An enforced walk by Keith Water – Humbie.

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Field-B

The Geese are back. Not many, but they are here bringing the cold air of the north with them. There is always a strange smell, a smell of warm dust as the heating goes back on for the first time in a few months. Already there have been mornings in single digit temperatures. Scotland has had a poor summer so far.

There was a weekend a couple of weeks ago. We had made plans for a bivvy, but then the forecast changed. It went from good to bad and then to worse and finally to ‘ some structural damage may occur ‘. We went for a walk rather than be blown off the road on our bikes.

We walked the fields that fringe the Keith Water. Again I am trying to trace the route of the old railway and find the bridge or what is left of it as it crosses the river. The Wheat has grown in the field where I climbed away from the river a few days ago. There has not been enough sun to bring on the golden colours of harvest, but it will come.

The crop is high now and catches the wind. It occurred to me to try this once to capture the wind. I held my finger down and shot off a dozen frames as the wind came in over the trees. With a bit of computer work we have animated the photos.

I have called it ‘ Wimpling Wheat ‘ – Wimpling, rippling motion induced in a bird’s wing feathers by the passage of wind ( Gerald Manley Hopkins ). We walked on, but still could not find the remains of the bridge. As we arced back to where the car was parked the route of the track bed was clearer. As a bonus for our diligence, we came across orchids growing on the track line. I am guessing they like the lime rich soil from the ballast.

Further north there have been ‘ grass frosts ‘ already. There is nothing like the feeling that summer is being chased away to make you stick with a plan to camp before it is too late. All it takes is a good forecast and a bit of packing. It has to come, it must. Tonight, the last day of July and the day ends with a ‘ Blue Moon ‘, the first since 2012.

Walking Keith Water near Humbie, a very small adventure.

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Path Church Wood.

Path Church Wood.

On the 4cm to 1km map there is clearly a path marked. I could not put my hand on my heart and say that I ever found it. The idea was to have the smallest of adventures. For an hour or two I would just take my camera for a walk along the smallest of rivers.

Clear path at the start.

Clear path at the start.

Beech trees on the bank of Keith River.

Beech trees on the bank of Keith River.

We had come across the woodland at Humbie and the river in the valley, on one of our bivvy nights. The river was deep down in the cleft of a hill. It must be dryer or sandy soil as unusually for this area these were Beech trees, and fine broad specimens they were. There was a path, but it quickly becomes too overgrown for pushing through with a bike. The intriguing thing is, I know the woodland at the far end as the river runs through Saltoun Big Wood, but I have no idea how the land links together. The large-scale map names several small woods that merge along the river bank; The Roundel Wood, Church Wood, Highlea Wood, Humbie Wood and finally Saltoun Forest. All within a 2 mile run of this small river.

The Keith Water near Humbie.

The Keith Water near Humbie.

This is steep ground, untamed by the plough, but still commercial wood that shows signs of coppice and management. A source of wood for barns, farm houses, gates and fencing, and perhaps small game for the pot. I love these types of broadleaf woodland at any time of year.

Plantation on steep land.

Plantation on steep land.

When I was here last the leaves were an unnatural green, a Fuji green. All so perfect and Spring new. It has calmed now, but the ground vegetation is far more lush and much higher. The first part of the walk is easy. Within a few hundred metres I think I had lost the map-marked path and things became a scramble. I wanted to document the walk and was stopping to take photos every few dozen steps.

A wet area with ferns.

A wet area with ferns.

Humbie Wood reflections.

Humbie Wood reflections.

Here was none around just the mark of dog paws and stout walking boots in the mud. A child’s plastic sword was the only litter that I came across. Snagged in a pool, a game abandoned and possibly tears. It was warm, certainly warm for Scotland and as I worked to push through branches there was the horrid combination of sweat and flies, and lots of both. I had to crawl under low branches to work hard, to taste sap and soil. There should be the remains of a railway viaduct that spans the river. I never found it, never got that far.

Undercut bank the Keith Water.

Undercut bank the Keith Water.

My top was drenched now and sticking to my back under the small rucksack. Still the river, where it choose to show itself, was perfect. Small scale and utterly beautiful and as fine as any great river in any National Park. I used to own some land that had two small rivers like this and I would put on my wellies and walk them with the aid of my stick. It was Canyoning on a micro scale and I loved it.

Signs of high water and flooding.

Signs of high water and flooding.

I take more photos. Each time I stop to compose I am mobbed to the point of temper tantrums by flies. The light is green tinged and perfect, the air full of earth smells and hints of river smells. There are places to note for future camps and bivvy nights in this intimate wood. The trees become thicker, the bank more steep, footing less sure. I make a decision to move away from the river and I take the last photo. There is deep thick conifers I have to crawl through. I head higher and to flat land and light.

Out of the woodland.

