Doon Hill

After walking to Barns Ness lighthouse, I somehow had the mental notion to climb up Doon Hill. I hadn’t been up there in years, usually doing so as a result of a hare-brained scheme. I remember being up there as the Queen Mary 2 sailed past, the massive cruise ship looming large as it motored up the Forth from Rosyth. From Barns Ness I had to walk a while past Portlands then when I reached the A1 I had to run across the road as cars come up and down there with some lick. I was soon rewarded, though, on the way up the road by a fine view back across Dunbar to the Bass Rock and the Isle of May beyond. That vista was to my right all the way up to Doon Hill or at least as long as I kept sweat out of my eyes. I’m not built for heat.

Doon Hill overlooks Dunbar. It is also notable for the fields below which were the scene of the second Battle of Dunbar, the one on 3rd September 1650 when Cromwell won and 3,000 were taken to Durham Cathedral to be executed, transported or imprisoned. I passed a stone on the way up which bore a quote about the battle from Thomas Carlyle. The hill was the site of an Anglian hall but also, archaeologists have discovered fairly recently, a Neolithic settlement too. When I got to the top, I found I was not alone for there was a tour group getting a talk by the big information board. The guide was freely admitting he knew hee haw about medieval architecture so might have to defer to his pal Chris who was also there. I glanced at the board then set off around the traced out edges of the homestead, getting far enough away to completely tune out the group.

I sat for a few minutes looking down the hill towards Torness. Blocking out that and the cement works, it was possible to readily imagine the value of Doon Hill not only as a domestic structure but for defence, giving views right to St. Abbs Head and over the surrounding lands to Brunt Hill and beyond towards North Berwick. The thing that amazed me was that Doon Hill’s significance only came to light due to aerial photography in the 1950s, then as now a vital resource in finding hitherto hidden traces of our past. Looking across the site it was easy to bring to life its past, as a place for communal living, entertaining, and venerating their dead.

Back down the hill I looked again across Dunbar. Even with the new houses I could pick out landmarks, my high school, where I lived growing up, the Castle, Town House, churches and Knockenhair House, to name but a few. Despite the climb and the heat, I was glad I diverted that way to get a wider appreciation of the history, plus just to stand and stare for a while.


My favourite bench

I didn’t like high school much. Sometimes at lunchtime I would sit in a classroom and eat or in most weathers I would go out for a walk. If I was really going for it, I would end up nearly at the Castle, sitting by where the old pool was, watching waves. I wrote poems then and a lot of them seemed to involve waves, usually free verse even though Robert Frost likened it to playing tennis with the net down.Very often I would end up at the Prom, ten minutes or so from school, and I would sit on my favourite bench. It’s just around from the second gate with views across the bay to Traprain, North Berwick Law, the Bass and the May. In all weather it is a beautiful, lovely spot and even when I go to Dunbar today, I like to spend a few minutes there. I was up there just now. I’m now sitting writing this on the beach, looking back up towards the Prom. Bird calls chattering back and forth, waves, not much man made noise at all on this warm July evening.I’ve been on the Prom too many times to count. Sometimes I’ve run on it, other times walked, sometimes with the wind at my back, actually a lot of times with the wind at my back, with some visits thoughtful and others joyful. I’ve been there on bright sunny days like this and cold, clear, dark winter nights too, the way shown by a torch. I never feel lonely there, however I feel elsewhere. There I feel connected to the wider world, not so much cities but passing ships, birds and places on the horizon, to memories, hopes and dreams. A lot of what I write about is connections and it all comes from here, this place, and wherever I live, that won’t ever change.

Loose Ends: National Museum of Scotland

The original plan was for the next Loose Ends post to be St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. The last one was Glasgow Cathedral so it was a straight link between churches and patron saints. When I got to St. Giles, however, I had a quick turn around and that did me fine. I don’t know what it was, there were a few ideas percolating around but I think I was scunnered by being asked to pay £2 to take photos, which I grudged. I was planning on going to the National Museum of Scotland anyway, just up the road on Chambers Street, and just as I walked down George IV Bridge past the National Library, it started raining for the first time in what felt like weeks. I still had to find a connection between Glasgow Cathedral and NMS, though, coming up with their managing agencies both being part of the Scottish Government, that both are free to get into and they also have bits about the Reformation.

NMS and I go way back. I grew up in East Lothian and a lot of visits to Edinburgh involved a trip to Chambers Street, either to the old museum with the fish ponds or the new one, which opened in 1998 and covers Scotland. To this day I still call the Scottish bit of NMS the ‘new’ bit despite it now being in its third decade and the ‘old’ bit being spruced up and new. I don’t get there as often any more, living in Glasgow and all that, and a trip is a bit of a treat now. A lot of it is very familiar and I headed to some favourite bits straight away, starting with the Kingdom of the Scots with the Monymusk reliquary once used, or so they say, to carry the relics of St. Columba into battle. After that I looked up to a painted ceiling once in a big hoose in Burntisland and then left to some Pictish stanes. I covered bits of the ground floor, going into the other bit for the Millennium Clock and a lighthouse lamp from Inchkeith Lighthouse that I can’t help loving to photograph. I like the object wall you can see from the Grand Gallery, each bit seemingly random but interlinked somehow. The wall features rockets, Buddhist sculptures, sewing machines and railway station signs.

Back in the ‘new’ museum I made sure I had a look at the Arthur’s Seat coffins, the section on lighthouses, trains and the big Beam Engine on the third floor. At the Reformation display, revision for me for an upcoming exam, an American woman was opining about Martin Luther, her man confessing he knew hee haw about Luther. I wandered, feeling happy to be in a familiar place, still learning but thinking all the time about connections for this series. A piece of petrified wood links to John Muir and Dunbar. The lighthouse lamp could take me almost anywhere on our coastline, though Barns Ness came to mind at that moment. The painted ceiling could even take me back to Aberdour, alternatively to Huntingtower Castle not far out of Perth. The beam engine might take me to Kilmarnock, where it worked, or Prestongrange where an engine still exists, albeit not in use. One of the locomotives on the fourth floor was built in Leith, quite an historical place in its own right. To be fair to NMS, it has connections and links to many parts of Scotland and the world, in many cases drawing attention to other places to visit, even other museums in the case of Skerryvore in Tiree and the Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh. I thought about the Riverside Museum here in Glasgow or even Summerlee in Coatbridge, good places both, good possible connections too.

There are many people who would argue that Scottish culture is skewed towards the central belt and Glasgow or Edinburgh in particular. I used to think NMS was but walking around it for this visit changed that view. It gives a good account of Scotland and how we see the world, a good starting point that inspires wonder and travelling once more.

Loose Ends: Tranter’s Bridge

After the last game of the season at Easter Road, I had no set plans of what to do after. It was a beautiful sunny day in the capital and as I walked with the crowd down Hawkhill Avenue, I decided on a trip to the seaside. Further on, I decided that while I would ultimately end up in North Berwick for fish and chips, I would head first to Aberlady Bay with its secluded beach just perfect on this warm May Sunday. I realised, though, that the place I had in mind, Tranter’s Bridge, wasn’t on Google Maps. I could picture it, the wooden bridge curving over a burn, though Google wasn’t playing. Eventually I realised it was between Aberlady and Gullane so headed to buy some provisions then for the bus to Aberlady, soon entering my home county and following through Musselburgh, Prestonpans and Longniddry before hitting the coast road, probably the finest road in Scotland with its views to Edinburgh, the Pentlands and Fife.

I alighted in Aberlady, a pleasant village with an old kirk, and followed the road to Tranter’s Bridge, where a newlywed couple were getting their photos taken on the bridge. I waited by looking at a nearby plaque which affirmed that was indeed Tranter’s Bridge, named for the late historian and author Nigel Tranter who lived nearby and was often inspired by his walks in the East Lothian countryside. There was a quote etched on it which talked Tranter never failing to relish the ‘unending sigh of the waves…the calling of the sea-birds, the quacking of mallard and the honking of the wavering wild geese’. I stood a moment and as I sometimes do read the words aloud, savouring the cadences and imagining this figure wandering through the nearby nature reserve. I could see hints of Arthur’s Seat back in Edinburgh, more of Fife with tankers sitting tight in the Forth, while I could hear seabirds right enough with some geese in a pond nearby that I saw a few minutes later.

Eventually I crossed and took my time, looking left towards the Forth and right up the burn as it curved towards Gullane. As I walked I realised that it could be another Loose End since it connects with Lamer Island in Dunbar in at least two ways. The bridge is on the John Muir Way, the long distance footpath that leads from Dunbar through Aberlady eventually to Helensburgh on the Clyde. Also, I grew up in Dunbar and I did a Nigel Tranter book, The Story of Scotland, for a school essay once. If you want to go more substantial, I not only grew up in Dunbar but there’s a clearer link between me, John Muir’s Birthplace and one of its volunteers who was a big Tranter fan and often talked about him to me.

Towards the dunes I thought more about how no two walks in this place would ever be the same. I’m sure Tranter would have found that too and it would have coloured his writing as this beautiful day stilled me in ways I cannot begin to put into words. There it was possible to experience Scotland’s past, present and future in one sweeping vista, the Edinburgh skyline steeped in history and raising it skywards, Fife and the wind turbines at Burntisland as well as the moment I was currently living, seeing it all but just being there, setting one foot before another, thoughts slow as my steps up the dune to the beach.

