Merry Christmas. Well, that’s me back from Malta, where I’ve been composing THE MALTIAD, & the reason why its been a while since my last post. So where to go first? Well wanting to reconnect with the county & returning in a blast of mild almost spring-like weather, I thought I’d choose the lovely coastal stretch called Yellowcraig to give Daisy a run.
With it being midwinter, the day had already turned 13.30 & having just arrived from Malta I was suddenly surprised by how low the sun was in the sky. Urging my ladylove to get going, seeing as we only had two hours of light left, we began our journey to Yellowcraig. To get there you simply have to travel to Dirleton, which is well signposted across the county. At the eastern edge of the village there’s a signposted road leading to Yellowcraig, which of course you should take.
After about a mile of driving, park up in the carpark – which is generally quiet in the week & busy at the weekends. Pay your £2 parking fee with either coins or via the Ringo app, then set off along the path by impressive toilet/shower block. In the Age of Covid its a one-way system, so keep left.
The way to treat the Yellowcraig walk is not one of linear paths, but more one of meanderings & wanderings thro’ set-piece blocks – a choose your own adventure if you will. This is also one of the most dog-friendly places in the county, so if you don’t have one of your own, borrow one!
The first block is low lying dunes thro’ which rambles the John Muir Way. I’d follow this until roughly the place where the beach curves round to meet it, then hit the beach. Out at sea from here is the elegant, lighthouse-topp’d islet of Fidra, which ltoday ooked simply stunning in the midwinter sun!
Fidra is uninhabited expect for thousands of birds, & has become a RSPB Scotland nature reserve, from where remotely operated cameras send live pictures to the watching visitors at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick. Between the shore & Fidra there are puffins in summer, & in winter Curvy Billed Curlews, Redshanks with brightly coloured legs, & the everpleasant Purple Sandpipers.
Fidra’s name is believed to be Old Norse in origin, after feathers, but I’ve come up with an alternate idea. The case revolves around the name Fidra resembling that of Fortriu, which is an antique name for one of the two regions which the Pictish world was divided. In recent years Fortriu has been placed by the Moray Forth on account of an erroneous interpretation of the available sources. Instead, lets look at the information from scratch & see where we end up.
First things first, Fortriu means river of the Fort, clearly the River Forth which starts out in the western belt of Scotland, meanders by Stirling & empties into the North Sea via the Firth of Forth. ‘Riu’ means ‘river’ in Old Occitan, a language spoken in southern France, including the region of Aquitaine. Quite unsurprisingly there is a record of the Picts COMING from Aquitaine, & at a fell stroke we can now see at least one of the lingual roots of Pictish. While Geoffrey of Monmouth describes a certain Goffar the Pict as a king of Aquitaine c.1000 BC, Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon tells us;
After a long time had passed in which the Scots had lived in peaceful & quiet prosperity, a certain unknown people, later called the Picts, appeared from the lands of Aquitania & landed on the Irish shores
It is now time to analyze the Annals of Tigernach definition of Bruide as a ‘king of Fortriu.’ The title essentially means the king of a united realm of Pictavia whose core was the River Forth, rather like Prussia would unite the disparate German principalities under one flag. In the First Century AD, Tacitus described a number of tribes in Pictavia, but by Columba’s time, they were down to two power blocks, North & South. Bede tells us;
There came from Ireland to Britain a priest and abbot named Columba, a true monk in life no less than in habit, to preach the word of God in the lands of the Northern Picts, these are by steep and rugged mountain separated from their southern regions. The Southern Picts, who have their own seats within those same mountains, a long time before, they say, had abandoned the errors of idolatry and accepted the true faith through the preaching of the Word by bishop Nynia…
These two power blocks were given names. Cassius Dio (3rd century) calls them the Maiatai & Kaledonioi, while Ammianus Marcellinnius (4th century) calls them the Verturians & Dincaledonus. The idea we get is that the Maiatai/Verturians were to be found near the Antonine wall, ie near the Central Belt & the Forth River / Fort-Riu. Indeed, the major Pictish capital of Forteviot would herald from this time.
In Britain there are two very large (free) nations, the Caledonians and the Maetae, and the names of the others have become included in these. The Maetae live by the wall which divides the country into two halves and the Caledonians beyond them; and they both inhabit wild and waterless mountains and lonely and swampy plains, without walls, cities, or cultivated land Cassius Dio
At that time the Picts, divided into two tribes, called Dicalydones and Verturiones, as well as the Attacotti, a warlike race of men, and the Scots, were ranging widely and causing great devastation Ammianus Marcellinus
That the Meatae & the Verturiones originated from the same place – ie the Forth river system, is supported by the summit of Dumyat hill in the Ochils, overlooking Stirling, where the remains of an iron-age fort can be found. There is also a Myot Hill near Falkirk.
