land under the waves: tir fo thuinn

– Water rises in the hills, it flows and finds its own level, man can’t live without it –

Nan Shepherd

The sandbank was safe when we first started out, the three of us. Our friend urged caution, so we tested it: firm, little water underfoot, an expanse of sand around us. The earth was solid beneath our feet. Hearing the cries of gulls and oystercatchers, and seeing glimmers of colour in the shingle, we stepped onwards to explore. 

We had come to Musselburgh, the first town along the John Muir Way coastal path in East Lothian, and home of the Saltire, Scotand’s flag. We had planned to walk the four kilometres from Portobello beach as far as Joppa, then up onto tarmac where the tide crashed over the rocks, before slipping down again onto shingle in the Mussel Toon itself. But, after an unusually dry January, it rained, and so we travelled by bus.

We were beach-combing. We found ceramic bottle stoppers, old, clouded medicine bottles, and an arsenal of wooden branches that looked like catapults. We coveted and pocketed pieces of precious sea glass, and wondered at a small piece of bone: human or animal? We crunched over the coal-blackened shingle of ground down mussel, razor clam, and cockle shells. We held up holey conches and squinted through them. The breeze rose and we pulled down hats and turned up collars. Adulthood faded as we played on the shoreline.

On the sandbank, we trudged to the water’s edge, crouching low with our cameras to capture the sea-birds scavenging. We were surrounded by water on all sides and explored new rock pools that had earlier been abandoned by the tide. We glanced back to the shore and started: the sand was succumbing to the sea. We had checked tide schedules before we had ventured out, but had lost all sense of time.

Water seeped in around us, every wave taking back a few more inches of ground, leaching into our shoes. We started to run, stumbling as the sand began to sink under our feet.

Back on dry land, we trailed a rook standing sentry on a mound of bladder-wrack and mulch overlooking the River Esk. Was it seeking or protecting? We were unsure. We followed the rook’s gaze to a riverside path. In the afternoon drizzle, laughing, our feet cold and damp, we walked on.

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