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''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 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.


Anabel Marsh said...

I’ve never even heard of that film, it does look good from the trailer. As I have probably said before, I don’t know the east coast that well and really should investigate more.

Linda W. said...

Love the wave action!

Carol said...

Always wondered about the name 'Prestonpans' - now I know - thanks. I always take boots AND socks off to paddle - unless the surface was a bit suspect or something?

Can you access North Berwick Law to go up it? it looks interestingly steep!

I'm exactly the same personality type as you when it comes to sociability (or perhaps lack of it). I only really talk to other outdoor folk or people I can readily find an interest in common with. Then I talk ten to the dozen. I can't be bothered if I don't have enough in common with someone to make smalltalk - too lazy.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
It's a good film and better than many over-hyped classics. I also liked Once and Begin Again by the same writer-director- basically the same plot but so skillfully done and reworked you don't mind that one bit and I'm not generally a modern musical film fan in any way.
You'd like Musselburgh, North Berwick, Dunbar, Portobello and Prestonpans as they have enough interest for good day trip outings. No 26 bus from road (York Place) outside Edinburgh bus station will take you to P.P and M. No 124 Princes Street to North Berwick

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
Yes, I like big waves and storms down the coast.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Saltcoats is another coastal town up here that made salt, usually controlled by a rich landowner, priests or monks as they needed plentiful coal reserves to make it worthwhile. A hot dirty job indoors under a rain roof filled with smoke and grime.
Think Prestonpans was originally Preist-toun pans as they founded it around the salt making.
Yep, you can go up that hill by a good path- great views from the summit. It's probably on the blog somewhere during the early days as I did it with my sister years ago.

Andy said...

A fine stretch of coast and I love those walkways that run right along the seafront especially when the waves wash over to make it more fun. I've done a couple of walks on that stretch and I've been out in my kayak at Yellow Craig near North Berwick

Rosemary said...

Love the way that you have caught those wonderful waves at Prestonpans, but managed to remain dry.
I am completely confused by this new world - iPhones are my personal bugbear too - I am confused by what the world is becoming and beginning to feel like an alien. One to one contact and conversation is meaningful, but texting on a screen, and sending selfies to communicate is something beyond my understanding.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
Yes, it's a great stretch of coastline and sandy beaches. I know Yellow Craig well. Uri Geller bought the nearby offshore island of Lamb from a Brazilian around 2009 and as far as I know still owns it today, carrying on Scotland's long proud tradition that anyone, anywhere around the world can buy large chunks of it if they have sufficient money.
Lamb, weirdly enough is linked to King Arthur, an ancient Egyptian royal female and Irish Kings... according to Mr Geller anyway who wants to prove it by digging there apparently. It is a vital bird sanctuary though, with puffins in spring.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Rosemary,
I always enjoy big waves on a coastal walk as it adds extra sparkle.