Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Prestonpans to Musselburgh. Last Section of Day Walk.

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This is the last section of my day walk from Seton Sands to Musselburgh. It was action packed with many points of interest, hence splitting it into three different parts. This is the sea wall at Prestonpans, guarding the town from the winter storms that batter this coastline on occasions. At low tide you can walk under it easily enough but the tide was still coming in when I arrived here so I was in two minds whether to go for it or not. Be very embarrassing if I got stranded halfway around, cut off by the waves. As I still had my boots on and dry socks in my rucksack I decided to attempt it quickly before it got any higher. This section, facing the sea, used to have good murals along it but they have been washed off. It's over ten years since I last visited this area, by bike.
The next stretch was the most committing, no high crashing waves to deal with just slippy rocks and knee deep wading in places but I managed to get past to safe ground again. I may not be rock climbing, back packing or caving anymore but I do manage occasional modest thrills when the mood takes me.
At this point I doubled back inland to find some more murals- this time in the local park. More modern themes here- travel. It looks like children's work but given a choice between children's art exhibits and modern art displays I've seen in various galleries the children are streets ahead.
According to the info this was local primary school children but there's a strong hint of Gustav Klimt during his Gold Leaf Period in this so maybe teacher had a hand as well, suggestion wise. Klimt was apparently influenced by the work of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, Charles Rennie's artist wife who exhibited in Vienna in 1900 and created a stir with her elaborate, highly detailed, nature art. It may just be my imagination or a gifted young pupil but there's a level of sophistication in this particular panel at odds with the age group and the rest of this mural. Or that's my take on it anyway.
The other panels are done in a similar style but not as refined or as obviously artistic in general concept.
A mural of the town, also found in the local park. Preston Tower and Cockenzie's coal fired Power Station in the background. If you ever visit Prestonpans don't worry - still dozens of new murals to find and see.
Coal Mine, Gothenburg Public House and Totem Pole in this one. Also children's play area.
And this is it here.
Wildflower borders also adorn the park and surrounding district but funnily enough I didn't spot a single bee, wasp or butterfly on any of these patches. Maybe it was the strong constant wind, although this park is sheltered, the late season- end of September- or some other factor but it seemed strange with such a rich abundance of flowers to be so bare of insects.
All over this east coast district, roundabouts, grass verges, and parks are awash with colourful strips like these so you would think they would be teaming with life. On three separate visits in September though I've not seen much- maybe with such a good prolonged summer, especially on the already sunny east coast, everything has already hatched, mated and died by this point.
This stretch of the John Muir Way between Prestonpans and Musselburgh feels more open with acres of grassy meadows and very few trees. It wasn't always like this though. Look at this picture above with this rectangle of scrub border. It's been left that way for a reason.
Morrison's Haven. Same place up until the 1960s when it was filled in. The sea edge is now fifty paces further away to the left. In it's time it was a busy port, large enough to rival Leith docks and closer to the coal fields. It was only after the Second World War it went into decline after 600 years of use.
This is an enjoyable stretch on a good day, cycling or walking, but lacking much shelter if foul weather conditions are encountered.
The view in the other direction looking towards Musselburgh. The faded sign below says Danger. Active Lagoon. Keep Out. It would have been liquid under this metal walkway ten years ago- a lake of mud and water. Now solid, safe to walk on, and taken over by weeds.
