Sitting by the river

In May 2008, I went on the first of a great many solo day trips. I wrote a little about it in the recent post Durham Cathedral, as a matter of fact. Why I am mentioning it again was that a couple of weeks ago I had to do a factory reset on my tablet, where I store a fair whack of my photos, and start again. I uploaded photos from my cameras and my phone, and slowly but surely I’ve managed to get a fair few memories back onto my tablet to flick through whenever I please. One of the photos I found on my old Kodak camera was of that day, taken by the Wear, sitting on some steps right on the edge of the river. I sat there for ages and I’ve sat there quite a few times since, sometimes with other folks sitting nearby, other times entirely alone. I have been there in all seasons, including in the winter when the higher river level claims the steps temporarily.

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I’ve written before about how absolutely life-affirming that day was. I’m not normally one for sitting for long distances – there’s too much to see and do whenever I get away – but that day I sat there for quite a while watching the rowers on the river and folk pass by on the path behind me. It was quite a cloudy day, as I recall, but there was a little sun, which passed through the leaves in a way that never fails to make me thrill and love the world just a tiny bit more. I think I will need to get back to Durham soon – that’s usually the problem when I look through photos, I get pangs that lead me to journey planning. Never normally a bad thing, I hasten to add, just as sitting by a river, even for a seaside person like myself, can soothe the soul just about as much as a wave can.

Craigmillar Castle

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Craigmillar Castle

I set out the other day with no other plan than to go to Edinburgh. The fatal flaw came when the train was passing through Princes Street Gardens and I didn’t have a clue what direction I would head in from Waverley. Notions of the Botanics or going across the Forth to Dunfermline vaguely appealed but not that much. Then I had the idea to go to Craigmillar Castle and within a matter of minutes I was striding up platform 13 and out of the station, bought lunch and on a bus. Within about twenty minutes I was getting off the bus at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which sits on the outskirts of the capital, just furth of the City Bypass. There’s a path from the ERI up to Craigmillar Castle but the problem was that the hospital had grown considerably since my last visit and the bus stops were at the other side of the site from then too. A world tour of the hospital later and I ended up on the right road eventually. At the road end for the castle, a gate separated me and where I should have been. I vaulted the gate only to notice that there was a path and a pedestrian crossing about 50 yards away. I do that sort of stupid thing often enough not to be too fussed – I wasn’t to know that.

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Gate, seen and conquered

Despite a moratorium on buying books (which continues, incidentally, and gifts of books will be looked upon negatively), I came away with a guidebook, bought from a very cheerful Historic Scotland steward who said that if I encountered a door, just try it and see what happens. A good metaphor for life, I think. As I walked along the path to the castle, there was a cracking view to the back of Arthur’s Seat, with the road neatly dissecting the hill in two. The summit, the Lion’s Peak and the Hellbank were in view and so was Salisbury Crags. The day was cloudy but still clear, as I was soon to see from the castle battlements. I have always liked the courtyard at Craigmillar, which is blessed by a tree and a bit of sunlight to go with the shelter afforded by the high curtain wall and the tower house. I had forgotten, though, how very complete Craigmillar is, since like Linlithgow Palace there are doors and stairs going everywhere. When I next came to the courtyard, I had been all the way round the rest of the castle.

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Courtyard

The views from the towers encompassed great swathes of the Lothians, to Blackford Hill, the Pentlands, Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh. Particularly impressive was that I could see as far as North Berwick Law, some 23 miles away, and the Hopetoun Monument high in the Garletons nearer Haddington. Edinburgh city centre was particularly prominent, the Castle, St. Giles, Old College and the Balmoral Hotel clearly noticeable on the skyline. Despite being close to the city and road noise from the City Bypass clearly audible, the bird songs and calls were loud and long too, particularly from the West Garden where I sat later on making notes and looking across towards the P for Preston laid out in the grounds below.

