Scottish Coast • Days 5 & 6 • Dunbar to Tyninghame to North Berwick

Dunbar to Tyninghame
Saturday 9 October 2021
12.72km • 3h (including breaks)
lowest: -2m • highest: 19m • total ascent 196m

See the route on OS maps

Tyninghame to North Berwick
Friday 22 October 2021
21.26km • 6h (including breaks)
lowest: -2m • highest: 48m • total ascent 268m

See the route on OS maps

This was due to be a one day walk, but here’s where I learn (again?) that it’s better not to make plans for what a walk is going to be. I didn’t get enough sleep and I got up too early and I didn’t eat enough breakfast to not feel horrible. I did all this in order to get on a bus ‘on time’ because I wanted to scramble over some rocks before the tide got too high to do so, and the trains weren’t running and everything was just going to take longer.

Everything always takes longer than you think. Everything.

I think I spent more time on buses the first day of this walk than I did walking. On the plus side, I did listen to a very good episode of How to Fail with Stanley Tucci on the ride to Dunbar.

When I set out from the aforementioned very nice public toilets in Dunbar, the sky was looking pretty cool, if a little cloudy, and there were lots of little rocky beaches to look at on the way around to Belhaven Bay. I wanted to walk as far along the beach as possible before cutting inland, but this turned into an exercise in self-imposed frustration.

Because the tide was all the way out and the Tyne, which separates Belhaven from Tyninghame, was relatively low, when you get to the end of the beach, the other side is sooo close. But barring a zombie apocalypse situation in which escape across water is crucial, there is just no good reason to risk trying to cross that river. I don’t know how fast it runs, but I think the even bigger problem would be the mud. The closer you get to the bank, the more it sucks at your feet. I did not want to find out how much worse that would get. And so, I just had to go around.

This isn’t really a horrible thing. I also knew it ahead of time. I guess part of me just thought looking very hard at a river might make it a sensible thing to cross. But that’s ridiculous. Going around consists first of walking through a bunch of salt marsh and eventually some farmland. It’s fine. But this is also where the rain that wasn’t supposed to be all that bad started getting more bad than it promised to be.

I had really wanted this walk to include a swim at Seacliff, but hinging everything on that was my main mistake. I planned to make it down to the end of Tyninghame beach and get over the rocks before the tide cut me off, which I knew was theoretically possible. But I wasn’t even at the point where I could cross the river yet. I was also getting a headache. And it turns out that there was an ultramarathon that day along a lot of the route I was on. As I approached the road into Tyninghame, not only was it pouring, but I had runners starting to appear from the other direction along with mountain bikers. And the rain kept getting heavier.

Migle was checking on her bees in Tyninghame and we were originally going to just meet for tea while I had a break, but I decided there was no reason to torture myself and slog on through the rain when I wouldn’t get to swim. So I got in the car and we went back to Bostock for treats and I caught a bus home from Haddington with a plan to pick the route back up from East Linton as soon as a sensible day presented itself.

I always wonder in these situations if I’m making excuses or good decisions. When I’m further from home on this walk, I know I’d be less likely to bail on a day, regardless of the weather. And I don’t even mind walking in the rain with the right gear. But it felt stupid in this case to make myself miserable for the sake of saying I finished some arbitrary thing on that specific day. It just didn’t matter enough. Hopefully doing this more will strengthen my convictions.

And the day I decided to continue did just that. The weather when I left Edinburgh was meh and rainy, but when I got off the bus and had my coffee in East Linton, the sun was coming out and the temperature was perfect – I consider the perfect walking temp to be cold enough to keep a mid layer on without sweating too horribly, and that’s exactly where it was.

Because of the great conditions, I was not deterred to find routes to the beach along the river instead of giving up and going along the road. Walking along the side of the road is rubbish, and also terrifying when there’s no shoulder, and I will happily go a longer route if it means avoiding it for more engaging terrain. But I’m also still not very experienced in going off established paths, so the more positive practice I get, the better.

I spotted a bunch of different interesting mushrooms on a detour that didn’t work out, and then asked a local dog walker what she thought of following the river. She said I would probably have to navigate some fences but it was probably doable. I went for it, and though a bit hairy at some points, I managed to get over fences and past narrow drops to the river and avoid a field of cows and it was the best thing ever when I got through to the sea.

The tide was super far out but the sea was clearly incredibly rough. Which was great, because I didn’t bring my swim stuff thinking I’d just give myself a break. When the weather turned out amazing I was kicking myself a bit, but I never would have been swimming in those conditions.

The long walk through the woods around Tyninghame house was quite bizarre. I knew exactly where I was, but there were arrows pointing every which direction on the trees. I assume these were left over from the ultramarathon but they didn’t seem to follow any sense of reason. I mostly ignored them and plowed on through the trees, but there was an arrow pointing in the opposite direction from the last about every 2 minutes. It felt a bit Alice in Wonderland or something.

When I walked up to the headland and looked down on Tyninghame beach the waves were impressively rough. there were a few people around on the East end, but the further west I went along the beach, it emptied out. I jumped over some little streams running into the sea and started to tackle the rocks. If I’d been a tiny bit later the tide would have made a few spots impossible, but I saw ways out as well, so I think I’d have managed it without having to turn back. It was immensely satisfying to pop out onto Seacliff beach from the rocks at the far end when it was clear that everyone else there had driven in.

I sat and watched the handful of surfers trying their luck in the water while I sat and finally ate my sandwich. The waves were so frequent and choppy I have no idea how they were doing it but I got very invested in their success. Everything after this would be walking along the road into North Berwick so I sat as long as I could until I started to get too cold, as I wasn’t in the sun anymore.

I went up the hill and walked into North Berwick via Drift for some cake and tea. Walking along the road was the only downside of the day, but it was still brilliant weather and you could see the sea most of the way.

This was my favourite walk yet. The weather was perfect, so waiting to finish on a second day was the right decision, as I never would have picked around those more uncertain bits in the kind of rain I’d stopped the previous walk in. I was also super proud of myself for pushing through a route I was unsure of instead of falling back on the guarantee of the road, and for making it over all the rocks at low tide. There were some really cool spots for swimming on calmer days between Tyininghame and Seacliff, so I’ll be going back in the summer to do some more exploring.

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