This is part of an occasional series here about maligned places. I wrote about Prestongrange recently; today I would like to write about two places I personally slag off. But first an explanation.
I am from a town called Dunbar. It is a small town in East Lothian, one of a collection of distinct, fiercely proud communities in my home county. People from Dunbar can have a major case of small town mentality, with the world stopping at the Beltonford Roundabout, beyond which are perceived dragons. There is a deep dislike of, and rivalry with, nearby towns, particularly Haddington and North Berwick. Haddington is where the local council is based and North Berwick gets more visitors and money. End of, ken.
While I am from Dunbar, I have escaped. I hope that I have developed a sufficiently broad mind to look beyond where I am from and where I am. However, in the past, I have not been slow to run down Haddington and North Berwick. Here’s the thing: they aren’t bad places. North Berwick is pretty. It is a Victorian seaside resort surrounded by islands, fields and the Bass Rock. Haddington is a nice market town with a fine history. I know the place well. I used to work there. The walk by the river Tyne is beautiful. It still sticks in my craw saying it, though.
Arguments against. Not long after I moved to Glasgow, I was on a bus passing through Haddington. I was sitting with my music on as the bus stopped at Artillery Park. I looked up and saw some poor bugger getting huckled off the bus by the police. I have lived in Glasgow, No Mean City, no less, for nearly three years and never seen anything like that. It’s a little snobbish too, as a place, Haddington, plus it has better bus links than Dunbar.
North Berwick is definitely up its own arse. It is posh. So posh indeed that the teenagers raid their parents’ drinks cabinet and drink gin and port rather than necking Bucky or White Lightning or whatever. Or so I hear.
Being a Glaswegian now, and of course looking down on anywhere outside our great city as hopelessly provincial, I don’t care so much about parochial rivalries. Haddington has lots of good points. The John Gray Centre with its library and museum, St. Mary’s Kirk, the Tyne, the grand, country bank buildings on Market Street, the cracking painting by William Geddes in the National Gallery.
North Berwick is also a fine place, mainly because of what’s around it. Fidra inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island. Dirleton and Tantallon Castles are both within a decent walk. The Bass Rock dominates Canty Bay, though it looks more like a quaint island than one of the greatest seabird colonies on the Earth from NB. It has a second hand junk shop on the road down to the harbour with books in the window that hasn’t changed in my lifetime. North Berwick Law looms high above the town, complete with its whale’s jawbone on the top, even if it is now fibreglass.
This might be a bit of an advert for the East Lothian tourist board and an unlikely diversion for me. But I was lucky to grow up where I did. From a distance, you get a sense of perspective. I do have mixed feelings about where I grew up. I might not be the biggest fan of Haddington and North Berwick but I like them anyway. Going to NB, even for someone like me, always felt like going on my holidays. The journey through fields and by Traprain Law to Haddington is beautiful and never failed to inspire me. No place is perfect and that’s fine. Change is good but you should never forget where you’ve come from, even while where you’re going to is completely different. Especially when it’s furth of the Beltonford Roundabout.