Out of the woodland.

Tramlines in Barley 2.

tram-line in Barley.

Sweat is dripping down into my eyes and I have lost the lens cap from my camera with no hope of finding it. A field boundary with barley sown the other side. I can see the runs of deer and badger as they move into the woodland. I have to climb over the fence and brush through nettles and of course I get stung. Tram-lines and I have to walk in vectors to curve back to where I started. Finally a road, but it is a dead end and possibly private, so I do not recognise where I have returned to the world. I know I need to go right and I can still see the woodland. I pick up a road that I recognise and then a track back to Humbie church where I have parked the car.

An unknown road.

An unknown road.

I have been away two hours, possibly a little more and I have seen and experienced beautiful things. You could possibly call it an adventure and I certainly got lost an a small unthreatening way. Next time I will try to link things from the opposite direction and walk upstream. I may even bring some wellies and do micro canyoning.

The final photo.

The final photo.

Tyninghame beach for a summer bivvy.

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Sketch of cliffs at Tyningham Bay.

Sketch of cliffs at Tyninghame Bay, view to Bass Rock.

Ready for a Microadventure by my blue shed.

Ready for a Microadventure by my blue shed.

Up on the favourites bar at the top of this computer screen, there are just 8 little icons. The most important by far is BBC Weather Musselburgh, which may be visited half a dozen times a day, more if I have stuff planned. It is plain that anything beyond two days ahead is just a big guess made with the aid of a billion £’s of technology. The BBC now forecast 10 days ahead, which gives you and me 9 days of anxiety. As of now, 8 of the 10 feature the raindrop symbol. This is the very height of summer here.

Esther's bag - an OMM 1.6

Esther’s bag – an OMM 1.6

Nordisk Oscar +5 in XL for me.

Nordisk Oscar +5 in XL for me.

You do not have to look too far on the WWW. for lists of over a 100 Scottish words used to describe rain or bad weather. My favourite by far is dreich, a gaelic word of Germanic origin meaning a day gloomy with rain. The month of May had many dreich days and a few mi-chailear, which is gaelic for weather even more dreich than dreich. Most of June went the same way.

Prestonpans War Memorial - a ' Jock'.

Prestonpans War Memorial – a ‘ Jock’.

The weekend of the 26th of June had a great forecast, and the closer we came to it the better it got. There was the excitement of new kit to be tried out. Ultra-light synthetic sleeping bags had been bought for bivvying, but with night temperatures close to freezing, we always reached for the down bags. The time had come for summer bags and a bivvy by the sea.

It is 4.00pm on a Friday afternoon and we are packed and ready to go. It should not be raining, but is, and if anything it is getting heavier. We wait till 5.00 and then 6.00. It is agreed that 6.30 will be the cut-off point, the time when we unpack. At the very last minute it stops. It has wrung every last drop of nervous anxiety from us. Off we go, down the coast road with the sea on our left.

Prestonpans, a village where for hundreds of years, sea water had been worked into salt in stone cut pans. The place was settled by monks and the name evolved into Salt Priestown and Salt Preston, then finally Prestonpans. The first significant battle of the second Jacobite Rising took place here on 21st September 1745. We pedal down the main street, by the war memorial – a sculpture to ‘ a jock ‘, a Scottish soldier in bonnet and great coat. Like every small village around here it has an impossibly long list of names on it.

Boats at Port Seaton.

Boats at Port Seton.

We take the little back road at Port Seton to take a look at the fishing boats. The sun is now out and still high in the sky. It will be after 10.00 pm before it dips into the sea and only a few hours before it is back on Saturday morning. This far north, sleep in the height of summer can be difficult. There is no one about at the harbour, just the strong smell of diesel and fish.

This is called ‘ Scotland’s Golf Coast ‘, starting in Musselburgh where the first recorded game of golf was played ( even the universal size of the hole is taken from the cutter used at Musselburgh ) and passing course after course to the right and left. The best known, and snobbiest by far is Muirfield. We pass it, and take a right inland and into the hills. Field of Wheat and Barley as still green and even some Oilseed is still in yellow bloom.

Minor road above North Berwick.

Minor road above North Berwick.

We string together minor roads, before we have the choice of a new route above North Berwick. The John Muir way is now a coast to coast cycle route, we have the option of an off road bit of unknown gnarlyness. Ever keen to try a new path, we take the signed path to Whitekirk, and are glad that we did.

John Muir cycle route.

John Muir cycle route.

John Muir cycle route near Whitekirk.

John Muir cycle route near Whitekirk.

Skylarks put in a long shift. Males are still high dots in the sky, still singing to proclaim territory months on from early spring. The shrine at Our Lady at Whitekirk attracted many pilgrims to the church on the route from St Andrews to Santiago de Compostela. We take a right turn onto the A198.

