IIN THE fifth ‘Journey of Discovery’ this summer, storyteller Tim Porteus took his family to the Isle of Bute for a music festival. But his thoughts took him home to a special place on the shore of East Lothian

I WAS away last weekend for a music festival on the Isle of Bute. It is one of the few islands on the West Coast I don’t know, and for sure I will be back. It is a less-known treasure, I think.

I was camping with my family so our accommodation was pretty basic, but the kids absolutely loved it. As I write, we have just returned and I am in recovery mode from five nights under canvas.

We could afford it because my wife and I were stewards, two shifts each then we were able to access the festival. My main responsibility was the ‘beach gate’, a quieter access point which allowed festival-goers to visit the beach and return without needing to go through the main gate.

And so there I was, with a high-visibility vest and a walkie-talkie, checking people’s wrist bands as they left and entered. I met lots of wonderful people, but most of the time I was sitting on a mound of sand by the gate, admiring the stunning view of Ettrick Bay and the mountains of Arran in the distance.

It was a rare and wonderful time for reflection. The rest of the family were nearby but having a ball inside, so I was free to enjoy my thoughts.

There was a prehistoric standing stone circle close to the site of the festival which gave the same view I was enjoying. It made me realise that although I had vague idea of the general history of the area, I did not know the tales steeped in the landscape.

Story anchors our relationship with the land, and sitting in that beautiful and wild place made me want to make that connection there as well. I can simply enjoy a view, of course, but perhaps a burden storytellers carry is the need to pick the wisps of stories from the land wherever we go.

I thought of a possible connection with East Lothian in the travels of St Kenneth. He was a monk from Ireland and an associate of St Columba. He must have known this shore, perhaps he walked the sand of Ettrick Bay itself.

His name is embedded in many place names, both in Ireland and Scotland, and one of them is Cockenzie. The legend states that this name comes from the Gaelic Cul Cionnich, meaning Kenneth’s Cove.

He is said to have arrived in the small picturesque natural harbour, now called the Boat Shore, in the sixth century, and thus baptised the community with his name. The Boat Shore was for many years the harbour of what was to become the village of Cockenzie. For sure it seems the saint’s travels took him to the Forth valley so the legend may be rooted in a real event.

I love the Boat Shore at Cockenzie. I played there in my childhood, as so many have. Both high and low tide has it different pleasures there.

I reflected on the fact that perhaps the main difference between the Boat Shore and Ettrick Bay on Bute is not their varying size but the fact that Cockenzie is now ‘built up’.

Yet when I walked the shore from Port Seton to Cockenzie recently, the sea was no less dominant on my senses. In fact the remains of old salt pans, the survival of a fishing community and its traditions, the gable ends of houses facing defiantly at the sea all added to the experience.

Cockenzie is a place where the tiny threads of personal memories entwine with ancient stories and history of fishwives and fishermen, salt makers and coal miners, where the tracks of the past run literally at your feet. Yet there is still a vibrant local community, a living connection to the ancestral past. That makes the place extra special.

My thoughts were interrupted by a comment from a festival-goer: “Look! That’s the sea, I mean the real sea, so cool.” He and his friends left through the beach gate and headed down to the beach to take photos.

The comment made me realise something obvious. A real connection is the sea, and it also made me feel lucky that I live next to it.

It was on the Saturday night that the sea brought me new thoughts. The blue sky turned grey, then a dark, brooding black. The calm water began to boil with rage as it brought warm air from the south which had turned into a storm. We managed to get into our tent just in time.

Howling winds and torrential rain swept through the festival campsite like a reaper, ripping up tents. I double-pegged our tent with the help of my friend Chris Yule, and then we huddled inside as the winds did their worst. The kids were both excited and a little scared by it, but mostly excited!

The family slept as the storm howled in anger outside, the canvas walls of the tent bending this way and that. If we needed to evacuate, Chris had kindly offered the floor of his caravan as a refuge.

I lay there listening to the storm and was glad I was not at sea. My home town, Prestonpans, was born of such a storm when a pirate, possibly a Viking, was shipwrecked on the shoreline a thousand years ago. He stayed and founded the village, his name still echoed in Aldhammer House.

I stayed awake until the worst was over, then fell into sleep. In the morning, birds were singing and the sun shining. The campsite looked like a battlefield site; collapsed tents and stuff blown everywhere, including a small tent blown into the hedge by us. But the festival site was repaired and a great final day had.

We took the longer, scenic route home, via Argyll’s ‘secret coast’, a deeply wooded and beautifully quiet part of the West Coast.

“It’s great to be home,” said my four-year-old as we arrived. It was, not least to have a shower and to eat something that wasn’t from a tin!

“Can we go for a walk by the sea?” I was asked first thing this morning.

“After I have written my story,” I replied.

“What are you going to write about this time?”

“Not sure, let’s see what comes to my mind,” I said.

And so now we will head to the Boat Shore, and the walk by the coast there.

I love living by the sea.