“Why is there a pyramid in the middle of East Lothian?” We’d both seen it before of course on our travels, but had never taken note in the way we do now that our adventures with the books have taught us so much. We knew it was close to North Berwick and I seemed to remember something being on top… Later research confirmed… North Berwick Law is a volcanic plug that stands some 613ft above sea level on the flat plain. It is topped with an iron age hill fort of some complexity and remains from the Napoleonic and World Wars. It is topped by an archway of whalebones… once authentic, now replaced with a fibreglass replica donated by a friend of the town. For once neither of us suggested climbing it. We were on a mission.
“We’ve got to stop at the public toilets in North Berwick.” I was dubious. Not that we needed the facilities, having but recently left Aberlady, but, I was informed, they put flowers in them. Now, ladies, you know this is not so infrequent an occurrence, though municipal toilet blocks do tend towards the utilitarian to be fair, but I hardly liked to mention that to my friend. The gentlemen, apparently, are not so well treated. If he wanted to visit the floral delights of the public conveniences I was not about to throw a rub in his way. And I would take the camera. Not into the Gents, you understand. I would do my own research…. There is pleasure … and a fair amount of laughter…in simple things. However, as is usually the case when you do need these places, we couldn’t find one.
“Er, what’s that?”
“I already am…” We got out of the car. Heading towards the sea we had spotted a tall cross of Celtic style. For a moment, silhouetted against the sky, it could have been any age, but it soon resolved itself. It was a memorial to 19 year old Catherine Watson who drowned in 1889 saving the life of a drowning boy.
My companion, however, was already off towards a small, white harled building behind it.
I walked through the door in his wake… and into a chapel. All that remains of St Andrew’s Old Kirk. I read the boards. There had been a small chapel here as early as the 7th century, it is thought. Probably built by monks from Lindisfarne, the Holy Island. Later a church was built. A sanctuary cross has been found, marking it as a place where those in trouble with the law could seek refuge. Several grave markers, including one for a 12th century knight stood around the little room. A cast for making pilgrims badges was recovered… and the pins that held the shrouds of early residents of the graveyard here, buried without coffins in unmarked graves which, as the board gleefully informed its reader, made grave digging a messy business.
We walked out into what remains of the foundations of a church that was swept into the sea in the storm of 1656. There had been those who called it divine retribution as the church had garnered a sinister reputation. When King James I of England and VI of Scotland sailed home with his bride, Anne of Denmark in 1589 their voyage was attended by storms. Rumoursthat demons had been sent to attack their ships sprang up and convictions of witchcraft abounded on both sides of the sea. James instigated the infamous North Berwick Witch Trials. Many were tortured to confession by the most barbaric methods and burnt at the stake. The little Old Kirk was said to be the place where the accused had gathered to meet the Devil.
We walked on to the point of the rock that separates the two beaches. Now the Scottish Sea Bird Centre looks across to Bass Rock, sporting modern sculptures of the birds and seals. Much of the time white with gannets, all we could see was the white of the old lighthouse. There are caves and a castle, as well as a hermit’s cell and chapel there too and its shape had become familiar on our trip round the coast. But as I said, we were on a mission and for once we had to watch the clock. We didn’t want to miss the tide.