Earlier in the month, down on Portobello Beach on a very blustery, cold day, wind howling in off the Firth of Forth. I was having a walk with my chum and his hounds when we saw this group in white robes, who got out of their car, walked down to the beach then facing out to sea they began to sing. We couldn’t understand the words, but it had the feel of a religious ceremony, and although we didn’t know the words (and despite the biting, cold wind!) their song sounded joyful. My friend had seen them in previous days that week doing the same thing, singing out to sea. We still don’t know who they were or what the significance of singing towards the sea was. A friend online said he saw a religious group do something similar when working in Africa, but he didn’t know why they did it either. Anyway, it was an unusual and intriguing thing to see…
Since I have a few days off to use up, I took the train up the coast, crossing the mighty Forth Rail Bridge and round the coastal rail route to get off at Burntisland for a wee while. The railway runs right by the beach there, on a raised embankment above the promenade and the beach (quite a bit of this line hugs the Fife coast so you get some good views on your trip). There are tunnels under the line leading from the parkland behind it to the promenade.
Being early afternoon on a weekday in March it was pretty quiet, mostly either parents with very young kids or senior citizens and the odd dog walker – tends to be a bit busier in the warmer weather of spring and summer!
Standing out (braving some seriously heavy wind, especially in an exposed position!) on a jutting bit of headland that projects out by the bay where the beachfront is I could just barely make out the volcanic bulk of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh across the Firth of Forth, but it was too hazy to get a decent shot. Looking up river the haar had settled in too, and the bright light had turned grey (one of those days of sun, overcast, sun, overcast, always changing), and the bridges were barely visible through the mist and haze, although the iconic shape of the Forth Rail Bridge (often just referred to around here as “The Bridge” and everyone knows you mean the rail bridge and not the nearby road bridges) was just apparent, the diamond-shaped cantilever section like the humps of some vast sea serpent rising from the waters. Here you can see it and the 20th century suspension road bridge a bit further behind it, although the new Queensferry Crossing, now almost complete, is hidden by the mist. In the foreground you can just make out Inchcolm and the shape of some of the buildings on this island’s 12th century abbey (which you can visit via a Forth cruise – well worth the trip):
On the ride home I decided to jump off at North Queensferry for a while before heading back across river to Edinburgh, and walked down the steep slope to where the village nestles around the northern base of the Forth Rail Bridge, right by the banks of the Forth.
At this side of the river you can walk right under the end of one of the vast “diamond” shapes of this massively over-engineered cantilever structure, and despite the now bitingly cold wind it was worth the chill to walk down by the lapping waters of the Forth past this iconic piece of engineering that has become a landmark.
This was the view standing right under the northernmost diamond, looking straight across the river through the Meccano Set of girders – you can see the next diamond shape behind it through the forest of red steelwork:
It’s a massive Victorian structure, hugely over-built (a reaction to the earlier failure of the Tay Bridge), and you know it is large, I mean you can see if from parts of Edinburgh for goodness sake, you can see the top parts of the diamond shapes from the main Edinburgh-Glasgow railway line. But there’s nothing quite like going underneath a structure like this to really get a sense of the sheer size and strength of it. It’s like standing under the Eiffel Tower, but turned on its side. Magnificent piece of history and engineering.
Down at Portobello this afternoon, grey, windy, stormy, high tide being pushed even more by the wind, causing the waves to smash into the sea wall with mighty booms, like roaring thunder…
And then often hitting the sea wall with such energy it was forced up and along, fountaining upwards to rise up and over then splash down onto the promenade
While people were enjoying watching it splash up and over, although they would then dart backwards with delighted shrieks
Naturally I used the bigger zoom on my new camera to take these – I wasn’t getting that close!!
Down near North Berwick over the Easter holiday weekend, for a change good weather coincided with a holiday. We’ve had nice, sunny days a few times recently (between some raging gales and storms and hail and snow and ice!) but they were still cold, often with seriously chilly winds even in the sunlight, but this weekend it was actually warm, the first proper spring-like weekend and happening over a holiday too, so understandably the beaches were busy along the coast as I went for a long walk with chum and his dogs. I paused to take several photos, and was quite pleased with the way this one came out, looking back along the curve of the beach, there’s a spit of low-lying sand which projects out and which the people in the foreground are walking on, but from this angle it looks almost like they are walking on the water, while the massive bulk of the Bass Rock rears out of the sea behind them.
Down on the coast near North Berwick, short but beautifully golden winter day, sun setting, casting long shadows and warm, copper coloured light over the distinctive triangular shape of North Berwick Law (a major local landmark, it can even be glimpsed from parts of Edinburgh on a good day) as the rising Moon chases the sun from sky:
I shot these the day the clocks went forward to British Summer Time
Ah, nothing like being by the beach in British Summer Time, eh?!
Haar had come down, the sea mist meant you couldn’t see very far, and the wind was driving cold, grey waves to smash into the sea wall by the promenade at Portobello, splashing right up and over the prom – you had to time your walk past to avoid being drenched.
Chum and I wandered down to Portobello the other week (Edinburgh’s seafront area), rather grey and stormy day as we walked along the promenade, as you can see:
This howling, freezing wind, rain and grey mist and clouds, the crashing waves and blowing sand didn’t stop a few hardy souls from trying to fly kites on the beach though!
