9 December 2009
Way back in what passed for the summer of 2008 the Fatdog and I paid a visit to one of my old agate hunting spots, Boddin Point, a promontory on the Angus coast between Arbroath and Montrose. It must have been almost 30 years since I had wandered that area rummaging on the beaches for the semi-precious stones. They were rare then and I didn’t expect to find many now.
It was the BBC book COAST – The Walks that had prompted this piece of nostalgia. A chapter on Lunan Bay, just to the south of Boddin Point, brought back memories of hours of scouring nearby shingle beaches for a glimpse of banded translucence amongst the pebbly dross. That and pub lunches – the 1970’s standard of Scampi in a Basket, now banned for reasons of hygiene and above all good taste. I had almost forgotten that basket meals were de rigueur in 70’s Scotland, such was the dearth of even semi-decent restaurants outside of the cities. Times have certainly changed.
Today we were looking for nothing in particular, just hopeful of the odd meaningful photograph and lunch would be out of a rucksack. Possibly a step backwards on the food front then?
After a few years in the hills, the coast proved to be a totally alien environment. Different plants, different birds and a puzzling tendency to hover around sea level baffled the senses. And if you thought trying to bypass crags on a mountain was a problem, sea cliffs, slippery seaweed and crashing waves make equally awkward barriers.
We slithered down an ancient sea-slimed slip way leading to Boddin’s southern bay. Unused for many years (presumably) and eroded to the point of collapse this sloping concrete slab was undermined by enormous cavities and crossed by large fissures where the waves had washed out the shore below. Seaweed coated sections had sheared and collapsed making the ramp into a series of long treacherous steps. Delicate scrambling was required before we reached the comparative safety of the beach. I say comparative as almost vertically above us unsafe weathered rock poised threateningly, waiting for an opportune moment to collapse onto unprotected heads. On these crumbling red sandstone cliffs, martins had built nests below overhangs, sheltered from the harsh east coast weather while noisy gulls squabbled over tiny rock ledges.
We didn’t find much by way of agates on the beach. A couple of inconsequential jasp-agates were all we could turn up. The incoming tide stopped us reaching the reclusive and evocatively named Black Jacks Bay. The Fatdog was trying to come to terms with the concept of salt water…not particularly successfully I may add. Whilst FD spat out mouthfuls of unpalatable seaweed, serene Eider ducks floated past offshore and cormorants skimmed the surface of the waves as they shot by, bullet like, with an unknown but determined purpose.
Passing the old lime kiln we headed on the rising path to the old clifftop cemetery overlooking the Rock of St. Skiagh. I wanted to find a gravestone, the one belonging to George James Ramsay a man who, according to his inscription, died before he was born. This would have to be considered unlucky in the extreme or at best inconvenient. In places the path almost disappeared in the long grass but eventually it widened into a lush grassy lane high above the seashore.
The tiny cemetery proved to be seriously overgrown with grass and weed. After hacking our way through the undergrowth the erroneous piece of monumental sculpture was exposed and Mr. Ramsay’s final humiliation photographed.
The next move saw us on more familiar territory – a steep downward slope, in this case to the pebble beach at the foot of the Rock of St. Skiagh.
Shaped by eons of wave power the long and narrow Rock of St. Skiagh (also known as Elephant Rock) is a local tourist attraction. The uncanny resemblance to an elephant with its trunk dipped into the North Sea is remarkable and, as I rummaged in the beach cobbles for signs of the elusive agate, I just couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that there was always someone or something looking over my shoulder.
As I patiently turned over rocks one at a time the Fatdog, having given up on the unpalatable seaweed, was now hot on the multiple heels of an unfortunate crustacean. I decided to feed her before she depleted the area of its natural resources. I called FD over and turned back towards the rucksack. There was a indignant yelp behind me and I could the scampering of claws on rocks coming closer. “Serves her right!” I thought. It sounded like the pestered crustacean had made its point.
As soon as my hands made contact with the backpack the Fatdog lined up at the front of the lunch queue, the inquiring black nose barely a millimetre away. As I opened the pack the hairy head plunged inside before I could reach for the food box. The peace of the bay was broken by the Fatdog’s noisy rummaging and my unsuccessful efforts to dislodge the piratical intruder.
FD, unable to locate the lead lined case containing the food eventually gave up and sat back while I distributed the rations. Our meal was munched in near silence, the only sounds breaking the peace of the quiet cove being the swish of the waves the gurgling of the Fatdog’s overactive digestive system. Lunch over I did as I had done 30 years before…I sat contentedly below Elephant Rock and watched the tide come in.
The Elephant watched fascinated as the Fatdog pursued the crab over the rocks. It had seen a number of strange sights over the centuries but this surely took the biscuit. The Elephant had a strong sense of right and wrong and this was most definitely wrong. Canines just don’t chase crabs! As the crab scuttled past with the Fatdog close on its heels the Elephant carefully tapped the hairy pest with its trunk to have a word. The Fatdog looked up in disbelief as the massive head loomed towards her. She squawked and scampered back across the rocks leaving the baffled Elephant contemplating sadly the decreasing standard of manners these days.
The sight of the opening rucksack immediately distracted the panicking Fatdog and all thoughts of the Elephant popped straight out of her mind. It was lunch time!
Once the irritating intruders had stopped their petty squabbling over the contents of the bag the Elephant sighed happily and returned to keeping watch over its small stretch of shoreline…tranquillity had returned once more to Elephant Rock.