I’ve written a few times here about Prestongrange, a mining museum in East Lothian where I worked for a few years and for which I have a deep and lasting affection. Some of them are My somewhere, Pans, Being autistic in a museum (again) and Books. I get there every few months, usually spending about an hour just wandering around the grounds, by the Beam Engine and the Powerhouse before circling around the Hoffman Kiln. Before I go onto the site, I usually spend a while walking around Morrison’s Haven, once one of the busiest ports in Scotland, the rival to Leith just up the Forth that once had vessels carrying coal, bricks and much else besides from Prestongrange to all parts of the British Isles and even abroad. It was filled in as part of a land reclamation project in the 1950s with rubbish and rubble from the mines and surrounding communities. Today there are some traces of the harbour, including banking and the harbour mouths, and there are some boards put up by the Prestongrange Community Archaeology Project showing boys swimming in the harbour in times gone by. Due to the mine being nearby, the harbour water was very often warm, apparently.
I was there just the other day, as normal getting off the bus just into Prestonpans and walking back towards Prestongrange along the coast. It was a gorgeous afternoon, in the midst of a heatwave, and I relished being right by the Forth and looking across to Fife, the sea quite calm and just enough clouds across the sky to make it not absolutely roasting. I ended up sitting on a rock for about half an hour, doing some sunbathing and practising mindfulness. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on each element of the sounds around me in turn, from the waves to the wind to the cars on the coast road nearby. I tend to have a lot of mental chatter and just being able to focus on one thing and let my brain quieten down was utterly brilliant, even just for a bit.
After I walked around Prestongrange, I headed for the bus stop. I’ve stood at that bus stop many times, often for a fair bit of time when ostensibly there should be a bus every ten minutes heading into Edinburgh. There are many worse places to stand, though, with a view across Morrison’s Haven to the Fife coast and towards Seafield, Leith and the Pentland Hills. Similarly there’s a broad view with the top of the bus usually visible over the trees nearer Sammy Burns’s yard. Every time I’m there, I always think back to those days when I stood there on the way home, in the rain and the sunshine, after days of seeing noone as much as event days when hundreds of people passed through.
As I crossed the railway tracks towards the old glassworks, I thought about living in the west of Scotland. I have a deep familiarity and love for Prestongrange. I know a lot about the place, as I do about Dunbar, even Edinburgh. I’ve lived in Glasgow for four years. I have been writing about it for a while now and it is home geographically and in many other senses. But I don’t feel it in my bones and my soul as much as I do the east. It is happening, though. I love the west. There are places here I have come to deeply love – Cathkin Park, Pollok Park, Prestwick Beach, Culzean – but the deep knowledge comes from spending a lot of time in a place. Time is on my side, though, as I don’t plan to leave here any time soon. Being a visitor to Prestongrange, as I now am to Dunbar, means a trip through there is now a treat, something to be savoured and the feeling of being back on solid ground stays with me for a good few days. It starts when I get off the bus at Morrison’s Haven and doesn’t go even when I step back on it and head back into Edinburgh and then for home. The best places you leave behind physically never actually leave you. Even with distance, they stay deep inside, memories returning once we return or when far away and we smile and look in that direction. It was good to be back.