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Edinburgh
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East Lothian
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P for Preston
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View from under the tree

Craigmillar is like most castles in Scotland in that it has links with Mary, Queen of Scots. She came twice, with her ladies who ride in 1563 and in 1566 when ‘ill with depression’ after the murder of her courtier David Rizzio not so far away at Holyrood. Apparently it was at Craigmillar that some of her supporters decided to do in Lord Darnley, the Queen’s consort, who had allegedly instructed that Rizzio be killed. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, and so it goes. Craigmillar belonged to the Preston family and then the Gilmours, whose burial plot still remains to the eastern end of the castle. One of the more recent folk of that ilk put up an armourial panel in the courtyard marking the construction of the western part of the castle by his ancestor Sir John Gilmour, Lord President of the Court of Session, and his wife Margaret Cockburn in 1661. I doubt somehow that the present Lord President, Lord Carloway, has quite so stylish digs. The differently coloured stone visible from the western side of the castle, particularly around the foundations, show clear signs of the earlier buildings that once stood there. There are quite a few heraldic panels about the castle and they all speak of another time, of nobility and status symbols, as I suppose most castles and their architecture often were.

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Gilmour Panel in courtyard

I wasn’t alone in exploring the castle that afternoon. Indeed I jumped rather dramatically and accidentally into a French tourist’s photo as I clambered down from a seat in the hall. There was also a ginger cat wandering about the place, probably not a permanent resident but an urban wanderer on their rounds. My first encounter was when I jumped on hearing a meow come from just up the stair from where I stood in the hall. Historic Scotland allow dogs into most of their properties but I’ve never seen a cat before. Perhaps the pigeons that still live in some of the towers might be too tempting for a cat reluctantly used to Whiskas.

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Cat in the courtyard

For a while I got out of the habit of going to castles, not getting my Historic Scotland card dirty enough as I ventured instead into museums and galleries. Craigmillar was my second in a week, with Dunnottar last Saturday. I’ve been to Bothwell, Tantallon and Edinburgh in recent memory too. 2017 is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology here in Scotland and it seems to be becoming one for me personally too, visiting more of the historic places that dot our landscape, some new, others more familiar. Craigmillar was a bit of both – my last visit came about five years ago on a freezing January Saturday and it was brief for that reason. This time was brilliant for lots of reasons – the chance to properly explore and rediscover as if new the finer reaches of the castle and its surroundings plus also just to imagine what had once gone down there. I was struck walking through one of the cellars by learning how grain and other produce was once stored there in vast quantities, having been given as rent. Castles are often thought about in terms of the great and good who lived there, more than those who lived around them or who owed fealty to those who dwelled there. They are places to read the past and to imagine the future, in the words of the current Scottish Library and Information Council promotion available in a library near you. At Craigmillar, neither was particularly hard to do.

 

 

Dunnottar Castle

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Dunnottar Castle

There is a wonderful resource called the Dictionary of the Scots Language providing definitions for thousands of words from all across the country. Its definition of ‘haar’ is:

‘A cold mist or fog, gen. used on the east coast for a sea-mist’

When I left Glasgow yesterday morning, it was cold, wet and drizzly. It was the first rain I had seen in a fortnight so my reaction wasn’t downcast rather to point out to my family the strange wet stuff coming out of the sky. As the bus got further north towards Aberdeen, it became foggier and foggier, particularly when we reached the point when the A90 begins to hug the coast nearer Stonehaven. A haar and no mistake. That was the point when I could have changed my mind, stuck to Aberdeen and supposedly less dismal pursuits. But I didn’t. I persevered anyway. I had travelled 130-plus miles and I wasn’t going home without first paying a visit to Dunnottar, even if I couldn’t see 30 feet in front of my face.

From Aberdeen, I got another bus to take me back south again to Stonehaven. The bus did go to the road end at Dunnottar but I felt like a walk. Plus Stonehaven is a handsome seaside town, particularly the bit by the harbour with its stout stone buildings. Even with the haar, there were bairns playing in the water as the waves lapped up to the shore and folks sitting on benches watching and looking out. I ducked up a wynd and a steep slope towards the coastal path. I wasn’t the only one, meeting a steady stream of other people heading in the other direction. One reason why they were was the fact I could see absolutely fuck all, not even the War Memorial that sits high atop the hill facing the castle, but I could still hear the waves, proper pebbly waves, and that intensified their power. In the absence of much other visual stimuli, my perception and appreciation of them was intensified too and it was truly beautiful. I grew up by the sea so a thick haar is hardly unfamiliar to me. I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty in the dimness. The waves down below were just visible and they were fierce, whipping up a broth of foam as they crashed over the rocks.