When I first came here, over a decade ago, it was filled with several active ash lagoons, Large reservoir sized shallow lakes filled with ash waste piped in from Cockenzie Power Station. At the time it was built in the 1960s it was the largest coal fired power station in the UK and its bulk and soaring twin chimneys dominated the small town beside it and the coastline for many miles around. I remember being very impressed by its size cycling towards it and also stunned by the visual impact of the ash lagoons. The coal waste had to go somewhere so it was dumped here in large settling ponds. Uniformly grey, lifeless, and barren they were a sight to behold- like discovering an entire alien planet from a science fiction film set plopped down near Edinburgh. I was completely entranced by them as these vast lagoons were like nothing I had ever seen before in Scotland and probably never will again. Mordor made visible and in the middle of all this dark satanic waste an ash mountain rose up like a towering pit bing. My very own Mount Doom. All it needed was lava pouring out of it to be perfect.  Naturally, I had to climb it.
This was the view over ten years ago from the halfway rim with the bulk of ash mountain still to climb surrounded by the largest lagoon. A sizable river of thick silt pours into this mud basin... the outflow from the power station several miles distant. A few warning signs but no fences, barriers, or obstructions to keep you out. The mud looked fairly deep in these lagoons  but I wasn't stupid enough to try it out. I really should have used a stick to find out in retrospect just how deep it was though, if only for research purposes, but I didn't have one handy and I was just blown away by the sheer scale of this place. I raved about it afterwards to anyone that would listen, and described the unique atmosphere of this place to my friends but as usual they were not interested at all and only cared about normal hills and this one wasn't on any lists. True pioneers walk a singular path I often find. The road less travelled. This was before the John Muir Way even existed as a long distance walk so I never met a soul here apart from a few locals.
It was a very special area to me though so it was with some sadness and regret that I traced out all that remained of the settling lagoons. The edge of one of the ponds here. In the far distance is the start of this day walk at Seton Sands where my morning began.
The main settling pond- now dried out and overgrown with weeds. Although high on the scale for harmful emissions and pollution it did feel like visiting a mighty fallen beast where only some of the bones are left visible and intact, half buried in the ground. Although green friendly the modern gas turbine replacement version situated nearby was low slung, modern, modest and drab in scale... and never even merited a photo attempt from me. I assumed that was what I was looking at as a replacement but was so underwhelmed by its blandness in the landscape I never even detoured out of my way to find out as it was extra mileage for what resembled low key ordinary industrial estate factory units. Just a box really with no interesting features.
Part of this former lagoon district however  is a nature reserve now and I did make a detour here to visit several shallow ponds filled with bird life. With the strong winds along the coast making sea conditions rough a large amount of waders preferred more sheltered conditions inland and this place fitted the bill perfectly with a surrounding belt of trees and several bird hides. Oyster catchers and geese here.
Redshank and sandpiper at a guess.
A wagtail chasing after flies.
And finally Musselburgh was reached where I got a bus back to Edinburgh... then one to Glasgow... then finally one back to my house. A 12 hour round trip in total and six different buses but so worth it. Musselburgh Race Course has existed since the early 1800s but it fell away and looked rather deserted during my first bike runs here. It's now been fully restored and has an active racing calendar again and full facilities. A nine hole golf course exists in the middle section, which is a bit of an oddity, with galloping horses racing around the oval on the outside. Dual purpose so very practical land use.
Musselburgh is worth a visit as well in its own right with a scenic harbour area, the River Esk as an attractive town feature, numerous local shops, and sands. Plenty of bees on these flowers. You can also walk along the shoreline here from Musselburgh to Portobello which is another fine walk of a few hours duration, mostly on pleasant beaches with enjoyable views.
 Musselburgh Harbour. Very glad to see it after a long day. Up at 7:00 am back in house by 7:00pm.

