Saturday 27 October 2018

Gullane. Gullane Bay. Windsurfers. Aberlady Bay. Mini Submarines.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A phone call a few weeks ago from my friends John and Gail who asked if I would like a trip with them out to Gullane and Aberlady Bay. This was sheer coincidence as I was thinking of going there myself to fill in another part of the John Muir Way between Edinburgh and Dunbar. I agreed at once therefore and we set off on a weekend jaunt to Gullane, seen above.
Unlike many of the post industrial towns and villages that are found along this coastline Gullane is very well heeled and has been for a long time. No suggestion of heavy industry or ugly factory units here. It's a 'golden bubble' sort of place, full of wealthy individuals settling here for the lovely scenery, peace and quiet but close enough to Edinburgh (half an hour's drive by car)  to still work in the city and earn good money to maintain this expensive lifestyle. Kilmacolm, on the west coast near Glasgow, could be its twin sister. I've always found these places fascinating, even as a child, a real life Disneyland with princesses, kings and queens holding court but having worked in maintenance for many years I know what it takes to upkeep properties and gardens of this size so it's not for me at all. A boat anchor. I've always been happy enough enjoying myself on a tight budget with little outlay or upkeep required and have never had the necessary personality, drive, ambition, brains, contacts or education to be a captain of industry and high achiever.  But I do like to dip into these places in passing. Well, you would, wouldn't you? Who doesn't like a fairy tale?
Gullane from the back end, facing the sea. A large car park here was our meeting place, as Gail had arranged to find her fellow geocachers here. It was a large assorted crowd of  various adults, children and dogs so a popular hobby. Everyone needs a purpose in life as without it humans tend to drift. You do need focus and hope whether that be the eventual prize of a large mansion in the country, advancing steadily in your chosen career, or simply taking better and better photographs in my case :) etc etc.
I was expecting a leisurely stroll but it turned into a speed march along the beach for several km- hard to keep up when 'Scotland's Greatest Living Central Belt Action Photographer' (Snap, Shackle and Pop magazine 2018 awards*) had so many different subjects to chase after and capture at the same time. A challenge worthy of my ilk.
A raft of male and female eider ducks here, sheltering from strong winds and choppy conditions.
Two males in close up.
A friendly wee dog coming over to say hello.
John on the beach at Gullane.
What he was looking at. A windsurfer. It takes a really good photographer to get close in behind a windsurfer in action heading for the beach... ie photo taken from further out into the open sea. No islands near here. A mystery accomplice perhaps?.
Further out towards the shipping lanes. Rough sea conditions.
But good for jumping waves.
The sand dunes at Gullane beach. Traditionally, this is one area with sand stretching many miles inland--- Gullane is famed for its golf courses so keen golfer and Edinburgh born comedian Ronnie Corbett called this place his second home for many years away from work in London with world class courses on his doorstep and dozens more under an hour's drive away.
Sea buckthorn was planted to try and stabilize the shifting dunes here but it's now everywhere along this stretch of coastline so they are trying to control it. Pretty berries though. Colourful.
At the Hummell Rocks area I found this flat pavement jutting out to sea where a rocky band separates Gullane Bay from Aberlady Bay. It made a nice contrast to sandy beaches striding across here but you would not like to trip and fall anywhere. The white coating on the rocks is this stuff- tiny white barnacles that are razor sharp on unprotected flesh.

