Walk of the month: East Lothian coast - Great strides towards conservation

John Muir, who helped create the USA's national parks, was born in Scotland. Mark Rowe follows a new trail in his honour

This is a long hike, but almost entirely flat and well worth making to discover this distant corner of the UK. Most people, if they know of North Berwick and Dunbar at all, do so either for the curiously volcano-shaped hill known as North Berwick Law, or the Torness nuclear power station near Dunbar, both of which are conspicuous landmarks seen from the window of trains running between London and Edinburgh.

Dunbar also holds a special place in the hearts of environmentalists, as the birthplace of John Muir. He's revered in the United States, where he inspired the US conservation movement and sparked the creation of its national parks in the late 19th century. He is less well-known in his home country, yet his formative encounters with the natural world around Dunbar were pivotal in shaping his later Herculean achievements.

This walk follows part of the John Muir Way – a new trail that will be opened officially in April – from the seaside resort of North Berwick through some eye-popping rural landscapes to Muir's childhood home, which is now converted into a gem of a discovery centre about both the man and our place in the scheme of things.

It's a walk of wild beauty from the start. I leave North Berwick with views across to Bass Rock, home to an enormous gannet colony. The birds flutter like confetti above the rock, breaking off to plunge dagger-like into the waters of the Firth of Forth in pursuit of fish.

Just behind the town, North Berwick Law rises abruptly from the surrounding flatlands. Covered with gorse, it is a remnant of volcanic activity and can be climbed easily enough – but perhaps on another day. If you do so, with good weather you can pick out Ben Lomond, 120km away. Throughout this walk, the path sneaks into fields and coppices and I reach Craigmoor Wood. The walking has a lovely symmetry: straight field edges lined with hedgerows; long sightlines and huge skies. To the south is another volcanic pimple on the landscape, Traprain Law. The route lifts me up Drylaw Hill, all 60m of it, where there are superb views back to North Berwick Law, Bass Rock and, some way to the east, and on the route of this walk, John Muir Country Park.

Leaving the picturesque village of East Linton, the path picks up the River Tyne (not the Newcastle one) for a delectable stretch that passes a mill and criss-crosses a succession of footbridges, a weir and a ford.

I reach Hedderwick Sands, where there are some magical, Narnia-like pools and the incoming tide muscles up against a man-made embankment. The footpath teeters above the North Sea, while petrified driftwood has washed up on the shoreline. The path continues through the Hedderwick Hill plantation to reach a vast expanse of saltmarsh. The tide is in, so I follow the sea wall towards the red cliff tops; if it's out, you can walk across the sands, using a lonely bridge that's mournfully marooned in the heart of the sands.

A flurry of steps takes me up and around the edge of a golf course with distant, eye-stretching views across the Firth of Forth to Fife and the Isle of May. The cliff formations here, high above Belhaven Bay, are bewitching, with the red sandstone whittled into wafer-thin ledges and pyramids that front thin air.

The cliff-top path enters Dunbar and I find myself sticking to it pedantically, as it climbs and swoops past lovely, sheltered and hidden bays, full of rocks, skerries and a miniature volcanic plug known as Doo Rock. The infant John Muir spent much of his time here and later wrote "I loved to wander ... along the seashore to gaze and wonder at the shells and seaweeds, eels and crabs in the pools among the rocks."

Close by, you'll find his birthplace, a three-storey townhouse that recounts his life and work. He sometimes gave his address as "John Muir, Earth-planet, Universe", which can sound a bit pretentious, but I decide to cut him some slack on account of the gorgeous walk I've now completed. Muir's love of wildlife was sparked by walks with his grandfather. He wrote of once discovering a nest of field mice in a haystack: "No hunter could have been more excited in discovering a bear and her cub in a wilderness den."


Distance: 24km/15 miles.

Start: Sea front, North Berwick.

End: John Muir's Birthplace, 126 High Street, Dunbar (jmbt.org.uk).

Time: Five to six hours.

OS map: Explorer 351 Dunbar & North Berwick.

Directions: The route can be downloaded at www.visiteast lothian.org/activities-walking.asp and is waymarked by green John Muir Way (JMW) fingerpost signs.

Travel essentials

Getting there

East Coast Trains (eastcoast.co.uk) and Cross Country Trains (crosscountrytrains.co.uk) serve Dunbar, Berwick and Edinburgh (08457 484950; nationalrail.co.uk).

Bus No 120 links North Berwick and Dunbar (travelinescotland.com).

Staying there

Mark Rowe stayed at No 10 North Berwick, 10 Dirleton Avenue, North Berwick (01620 895 388; number10northberwick.co.uk), which has doubles from £75, including breakfast.

More information

Visit Scotland: visitscotland.com/homecoming

Scottish Seabird Centre: 01620 890202; seabird.org

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform