Once a year one of my circle of friends gather on a local beach for a combined family picnic. This year I went along on a glorious summers day.
The beach in question is on the east coast, just south of North Berwick, and roughly a 40 minute drive or less from Edinburgh, and is situated just after Tantallon Castle. Now a ruin, built in the 14th century, it was once home to the Earl of Douglas. Despite several sieges it remained in the family until 1699 when it was sold by the then Marquis of Douglas. Today it is looked after by Historic Scotland.
The arrangement was to meet from 1pm onwards, and having gathered some items for the picnic I made my way down, arriving at the entrance around 2pm. However, I had not read the email properly, and was now confronted by a barrier that required three £1 coins to get through. Having no change I had no choice but to retrace my steps ten minutes back to a supermarket on the edge of the small town of North Berwick. As I reversed the car on the narrow road there was a loud metallic bang from beneath my car. On closer inspection I discovered that the exhaust had collapsed where it meets the silencer box, where two bolts had been slowly rusting away. They chose now to fail.
I rummaged around in the car and found some cable ties, and with a bit of effort, and burnt fingers from the heat of the exhaust, managed to raise it up temporarily. I had passed a farm yard when I turned off the main road, so my plan was to limp back there and see if I couldn't find some wire to make the exhaust more secure to be able to return to Edinburgh.
Sounding like a boy racer that purposely makes their tail pipe loud and farty, I slinked into the farm yard and started my search. As I rounded a large building, there, in the far corner, was a mechanic working on cars! What good luck, I thought, I can maybe get some wire from him. But when I asked he wouldn't hear of it, and duly took my car, jacked it up, and did a thoroughly professional and permanent fix to the damage! This was his hobby and he was delighted to help.
What a wonderful random act of kindness. In all the excitement we forgot to exchange names.
I then went to the supermarket and returned with change for the barrier and made my way down to the beach. The tide was coming in, and by the time I finally made it with a story to tell it was getting late in the day, with barely time remaining to munch my treats.
There was a strong breeze blowing along the beach, and it was all I could do to keep the sand off my salami and goat cheese baguette. As I munched I wandered down to the waters edge. Just off the shore, so close I felt I could touch it, is Bass Rock. A huge volcanic plug some 360 million years old. It would have been ejected from a massive volcano all that time ago, and flown through the air to land at its current spot. From afar the rock appears white in the summer. This is caused by the guano of 150,000 Gannets at the height of the season, the largest northern nesting colony in the world. The air was filled with them as the dived from a great height like arrows into the swell of the sea in search of food. Back on the rock each individual struggled for their right to space among thousands.
After a couple of hours on a busy, wind-blown beach, I set off on my return journey to Edinburgh. As I drove it crossed my mind that despite being surrounded at close quarters by familiar friends, you can still feel entirely alone.