Our So Called Life | Thursday 2nd September 2021 8:00am
Like so many others, I go through fleeting phases of active fitness and gym-going, but what I really enjoy, and something that never wears thin, are long walks through some of Scotland's greatest landscapes.
More so, it's heading out with a friend (even better if they have a dog!), walking for miles at our own pace whilst chatting away, stopping for the occasional picture and visiting new locations!
The fresh air and sense of accomplishment that I feel when I come home, hand in hand with memories of incredible views and picturesque stops, is hard to beat. And for this reason, I was really excited to take on part of the John Muir Way.
If you aren't familiar with the name John Muir, he was born in Dunbar, Scotland before immigrating to America. He became a very well-revered conservationist among many other things and is often referred to as 'The father of national parks in the United States', keen on preserving natural wonders like the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite and protecting them from exploitation.
The John Muir Way is a 134 mile, walking and cycling route that connects coasts, villages and towns across Scotland, from Helensburgh all the way to John Muir's birthplace, Dunbar.
Obviously, that is a mammoth distance to undertake and can take several days to complete. Unfortunately, this is time that we did not have available, but thankfully, there are many smaller routes on the trail that you can complete at your leisure.
The trail has been split into 10 sections, each with its own incredible offerings. So, not only can you enjoy the captivating scenery but you can also learn more about the culture and history of Scotland, whether that's by travelling through our first National Park, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, experiencing nature and beaches, visiting The Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies, admiring The Forth Bridges in South Queensferry or climbing Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.
I have already experienced some of the things mentioned above, so we decided to travel somewhere entirely new to us both and chose to visit East Lothian, particularly, North Berwick. There were a few reasons why we decided to visit East Lothian but primarily, we wanted to see the Bass Rock, Tantallon Castle, Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot.
Hiring a Bike
Upon arriving in North Berwick, we sought out one of the many bike hire shops in the area. I know it's not always an option to take your own, or perhaps you don't own your own, so this is a really easy and accessible way to partake in some outdoor activities without the added stress or packing.
The first shop that we came across was Law Cycles who not only sell bikes and bike equipment for children and adults but offer bike and electric bike hire. You can hire bikes for as little as £20 for a 1/2 day which includes your safety equipment such as helmets.
We had definitely taken the time to plan our chosen path as we really wanted to make the most of our visit. For us, we knew that the route itself would be very scenic but we were particularly keen to visit as many of the points of interest as we could manage, and as we struck lucky with the weather, we chose to set off early to achieve this.
Climbing North Berwick Law was initially high on our agenda of places to visit but we didn't feel that we would have enough freedom in the time that we had, so we are going to save this as a walking route for another visit. However, if you do have the time, I think this would be a great one to add to the list!
First off, we stopped at Tantallon Castle. Our accommodation was near Tantallon Castle, we had driven past it numerous times, I had seen it in the distance whilst on our trip to the Bass Rock and I just knew that it had to be top of the list of places to visit.
I think there's something so bewitching about cliffside castles, but sadly, at the time of visiting there were some structural checks happening and we couldn't gain entry to the castle itself. However, this is somewhere that we will definitely return to complete that experience and although we couldn't enter the castle, we did have access to the surrounding grounds.
This was still ideal for us, we had a lovely sunny day, with barely even a breeze and as the first people to arrive, we had the grounds to ourselves. We took the time to walk around, reading the many signs and taking it all in. If you are a fan of history, I would highly recommend visiting the castle but I also think it would be an exciting stop for families because it is so enchanting, with plenty of space to run around.
Next up, we were on our way to Preston Mill. This took us past the settlements of Whitekirk and Tyninghame and what a delight this was, it felt as though we had taken a step back in time as we passed some of the most beautiful houses and buildings. Especially lovely, was the Tyninghame Smithy which is a great stop for some lunch, or refreshments.
Preston Mill is one of the oldest working watermills in Scotland. It is undeniably picturesque and a very popular spot for visitors and photographers. It was even used as a filming location in the series Outlander!
It's a really fascinating structure to see and really interesting to hear about, it's also surrounded by lovely grounds and many tranquil walking trails. Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot are part of the National Trust for Scotland and you can book guided tours for your visit.
Last up on our John Muir Way journey, was a trip to Dunbar. As John Muir's birthplace, it seemed a fitting place to end our experience. It meant turning back on ourselves from Preston Mill and took just over half an hour to reach but again, it was a lovely day and we got to pass some amazing sights.
If you are visiting with children, friends or family, another stop you might want to make on your trip, is to Foxlake Adventures which sits on the edge of the John Muir Way. This looks great for water sports, ziptrails and some segway fun.
John Muir Country Park
We ended our trip with a visit to John Muir Country Park. John Muir Country Park is a wonderful place to visit if you love the outdoors and seeing more of the nature John Muir was so passionate about. From the grasslands, saltmarsh, bird watching, spotting wildflowers and finally the beach at Belhaven Bay and the 'Bridge to Nowhere' – you won't be disappointed.
Pictures of 'The Bridge To Nowhere' have appeared on my social media over many years and it was great to finally visit. People were learning to surf and canoe around this area, especially the bridge when we arrived, and I couldn't help but feel that this would be a very idyllic location to grow up.
We took some time to sit on the sand and soak it all up before we had to leave. It brought a real sense of calm and serenity. Many happy memories!
When I mentioned to friends and family that we were initially looking to visit North Berwick, I was met with many coos of envy. It's a funny thing, we have all heard such wonderful things about the area, yet many of us had never been before.
I have done nothing but recommend visiting since my return. What an adventure!