In the last post I introduced the idea that certain members of an armed contingent called the Gododdin, which marched from the Lothians to the Battle of Catreath in 600 AD, had connections to East Lothian. We observed Elphin–Elphinstone, Rhuvawn-Ravensheugh & Gwid-Kidlaw, all of which were connected to Iron-Age fortresses or burial centers. In the same fashion, I would like to introduce an idea that the 6th century warrior known as Dremrudd was once a warlord at an outstandingly impressive & fabulously well-preserved hill-fort called the Chesters, only a stone’s throw away from the village of Drem. The stanza in which he is found in Y Gododdin (my translation) reads:
Ye Kings stand firm twyx Dremrudd’s ruddy glances, Whose purposes times pillages obscure, Men plough the seas with pure impunity, Of these, the palest first is satisfied, A wee bit crazed & yet his crown complete, Before him garden-cover’d, Gownddelw, Right worthy, lived as tall as did Maelderw, Wielded his spears as such we bards must praise How his soul-strength pervaded many lands;
I like late January, with the morning twilights coming earlier & growing nearer to my bedroom window, & the evening’s light lasting just a tad while longer – Spring is definitively coming! But, there is nothing like a crisp, clear winter’s morning for a walk; so me & Daisy found ourselves driving into the quaint, wee, 3-bay car-park at the Chesters.
The best way to enjoy this walk is to not head straight for the hillfort along the path, but to veer right into the woodland. At this time of year the branches are bare & the air is insect free, which lent a real feeling of barren tranquility to the occasion.
Passing up & over a gate, we enter’d a new field, with gorse on our left, while over the wall to the right sat a handsome blue tractor!
At this point we began to ascend a steepish slope to our left, with Daisy sniffing for rabbits as we went.I was loving the way the tree branches in this silent corner of the county were making weird webbing patterns against the sky.
After a wee while we reached a fine plateaux, with splendid views all round. At the rough summit spot, one can make out Edinburgh, Fife, North Berwick Law, & even Torness Power Station in the far distance.
Crossing the plateaux to the NE – aiming for North Berwick Law – we reached a clumsy wall, thro’ a gap in which we found ourselves on a hillslope thick with gorse & paths. Here we had our first glimpse of the Chesters directly to the north, in which direction we paced our way down paths & through gorse.
Once we reached the valley bottom, we turned left, & headed towards a stile in the distance, over which we popped & did a U-turn of sorts in order to explore the hillfort to its eastern end.
What a joy; an excuisite circumvallating heap of vivid turf walls & defensive ditches, all lush-flush with hibernating grasses. The Chesters consists of two acres of atmospheric circles atop a conical eminence, but as a defensive position its a bit daft – an invading army could easily have slung rocks and arrows from the heights from whence we came earlier. But, it was heavily defended – perhaps it was an iron-age bank or something, protecting the treasures of the Gododdin chiefs. It was certainly very high-status, & as I have already stated, connected in some way to Dremrudd.
The quantifiably excellent vistas obtained from the Chesters were very much favored during the two World Wars of last century, in the capacity of an observation post. Just a couple of miles away lay RAF Drem, a vital chain in the protection of Britain, overlooking the waterways of the Firth of Forth with all of its crucial shipping. To protect Drem, an anti-aircraft gun emplacement was also established right on the Chesters.
During the Second World War, Drem was abuzz with different squadrons & planes – including Mosquitos & Hawker Hurricanes – piloted by an ever increasing array of internationals. The first edition of the Supermarine Spitfire flew from Drem in 1939 (A&B Flights of 72 Squadron), & 16 editions later, at the end of the war, they were still flying from Drem.
While stood on the Chesters, observing the merry meld of sky, sea, & land, I began imagining the dog-fighting scene during the first major air-battle over Britain of the Second World War. It took place on the 16th October, 1939, only 3 days after 602 Squadron had moved to Drem to bolster the defences around the Firth of Forth.
Thinking that the War would be over in a matter of weeks, the Germans had decided to attack the shipping at Rosyth, roaring in over the Lammermuirs & along the Forth in four waves of three Junkers Ju 88 bombers of the 1 Gruppe Kampfgeschwader. Taking the British air-defence completely by surprise, they scored some damage.
