Ingrained

The very first post on this blog, way back in August 2015, was a dwam about vivid memories of places that occur to you seemingly without warning:

‘I was just thinking about a place near where I grew up in East Lothian. Just outside Dunbar is the John Muir Country Park, stretching from Dunbar Castle to Tyninghame. It is a very varied place, encompassing golf courses, beaches and an animal park. I spent a lot of time there as a kid. Anyway, the particular part of the park that came to mind a few minutes ago is at the far end of the dump road, where it meets the Biel Burn near West Barns. There is a bridge there, leading towards the sand dunes or the firs, what is locally known as ‘John Muir’, and I was just thinking of walking there. It is nearly always muddy and usually smells rank (there is a water treatment works nearby) but the path leads to good places, whichever way you take.’

I hadn’t been there in years, in fact well before I moved to Glasgow. When I was in Dunbar recently, I hadn’t planned to be out there at all but when I was walking around the Prom, I looked across Belhaven Bay and saw the trees. I didn’t plan to walk so far, though, across what the map calls the Hedderwick Plantation but what I know as ‘John Muir’. I did because I was just enjoying setting one foot before another. I haven’t been there in quite a few years – I now live at the other side of the country, I have done many jobs since – but as soon as I got past the Linkfield car park, my feet guided me through the woods as if I had just been there the day before, feeling utterly at home, recognising paths leading this way and that. Even the smells were familiar, tree smells and from the beach across the dunes. There were a few folk in the woods but not nearly as many as were across the way in the East Links farm park looking at llamas and that. It was their loss. After a few minutes, I was alone and I felt utterly content, thrilled to be in a place where I spent a lot of time as a kid and finding it had changed not a bit in the intervening decade.

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I soon reached the bridge. I had seen a photo of it a few days ago on Facebook and it must have stuck in my brain. I have long thought that if ever I get a memorial bench, by that bridge would be where it would go. It is a very secluded place, at the back of Hedderwick, right by the mouth of the river Tyne, looking across towards Tyninghame Links and up into East Lothian, with Traprain Law, Pencraig Hill and the Hopetoun Monument. It was remarkably still when I was there, save some runners and a guy walking his dogs, and I loved being there, especially because they have plonked a bench there, randomly as part of the Legacy 2014 project following the Commonwealth Games. I live in the big city and there are times when I feel overwhelmed by that, the noise, hustle, bustle and all round madness. Sitting right there I felt very far from all that, with the bird noises and the Isle of May out in the distance across the dunes. I rested my feet and looked at my OS map, wondering for a moment about whether I could walk the 4 miles more to East Linton. In the end, I decided against it, wanting to enjoy the rest of the long loop around the edge of the trees and walk back along the dump road to the Prom and back to the train. Eventually, I set off again, once more letting my feet guide me, stopping to look at the tank traps and old huts from the Second World War and generally letting my mind wander further.

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I walked back to Dunbar station, another few miles, some of them rainy, naturally smack dab in the middle of the golf course at Winterfield. The dump road I wrote about in this blog’s first post was on the route and I stopped a minute looking across Seafield Pond towards the old Battleblent Hotel and West Barns. On the way along, there was a heron on the pond. As I was reaching for my phone to get a photo, the heron got up and flew over the wall, a clear lesson as to why sometimes you should just capture the scene in your mind’s eye. When I reached the Prom it was wet but I didn’t really care. I had loved the walk, with not so many thoughts but a song going through my head (‘Clash Of The Ash’ by Runrig, incidentally, which I have just learned is about shinty) and stopping now and then for a photo.

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Sometimes memories are difficult to live up to. Places you once liked, that had resonance, don’t rise to the expectations placed on them. I was glad just to be there, for a step out of my life and for the walk to be so deeply familiar, those paths ingrained in my memory, not just in my mind but almost in my feet as I was led on almost without conscious thought into a place I knew so well.

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