Loose Ends: Lamer Island

The last Loose Ends post took me to Crookston Castle, not far from where I live in Glasgow. This time I ended up in Dunbar, where I grew up. I was going there anyway when I realised that Lamer Island, what I know as the Battery, would work as another strand of the Loose Ends series. Crookston Castle was used a lookout during the Second World War while Lamer Island was used as a war hospital during the First World War. Plus with Dunbar Castle being across the harbour it is possible to get another link with Mary, Queen of Scots, this time through her husbands, Crookston being held by the Darnley Stewarts, the Earl of Bothwell once the Captain of Dunbar Castle.

The Battery was originally built in the late 18th century to defend against a potential French invasion. It now forms part of the Victoria Harbour, built in 1842 to support a growing fishing fleet. Lamer Island was a sea defence then a hospital before eventually becoming derelict, which is as it was when I was a kid growing up nearby. The Dunbar Shore Neighbourhood Group have done a good job revitalising the Battery, putting up some interesting interpretation boards and art installations. When I got there on a hot Bank Holiday Monday afternoon, the place was busy with families. There was a wee bit of haar out to sea, the Isle of May not visible while the sea was a wee bit choppy. I was happy just to wander and look out for a while, the Battery’s raised position affording incredible views across the new and old harbours towards Barns Ness, St. Abbs Head, North Berwick Law, the Bass Rock and Fife. There were boards with apposite quotes about North Berwick Law, the Bass, May and St. Abbs Head, including my personal favourite about the old proverb of boys coming from the Bass Rock and girls from the Isle of May. I also liked the Marion Corbett quote:

‘When haddocks leave the Firth o’ Forth,

An’ mussels leave the shore,

When oysters climb up Berwick Law,

We’ll go to sea no more’

In short, persevere, as they say in Leith.

There were a lot of birds on the surrounding rocks, I’ve never been sure of the names but maybe a puffin or two to go with the usual kittiwakes and gannets nesting on the Castle rock.

Another link came to me as I looked at another of the boards, which noted that cannons had been plonked on the Battery during the Napoleonic Wars, soon returned to Edinburgh Castle. As I took the train back towards Edinburgh I thought about others, the fact that girls come from the Isle of May might not take me to the May, as delightful as it is, but to the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library. That I could see two lighthouses might send me to George Street in Edinburgh, the headquarters of the Northern Lighthouse Board, or across town to the National Museum of Scotland, maybe even the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses up the coast in Fraserburgh. A couple of streets away from the Battery is Writer’s Court, perhaps a prompt to go to the Writer’s Museum in the capital. As ever, I will wait and see where the mood takes me, from a castle high over a city suburb to another bedecked in birds’ nests to somewhere as yet unknown.

This is the fifth post in the Loose Ends series here on Walking Talking. The last instalment, last week, was Crookston Castle.

Lamer Island has appeared on the blog before, in DefencesDown the harbour  and The Battery.

Digest: May 2018

That’s the end of May then. Another busy month and a whole lot of adventures. In May I’ve been to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, East Lothian twice and all the way to Crookston. A lot of travels have been football-related though some haven’t, not least the first adventure I had in May neatly packed into a lunchtime. I was in Glenburn, a suburb of Paisley, and over lunch I ended up going for a walk a little way into the Gleniffer Braes, sitting down on a bench with a considerable view across Paisley to the hills beyond. It was a new perspective on a place I am becoming increasingly familiar with.

On Saturday 5th May I went to Aberdeen to watch Hibs. I left fairly early in the day and read and listened to music on the way up. I went to the football then took myself out to dinner before going home. I was thinking about the Bank Holiday Monday which was coming and ended up buying Ordnance Survey maps for two very disparate bits of Scotland, the area around Hawick in the Borders and Elgin in Moray, before I boarded that bus to civilisation. As it turns out I didn’t get to either one.

The following day was lovely and warm and I had a lie in. After all I had been all the way to Aberdeen the previous day. Mid-afternoon I went out to Crookston Castle, intending on writing about it for Loose Ends, a series featured on this blog on Sundays at the moment. The place was fairly busy with people though that didn’t stop me enjoying the views across this bit of the world. Crookston Castle is within half an hour’s walk so I did just that. On the way back I finally made it to Rosshall Gardens where I wrote up notes and pondered a ruined boiler house in the grounds. I still need to write that bit of the adventure up.

