard engine.The captain preformed brilliantly in the notorious east coast swell as we bounced about like a cork under the massive cliffs.It was almost like being in a giant snowdome,the air above thick with whirling gannets and their droppings.A few folk were sick over the side before we got back and one wee girl held her nose and said "Bye Bye smelly birdies!"
In the days of sailing ships you could smell if you were close to the Bass Rock in thick mist.A handy survival tip for sailors before more sophisticated navigational aids.
Trips in a modern big RIB nowadays from Dunbar cost £22 for adults..£17 for children (round island no landing) or £98 a head landing.This is from North Berwick 12 places connected with the seabird centre as you need this permission to land.£300 for a complete group booking with extras.Approx five hours on island depending on conditions.
For the first time on the way back to the car I was delighted to see a little fishing boat in the fantastic carved harbour at Seacliff.Even though its sandstone.... what an effort required to cut this out of solid rock! There was even a little rock carved fish and lobster keep beside it by the looks of it for sticking caught items in still alive and fresh.One of the jewels of the east coast this place.
Last up was the island of Fidra and the fabulous chain of beaches beside it,miles of golden sands with great views across to the four main islands off shore.Historical novelist Nigel Tranter lived in Aberlady and knew this region well using East Lothian in several of his books.For a lot of folk including myself he really made Scottish history come alive without the ordeal at school of endless pointless dates to remember and dry lists of long dead monarchs nobody cared about.In his books they were suddenly vivid and interesting.
Another writer who loved this coastline was Robert Louis Stevenson who spent his early holidays here.His map of Treasure Island in the famous book of that name is said to be inspired by the shape of Fidra.
All that remains on uninhabited Fidra now however are the ruins of a chapel and castle and loads and loads of gulls.Its a RSPB reserve and you can watch the birds there at the sealife centre via remote cameras. The lighthouse is also fully automated but you can still imagine this mysterious looking island on quiet moonlit nights to be the haunt of pirates.
Far fetched? Only a few years ago I met a sailor holding court at the bar in a Dunbar pub with a metal hook for a hand.He preferred it to a more up to date model when working on the boats.It was useful for cutting things.And that is a true story...