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War Memorial, post-haar
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Your actual waves

When I reached Dunnottar, I walked down the steps though I could barely see the rock and nothing else. It made it more dramatic, particularly the Whig Vault, where Covenanters were imprisoned following a revolt in 1685, 122 men and 45 women. In there a large window gave a view across huge rocks bedecked with seabirds and an even stormier broth of a sea. The castle was still surprisingly busy as I walked around, different accents and languages, even some Scots, still present even with the mist. Dunnottar is also where the Honours of Scotland were fought over in 1650 during the brief rule by Cromwell and the English Parliament. The Crown, Sceptre and Sword were taken from Edinburgh Castle but eventually hidden in Kinneff Kirk up the road until Charles II assumed the throne and Cromwell got posthumously hanged for his trouble.

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The view from the Whig’s Vault
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Whig’s Vault

After a bit, I looked up and saw the sun trying to force its way through the haar, looking for all the world like a brighter, shinier moon. I proceeded to walk back around the castle again as I was able to see more of the cliffs and surroundings around me, even that war memorial on the hill, seemingly intentionally incomplete. The thought had occurred to me already to come back again regardless but it was nice to get the balance of the haar and the hazy blue sky that soon came.

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Coat of arms to mark marriage of the 7th Earl Marischal to Elizabeth Seaton
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Sundial
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This alone was worth the trip

Dunnottar Castle is justly one of the most prominent castles in Scotland. When I was talking about this visit, several people had spoken about their past visits or how they longed to go. It is a beautiful place, though one with a lot of substance too. I have been to a lot of castles in my time and there are some that are beautiful and insubstantial – Edinburgh comes to mind, since as fine a place though it is, the best bit is the view to other places. Urquhart might be another. It is a fine ruin though its location on Loch Ness makes it much more popular than it might otherwise be. Dunnottar combines its incredible surroundings with a formidable past. It suited my mood, since the 17th century is one of the most interesting to study of Scotland’s story, of the Union of the Crowns, Charles I and Cromwell, Darien and the lead up to the Union. Plus of course the Covenanters seeking religious freedom. Visiting places like Dunnottar made me interested in history in the first place and it’s why I will be going back to my degree next year to get it finished and learn some more along the way.

I took my time walking back up the steps from the castle, trying to find the best angle for a photograph of the castle on the cliff and one where I wouldn’t have people in the shot. The headland to my right had about five or six folk with cameras doing the same thing. I decided not to join them. From the bus stop I could still just see the castle, low on the horizon over the fields. As I got on the bus and it powered towards Stonehaven, I was rewarded with one last view across to the War Memorial with the castle peeking behind, another reason why it’s worth just going anyway, even if at first the weather doesn’t fit.

 

Glasgow Women’s Library

I’ve never met a library I haven’t liked. I’ve been in many of them, worked in more than a few too, and in each one I ever visit, I always feel the same sense of contentment in the presence of collected knowledge. I never feel anxious in a library but that might be because of my background working in them as well as the still sense of order in each one.

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Recently I went to the Glasgow Women’s Library, which sits in Bridgeton in the East End. The GWL has been on my radar for a while – what I heard of its work, from colleagues and library users, impressed me immensely. Libraries open up worlds for people that they didn’t know existed and the GWL has a very broad collection of works by female writers as well as museum and archive collections on politics, lesbian issues and the National Museum of Roller Derby. They also provide outreach sessions and workshops for women from all sorts of backgrounds on all sorts of things. All this I was broadly aware of before I walked into the place but what I was struck by was its friendliness. Within moments, my friend and I were welcomed, offered a cup of tea and whisked away for a tour. Many people have an image of libraries as rather forbidding, unapproachable sorts of places and those who work in them as much the same, a perception many of us are trying our hardest to change. The GWL lives up to its credo as expressed on the A-frame at the door: ‘We Are Open To Everyone’. Even me, the only guy in the place, a fact I only noticed well into the time we were there.