The next day was Bank Holiday Monday and after much deliberation I ended up on the way to Edinburgh. I wanted to do a dry run for visiting Tynecastle that Wednesday so I proceeded in lovely sunshine into deepest darkest Gorgie, found where the away end is then swiftly came away again with no fixed agenda. I found myself at the bus station thinking about where to go and I just missed a bus to St. Andrews. There was a bus sitting bound for East Lothian and I thought briefly about Hailes Castle before eventually concluding I quite fancied a trip to Dunbar. On the way down I felt like going to Lamer Island, the Battery, which has featured here before and that was where I ended up after a turn around the harbour. I managed to find a connection to Crookston Castle and thus my visit also became part of the Loose Ends series. Alas time and train timetables meant I didn’t have long before I needed to head back to Glasgow.

No wonder I’m tired. The following night I went out for dinner. On the way we looked at some of the very fine street art which is scattered around the Merchant City.

Next night was the derby at Tynecastle, another item off my 30 Before 30 list.

That Sunday was the last game of the season and it was at Easter Road. I don’t have any end of the season traditions and when I left the ground, leaving through exit number 7 as always, I decided to go get fish and chips by the sea. That became North Berwick and after walking to a shop to get provisions, it became a walk around Aberlady Bay first. Aberlady Bay, for those who don’t know it, is a nature reserve with a long, deserted beach at the end of it. But first I had to cross Tranter’s Bridge, a wooden bridge across a burn named after the author Nigel Tranter who often walked there trying to think up ideas. The bridge, which I knew about but Google Maps didnae, features in Loose Ends soon too. The walk was beautiful but very warm. I ended up on the beach and to my slight surprise I ended up sunbathing for a bit. I don’t sunbathe. I think the sand that was still stuck to my body hours later when I got home is probably why. After that interlude I walked to Gullane then got myself to North Berwick for fish and chips, which were no’ bad, eaten by the harbour.

That Tuesday I was doing a work thing in Renfrew Town Hall, recently refurbished, and it is a fabulous building.

The next Friday I ended up in Edinburgh and went for a long walk along the Water of Leith from Leith to Murrayfield, ending up there on the bus home. Particular highlights of this walk were St. Bernard’s Well which was gorgeous in that light and the grounds of the two Modern Art Galleries in the Dean Village.

That Sunday I went to watch Partick Thistle play Livingston. Thistle got relegated.

I walked home from work the next Friday and walking over by Arkleston, there was a brief moment by the motorway when I could be fooled into thinking I was in the proper countryside.

The next day was Saturday and I was off. I went to Culross, via Dunfermline where I partook in some steak bridies for lunch. I was a bit too late for the Palace but I wasn’t heartbroken since I was able to wander in the sunshine, sitting and reading for a bit and looking at the many fine buildings. I went to Culross Abbey all too briefly and the Abbey ruins were great to explore on that beautiful day.

The next day I spent the day with my dad, bopping around central Scotland, starting in Linlithgow with a turn around the loch. We then drove the few miles to Cairnpapple Hill. From the cool but pleasant weather in Linlithgow, Cairnpapple was shrouded in haar. This made the experience all the more beguiling, other-worldly as we made our way round the henge with visibility only a few feet in front of our faces. Barely five minutes away in Torphichen, it was much clearer and sunny. We had lunch in Callander Park in Falkirk, looking over a duck pond. It was good to see the museum and park busy with people. Thereafter we drove across the Forth to Castle Campbell, one of the more atmospheric Scottish castles, with a walk through Dollar Glen an added bonus. Dollar Glen feels like something out of a fairy tale, or where trolls, goblins and nymphs should live. Castle Campbell is great, a blend of ruins and a fairly intact though restored tower house. Before dining in Linlithgow, we headed back to Cairnpapple Hill where it was now sunny and decent views could be had despite the haze. We first had to contend with some cows. A family were already there, reluctant to venture across the field. To slightly misquote We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, we couldn’t go over them, we couldn’t go under them: we had to go through them. We succeeded and the perspective was well worth the close encounters of the bovine kind.

Monday was a bank holiday and I decided to satisfy an ambition and another thing on my 30 Before 30 list to boot. I decided to walk the route of the Glasgow Subway. On the hottest day of the year. I succeeded in 4 hours and 8 minutes from leaving Govan to getting back there. Tales of that adventure will appear here shortly. Afterwards I had a fleeting visit to Glasgow Cathedral, which will be part of the Loose Ends series after Culross.

That’s us for May then. On Friday it is Streets of Glasgow time and it is the final post of that series before hiatus, Addison Road. Loose Ends returns on Sunday and it is Lamer Island this time.