Painful even to lean on jumping off this raised platform back onto the beach. A razor clam shell coated with the same type of barnacles.
Aberlady Bay is vast and empty at low tide, a wildlife estuary stretching for miles across flat sands and popular with geese and birdwatchers but the reason the geocachers were here was to visit these oddities. A shipwreck and the remains of two mini subs.
These midget submarines were used to train up the teams to sink the German battleship Tirpitz and dumped here afterwards. They were usually towed towards the intended target behind a conventional sized submarine then let loose for the secretive stuff, creeping towards their objective, hopefully by surprise.
The main reason for the speed march is that they are only accessible at low tide.
A good view of the hatch and periscope? here.
 Over ten years ago I explored this coastline by bike, cycling all the beaches at low tide and having great fun. Rather than hours of walking I found you could really fly along the hard packed sands at speed on a smooth tyre hybrid bike. Obviously, I steered clear of any bird life ahead in the distance and hardly made a mark on the ground. I discovered through trial and error that mountain bikes dig into the sand too much and are very slow, almost faster walking. I could get up real speed on a touring bike with smooth tyres here though given good sand conditions- almost like Bonneville salt plains car racing with a strong wind behind you tearing along close to the waves- yet I never spotted anyone else cycling across sand flats or beaches for years. The only one doing it, as usual, was me. The maverick unfashionable nutter.  I have the posts on BSS to prove it from the early days. And raved about how good it was then!!!
So it was with something of a groan that I've noticed a new trend developing recently. Fat Bikes- mountain bikes with very thick tyres around five inches wide, presumably developed as all the popular mountain bike trails recently I've seen are completely trashed into muddy ruts and swamps, even in summer. Big tyres are the new off road trend seemingly and I noticed them again here. Compared to my hybrid touring bike however the speed they were doing across the sand flats was about a fifth of my own so I can't see them lasting, long term. Mind you I never thought anyone would be daft enough to pay for water in bottles,  or choose to watch entire films and videos on a small hand held screen either so what do I know.
Guess I'm an accidental trendsetter in many different ways. AND I'M NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT!!! Contrary? Moi?
Anyway, it was nice to have some company after numerous solo trips and everyone seemed to enjoy the day out. Four young folk here on fat bikes going across Gullane Bay sands. Ggrrrr. I did it first- and much faster- and cheaper.... I'm a legend I am. :o)

This link is worth watching. The Longest Road in the World which took three years to complete driving north the entire time. Eight minutes long but as enjoyable as any of the Top Gear challenges. You have to really admire this young person's optimism , his determination to see it through, his cheerful disposition and his style. A natural presenter and a skillful filmmaker. If you only watch one You Tube video posted on here make it this one. Epic, funny, inspirational, and extraordinary.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Autumn Enchantment. Scotland's First, Highest, and Best Looking Skyscraper.

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It is that time of year again on the artist's colour wheel. Autumn is my second favourite season after Spring. The parklands of Glasgow are my muse. My ever sparkling 'girl next door' and the true love for all of my life since I could see out the pram.
Bellahouston Park here and the recently introduced wild flower borders. Not only is it a pretty foreground it will hopefully help the insects. East and west coast has added these strips in parks, motorway verges and on roundabouts over the last few years.
A Red Admiral butterfly- a late summer/autumn specialist. Even seen them still flying in snow covered landscapes. Hardy creatures.
It was a lucky weekend as far as the autumn leaves were concerned- perfect depth of colours yet a few days later most would blow to the ground. Very much a lottery every year as to how long they stay on the tree and how deep the colour gets. If its quiet, frosty and still they can last for weeks but it's been mild and stormy recently, a lot of snapped off branches lying on the ground.
Tough for fragile things like butterflies. A Speckled Wood here- a rare find for me- the first I've seen... or certainly not familiar anyway. I had to look it up.
One of my favourite Glasgow parks and views. Bellahouston. At one time they built a tower here for the 1938 Empire Exhibition. 300 foot, 91 metres high, built to a space age futuristic design and already placed on top of a hill so the stunned crowds were sometimes treated to standing high above the cloud level on a still morning balanced on wide flat platforms resembling high diving board stages, one placed above the other. Nothing built in Glasgow since then at height has compared to that spectacular wonder of the age. It was the Shard of it's day. A wide landscaped grand cascade of waterfalls and fountains  poured from its hilltop base to the bottom of the slope with smaller towers underneath hiding pumping stations for the water to flow back uphill. Everything illuminated at night in different colours.
Type in Tait Tower. Glasgow after this post to see it all. This at a time when Glasgow or any of the other UK cities had no residential skyscrapers to speak of that the public could access easily so all the more extraordinary.Why Glasgow? Well, our normal shipping trade connections to New York of course and buildings rising higher and higher there. We wanted a taste of that action in our own city.
 Sadly, it only lasted a year then was taken down again for fear that enemy planes could spot it from a considerable distance. It did have 100 mile views across Scotland from the top platform so an all too easy landmark. By then the Second World War was looming on the horizon and much of Europe could be our enemy. One of the major attractions of its time though, a proud pinnacle to modernism and future trends, and around 12 million people came to this park to see it and the other exhibits, paying a shilling to get in. Just like some teenagers today wish they could go back to the 1960s or other supposedly more exciting eras I wished then I could travel back in time just for one day to climb it. The normal human condition to always cherish the unobtainable faraway over the everyday within reach.
We tend to think of the modern age having all the great wonders available but the various Empire Exhibitions in the UK and Worlds' Fair constructs in America could transform entire cities on an entirely different scale due to the money to labour and material costs then. This city park was one of three we could reach in a day trip from the castle trio location base in Pollokshields, the others being Maxwell and Pollok but when we were told a huge gleaming tower used to stand here, when all we could see was an uninspiring flat concrete foundation base it evoked a powerful longing in us. Did it really exist? Did it ever happen here? Hard for young minds to grasp looking at the spot. The Second World War was still a fresh memory for our respective parents but when they mentioned it, infrequently, to us, pointing out some disused structure in the landscape, it might as well have been Roman relics they were talking about- time wise. No idea of the timeline of history yet at that age. It was all just - 'the past' to us. Distant and remote. No relevance to our own lives so interesting but unimportant. Between 5  to 5000 years ago.... all the same to us. But the idea of this gleaming tower standing on a hilltop above the city did make a vivid impression.
Much like many born after a spectacular event who can't even fathom how it was possible when it was only the ghost of a past era we were learning about and little evidence remaining today... we were slightly skeptical of that magnificent missing structure existing but captivated by it at the same time in our imagination - hence the current widespread disbelief over the moon landings I suppose. Or the deliberate unlearning of the flat earth community as we move towards an uncertain future. Who doesn't love a 'Golden age' looking back.
All Glasgow's many parks were in their infancy then or not even constructed yet and when you look at old photographs most had flimsy, recently planted saplings in them- not the lush forests of mature trees we see around us today. We are so lucky to live in this age. I guarantee people will look back at this current period with great nostalgia. Every age is a golden one to those growing up in it. They just don't fully realise it at the time.

