Our two weeks in Edinburgh are over and we are back on the road, meandering this time through the Scottish Borders. The weather is still hot and sunny and it feels like a fine time to be a nomad. The road stretches enticingly ahead and the landscape is a shimmer of gold and green against a cobalt sky.
We head east on the A1 and spend our first night on the harbour in the fishing village of St Abbs. The following day we are booked to dive locally from the hard boat, Shore Diver, and we bump into our skipper Paul as we go for an evening stroll. Everything is ready for the following day, so with all our dive preparations finalised, we settle down for the night, drifting off to sleep as the gulls cry overhead.
Our two dives the following day are excellent, pretty much as good as it gets in British waters. We jumped from the boat into bright clear waters which are full of life thanks to the local marine reserve. Drifting in the gentle southerly current along deep rock gullies I spot lobster and crab hiding in rock crevices, star fish, sunstars and vast carpets of brittle stars writhing across the sea floor. Every rock surface is covered in plumnose and jewel anemones, sea squirts and the ghoulishly named Dead Men’s Fingers, spongy white soft corals often seen in a distorted hand shape. Amongst all this, fish of all sizes dart past and we spot bib, pollack, plaice and the characterful tom-pot blennies. That evening we celebrate a successful day with cold beers in our camp chairs while drying our dive gear in the evening sun.
The following day we head inland to the town of Peebles via a stop at the ruined Jedburgh Abbey. As I contemplate the beautiful sandstone structure with it’s souring gothic arches, I wonder again at the vast influence of King Henry VIII. The British landscape would look very different today without the long hand of the Protestant Reformation.
Peebles turns out to be a pretty town with a high street stuffed full of ancient buildings and interesting shops. We spend a relaxing afternoon pottering around, picking up supplies and trying out a local pub with seats outside next to the river. Our campsite that night was a secluded car park, a mile out of town and obviously known locally as a good place to kick back and admire the view over the valley and down into Peebles. We were occasionally joined by dog walkers and, later in the evening, by two cars full of weed smoking teenagers. They arrived just as dusk fell and an electrical storm flickered into life across the valley. We watched together as the towering grey thunderheads approached, the group oohing and aahing as each streak of lightning cracked across the sky. All of a sudden a cold wind rose out of nowhere followed by a deluge of heavy rain which blew the group of teenagers, shrieking and whooping, back into their cars and away like a squall of excitable gulls.
We watched together as the towering grey thunderheads approached, the group oohing and aahing as each streak of lightning cracked across the sky.
In the morning, an electrician taking a mid morning break in his van pulled up and seemed keen to share his knowledge of the hills around us. He recommended a trail behind us into the hills called the John Buchan Way so we delayed our departure a couple of hours to take his advice. The weather had dawned hot and sunny again so we walked the trail in a sea of soft golden grasses and purple heather.
Our next stop along the Fife coastal route was Aberdour, a small town with a noteworthy castle and a large sandy beach which we parked alongside for the night. As always, our ‘bucket bbq’ kit was close to hand so we gathered everything we needed and made our dinner on the beach in the evening sunlight. A few people had the same idea and the beach was scattered with excited dogs and small children, delighting in the warmth and freedom of the long summer days.
The next day we continued slowly on along the coast and through the ancient village of Crail where we decided to stop for the night. We found a farm with a wide green field for camping and agreed a price with the slightly eccentric lady owner. As we settled down for the evening a fierce wind blew up from the south east bringing with it another thunderstorm. The van rocked and shuddered as the gale buffeted our exposed position and I wondered briefly how much wind it would take to blow us over. Despite the maelstrom howling outside we slept soundly, wrapped in dreams of shipwrecks, adventure and the raging seas.
Despite the maelstrom howling outside we slept soundly, wrapped in dreams of shipwrecks, adventure and the raging seas.
Our week ends at the ancient town of St Andrews and the Highland Games. We’d been looking forwards to seeing a real Highland Games for weeks, but unfortunately the day dawns damp and overcast with a light drizzle, the first cold day in a long time. We drive to the show ground just as the heavens open, but it doesn’t seem to be putting off any of the locals, so we struggle into our waterproofs and venture out onto the sodden grass. The games are smaller than I imagined and feel like a very local affair. There are craft tents, food stalls and a tiny bar next to the tea tent which is bursting at the seams. Spectators of all ages chatter away excitedly in the driving rain while small children are shooed away from the running track and elderly relatives are swaddled in plastic ponchos. Despite the plummeting temperatures, the competitors arrive for their races in shorts and vests and I shudder when I see the rain streaming off cold reddened limbs. The highlight of the afternoon turns out to be the ‘56lb weight over bar’ event. I had never heard of this before but watched with renewed interest as several strapping young men in kilts took to the field. It seems the object of this event is to heft a 4 stone lump of steel backwards over a high bar. The event started with the bar at 15ft and I watched amazed as, one after another, the competitors casually flicked the weight over the bar after only one preparatory swing. I couldn’t imagine lifting 4 stone over my head, never mind flinging it into the current cloud layer. As the bar climbed to 16ft the competition heated up and real effort was obviously now called for. Hands were dipped in chalk for grip and the doughty crowd shouted encouragement into the wind. In the end the event was won at an incredible 16ft 2 by Vlad Tulacek, a Czeck competitor who obviously had some Viking gods in his ancestry.
Spectators of all ages chatter away excitedly in the driving rain while small children are shooed away from the running track and elderly relatives are swaddled in plastic ponchos.
That evening we stroll into the centre of St Andrews to admire the beautiful old town and visit the odd pub or two. Tomorrow we leave the county of Fife and continue onwards along the north east coast road towards Arbroath.