The Prom is a clifftop walk in Dunbar, where I grew up. Its official title is the Clifftop Trail and it is part of the John Muir Way, a long-distance footpath that stretches from the High Street all the way to Helensburgh. I must have walked it thousands of times, in hail, rain, sunshine, day and night, in good mood as well as bad. I have even run along it, deliberately, I should point out. It was built in 1893 and leads from Bayswell to the edge of the Winterfield Golf Course, where steps take you down to the shoreline.
I didn’t like school very much. I didn’t have friends and I spent a lot of time alone. Most lunchtimes, if the weather was okay, I would go out for a walk. Since my high school was 10 minutes away, I could usually get half an hour or so sitting down at Belhaven or more often on the Prom. There I would sit with my thoughts, listening to the calls of the birds and the waves crashing onto the shore. Some days I would even go as far as the Glebe, where I would sit on a rock overlooking where the old outdoor swimming pool was. I would think my thoughts, eat my pieces then head back to school.
The Prom was where I went because if I was going to be alone, I might as well be somewhere I liked, where being alone would be an advantage. Walking there inspired a lot of my early writing, when I would write poems, usually on school jotters and sitting by windows when I had usually finished my work.
When I was a kid, I would walk along the Prom and try to avoid the cracks in the pavement. It wasn’t out of superstition, it was more of a game, a compulsion rather than a rule and different days meant different patterns to be set. I was walking along the Prom the other day and thought back to that, with many of the same cracks still there and new ones being made with each passing footstep.
Dunbar is a place where the imagination can run riot. When I used to live near Lochend Woods, I always wanted to write a story where fairies and mythical creatures lived there. It often had that other worldly feeling about it. The Prom isn’t a straight path; it winds around the cliffs where natural havens and inlets abound. Once upon a time, there would have been smuggling there and it can look like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean, if you discount the usually strong and cold wind and the frequent sound of ‘ken’ from the town’s people clearly carried by it. I often walked thinking of the world beyond, wondering how my life would be elsewhere. Once I was bored by the place, now it has become more interesting with time and distance.
On a good day, the Fife coastline is clearly visible, as is the Bass Rock, North Berwick Law and St. Baldred’s Cradle. Closer still are Belhaven Beach and the Lammermuir Hills. Knockenhair House sits high above, once the home of Sir Reginald Wingate, colonial administrator and British army general. The sight of Traprain Law usually makes me think of its status as a tribal capital at one time, the fields unfolding before it like some Royal garden. There are also sights of some of the rocky islets that dot the coastline, including one where the other day puffins and other seabirds stood sentinel on the jagged peaks that jutted just above the sea.
I have a deep emotional connection with Dunbar, even while I no longer call it home. When I step onto the Prom, it feels like being in, to borrow W.B. Yeats’s words, ‘one dear perpetual place’ and I feel a rush of affection, memories and immediate impressions competing all at once with the wind and the sounds of birds and the waves. I make a point of walking there each and every time I am back, to touch base and remember the old life while appreciating and reflecting on the one I live now. I am usually there alone still but I never feel lonely.