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The tour included the museum store, all climate-controlled as befits a collection which is recognised as a nationally significant collection by the Scottish Government. JA and I are both museum geeks so getting into a store with its boxes all carefully accessioned and labelled is a rare treat. The mezzanine level houses some of the older and rarer books, including one I spotted about Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the Victorian intellectual Thomas Carlyle and a writer and thinker in her own right. Jane hailed from Haddington in East Lothian, in fact the house where she was born is across a narrow close from the town’s library.

The main lending library was naturally where I had to be next, to look at their collection, which wasn’t organised by Dewey, rather by subject with Drama, Poetry and Politics rather than a series of numbers with a decimal point attached for good measure. The books were kept in place with blocks marked with the names of writers, though most poignantly the Politics section had a block bearing the name of Jo Cox, the MP who was assassinated last year. I saw lots of books I would have loved to just sit and read, including a biography of the very versatile and prolific Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison. Time, alas, precludes such pleasures.

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Nan Shepherd wrote that ‘it is a grand thing to get leave to live’. Libraries give us leave to live. One of the greatest pleasures of being in a library is having your mind blown by something you read. Even better still is working in a library because of the people you find there, the kind that boil the blood as much as those who become more like friends. Libraries are open to everyone and I have never failed to feel comfortable in any of them I’ve ever encountered. Not everyone feels that way and that must change. The Glasgow Women’s Library is a truly special place and I am proud that this city, my city, is its home. Their work in sharing literature and stories makes people feel part of something, a movement, a collective where no one is alone. Theirs is an open door in an often closed world. It must be cherished and celebrated, now more than ever.

Thanks for reading. In the next couple of months, I will be publishing the 300th post here on Walking Talking. To celebrate that milestone, I would like to open it up to suggestions. If anyone has any suggestions for the 300th post, put them in the comments box or contact me in another way if you know how. We have one suggestion already but I am open to others.

The close season

It’s been quite a year so far. I haven’t been as far as I would have liked to have gone but a lot has happened personally and professionally. I work full time now and that has a lot of benefits as well as the flaw that I have less time to roam and wander. Some of this blog’s posts recently have been informed by chance glances and snatched moments for walks when I’ve been places for other reasons, like Around the Holy GroundStreets of Glasgow: Buchanan Street and The view from the McDermid Stand.

The football season finished yesterday and while that makes me sad in one sense, I am also excited by the prospect of a fair few free Saturdays in the near future when I am not constrained by the fixture list to head for Easter Road or a provincial football ground a decent bus hurl away. In fact since I started writing this post, I have just booked a day trip for this coming Saturday. It will take me to Aberdeen. Not to be there for long, rather I will go a wee bit further down the coast to Dunnottar Castle, just outside Stonehaven. I have just gathered from Traveline that I can get a bus straight from Guild Street Bus Station in Aberdeen right to the road end for Dunnottar, which is just dandy. Dunnottar is excellent, a real ruined castle sitting on a promontory jutting into the North Sea. Plus it has a great history too, used as a prison for Covenanters plus the church nearby was where the Crown Jewels were hidden when Cromwell was about.

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Aberdeen
At this current moment, Hibs will be back in the Premiership next season so trips to Aberdeen, Motherwell and Kilmarnock will replace those to Dunfermline (steak bridies no more), Kirkcaldy and Greenock. I will look forward to those, particularly to the more far-flung locales. I haven’t been to a fair few Premiership grounds, including Firhill here in Glasgow, Inverness, Dingwall or even Dens Park in Dundee as written about here. In the meantime, though, the close season is now upon us and I am looking forward to Dunnottar and all the other places I will get to along the way. I don’t think I will plan too far into the future so there’s a bit of serendipity involved, a case of just picking a bus or train and going. When there hasn’t been a lot of scope for that this year, the prospect cheers me greatly, almost as much as Premiership football, in fact.