Before I forget, the Wednesday’s Child blog featured an interesting post recently about what constitutes being well-read. I said I would share a list of some books that have been important to me and these appear below. At some point I will go into greater depth as to why I like these particular books:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark

The collected works of Roald Dahl

The collected works of Douglas Adams

The Harry Potter series

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

Candide by Voltaire

The collected works of Kurt Vonnegut

The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

Nasty Women, the feminist anthology compiled by 404 Ink

Godless Morality and Looking in the Distance by Richard Holloway

Findings by Kathleen Jamie

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

Waterlog by Roger Deakin

Neurotribes by Steve Silberman

Tony Benn’s diaries

My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Walking Talking takes a week off next week. That’s for practical reasons. As some of you might know, I’m doing an Open University degree and the exam for my current module is next week. I’ll have to revise. Exams aren’t good. I don’t see the point in them but that’s easy to say when I’m staring down the face of one.

The Easter Road West blog, my football outpost, goes to one post a week over the summer. The football’s finished! I know there’s the World Cup but I couldn’t care less about that. Anyway, May posts might have a limited shelf-life as I was writing about then-current events. The best post over there was the season review.

Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers. It is one of the nicest bits of blogging that sometimes lengthy digressions can occur because of comments or seeing just which random has liked a post today. Cheers, folks.

Posts in May –

Digest: April 2018

Causeway cliffs

Loose Ends: Linlithgow Palace


Walking talking

Streets of Glasgow: Waterloo Street

The beginning

Flotsam and jetsam

Streets of Glasgow: Cadogan Street

Loose Ends: Stirling Castle


Streets of Glasgow: Firhill Road

Loose Ends: Crookston Castle

Digest: April 2018

April’s over and it’s featured snow and sunshine, not always at the same time. I’ve worn a thick jacket and shorts, though definitely not at the same time. So, it’s Digest time, beginning on the tres, tres cold Easter Monday. I took a train into town and as it stopped waiting for a platform at Central, I took a photo of a warehouse in the process of demolition. I stopped off in Edinburgh and managed to source a Stephen’s steak bridie or two for lunch before getting the train down to Dunbar, where it was cold and windy. It often is there though it doesn’t snow very often. Despite it being baltic, I felt in the mood for a walk and ended up walking as far as Tyninghame, sheltered for much of the way by the woods and then heading inland up a muddy track. At Tyninghame I grabbed a bus up to North Berwick where it was even colder. I got a bus into Edinburgh and headed home. It snowed as the bus headed along the M8 towards Glasgow. At least two blog posts have resulted from the Dunbar walk, namely Dunbar in the snow and Defences.

The following day Hibs played at night and I was there. It was wet, I think.

That Friday I had a Glasgow day, with two Streets of Glasgow walks. I had the notion to do a Streets walk on Firhill Road, partly because of the cool mural I had heard about at one end of Partick Thistle’s ground and also because I had featured streets near the grounds of Rangers, Celtic and Queen’s Park but not the Sizzle. The Firhill mural is excellent and I’m glad I got there. On the way across town, I decided to put Streets on hiatus, not because I don’t enjoy writing it but because I felt it was time for it to take a break. The last Streets walk was deliberately chosen, Addison Road, which is near the Botanic Gardens. It started to rain as I came the other way and I hid out in the Kibble Palace until it dried off a bit. From there I wandered up Ashton Lane and Cresswell Lane before walking into town along Woodlands Road and then Renfrew Street, which may feature in Streets when it starts up again. Owing to John Lambie’s death a couple of weeks ago, the Firhill Road Streets of Glasgow post has appeared on my football blog, Easter Road West, already. It will also appear here in sequence in a few weeks, with Addison Road appearing a week later.

The following Sunday found me out and about again though not with a great masterplan of where to go. When I was on the train into town, my eye fell on a poster advertising a Lego exhibition at Aberdour Castle in Fife, a place I like. I found myself trudging up to the bus station and then on a bus to Dunfermline, changing there for another to Aberdour. The Lego exhibition didn’t excite me a great deal as I would rather go and see places then see them represented in brick form. Aberdour is a cracking castle though with a painted ceiling and interesting gardens. It was also where the new Castle connections series was conceived – it’s since been renamed Loose ends, inspired by reading the poem ‘Scotland’ by Hugh MacDiarmid. The next post in that series will appear on Sunday 6th May. That day in Aberdour, though, I also walked down to the Forth and looked out towards Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Back to Fife the next Saturday as once more I didn’t have a grand plan. I found myself on a bus to St. Andrews though as I got closer to that fine town, I had a notion to check out a football match even though Hibs weren’t playing. My two options within distance were East Fife vs. Arbroath or Raith Rovers vs. Queen’s Park. The fact that St. Andrews was mobbed made the decision easier and I ended up on a bus out of there after a polite walk around the town streets. The bus to Leven, where I would have to change, had great views across the hills and then the Forth too as the bus came into Lundin Links and Upper Largo. I was bound for the San Starko to see Raith Rovers play Queen’s Park and I got into the Penman Stand just before kick off and in time to see Roary Rover, Raith’s mascot, dancing to Taylor Swift. Game finished 2-0, I wrote about it on ERW here. After the game I got the bus to Edinburgh, had a wander then had a very fine chippy sitting in the gardens on London Road.