The End.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Prestonpans Mural Trail. The Dark Ages. Witchcraft Uncovered.

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Prestonpans has more going for it than just a seafront boardwalk so I thought it deserved a second post in its own right. Originally founded on fishing, coal, sea salt, soap and other industries... in the modern era  it had to find a way to reinvent itself. Like many post industrial towns and villages it went into a decades long decline since the 1960s-1980s and those traditional industries, mines and jobs dried up. Compared to some of the more upmarket neighbouring towns and villages it still retains something of a hard edge to it but that's never bothered me as I like character in a place and Prestonpans has plenty of that as well as many fine historic buildings.
The 15th century Preston Tower and Mercat Cross. This small round windowless cell was the town jail for many years. Space to walk around not an option so a good deterrent to behave. Period gardens surround this tower house and many other old buildings are scattered across this small town from every period giving visitors enough to look at on a day visit.
In recent years wild flower borders have appeared, aided by the extra hours of sunshine the East Coast has always enjoyed as it has half the rainfall of the west. As you can see from this sign Prestonpans is also well known as one of Scotland's first mural towns. I don't know the exact number as they are always adding new ones but it is a lot. This is just a small fraction I've included here.
Let's start with the John Muir tribute mural down by the seafront. He's enjoying a pint of local ale with the Gothenburg Public House and totem pole in the background. Obviously he was in America by this age.
And this is it here- just The Goth to locals. Built in the early 1900s and fabulously decorated inside with elaborately painted ceilings and walls it's well worth a visit. Prestonpans Mural Trail and Arts and Craft info in the pub.
I didn't realise quite how unique this pub chain was until, in the comments section, Russell pointed me in the direction of this link. Thanks R.C.

And directly across the road in the car park stands this oddity. The Prestoungrange/pans Totem Pole. A real one- from British Columbia.
Hope you can read this here. If not... in 2006 a 32 foot high pole was cut and carved with the assistance of Native American Cowichan individuals with the help of local artists and children, kick starting a Scottish arts and crafts, tapestry and mural splurge in the town that continues to this day.
It's also not too shabby in the late summer/autumn wild flower department.
When I visited here for the first time over a decade ago an excellent series of murals had been created along the sea wall but winter storms have washed them all away save this example. Most of the murals in town celebrate Prestonpans rich heritage. With a thousand year old pedigree it's one of the oldest areas in the UK to have used coal to heat houses- traced right back into prehistory long before the industrial age made 'black gold'  and coal mines popular. Even on beach walks in this district raw coal seams are visible on the surface strata running out to sea.
Dairy mural in the high street. A burn used to flow past here, now long buried underground.
A sea salt mural and soap production.
They also made bricks and earthenware pottery going by the examples on the totem pole. Totem Poles are all around us in modern day Britain. They advertise all the shops at the entrance to most retail parks.
This brown teapot was once a well known product of the area.
World mural off the high street. Prestonpans is twinned with Barga in Italy, hence the golden boot in this image.
A link to why its twinned with Barga here, The Vancouver island connection and other interesting local info.