With a over a million toiling souls living here then Glasgow was a dirty, unhealthy, rat infested, overcrowded industrial powerhouse, full of factories, shipyards, tall chimneys belching out soot and grime, with frequently sick residents, shorter life spans, and a dead, lifeless river.  Too polluted to hold a single fish.
Along with half the population we have got rid of all that squalor and mess and the UK in general is a much healthier, greener place. The River Clyde has fish swimming in it again.
However, as Stacey Dooley's recent excellent documentary on the fashion industry showed the problem has just been moved elsewhere-and increased in volume- to India, Indonesia and The Aral Sea. Now they have dead rivers, pollution and lax environmental enforcement laws. Swings and roundabouts.
Maybe no coincidence she came to Glasgow for it. A city transformed within 60 years.  See link below.

Another programme I watched recently was Autumnwatch: New England set in the forests of New Hampshire to capture 'the Fall.'
While I enjoyed the change of wildlife, especially the flying squirrels, different birds and moose I must admit I was slightly disappointed in the colour range of the trees over there. Maybe it was the wrong place, wrong time, or a bad year but it was mostly red, gold, still green or brown in the footage they captured. I have seen much better images of autumn colours in USA blog land. This is an honest opinion. So I think we should appreciate and celebrate our own range of colours here more- not as vivid or showy perhaps but with a dedicate overall blend and varied combination of hues to rival anything- anywhere...especially in city parks- with trees collected from all over the world. New Hampshire and the lake they filmed at looked remarkably like Loch Lomond and its islands I noticed.

Autumn line up in pale gold.
Ye ancient forests of the Bear's Den.
Red Poppies. Bellahouston's Walled Garden. October. 2018.
Swans. Forth and Clyde Canal.
Great Western Road in Autumn.
The urban forests within any city. Very bare place without them.
Best colour mix of hues.
Flower border. Walled Garden.
Japanese Maple. House for an Art Lover. Bellahouston Park Gardens.

An unusual haunting song with striking visuals and lyrics. Apparently about a breakup where children are involved but the words could also apply equally to the ball we all live on. Our own Goldilocks planet. As far as we know the only one of its kind in an otherwise barren universe. A sparkling green, water rich jewel. Maybe we should take better care of it from now on.


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.