That week I had an OU essay to write. It got written and I was even under the word count.

On the Friday I decided to go to Linlithgow as part of the Loose Ends series. Linlithgow Palace, like Aberdour, appeared in Outlander. It is also one of my favourite places on the planet and I was glad to wander about for an hour in the pleasant April sunshine. I had my piece sitting in the great hall. What I did which I had never done before was walk under the buttresses at the Peel side of the Palace, a new perspective on a familiar place. From Linlithgow there’s lots of connections though I decided to find another I could do that day and found myself on a train to Stirling. Stirling Castle is my favourite big castle in Scotland and it’s linked to Linlithgow by being where Mary, Queen of Scots, born in Linlithgow, was crowned. It’s also managed by Historic Environment Scotland, as is Aberdour. I was happy just to wander about Stirling, not bothering with the Stirling Heads and instead just looking out across central Scotland and beyond to some mountains.

The following day I went to watch Hibs decisively beat Celtic 2-1 on a warm sunny afternoon in Leith. After that I went for a swift walk around Morrison’s Haven, just outside Prestonpans. The sunshine was beautiful, the surroundings even finer. It was great to be there, even briefly.

The next Saturday, last Saturday, Hibs were playing Kilmarnock and I headed through a bit earlier to sit up Calton Hill to think, look and remember.

On Sunday I went to Cumbrae. We parked in Largs then got on the ferry. Millport is a very pleasant town and the sunshine just made it and the views to Ailsa Craig, Arran and Lesser Cumbrae all the more spectacular. The Cathedral of the Isles and its labyrinth were particularly interesting. I’ll write a longer post next week about it. I managed to get sunburnt, keeping up the fine tradition I have of getting burned in the most exotic places, like last year on the ferry to Arran or a few years ago at Lochleven Castle near Kinross.

So, that’s us for April. A digest for Easter Road West appeared last night over there. Easter Road West is my football blog, almost exclusively about Hibs. As well as the Firhill Streets of Glasgow post which I posted up there recently, I particularly liked writing the posts there about my first football game, after I found the programme in a shop, and also the one about autism published on World Autism Awareness Day. There’s a post there tonight about the fast approaching close season.

I try to keep up with other blogs and last night I was on the way home and read a post on FiveThirtyEight, an American politics blog, about posts they wish they had written. I think they in turn had nicked the idea from Bloomberg. In the Books post last week, I recommended Wednesday’s Child‘s post about bookmarks. Alex Cochrane’s post from the other night about Grangemouth is also worth a look. I like the way they write and their subject matter particularly, which is usually about lesser-spotted places and sights, always insightful and showing another side beyond the obvious. This Digest originated from Anabel Marsh’s monthly digest, the most recent instalment of which appeared the other day. She features a Scottish Word of the Month and included a fair few synonyms for being drunk, including my personal favourite jaked. I drop in a few Scots words here – indeed I wrote a post in Scots here not so long ago – though the only one I can share off the top of my head is ‘fleein’ which can also mean drunk.

The next post here on Walking Talking is about the Northern Irish coast and that will appear on Friday. Loose Ends appears this coming Sunday with a post about Linlithgow Palace.

As I was revising this post last night, news came that the Glasgow Women’s Library, which I visited and wrote about last year, has been nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year, alongside Brooklands Museum, Ferens Art Gallery, the Postal Museum and Tate St. Ives. It is brilliant that GWL are nominated for this award. GWL benefits the city and the wider world by its mere existence, let alone the fine work it does. Hope they win.

Thanks as ever to all readers, commenters and followers.

Posts this month –

Streets of Glasgow: Trongate

Some thoughts…

Digest: March 2018

Manchester and Liverpool

Streets of Glasgow: University Avenue

Dunbar in the snow


Walking across the Forth Road Bridge

Streets of Glasgow: Kelvin Way

Castle connections

Some blethers

Leith Walk the other way

Streets of Glasgow: Bath Street

Crossing the road


Streets of Glasgow: Dundas Street


The east coast of Scotland always seemed to be on the receiving end of bother, be it from Vikings, Germans or just the English. Dunbar, where I grew up, had a castle which was besieged numerous times, including the time when Black Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, dusted down the battlements with a handkerchief after the English fired cannonballs at them. Across the Victoria Harbour is the Battery, built on Lamer Island on the threat of a Napoleonic invasion which never materialised. Not so far away is Lauderdale House, once a noble residence, later part of a barracks. Much of the coast towards Edinburgh, and indeed all the way up towards Aberdeen and Peterhead, is scattered with concrete anti-tank blocks and guard huts dating from the Second World War. Inchgarvie, the island which sits right under the Forth Bridge, was fortified from the 16th century and to this day still looks like a fort, with its last military use in the Second World War too.

