the John Muir Way
DUNBAR TO NORTH BERWICK
25 February 2018
Welcome to the John Muir adventures of Russ and Neil. For your information, Russ is the taller of the gruesome twosome (see photos). Neil requested that I kneel down to avoid the fact that he is shorter than me. It is important that I am tall is recognised by any reader. Whatever Neil says. Because of what Neill says. He is fibbing.
Neil is smiling because he is quite near Geordie Land, where Geordie is spoken and Stottie Cakes are eaten, followed by Nukie Brown, a radioactive beverage. Neil is hiding his flat cap and whippet (Zeus) as he is forbidden to be Geordie when he is out. Mo (Mrs Neil) will pull his chest hairs if he is naughty. Note: most whippets have already been plucked. Mo will pull out my chest hairs if I text the house phone early in the morning again. It is sore. Mo pays me to take Neil places as he can be very wearing. Neil tends to be difficult, so sometimes we need to re-negotiate “Neil minding” payments. Neil says that the saintly Carol (Mrs Russ) also pays Neil for the same thing. I find this very difficult to believe. Nor do I believe that she is known as the saintly Carol because she puts up with me. This cannot possibly be true.
So we started on the John Muir Way. We started from Dunbar rather than Helensburgh because we are both right handed and Dunbar’s where our fingers pointed to. And we both have bus passes so get about very nicely thank you very much. We are both verging on being geriatric delinquents.
Me and Neil have been walking together for a long time: we started back in the ‘90’s as a result of us talking talking at a meeting to resurrect a scout group. Neil wanted to be in the great outdoors and so did his daughter, Alan. I wanted to be a charismatic leader of young people who would see me as a role model, and because I got to wear a uniform with badges. The uniform bit worked.
I had just returned to Scotty Land after 18 years exile in Albion’s Plain and we had started walking together again rather than just once or twice a year. And as I arrived back in the winter, and because both of us are knocking on a bit, we decided that the John Muir Way with its nice, gentle walks with gentle hills would suit us fine, thank you very much.
But this John Weir thing is so civilised. It has little sticker sign-posty things and it has toilets. Lots of them both. It is important and civilised. And ever so slightly weird’ (and no, we hadn’t wandered into the Ladies).
OK. Neil and I, well we are rugged mountain men, braving the elements in order to walk paths in the wilderness, taking aspiring adventurers with us, sleeping in plastic bags, in bothies and doing what bears do. We can rough it. We have roughed it. No problem. Well, not “no problem” because, well, bears are not the only ones who do, well you know, in the woods. I have immodium in my first aid kit.
It is also wrong. It is against the roughty-tufty hillwalkers code and means missing the opportunity of creating memories (such as the leaving of Loch Ossian, the South Mullardoch Ridge and the photograph that wasn’t at the wedding).
So, at the editorial meeting we discussed the inclusion of this public convenience in terms of the damage being done to the roughty-tufty image, and in the final analysis we believed the truth should be told…
And talking of the truth (and jumping ahead a little), so far on this walk we have had no rain to speak of so far. Unbelievable.
So off we go on the first day of the walk. February 25th: co-incidentally St Immodium’s Day - motto “I shit you not” (sorry: poor taste joke), Sun blasting down, wind pretty cold but hey, look at the golfers! Funnily enough I’d been to Dunbar before so I recognised the view that lay before me. I’d seen the Golf Club on the hill before, from a distance, but the day then had been gey dreich as they say. Neil was keen to keep going and failed even to make a cursory sweep for molluscs. He can always “winkle” them out…. But surprisingly his thirst for adventure was over-whelming his hunger for shellfish.
In the distance we could see a hill. This was a novelty at this stage We came to get familiar with “objects that sit on the horizon which can be taken as a guide”, and which are never getting any closer until you they’ve suddenly popped up to surprise you. This one, we discovered, is at North Berwick and is called “The Law”. Which is so wrong.
Belhaven Bay Bridge looking towards the North Berwick Law
a) it’s a hill: how can it be a “Law”. I could be a “Hee” but never a “Law” Law? Low?
b) there are several “Laws” around: there’s one near home in the Ochils. I’m told (by Mr Google) that Law refers to a conically shaped hill. Which this one was and still is. But not the Law. Being conical doesn’t mean you get to be called “the”. Sadly myopic I would say.
So on into Belhaven Bay, the old port for Dunbar, now silted up from the outflow of the Biel Water. The place is a magnet for sea-birds. And the second toilet of the day. Already! How convenient: Mind you, no photographs here in the blackness of a converted defence position. But still a convenience. With paper. And what a delight! .
Anyhoo. It was a beautiful day. Plenty of sun, and a cooling wind. A Sunday with loads of dogs drifting around. You never know with dogs do you? Some’ll stop and look at you coming. Some will bound up to you and look for attention and some will just ignore you. Bit like people. Some will say hello and will be sniffing the possibility that you might be a “hello/hi” sort of walker, some may venture a “hi” or “morning!” on the approach and some may be from Edinburgh and need a formal introduction before speaking.
