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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.