Aberlady Bay and Gullane, East Lothian

Grade: Low level walk

Distance: 6miles/10km

Time: 3-3.5 hours

AS I crossed the old wooden bridge from the Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve car park I suddenly recalled this was where the noted historic novelist Nigel Tranter used to come and walk when thinking through the plots for his great books.

It didn't surprise me. Walk across that archaic bridge over the mudflats and you cross over into another world, a world of peace and tranquility, removed from the buzz of traffic and tarmac, an atmosphere of bird call and sea fret.

The National:

Curlew cries filled the air and the piercing call of oystercatchers came from the shore. I followed a footpath that ran inland away from Aberlady Bay, negotiated a narrow and natural tunnel through a copse of sea buckthorn and exited this green world to Marl Loch, with its reedy shoreline and family of swans. Look out here for moorhens and mallard and in spring and summer you’ll see damselflies and dragonflies here. On the other side of the path green swards lead to one of this coastline’s myriad golf courses. It’s why this part of East Lothian is known as Golf Course Coast.

In the distance I could see the sand dunes of Gullane Sands, a place I once associated with pain and discomfort.

In the sixties, when I was training hard as an athlete, my coach used to bring me here at the start of each winter to sprint up and down the sand dunes. It was good strength training and built up the thighs in particular. Years later the late Jock Wallace used to bring his Rangers football players here for similar hard graft. Today I was the only person on the beach.

Perhaps my memory was playing tricks or maybe the sea breezes have had an eroding effect over the past half century but the dunes appear smaller and less impressive than they used to, although Gullane Sands is still a very impressive beach.

At the northen point of the Sands, where the Beach gives way to a rocky foreshore, I climbed to Gullane Point and watched gannets diving for food. Rafts of eider ducks floated closer to the shore.

Gullane Point is an outcrop of igneous rock. It’s a good place to spot grebes and red-throated divers during the winter months.

The National:

From here a variety of paths make their way east towards the village of Gullane and I chose the highest, following the top of the dunes with the sea on my left and another golf course to my right, passing a variety of rocky inlets and sandy bays.

Soon the path veered inland towards a row of large houses, the privacy of the owners ensured by a large wall that ran all the way to a large car park where I was returned to the tarmac road.

Leaving the coast behind I followed a narrow road between high walls to the main road that runs through Gullane. I crossed the road, and followed Saltcoats Road to yet another golf course, the Luffness Links where countless numbers of Donald Trump lookalikes were skelping wee balls around. With my trekking poles and rucksack I guess I must have looked as incongruous to them as they did to me. I’ve never quite understood golf or its attractions.

I was now on the John Muir Way, which ran alongside the golf course, past the remains of Saltcoats Castle, to the busy A198 which I crossed before following the wide pavement all the way back to the start at Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve.

Map: Ordnance Survey Landranger sheet 66 (Edinburgh)

Start/Finish: Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve car park NT 471804

Distance: 6 miles/10km

Time: 3-3.5 hours

The National:

Route: Leave the car park and cross the wooden bridge into the Reserve. Follow the hardpack footpath N through grasslands with clumps of buckthorn and hawthorn. Enter a tunnel through a dense buckthorn grove and exit after a couple of hundred metres beside Marl Loch. Keep on the hardpack path until it merges into a grassy track. Sortly after turn left at a junction then keep straight on at the next junction where a path veers off to the right. Continue towards the sand dunes – climb over the top and down to Gullane Sands. Follow the beach to the right all the way to Gullane Point. From here a variety of paths continue E. Choose your path until you reach a bay with signs indicating the end of the Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve. Ahead you’ll see a path climbing the hillside into some buckthorn and hawthorn bushes. Climb steeply to the top of the hill, turn left and almost immediately turn left again to follow the clifftop path. Follow this until you reach a track. Turn left onto it and with a large wall fronting some big houses on your right continue all the way to the road. Turn right here and follow the road to the main A198. Turn left and take the second street on the right – Saltcoats Road. Follow the road across the golf links to what appears to be farm buildings and turn right onto the John Muir Way. Follow the JMW signs all the way back to the start

Link to digital map: https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5827861/Rte-6-W3-Aberlady © Crown copyright 2020 Ordnance Survey. Media 059/20.