When I was young my mum Georgia, dad Pete and little brother Jon spent five consecutive summers camping at Barns Ness in East Lothian. The experience made me into the person I am today. Here’s my homage to idyllic childhood holidays on Scotland’s beautiful south east coast.
Why write about it here? As a freelance writer there’s only me – I am my brand. This is one way to show my customers and prospects who they’re dealing with, that I’m more than just a name.
Barns Ness in the 1970s
Roll back time to 1974 – ’78. My parents, both teachers with long summer holidays, cleaned the Barns Ness campsite shower and toilet block and generally looked after the place. In return we enjoyed several weeks’ worth of free camping, me in my little orange one-man tent and the rest of the family in our VW Campavan.
Mum and dad spent four weeks every summer sketching, sculpting, reading, writing, chilling and pottering around. Jonty and I ran wild.
We were out early every day, working our way free-range and unsupervised along four miles of fascinating coast between the campsite and the small harbour town of Dunbar, with its fishing fleet, golf course and ancient castle. Sometimes we made friends. But we spent most of the time on our own, perfectly contented with each other’s company.
We paddled and swam. We circumnavigated the lighthouse and played with rusty World War Two mines washed ashore decades before. We stole lobster pots to bait and leave in rocky crevices at low tide, collected fossils and shells, caught crabs on landlines, explored the area’s remarkable geology and made dams and sandcastles.
We built complex dens in the old lime kilns and dense gorse, slid down steep, grassy sea-pink fragrant slopes on tea trays, went rock-hopping and rock pooling and learned the tide tables off by heart. When it got dark we’d wander home filthy and exhausted for a basic tea of beans on toast, boiled eggs or Alphabetti Spaghetti.
Yes, it rained. Yes, it was sometimes cold or misty or just grey. But we were outdoors all day, rain or shine, as brown as berries, lean and fit with constantly-scabbed knees and elbows. We slept like logs with our lungs full of tangy sea air. And the memories of our charmed childhood holidays have stayed with Jonty and I ever since.
Making new memories
My husband and I made a pilgrimage to Barns Ness in late 2014, taking the train from Brighton to Edinburgh then the branch line back down to Dunbar.
The original Barns Ness camp site itself is long gone. I could just about pick out the place we camped, overgrown and wild. There’s a nuclear power plant to the south these days, vast and forbidding, and a new open cast coal mine just to the west of the site: noisy, brooding and black.
The cement factory is still there, belching smoke to the north west. The ancient lime kilns we played in are blocked up, labelled ‘dangerous’. And the mini-marshes – leftovers from long-ago quarrying and once full of sphagnum moss, eggy-stinking black mud and slithering two foot long black eels – have completely dried up.
But it felt the same. It smelled the same. And I felt the same – a deep love for the unique place that helped form the adult me. The newly-industrialised landscape didn’t faze me either, since Jonty and I spent our time all those years ago facing seawards, towards majestic Bass Rock, and those well-loved views haven’t changed a bit.
I often daydream about Barns Ness – then and now – and the wonderful times I’ve spent there. To this day I walk long distances with my husband, sometimes more than 35 miles a day. My brother Jon’s the same – he has just cycled coast-to-coast across Britain on a mountain bike. We’re as tough as old boots, the pair of us.
I still collect fossils, rocks, bones, skulls, shells and driftwood. I’m still fascinated by geology. And I still love to spend time on my own – probably one of the reasons I adore working freelance. Thank you Barns Ness, for all that and more.