By Tim Porteus

EARLIER this week I set out on a day when there was a yellow weather warning.

It was a calculated risk, I kept to the coast with a keen eye on the clouds and my instinct fully alert. Freezing easterly winds whipped up an unpleasant mix of wet snow and sleet; it was a day far from an ideal for a walk.

Yet I was with my second oldest daughter Morvern and we had planned this trip for a while. As much as possible I was determined to make something of the day. A lifetime of going on trips with me meant my duaghter knew to come well-equipped, with boots warm clothes and a sense of adventure.

We were headed for the southern border of our county, Dunglass Burn. It has carved a steep and dramatic gorge which is now spanned by five bridges, all within close proximity to each other. It is at this place the A1, which follows the route once called the Great North Road, enters East Lothian.

For hundreds of years travellers have passed over this dramatic gorge on the way to or from the south. There are four road bridges (two no longer used) and the railway viaduct, but despite the visual dominance of these human constructions, nature still maintains its supremacy in atmosphere and awe.

The tree-lined gorge is quite simply stunning. The most recent, and least attractive bridge, towers above the burn. Speeding motorists with their eye on the road will know nothing of the drama which nature has sculpted below them.

There is a parking spot just under an arch of the railway viaduct, accessed from the old section of the A1. A path leads along the East Lothian side of the gorge and takes you under the two most modern bridges: the disused 1932 bridge and the current one, which I think is around 25 years old.

There was a sense as we walked under the bridges of entering a subterranean world. Spring had not yet sprinkled its magic and so the lush green canopy of summer was missing. But the drama of the gorge still tingled the senses.

We stood underneath the modern bridge listening to the rumbling of traffic above us. I couldn’t help feeling that the modern traveller, despite the comforts and speed enjoyed, misses something essential in the journey. Our convenience comes at a cost, for we now glide over or speed past so many wonders of nature, without a blink of appreciation. We are constantly focused on getting to the destination quickly and miss the potential joys of the journey.

When visiting family, I usually take seven or eight hours to make a journey my brothers do in three. It is a family joke that I’ll stop at every old tree, every ruin or place of interest. Time is needed for this, of course, and time is a premium for us all these days. But what better way to spend it than making a journey a pilgrimage?

So on this day of chill winds and grey sky I was revisiting a sacred place of memory with a loved one. And our ultimate destination was a place neither of us had seen, but had for long been on my bucket list: Bilsdean Waterfall. We had earmarked our adventure for this day and the weather wasn’t going to deter us unless it became unsafe.

The drama of the gorge begins to fade as it approaches the sea. But it is in the lower and final section of the gorge that the oldest bridge is found. As we both stood on it my daughter remarked on how narrow it seemed. It was wide enough for a carriage or horse and cart, but not much else.

Such a tranquil spot now, yet here was the crossing used for centuries, for the bridge dates to the early 1600s. It stands now, like a forgotten old soldier, full of memories which few listen to. This was a small yet crucial link in the old Great North Road until the ‘New Bridge’ was built further up the gorge in 1798 (which still carries the traffic of the now minor road).

Yet as the gorge fades new drama awaits. The coastline here is lined with cliffs and has an arch of rock which gives evidence to the ancient process of creation and erosion. But the weather was too brutal to spend too much time on the beach. The wind cut through us like a blade. We were headed for the shelter of Bilsdean.

When we found it, we were gifted with shelter from the worst of the weather’s rage, as we had been at Dunglass gorge. Old ruins give testament to the presence of old settlement. In fact an Iron Age fort lies on the rocky hill above.

When my daughter first saw the waterfall her first word was: “Wow.” It is not so much the volume of the water or the spectacle in itself; it is no Niagara or Victoria Falls. It was more the setting and atmosphere. Even in the deadening grey of a late winter’s day, the place had a magic to it. And we both felt it. Here was a place of stories; of giants and wee folk; of gifts left for the gods of nature.

We discovered there was a quicker way to reach this place but we were glad we hadn’t known of it, for it was the journey which made it a discovery. When we finally reached the car our faces were red with the cold. The weather closed in once again and we set off for home.

But we will return, and soon, when the magic of spring finally awakens the land from its hibernation.