The start of this walk is all about bridges. We begin with a visit to Dunglass Collegiate Church, an old ruin still roofed by heavy stone slabs, monumental but small, neat. I like the place, and I enjoy introducing it to friends. To get to the church, which is in the Dunglass Estate, we cross a high stone single-track bridge with castellated walls. Far below, the Dunglass Burn splashes in the dark, ferny depths of the dean.
There’s a cul-de-sac just across the road from the Estate gatehouse, and that’s where we park. In front of us, there’s the ‘old’ A1 bridge, a fine and delicate concrete arch, vaulted columns pierced like Gothic windows to reduce weight. It’s a lovely structure. Behind the parking spot there’s the magnificent Telford railway bridge, stone and brick pillars lofted above the dean.
The path winds below the old A1 bridge, and the new one, down towards the oldest Dunglass Bridge, just above Dunglass Mill. I’m guessing here, but I think this may have been on the coaching road between Edinburgh and London.
We now go down into the lower part of the dean, heading toward the sea. It’s festooned with ferns, sandstone cliffs shaped by water, but glacial meltwater rather than the small stream that’s there now. We smell the wild garlic, admire the tree roots gnarling through the stone.
The path opens up after an arch of blackthorn, above the point where the burn bends, and we’re in littoral vegetation – sea buckthorn, ragwort. We can smell the sea from here. Rounded boulders litter the high-tide zone, grey limestone, pale yellow sandstone, black basalt. I can’t find the source for the basalt – must be an offshore dyke. In the sandstone you find the regular pockmarks of Stigmaria fossils, tree-fern rootlets from the Carboniferous. Some of the limestone boulders are ‘spaghetti-rock’, stuffed with the wormy-looking tubes of a colonial coral I used to know as Lithostrotion, but whose name has been changed by the nomenclaturists of palaeontology.
We walk West along the shore, passing rock platforms of limestone, limpetted, and slipperied with seaweeds, until we come to the yellow cliffs where fulmars will soon be nesting. Next the old estate bridge over the Bilsdean Burn. It was built to provide access for carts to the shore, to unload nets and fish. We pause for sandwiches here, looking down on the rollers shedding spray as they break, then foaming in towards the oystercatchers and redshanks probing the sand.
Out of sight above us is the Iron Age hill fort called Castledyke. Bilsdean is similar to Dunglass Dean, but somehow more intimate, and the burn is smaller. A high waterfall spouts a fast trickle into The Linn. In these days of excessive safety consciousness, the waterfall is railed off, and there’s a yellow danger sign showing a figure falling off. It’s laughable and pathetic.
Up at the top we come onto the A1, where we cross in a gap between heavy traffic. A track leads through an underpass on the East Coast Main Line, to a cluster of cottages on the back road leading back to Dunglass Bridge, and our car.