THE grandmother and her grandson were getting ready for their walk.

“We’re goanie need a brolly, a basket and a pair of good scissors,” said the grandmother.

Her grandson looked at her, confused, for it was a sunny day with no clouds.

Why would they need a brolly?

But, then again, it was autumn, and it was also Scotland, so perhaps taking a brolly was a wise precaution. But the scissors?

“You’ll see,” said his grandmother when he asked.

Grown-ups are not fully aware of just how annoying that answer is to an inquisitive child’s question. But the grandmother insisted on keeping the reasons for these items a mystery.

The basket was easier to understand, for his gran always collected bits of nature whenever they went on a walk: sticks, feathers, pinecones, leaves, shells, pebbles, you name it.

She used them to make things for her house, or for decoration. She was an artist, although she always said everyone is an artist if they want to be.

East Lothian Courier: Sea buckthorn can be found at many spots along the East Lothian coastline. Copyright Jim Smillie and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.Sea buckthorn can be found at many spots along the East Lothian coastline. Copyright Jim Smillie and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

“Where are we going today?” her grandson asked, hoping that the route may give him a clue.

His granny smiled. “We’re going for a walk along Longniddry Bents.”

“Yay, the beach!” he cheered.

“Yes – now let’s get going.”

And so off they set and soon he was barefoot on the sand.

The tide was out and hundreds of small worm-shaped mounds were decorating the wet sand.

The grandson ran in between them, then knelt down and scooped up some sand, holding the sand worms carefully in his palm so he could examine them more closely.

“Nanna, are these really worms made out of sand?” he asked.

“No,” she replied, to her grandson’s disappointment.

But she continued: “But that little spaghetti-shaped mound of sand is made by a worm. It’s called a lugworm and they live in the sand just below the surface.”

He peered down at his bare feet, with his toes dug into the wet sand.

East Lothian Courier: Lugworm are often found on East Lothian beachesLugworm are often found on East Lothian beaches (Image: Copyright Richard Sutcliffe and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

“They don’t bite, do they?”

His gran smiled.

“No, they don’t bite, but they do eat the sand.”

“Eat the sand – yuck! How can you eat sand?”

“Well, the sand isn’t their food, but they swallow it so they can eat the tiny creatures and organic bits which are in the sand. Then they poo the sand out from their butt at the other end, which they keep close to the surface. That’s when they make these wormy piles.”

Her grandson looked a bit horrified.

“So, this wiggly sand hill I’m holding is actually, er, lugworm poo?”

His granny couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Yes, that’s exactly what it is, but it’s usually called lugworm cast.”

He dropped the wet sand immediately and started wiping his hands.

“Don’t worry,” said his gran reassuringly. “It’s not like dog poo, it’s just sand, probably the cleanest on the beach.”

She pointed at the forest of squiggly mounds.

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“Look carefully. Do you see that some are messy piles, and some are neat coils. That’s because there are two different types of lugworm, and you can tell which is which by their casts.”

“So there are messy lugworms and neat and tidy ones?” observed her grandson. “Just like there are messy and tidy people!”

She laughed. “Yes, except…” But she decided not to say it. “Anyway, we’d better get going, we have a harvest to collect.”

“A harvest?”

“Yes, over there.”

She pointed to the spiky bushes which lined the top of the beach next to the car park.

“That’s sea buckthorn,” she said, “and those orange berries on its branches make a delicious drink when the juice is squeezed from them. And it’s really good for you, too, so let’s go.”

When they reached the sea buckthorn bushes the grandmother took her brolly and opened it.

Her grandson watched with fascination as she laid the brolly upside down under the branches.

“What are you doing, Nan?”

“You’ll see.”

She then took out the scissors and began snipping away.

Soon the upturned umbrella began to fill up with the orange berries.

It was delicate work, but his grandmother made it look easy. She let him help, too, until his arms ached.

When there was a big pile of the orange berries in the brolly, she stopped snipping and knelt.

“Now you can help me,” she said, and they both carefully scooped the berries from the brolly into the basket.

She had judged it perfectly, as the basket was full to the brim.

“Now we can go home and turn this into juice. I’ll show you how,” she said, and off they set.

Before they reached their house in Port Seton, the unthinkable happened. A dark cloud came from nowhere and it started to rain.

The grandmother hadn’t thought it would rain.

But thankfully they had a brolly!