Catterline, the Last Leg of Our Trip
Mary and I continued onto the last leg of our trip; to visit Ann in Catterline. When we parted on the Isle of Eigg, Ann told us to come by anytime but due to traveling without an itinerary and having no phone service, the timing of our visit, along with where she lived in Catterline, was not clear. When we were in Gamrie we met a couple who told us about the artist community of Catterline and if we wanted to know about the artists there was a woman who lived in a row of houses and we should definitely look her up when we get there. After our bus ride from Fraserburgh and a stop in Aberdeen, we were dropped off out on the highway and walked to the center of town which consisted of a pub surrounded by a few houses. Sitting in the warm pub Mary continued to text Ann, but to no avail, and the hours passed by. The day was waning and we were considering finding an out of the way place to set up our tent, even though it was cold and raining. We asked the waitress if she knew Ann and she pointed in a direction and said, yes, “she lives up there, I'm not sure which house but just walk up there and you’ll find her”. Not knowing where 'there' was we set out until we found a row of old fisherman’s houses situated on the cliff overlooking the sea. Mary and I started walking down the row of houses wondering if we should knock on one of the doors when Ann popped her head out and exclaimed, “You’re here!” She invited us in and showed us a vacuum cleaner out and ready to clean her house before we came. I said, “Just think, we saved you from all that work, your house isn’t dirty, just lived in”. Right away the conversation flowed as if we were still out on the island. Ann told us that her friend, Ann Marie, was also coming to stay for a few days and when she arrived we formed a non-stopping conversation and hiking group. Ann had been curator of fine art in Aberdeen and 30 years ago had moved to the community of Catterline. Joan Eardley, one of Scotland’s most famous contemporary artists, had done much of her work in Catterline and Joan had purchased a coastguards’ watch house, locally known as the 'Watchy'. Joan had a student, Lil Neilson, who lived in the town (and also became a well known painter) and after Joan’s death Lil acquired the Watchy. When Lil Neilson died she left the Watchy, and a collection of her paintings to Ann, and now this studio is available for a local artist at no cost. It turns out Ann is the well-known person who lives in a row of houses that knows a lot about the artists of Catterline! Years ago Ann, along with her husband Martin, purchased their row house, which at the time was quite dilapidated and had no electricity or running water. Through the years they fixed it up while raising their family. Ann lives alone now and still holds her vision of supporting local artists. The house is gorgeous and comfortable and we felt welcomed and at home..
In the morning we had a plan to visit Newton Dee, a nearby Camphill community. Camphill communities provide those with special needs worthwhile work and living conditions so they can live fruitful lives. In 1940 Karl Koenig, along with a group of Austrian refugees, started Newton Dee, the second Camphill in the world. Based in Anthroposophy, the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, Camphills all over the world are flourishing. When we arrived at Newton Dee Alan Brown, the director, gave us a tour and answered our many questions. In the beginning Newton Dee provided a therapeutic home for juveniles in the area and later it changed to accommodate those with special needs of all ages with people living in group homes and working in several businesses at the site. We were greeted by many of the residents and it was obvious they were all engaged and proud of their work. We ended the tour at the biodynamic farm where the residents were excited to show us the vegetables grown and the beauty of the gardens. It is incredible to see how lush this land is considering that when Karl Koenig started this Camphill the soil was depleted. It is years of constant work by these incredible residents that the gardens are now flourishing. There was plenty to talk about on our way back to Ann’s house.
The next morning I walked down to the shore to photograph Dunnie Wolf, a conglomerate outcropping of stones which looked as if the stones had been cemented together. I was starting to head back to the house when I met Barry out walking his dog Henry. I told him who I was and we started conversing and after a while he asked if I saw his dog. I looked around and said, “he’s probably behind Dunnie Wolf”. As we looked toward the rocks our gaze went to the top and there was Henry, running on top of Dunnie Wolf and looking over the edge. Barry said, “How did he get up there”? My reaction was, “How’s going to get down”? We watch for a few minutes and Henry finally figured out a way and scampered down.
