Wednesday, 10 April 2013
The Herring Road –The Way of the Silver Darlings
The “silver darlings” refers not to the effete softies from over the Pennines who engaged in this jaunt, but to the silvery-hued shoals of herring who, all smoked and dried were packed into baskets and carried by fishwives across the moors from Dunbar to Lauder for sale to the farmers and good people of Lauderdale as part of their winter food supply. Strictly speaking, I suppose you could say that we went kipperless and in the wrong direction and only 25% female – except that people going West to East would, of course, be kipperless having sold all of their kippers.
Apparently, some Lauderdale locals were so desperate to get their hands on a nice smoked herring, that they went and collected their own from the port at Dunbar. And later, demand for herring became so high that carts were used and the road became braided into several different routes and the one that remains is just that – one of several.
And so it came to pass that Me, Judith, JJ and Alan met up in the distinctly unfishy Thirlstane castle campsite at Lauder, erected our tabernacles in the shade of some forestry and went off to raid the Toun for scoff and beer, returning, reasonably soused a bit later to find frozen tents which didn’t thaw out till well after breakfast. (Brekkies supplied by the cafe at the leisure centre and very nice it was too…)
We were supposed to be following Girthgate and the Lothian Edge to Dunbar, but mutiny from whingeing troops seemed to indicate that this was considered Too Hard and a Plan B was to be pulled out of the Plans drawer. In 2007 ish , on a previous pre-TGO training walk, me and Becky had walked the Herring Road which is a day shorter than the totally kippered Plan A, and so this was to be our walk. According to the sign in Lauder, it’s 28 miles. I think it’s probably 29, but never mind. There’s definitely something fishy about the distances on the many Rights of Way signposts.
And so, devilishly early in the blindingly sunny morning, around lunchtime, we set off in a general Easterly/North-Easterly direction past the manorial pile of Thirlstane castle and on up into the sporadic snows of the Lammermuir Hills. Magnificent views of the Cairngorm-like lumps of the Cheviots were had. The snow was deep and soft in places and we were lucky to have Alan in the front, charging off making boot-sized holes in the snow ideal for the team to follow.
We lunched briefly by the bridge over the Lythe Water (cracking camping spot, but too near to Lauder to be useful). Here, pies were served by JJ.
The was now much deep and soft snow to be battered through and once again, Alan didn’t seem to notice it. I followed, gratefully. We ploughed on , up to the moor tops and along to Twin Law. Here, there was a notebook in a tin and some sweeties. JJ wrote something in the book and I ate the sweeties…
Not too long later, we joined a new road, complete with wind farm construction traffic and found a slightly bumpy and/or soggy area of gently tilted tussocks around Twinlaw Ford across the Watch Water, which was full with snowmelt, but still clear and clean.
A cold night followed during which one of my socks froze and a large quantity of my whisky supply mysteriously disappeared. Bla Band provided the menu.
Then it was morning – a grey a mizzly one. We rejoined the road, going astray a bit after missing a turnoff hidden under snow. the fact that the road wasn’t marked on the map didn’t help much. But it was just a short and temporary misplacement and , after crossing the Dye Water we were back on track. My impression was that there was a bit more snow here and it was deeper and softer… Alan soldiered on in front… and soon we’d crossed the 400 metre ridge and were brewing up by the Kilpallet Burn.
WE only had 8 miles to do that day, so, by half two-ish we were camped by the Writerspath Burn on the lower slopes of Spartleton, surrounded by electricity pylons on one side and a dangerously loaded snowslope on the other (I found a small avalanche had happened just by the path whilst attending to a visit from Mr Bladder. Me and Becky had camped in the now soggy and ruinous sheepfold by the same burn six years earlier.
The night was less cold, but it snowed in the early hours and the early morning scene was desolate. We had eleven miles left to Dunbar and soon, after yet another snowy plod, we were navigationally tangled in the Chrystal Rigg wind farm – some 80 turbines and service roads built helpfully on a peat bog. None of the roads appeared on my map, nor on Alan’s GPS thingy. And the forestry marked on our maps had been felled and shifted away. Some guesswork was employed and, after further snowy struggles, we emerged over the brow of a hill to a view of the Firth of Forth and the far Lomond hills – a jewel of a view.
The likeness of this walk to a TGO Challenge lies in the final few miles of lane walking – firstly on quiet and deserted roads, then a commuter village and finally the A1 roundabout and estates and street of Dunbar.
We noshed in the Cafe Central , collected the knipemobile and some keys and repaired to our bothy for the night. I won’t say exactly where this is, since the opportunity to use it will probably never arise again and it would only make you seethe with jealousy and frustration for you to pine for the luxuries of a coal fire, central heating, electric lighting and cooking, hot showers, en-suite and soft beds – and a strange stick that made rain noises…. And it was free. We left it as we found it, apart from the extra bottles in the recycling….
But what of the Herring Road? Its a fine moorland route with a history. Fit and determined walkers would do it in a day. Fairly fit hikers would do it in two days, except that there’s no accommodation on the route, so you’d have to camp – and the camping spots are unevenly spaced. A high camp on Twin law in summer could be nice, although you’d have to carry water for a fair distance. But the windfarms….. Bits of the landscape have been permanently altered and, frankly, wrecked. Somebody should be ashamed about this.
But we like Dunbar and we like Lauder. The people are friendly and there’s food and drink to be had…
I might do Plan A later in the year….
Other blog posts about this are here:
Judith’s Tales of Herring-Do
Alan’s lauder to dunbar herring road part 1 lauder to dunbar part 2
John’s JJ's Kippery tail...er..tale..