Spitfires from Drem & Turnhouse (Edinburgh) were scrambl’d to attack the raiders, resulting in the first two Luftwaffe bombers shot down, one of which was claimed by George Pinkerton of 602 at Drem. It was brought down off the May Island and two crew were rescued by a trawler; they were transferred to Military Custody at Edinburgh Castle where they were visted by George himself. A third plane was struck by ack-ack fire & limped through the skies to Holland, where it made a forced landing in which all the crew were killed.
Back at Rosyth, the cruisers HMS Edinburgh and HMS Mohawk, and the destroyer, HMS Southampton, had all sustained direct hits, but did not sink. 15 Sailors who were killed, was not released for many years. Some of the dead are interred in the Naval section of South Queensferry Cemetery.
In the early noughties, the BBC ran a sheme called ‘People’s War’ asking viewers to send in accounts of the war. From these I found Edward Thomson’s account of the attack, made in 2003.
I was a passenger on the Dundee section of an Edinburgh to Aberdeen train which had just entered the first arch at the Southern end of the Bridge. The next stop was to be Leuchars Junction. I was in the corridor with an older boy called Jack Thomas from Edinburgh. We were looking downstream to the right of the carriage and were trying to identify some of the fleet at anchor below the bridge. Almost simultaneously there was a giant waterspout as high as the bridge alongside one of the capital ships and a barge tied up alongside; it seemed to fly up in the air! In later life I discovered it was HMS Southampton. There were two or three other explosions further off and one of the ships was actually struck; it was HMS Mohawk and casualties were sustained on board.
Drem was a relative placid posting – with squadrons being rotated here from the wild SE corner of England. In November 1941, a member of 611 Squadron (West Lancashire) recorded his unimpress’d observations of arriving at Drem.
As compared with Hornchurch, Drem has a very long way to go. The men have four wooden huts in which to sleep (35 men to each) & heated by 2 coal stoves. Senior NCOs & Officers both have the old type messes. Dispersal point is situated along the south-west side of teh flying field. There are 5 wooden huts, 2 for pilots, 1 each for A- & B- flight’s ground crews & 1 for signal & armament personnel. Squadron HQ is on the opposite side of the flying field & is very reminscent of the wooden HQ which the Squadron had in pre-war days at Speke. It must be realized that Hornchurch has been completely modernized & everything is most up to date whilst here no modernization has been carried out yet
At the eastern end of the Chesters are the remains of a double gateway, through which me & Daisy bounced. We next came to a fortuitous hole in the fence, through which we went, turning sharply right & downhill. Then, it was a return to the valley, along which we went, this time passing the stile & reaching the sites information point.
It was then a wee potter back through the woods & to the car. We really enjoyed this walk. Its all a bit short, like, but its quiet & you can freely meander about a lot like a drunken spaniel, so make what you will of the occasion!
Hello & welcome to year two of my Walking East Lothian series. So far we have scratched the surface of just some of this remarkable county’s scenically sensational & really quite interesting walks. There seems to be history popping out of every rock! To open 2019 I thought I would dig deep into the area’s earliest recorded inhabitants, an Iron Age tribe named the Otalini by the 2nd century Roman geographer, Ptolemy.
Further south [i.e. below the Selgovae] are the Otalini (sic), among whom are the following towns: Coria 20*10 59∞00 Alauna 23*00 58∞40 Bremenium 21*00 58∞45″
Their tribal territories spread from Falkirk, through all the Lothians & into the eastern borders as far as Northumberland, where the town’s mentioned above seem to have been situated. Coria would be Corbridge, Alavna would be Learchild near the River aln, & Bremenivm, High Rochester. Other passages in Ptolemy give us a few coastal & river names, such as Firth of Forth (Bodotria Aestuarium), the River Coquet (Cocuveda Fluvius) & the River Tyne (Tineus Fluvius).
They also had a hill-fort on East Lothian’s lodestar, Traprain Law – a 3rd century horde of Roman Silver was discover’d here, indicating a settlement of some importance. By the sixth century, the Otadini had become the Gododdin, at least in the Old Welsh language of their native poet Aneirin. It is from him & his fabulous poem, Y Gododdin, that we learn how the tribe had moved their principle seat to Edinburgh, from where 300 warriors marched to the battlefield of Catraeth. Only a handful would survive, including Aneirin, whose series of elegies to the fallen dead is the first true literary treasure of the British Isles.
