Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Loafing About On A Long Walk

Wife-features misses the Highland air. I know what she means. Although we’re by the sea and technically in East Lothian rather than the throbbing metropolis that is Scotland‘s capital, we‘re also on a bus route and in a town centre that gets choked with commuting traffic every morning and evening.

I also think there’s more of a culture of smoking in public. Maybe it’s just there are more people, so more cigarettes.
Levenhall Links, looking west to Musselburgh.

But although we miss long, bracing (and at times genuinely balmy) walks on Nairn beach we’re lucky to have another kind of wilderness on our doorstep here in Musselburgh. It’s Levenhall Links.

On the eastern edge of the town the links are probably best known as home to Musselburgh racecourse and a golf course. In fact, not just any old pitch and putt - this is the oldest course in the world! I have fond memories of playing a birdie on the course back when I was a teenager and my dad thought it’d be fun to show me how to play golf. I think he immediately regretted it and I probably spoiled a good walk, as the saying goes.

The real treat lies behind the gowf and the nags. There’s a massive area of “claimed” land composed of ash from the Cockenzie coal plant along the cost. (It’s not reclaimed as it’s never been land before.) Over decades this ash has been heaped into massive grey mountains which have formed murky lagoons which in turn have slowly transformed into amazing meadows of grasses and flowers. The area is famed among twitchers for its flocks of migrating birds.

There are hopes to have it designated as a Local Nature Reserve. Worryingly the quality of some of the operational ash lagoons is deteriorating as Cockenzie owners Scottish Power focus their attention on what happens when the plant switched off next year.

It’s amazing to experience such peace and quiet aware of the area’s industrial DNA. On our walk there the other day we kicked a ball about, spotted a buzzard and watched it flit about from treetop to treetop, and we hunkered down in a brick bunker bird hide to munch mince pies.

En route we were treated to the spectacle of a horse race, which the Bairn didn’t find terrifying as I had feared and she loved hearing them clip-clop round the enclosure at the end.

Bizarrely we witnessed a plonker in an SUV heaving a couple of loaves of bread into the pond - sorry, that should be onto the pond, as it was frozen. Every town should have a Joe the Swan Man like Nairn, to keep numpties in check. (Joe’s top tips were small pieces of bread so the birds don‘t choke and dropped at the water’s edge so it’s not just seagulls who feast.)
Ice and a slice (or twenty-three)?

What a great, low-fi day we had with zero expense. Access to green space is so important. We forget about it at our peril.

The real highlight was on the way back home - we somehow got onto the subject of growing old and the Bairn promised to look after us. “I’ll feed you soup and carrots and cucumber.” I’ve suggested to Wife-features we get that in writing.

Meantime I’m looking forward to lots more long walks. As the first professional golfer Walter Hagen famously said: “You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

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