Near the seafront wall, in an old sandstone locked shelter, one of the most elaborate and probably often overlooked murals is found. The Robert Burns panels celebrating the poets life, stories and songs. You have to peer though the bars to see the images properly but that definitely adds to the atmosphere. Although Burns was Ayrshire through and through he did live in and visit Edinburgh when he was alive and his poems of witches, hobgoblins and strange characters would chime deeply here alright.
One thing you notice travelling around this east coast area- Edinburgh and Lothian- is its very dark past. Almost every village and town has its own tale of hunting and killing witches- mostly innocent women and children that for one reason or another were tortured- named several others- who were also then tortured ruthlessly, burned and twisted  to root out the devil and evil lurking within community's. This happened all across Scotland and Europe during the 16th, 17th and early 18th century, killing thousands of mainly women and children in Scotland alone- millions Europe wide in a great purge. It eventually died out but for some reason it lasted longest here, even after it was discredited in most other places.
The nearby town of North Berwick in the late 1500s.  200 women eventually suspected of witchcraft starting with the obvious weakest link in the chain, a young servant girl tortured and maimed to reveal her secrets. I've read more than a few of these accounts now and to modern eyes it seems less like magic and casting spells and more like a group of evil people bending the local population's tribal instincts to further their own ends, something that continues to the present day around the world in even the most civilized countries. Sometimes the victims only crime was to be outspoken, criticizing the rules of the day, the church, or the ruling classes.. or to be a loner with a black cat or peculiar reclusive habits... or to fall out with a neighbour over a trivial matter... or come from a different village into a new area... or just be unpopular... or get sexually abused by someone higher up the pecking order then conveniently silenced.... take your pick from one hundred different excuses.
And I found myself thinking... why this area rather than the remote and gloomy Highlands? This is after all the sunshine coast, wide skies, huge horizons- full of rich soils, large prosperous farms, productive fields, huge estates, castles and mine owners in an age when the land provided the most wealth in the country. Even today it looks a mainly upmarket region so you would think it would be more enlightened here than the savage north with its warring feudal clan system but apparently not. Maybe they had more to loose here with discontent so kept a tighter noose around the neck of the peasant classes... or manipulated them ruthlessly. At that time miners were close to slaves, destined to a life down the pits with no free will at all and sold to whoever bought the land as just essential tools required to make a profit, whether it be farming, mining or making products- each village tied to a landowner.
 The witch trial. Prestonpans.
According to the local info Prestonpans had its own trial of 81 witches who joined the long procession of others who were tortured, strangled and burned to death along with their cats and sometimes their children on this surprisingly savage coastline. Mostly women. Prestonpans apparently, for its modest size, was particularly good at finding witches and Satan in its midst- better than towns many times larger. Most of these unlucky souls were dragged off to Edinburgh to die within sight of the famous castle with crowds of spectators applauding  A bit like X Factor or various Celebrity Punishment type programmes today. Popular entertainment for the time. All sanctioned by Mary Queen of Scots who apparently signed the Scottish Witchcraft Act in the mid 1500s so no tears should be sniffed over her fate. No wonder it was called the forgotten holocaust. The Forgotten War. And a purge against women in the main. Makes you wonder why? Are they so evil, these creatures of the night? Remember the lesson of the apple after all... Since Lilith first walked the earth no war has lasted longer than the Battle of the Sexes.
A row of miners cottages typical of the period. Summerlee is still a district in modern Prestonpans. It's a popular name as it's also a former steelworks and industrial museum in Coatbridge near Glasgow.
The children of Summerlee. Spot any witches here yet? Even young children and babies can harbour the devil in them.
A tram approaching. It struck me that even today it is very easy for those in power to sway the masses through propaganda and deliberate untruths. History has taught us not a lot and it could be argued that social media and 'smart' technology has made us more stupid than ever. Increasingly self obsessed, an entire world chasing a dubious type of fame, and dis-connected. Easier to sway than ever with a populist message. Souls bought with a handful of trinkets. Think the equivalent of the Witchcraft Trials couldn't happen today? Look around- it's in full swing.

If I put a video on here I usually try and match it with the subject of the post. This is a perfect fit. I first heard this ahead of its time song many years ago and thought of it now as the words are so remarkable and well chosen. This popular Irish folk singer is still on the go, appearing in Glasgow and Edinburgh this winter and he should know the truth of the matter far better than me with his background and worldwide contacts. Picked this particular version as the lyrics are on it written down in full and well worth a look. An important song about a period that's been too long glossed over as its only very recently several memorials and pardons have been issued. Better late than never I suppose.

PS.... Enjoyed the recent series just ended called Back in Time for the Factory- about a group of South Wales workers in a recreated garment factory during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. All the Back In Time series like Back in Time for Dinner and Back in Time for the Weekend have been fascinating slices of recent social history, revealing many of the things folk of my age lived through but didn't necessarily connect- like the invention of fridge freezers and supermarkets allowing ordinary housewives the freedom to go out to work for the first time. Doh! I always wondered why I suddenly became a latchkey kid at 14 and came home every night to an empty house and a hungry dog.

Monday, 1 October 2018

John Muir Way. Seton Sands.Cockenzie. Prestonpans. Part One.

