Thursday, 17 August 2017

woodhall dean

great snake hunt ep.4
You don't need a spoiler alert, do you?

The holiday weather seems to be one day of downpour next day sunny. And so forth. On Tuesday we planned to continue the cycling theme, the butterfly theme and the snake hunting theme. In addition to the unlikely quest for adders (in a spot well known for adders, with warning signage and on the advice of a reliable person who has seen up to 8 snakes there,) there was an even unlikelier quest for a butterfly never seen there and probably never ever going to be there. But what is an adventure without a high risk strategy? At least it gives you a destination and a raison d'ĂȘtre. A raison to do other than just watch the tv or text gash while life flits by. 

I've always loved this excellent public art on the public loo at Port Seton, really great mosaic work, and in case you think I'm overselling it check out the one they hid round the back....


After going along the coast we took the route 76 sustrans thing at Longniddry that doubles under a bridge and back on itself to find a dirt trail to Haddington. A relief to be off the roads and cycling along wildflower strewn paths between fields. Even stopped to take pics of butterflies. Mary was going quite slowly today. She said she was tired but still at times she seemed to be into single figures mph. It wasn't this that was hacking me off but I was in a bad mood until Haddington, can't remember why, probably the cafe owner who hasn't paid me for work done a couple of weeks ago. 

And while in complaints mode was anyone else disappointed about the pretty dire athletics in London recently? I watched about ten minutes of highlights but have about 30 minutes of complaints. Which is really why I don't watch shit on the telly any more. (Netflix rocks!) Aside from the tragedy of Laura Muir, there were athletes coming out a Saturday night tv stage with fireworks and flare. Holy shit is the drug taking not shameful enough without turning it into a fucking circus? How soon till they put booze and fags sponsors names on pockets like snooker players?

I am probably the only person in the world who thought it was karma and no bad thing when Mr Bolt pulled up with a sore leg. (That's my impression of a badly screwed Bolt in the photo directly above. "oh oh I've hurt my leg I'm going to stop now.") There was a junket link on facebook saying how Bolt masterfully answered a question from a French journalist. (15.15 in this clip.) The journo saying are the 100m times all slower since doping became less of a thing. Bolt stumbles his way through the answer and it was a long way short of masterful. He is a great runner but comes across as thick as the cheese in a very thick cheese sandwich. (Not a crime for sure, but that, and all the bubbly personality thing, it's just embarrassing.) And I think the karma police also gave Mo a silver for continuing with the mobot. (I don't even mind the quorn adverts, the man's got to make a living.)

I'm not even going to open the can of worms about the bloke who won the women's 800. Or the commentators. Bye bye Brendan. Condensing his best bits from 35 years into only about 7 secs was maybe worse than not doing it at all.

M was in need of cake 20 miles in. This was the Haddington cake stop and we managed a piece of apple pie AND a scone and drink for about half the price of the Steampunk snacks. It is a bit of a dark dungeon of a cafe serving us, 2 schoolkids and a derelict but the coffee was good and the large menu, cheap and cheerful. I removed all removables (tool bag, lights etc.) from my bike as the day did not need any disasters or thefts, it was going to be bad enough as it was.

We left Haddington by the half marathon route again, and I bolloxed up the photo in the mirror (photo below) this time: Mary wanted to be in the reflection, but we were going too quickly and the camera was too slow. Cycling along under big skies taking panorama shots my mood lifted and I began to enjoy the ride. 

panorama: camera beginning to stutter over the right hand side there

This again for Stuart.

Dunbar Weather Station in Hawaii, who knew?

There was a bit of debate about how we find Woodhall Dean on the Spott Road, as we approached Dunbar. I had looked at the map and so knew we just keep going till nearly the other side then it should be on our right. (You wouldn't think we'd run it every Doon Hill race for years.) There was further input (a constant stream) from my cycling partner until sure enough we saw Spott Road and then there was a nice silence. We could have cut through Hallhill and up to the Asda roundabout but I only realised this afterwards. Over the roundabout (the A1) and it was a rather challenging few miles of the up-hill variety. Worse than most of the climbs in the Alps. I think the stretch below is used by DRC for hill work. 

Towards the top we passed a guy out running, well, walking the majority of the hill - when I cycled past we exchanged unpleasantries about the gradient - and when I parked up at the top to wait for Mary, he and I had a further chat. Peter Mckay or McIver? Used to be in DRC and said to say hello to Stuart and Anne. 

From there it was a pleasant mile or 2 on undulating country roads to a valley with a (dry) ford at the bottom. I have been out this way a couple of times with Nick and Stuart and I think they both live very nearby. We may have gone past Nick's house. (I have been there, I just wasn't paying attention.) Just before the ford there is a dirt track and if you look closely (you really have to hunt it out) a sign saying Woodhall Dean and some lies about adders and seeking urgent medical attention if you get bitten. (By what? a phantom?)

