5495 miles already walked

Portsmouth and the Forth Bridge

My last entry in the Victory Walker’s log advised readers that I had arrived in Scotland. Since then little has been heard apart from the repeated question “Where have you been?” As I don’t drink whisky I can assure you I’ve not been on a mammoth tour of distilleries - shortbread factories are more my cup of tea!

One of the naval charities I’m raising funds for (WRNS BT) kindly invited me to their Annual General Meeting where the Trust’s Patron, HRH the Princess Royal, was in attendance.  Having worked out the logistics I took some days out to travel back to Portsmouth, to attend in my former capacity as RN lead for the WRNS100 Project Team.  

It was a very special day when, in her AGM address, the Princess acknowledged the success of the many celebratory events in 2017, and how the WRNS BT charity amongst others had benefitted from the WRNS100 project’s surplus funds.  During the follow-on reception, the WRNS100 project team took the opportunity for a final line-up picture with the Princess Royal: she had also been Patron of this centenary project.  Later, knowing that the Victory Walk is raising funds for the WRNS BT (and RNRMC), the Princess asked me how long the walk around Scotland’s wiggly coastline might take. My honest answer was “Ma’am, I haven’t a clue!”

Returning to Scotland I pulled on my boots again at Dunbar in East Lothian, my second Scottish county.   Dunbar is the birthplace of the Scottish/American explorer and conservationist, John Muir, often referred to as ‘The Father of National Parks’, so it was fitting that I joined the John Muir Way which would lead me into the Firth of Forth, and up towards its famous crossings at Queensferry.

As always, the sights on this part of the journey were interesting and varied.  On my approaches to North Berwick I caught magnificent views of the distinctive Bass Rock.  White from the guano left by the hundred of gannets that have made this rock their home, the rock is a well-known sight to mariners.  Being a busy Bank Holiday weekend, I fled from North Berwick finding almost deserted beaches as I moved away around the coast.

I lost count of the number of golf courses that I walked by and through, but at Cockenzie and Port Seton learned that Mary Queen of Scots was a regular player on the local links.  In more recent times Cockenzie had been home to a huge coal fired electricity power station (recently demolished) with the coal coming from nearby pits.  Before use and to improve combustion, the coal had to be ground to a fine powder by means of grinding rings and balls. Today, a ‘ring and ball’ installation on the promenade is the only reminder of the town’s links with the energy industry. Coal had also been used to boil sea-water in large pans to enable salt extraction. Prestonpans was one of the key towns on the Forth to be involved with salt production and as I walked through I noticed a fading seawall mural reminding me of its former industry.

The approaches to Leith gave me distant views of the City of Edinburgh which helped me forget my feet that were weary from road walking.  It was interesting to see how the vast Scottish Government building has helped to regenerate the dock area of Leith.  Nearby the Ocean Terminal shopping complex, together with the former Royal Yacht Britannia have made this a very popular destination. Later the same day I enjoyed a gentle woodland walk up the River Almond before entering the vast and beautiful Dalmeny Estate, which has glorious views up and down the Firth of Forth. 

By now I was eager to turn the Estate’s final headland and see my river crossing.  When the moment came I wasn’t disappointed: in the foreground the iconic Forth rail bridge, with the Forth road bridge behind it, and then the new Queensferry Crossing.  That night we parked under the old road bridge at the local sea cadet unit, TS Lochinvar, where we had superb views of the Forth with its three crossings, and of Rosyth where the carrier (the Prince of Wales) was clearly visible.  It was when walking across the old road bridge next morning that I felt my ‘yomp’ around Scotland had really begun: exciting, but daunting.  Being greeted by some Royal Navy well-wishers on the north side helped ease my apprehension before I picked up the Fife Coastal Path (117 miles) which will lead me to my next big crossing, over the River Tay.

Before Dalgety Bay I noticed that another naval reservist well-wisher had hung a white ensign from her window (thank you Anne).  Shortly afterwards, near Donibristle Bay I was reminded that this had been a Royal Naval Air Station, HMS Merlin, during both World Wars. The walking week continued in good weather with this part of Fife county showing me its industrial past in its towns such as Burnt Island, Kirkcaldy, Dysart, West and East Wemyss and Buckhaven.  

It had been a hard week, with over 100 miles walked, concluding at the sea cadet unit (TS Ajax), in Methil.  By now my ‘bootometer’ was reading 1,500 miles and due for a service!

See Photo Album Nos 31 – Portsmouth and the Forth & Crossing the Forth