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John Muir Way: Dunbar - North Berwick

John Muir Way: Dunbar - North Berwick

Postby Ettrick Shepherd » Sun Oct 20, 2019 10:11 pm

Route description: John Muir Way

Date walked: 18/05/2019

Time taken: 1 day

Distance: 23 km

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John Muir Way: Stage 10, Dunbar to North Berwick; 23km; Saturday 18 May 2019

Subtitled: A Snail’s Pace

Tackling a decent hike had been burrowing its way into my mind for a while. The idea appealed and I knew I wanted to, but it hadn’t materialised into anything solid beyond a vague notion. When the opportunity arose, I was caught completely unprepared; both in terms of gear and route. I had three days to get my stuff together!

My wardrobe consisted mostly of jeans, t-shirts and trainers, but a couple of days’ ultra-focused midweek lunch hour trips managed to secure me some quick-drying trousers, a waterproof jacket, socks and a warmer under-layer. Trying and buying a decent pair of walking boots was a step too far unfortunately and I realised I’d need to settle for my running shoes. As it turned out, the clobber helped choose the route. I’d heard about the John Muir Way - and once I’d sussed out public transport options - this flatter route was always going to win over a hillier Pentlands route, especially without the proper footwear. I just needed to keep my fingers crossed for a dry-ish day...

Opting to walk the route in reverse (more trains back to Edinburgh from North Berwick on a Saturday evening) I arrived in a dreich Dunbar at 10.45am. The suggested time for this stage was approximately 5 hours so I was hopeful of squeezing in a visit to Tantallon Castle at the end of my walk. Despite the drizzle I was pretty excited; this was uncharted territory for me even if it wasn’t for the good folks at Ordnance Survey.

A portrait of John Muir sets you off on your way, or greets you at the end, depending on your direction of travel. (Has a touch of the Billy Connolly’s methinks.)

Portrait of John Muir

It’s easy to see why the scenery held such fascination for John Muir. The elements have carved impressive features into the red sandstone layers, lifted and crumpled over time. Harder igneous rocks poke through the seascape. Even in the damp weather it’s a picturesque beginning.

The start of JMW from Dunbar

The rain brought a snail out onto my path, its shell bringing a touch of colour into the grey day.


As the coastal path curls, I spot a colony of birds on a rocky outcrop off the coastline. I can’t quite make out what they are. My first instinct was cormorants but their silhouette suggested otherwise. Maybe they were puffins but I didn’t detect much colour or flashes of white.

Colony of...?

All this stopping to take photos and get up close to some of the rock features meant I wasn’t making much progress. My path was crossed by another (much bling-ier) snail as a timely reminder to get a shift on. I imagined it blaring some classic hip hop within its shell as it slid towards the grass.

LL Snail J

The coastal path sweeps round to the golf course. Lots more rocks and layers to explore!

Exploring the rocks

As I rejoin the official path, an experienced hiker strides past me, full of purpose and intent. He must be taking about three strides to my one! Embarrassed by my lack of vigour I stop for a quick banana and quickly pick up my own pace.

Beyond the golf course the tide is out. The flat sandy land stretches and disappears into a blur of mist, sea and cloud.

Bridge on the beach

The path then skirts a caravan park before heading into John Muir Country Park, behind East Links Family Park. Trailing behind the fence, you get a sense of what it’s like to be an animal at the farm, as you watch the animals watch the humans (bringing food).

Lamas waiting to be fed

Within the wood, a building used for training purposes in World War II is just slightly off the path, repurposed as part of a local art project.

Shelter used for firing practice in World War II


A pathway through the woods leads you out to the mightily impressive Tyne Estuary and Belhaven Bay. Photos do not do this justice. There is an air of calmness that invites you to linger. And I really really could have done. (I’m going to bring the kids back to this stretch.)

Belhaven Bay #1

Belhaven Bay #2

I’m then lured up a path by a dominant and very photogenic (Horse Chestnut?) tree...and travel for half a kilometre before realising this isn’t the path I should be following!

If you begin following this path, go back (Pt 1)

Back on track I couldn’t help but be amazed at the size of a field at the side of the path. It was vast!! I bumped into a local walking his dog who informed me the crops growing included sprouts, leeks and barley. (I think it was his land...)

Sprouts, leeks and barley

Belhaven is a truly beautiful area. It seemed a shame to leave this behind and head inland. My feet are soaked through by now but I barely notice.

Further along I find myself along a road with a picturesque cluster of farm outbuildings...before realising I’m on the cycle route and not the walking one. I retrace my steps and cross at the little bridge I’d been too quick to previously discount.

If you begin following this track, go back (Pt 2)

Another snail, this one sporting a fine yellow backpack, reminds me I haven’t reached East Linton yet despite travelling for about three hours. I quicken up and unzip my waterproof to let some air in.

Snail - Team Yellow

I’m beginning to rethink my Tantallon Castle plan as I break into an almost jog. East Linton will make a natural break point for lunch. I turn a corner at a river’s edge and walk mouth open into a dense fog of midges. I can’t re-zip my top quickly enough and splutter the unexpected meal out on to the verge once I’m in the clear.

Finally East Linton!

16th Century Beehive Doocot

Preston Mill

Prestonkirk Church

After a proper (i.e. non-insect) lunch I get on my way. The next stretch is probably the most boring part of the walk. These coos were certainly not too impressed by what lay ahead.

Unimpressed coos

The route here is uphill, but quite sparse before entering through some semi-industrial agricultural land. Fortunately, a couple of fairy-esque woods further north bring some much needed magic back into the route.

Entering the magical wood

The path skirts the outside of a field and before too long, Berwick Law is in full view. I’m getting close as the sky greys.


Windmill minus sails

A narrow path is lined with some hairy feet munchers that tickle and soak my already saturated running shoes.

Hairy feet-munchers

Berwick Wa’

Berwick Law

By the time I reach the beach at North Berwick it’s just hit 5pm, over 6 hours since I started. Tantallon Castle closed at 5 and is a good 45 mins away at least. Oh well another day.


My first ‘proper’ hike under my belt and I feel exhausted but absolutely invigorated. I loved it. I hadn’t factored in time to stop for lunch nor general dawdling and exploring. The couple of detours also added to my time, but had I not travelled those routes I wouldn’t have spotted the imposing Chestnut tree or pastoral farm buildings. It made me realise that there’s no such thing as a wrong turn, just alternative routes. Beauty and magic can be found even if you do stray from the expected path.

The Dunbar to East Linton stretch was by far my favourite, and I will revisit this area again. Before then though, there are Stages 9 to 1 of the John Muir Way to consider. I’ll update this blog here when I get around to them.

Final steps count

The next train back to Edinburgh was cancelled so only one thing to do to kill the time...

User avatar
Ettrick Shepherd
Posts: 9
Joined: Sep 11, 2019

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