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Seton Sands is a destination I've never arrived at so when I noticed the number 26 bus from Edinburgh city centre went to there as it's final stop from Clermiston on the Seven Hills trip with Anne I decided there and then it was a bus worth taking. This is Seton Sands beach here, popular with holiday makers....a large caravan site and a sandy beach are the main, if not the only attractions available to arrivals. The caravan park was doing reasonable business when I got off the bus as the terminus is right beside the front reception to this site.  It's around 18km or ten miles from the centre of Edinburgh to Seton Sands and it takes around an hour to get there as it goes via Portobello and through several other coastal towns with dozens of stops on the way. Add another two buses and just over two hours to reach Edinburgh from Glasgow's western outskirts and you have a 5 to 6 hour round trip depending on traffic and the inevitable roadworks. I didn't fancy doing it after the clocks changed as it was a fair distance away- a full 12 hour day- and the Perth trip at Christmas proved to me that it was very easy to miss the last bus and be stuck in the dark in sub zero temperatures in an unfamiliar location. Staying in hotels or pubs are very definitely a last resort for me and an option to be avoided if at all possible. Half the Perth trip had been in the dark, and even wrapped up it was pretty cold as soon as the sun departed and the wind increased.
So this made perfect sense. Plenty of daylight to play with, still fairly warm despite a strong breeze, and numerous buses on all three routes. I have noticed over the last six years the Glasgow to Edinburgh bus is usually packed with day trippers now, even though it runs every fifteen minutes. Many have pre-booked tickets which have priority over spur of the moment passengers like me and it just seems to get busier and busier every year but the chances of actually talking to anyone on it sitting next to you are very slim indeed as most people prefer being on their phones for company these days instead of striking up a casual conversation. An observation from a veteran people watcher who, now I know this,  can pass the time quite happily by taking a good book along and entering my own internal world as well. (I can be fairly chatty, one to one, with strangers if I discover common ground to stand on, although I'm something of a loner by natural inclination, enjoying my own company and not always that comfortable in a group setting,depending on the group, and never a social butterfly at parties in any way, but in the past, travelling around solo did throw up the occasional opportunities to meet new like minded outdoor walking friends.
 I've met many people like this over the decades, usually males (strictly platonic relationships I have to add :o) but it did give solo folk like me an opportunity to meet new people you may get along with and discover a shared interest. That appears to be increasingly a thing of the past, sadly. Not even a 'Brief Encounter'....it's something of a tragedy for the human race I believe... and my personal bug bear- i.e. smart phones...albeit for purely selfish reasons in my case which increasingly keep us locked within mental cages.... as in think of all the films of chance encounters on public transport or in the street, good and bad, that might never happen now in today's society including the one I've picked for this post set in 1980s Dublin. I suppose there's always Tinder or silicone based attractions now for young people. Annoyingly, I've always relied on face to face encounters with my unsuspecting victims ...er potential weekend walking companions, to home in like a guided missile and get acquainted so I'm out of step with modern society. A relic of the past that actually prefers to talk to people without gadgets as a facilitator.
In the above photo you can just see the white tower blocks of Leith and Edinburgh in the distance from Seton Sands.
A zoom of the same area- Leith Docks and the white structure of the new Forth Road Bridge.
My walk for today was along the coast from Seton Sands, then Cockenzie and Port Seton, then Prestonpans, then Musselburgh- all coastal towns on the John Muir Trail. Around 14km of coastline walking with inland sections added. The father of American conservation was born in nearby Dunbar and spent his childhood in this district.
I've done most of the JMW in day sections before it had a grand title and this stretch is a real highlight. It's now a multi day 134 mile, 215km route taking around 10 days from Dunbar to Helensburgh. So basically up the east coast to Edinburgh then across central Scotland towards Glasgow then ending at the western seaboard.
Loads of sandy beaches, little coves, interesting towns every few km, and fairly scenic harbours on this side.
Views out to sea are not too shabby either with frequent ships passing up and down the wide Firth of Forth, distant hills and a range of other coastal towns over in Fife. This looks like Kirkcaldy and The Lomond Hills here.
The rocky island of Inchkeith with its wartime bunkers and fortified gun towers. This island stronghold has had numerous uses in the past.
