Every so often, maybe every three months or so, I have a hankering to go back to Dunbar. I can’t quite explain it, it’s just a deep, lingering emotional attachment to where I grew up that puts me on a train now and then. The Dunbar notion came up just before Christmas and it didn’t quite happen over the festive period, mainly because I wasn’t up early enough to get the right train and spend enough time there before it got dark. Finally, yesterday I managed to be up and out early enough to finally make it happen, on a Hibs-free Saturday due to the winter shutdown, and I was soon stood by the door as the train approached Dunbar, taking the traditional look across to the Bass Rock on approach, only with a different view with houses being built in the field between Belhaven Toll and West Barns, finally eroding any sort of boundary between Dunbar and the village. I would have kept a wall at least.
I got off the train and walked down to the new harbour, hoping I might get another look at the development on the Battery, which I saw on my last visit in October. Alas, the bridge was up but I had noticed coming into Dunbar that the sea was particularly intense, with a whole lot of waves. Ideal for a wave lover like myself. I ended up walking around to the side of the Castle and watched the waves there as they billowed and splashed through the arches. Standing there, I looked at the different bits of ruined castle scattered on the rocks, the more prominent bits on the rock facing the harbour, others with gun holes nearer the town. I imagined, not for the first time, the castle in its pomp as one of the most prominent fortifications in the country, at least until it was demolished in 1568 by order of the Scots Parliament of the day and its stone successively plundered to build the houses up the street.
Under the Glebe, the water was white with waves and foam, particularly closest to the shoreline but a fair bit out. I’ve often wondered on days like those just how wave power isn’t utilised more, given the sheer force of water crashing against the shore. Maybe the electricity companies, based in big city office blocks, need to go down to the coast now and then. Anyway, I walked around the Prom to Belhaven, and it was a proper, authentic biting wind, the kind that goes through you and it had only grown colder since I had stepped off the train.
As I came closer to Belhaven, based on a conversation I had a few days before, I decided to get a few photographs of the bridge, popularly known as the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, owing to its being cut off when the tide’s in. The tide was going out, luckily, as I walked across to the bridge, the steps just as steep as they seemed when I was a kid, the feeling still just as momentarily uneasy as I tried not to look through the grille between me and the burn below. I walked across the tightly-packed sand towards the waves, across the foam line on the sand a little way from where the water started. There were tiers of waves blotting out much of the Bass Rock and I got a few photos, at least until I had to hastily step back as the waves came closer. The sand looked like a Mediterranean taverna as the water slowly ebbed out of it.
The walk through Winterfield was eerie, with the Pavilion having been demolished a year or so ago. Winterfield Park is a place I know very well, having learned to ride a bike there, played touch rugby there, lost toys walking across it in the dark, amongst many other things. When I used to go out running, it was usually where I stopped and stretched half way through. It just seemed a bit empty, a little bereft.
I have a route when I go to Dunbar and I made sure that I beat the rapidly advancing darkness to get to the East Links and look back towards the town and across the still formidable waves. I had a fleeting notion to go south to Berwick to get a train home that way – it was still baltic – but it wouldn’t work. I ended up walking back along to the Old Harbour, somewhere I hadn’t been in absolutely ages, paying particular attention to the barometer recently restored. The harbour was full of yachts sheltering from the tide, having been moved from the new harbour into the more sheltered haven of the old. The waves were coming over the walls at this point, steadily stronger than they had been a few hours earlier. Through the low, blue twilight, I could still see the Barns Ness lighthouse tower and St. Abbs Head behind, the hulking mass of Torness never to be missed either. Over at the new harbour, the waves were making a waterfall across the three tiers of the harbour wall, from the top walkway to the middle and down into the harbour basin.
As I stepped onto the train home, I made sure I got a photo of the sunset, a low blue, dark grey clouds etched across, with a pastel orange nearer the horizon, the kind John Houston would have painted. The sky is always a reason to come to Dunbar, always wider than in much of the country. The waves yesterday were that bit higher and more dramatic. Sometimes we need space and time to reflect, to be in a place which doesn’t ask much but gives a lot in perspective and familiarity. Yesterday did the stuff good and proper. I’m good for a while.