Tim Porteous (2)

Cockles Brae  pic o17
 Cockles Brae is part of the road which runs to the south of Haddington, and was one of the routes taken by fishwives as they carried their heavily laden creels to Gifford. It’s not a terribly steep brae, but it’s quite long and anyone who has walked up the brae will attest that getting to the summit is good exercise!

The sweat began to glisten on her forehead as she walked up the hill towards Gifford. She was carrying a creel of cockles, and clasped in her hands were strands of barley and wild flowers.  She had already walked many miles from her village on the coast, and there was still a way to go. 
She was a fishwife, but also a mother and grandmother, and she carried the livelihood of her family on her back. In the days of her youth she would have been singing to herself on such a fine sunny day, but now she was far from those times and her bones ached with the burden she carried . 
She paused for a moment as the road beyond her rose towards Gifford. She was following her own well worn footsteps and she knew that the brae ahead, while not very steep, was long and weary. 
She wore the traditional fishwives costume, and she had always worn it with pride. On this day however, the heat bore down on her and her clothes were not ideal. She tilted her head down, in a bent posture, and summoned up all her energy as she began to walk up the brae.
She knew she could not dally, the heat would rot her produce if she didn’t get to her customers in good time. She muttered under her breath as she strove ahead, cursing the heat, her aches and the weight of the creel.
Then she stopped. A wave of nausea had come over her and so she decided to rest. She walked over to a tree opposite some cottages, and there she rested the creel on the far side of the tree trunk out of the sun, and she sat down. 
She felt strange and unusual. Thoughts of her family ran through her mind, and old memories danced in her imagination. Then she could feel her body well up inside. There was something wrong, a strange pain suddenly gripped her and a blanket of darkness covered her as she curled up then lay on the ground.
Thus the life of this hard working woman came to an end at the base of the brae she had so often travelled.
It wasn’t long before a passerby realised that she was not just resting in the sunshine. Word was quickly sent to her community and friends and family arrived to bring her body home for burial.
However, her creel, full of cockles, went unnoticed in all the commotion. She had carefully placed it in the shade, unseen from the road. And there it remained after her body had been taken home.  A curious passing creature may have helped tip the basket and spill the contents, which quickly rotted in the heat. 
The following day, two men were on their way to Haddington from Gifford. As they approached the base of the brae an almighty smell assaulted them.. 
“Och whit a stench!” said one of the men, holding his nose. 
“It’s comin frae ower there” said his companion, who went to investigate. As he approached the tree the smell grew stronger. Flies were buzzing around a pile of rotten stinking cockles. At first he couldn’t understand how this could be, but then he saw the creel lying on its side. There were rotten cockles spewed all around, the source of the horrible smell.
Who had the job of removing the creel and its minging contents is not recorded, but the memory of the smell lingered much longer than the smell itself. So ever since, that section of the road became known as Cockles Brae.

(C) 2019 Tim Porteus