Walk the John Muir Way & Discover the John Muir Award
Looking for a great walk for kids and a challenge for the whole family? The John Muir Way is a 134 mile long distance route across the heart of Scotland. It calls through plenty of interesting rural and urban locations. You can do the whole lot in a week or so, or tackle a few miles in a day, walking or cycling. And there is learning is built in; John Muir was an explorer, conservationist and pioneer and you can follow his teachings and the principles of The John Muir Award as you go. As part of a collaboration with Premier Inn to promote active UK breaks, we walked a section from Dunbar to North Berwick near Edinburgh, learning about Muir the man, his award and his Way. If you like to saunter rather than hike, you’ll love this…
Walk the John Muir Way
In John Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar, which is now a museum, there is a story that tells you a lot about this conservationist and explorer. It also sets the tone for the long distance walk in his name.
“To make sure his view of the world remained fresh, John used to bend upside down and look between his knees. Try it sometime. You might feel a bit daft but things really do look different!”
Look and learn
How often do you set out on a walk resolving to look at it upside down or back to front? I don’t know about you, but I am often a robot when on a hike, barely noticing the world around me or seeing it through a lens.
Today it is different. As soon as we set off we are burying our heads in flowers and putting our ears to the ground. We are testing out the feel of the rocks beneath our feet. We are touching limpets to feel their cobweb like markings.
We are testing and teasing and dipping and dripping and dropping and flopping. Because we are doing part of the John Muir Way, in the way that he would have wanted.
Muir, the man and the John Muir Award
Through his work in the outdoors John Muir encouraged people to see the world differently, to see it more perceptively and with purpose, and to share findings with others. And this philosophy doesn’t just extend to a walk.
Although John Muir was born in Scotland he has been called the father of the American National Parks and thousands of people each year do his environmental award which encourages a wilder and more thoughtful way of living. Hannah is about to do her award, and Cameron took it upon himself to give her some background into the man and his scheme before we stepped out on the Scottish trail that was named after the pioneer…
We begin like John did
The John Muir Way runs from coast to coast of central Scotland for over 134 miles. This low level walk stretches from Helensburgh in the west through to Dunbar in the east and you can do it in either direction. Starting at the coast at Dunbar, it is especially eye catching and immersive. And our leg of the walk to North Berwick is packed with very different landscapes. We begin at the harbour but are soon passing the cliffs at Dunbar, exploring beaches where the landscape changes dramatically with the tide, playing in rock pools that John himself played in as a boy.
The whirlpool ‘bathe’
In fact the scene changes suddenly moment by moment as the sea pushes roughly in through channels in the rock that forms an area known as ‘The Bathe’ and is sucked out again like there’s a whirlpool at work under the sand. We marvel at its power. We hunt out sookin-in-goats with a stick and retreat for fear of being sucked in by the mythical horned creatures. (Watch the video above to find out what a sookin-in goat is!)
Noticing the big worm curl
We try to spot worms as they curl under casts on the shore of Belhaven Bay and we watch teens drop easily from the girders of a bridge over Biel Water and splash about in the warm saltwater.
Past country park and marsh
We search for signs of red and white campions breeding baby pinks and we look through our legs at trees that seem to defy gravity. We smell the pine, the samphire, and the sharp salt of the breeze. We sit on a bench and follow the salt marshes of the Tyne seemingly forever with our eyes. We play cricket with pine cones and a sookin-in stick and we stand in front of brightly coloured signs that point out ‘the way.’ In some parts of the walk all paths lead to the The Way.
Saunter not hike
At the beginning of the day we stride out with purpose yet by the end we are travelling so slowly we are barely moving. Too lazy? On the contrary, we are constantly busy. But we’ve read that John Muir said it was as important “to saunter” as “to hike”. In his award, the four John Muir challenges are to discover, explore, conserve and share. When you are following the way of a great pioneer, it would be rude not to listen to his teachings.
A bug party and a crisp party
So we take time to explore the contours of a silken poppy leaf and discover a bug party. We conserve the fields by picking up litter while a tractor toils away in the summer dusk. We lie and listen to nature. Properly. Until Cameron spoils the silence with a treat. Watch this video to find out how peacefully our day ends. Well, kind of.
A great night’s sleep and a great place to start
We hoped to get to North Berwick, 17 kilometres down the track by nightfall. But at the end of the day we’ve barely done half of the walk. That’s what comes from sauntering, stopping and appreciating nature. Hannah is tired and dusk is near. Catching a local cab at East Linton’s Preston Mill we head back to our Premier Inn for a good night’s sleep and to recharge our batteries.
The law of the land
In the morning we get going early with a Premier Inn breakfast and by lunchtime we are hiking up North Berwick Law, the only hill on this section of the walk. The kids aren’t impressed that we “have” to climb it but have to acknowledge that the views and message at the top make it worth it. View this stunning end to our journey in this video.
Heading for the moument
The cone shaped hillock draws our eyes far out to sea where seagulls are dive bombing the horizon. We head up and up and when we reach the top we don’t look through our legs this time but instead give Cameron a leg up onto the monument that marks the top.
Living for the moment
A sign on the squat stone pillar tells us in big letters to Live for the Moment. John Muir would doubtlessly have told us the same were he alive to see us complete this section of his walk. And that’s what we have done on The John Muir Way. We have discovered, explored, conserved and shared, sauntered, hiked, liked and noticed. If only every walk was as immersive as this.
There are many Premier Inn’s that make a great place to start walking on and near the John Muir Way. You can stay in Falkirk East or Musselburgh but we spent a few days in Edinburgh first so for ease moved on to Newcraighall Premier Inn which is close to the city. The location of this Premier Inn is more practical than it is beautiful but the hotel provides the level of comfort we have come to expect from the chain. At the end of a long day of walking what we need most is a great night’s sleep and good food. The latter is satisfied at the Cuddie Brae pub and restaurant next door where the cheesecake and the cookies come in huge Sunday glasses piled with ice cream.
There’s plenty of space for our boots and gear in the room and in the morning we spread the maps out over a Scottish breakfast as we plan our day ahead.
Parking, starting and finishing
We park for free near Dunbar Leisure Centre and begin our walk with a visit to the John Muir Birthplace. (Open Mon-Sat 10-5 and 1-5 on Sundays. Admission is free.) You can buy a map and guidebook combo for £15 that will help you on your way or just follow the path; the walk goes pretty much from the doorstep of the museum. We but broke our journey at the quirky Preston Mill at East Linton, a National Trust for Scotland attraction with nearby Phantassie Doocot. (Preston Mill opens Thursday to Monday, 12.30-17.00. Family ticket £16.50, includes a guided tour that runs every 45 minutes.)
Points of interest
There are areas to stop and rest on the way including the East Links Family Park and nearby in the John Muir Country Park there’s a good playground for kids and toilets and drinking water. We have a celebration coffee in North Berwick harbour at the Scottish Seabird Centre.
Disclosure Note: This is paid content, part of a collaboration with Premier Inn. We were invited to produce content for use on the Premier Inn Hub to promote the chain as more than a great place to stay but as a great base for great days out walking. All the ideas, opinion, walking, photography, videography and copy are, as ever, entirely our own.