By the early tenth century, an area known as The Plains of Fortrenn / Wertermorum’ was being mentioned. This was, in essence, the breadbasket of the Picts in the fertile lowlands in Aberdeenshire & Moray. In his account of Aethalstan’s invasion of Scotland, Symeon of Durham tells us, ‘he then subdued his enemies, laid waste to Scotland as far as Dunfoeder & Wertermorum with a land force, & ravaged with a naval force as far as Caithness & in a great measure depopulated it.’ The mention of Dunfoeder is interesting – this is Dunottar, on the east coast near Aberdeen, & its conquest by our very own ‘Bruide… king of Fortriu,’ alongside other Pictish conquests north, south & west, seems to indicate the moment when the realm of Fortriu conquered the whole of Pictavia. The Annals of Ulster tells us;
AU681: The siege of Dún Foither
AU682: The Orkneys were destroyed by Bruide
AU683: The siege of Dún At and the siege of Dún Duirn
Finally going back to our lovely walk, with the sun ominously low in the sky. on early Fidra a lazaretto for the sick was dedicated in 1165 to St Nicholas. Lazaretto is Italian for quarantine & on my visit to Malta I check’d out the Lazzeretto on Manuel island where Lord Byron had to quarantine, & wrote the following sonnet.
Byron, visiting Valletta today,
Would have stay’d at the starr’d Excelsior
Not in the Lazzeretto’s humid spore,
Quarantining quotidian malay,
The smok’d sheets of Childe Harolde on display
Like kippers hung a few foot from the floor
Four tortoises escap’d his portmanteaux
To gallavant in inches tray to tray
Of barely edible vegetables
While chattering teeth, linen soak’d in sweat,
Vesuvian fevers screeching, “YOU LIVE YET!”
Pulp the blood of malarial nobles
Whose viper bite the very veinflow burns
That even a starving mosquito spurns!
I’m still not happy with closing couplet, btw. I know this sonnet has nothing to do with East Lothian, but the size & shape of our county is actually very similar to that of the Maltese archipelago, something I’ve often thought during my ramblings around East Lothian.
Leaving the remarkable prospect of Fidra, as you head east along the beach both the sands & a great prospect opens up. North Berwick Law is unmissable, while two more small islands pop into view – Craigleith in the distance & Lamb’s island closer by. Lamb’s Island was recently bougth by Uri Geller, who is convinced that it has something to do with Princess Scota.
I have heard it said that the bloodline of the Scottish Kings — and so that of Queen Elizabeth II herself — can be traced back to the pharoahs and to the Jewish patriarch Noah, of Noah’s Ark, through an ancient Prince and Princess called Gaythelos and Scota. I like to think that when they landed in Scotland, the first place they moored was in the Firth of Forth, off Lamb Island.
In truth, Scota was an Egyptian Princess called Neferubity who never actually got as far as Scotland (her descendents did) – but that’s another story. Geller was first alerted to the existence of Lamb Island by a story in the Times on October 19, 2008, which said a Brazilian-born internet entrepreneur, Camilo Agasim Pereira, who owned the title of Baron of Fulwood and Dirleton, was planning to sell the island. He had been bequeathed it in 2002, and had never set foot on it. Agasim-Pereira now lives in Florida. “The asking price was £75,000, but after negotiations we were able to settle on a fee of just £30,000,” Geller said. “This island has links not only to the pyramids, but to King Arthur, King Robert the Bruce and to the ancient Kings of Ireland too. It might seem forbidding, and it is certainly uninhabitable, but it is also one of the keystones to British mythology, and I am thrilled to be its owner.”
Geller is fascinated in Ley-lines, which might be right but outwith my own remit for investigations, but there’s definitely something in the islands of Fidra, Craigleith & Lamb’s being sited in precisely the same crooked line that marks the layout of the Pyramids at Giza, built by the Pharoahs 4,500 years ago, which in turn matches the three stars known as Orion’s Belt – (Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Also, a line extended from the Isle of May through Lamb Island will cross Tara, the burial place of the ancient Irish kings. “I am a deep believer in what Carl Jung called synchronicity, the power of connections between things which are linked by forces we don’t understand,” said Geller, who lives with his wife Hanna in a manor house in the Berkshire countryside, beside the Thames. “And there are many clear synchronicities that come together on Lamb Island.”
As for Walking East Lothian, you could literally walk all the way to North Berwick along the sands, but remember the car is in the carpark, to where we should now be heading. So just after the beach does a wee curve towards North Berwick, about 50-100 metres along the dunes there is a steep path leading into them – take this.
We have now reached the penultimaate ‘block’ of our walk, where one should meander to the naturally raised viewpoint where you may absorb the total panorama for a few more moments of joy!
Its time, now, to head towards the signpost pointing the John Muir Way in both directions. Once here, turn right, follow the path over a bridge & a litle later on the left a great hole in the walls appears. Take this & head into the woods.
This is the final block before the carpark, so once again pick your own route. If you’ve got kids let them amble playfully awhile, giggling like flutes, in the very excellent playpark there. Then find your car & head off home, or to another of East Lothian’s country carparks where your £2 will last all day!
To contribute petrol & petfood
Please make a donation