Seacliff

Before leaving Edinburgh, I went for one last wild stomp with Gordon. We took the road out of Edinburgh and drove towards North Berwick and Seacliff.

As soon as we headed off the main road to take a smaller one, I spotted a brown tourist sign bearing the exciting news that Tantallon castle was up ahead.

I had not realised that Tantallon was on our route, or I would have packed my hat for some site-specific knitting/landscape photos! However, we were not going to scale the cliff walls to explore the castle; instead, we would pick our way along the shoreline, listening to the sea slapping the rocks, the insistent bursts of the wind, and the cries of the gannets encircling the waters.

Seacliff seemed to me at first to be a slightly desolate place. At times I feared the wind was going to knock me off balance and sweep me straight into the sea; the ocean is the colour of steel; the dark, volcanic rocks are craggy in outline; the ruined castle looms over all like a great, stony eagle; and in spite of the long stretches of golden sand, there are very few folk around.

But there is a great beauty in this desolation. The impossibly clean air lends a brightness to the lichen.

Treasures lie between the strewn rocks and in the clear pools. There are dark pink-brown anemones, which tickle and suck at your fingers if you nudge them, and the sea has smoothed certain stones into forms – eggs, spheres, ovals – which are pleasing to hold and which lend themselves to being arranged à la Andy Goldsworthy.

The lashing sea and weather have torn things from the cliff tops. The debris includes pieces of glass worn jewel-smooth by the tide, and fine clay bricks, blackened by salt and time.

Seacliff is one of Gordon’s favourite places and as we wended our way over the tangled seaweed and dark rocks – mostly having the whole place to ourselves – I began to see why. There is a sense of space and silence there which is both stark and restorative.

The landscape has been shaped by volcanic activity. Violent explosions deposited great blobs of basalt and straights of dark, hard rock across the land, while volcanic ash settled in layers, creating sedimentary formations both above and below the sea. In some places, you can see rocks formed in both ways lying beside each other, so that pale, ashy rock and dark, cooled lava lie together.

Listening to Gordon talk about the rocks and how they were made, I find that although I can understand the processes and the activity of materials which have made a place, I simply cannot grasp the time scales involved. Millions, thousands, hundreds of years… numbers of years which feel too many to hold in my head at once. I feel incomprehensibly tiny when I try to understand the age of rocks.

The Bass Rock is a volcanic plug, formed during the Lower Carboniferous age, making it about 300 million years old.

When we were young and trying to understand time and space, our Dad explained everything in terms of King Rollo adventures. So, if we were driving from Newcastle to Clacton and we asked “how long until we get there?” Pops would say “10 King Rollo adventures” or however many King Rollo adventures (approx. 5 minutes long each) corresponded to the length of remaining journey time. If King Rollo adventures are 5 minutes long each, then there are 288 King Rollo adventures in a day, and 103,680 in a year. So, Pops, in case you’re reading this, Bass Rock was formed 31,104,000,000,000 King Rollo adventures ago.

I wonder what 31,104,000,000,000 looks like. Are there 31,104,000,000,000 grains of sand in the desert? 31,104,000,000,000 stars in the sky? 31,104,000,000,000 stones on a beach?

The rain came in just as we ascended away from Seacliff and its Very Old Rocks. We spotted what Gordon has identified as Stonecrop, and I took a photo of it to be added to his library of plant photos.

We saw a deer and its tiny fawn in the woodlands as we neared the car, and some sea buckthorn, and then it was time to leave. It took about 6 King Rollo adventures to make it home.

Thanks for another amazing adventure, Gordon!

5 Responses to Seacliff

  1. Annie says:

    I can hear the sea, smell the seaweed, feel the rocks 🙂 I love the way your words and pictures always take me to where you were … it’s a gift 😀

  2. Philippa says:

    Oh and thank you for the King Rollo video! I would have sworn I had no idea who King Rollo was, until I saw it, and it was so wonderfully familiar. Lodged somewhere in the previously obscured recesses of my very-small childhood mind. The bird in the tree who covers his eyes on seeing the roast chicken is brilliant!

  3. Lara says:

    This is such a gorgeous lovely post – it is like walking the path with you. I love the colours and the pictures of the rocks, especially the Andy Goldsworthy-esque cairns. The age of very old things like rocks also makes my head hurt, I’m glad you have the same. I will try the King Rollo trick, I like the marking of time with King Rollo! I had forgotten King Rollo and it is so lovely to be reminded. xxx

  4. colleen says:

    Lovely photos. And your dad is a genius.

    I find driving quite draining and have to do all the driving in our family. We now measure car journeys in bananas. No longer do we take notice of the signs on the A2 that say “20 minutes to the M25” but substitute instead “20 minutes to my next banana.”

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