The tank traps always fascinated me. John Muir Country Park near Dunbar still has loads of them, on the tide line and deeper into the woods at Hedderwick. I recently walked through the Country Park as far as Tyninghame – story of that here – and the tank traps survive right up to the path, with one or two abandoned guard huts along the way, uniform in red brick as the blocks sit in austere grey concrete. When I was a kid it made far more impact on me than the inevitable modern history pish I got at school. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should learn about the First and Second World Wars. We should know about the Holocaust and everything else, particularly in this political climate. We are bound to repeat our mistakes if we don’t learn from them. But history teaching should go beyond the Victorians and Hitler, far beyond. It should also be beyond the classroom, in museums and just walking around, embracing the local, national and international.

My love of history came, and still comes, from my surroundings. I grew up in one of the most historically significant areas in these islands. I went to primary school in a part of Edinburgh near the port of Leith and itself interesting for a castle, a factory water tower and a mausoleum. I live in a part of Glasgow that was farmland until not so long ago and has a castle nearby. The city itself has thousands of years of past to explore. History not only helps us learn from past mistakes but gives us a rounder picture of the present too, how we got here and how we carry ourselves. I study it too and even while my current OU module on early modern Europe is dry as anything, I can still glean enough interesting nuggets from it.

In history, as in all things, context is key. The tank traps that are scattered along the coastline are now well-weathered from a few decades worth of rain, snow and the ever constant wind. More than a few are life themselves, covered in moss and lichens. The peacenik in me rather likes that.

Dunbar in the snow

I don’t remember seeing snow until I was about 9 or 10. Dunbar, where I grew up, is right by the sea and snow just didn’t happen all that often. I remember hailstones battering my ears in the school playground and one day when the A1 was blocked but that’s about it. When I was in Dunbar last week, however, there was snow. Not a lot of it, a wee flurry at best, but snow was falling nevertheless.

I got off the train and it was cold. Not snowing yet but cold and grey, dismal. Still I was there now and I was determined to go for a wander. I headed along Church Street then Castle Street, stopping by the Creel Loaders sculpture on Victoria Street which I appreciate ever more each time I see it. I reached the harbour and stopped behind the Castle to look out and ponder for a moment. It was too cold to linger and by the time I was under the Bayswell, bound for the Prom, it was actually snowing with a biting wind to match. What I had in my favour was that it was an easterly wind and it would be at my back as I walked along the Prom towards Belhaven.

The Prom I know well, a place of childhood dog walks, high school lunches alone, grown-up runs and stretches. Its curves and corners are reassuring, a familiar, happy place and it’s a staple of my trips back. Through the gloom I could see the outline of the Bass Rock, a suggestion of North Berwick Law and Traprain. Somehow I had a notion to walk further, even with the cold, the snow, soon sleet and rain, towards John Muir and maybe even as far as Tyninghame or East Linton. I looked up bus times to plan the rest of my day, thinking through what my route would be. I had a thick coat, a hat, gloves and a will to walk.

Down towards the golf course and I stopped at the point as I always do. Despite the weather there were still folk on the beach and particularly paying close attention to the Bridge to Nowhere. I headed on to the dump road and the bridge across to a very muddy path leading to John Muir. I had been on this same path a year previously, Easter Monday again, though that day was much warmer, sunnier. I wasn’t overly bothered by the rain, especially when I came under the trees. The path was busy, a few families walking, and since I had a bus to catch in Tyninghame, I was able to get past and batter on. I thought more about the tank traps and defences which are dotted along the John Muir Way and through the woods, a reminder of this coastline’s past conflicts and threats from foreign forces.

The bridge across the Peffer Burn, the skittery burn, is a particular favourite place. A picture I took a year ago is the wallpaper on my iPad. The bridge was always a turning point on childhood walks, the turn right through the dunes back towards the car park. The last time I was there, I stopped there a while, looking across the estuary and remembering past times. This time I was turning left for the very first time, following the John Muir Way on another muddy path. Every so often, I looked back along the path, again dotted with tank trap blocks, towards the mouth of the Tyne, the trees at Hedderwick and beyond to the sea. Inland I could see a dip and a hill behind, where I knew Tyninghame lay. To my left I could see lanes and farm steadings, Tynefield and Kirklandhill, places I had only seen from the road at the other side. Foolishly I had left my OS map in the house but then again this walk hadn’t been planned. If it had I would have worn anything rather than my brown Skechers still muddy and scruffy more than a week later.

