Thursday, 26 June 2014


The great naturalist John Muir died 100 years ago this December. He was born in Dunbar on Scotland's east coast, but, aged 11, he moved with his family to the United States. He spent his later life campaigning to protect the wilderness, and was responsible for the establishment of America's National Parks.

For as long as I can remember there has been a "John Muir Way" from Dunbar to Musselburgh, just outside Edinburgh, a distance of roughly 33 miles. In April of this year, in celebration of John Muir, that route was extended to cross the width of Scotland, and now ends after 135 miles in the west coast town of Helensburgh, where Muir and his family set sail to the New World.

This morning, under a cloudless blue sky, I set out to cycle the coast to coast route over three days. I intended to use a Warm Showers network contact for the first night, and camp wild the second night. The map that has been produced is sadly inadequate, in fact, just short of useless, so the day before I painstakingly created my own set of maps using Google.

The John Muir Way Coast to Coast (JMWCC) website would suggest that you start in Helensburgh and finish in Dunbar, presumably to have the prevailing wind behind you. For me though, there was something more appropriate about starting at the place of his birth and finishing where he left his homeland. And so it was, I set out for Dunbar on the train.

I really enjoy setting off on an adventure by train. It adds a certain something. It was my friend Pauline who woke me up to the delights and advantages of doing so. There's a real sense of starting something when you step off the train and it pulls out leaving you and a few others on the now quiet platform.

As luck would have it the weather had changed over the past few days. The forecast for my journey now had the wind, unusually, blowing directly from the east. The temperature was a very pleasant 15C (60F) and the breeze was around 12mph, so, with the wind at my back, literally, I sailed along almost effortlessly.

Immediately I had a grin on my face. Though I was on my own I kept exclaiming out loud how utterly fantastic the route was. You leave the little fishing village of Dunbar, along the coast, looking out across the Firth of Forth to the Bass Rock, the worlds largest Gannet colony, along little back roads lined with wild flowers, the sun shining and the wind at my back.

I was thinking that maybe I should do more this first day, and complete the journey in just two days, especially as I kept being overtaken by serious road cyclists in lycra, determined to clock up their 100 miles. But sometimes it's the journey, not the distance travelled, and I'm not really into the fast paced cycling thing. No, this was about noticing the little things along the way, taking time to stop, as often as I wanted, to take as many photographs as I cared to. Besides that, it's been a while since I've cycle-toured, so I was breaking in gently.

From the map I could see that there was a section of busy road approaching. Just as I had psyched myself up for lots of traffic, the route surprised me by presenting a shared footpath, as it would again at various points. It wasn't long before I turned sharp right and headed north for a number of miles toward the town of North Berwick, in the shadow of a small conical hill called Berwick Law, an ancient volcanic plug that was blasted across the sky from some 30 miles away, millions of years ago. On this section the route changed repeatedly: one minute I was on narrow little paved country roads, next I was crossing between two fields of barley on a dirt path with fantastic views.

In North Berwick I watched the world go by on the edge of the beach as I ate my lunch, with little boats pootling out across the waves with wildlife watchers from the Seabird Centre on board, before I set off once again toward Edinburgh.

The second of three busy road sections now presented itself, and after the joy of the cross country trails this was fairly unpleasant, with no shared pavement choice unfortunately.

There are two routes for the JMWCC, one for walking, and one for cycling. I knew from previous experience there were sections of the walking route that I could have cycled, keeping me off the road, but I wanted to follow the cycling route religiously, to see what it was like. To give the designers of the route their due credit, they've tried their best, and after a short couple of miles I was off the main road back on country roads and tracks, through lush overgrown woods.

The miles seemed to slip by, and before I knew it I was approaching the planned end of this section of the JMWCC by early afternoon. Through the little village of Port Seaton, past the decommissioned coal-fired power station at Cockenzie, and on into Musselburgh, following the man-made lagoons, created using the ash from the power station.

On the outskirts of the City of Edinburgh, just 35 miles after starting, I called it a day and headed for my accommodation for the night. I was very confident of not just a warm shower, but a comfy bed and maybe even a pizza for supper. Why? Well, you see, that Warm Showers contact is in fact . . . me! The JMWCC passes very close to my home near the beach, and so I was able to leave the majority of my kit behind for day one.

Tomorrow I'll have a heavier bike and will be camping out. The forecast is still for easterlies, so once again I'll have the wind at my back.

To see more photos from the trip follow this link to FLICKR (photos are in reverse order). You can catch up on how I get on over the next two days in next week's blog.

1 comment:

Pauline said...

Can't wait for the next instalment. Great pics. Pauline