Sunday 10 November 2019

Scotland By Rail - North Berwick - shore walk & art session with Scottish Seabird Centre wildlife group

Every year I run a couple of art nature sessions with the children in the Wildlife Clubs at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick. I love going to North Berwick. It's such a pleasant place with lovely old houses, nice tree-ed gardens, a High Street of interesting shops and cafes, a really brilliant coastline of beach and rocks and views to the islands. And at the High Street the excellent Scottish Seabird Centre (nb - cafe and shop are open but the Discovery Experience is currently being refurbished and due to reopen in December).

I walked from station along High Street stopping at Steampunk Coffee for takeaway oat latte and as delicious a slice of banana loaf as I've ever had. Steampunk is just off the High Street up pedestrianised Law Road. Rustic, hip, cosy, sustainable, low waste - "fully traceable and responsibly sourced coffees." Great place.

After that, along Kirk Ports beside Old St Andrew's Church and graveyard, along East Road, down Balfour Street and onto the shore. 

The wind was seriously cold blowing foam past my feet as waves poured onto the beach. The view is brilliant. Craigleith island on the left and the Bass Rock on the right are the most obvious but ten miles out in the gap between them was a third island, the Isle of May. As the island appeared over the rollers, Main Light lighthouse (where I had my exhibition last year) was visible on the dark west cliffs, now and then the South or North Horns stretching weirdly upwards in optical illusion and turning dark or bright white when sun cracked through the clouds. I was watching through binoculars when seawater poured suddenly into my left shoe.

Geese were flying overhead, this large group chattering high-pitched yapping calls - pink-footed geese.
grey geese id video from BTO (British Trust for Ornithology)

I walked east along the beach as far as the rocky headland then sat to do an hour of sketching. A few sleek grey orange-long-legged orange-longish(but-black-tipped)beaked redshanks and a group of twenty or thirty smaller dumpy brown-mottled turnstones were foraging the seaweed and watery sand. A cormorant preened and stretched its wings to the wind but flew after a short while. A black-headed gull was my best subject for sketching, bobbing on the waves as they foamed onto on the sand. Best subject as it returned to my part of the beach much quicker than the waders each time dogs and walkers unknowingly sent them flying. I saw a couple of rock pipits and two lovely stonechats enjoying the dying back vegetation where beach ended.

After not-quite an hour and despite thermals on both top and bottom I was so cold that I had to stop. I climbed the steep path to the headland top and as the view reopened there in front of me was a curving panorama of Bass Rock, Isle of May, a dark looming sky, a square of rainbow to the left of the May, sand and rock and waves down below and a foreground of wind-blowing tussocky grass and a low wind-sculpted hawthorn. I'd have loved to paint a speedy watercolour ink study but I was too chilled.

Fast walk the mile back to the Seabird Centre, along pavement for speed, an hour in the cafe gradually warming and getting energy back. Then my afternoon with the Wildlife Club in the Seabird Centre Education Centre, a lovely group of primary 5 - 7s. We talked about the local islands and in more depth about the Isle of May. I showed my sketches and described what it's like to stay in the Bird Observatory and what duties we have to fulfill when we do. Then the art - oil pastel wildlife on black paper, paint and collage to create the habit around.

Children are the best artists! :

Then time for half an hour in one final cafe on my way back to the station - whynot? - a space for a cafe, a delicatessen and over twenty independent retailers.


How to get there
Trains to North Berwick take a bit over half an hour from Edinburgh Waverley
- See 'Lothian and The Borders - Glasgow - Edinburgh - North Berwick/Dunbar' timetable and 'Buy Tickets' on ScotRail website.

*** Seabird Centre ScotRail Offers ***
Get 2 for 1 entry to seabird Centre when you show a valid ScotRail ticket for the
One child goes free when you show Kids Go Free train ticket or Club 50

Many thanks to ScotRail for supporting my ongoing Scotland by Rail work. 

Previous blog post 
Bass Rock trip from Scottish Seabird Centre -

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