Barns Ness Geological Trail
Don’t know much about geology...”
Okay, not quite Sam Cooke’s choice of subject, but the sentiment is the same. I don’t know much about geology but I do know that I love Scotland’s wild places and I do know that I love to marvel at nature’s miracles.
Barns Ness is one such miraculous place. In fact, it has been designated a Local Geodiversity Site by the Lothian and Borders RIGS Group, a sub committee of the Edinburgh Geological Society. And they should know.
Located three miles east of Dunbar, Barns Ness is famous for the most extensive limestone outcrops in Scotland and a plethora of fossils from the Carboniferous Period, over 320 million years ago, when the seas were tropical and you didn’t need a wetsuit to take a dip on a sunny day. And so, on one bitterly cold, windy and rainy day in May, I went on a dinosaur hunt. Or, at the very least, a fossilised coral hunt.
I parked for free by Dunbar swimming pool (excellent public toilets nearby), before heading down to the attractive little harbour, which now hosts several eating and drinking establishments.
Resisting all, I headed east, through pretty backstreets all the way to the sea wall, which I followed to its sudden conclusion at Dunbar Golf Course. From this point on, you take your life in your hands.
Dunbar Golf Course is a long, narrow fairway, perched on the edge of the ragged coast.
Although you are entitled to walk along the side of the green, there are several prominent signs advising walkers to stand still whenever someone takes a shot and keep their ears tuned for the cry of ‘Fore’ (at which point, duck).
Also, be aware that the narrow width of said golf course increases the risk of being hit by a stray ball, particularly on a windy day.
Even walking on the sand below said the course carries a significant risk to life and although I complied with the advice (I always stick to the rules), it made for a somewhat, stressful walk.
‘Last year someone sustained a very nasty eye injury’, one player told me, as he thanked me for remaining stationary (or petrified) whilst he took his shot. Consequently, I vowed that if I made it back to my car with all organs intact, I would never again repeat this experience.
So, having measured the risk for you, dear reader, I recommend bypassing the living-on-the-edge golf course walk and instead, suggest that you drive directly to Whitesands – a left turn off the A1, onto the A1087 past Dunbar.
The car park is £2 for the day and you can pay by card, or use the RingGo App. It also has toilets. A Perryman’s bus from Edinburgh to Berwick-Upon-Tweed can drop you off on the A1, but then you would have to cross back over the dual carriageway to get the bus home, which is potentially more dangerous than walking on the edge of the golf course.
Anyway, I continued my frankly terrifying walk along the coast to Whitesands, in the pouring rain, spirits lifted only by the spectacular rocky remains of a tiny island known as Lawrie’s Den, which is worth exploring at low tide.
Whitesands itself is a small, popular, but exposed beach, bordered by low dunes and overlooked rather eerily by Dunbar Cement Works.
Now, as any good brickie could tell you (and I looked it up), cement is made from limestone. In fact, Dunbar Cement Works mines local limestone and mudstone and has the potential to produce one million tonnes of cement per year, the largest capacity in Scotland.
On a smaller scale, the remains of a mid-nineteenth century lime kiln hover precariously at the east end of the beach and it is cordoned off for safety reasons.
Here, instead of stopping to explore the pre-historic fossils, I yomped half a mile further to picnic at the imposing Barns Ness Lighthouse. Which was built in 1900 by Robert Louis Stevenson’s cousins, and decommissioned in 2005. It now operates as a holiday let.
Sadly (and ridiculously), all my detours, snack-stops, fear of golf balls, rain and determination to make it to the lighthouse for lunch, meant that I missed low tide on the way back and as I had forgotten my information leaflet and fossil map, I couldn’t locate the areas of interest.
So, after all that, no dinosaurs! Some days you just don’t get it together, especially post lockdown and at my age.
But I’ll be back. I’ll be back to search for fossils. Perhaps then, I’ll still be dodging golf balls, having random conversations, getting soaked, losing my way and berating myself for past wrong decisions, but all that is Okay.
It’s been a tough year and counting, with loss of loss for everyone - some more than others. Getting back out there has been harder than I thought for an introvert like me, but I’m hanging on to the belief that there’s still a wonderful world out there, ready for me to explore. Dinosaurs and golf balls included.
I highly recommend that you download the excellent information leaflet on Barns Ness and other local geologically significant areas, free from the Edinburgh Geological Society website, somewhat hidden under the Geoconservation tab, www.edinburghgeolsoc.org.
And check out our local geologist, Angus Miller’s Geowalks website for guided and self-guided geological walks around Edinburgh and beyond. He is literally a mine (pun intended) of information on all things rock related. www.geowalks.co.uk.
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From top: Barns Nest lighthouse & Lawrie’s Den