One of the most tempting sights is the horizon. Looking over the horizon and seeing something new and unfamiliar is something I find very hard not to act upon, especially when time and circumstances are on my side. This is particularly true when I am in a place I know well and there is something there that just tempts me on to explore. This happened recently on a visit to Prestongrange, my old work and a place I know and have a deep love for. At the far end of the site are some railway tracks. They have long fascinated me even while I knew they did not lead very far. I even used a photograph of them as a prompt for the writing group recently, though only I ended up writing about them.
The tracks aren’t used much now. Prestongrange has some volunteers who spend their Sunday afternoons tinkering with diesel engines and they sometimes run them along the tracks but that’s about it. Mostly they are for walking on, leading into the woods at the back of Sammy Burns’s yard. I hadn’t ever been beyond the glassworks, now a wild flower meadow, but my friend JA and I ended up taking a walk along, just to satisfy our curiosity. Being a rather precise sort of person, I stepped from track to track even while some were split and cracked, rotted and just plain gone. After a few minutes, an end was in sight, a buffer with its red paint weathered to orange, though there was a path that continued on through thickening woods with ever-lower branches. There was a rope swing that looked recent and not so many drink bottles as you would expect in a hidden place in sight of a main road.
In thinking on it now, this short walk into the woods broadened my knowledge and appreciation of a place whose secrets I thought I had a fair idea of. It also brought back memories of growing up near the woods in Dunbar. From when I was 12 until I was 19, I lived right next to Lochend Woods. I often walked through the woods, often on sunny afternoons, sometimes late into summer nights, and a lot of my early creative ideas and writing were fuelled by those wanderings. There was a path right through the heart of the woods I used to call the ‘avenue’ though I often furrowed routes to the left and right of it, sometimes venturing out along farm tracks that are now pretty much lined by houses. One of my favourite routes, out to Eweford, is now dominated by the new primary school.
Despite being a rational sort, I often imagined fairy tales and spirits roaming those woods, their stories just waiting to be told. I usually came back with poems and ideas, just as I often do when I am out for a long walk or day trip now. I was also a loner as a teenager so on days when I felt miserable, I would often just go out for a walk. I didn’t have enough to do, as most teenagers don’t, but I also had the added problem of just being plain lonely and feeling misunderstood and that I couldn’t understand people in turn. The woods were a refuge, where I felt comfortable and connected with the world around me. I never felt unsafe but then again I was close to home and I knew my routes. When I heard other people, I could turn this way or that if I felt like it.
Walking helped me appreciate the world a bit better then. One Saturday morning, I was walking along the beach at Belhaven and saw a dead seagull that had been washed in. It must have been ten years ago now. I always remember its innards ripped open, its rib cage pointing upwards and its beady eye just staring but not seeing. Strangely, a few years later, I went to what used to be called the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh (now prosaically known as Modern Two) and saw a painting by Salvador Dali called ‘Oiseau’ which showed a gull in a similar position only with an embryo in its belly. It’s strange how images stay with you and how other people are affected by them in different ways.
I’ve digressed a bit from the railway tracks at Prestongrange. Prestongrange was a place where I became more connected with people too. It was a place I appreciated while I was there but ever more so after I left and became a visitor. Lochend Woods, meanwhile, I haven’t been to in years. The last time was not long before I moved through here. There was a group set up specifically for the care of the woods and they had put up a stone at the corner of Kellie Road with a John Muir quote. One year they also had an open-air performance of Shakespeare, specifically A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which must have been amazing and brought to life the spirits and characters dwelling amidst the trees.