Stage 184, 24th September: Kinghorn to Queensferry
As I ventured West towards the Forth Bridge and Edinburgh, I had a suspicion that the house prices were creeping up. Burntisland, Aberdour and Dalgety Bay all seemed to attract ‘executive’ type housing developments, something I was glad to see the back of in England all those months ago. Burntisland had a typical busy town look and feel to it with useful shops and a buzzing high street. In contrast, Aberdour, though much smaller, was full of boutiques and the sort of shops bought as an amusing and often quirky pastime for those with too much money and time on their hands. It wasn’t full of butchers, bakers or candle stick makers. But if you needed a manicure or a dog groomed, you would be well set.
With my first sight of the oft photographed Forth Bridge, industry began to show its grimy and sometimes fascinating face. I stood and watched a metal recycling plant for a while, admiring the efficiency of the entire process from receipt, sorting, crushing, shredding through to loading onto a ship for reprocessing somewhere else in the world. I suspected it might be a highly profitable business and despite the noise and grime, probably an example of recycling at its best.
Having tried many angles to get a decent picture of the Forth Bridge, I eventually had to cross the Forth Road Bridge and endure one and a half miles of deafening traffic noise. With each step alongside the dual carriageway I found the grip on my walking pole tightening with tension. Even though it was only meant to be loosely carried in my left hand it had sometimes become a comfort blanket rather than a working aid. I also had a disconcerting urge to jump into the Forth halfway across. I figured that the many Samaritans signs posted on the railings for those in desperate need were probably more subconsciously suggestive than intended.
Leaving the bridge and arriving in Queensferry was a blessing. The cobbled streets tucked between the two big bridges on the Forth’s South bank were filled with quaint shops to attract the visitors and the car and coach park was adorned with my nemesis – a piper. Bagpipes were surely designed to hurt the English ear and I was happy to chat to the piper all day if it meant I didn’t have that drone echoing in the pit of my stomach. He was a cracking guy with an understanding of my English failings. He even pointed out that they sound even worse without the drone. A rare but not forgotten Mint Magnum was a worthy sticking plaster and it soon soothed my internal reverberations.
Stage 185, 25th September: Queensferry to Musselburgh
I was now following the John Muir Way for a few days and felt lucky to have another well-marked path. The Fife Coastal Path had undoubtedly been the best marked and best maintained I had come across to date and I had accordingly thanked a maintenance crew I met only yesterday. At first sight The John Muir Way looked as if it might give the Fife path a run for its money. Things were looking up.
An early woodland walk took me through the grounds of the Dalmeny Estate with its very grand house and well-worn cycleways. A quick duck inland for Cramond Bridge and a brief riverside walk to the village of Cramond was all I could look forward to as Edinburgh was soon upon me.
Most of today would be spent skirting Edinburgh. Much of the old city was inland and I was sorely tempted to drift away from the shore to explore somewhere quite unfamiliar to me. I stuck to my task and instead wandered Granton Harbour and the Port of Leith with huge refurbishment and redevelopment projects well underway, if not already complete. Throughout this walk, I have noticed how city docks around Britain have received huge recent investment, turning all of them into trendy places with expensive waterside apartments, bistros and shopping centres. Yet again and again I have also seen how this redevelopment is localised and that as soon as you round the corner towards the outskirts of town the scruffy squalor soon returns and that the ripple of development money has a real need to move out too.
Once the scruffy trading estates were done a short three-mile walk took me to the now seemingly trendy beach resort of Portobello. Having rediscovered the habit, a mint chocolate chip cone was a must and it did its best to dribble and drip all down my arm as I walked the bustling promenade in the mid afternoon autumn sunshine.
Musselburgh was less trendy – but hello – a golf course. I noted that the East Lothian district proudly displays road signs claiming it to be the “Golf Coast of Scotland”. I suspect it needs to argue that one out with Ayr and Fife first.
Stage 186, 26th September: Musselburgh to North Berwick
With another dry but increasingly blustery day, I almost flew through Prestonpans with the wind on my back. The decommissioned Cockenzie Power Station dominated the skyline and it’s demolishing was clearly imminent. With further plans for a another new energy park and the construction of even more wind turbines, I was beginning to wonder just how many of the silly things would end up blighting our landscape. Conversation with a local woman brought out a love for the old chimneys and a loathing for the dozens of wind turbines required to replace it. She questioned why on earth we need all these monstrosities when we have so much wave and tidal power sitting all around this island of ours. I couldn’t have agreed more.
From Port Seton I transferred to beach and dune walking across Seton Sands and Gosford Sands to the wealthy and tidy village of Aberlady. The rich bird reserve of Aberlady Bay awaited and would dominate my afternoon’s attention.
For lunch, I sat overlooking Gullane Bay watching eider ducks idly diving into the shallows from their sitting position atop the waves. I could have sat for hours in the gentle warmth of the sun but the deserted charms of more dunes and sandy beaches awaited.
Considering I was still close to Edinburgh, the afternoon was very quiet. I paused again around the Briggs of Fidra to watch the sea birds dipping into the surf, but my eye was drawn to the gannets fighting the wind and tucking their wings in to dive repeatedly for their prey. It was another of those moments when I wished for my nice big camera and long lens to help me but the spectacle of the largest sea-bird in the North Atlantic more than made up for my inability to capture them in high-definition.
This had been my best day of the week and the stiff breeze had mainly worked in my favour to push me along towards North Berwick with its renowned and well populated fairways. I was in a good and slightly mischievous mood as I approached a carpet perfect and empty green sitting yards from the beach. I could see golfers queuing at a neighbouring tee a short distance away. None of them were looking my way, so I grinned like a big kid as I took a golf ball I’d previously found from the side pocket of my rucksack and lobbed it to within six feet of the flag. I’m sure the next golfer to play that hole would be delighted to see the result of his blind shot into the green….at least for a minute or two anyway.