It being a sunny (but coolish) Sunday morning, many of the local folks were out enjoying the sunshine on the sunny shores. The path took us into the shade of a conifer plantation and also into earshot of racing motors. It seemed unlikely that the llamas at the castle were the source of the noise. We were somewhat surprised that they were there but nobody else seemed perplexed so we took it in our strides, took the photos and progressed on. It turns out there was a motorcycling event on with youths on bikes haring round at great speed. Neil spoke mistily of his days at a motor cyclist, the tours down south and so on. I’d heard them before, nodded and smiled. A man can get justifiably misty about important things sometimes,
We passed the event, and the noise toned down as we approached a bridge over a stream which took us back inland along the river estuary. This was difficult. Neil saw on the map that this was the River Tyne: turns out it was “a” river Tyne. So of course we got back into Stottie Cakes and the Fog on the Time (it was mine all mine). We worked out that we were nowhere near Newcastle and that this was a plastic Tyne, created by recalcitrant Scots out of envy.
The path following the estuary was quite narrow, and sown with dragons’ teeth: fortifications to prevent landings by invading forces in the early years of the 39-45 war. The teeth needed a little dentistry but were clearly there to stay. It was one of those long, straight paths where you can pretty-well see to the horizon, so we spotted the group of ramblers a good 500 metres off (hi viz jackets do that) so we had a long and weary time trying to work out tactics: did we climb off the path; or walk on. Did we say “Hi” to just the first one and nod to the rest. Difficult. But we individually stuck to normal the practice: Me: “Hi” to the first one; “Nice day“ to the third, and “alright” to the seventh. Neil: same intervals but 2nd “Wey aye pet”, 5th “Canny day, marrer” and ninth “and "See that gadgie at the front of the geet walla queue?" . Neil can be difficult. But we got past and the Rambling Caterpillar seemed pleased. I asked Neil what the last one meant. He said “I divven naw”. Still working on that one.
The walk along the Tyne
We moved on back towards the Tyne which had taken a short cut. A pleasant if unexceptional walk via a tunnel by the river followed. This is close to Linton and heading towards the Phantasie Doocot, an NTS building. I need to say that Neil is into walking. I mean walking. He is not so interested in looking at things. I’m sure he complains to Mo. I know she hopes that I’ll enculture him, tech him proper English etc. No chance. I have a clear but somewhat photograph of the Doocot from when we passed. Actually he was quite interested in the water conjurations going on around Linton, with the bits of stream ducting, sluice gates and so on.
As we moved “haway man” from the Tyne, the ground got a bit slippy’ The sun was melting the frozen ground leading to a bit of mud-slide problems. The John Muir lot have done pretty well about separating the path from the roads, but the alternate was a muddy track. No problem for mountain goats but I had some difficulty with the footing.
We sort of crept through the back door of East Linton, popping up by the church and skirting through the edge of town. The JM Way seems funny like that, The path sometimes seems to avoid towns and villages, so there it is rare to walk past (or into) shops on the way. The metropolis of Linton and its shopping malls was glimpsed down the road as we headed Northwards, following the Way beside the road until we breasted the hill to see the valley laid out before us. Useful place to check a map and it had a log to sit on. Hey, and we’d just about reached half way!
As we trekked downhill we came across a thing. We tend to come across things. This thing was two buildings which had kept their facades but had been re-roofed to a lesser height to make barns. Open sort of barns, but you could see the intention. In fairness the facades looked iffy, sticking up with no obvious support. So we sort of chatted about this, which passed the time as we began to walk through a low area with rushes but a solid path. We passed by bikes heading back the way and fantasised about using wheels to pass with ease and comfort through the countryside…. Like I say, there’s often not a lot to do. The dogs were good though. Real country dogs, not particularly us but clearly enjoying a nose here and a scent there. I’ve often thought that dogs on the move must feel like someone used to looking at photographs going to the movies. Nice. We finished off the food at a dusty crossroads and worked out where we were. We were working off the John Muir pdf maps which tend to be a bit oddly scaled but were pretty useful. The Way wound wilfully at times, taking us a pleasant diversion through woodland, always a pleasure. The North Berwick Law began to become a more and more dominating presence against the clear blue sky, with the Way continuing to jink and shimmy broadly but not directly towards it. The NB Law is pretty impressive. Obviously the result of volcanic activity, it was functioning on the day as a playground, an afternoon out and a place to be lovers. Which did not apply to us. The path skirts the NB Law but you can see some sort of thing (another thing) on the top. We walked through neat and not so neat estates, finding a park with the familiar purple and white discs, and picking our way through the town, mostly shut, to “the Bus Station”. Which is not a thing. It is a bus stop and a bus stance according to the white paint on the road. Which both looked the same. Most confusing. And at the end of it all Neil and I got on the bus, wafting our bus passes and chuckling like well, geriatric schoolboys.