It is a late Sunday afternoon. The sun is low and fading, but the day holds the promise of spring. We tracked Figgate burn upstream from it’s final spill into the Forth. It glittered alongside us, disappearing underground, beneath roads and railway bridges, to resurface, leading us to the foot of Figgate Park. It pooled into a reservoir with, at it’s centre, a pond where otters sometimes play and children feed ducks breadcrumbs from their fingertips.
One of winter’s last days was passing. It was a smudged world of rain and dusk. I walked along the shore under raindrops as fine as dust. They clung to my skin like dew, and formed clouds when I breathed. Before long I was coated and slick, like a seal pup. Smirr, we call it here.
One of winter’s last days was passing. I trudged past streetlamps and sodium lights gleaming in the haze and mirrored on wet sand. The smirr muffled the sounds of faint sirens and engines, hushing the peep-peep of oyster catchers and cries of gulls. The waves were softened. Looking heavenwards, all was tinted cobalt, around me was horizon-less. The night’s stars would soon come.
I left home on a Sunday afternoon, bundled in scarf and hat against the mid-February wind. I wanted to walk further on the coastal John Muir Way, between Prestonpans and Cockenzie. I imagined – and longed for – a rugged and picturesque sandy bay. A place where tales of it’s history, of the former glass-works, pottery, colliery, and brick-works at Prestongrange, are fragments which hang in the air like mist. This would be somewhere quaint, inspiring, and full of stories; these industries had thrived from the 1800s until the 1970s when they were closed down.
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.
I first began to walk in nature when I couldn’t. When I could only lie in brief snatches on my sofa and peer at the world outside through the window. Where the horse chestnut tree grew leaves and lost them, when it’s rose-pink blossom bloomed and fell. I would dream of the breeze on my skin, imagine the feel of the ground under my feet. Then, exhausted, I would to return to bed.
I could still smell bonfires in my hair.
The night before was Hogmanay, and we had trudged along the pitch of the shore drawn to lighted fires. Following music and song, we huddled around a bonfire amongst locals dancing on the sand. “We are locals too now,” my partner said. It was my first New Year’s Eve in Scotland since the millennium. The bells chimed midnight, and the tankers boomed in the Forth, lit up and sounding their horns to see in the New Year. I was so happy that I cried.
We arrived under the half-closed eye of the moon. “Let’s go down to the sea!” I said.
We trundled our suitcases to the bottom of our street and to the edge of the shore. The midnight wind whipped our skin, and the waves crashed in the dark beyond our sight. We stood and breathed in the tang of sea air. We were home.