I made it back to the house and we left to visit Rohan, a friend of Ann’s who lives in a lighthouse. To get to Rohan’s, Ann said we should walk along the shore and that there was one tricky spot. The five of us (Ann’s dog Oree came along) started out along the rocky coast and the view was dramatic and beautiful. We got to the tricky part and we all made it through and we continued to follow Ann who rounded a corner and after looking ahead turned to us and said, “Oh, I forgot about this next tricky part, just hold on to the grass or the stones embedded in the cliff”. Mary and I observed that some of the rocks that were in the cliff were now missing. It ended up there were several more tricky parts, but that is what is great about hiking with Ann, tricky parts never got in the way of hiking together with her. When we arrived at the lighthouse, Rohan invited us in for a cup of coffee and a tour of the lighthouse. The lighthouse was engineered by D. A. Stevenson, Robert Louis Stevenson’s uncle. At first Rohan wanted to refurbish the lighthouse itself as a living space, however her architect convinced her to build her house on the original building site next to the lighthouse, thus saving the integrity of the lighthouse itself and allowing for a very minimalist, yet cozy home. Rohan gave a tour of her house which included its history. The lighthouse had recently won second place in a Scottish architectural contest while the Sail Loft in Portsoy had won first place. Rohan thought there should have been some sort of price limit in that the Sail Loft had spent two million pounds on their improvements and she had spent considerably less. Rohan had made international news being part of the resistance to the Trump golf course which was built nearby. As a naturalist she had taken photos of the plant life in the area before the golf course had been built and after the course was completed she went back to photograph again to compare and determine the loss of diversity. One day as she was finishing nature called and she had to go to the bathroom. Since no one was around she went in the bushes unaware she was being filmed. The police came and arrested her that night at 10:00 for public urination. After a long court battle, which she lost due to a technicality, the charges were dropped but not before Rohan became a local, and international, hero. After the tour, tea and scones, we all hiked back to Ann’s this time taking the road instead of the shore trail. We were back at house for a short time before going back out to walk to the Watchy, the artist studio which is situated on the cliff overlooking Dunnie Wolf. The studio is in need of repairs and Ann usually finances this by selling one of Lil Neilson’s paintings to fix the Watchy.
We began the following day in Ann’s garden. Since she had little time to spend fighting back the vines that were growing under the slate shingles of the roof, we attacked with pruning shears and saws. While the four of us were making headway Camille, a neighbor from France who was renting one of the houses in the row, came over with a big problem. The coal stove, that heated not only the house but the water, had sprung a leak and there was water all over the floor. It was a thermosiphon system and since I was semi-familiar with how it works I found myself up in the crawlspace above the stove looking at the pipes. I found the main shutoff valve and I suggested getting a plumber to install shut off valves to isolate the stove. There was an electric hot water heater although seldom used that was put into place as a backup. A local friend said he could do the work and within an hour he was at work installing the valves. He isolated the stove so it could be used for heat only and the electric water heater would supply hot water. Not only that but Ann had another similar stove in a shed and could replace the leaky stove at a later date. An hour later Camille came back over a said there was a funny noise. When we went over there was water boiling in the pipes so we quickly shut off the electric hot water heater. The thermostat was broken and did not turn off when the water was hot so it just kept heating. It became apparent that Ann needed to hire someone who knew the system to fix all of the problems and get it back on track. For the moment there was nothing we could do so we were off to the Dunnottar Castle in Stone Haven. Ann and Ann Marie had been in the castle several times so it was only Mary and I who went inside. Although the site is much older the buildings that remained were built in the 15th and 16th century. The Dunnottar Castle holds a special place in the history of the Honours of Scotland, or Crown Jewels, consisting of the crown, sword and septre. These had been smuggled into the castle and were being held by Sir George Ogilvie when Oliver Cromwell demanded that Ogilvie surrender them but he refused. Because the castle was well fortified and situated on a cliff, Cromwell’s army formed a blockade and supplies could not be brought in. There are different accounts on how the crown jewels were smuggled out of the castle, one of which says they were lowered down to the sea and either they were hidden under a basket of fish or a basket of seaweed. The crown, sword and septre were then transported to the Old Kirk at Kinneff and hidden beneath the church’s floor. Mary and I toured the ruins and then met up with Ann and Ann Marie.
