One of my favourite walks near where we live - perhaps the favourite - is along the coast from North Berwick to Aberlady (or sometimes from Aberlady to North Berwick!) It is a walk of constant interest, a sucession of sandy beaches separated by sea-sculpted rocks - sandstone, volcanic and conglomerate. Yesterday was clear and calm - the first really good day since mid December - with a placid, ice-blue sea, frost in the air, and great visibility, every fold in the cliffs of the distant Isle of May visible.
We started at North Berwick (the 124 bus, which runs every hour on Sundays between Aberlady and North Berwick, is the key to this linear walk), joyous to be alive and out walking on such a beautiful day. It had been so long since we had been exposed to anything more than passing sunshine.
The rocky islands of Lamb, Craigleith, Fidra, May and the Bass stud the Forth, and across the water the white-painted houses of the East Neuk villages gleamed on the horizon like barnacles on a rock.
Beyond the end of Yellowcraigs beach at Craigleith the dog walkers and uncommitted strollers of North Berwick turned back, and only the occasional through walker was seen, even on such a fine weekend day as Sunday. the recent gales have blown huge amounts of empty razor shells ashore. When we looked, there was far more than just razor shells - mussels, cockles, scallops, limpets, whelks, half a sea urchin, crabs.
In the sandstone rocks, half-fossilised remains of seashells can be seen. The remains of their descendants littered the beach, tossed there by the ceaselessly moving surf. I find a great deal of comfort in the rythmns of a wild beach. Nothing is still, yet the fossils indicate continuity over a great span of time.
I wonder if there are any fossils with tracks like this? What could it be?
We looked closely and saw a dead starfish at the end of the trail. Alert to the signs, we found more - and returned some lives ones back into the sea. With the tide coming in, they might just survive. A cheery walker told us about the tidal islet of Eyebroughty, but with the tide on the way in, we did not want to risk walking out to it. Plenty of seabirds bobbing up and down in the water today however, and oystercatchers probing the shore. The best time to do this walk is low tide.
The walk continued on, past a ruined chapel on a low headland, past swathes of sea-bleached orange thorn berries, to Gullane and sudden crowds, everyone seemingly with a dog, racing across the sands with the freedom of being out the house. Beyond Gullane lies Murder Hill, an infamous piece of natural circuit training. The first time we did this walk, I raced up Murder Hill - it was easy! But it was January, and the sand was frozen. The second time we passed Murder Hill I tried it again - not so easy in summer!
We carried on to Aberlady Bay as the short winter day came to an end, seabirds finding their homes out on the water, Scotland in the Gloaming type photographers and birdwatchers with cameras, tripods and binoculars appearing on the beach access path. It had been a great day to be out.
Before Braveheart, most people's exposure to Scottish history was through the novels of Nigel Tranter, who lived in Aberlady and used to wander these sands with a notebook in pocket composing his stories. When we get to the end of this walk, I always like to sit and imagine his mind wandering over 15th century baronial relationships whilst looking out over bay to the Lomonds of Fife, the Pentlands, and Cockenzie Power Station.
Aberlady Bay late afternoon:
It doesn't matter which way you do this walk. You can walk into the sunset at Aberlady Bay and, if the tide is out, wander out to the scuttled WWII midget submarines at the water's edge. Done in the other direction, Berwick Law appears bathed in late afternoon sun above a broad sandy beach, and you finish with a fish supper on the pier and the sound of boats clanking in the gathering darkness.
Just writing about it makes me want to go and do it again this coming weekend...