The walk I am about to describe was undertaken at the end of July, however my commitments as a reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe meant I had to wait until today to find the head-space to create those word patterns which are storing East Lothian’s prettiest walks for posterity. This one, by the way, is one of the prettiest so far, & began in the most unmuggiest of heats.
A few miles beyond Dunbar to the south lies seagirt Thorntonloch caravan park, where one may park the car without reproof. Please avoid the privacy of the caravaneers & take the path just to the north of the park which leads to a lovely stretch of sands. I think this my favorite in the whole county, ripped up by rock formations like the coast of Kephalonia; & is a very special place when sun, sea & zephyrs fuse as one.
With tap & flip-flops off I started to stroll south, having a wee blether with a couple of dog walkers. From them I discovered a few interesting facts. The story goes that when the nearby power station was built, East Lothian Council was going to shut the site down – but the caravan owners at the time clubbed together & bought the lease making it a privately owned site, an extreme rarity in Europe.
I also learned that there are 57 caravans, they go for about 30 grand, & in a victory for the people, East Lothian Council turned down Verdant Leisure’s attempt to buy Thorntonloch & told the natives they can have it as long as they want. As for fun, they love a good coffee morning &the BYOB Bingo on Saturday nights. At only £800 a year site fees – Pease Bay just down the road is about £3000 – you can see why there is a massive waiting list for one of these jewel-lives by the sea.
As one walks along the beach, notice the huge blocks of stone that form some kind of protective wall for the site. These were actually paid for & put in place by the caravaneers as if they were dragging the bluestone menhirs from the Preseli Hills in order to create Stonehenge.
Breaking free of the beach, me & Daisy clamboured over some rainbow rocks, traversed a wooden bridge & scampered up a steep slope. This brought us to a cliff path with wonderful views. To our left was the North Sea, with the beach below; ahead was the path, to our right were fields & the A1 with all its dodgy speed traps, above which rose an epic section of the Lammermuirs – such a medley of colours under the cerulean blue!
Further down the path, the sands below us gave way to mossy rocks, which all appeared as if toxic waste had been dumped upon the shore. Up front, the tops of a little strip of cottages rose up (Bilsdean) as if I was marching to a battlefield during the War of The Spanish Succession.
We then came at a pleasant potterspeed to an epic field of cabbages. I could tell Daisy was getting hot in the heat, so I thought I’d give here a wee carry for a bit – trust me, its a rather poetic experience to hold a fluffy lhasapoo against one’s naked chest, with the sun beating down upon the nape; seeing the sea gleaming golden to your left, while to your right cabbages are swarming away to the hills, among which delicate white butterflies have chosen to live in natural harmony.
At the end of the cabbage field, the path enters a wood & drops down to the left. I was suddenly hit by the chiascuran dappling of the sun through the leaf-roof, & then a charming waterfall, still bonnie despite the drought. Daisy instantly began to revive in the shade, so when we reached the beach again she was happy to bounce about- she really does the love the smells of the shore & comes across of something like a scent-hoover as she scurries about nose-down.
Following the beach a wee while to the south, we came to an opening into thick, gnarly bushland through which a slightly manicured path took us further south. The sounds of the A1 grew louder as we suddenly found ourselves among a few houses around Dunglass Mill, whose auld stones must lament the passing of lost silence. This area is also the county border to, well, the Borders, & marks the far south-east corner of East Lothian.
Doing a spot of gardening was a delightful 93-year old lady called Amore Radcliffe, who came across as spritely as a teenager. A mine of information, she explained how the now disused section of track upon which we were conversing was the original stagecoach road, along which lorries would eventually come until the building of the majestic A1. She remembers driving down to the beach to collect sand with her family, a romantic image which I have pondered over more than once this summer. Usually in the middle of watching a really bad comedian in a dark & dank venue in Edinburgh.
From here is was a pleasant path under the bridges & up into Dunglass Estate., now in the Usher family after Frank J bought it early last century. Financially crippled in recent years by inheritance taxes, the house & grounds have found a salvation in their use as a marriage venue with a permanent marquee set up in the grounds. This is sited beside a ruined Collegiate Church in which the weddings take place in good weather, a place which I visited a couple of years ago during a late composition period of my epic poem, Axis & Allies.