I have translated Y Gododdin myself (you can read it here) & as I did so I began to notice matches between the names of the warriors & certain places in East Lothian. Once is nothing, twice a lucky coincidence, three times a gently extending ‘hmmmm,’ & four times an, ‘I really do need to open 2019 with a ‘Searching for Gododdin’ series.’ For example, there are two stanzas which mention a certain Elphin, who could be the same man to whom a memorial stone was erected at the Dark Age burial near Elphinstone. Other Gododdin-East Lothian connections begin with a certain Rhuvawn, whose name could well have corrupted into Ravensheugh, the site of a hill-fort at the northern extremity of Seacliff Beach. According to the medieval Welsh Triads, Rhuvawn was one of the three Fair Princes of Britain alongside the famous Owain of Rheged. There is also a warrior called Gwid, son of Peithan, whose name may be present in Kidlaw (Gwidlaw). Here is the stanza in which he appears in my translation of Y Gododdin
No hall was ever made more eminent, Nor mightier, for slaughters more immense; The mead of Morien has turn’d to flame & none could say that Cynon can’t carve corpses, Whose hero-sword resounds around the ramparts, No more than we can move a massive boulder, Will Gwid, the son of Peithan, too be moved!
Daisy & I undertook this walk between Christmas & New Year, on a an extra fine day in which all the natural colours were peculiarly pastoral. Parking up, we entered a small picnic area at which end was a strange guillotine thing which I had to lift up to let Daisy through.
We walk’d parallel to wall for a bit, then turn’d slightly left to start our climb to the summit & to witness those ever-expanding views. That was us, then, climbing slopes hewn from the Earth 320 million years ago. Antiquity indeed, & there has been human occupation on Traprain since the Bronze Age, about 1500 BC.
Daisy loves a good slope, & was scampering about in her usual giddy way. The path was through rocks & gorse, upon the latter of which I noticed a few perfunctory yellow trumpet-heralds embellishing the green, blooming in anticipation with the full orchestra soon to be flushing the hills with brightness.
After a minor path diversion we began to ascend ever higher, the going growing harder & with this pick’d up the wind. We were not alone, a number of fellow walkers were taking advantage of the dry sunshine, & of course thoroughly enjoying the immense panoramas. It is from such vantage that the impressive piece of engineering that is the East Linton A1 bridge can be properly admired.
At the summit I ask’d a mother-daughter couple to take photos of me & Daisy, & they happily obliged. I then offer’d my services in return, & return’d the favour. It turns out I knew the daughter – she is connected to the Haddington Corn Exchange & shows me how to work the lights whenever I hire the hall for some artistic event.
So here we were, in the assumed capital of the Votadini, on account of a fabulous horde of Roman silver found here. Traprain is an excellent setting for rule – massive stretching views in all directions & complete control over the Forth & its access to the world’s seaways.The chieftains must have felt a bit like Hitler at Berchtesgaden, up in the Heavens with delusions of grandeur.
Now I’d just like to show you something interesting. Speculations have abounded as to why the silver arrived at Traprain c.400 AD, when the Votadini at that time were no longer under Roman jurisdiction. The answer, however, is quite simple.
The first steps in the solution involves recognizing the pattern on the shields of several Roman units, as given in the 5th century Notitia Dignitatum, is identical to the following piece of silverware.
This image was created by Alice Blackwell, based on fragments of the dish being found in the hoard, & their massive similarities with a dish found in Switzerland. One is immediately reminded of the Honariana Attecotti Seniores, a unit of troops drawn from the Attacotti, a hitherto unplaced tribe of Scotland. ‘Honarian’ means they represented Emperor Honorious (395-423 AD), whose coins are the last dated in the Traprain treasure. With the Honariana Attecotti Seniores coming under the Roman Italian command, then we have credible support for the dish at Traprain being the same as the one found in Switzerland.
We now come to the best bit. For a long, long time, scholars have speculated on the homelands of the Attacotti, but to no avail. However, while looking at an Ogham inscription on an obscure Pictish stone discovered on the Shetland Islands, I hit paydirt. Etched into what is known as the Lunnasting Stone, it reads;
ettecuhetts: ahehhttannn: hccvvevv: nehhtons
Chispologically speaking, Ettecuhets is a lovely match for Attacotti, especially when we combine two variant spelling in the Notitia, being ‘attecotti’ & ‘attcoetti,’ as in; Attecoet / Ettecuhet. OK, the Shetlands aren’t the Orkneys, but they are very close & may have been administer’d together 1500 years ago, which suddenly provides the historiographical evidence to explain why King Loth of Lothian was also the King of the Orkneys (& Norway).
