Recently, the Guardian published an article featuring various writers spouting off on their favourite beach, including Irvine Welsh who wrote about Silverknowes beach in the north of Edinburgh. Irvine lives in Miami so perhaps might be writing with a wee tinge of nostalgia and relief that he doesn’t have to be there in November. I was there recently – read the Edinburgh’s promenade post for more on that walk – and it is fine, I have to say. The comments section of the article surprisingly didn’t descend into a whole lot of abuse as these things tend to do with readers instead talking about their favourite beaches, including a few I know well, Yellowcraig in East Lothian, Bamburgh in Northumberland and Prestwick down the watter in Ayrshire.
My favourite beach is Belhaven, not far from Dunbar where I grew up. I haven’t been for a wee while but it is a place where I feel most myself, letting the winds wash my spirit clean, as John Muir might have put it. Belhaven is to the west of Dunbar and when approaching from the town, the bay just opens up with views to Fife, the Bass Rock, North Berwick Law and the Isle of May, not to mention further inland to Traprain Law and the Hopetoun Monument near Haddington. The bridge to the beach is cut off twice a day by the tide and it is popularly known as the ‘bridge to nowhere’. Indeed I remember when shelving CDs when I worked at Langside Library in Glasgow discovering a CD, possibly by the Battlefield Band, with said bridge on the front. It is a popular place for photographers and those of us who are merely tickled by a bridge being rendered irrelevant twice a day.
I don’t get there so often any more, living at the other side of the country. Usually when I write about Dunbar, I tend to be there the next week so I’m sure that will be the case this time. I used to walk there fairly often, with family or a succession of dogs, or otherwise alone coming up with ideas for writing. One Saturday morning, I ended up on the beach and saw a seagull lying on the sand with its ribs exposed, sticking up like city cranes. The image stuck with me and I even saw something similar in a Salvador Dali painting in the Modern Art Gallery in Edinburgh.
Why do I love it? It is a place where I feel close to nature, close to home and to lost loved ones. It is a place of comfort, of stability and it has stayed consistent ever since I’ve known it. The view of the Bass Rock and the May is never the same twice, however. I’ve been there in all weathers, even in the fog where the Bass Rock was the only thing visible for miles. The waves make it all the more special, a calming, rhythmic spectacle, every few seconds a new one. Stormy days, or wintry ones, are the best, the gnarling cold compensated for by those waves and the ruffled sky above.
There are those places which are special to us and feel unique to us, even while many others may feel exactly the same about them. I am lucky enough to have quite a few special places, some urban, others much more wild. Belhaven falls into the latter category, though close to the town too. Even while I love Glasgow, it is to Belhaven that I go to take stock and catch up with myself. There are few places better on earth and if you haven’t been, I heartily encourage you to go.