This whole day trip came about because I slept in. I had booked train tickets to Durham but of course I fell back asleep, waking up just too late to get myself up, ready and out the door for the train to Central to take me down south. I did think about getting another ticket, maybe even going via Carlisle as I sometimes like to do, but as the morning went on, I decided on another plan. East Lothian is an easy place for me to go to. It’s where I grew up and over the 24 years I lived there I must have covered most of the county. I had been having notions to go to Dirleton Castle for a wee while and I was soon on the way into the town. I decided to get the bus to Edinburgh, something I do occasionally when I’m not in a rush. The bus was fairly busy and I sat and read most of the way. When I reached Edinburgh, I walked up to Waterloo Place for the North Berwick bus. I still wasn’t quite settled on Dirleton and if the Dunbar bus had come first, I might have been on that. As it was, three East Coast buses came along in quick succession, for North Berwick, Dunbar and Haddington, so I got on the 124 and sat back. The East Lothian buses take probably the nicest route out of the city centre, along Waterloo Place and then Regent Road, past St. Andrew’s House and then the old Royal High School. To the right is the Old Town and Arthur’s Seat beyond. It was a stopping service and the new snazzy East Coast buses announce each stop over the PA system. There were a lot by the time I reached Dirleton since the 124 goes through Portobello, Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry, Aberlady and Gullane. By far the nicest bit of the journey is the stretch from Longniddry to Gullane, hugging the coastline with its gorgeous views over the Forth.
Dirleton is a place I know fairly well. It is prim and proper with a village green and everything. As the late Linda Smith said, it is the kind of place where nothing happens louder than a scone being buttered. Its castle is one of the best in Scotland, a favourite of mine and I’ve been a right few times over the years. I like Dirleton Castle because it is big yet subtle, with lots of good architecture to go with the history and the gardens. It also has some very nice views across East Lothian, to Traprain Law and the Garleton Monument as well as towards North Berwick Law, Fidra and the Isle of May. I spent a good hour there, wandering around and dodging out of the rain. I also managed to find the only bench in the gardens that was completely shaded by a tree, handy when it was beginning to rain pretty heavily.
It was only about 3.30 so I decided to head for Seton Collegiate Church, another Historic Scotland property about fifteen miles down the coast. I had been there only once before, about 7 years ago. I remember it being a muggy summer’s day and I sat for a while in the grounds reading Around The World In Eighty Days (I was in a classics mode at that point, clearly). It was brilliant, insanely peaceful and beautiful despite the rain and the family doing a treasure hunt around the church as I was there. There were all sorts of little touches that made it a pleasure to be there, not least the little handwritten quotes about the plants and water flowing through, plus the toilet which even had reading material. And not just any reading material: the National Geographic. Plus some books. The church was the main event and it was amazing, with stunning architecture and peace seeping from the stonework. The doorway was also an outstanding place to stand to watch the rain for a few minutes, feeling at one with my surroundings in the stillness.
The rain went off as I walked down towards Port Seton, where I had planned to get a 26 bus back to Edinburgh. Instead I walked along by the harbour, now bathed in sunshine as much of the coastline around me looked like it was getting another downpour. I decided to walk on a bit, inhaling food smells from chip shops then a Chinese takeaway as I hit Cockenzie. It was the first time I had been down there since the Power Station was demolished and there was just a crater where once stood a mighty turbine hall and two chimneys that always seemed like they could be seen from space. (Or at least from much of eastern Scotland). I came to Prestonpans and stopped to admire the Burns monument and then the sculpture right by it. I was getting hungry so ended up getting a chippy and sitting down to eat it at Morrison’s Haven, looking over the Forth which now looked less stormy. I had enjoyed the walk from Seton Church, paying close attention to Prestonpans’ murals and remembering local history as I tootled along. It was tinged with some sadness as Cockenzie felt a little lost without its power station, once a major employer in these parts. Now there was only demolition crews doing their work in a vast empty space. At the moment there are no definite plans for what will take the power station’s place. At one point they were talking about establishing a cruise ship terminal, which would certainly make a considerable difference economically. Greenock has one and it has helped the Inverclyde economy no end. Alas not to be.
The best things happen without a plan. The best day trips certainly do. This particular day was carrying on and I wasn’t quite sure what the next step would be. At Dirleton I decided on Seton. At Seton I decided to walk to Port Seton. From there I walked and walked until I came to Prestongrange, at which point time was against me and so were my feet. As much as I love Durham, I was glad I slept in.