A female rowing team in Cockenzie and Port Seton Harbour. These twin towns/villages have a long history of sharing their resources- so much so that it is regarded as a one unit community in the town name but boasting two small harbours. As it was choppy out to sea they flitted between these two safe shelters for their training circuit only braving the larger waves beyond the harbour wall to reach the other calm oasis and circle round there before rowing back again.
One of the best things about a walk like this is that you never know what you might see on it. Great variety of subjects.
Although late September there were still flowers around and some to these villages/small towns are habitually in the running for Britain in Bloom or Best Small Town awards as far as wild flowers are concerned. Clematis above.
A wild flower border- probably deliberately planted in long strips to encourage birds, butterflies and bees whose numbers have collapsed by 30 to 70 percent during the last 30 years in many cases. Really nice to see and a cracking display of autumn colour.
Blue cornflowers along the coast.
Edinburgh getting closer. Arthur's Seat here but still a zoom needed for clarity.
Back in the other direction it's North Berwick Law, a volcanic plug summit with the jaw bones of a Moby Dick showing white near the top. The impressive sandstone gates of a grand estate lying below and a long high wall worthy of King Kong closing it off to shield it from prying eyes. The Scottish historical novelist Nigel Tranter lived in this area and knew it very well, being a keen walker all along this eastern coastline of wide seascapes, blue skies, and vast flat horizons. He certainly improved Scottish history and landscape lessons for me and brought to life centuries old kings, queens and commoners with great skill and flair making a potentially dull subject  thrilling and interesting every time I picked one of his books up.
This part of the East Coast has a unique charm which I liked instantly from my first visit decades ago. Looking across Gosford Bay in the direction of Gullane. Another small town, even further east. Most of the towns along this coast earned their living years ago from fishing, making sea salt before cheap imports and from coal mines. Until recently Cockenzie and Port Seton was the site of a large coal fired power station, with buildings and high chimney stack that dominated the area. On this visit it's now gone with an empty flat concrete platform where it stood.
Looking back towards the Garleton Hills and The Hopetoun Monument, a pleasant little range of several summits and a fine half day walk. Most of the range is hidden here and grassy summits with fine views and a path network existing out of shot are the norm rather than the forest slopes coating this side.
A decorative mosaic on the trail.
A view of the Royal Mile and Castle Hill in Edinburgh, showing the rising nature of the old town. Below the highest spire sits two large round bottle kilns near the beach, informing me this is Portobello as I visited them on a previous trip.
By the time I reached Prestonpans the seafront walkway was partly submerged by the rising tide and a strengthening wind. I've only been here twice but I was very taken with it on previous trips, mainly due to this brilliant walkway and some other highlights. Any place with pan or salt in the title usually made salt in former times by burning coal under large pans filled with seawater then scraping off the dried residue. It was much sought after until cheaper imports arrived from hotter countries overseas where salt occurred naturally or could be sun produced without coal.
The walkway in Prestonpans with a rising tide coming in. It was quite exciting but safe enough and I stayed dry for most of it, dodging any waves by timing my movements.
Some sections were trickier than others but still great fun.
This was the hardest section- completely submerged walkway but only to knee deep level so I took my socks off and danced across it wearing bare boots, dodging between all the incoming larger waves and spray. Reminded me of the lines to Leonard Cohen's famous song Suzanne- the verse about Jesus walking on the water. It did feel like that here, although slightly lower in my case- wading through the water- but still elated and mystical... my very own hidden causeway to follow- crannog style. I could have avoided this section altogether by picking the main street but that would have been cheating-  John Muir would expect nothing less than a good bold effort from me.

There's been some very good films on TV recently and some of the best have had little hype or fanfare so it's even more enjoyable when they turn out to be real gems.
This is one.
Sing Street. An Irish musical. Funny- great songs- good story and acting throughout. If it's on again its worth seeing. Oh, and good coastal scenery in this as well which is another reason why I picked it.
Another great TV series Ireland has produced is Red Rock. Onto its third season now and the standard is still very high. Well worth catching from the start about two feuding families in a seaside town near Dublin. Great acting, great cast- fantastic believable storylines- easily as good as The  Bodyguard and Killing Eve but less well known.