We ducked out of the weather and into the Espy, a very nice pub and bistro right on the promenade by the beach at Porty (very child and also dog friendly place too, if you’re looking for one) and settled into the dry, welcoming warmth of the pub, finding a pair of nice, old leather Queen Anne chairs to relax back into, ale in hand, for a relaxing natter. And then the barman told us that there was someone from Innes and Gunn, the very fine independent Scottish brewer, set up in the back with samples of their wares and we should check it out. And naturally we did and had a nice talk with the brewery rep who talked us through some of their different ales, from ones we had seen and tried before to some new ones and some export only ones (they sell a lot abroad – Canada and Sweden are two of their biggest markets now).
There was an interesting stout finished in Irish whisky barrels which gave it an interesting taste (also it was, pleasantly, not as heavy and thick as some stouts can be – some feel like drinking a liquidised black pudding – this was a touch lighter, with a reddish tinge to it) and a Canadian one made with a touch of maple leaf syrup (it could only be more Canadian if you had a hockey stick projecting from the neck of the bottle). I’ve had honey ales before, some are good, some simply way too sweet, but this had a nice balance, the sweetness not too strong, just a nice touch.
When the brewery chap left we were talking away to the bar manager and some others, he showed us some interesting import ales he had gotten in himself, then decided we may as well all try samples of those as we had the Innes & Gunn beers, naturally we agreed (be rude not to) and a much longer than planned for but rather pleasant evening ensued… I noticed one of his imported beers was from the American brewery Flying Dog and the label for it, Raging Bitch, was drawn by the great Ralph Steadman, no less. Nice beer and cool art, not bad!
Down at North Berwick on a very warm, sunny Sunday afternoon earlier this week, strolling along the beach we heard the drone of a propeller engine – not unusual as there is a small airfield nearby and light aircraft and small microlights fly out from it and along the coast regularly. This sounded much more powerful though and when we spotted the plane it was moving a darned site faster than the usual little Cessna type light planes you see around there (which are really the small car of the skies, very slow). This sounded like an engine beefed up for speed and it roared past quite low; as it tilted we realised it was a biplane and we thought hey, few years back, last time we saw a biplane at this spot he was practising his air display routines, I wonder… And lo and behold on went the smoke cannister and the pilot launched into a series of maneuvres, rapid climbs, dives, looping…
After several moves the pilot roared low over North Berwick, from this perspective seemingly in line with the rocky headland which just out beyond the Scottish Seabird Centre and the harbour and I quickly tried to zoom and focus on the fast moving plane and was lucky enough to capture this scene:
And a moment later I got another decent pic of the plane with the local landscape, this time flying past the mighty Bass Rock (once a site of pilgrimage, a monastery, a fortress and a prison across our long history, now one of the largest seabird colonies in Europe, given back to nature):
We even got to see the pilot pull a classic stunt that goes back to the World War I dogfights, climb up at full speed, almost vertically until stalling then let the plane ‘fall’ over and straight back down into a dive:
Turning into a climbing loop:
And then it was all done, our brief one-man air show was finished and the biplane was roaring back inland towards the airfield. But what a cracking little surprise show we had:
Musselburgh harbour at very low tide – looks almost like you could walk out off the beach and right into the harbour mouth – I don’t recommend it, tried that once at low tide, but the sand near the entrance becomes increasingly ‘sinky’ and unwilling to tolerate the weight of any creature heavier than a mudlarking bird
I’ve understood how the tides work since I was a boy reading my astronomy books, but even now as an adult I still find it a little bit magical that somewhere like a harbour can become absolutely empty of water, the boats left on the mud, high and dry, tilted over on their keels, awaiting the return of the water to float them again and make them useful.
Chap sitting by the sea wall looking out, while the harbour mouth awaits the salty kiss of the returning tide…
Meanwhile nature makes good use of the changing conditions tidal spaces bring each day (twice), with birds probing at the wet sand in the harbour floor with their specially adapted long beaks, looking for supper. Odd to see them walking pass the bottom of the hulls of boats knowing that in just a few hours this will all again be submerged, the floor hidden and the boats bobbing up and down on the water. The birds had colouring on their feathers that made them blend in very well with their surroundings, had to wait for them to walk near a small muddy pool to try and get some contrast to make them stand out even this little amount:
Heading down the coast a few weeks ago with a chum and his dog we stopped off briefly at Longniddry Bents to let the dog have a quick walk and in case he needed to ‘use the facilities’. As we walked down to the beach we had this rather lovely sight of a pair of horses being exercised in the shallow surf of the Bents (which have a long, very shallow beach so at high tide you can wade around a fair bit before it gets too deep, the odd dips notwithstanding):
This one was actually being lead rather than ridden as he’d injured his leg and the salt water was good at cleaning out the wound:
Walking down at Portobello and we saw a pair of fab small hovercraft having fun on the water – and the land too, since they can just come straight on out of the sea onto the beach as they please.
And look, right up onto the beach, no having to jump out of a boat and stick your feet into the cold waters of the Forth to push it up onto the surfline, oh no, just straight on up:
And a very short video giving an idea of the noise (one of the owners left a comment on my Flickr page later to say it was super noisy that day because of an exhaust break – apparently they were up and down the coast and even out to the islands in the Forth where they could go right up the beach to stop there for a while easily in the hovercraft then back out to sea again – very cool!)
Sometimes you just come across the simplest scene – a woman sitting with her back to you, looking at the sea, a couple walking in the background on the beach, low winter sun casting long shadows – and somehow you think hey, this would make a decent photo. I have no idea why but in colour I just knew it wouldn’t look like much, but shot in black and white it suddenly had something…