Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Walking Holiday

Edinburgh is an architectural jewel set in the countryside. You do not need a car to get into the countryside. You can just start walking down an old railway path or you can take an ordinary bus that stops not far from your door. Last Sunday B.A. and I packed two rucksacks, walked through our woods and caught the bus to Haddington.


Our Lady of Haddington
Haddington is a nice little town whose principal claim to fame is that John Knox was born there in 1513. It has a splendid pre-Reformation church that was half-ruined and then, mirabile dictu, architecturally restored in the early 1970s. Although owned by the Church of Scotland, St. Mary's protectors are aware that it used to be a major Catholic pilgrimage site--Our Lady of Haddington--and encourage ecumenical use of the church. The Lauderdale Aisle, in which the various Earls, Countesses and Dukes of Lauderdale are buried, is a High Episcopalian stronghold reattached to the chancel. It contains a copy of the original Our Lady of Haddington statue. More about the church anon. 

It was raining heavily when we got to Haddington but fortunately we were prepared for this. We marched to Tesco and bought groceries for supper, breakfast and lunch. (Ever expectant of disaster, I had packed enough fruit-and-nut bars and trail mix to keep us from starvation.) Then we slogged four miles down quiet roads to the hamlet of Morham and our rented bothy.
The bothy. The door is to the kitchen end.

How happy we were to reach this little hut! B.A. slid back the wooden shutters, opened the windows and lit a fire in the iron stove as I made cups of tea. The hut has a sink, a cooker, an electric kettle, a large toaster-oven (put under the stove like a proper oven), a mini-fridge under the sink, and all the dishes, cups, glasses, utensils and non-mechanical cooking things one needs in daily life. There was even a metal French press (coffee pot) although it had been put away dirty. (Tsk, tsk, tsk.) I scrubbed it at once. 

The hut is like a one-room cabin only attached to a tiny bunkhouse with six bunks, three on each side. For some reason we picked the middle ones. However, before bed there was tea to drink, supper to eat and the internet to check--for despite its 19th century air, the bothy had wi-fi. More on this anon.

The fire heated up the place very quickly and we were soon down to shirtsleeves. I felt overly warm when I went to bed and left my sleeping bag unzipped. However, I woke up freezing in the middle of the night and so the bag was zipped.
Six bunks, a ladder and an emergency door way in the back.


The bothy is attached to a covered corridor, stacked high with firewood, and washroom with a toilet. It is an incredibly civilized washroom--with a space heater on the wall! Standing under the hot shower in the chilly mornings was simply heavenly. 

We both woke up early on Monday morning and had a massive fry-up before setting out at 10. First we went to have a look at Morham Church, first built in the 12th century, where we prayed for the souls of the Christian departed--not forgetting the famous Presbyterian family buried in the crypt underneath, and sang the Salve Regina. I was interested to see that the list of "ministers" framed on the wall began only in the mid-16th century, and I wondered if the first one was an ex-priest. I am curious about why Lowland Catholics gave up the faith so enthusiastically, and I wonder if it was mostly a case of their admiration for charismatic heretical priests and then doing what they were told. 

Indestructable Denim Skirt of Female Traddery
Then we returned to the bothy to top up the water bottle and walked about four more miles in the beautiful countryside to the small village of Garvald, which the map said had its own post office (and therefore shop). Sadly, it no longer has a post office or a shop and the pub is closed on Mondays. 

Rain poured down so we took refuge in what may have been a former bus shelter and shared a sausage and fruit-and-nut bars. Then we walked to (the new) Nunraw Abbey, hoping very much that the monks produced things to eat and drink and sold them in their shop. Well, they may produce things to eat and drink, but they do not sell them in their shop. We found this out after "the Afternoon Office" (i.e. Nones, we think, and in English), and very disappointed we were. Fortunately, a lady chatting with a monk in the shop was a local and knew that the nearest shop was in the village of Gifford. So off we walked  the four miles or so to Gifford.

Halfway to Gifford I remembered that it was Monday, I owed the Catholic Register my biweekly column, and it was now two hours late. The air around me turned virtually blue. We didn't have B.A's little computer, and Scottish villages tend not to have internet cafés. How I seethed. But there was nothing for it but to wait, so I calmed down enough that we could both enjoy our beer in "The Goblin Ha'" when at last we reached Gifford. We bought groceries in the Co-op, and then we tramped back to Morham, B.A. having luckily found a direct, if rough and scratchy, route on the map. When we got to the bothy we had literally come full circle. 

I rushed indoors, wrote an apology to my editors, and typed out the column I had more-or-less already written in my head. One thing about blogging so often; the writing-habit comes in handy in emergencies like this. 

