Harvest Moon Holidays draws up a list of what to bring to their tree houses and safari tents on Lochhouses Farm in East Lothian. It’s a list of Danish ‘hygge’, conjuring up cosiness and well-being, and Danish ‘lykke’, happiness – but on the east coast of Scotland rather than Scandinavia.
Guests are instructed to bring:
– wellies or boots
– binoculars and bird-book
– seashore book of shells
– books to read in the evening
It’s a recipe for happiness, a to-do list of contentment. It’s a slap in the face for modern technology (there’s no internet on the estate). Harvest Moon Holidays gently pushes its guests into the outdoors – to woodland, links, dune and sea.
It’s a list conjuring up slower, more innocent times and old-fashioned fun: bird-watching on the lochan, shore and in the woodlands; beach-combing on Ravensheugh Beach; storm-watching at twilight; moonlight walking on the dunes after dark. Star-gazing. It’s toasting marshmallows on the fire-pit wrapped in a blanket, or snuggling high up in the tree house with a book by the wood-burning stove.
Lochhouses Farm’s coastal estates reminds me of my childhood Enid Blyton books, when excitement was high tea and lashings of ginger beer, building huts in the woods and camping out on the beach.
We set off on our bicycles through the Dale estates past farmyards and hamlets to Seacliff Beach. The road took a sharp northeast and Bass Rock was suddenly there before us and it felt as if I’d cycled straight into an Enid Blyton novel – the sheer-sided volcanic plug a scene from the Famous Five on Treasure island or Demon’s Rocks.
At Seacliff, we flew down the muddy track on our bikes to a sandy cove, Bass Rock, just off-shore at this point. From here we turned inland, taking quiet country lanes back to Tyninghame. We crossed the John Muir Way and freewheeled down to Whitekirk (the church actually red) and back to the farm.
Later, I found out that the American naturalist and environmentalist, John Muir had been born just down the road in the fishing port of Dunbar (where there’s a small museum in his memory). I also discovered this place of gentle wildness had inspired another writer – an adventure novelist – not the fifty’s Enid Blyton of my childhood, but the Victorian Robert Louis Stevenson. Related to the Dale family who own Lochhouses Farm and Harvest Moon Holidays, he’d spent boyhood holidays on the farm at Scoughall, and the area became an inspiration for Stevenson’s novels such as Kidnapped and Treasure Island.
This hidden corner of Scotland is full of history. We bumped into Chris, the site manager on the edge of the links on our coastal ramble the next day. A local lad, he knew the history of the area well.
“The locals had a reputation for being ruthless in the 1800s. Called the ‘Wreckers’, they’d lure ships onto the rocks on stormy nights with their lanterns.”
“They were friendly folk around here then,” I laughed.
“You could say! On one occasion, the Wreckers lured a ship with a freight of brandy onto the rocks. They took the bounty, drank their fill, then hid the remaining barrels on the land. The problem was when they woke up they were still in a drunken stupor and couldn’t remember where they’d hidden the stash!”
Robert Louis Stevenson also heard the stories of the Wreckers on the farm at Scoughall. The ‘Pagans of Scoughall’ had a particular reputation for their heartlessness. Stevenson heard how they’d tie a horse’s neck to its knee, attach a lantern to the rope, then lead the horse along the coast, so that sailing vessels thought the horse was a ship bobbing on its anchor. The misled ship would sail towards the light, only to be wrecked on the rocky reef; then plundered. The stories gave Stevenson the idea for his story The Wreckers. And in Catriona, the sequel to Shipwrecked, Stevenson talks about the ‘lights of Scoughall’ and puts the character Tam Dale in charge of the prisoners on Bass Rock.
I asked Chris about the concrete blocks lining the dunes: “Are they from the war?'”
“Yes. The area was taken over by the Ministry of Defence. They used the Dales’ coastal outbuildings to watch the coast, and put anti-tank blocks in. The meadow here was full of landmines.”
“Isn’t that potentially dangerous for the glampers?”
“No, it’s quite safe,” Chris laughed. “When they cleared the field of landmines, they grazed cattle on the field to take the hit for any landmines that might have been missed!”
By the end of October, the light fades out shortly after five in East Lothian. We took our torches that evening and headed down to the beach in the darkness, feeling our way through the dune bushes. Out on the beach the moon cast a silver light on the North Sea. We stumbled back through the dunes and links, hearing an owl screech in the darkness.
Holed up in our house on stilts on the edge of the woods, we felt as snug as the owl in its tree. It was womb-like in the small octagonal hut high above the ground with the wood-burning stove blazing in the corner.
We’d found something close to serenity in our tree house at Harvest Moon, and in the nature around it. The tree houses and their surroundings ooze Danish hygge and lykke in this idyllic corner of East Lothian.
“Courie in,” my Scottish husband said. ‘Cosy in’. And I guess that’s as close a translation you get to hygge in the local venacular.
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