We made our way back to Catterline in time to go to the local pub where there was a talk on the loss of land along the coast through what are called slides. Erosion was occurring in many areas of Scotland's coast and land, especially along cliff areas, is sliding down to the sea. Three scientist from the Glasgow Caledonian University were there to collaborate with the local population in starting to solve the problem. There was a great turnout and afterwards I stayed to get their photographs and have a conversation pertaining to the erosion. I first talked to Professor Rohinton Emmanuel who was originally from Sri Lanka. Since his country was in a civil war Rohinton first moved to the US, however, because of immigration policies he had to leave and he moved to Scotland where he was welcomed. His background was investigating heat islands (for example cities with heat concentrating concrete) and how to mitigate using vegetation. Dr. Alejandro Gonzalez Ollauri was from the Basque area of Spain and he was working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to investigate at risk environmental areas and determine danger zones in order to develop maps for use in other applications once these areas are identified. Dr. Jing Ma from China had left right after the talk and I found her the next day out in the field collecting soil samples in the rain. At first she just smiled and was quiet until I asked her what exactly she was doing and it was like I turned on a switch and she was so excited to tell me.. Her lab is in France and she was collecting soil samples to determine; what bacteria and fungi were present, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to determine respiration rates, and also organic content. There were areas where erosion is not occurring that can be used as a control because those areas were not sliding. DNA of bacteria and fungi in these non-sliding areas can be compared to the areas that are sliding. The three scientists were also observing the diversity of plant life of the sliding as well as the non-sliding areas. The rain was increasing and Jing had work to complete so we said our goodbyes, ‘Wow, what a crew, scientists from different parts of the world working together with the local people in solving an environmental issues!'
Our time in Catterline had come to an end and we found it hard to leave our friends. After breakfast it was raining so Ann drove us out to the highway bus stop. We were heading to Anstruther, a town famous for its fish and chips, situated on the Firth of Forth (firth is the mouth of a river). Our final destination was actually North Berwick, a ½ hour ferry ride across the Firth from Anstruther in the summer months but the ferry had stopped for the winter a few days before and was now a 3 hour bus ride. We booked a room, had our fish and chips and the next morning left early and hiked down to a café for breakfast. The locals were there and before long there were stories and then the jokes began. ‘Well, it seems there was a Scottish couple who won a million pounds sterling and the local news reporter was interviewing them and asked them how this would change their lives. The couple said that their life would not change at all. After a while the wife said to her husband, There’s this thing called a barbecue and you invite friends over and cook outside, why don’t we get a barbecue?" Soon they were having outdoor gatherings with all their friends. A few weeks later the wife said, “You know, there’s this thing called inside plumbing and we could have an inside toilet”. Not long after the inside plumbing was installed the reporter showed up and said, “Boy, has your life changed”. The couple said, “Nothing in our lives has changed”. The reporter replied, “Well, you used to eat in the house and poop outside and now you are eating outside and pooping in the house!" There were other jokes, but this was the shortest one told. We all finished our breakfast and Mary and I walked to the bus stop. Traveling to North Berwick involved two buses with a stop in Edinburgh where we stood on the wrong side of the street and ended up running after our bus in vain. We had planned to meet Frances and Sue (friends that we met on the Outer Hebrides) and now had to send a text hoping they would get the message. An hour later we were on the bus and headed to North Berwick which had four stops and we were not clear which stop to get off at. We chose one and walked to the church where we thought we were to meet our friends but no one was there. Traveling can become complicated at times. We were looking up and down the street and finally decided to start walking, but did not know where we were even walking to, when Sue drove by and beeped her horn.