Back in 2000, I had composed the Waterloo section of the poem, into which touched upon the famous story of the De Lanceys. William De Lancey was a leading member of Wellington’s staff, & a few months before Waterloo had married Magdalene Hall, the daughter of Sir James Hall of Dunglass. Alas, William was mortally wounded at Waterloo, to where Magdalene rushed to, ploughing her way through the detritus of battle to find him & spend their last few marital hours together before he died. Here are some of my stanzas on the De Lanceys from Axis & Allies;
As step-by-step they paced between the aisles
Of Greyfriars Kirk – him buck, she bonnie lass –
Memories melted in those passing smiles
To when they walked the gorge down to Dunglass;
No fairer rose
Could e’er this love entwine,
The perfect, ‘I am yours,’ the spotless, ‘you are mine.’
He was the quintessential breed,
Lord of an Age’s passions,
Beknighted, gallivanting steed
Spritely in brightest fashions,
All England’s soldiers his to feed,
Distributing rations –
An army marches, bully-beef & rum,
By inky blots of Quatermaster’s thumb.
Into the Belgic heart of hearts
The Iron Duke did steer
Twyx crows & carts, ‘Before it starts,
I want my best men here…
Yes, especially DeLancey, for him France holds no fear.’
What dost thou do when one engorg’d with love
& that love’s source enarmour’d overseas?
‘Follow the Drum!’ lass be a little dove
& join those eagles swarming on the breeze;
As love demands
Such pangings to suspend,
Mrs DeLancey lands with luggage in Ostend.
In excuisite elevation,
Over trees so fair & fine,
Aided she the conversation
With proud cookery & wine,
‘An overstretching line!’
Knowing death haunted every statement said,
She drove uncertain futures from her head.
That night they let desire reign
& fell, immesh’d, adream…
She felt his pain, him knelt, him slain…
She woke him with a scream,
‘Tis just a horrid nightmare, love, biting on a moonbeam.’
Embraced by such a lovely summer’s day,
Brilliant Brussels sparkl’d in the sun;
Along a gentle, tree-lin’d parkland way,
The doting De Lanceys, arms lock’d as one,
Stroll lost in love,
Empassion’d feelings true,
How lazily above clouds drifted cross the blue.
She whisper’d softly in his ear,
“Darling I am so happy,
The city seems so far from here,
With one long velvet kiss so dear
United heart flies free
For one perfect moment of happiness –
Pierced by the gruff voice breathless with distress.
“Sir, you’ve been summon’d by his Grace.”
Her pretty heart’s flurry,
With skin like lace she strok’d his face,
Wash’d away all worry,
“Swift my sweet, I’ll brew some tea & ink thy quills, now hurry.”
June 15th 1815
In 2018, a wedding was being prepared, & I met the groom, Justin Holdgate I think his name was, a guy from Brisbane about to marry a Weegie called Rhona. Every house on the estate was taken up by family & friends from all across teh world, with some of them down in Dunbar. A proper solid geezer, I can imagine that was one hell of a party – I mean Weegie+ Aussie = ‘lets get slaughtered, all day long!’
Leaving the church area, Daisy & I headed for the scattered cottages of Home Farm, passing some very happy looking Mangalitza pigs. Then, at the gate lodge, after asking directions off a very kind woman, she most hospitably invited us in for a natter, a cuppa & snacks – proper meat for Daisy – a phantastic wee moment which is, to me, just what life is all about.
Leaving the estate we turned south into Bilsdean, among which houses there is a relatively hidden path that leads to the A1. Crossing this we then found ourselves more or less back at the same point where we had left the cabbage field for the woods. Walking back to the car, the tide was rushing in now & the wee whip of waves showed how the weather had changed. I think I had also changed a touch, this was a glorious walk, full of humanity & history, & of course that never-ceasing beauty of East Lothian’s scenic scenes.