 

Impulses

I’m not very impulsive. I usually think on things then never act on them. Occasionally I do but there’s usually a day trip involved somewhere along the line. A few weeks ago, I was in East Lothian for the day, a fine visit to my home county on a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon. We had just been to Tantallon Castle, possibly one of the finest castles on this great planet of ours, and were driving to Pressmennan Wood when on impulse I asked my dad to stop the car at a place called Pitcox, not far from Dunbar. The reason I did was because of an old signpost that stood at the road junction there, produced by East Lothian County Council at least before 1974. The signpost marked four directions, towards Stenton, Garvald, Gifford, Pathhead Farm, Halls Farm, Bourhouse, Spott and Dunbar. I can’t quite explain the attraction of the signpost beyond I just like the link to the old-fashioned way of doing things. East Lothian is still a very old-fashioned sort of place and there are a few of these signposts dotted around the county, including one in the very heart of Haddington on the junction of Station Road and West Road. In this age of sat-nav and Google Maps, navigation by instinct, knowledge and simple guiding seems to have gone by the wayside. The world is deeply complex and all we can do as people is find something to relate to, even if it might not be totally obvious. It’s the psychogeographer in me that made me stop. There are wonders to be found in the unlikeliest of places. The Impressionist Camille Pissarro said it best:

‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing’.

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I realise I haven’t written so much here about psychogeography. I became interested in it a few years ago after reading some articles on the subject by the novelist Will Self who walked from his house in west London to New York, or at least from his house to Heathrow then from JFK into Manhattan. I think Will Self is up his own arse – he tends to throw spanners into the dictionary and use a polysyllabic word when a decent, shorter one might do – but psychogeography struck a chord with me. It is a French Situationist concept come up with by a philosopher called Guy Debord, who sought to make sense of the anonymous big city by getting lost in it on what he called a derive or aimless drift. His big city was Paris. Mine was Edinburgh.

The capital of Scotland is a city I know very well. I was born there, I went to primary school there. I’m even going there tomorrow to see Hibs. One of the reasons I know it so well is because when I used to go on day trips, all I could often afford was to go to Edinburgh and explore. I often went on derives around the New Town, often starting on Dublin Street by the Portrait Gallery and seeing where I ended up. Waverley Station was inevitably my final destination but it was the getting there that made it interesting, following psychogeographical concepts and taking random left and right turns. I haven’t been on such a walk for a while but I still turn off on a tangent from time to time even when I supposedly have a fixed route in mind to follow. The other week I was heading to Easter Road and walked up Leith Walk since I was running early. I ended up taking a diversion through the New Kirkgate shopping centre (less said the better) and found Trinity House museum then ducked through the very fine and springlike South Leith kirkyard.

The project I started a few weeks ago, Streets of Glasgow, has a psychogeographical dimension to it. I’ve lived in Glasgow for nearly four years but I still haven’t scratched the surface of it yet. Far from it. The walk on Buchanan Street was brilliant, a few snatched minutes in a lunchbreak from a training course, and I hope to get out some more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there are always new things to spot when looking the right way, like the ghost sign I spotted on Nelson Mandela Place walking back from the bus station the other week.

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Just shy of a year ago, I went to York, one of my favourite cities. One of the highlights was the National Railway Museum, which I always refer to affectionately as the most autistic place on Earth. In the Station Hall was a signpost which tickled me when I saw it then and sums up much of my outlook on life. One direction points ‘To the glorious and unknown’. It might be just a little bit impulsive but that’s all good with me.

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Before I forget, very soon, probably some time in June, will be the 300th post on this here blog. I like to mark these things, as with The things I love are not at home and Post 101: Talking, so for the first time, I am going to crowdsource what I write about for the 300th post. So, if there are any suggestions, based around what tends to appear here, please do let me know, either through the comments section or by other means if you know them.

 

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.

