Starting the CoastWord Coastal Walk at Aberlady, I couldn’t help remembering my aunt and uncle, who lived there for many years. Aunt Meg used to go for a swim every day, summer or winter, sun or rain. So she popped in to the first piece of writing of the day. I also remember an Aberlady outing with my friends from the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. We started at Aberlady and walked to Gullane Point, seeing long-tailed duck swimming off the rocks, and walking back watching sanderling running to avoid the wavelets, and in the gathering darkness, hearing flight after flight of pinkfoot geese flying over our heads as they came in to land. Bill told me the birdwatcher’s name – whiffling – for the way they waggle their wings from side to side to lose lift as they descend. An archaeological trip there revealed the remains of an old pier, from when Aberlady was the port of Haddington. Also on that trip I showed folk where the samphire grew, but I couldn’t persuade them to sample it. I did, and it was delicious. May and June are the best months to pick it. Hold on to the woody stems and strip the fleshy, salty leaves off with your teeth – no need to cook it.
And the oyster shells you still find on the beach are the remains of the huge oyster beds of the Forth, dredged up to feed the poor of Edinburgh and Leith, hopelessly over-fished. The razor clams are gathered by pouring salt onto the circular depressions which mark the ends of their burrows. They rise up from the sand, and if you’re quick you can pull them out. Lightly steam them in their shells, but don’t overcook or they go like rubber. For me, the nicest finds on Aberlady Sands were the fragile and beautiful shells of the heart urchins.
The walking was good, the company was great, and the landscape inspired to us all to write, spontaneously and, I felt, with energy and originality.