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Across the Forth – Take Two!

My retreat to Dunbar after finding the sea and wind conditions too strong for a safe crossing was frustrating, but it did mean Katherine and I would be able to catch up with my cousin Sarah, her 3 children and also with my uncle, John. The strong winds continued through Saturday and Sunday, but the weather was mostly sunny and we enjoyed a great leisurely weekend at Sarah’s beautiful house on a country estate close to Dunbar. Sarah and I compared memories of childhood visits to our grandparents living near Bamburgh, Northumberland. Like me, Sarah had a vivid recollection of the flash of the Longstone Lighthouse at night. I remember it lighting up the bedroom where I slept and Sarah remembers the two flashes in quick succession illuminating a stained glass window half way up the stairs.

I was also able to visit John Muirs’ birthplace on the high street of Dunbar, where there is an excellent permanent exhibition about his life and writings. I hadn’t heard of John Muir before but the importance of his pioneering environmental work is widely recognised in America, to which he emigrated in 1849. In his later life John Muir spent 4 days hiking in Yosemite with President Theodore Roosevelt and persuaded him to establish the world’s first national park. John Muir believed passionately in the educational and spiritual importance of wilderness.  “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike”,  John Muir – The Yosemite (1912)

Visiting my uncle on Sunday evening was a chance to share memories of the past and to talk about life in East Lothian. I was very touched to be given some family letters and mementos, which included a 1927 postcard sent by my grandfather to my grandmother. Previously, I’d been discussing where my round Britain circumnavigation might finish this year* and Tignabruaich, near Bute in the Firth of Clyde had been mentioned. On the front of the postcard was a black and white photograph of Tighnabruaich with an ‘x’ marking the location of a house near the sea front.

I eventually and regretfully left Dunbar late on Monday morning. My destination was Crail, a small village on the north side of the Firth of Forth but I planned to visit the Isle of May, small island and nature reserve at the mouth of the Forth. The forecast was for a westerly force 2 to 3 wind and as I sailed north in the sunshine I watched heavy rain showers chasing each other down the north shore of the Forth. Around 8 miles later I found the small cove called Kirkhaven on the south west corner of The Isle of May and after furling the sail, paddled along the narrow cleft in the rocks towards a tiny beach at the north end. Two people came to greet me; Dave Pickett, the warden and a builder who was staying on the island to repair roofs. I walked up to the small cluster of buildings near the centre of the island with Dave and while we drank coffee in his apartment, situated in the old lighthouse keeper’s house, he told me a little of his work and love for the island.

Dave stays on the island between March and October to conduct wildlife surveys and look after the nature reserve. He writes a fascinating and vivid blog which can be found here.

I wandered the green island pathways for a while looking at the two lighthouses and the views out over the Forth. Most of the nesting birds had departed but there were still a few terns and guillemots, and a great many rabbits. I would have liked to stay longer but the wind was light and I was concerned that the ebbing tide might make it difficult to reach Crail. Back at Kirkhaven, the receding tide had left Stacey high and dry but it wasn’t difficult to drag her over the sand and into the water. As I sailed out towards the Forth in a gentle breeze I shot some video of the scene accompanied by the cries of numerous sea birds lining the narrow harbour entrance.

Contrary to my fears the short passage to Crail went well and I was soon pulling the boat out of the water in Crail’s small harbour. Katherine was there to greet me having driven over 90 miles by road from Dunbar (via the Forth Road Bridge). We soon found a place to leave Stacey by the side of the harbour and then drove to Anstruther for a fish supper at the award winning and famous Anstruther Fish Bar.

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