Earth

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This photograph shows one of my favourite vistas in the world, in Northumberland on the road to Bamburgh. Bamburgh Castle isn’t the castle in this view, though, rather it is in Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island just up the coast a bit. This was taken as the sun was setting one day in January this year. There are some birds around this particular spot, feeding on the worms and other beasties, and it encapsulates what this week’s WordPress photo challenge theme ‘Earth’ means to me: the beauty of the world and that we share it with other species just living their lives despite ourselves and our actions.

Welcome! If you’ve never been to my little corner of the Internet before, please stick around. I post essays about my travels and thoughts now and then. Recent posts have included Writing about autismThe BatteryColdinghamSome popular placesDurham Cathedral and Notes From Walnut Tree Farm.

Craster again

Welcome to the Walking Talking blog. I am presently on holiday so I’ve decided to share some older blog posts again while I unwind and try and write some new ones. Today’s post is about the utterly lovely village of Craster in Northumberland. Go sometime, it’s braw.

A few days ago, I was in Craster in Northumberland. I wrote a bit about it in the post Along the way, published on Tuesday, but I wanted to expand a bit. We arrived about 11am and left about 1.30. The weather, the light changed utterly in the space of that time. So did the sea. When we arrived, the sky was cloud-filled and grey. The sea was like slate. Barely an hour later, the sea was brighter because the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds. Much of the sky was blue, light and pale since it was still January but it was blue nonetheless. It was stunning and an utter joy to be there.

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Every morning, I look at Twitter and see a picture posted on the Sea Window Craster account. Seeing that sky and those waves usually sees me right for a while. To walk there and see it for real was even better. A screen is a poor substitute for real life. I know people who will post social media updates while they are away somewhere. I tend not to do that because I like to live first and tell the story later. Words are an impression. They cannot possibly encapsulate every single aspect of an experience. But we, I, spend a lot of time trying. A photograph inspires and makes you want to go back, even if the place you are looking at is 139 miles away, as Craster is from here.

Craster is beautiful and thus it is a very popular place. If you are there in the summer, getting a parking space is incredibly difficult. (Public transport rules!) Being an out-of-season sort of guy is useful only occasionally. A lot of the places I like are only open in the summer months. Craster in January was quiet with only a few non-locals, like us, about to share one of the finest places in these islands. It wasn’t particularly cold, not stormy unlike what it has become towards the end of the week. January is a good time to go places and it was certainly glorious to be in Northumberland over that time. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, not least in Craster with the light changing even as we were there for a short time.

I think I wrote the other night about the sculpture Couple in Newbiggin-by-Sea and how I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. I’m still not convinced but I am beginning to see the point of putting the sculptures there in the first place. Being by the sea actively invites contemplation and wider, deeper thoughts than often seem possible inland. I suspect people who go up mountains would disagree with that – that’s fine. When I am by the sea, I spend a lot of time looking out, whether at the waves or further afield, to land across the way or just to the horizon. In Craster, the gaze was drawn to the horizon or to Dunstanburgh Castle, just up the coast.

What I gained from the experience, as I did later in the day on Bamburgh beach, was a sense of calmness, gained from my surroundings and a quieter pace quite removed from the city life I live now. Right now it is there and all it needs is the right thought or looking at a photo to soothe and lower my heartrate. I’m like that with Belhaven a lot of the time, same with several places on the East Neuk of Fife. Prestwick Beach and Lochaber too. I hope this doesn’t go away too soon, even while the holiday mode is even now a distant memory.

Security

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This photograph shows the Bass Rock, a seabird colony, lighthouse and onetime prison, through the window of Tantallon Castle, a mile away on land. The walls of Tantallon were 15 feet thick, secure in the extreme to withstand the elements and most all cannonfire except those of Cromwell’s forces that eventually reduced it to ruin. I was at Tantallon a few weeks ago and it was brilliant to look from high atop its battlements towards the Bass and inland to the Lammermuirs, Traprain and North Berwick, surveying my native county and revelling in the spring sunshine. Security comes from location sometimes, being from time to time in places where you feel secure, not quite rooted geographically but in a more spiritual sense, hopefully for a long time to come.