Mary and I had lunch at Frances’ house before we went off to John Muir’s Country Park. It took two cars because in Scotland the cars are small and with our packs we couldn’t all fit into one car. John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland and we were lucky enough to be able to explore his Scottish woods with our Scottish friends. After the hike Frances and Sue dropped us off at a B&B in Dunbar where we had booked a room. The next day Mary and I hiked around Dunbar and visited the house where John Muir was born which is now a museum. It was thrilling to see such a hero’s birthplace and walk the woods he had romped as a young boy. One of the tenants of Waldorf Education is that a person’s formative years occur in the first years of life and we were able to see the actual place where John Muir developed his imagination and character.
Edinburgh was our last destination on our trip in Scotland. We had reserved a room at the Cowgate Hostel and had the time to spend part of the day in the heart of the city. The street down to the hostel was extremely steep and as soon as we arrived we dropped of our packs and headed out. We walked up to the Edinburgh Castle where the crown jewels of Scotland were kept. The admission price was expensive and we decided to continue on to the Royal Mile, the main street through the historic district. While walking along we saw a statue of the famous economist, Adam Smith. On a plaque it told that he was buried at the Canongate Kirkyard so we set out to find his grave. Adam Smith, who published his Wealth of Nations in 1776, was not only instrumental in today’s economic paradigm but his philosophical ideas greatly influence other fields of study.
Quotes from The Wealth of Nations
“It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy…What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”
“What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconviency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
“It is not the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.
There was a truly benevolent side to Adam Smith’s ideas. Through hard work coupled with self- interest, poverty could be decreased. Trade on every level is encouraged to lower costs to the people. The time was ripe, with machinery taking over some of the labor and material goods could be made cheaply, Smith’s ideas could take hold ushering in the Industrial Revolution. With all the environmental and social challenges of today is it time to take a look at the ideas that have cemented the present paradigm? When we take a quick look at humanities' paradigm history it may give us some direction. When humans were hunter gatherers the people used little resources to maintain their lifestyle and the period lasted over 100,000 years. More comfortable living occurred during the Agricultural Age; however the resources per capita increased. The Agricultural Age lasted only 10,000 years before something else was needed to maintain our requirements. It was 300 years ago that the Industrial Revolution fulfilled the added requirements along with the skyrocketing resource use. Will we look back as the Computer Age as separate, if so it has lasted only 50 years and we are now facing a great paradigm shift, one of which the basis for the first time includes the idea of limited resources. Since Smith’s ideas became the backbone of the Industrial Revolution, a well-established paradigm, it also became a societal habit that is hard to change even when conditions indicate that a change is needed. John Muir's life was dedicated to the protection of our collective environment while Adam Smith's ideas brought about concepts that could distribute material goods to many. Can these two philosophies blend together? By traveling using simple means, talking to people (especially those whose views may differ) and taking time free of media to think and contemplate we may all contribute to solutions to our mounting challenges. We all want the same thing, a bright future for our children to grow up in. The single most challenge of our times is recognizing our present paradigm and then changing it. Habits are hard to break.
That night we went out to a pub for dinner and I had haggis, a Scottish dish made from the inners from a sheep or calf encased in a sack, usually the animal’s stomach, and even though it was tasty, Mary wanted no part of it. We had sat next to Camelia, a young woman from Argentina who was studying English in London. We laughed about our Scottish experiences and she said that Edinburgh seemed to be right out of the Middle Ages and we agreed it was a great description. We left the pub and meandered through the area and found ourselves on a bridge looking down on another street and realized that our hostel was way down there. The next question was how can we get down there? The buildings in this area of Edinburgh are built with the hilly existing topography. The description of our hostel can be summed up in one word, ‘stark'. The stone steps leading up to our room were worn from the many travelers passing through the city. Our room had a double bed with a light on the ceiling and that was it. Looking out the window there were beautiful stone buildings of this old, old city. Edinburgh is a accessible city with inexpensive, although stark, hostels in the historic area and so much to see that is free. Our stay in Edinburgh was too short and the next day we were on our way to Dublin to end our journey.
It had been quite a trip. Over the seven weeks we had made many friends and learned from the people the history of Ireland and Scotland. In Dublin Michael and Ann extended their generosity once again as landing spot before out air flight home.
What a trip!