Limetree Walk.

Limetree Walk.

There is an unsigned left turn down what is known as Limetree Walk. A long straight minor road fringed with the sot of wall loved by big houses in Scotland. We pass Tyninghame House off to our right and head to the links car park and some of the finest beaches in southern Scotland. We ride on through the gates and pedal rough tracks fringed with pines and Rhododendron. It is well after 9.00 pm now and the evening light struggles to penetrate the woodland. There are damp smells of earth, sea and mushrooms.

Close to the sea beyond links carpark.

Close to the sea beyond links car park.

I know I want to be on the rocky headland. It is six years or so since we were last here but I have a vague notion of where we need to be. We curl back a little and head for the sea. We have the perfect spot and the most perfect of evenings as we push the bikes close to the rocky outcrops above the sea. A group of Kittiwakes fly over our heads ” Kitti-Waak! ” they cry, as loud as drunks on payday.

Arrival at the beach.

Arrival at the beach.

Time to pick a spot for the bivvy. Somewhere low enough to be out of the wind if it picks up in the night. I walk to the right through grass specked yellow with birdsfoot trefoil. It must be one of the plants with the most common names – Granny’s Toenails, butter & eggs and the one I know, eggs & bacon. Now I have a spot in mind, I go back and start to boil water for the first of the evening tea.

Making tea.

Making tea.

View along the coast to Bass Rock.

View along the coast to Bass Rock.

We spend ages staring out to sea, watching waves break and the light turn blue and finally purple rims. This is going to be perfect. It is almost 11.00pm before we wriggle into our bags and bivvy. Clouds have moved rolled down from the moors. It was a night for the northern lights, which would have been perfect. The lights of the tankers far out at sea are now the only stars. I wonder about the lives of those out there waiting to move into the refinery up the coast. What are they waiting for? a rise or fall in oil prices?

Our pitch - ground sheet down.

Our pitch – ground sheet down.

Water is on three sides. Lying there, it sounds as if it surrounds us, the noise amplified in the dark. Soon the tide has turned and the sea retreats. Oystercatchers fly by, kleep kleep, kleep. Then things are silent and the wind drops. We are just a few miles from Bass Rock, home to 60% of the European population of Gannets and we have seen none.

Morning at the bivvy spot.

Morning at the bivvy spot.

Dawn come early, but even before this there is a light rain shower. It will not be much, and it is rather fun to hear the drops on the skin of the bivvy bag. The next thing I am conscious of is hearing voices. They are quite loud, and rather closer but coming from the direction of the water. Already the sun is bright enough to make me squint. Close into shore a crabbing trawler is working dropping strings of pots close into the low cliff. There, near to the boat is our first Gannets. One dives, cleaving the water surface and sending up a plume. Time to get up and make porridge.

Making first breakfast.

Making first breakfast.

I go back up to the rock bench with the kitchen things. Whilst the water boils on the Primus stove I sit and drink in the view, perfect, absolutely perfect. A moment of pure joy. I have no idea what Nirvana feels like I’m not too sure anyone does, but this must be close.

Pinks - the flower of sea cliff and mountain.

Pinks – the flower of sea cliff and mountain.

Orchids by the hundred.

Orchids by the hundred.

I have an Earl Grey tea in hand and a folding bowl brimmed with porridge. A small flock of Terns shoots by. These are the swallows of the sea and have a slimness and grace that gulls completely fail to match. So pure white, so elegant. They open their beaks and do rather spoil things with a horrid call. It is still early, but already warm and the first dog walkers of the day are here. Time to pack up.

Summer clouds.

Summer clouds.

Picking up the bikes - ready to go.

Picking up the bikes – ready to go.

Heading home.

Heading home.

We ride inland, heading by a rather wide arc to Gifford for second breakfast. It is too early and far too nice to go home. We will take the long way back, through summer lanes and pick up the track behind the railway. At Gifford, we go out the back of the Golf Club and towards the Lammermuirs beside Kidlaw Burn. This is the first time since winter I have visited some of these lanes and it is strange to see them in intense summer light.

Beech Trees.

Beech Trees.

Limetree Walk.

Limetree Walk.

Bridge over the railway line.

Bridge over the railway line.

An old track towards Biel House.

An old track towards Biel House.

With just 60 miles on the meter for the round trip, we are back home in Musselburgh. It is not even midday on Saturday and we have already had that weekend adventure. Even though we went off-road things have been dry enough that the bikes are clean enough. I give them a wash and a lube anyway. East Lothian has once again delivered a perfect microadventure. Total cost, a few quid for porridge and tea bags.

Towards the Lammermuirs.

Towards the Lammermuirs.

Football field Cousland.

Football field Cousland.

Cotage Cousland East Lothian.

Cottage Cousland East Lothian.

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