After about half an hour of taking high and low paths to dodge the mud, I hit tarmac, the coast road which took me the last half-mile or so into Tyninghame. The verges were narrow so when I could I would walk on the side of the road, otherwise tight by the hedges that lined either side. I reached the village with 10 minutes to spare, stopping in a shelter by the Smiddy. As ever the highlight was the community noticeboard, advertising local businesses, pet caricatures, dance classes and Reiki in a yurt. East Lothian in miniature. Tyninghame is a handsome village, quite old-fashioned, like Stenton and Spott with their unchanged feel. Still I was wet and cold and soon the bus came, the driver asking me if the cafe was open as I got my ticket, his accent reassuringly Dunbar.

The coast road to North Berwick is cracking, winding and dipping high and low leading through Whitekirk and by Tantallon and the Bass. Even with the rain, it is still the best road in the land. I’ve done it in a convertible and I’ve walked a fair bit of it too. I sat on the bus and deliberately chose the right-hand side, best to see the coastline pass by. All too soon I was in North Berwick. Even with all my years in Glasgow, I’m still a Dunbar boy and retain an irrational dislike of NB. After that walk, I was still wet and cold and in no particular mood to get any wetter or colder. I took my usual turn to the harbour and it was only at the far end, looking around towards the Bass, Fidra and the Lamb, that I thought ‘fuck this, I’m going home’.

I walked along the High Street and got a bus to Edinburgh. There is a train but that wouldn’t be as nice, the bus route including the second-best road in Scotland, with views across to Edinburgh, the Pentlands and Fife from various points, including Aberlady and Lyar’s Road near Longniddry. Again I picked the right-hand side and plugged in my earphones, all the better for the wee fannies that got on nearer the capital but just to avoid distractions as I looked out towards the Forth. The bus also goes through Portobello where there was a view right back towards East Lothian.

As it turned out, the snow followed me west. It was white nearer Harthill and Bathgate then colder and wetter as I hit Glasgow, where it had been pleasant a lot of the day, I gathered. I had seen enough snow for a while, the sight of the white stuff making me groan rather than cheer as it did when I was a kid. Still snow in Dunbar is still a novelty and I was glad to see it, as I was to walk in familiar places a while and to sit and let the bus take me the rest of the way.

Thanks for reading. The next post on this blog appears on Wednesday, going more into sea defences. There is also a post on my other blog, Easter Road West, tonight which is about the split. Not the splits, the one that happens each year in the Scottish Premiership.


Fraserburgh is a long way north of here. I’ve been there a few times and it’s fine. It’s a seaside town, a fishing town, not so far from Rattray Head too. It has at least two claims to fame or at least two which come to my mind. Its football team played The Rangers recently in the Scottish Cup and got beat. Fraserburgh is also home to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, which includes an old lighthouse, Kinnaird Head. If you’re ever in the area, go to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. I grew up by the sea and for much of the time I lived in Dunbar, I could see two lighthouses from my house. By day, Barns Ness, by night St. Abbs Head. One of the earliest lighthouses in Scotland was on the Isle of May, also visible from Dunbar, and the remains of it are still there. Lighthouses are crucial for ensuring the safety of shipping around our coastline and some of them have been built with no little ingenuity and courage, not least the Bell Rock near Arbroath.

All of our lighthouses are automated now and they are controlled from the Northern Lighthouse Board offices in George Street, Edinburgh. For those who know George Street, the NLB offices are right next to Hollister. The NLB are a whole lot less subtle than Hollister’s energy-gulping screens in the windows, with a model lighthouse with a light above the door. The last time I looked, however, Hollister did at least have a loop of waves crashing to the shore playing though those waves were in California rather than North Ronaldsay or off Barra. Whenever I’m on George Street I always like to think of the huge distance in every sense from the city street to the lighthouses in isolated parts of the coastline.

My favourite lighthouse is the decommissioned Barns Ness, not far outside Dunbar. Seeing it from the train involves looking at the right moment between the quarry and Torness Power Station. The best way is to walk there, from Whitesands or Skateraw. That particular bit of coastline is geologically interesting, with limekilns and a whole lot of sediments happening. One of my ambitions is to learn more about geology. Not so far beyond Barns Ness is Siccar Point, Hutton’s uncomformity which helped to prove his theories of geological development. I still haven’t been though some time I will. The views from Barns Ness are good, though, to St. Abbs Head and back towards Dunbar, the Bass and the May. It is on the John Muir Link, a footpath which runs from Dunbar to Dunglass.

I seem to write a lighthouse post at least once a year so apologies if I am repeating myself. Apart from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, I can also recommend a few other places to learn about lighthouses, including level 4 of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath and the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. Or you can go find one somewhere. Just look for the light and go, preferably the next morning.