Distance – 5 nautical miles
55°56’44”N 3°04’02”W to 55°58’21”N 2°57’19”W
Eskmuthe Rowing Club (Fisherrow & Musselburgh) launches our two skiffs, Honesty and Steedie Falconer, into Fisherrow Harbour. We receive the baton from Row Porty and Eastern and wave off the land team who are cycling the coast to Port Seton along the John Muir Way. We get a brief glimpse back to Portobello and Leith before turning eastwards and heading along the seafront; the sea is sparkling and we’ve got a warm westerly breeze behind us.
The route soon takes us over the historic mussel beds, past the links and Loretto School playing fields to the muthe of the River Esk. A nice uncontroversial club name Eskmuthe – not Musselburgh and not Fisherrow, so no-one is offended! The muthe has seen a great deal of action over the years. The Romans supposedly had their harbour on the Esk, built to serve the fort up the hill. Centuries later, on 10 September 1547, The Subtle Galley, a state-of-the-art oar-powered English battleship, fired the first shot of the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. This was the biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought in Scotland and the last fought between the separate kingdoms of Scotland and England.
In the 1950s, the next stretch would have had us rowing past Musselburgh’s historic golf links and racecourse but in 1964 a long concrete wall was completed to enclose a series of giant lagoons. Built to take the ash from Cockenzie Power Station (more of that later) they were gradually filled in over the years and are now a habitat for wading birds. Rowing past the lagoons, we get a wave from the cyclists. Our local seal is tracking us too.
As we approach Prestongrange, we get to the town boundary. ’It’s all oor ain’ we shouted in 2016 as we enacted the first ever Rowing of the Marches, throwing the clod of turf into the air and getting showered in good old Musselburgh soil! Many of the boats here today joined us on that day too as part of the maritime addition to the Riding of the Marches, celebrated in Musselburgh every 21 years.
This coast has a grand industrial past. Mining and trade at Prestongrange and its harbour Morrison’s Haven date back to the 12th century. Looking over at the museum, we can see the winding gear, the power house and the pithead baths where the Eskmuthe boats were built.
We row on a bit more and stop for cake and coffee as we drift slowly past Prestonpans. The cyclists will get a better look at the fine murals and sculptures that line the shore road. Ah, feel the sun, where else would you rather be on a day like this?
Beyond Prestonpans, we pass the site where Cockenzie Power Station once stood. On 26 September 2015, on a still Saturday morning, a flotilla of craft sailed, rowed and paddled to see the towers being demolished — and what a treat it was. A countdown, an explosion and the two towers fell towards each other in slow motion, crumpling as they touched. Boatie Blest were seen some hours later when they emerged from the cloud!
On past Cockenzie Harbour and village where the Wagonway project has set out to promote the first ever railway in Scotland, which ran between Tranent and Cockenzie from 1722. You can almost smell the coffee and cakes in Cockenzie House café.
Just a short row now to Port Seton Harbour; the cyclists take the path where runners ran the relay race at Boatie’s regattas a few years ago. That was fun.
That looks like Boatie’s skiffs up ahead waiting to take up the baton. Here we go, ready for the handover.
About Eskmuthe Rowing Club
Eskmuthe Rowing Club was formed in October 2012 when a group of men in Musselburgh heard about the phenomena of coastal rowing and decided they wanted to join in the fun. The club name Eskmuthe was taken from an early 12th century reference to the area and chosen so as not to upset anyone in the historic communities of Fisherrow and Musselburgh.
The team raised the cash and built our first skiff which was named Honesty, after the Honest Toun of Musselburgh, she was launched on 18 August 2013, SCRA No 51. Our boats are painted in the Musselburgh town colours with a dark blue hull and bright yellow interior. The yellow is a brilliantly cheerful colour, bringing a bit of sunshine to the most overcast of rowing days.
Only a couple of the original boat builders wanted to row, so a few others joined the group and, with no seafaring experience between us, began to tootle around and about Fisherrow Harbour. Our neighbours from RowPorty and Boatie Blest gave us great help and guidance to set us on our way in the early days.
In less than a year, the new club members began feeling a bit restless and, as the ethos of Scottish Coastal Rowing was to build your own boat, decided to build a second skiff themselves. We applied for a lottery grant and in September 2014 began building. We had plenty of enthusiasm and a very good friend and sailor – and joiner – Stuart Macdonald, who led our boat build and helped us gain the skills we needed to keep the boats afloat.
Our second skiff, Steedie Falconer, was launched on 3 May 2015 and named after a local fishwife who died during the time the skiff was being built. The boat was registered as SCRA No 95, the same age as Steedie when she passed away.
Since Steedie was launched, our club has grown and grown and made a huge difference to the lives of many people who’ve joined. We have a fantastic club website www.eskmutherowingclub.org.uk which includes some lovely photo galleries, a Skiffiepsych section and a “Why we row” page. Some of the entries from that page are shared below. In this year of 2020, the friendships we have made through the club and the shared experiences we can still have, like Zoom quizzes or a quick swim in the sea, have kept many of us going.
Why we row …
Being on the water is like being in another world. You get out there and row and forget about all the things that weigh you down, all the drudgery life offers. It is exciting and magical. It is moving meditation and allows you to join in the banter or just to daydream. There is nothing else like it. It has totally changed my life and my world – and both are much better for my rowing. I am totally addicted!
I row as it is good for my mental health, as well as my physical health. Having had depression and anxiety issues, I found that on my weekends off, I was literally hibernating away. Joining Eskmuthe gave me a purpose to go out in the fresh air, meet new people and get involved in a hobby I wish I had known about years ago. The social side of the club is great, and there is no pressure to join in things you don’t want to! For me, it has been the best decision I made this year. That’s why I row.
Since I moved to East Lothian about ten years ago, I still love the fact that I now live next to the sea and have such fantastic views each day. I stumbled across rowing from a friend in a gym class and I’m so glad I did. Initially I was just interested in having something other than the gym to do to keep fit, however now a week without rowing feels odd. It’s a great chance to clear your head of the week’s nonsense and each row is a mini-adventure. We have seen a lot of wildlife even from just outside the harbour, have been able to explore more of our local coastline, and also get further afield to join other clubs around the country in competitions. My fitness has improved but it’s also got me out of my comfort zone on quite a number of occasions which has also helped my confidence. I’ve said ‘yes’ more often this year and now realised I am not that old, so have volunteered with other organisations and I’m trying sailing. The club has also been very welcoming and I have made a lot of great friends that I want to spend time with in and out of the boat.
I row because I love being outdoors, especially on the sea. And rowing is relaxing – it’s meditative – repetitive – tranquil. On choppy days it’s exhilarating and often hilarious. Being in the bow on those days can be like a rollercoaster. And racing – I like racing.
I row because it is a constant source of fun – and of new and unexpected experiences. I love being on the water, looking back at the land, especially when we have the sea to ourselves. I love the unpredictability of the sea and the weather, and the banter in the boat. Rowing in so many different places is such brilliant fun. I never thought I would enjoy coxing but I love it – especially seeing the joy on the faces of new rowers. It’s also great to cox a crew who really gel and get the boat moving like an arrow through water. The mix of the crew is always interesting and it’s great to see people gain new skills and confidence in the club. The club has given me so much pleasure and hopefully, there is lots more to come!