Windows, tea, fire, wine, supper, early to bed. 


We woke up rather later on Tuesday and left the bothy at 10:55 AM. We walked five miles, partly over quiet roads and partly through disappearing trails, to East Linton, stopping for a break at Hailes Castle and to test the acoustics of the bridge-tunnel. We reached East Linton at about 2 PM, walked past the Crown Inn (mistake) and left the village to have a look at Preston Mill and lunch at Smeaton Nursery Gardens and Tearoom.

Get there before 3 PM!
Alas! We reached the Tearoom just after 3, which is when the servers stop serving lunch. The end of lunch service is a perennial danger in our country walks. The tearooms of Scotland's abandoned or destroyed country houses care less for making an extra £10 than for sticking to their lunch schedule. As I am usually ravenous when we arrive, this makes me furious. However, my fury makes B.A. unhappy so I swallowed it, a cup of coffee and--shocker--a cup of ice-cream. Well, it was that or a scone--there was nothing else but cake, and ice-cream for some reason has a low GI. Also, it was S. Luca ice-cream (famous throughout the Lothians) and so totally pure and good. Except for the wicked sugar, of course.

After our rest in the lovely gardens of the tearoom (or amid the picnic tables of the gardens), we retraced our steps back to the bothy. We passed the clock tower in East Linton at about 4:45 PM and reached Hailes Castle at 5:25 PM. In the bridge-tunnel outside East Linton, B.A. repeated his experiments. After he sang the three notes of a third, the notes came back to us as a resonating chord. This is the sort of thing classical singers adore, I suspect, especially when they are male. 

When we passed Traprain Law again, B.A. terribly wanted us to climb up it, but I vetoed the idea on the grounds that we had already walked 7 or 8  miles that day. As a compromise, he suggested we climb to the Balfour Monument instead. I agreed, so when we go to the official road (the fields were full of cows and probably steers), we turned left and went up the hill. Sadly trees blocked our view of the bothy, but we enjoyed very much looking at all of East Lothian and, in the distance, various famous peaks and the elephant shape of Edinburgh's Arthur's Seat. 

B.A. internetting
Then we climbed back down, marched straight to the bothy, arrived shortly before 8 PM and began all our window-opening, tea-making, fire-lighting and supper-cooking.  We had steaks and half a bottle of wine. Then we read and internetted. 


As much as I love B.A., on holidays I enjoy waking up early and having some alone time. The trick is to do this without waking him up. Usually he has to pretend to himself and me that he is still asleep.  At any rate I made my morning cup of coffee and read more Baltic, pies który płynął na krze ("Baltic: The Dog who Sailed on an Ice-floe") until B.A. made another fry-up breakfast. Delicious. 

At 8:30 we stepped out without our packs to have another look at Morham Church, and then we returned and cleaned the bothy for the next guests. Sweeping the dust out the kitchen-side door reminded me of Auntie Em and Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz. It was really country living. 

We put on our packs and left for Haddington at 12:20 PM. It was an unusually hot and sunny day. We arrived at Our Lady of Haddington (i.e. St. Mary's) at 2 PM and finding the church open, we went to the Lauderdale aisle, prayed the perfectly orthodox prayer on the High Piskie prayer card and sang the Salve Regina.  Hopefully we did not offend the chap reading his Bible near the front of the restored if Presbyterianized chancel. Then we toddled about the chancel and nave reading the educational placards and looking for Catholic traces for almost an hour. Finally we thanked the ladies in charge of welcoming visitors and went to the riverside pub for a pint. 

Through Sunday's pouring rain I had seen a pair of low heeled sage suede pumps and a matching bag in a Haddington charity shop window--as one does even when one is carrying 15 pounds of stuff on one's back--so after our beer we found this shop and bought the shoes and bag. Finally we caught the first bus back to Edinburgh, did a quick grocery shop and walked the last mile home.  We arrived at 5:30 PM, and I was happier than ever to see the Historical House.

Although I am always happy to see the Historical House, and although I did enjoy our three-day country walking holiday, returning home was positively blissful. I suppose this is what Biritish walkers felt like in the old days, when country walks were a lot more popular. They loved being out in the countryside, and they loved reaching home after thoroughly tiring themselves out. One of the joys of walking in the British countryside is that I cannot help but think of Tolkien and all the walks in Middle-Earth. No doubt Tolkien was thinking of England when he wrote of the Shire, but I should think the Lowlands of Scotland come pretty close to the terrain in his mind. 


  1. That sounds so lovely! As always when you describe your holidays!

  2. I want to do a walking holiday now!

  3. organise a seraphic singles walking retreat?

  4. ok i owe you another email for sure, don't worry about adding me on FB or anything.