Twenty years after I dropped out of high school and went to see mountain gorillas in the DR Congo, I finally got a First with the Open University. This is my graduation present; it's huge and it hangs above our bed.
After a gorgeous weekend of food touring (barbecues, farmer's markets, farm shops, cake shops, fish and chip shops etc) Fife and East Lothian with the in laws, we had the car for an extra half day once they'd flown back down south. We picked up some honey from our Secret Honey Supplier, then stopped at the lovely Secret Herb Garden to buy a packed lunch...and some plants which I accidentally discovered on my way to the loos...and a lovely card with magpies on it. (They also sell their own honey but it wasn't ready yet....)
Then it was on to the Boghall Farm car park. After a bitter and resentful dispute about map reading, I went off The Right Way, along the path through the cows and sheep. My husband and son continued vertically up through some heather, The Wrong Way. I think this is because, despite being from the country, my husband is frightened of cattle. I didn't care anyway, because I like walking on my own.
My way led to Windy Door Nick which - when I have seen it on the map - I have always personified. It was only looking at it that I realised why it was called so, and then my draughty Dickensian porter began to fade. In any case, it wasn't at all windy - it was hot and still and red grouse were making their funny frog-like croaks all around.
From the nick there were views all over East and West Lothian and Fife, as well as Edinburgh and the Forth.
I continued up Caerketton where I was reunited with my feckless family who had already scarfed their Secret Herb Garden scones.
I had my vegetable quiche and flowery salad which were both delicious and beautiful.
We had the cakes back at the car: chocolate, banana and pecan; apple, sage and marmalade; chocolate aubergine (mine). They were very good.
the herring gulls of Anstruther harbour
the rockpools of Longniddry
the seals of Dunbar harbour
the original, from my collection of hated signs.
the kittiwakes of Dunbar Castle (sound necessary)
The John Muir Way was originally an East Lothian coastal path before its name was given to the Dunbar to Helensburgh coast to coast route. The section from Dunbar to Musselburgh was incorporated into it and the remaining ten mile section in the other direction, from Dunbar to Cockburnspath, has been renamed the John Muir Link as it connects the John Muir Way to the Southern Upland Way and Berwickshire Coastal Path.
This is a proper seaside walk, only leaving the coast for the last mile into the village of Co'path.
For much of the first half it's easier to walk on the beach itself rather than the tiny strip of access alongside East Lothian's endless bloody gold courses, gentlemanly though their players were.
(Obligatory dead thing. A sheep or calf?)
Barns Ness lighthouse
Idyllic blue seas to the left...
...fields of golden wheat to the right...
...and Torness nuclear power station.
Swimming in the sea next to a nuclear reactor was a first.
Past Torness, the cliffs of Berwickshire suddenly come into view and the coast looks completely different. Definitely need to come back and continue along it to England.
The path turns inland through some lovely shady copses and past an unexpected waterfall,
with my new least favourite edge-related sign,
before arriving at Co'path where you can plan your 341km walk to Portpatrick. I've stood at both ends of the Southern Upland Way now so surely need to join them up one day?
This section marked both the halfway point of the walk - 67 miles - and the boundary of the Edinburgh/Dunbar (East Lothian)/Linlithgow (West Lothian) triangle within which the majority of our lives take place, having good friends in each as we do.
Most of the walk is along the Forth shore. This memorial commemorates the deaths of 73 men and boys who died building the Forth Bridge.
Hopefully nobody building the third Forth bridge will meet the same fate.
Leaving the shore for the grounds of Hopetoun House was a lovely surprise. I'd been to the stately home before - with my mum, in-laws and best friend, who all like that sort of tedium - but, as I told my son, it's in the woods that our people belong, poaching with our ferrets. I saw more jays.
With its oaks and deer, it reminded me of London's Richmond Park, near where I grew up.
The path comes back to the Forth at Blackness Castle,
from where the bridges look gratifyingly far (unless you're walking west to east...)
The tide was out which was handy as there was a section of path being rebuilt which necessitated a detour onto the beach.
The route swings inland next to the Bo'ness and Kinneil steam railway line
and by Hadrian's Wall's lesser known sibling, the Antonine Wall,
then through the coniferous, planted, Kinneil Woods.
At this point it started to rain and we hurried, rustling in our waterproofs, over the hill to Linlithgow to be met by a delightful afternoon tea that included miniature scones, Empire biscuits and a beautiful hiking boot Victoria Sponge.
Unfortunately I cannot guarantee this reception for all comers and must strongly urge you to make your own lovely friends who can bake.
After a wonderful day
feeding chicks to a blind buzzard,
learning how to strap a sparrow hawk's broken wing, ring the legs of baby tawny owls, hold a featherweight barn owl
and a heavyweight eagle owl
with impressive feets,
then dissecting owl pellets to look for tiny vole and shrew skulls,
the wildlife hospital asked if we could take some hedgehogs back with us to rerelease. OF COURSE WE COULD! I was only noting the other day how I had never seen a live hedgehog in Scotland. Unfortunately my garden is walled (as my frog can attest) so unsuitable, but my friend's was perfect and we took both the world's biggest hog (pictured) and a refugee from Uist back in the car with us to their new lives. Best party favours ever.
Technical issues mean that the usually poor standard of photography on this blog has sunk to an all time low in this post. I forgot my phone and had to yank my younger son's ipod off him whenever I wanted to take a picture. As a result you have been spared illustration of the following dead animals: a flat hedgehog, a partially decomposed rook and an adorable mouse that looked like it had been posed for a Beatrix Potter stop-motion animation.
For this section, my son and I rechristened the path the JM-Dub because I think ornery, old mountain men might spin in their graves if you put their names to busy urban routes like this.
But these routes might be the most important of all. They are the ones that present the opportunity for huge numbers of city dwellings to get off the road and walk; to see plants and animals, hills and water; to carry on to the West Highland Way; to keep going until they get to the wild places.
Always making time to stop and eat, of course. We had squidgy cakes from the Water of Leith Visitor Centre under Slateford Aqueduct where the canal crosses the river and the path descends.
The route continues along the river, past many examples of that wonderful British shanty garden: the allotment. I searched for the Budgie Graveyard I found nearby, when my son and I were walking the whole Water of Leith Walkway some years ago, but couldn't find it.
After a slushie in Slateford skatepark we went up Corstorphine Hill for lunch.
Apparently Corstorphine Hill is Edinburgh's largest public woodland. This is where they hide all the trees that are painfully absent on my side of town. And, consequently, the badgers. I've never seen a badger in the wild. I did see three jays on the hill though - like hedgehogs, they were relatively common where I grew up, but I hadn't seen one since I moved to Scotland.
Also zebra and antelope. Ok, those were on the other side of the zoo fence...
There is a walled garden that I had no idea existed, which are the best kind.
Then it was back to the tarmac until the River Almond at Cramond.
The path skirts around the Dalmeny Estate of wheat fields, woodland and shoreline.
It was a beautiful day so there were a few families at the little beaches but we had the path largely to ourselves.
This is Eagle Rock though there doesn't seem to be a wealth of evidence to suggest the Roman eagle carving is actually Roman. Or even an eagle.
South Queensferry was packed with people taking the boat trip to Inchcolm Abbey. My son consumed his requisite double-scoop ice-cream and we caught the train home, exhausted. This section was sixteen miles or so, the same as the others, but seemed much longer. I'm not sure if this was because so much of it is through busy areas, which feel draining, or because my legs were still recovering from Ben Nevis with my other son three days ago. We have a couple of days rest before the next sixteen miles to Linlithgow.