Think this is the way to Anne and Stuart's.
Felt like retaliation for Stuart posting photos of Leith! (Winky smiley face!)


After padlocking the bikes we walked up the narrow path. Almost right away it was really great. And it continued to improve. The single track path climbs and contours a deeply wooded valley crammed with well established trees. It feels fairly wild and woolly but well looked after at the same time. Mary was quite tired but still got caught up in the magic of the place and didn't insist we turn around at any point. There was no signage telling us about routes or paths but there were notched posts from time to time. And there seemed to be only one path which half way up forked, then took a long loop up and round till it eventually returned to the fork and you go back down to the start. Just under 3 miles in total which we took 1hr45mins to cover at a gentle saunter. Brilliant, but no snakes.

keeping an eye out for butterflies while wading through piles of snakes

Mary noticed on the butterfly wall chart; a Purple Hairstreak. (Much joking about finding them in Goth Bars listening to emo bands.) I consigned such exotica to the tropical climes of Engerland, and had she not inspired me to open the butterfly bible and glance at its hitherto unfurled page I wouldn't have thought it local. Sure enough the above link tells of 1 singular sighting 2009~2014 just south of Edinburgh. And others towards Dundee. And the global warming will be bringing them to a spot near you anytime soon. They prefer native oaks, incl. the sessile oak but are tricky to spot as they only fly round the tops on a sunny summer evening. And what is Woodhall Dean filled with? Sessile Oaks. And has a path that climbs beside them bringing your eyelevel up to the canopy. And it was turning out to be a beautiful summer evening. I had nailed it. Those suckers must be here and I don't care how many snakes I have to climb over to capture them. 

OK on a slightly more sober note the Puple Hairstreak is very similar to the White Letter Hairstreak (very next page of the bible.) Its M.O. is not unlike that of the former but guess what? It made it into the Guardian today, TODAY goddammit, for turning up in Scotland (Berwick), for the first time in 133 years. Obvs I am going to have to up my game. And Berwick is not exactly central belt. I can only presume it's been a slow news day. But good to know. Reaping the benefits of global warming. Who says it's all gloom and doom?  

this was the bucolic beauty at the far end of the walk before returning through the trees

there was a griffin or golden (s)eagull or somesuch

This layout of trees and grass and narrow path undulating and winding through, with water at the bottom is the same format they have used in Pressmennan Woods and has a very similar feel. It is another favourite haunt and is also a great place to fail to spot adders, so I'm told. By now you'll have guessed there were no snakes and fewer Purple Hairstreaks. But I was so totally blown away by the surroundings I was forgetting to scold Mary for singing, farting and enjoying herself noisily; scaring off all the wildlife. I almost began to forget to look out over the oaken canopies between snatching glances in woodpiles and warm rocky sunbathing spots where dozens of snakes lie, just forking their tongues.
It was properly lovely.

I have been in touch with snake charmer Brian D who has seen many slitherers in his time. Aware of my recent quests he took a turn round Woodhall Dean 2 days later. Indeed it was himself that recommended it as a venue where he had seen many (8 or so in one visit!) slide timorously off into the bracken. I have to admit I would have been kicking myself had he reported so much as a shadowy sausage disappearing into the undergrowth, but his score card remained as blank as mine. He mentioned a few likely spots and that the best time might be 2~4pm. I might return and do 2 rounds, and early one for the snakes (eyes down) and one later for the butterflies (eyes up). I think I saw maybe 2 butterflies of perfectly commonplace variety the whole time I was there, but it's such an exquisite venue I could spend twice the time, still see nothing, and feel extremely well rewarded. 

We returned to the bikes about 6.30pm. Due to an oversight we had already consumed the emergency rations and had neither food nor drink. Nothing for it but to cycle back into Dunbar and depending on train times continue on to North Berwick. The return leg to Dunbar was definitely easier and would have taken about 12 minutes had Mary not been pulling hard on her brakes down the length of the hill. Actually the stop at the first corner was a must to watch the hare dash off into the distance, and at the second to enjoy for a few golden minutes, the magnificent late summer views along the Forth.


my cup runneth over
(except my snake cup, that one is empty)

Mary's blog here

We got lucky with train times - there was one leaving 30mins after we enquired and while Mary rested her weary saddle, I scampered off to the coop which was open and selling fizzy water, oatcakes, chicken piri piri and 2 cans of Belhaven Best. And it certainly was.

41miles cycle, 3miles walk

woodhall dean
(not far from the unemployment office)


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