There was snow last night – lots of it. East Lothian this morning is all hues of angel-matter. Perhaps I should have waited a day before I embarked upon this week’s walk in order to benefit from the full glory of fresh snowfall, but I do like the contrast snowmelt adds to a photograph, so yesterday me & Daisy hit the road.
Our destination was Bara Loch, one of the county’s hidden treasures, buried in a gully between Gifford & Garvald. Hundreds of thousands of people have driven more or less right past the place without even knowing it existed; which is a damn shame as its one of the most gorgeous spots in this part of the world.
There are three entry points, which I have marked on the map. Of these, part 3 is clearly the best for parking; point 1 you have to park up in the field off-track. Point 2 is not so bad, but it makes for a shorter walk. Thus to point 3, where me & Daisy found ourselves stepping out into a blast of Siberian air which would shortly be blanketing the lowlands of the Lothians in snow.
The walk begins with a long stretch along a decent track. To one’s left the county stretches for miles, as if we were stood on a verandah in Utah. To our right are Townhead Woods, with a series of broken gale-victims lying prostrate, roots ripped out leaving gaping, earthy maws.
Just after a large & neat pile of timber, the track veers left, where I saw my first wildlife of the year’s walks; a hare leaping out of the vegetation into the safety of a far-off field.
Following the track along its gentle descent, Daisy & I gazed a while at the first yellow trumpet gorse flowers sprinkling among the green. At the bottom of the track we came to a junction & the place I have monickered point 2. Turning right into the woodland, one is just about to reach Bara Loch.
The agricultural sweeps & slopes of Baro, or Bara, was once a parish of its own with its own church and graveyard, which stood in a corner of Linplum farm, to the north of the old farmhouse. Quite extensive in area; farms included Carfrae, Duncanlaw, Bara, Linplum, Snawdon, Little Newton, Quarryford, Newlands, Castlemains, Danskin, Brokside, and the East & West Hopes. After the decline of the working community – like so many in the county displaced by modern, machinistic farming methods, – the parish was enjoined with Gifford, & the church allowed to go to ruin.
In the 20th century, the Baro lands found their way into the hands of the Younger Family, the descendants of William Younger, one of the leading donjons of Scottish innovation & enterprise. Leaving the village of West Linton in Midlothian as a teenager in the 1740s, he went on to set up a wee brewhouse in Leith, selling his remarkably tasty Youngers Ale.
From this precious seedling, a two centuries long international empire of booze grew, & upon the site of the modern Scottish parliament once stood the dynasty’s HQ, a massive iconic brewery which employed thousands.
Back on the walk, the track led us past a small pond on our right, along the wee Sounding Burn, then pass’d the romantic ruins of some long-forgotten cottage just before a junction of two paths. Turning left, one steps onto a carpet of leaves, which began like iced frosties, then as the shelter of the gully kicked in, the snow melted away revealing a wintry woodland world of dull browns, faded greens & a lone, silvery squirrel scampering up a hefty oak.
At first the Loch is not visible, but eventually the path begins to skirt the waterside, revealing breathless gorgeousness & a family of swans, whose younglings had all but lost their grey featherage. The path then arrives at a fork, with the left path leading up to Point 1, & the Baro Farm area, with the right path continuing the circumnavigation of the loch.
Next up is a little mini-jetty & a seat, whose inscription is quite weathered over, but tracing it with paper & pencil reveals the name of Harry Younger & 1939. This is the name of Bara Loch’s creator & the year of its creation. A few years previously, in 1931, McEwans had forced a hostile takeover of Youngers, & the family, with a few million in the bank, of course, looked for a new outlet for their entrepreneurial skills; that of farming the land.
The head of the family at this time was the Sandringham-trained Major Henry (Harry) Johnston Younger, one of the best curlers on these islands at that time, playing regularly in the international matches against England for six or eight years, and winning all his matches. He was also a great friend of King George V, & probably nipped across the road to Holyrood Palace with a wee nip when the monarch was in Scotland.
It was the major who splashed the cash in a ‘new-money’ effort to join the established East Lothian gentry. Being a lover of nature, after acquiring Baro he began building a house, planning a garden, planting woods & extending the Loch into the hidden paradise it is today. Alas, the Major had little time to enjoy the fruits of his vision, being killed by friendly fire in WW2, at St Valery-en-Caux on 12th June 1940. Still, I’m sure he’d be happy to know his little idyll is available for all the good people of the county which he decided to call home!
I love this particular spot so much, that in the summer of 2016 I decided I would finish a poem I had been writing for many years there. Here is the moment, as recorded in my blog at the time;
Yesterday was the last day I will ever compose a tryptych. In fact, I did 5. The first three were in the morning, walking in glorious sunshine before settling down at the loch. Rhododendron bushes were in full bloom, bluebells were still regnal in visual lucidity, great hosts of insects were covering the loch like clouds of sealike-spray. As I finished my last line I entwined its meaning with Arthur casting Excalibur into a lake after his death at Camlann. It was a bit like Prospero snapping his wand in the Tempest as, after pacing by the loch a few moments & milking these moments, I tossed my pen into the lake & watched the bubbles from its falling slowly pop into nothingness. Getting back to the ranch, I then realised that there were, in fact, two stanzas still to write – which I duly composed with a new pen as I returned to the loch. Back at the jetty, I repeated my earlier penthrowing ritual & watch’d the sylver stylus sink into history.
Back in 2018, me & Daisy reached the head of the loch, crossing a wee bridge at the dam of its creation, then swung back on ourselves on the southern side of the water. The scenery is like a tiny-highlands, & peaceful as death. The only sounds were the lone calls of the duck-drakes, & then a couple of gunshots in the distance which disturbed a giant flock of birds. Alas, I could not make out to which species they belonged, they were simply black flecks against the white sky high above me.
At this point Daisy began to run ahead of me – she is gaining confidence these days, as attested by the ninja leaps she does off the settee; when beforehand she was whimpering for a help down. She’s so cute as she scampers about ten metres ahead, pauses, flicks her head to the side & checks if I’m following, then when reinforced sets off once again at the scamper.
Eventually one returns to the ruined cottage & thus the way back to the car is simply returning by the route from whence we came. The highlight of this passage was a lone deer fleeing our chitter-chatter pattering, & it all felt rather Dantean. Where our Italian poet had encountered a leopard, a lion, and a wolf at the gates of Hell, we had encountered a hare, a squirrel & a deer. We weren’t entering Hell, though, we were heading to Gifford for a nice pint by the fire at the Goblin Ha Hotel.