Outside Edinburgh: Beach, fields, hill, sheep (East Lothian, part 1)

Sunday afternoon was idyllic. We took the train to North Berwick (said like “berrick”), a coastal town about forty minutes west of Edinburgh, in an area called East Lothian. There we were met by two new friends who live in the region, Catriona (pronounced like Katrina) and Stuart. Catriona lived in the Bay Area for a few years, where she worked with one of my high school friends, and that’s how we got introduced.

Blue sky and white clouds, fence, tall grasses blowing in the wind

{as always, mouse over for description, or click to enlarge}

East Lothian is a stunning, mostly agricultural district with hills and historical sites and plenty of coastline, and we spent the day zooming around its curving country roads in Catriona’s Mini Cooper. The weather was perfect — sunny with just a tiny bit of rain every now and then — and it was so much fun seeing this part of the country we wouldn’t otherwise have seen, with people who call all this gorgeousness home.  

I’m rather tired tonight, after a lovely evening with another couple of new friends, so I won’t write so much and will just let the photos speak for themselves (which they mostly do).

North Berwick

We began the day on the beach in North Berwick, walking along the shore and then the pretty streets full of shops and restaurants. (I was still tipping sand out of my Mary Janes yesterday afternoon — there’s now some North Berwick sand in the Greyfriars cemetery in Edinburgh!)

North Berwick beach with people on it

Sand, rocks, and sea

Looking out to sea with a big rock in the distance, and orange growths on the rocks close at hand

Seagull over the ocean

View of the harbor silhouetted

Boats in the harbor

View from a path going inland from the beach

In the town

Byres Hill and Hopetoun Monument

After North Berwick we went to Tantallon Castle — that’ll be another post — and after that we drove further inland. “See those hills in the distance,” Catriona said, “and what looks like a little stick on top of one of them? That’s where we’re going.”

Eventually we reached the bottom of the hills, and stopped in a little car park (as they call parking lots here) under the trees. We got out and hiked up a short but steep distance to the peak of the hill, and the base of the Hopetoun Monument.

Wildflower-lined trail

Trees by the trail

Looking up at the silhouette of the monument

Erik at the bottom of the monument

Gate barring the entrance to the monument

Inside the monument was a spiral staircase. The only light came from narrow openings in the side of the tower, so between these, the interior was completely dark. We stepped carefully, one hand on the wall, the other on the center column, and made our way up.

Stairs in half-light

One of the narrow window openings

Before long we reached the top, where a narrow viewing platform encircled the tower and provided us with an incredible 360-degree vista of all of East Lothian, and even the Firth of Forth (the part of the ocean around here, where the River Clyde meets the North Sea). We could see green fields in every direction, and in the sky, rain falling on Edinburgh and other places in the region.


Rain in the distance


If these photos don’t convey just how amazing this view was, try the video. FYI: There’s no sound.

Soon the rain threatened to reach us, too, and we made our way down the staircase as hastily as possible — which was not very. It was actually harder and scarier to come down the dark stairs than to go up, and by the time I reached the bottom, I was sweating. We were all very pleased to get back to the car.

Gifford Hill

Our last stop of the day (before ice cream!) was in the Lammermuir Hills. We passed a couple of ridiculously picturesque towns before driving up a gentle slope to the top of a hill. There were sheep all over the hillsides — and no fences either; at one point we stopped the car and waited for one to cross the road — and everything seemed to sparkle with sun and raindrops.

Looking back down the road from which we came



Sheep crossing the road

Roadside sheep!

I don’t know what it is about the landscape here, but everything just looks so fresh and expansive and magical — it makes me want to run about and yell happy things (in this case, “SHEEPIES!”). The sky is so big and dramatic with its constantly changing weather; the grass is so green and thick; the earth so gently rolling. I don’t really know how to describe it without just gushing like a fool. We saw a bird of prey here — the first one we’ve seen in Scotland; Stuart said it was a kestrel — and, on a different road, a hare just sitting on the street. I’ve seen beautiful country before (Marin comes to mind) but maybe it’s because there aren’t mountains here, and the air isn’t so dry as California, and there aren’t big big cities nearby with all their traffic and congestion…? It all feels so free, and when I stand in the middle of it, so do I.

“I’m going to go take pictures of the sheep,” I told Catriona and Stuart. “They’ll probably run away,” they said, “but go for it.” They did and I did, with video (no sound).

Tomorrow is our last full day in Edinburgh. Already! And I’ll post the second part of our East Lothian trip then: Tantallon Castle.