With East Lothian spinning in 360 degrees of beauty, I traced the walks I had composed last year, & hinted at those yet to pass. I had first reached the summit of Traprain almost a decade ago, in 2009, during which period I was composing lots of sonnets. This was the result;
Elevated by the Votadini We scrambl’d up the Laccolithic side Found picture frame three hundred sixty wide Elating vision sweet to each degree.
Beneath rocks of volcanic pimplerie Dunbar, East Linton, Haddington abide, Fields reach the Forth & beaches there beside Or lonely Lammermuir where thought soars free.
I cast mine een along the Garleton ridge To settle on the far-off Forth Road bridge, Little with distance, ghostly in the mist.
This is the length of Roman Lothian, A county home my roaming soul hath won To recollect whenever she is miss’d.
Roll on a decade & I found myself nestled in a rocky outcrop on the eastern end of the summit, rather like those witnessed by the British Army on the Falklands, by Mount Tumbledown. As I gazed down upon the ruins of Hailes Castle, with Daisy greeting the odd climber, I got to work on the first lines of a long poem I intend to write this year – a Wordsworthian effort carved from walks in the Lammermuirs. Here is the opening;
Across the world, among the vale of years,
Lets intimate along the Lammermuirs
Our inclinations natural to roam
In heather’d heights above the feather’d foam
Lost in the dull lights of a day’s rebirth
Our time feels finite of this fertile Earth,
Into the night we drove, down to Dunbar
Where we, by sandstone harbour, park’d our car
Out of the front seat leapt a Lhassapoo
My little Daisy, tho our souls seem two,
We are as one when walking in the hills
By rocks & crags, by riverbanks & rills.
When its not crazy windy, a really pleasant time can be had on the summit – there’s a lot of area for walkers to explore, including the hut-circles to the western end. For us, I was content to dawdle & compose for a bit, before heading almost straight downhill from the eastern end of the summit, the great quarry rising to our right.
You should eventually see a fence below you, & the car park beyond that. The idea is to make your way over loose paths & what not to the corner of the fence, from where its an easy few meters to the path & the guillotine – & the happy drive home
Its been a frantic few weeks in the world of Walking East Lothian. After spending the year cavorting with my dog Daisy about the county, I realised that walking other people’s dogs around the same places could be a nice way of making a wee wage. The result is Fetch! East Lothian, my transcounty, council-approved, fully-insured, dogwalking service. So far we have three ‘clients’ – the dog in Musselburgh has open’d my eyes to the amazing Levenhall Links, which we’ll be covering in this blog early next year. There’s also a couple of rescue dogs in Gifford, which means we get to enjoy Yester’s amazing woodland regularly.
So, to Circlin’ Kilspindie. The name relates to the golf course on the western fringes of the spectacular seagirt settlement that is Aberlady. Of this wonderfully airy, breathy & scenic village, Rev John Smith wrote in the 1845 Statistical Account of Scotland, ‘Aberlady does not appear to have been the scene of any memorable event, nor is it famous in history as the birth-place, or place of residence, of any very eminent men.’ This is a rather staid approach to history, however, & I found the walk I took in the area with the wife & Daisy absolutely fascinating.
We settled the car on a scintillating morning by a small public park called The Pleasance, opposite a kirk on the extreme western outskirts of Aberlady, just off the coastal road. The kirk in question is the Aberlady Parish Church, dedicated to Saint Mary. Dating from the 15th century, it was re-built in 1887 – designed by London architect William Young – and was described in a newspaper of the time as, “one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland.”
On this occasion we refrained from entering the kirk’s cloisters, & instead follow’d a path around its grounds & thetwo peaceful graveyards to our left. The path then dives directly forwards toward the Forth. In a field to our right we could make out the clump of trees & ruined brickwork that mark the site of Kilspindie Castle. An early fortalice of the Spens family, it was destroyed in 1548 by the English during their occupation of Haddington, enabling English supplies to be landed unchalleng’d.
Our path soon reach’d a more pristine pathway, which we took to our left, soon arriving at the main hub of the Kilspindie golf course club. Just before the clubhouse itself, there is a building which I sensed was the ‘Town of Haddington’s House,’ from which the county town handled its imports & exports. Aberlady was an important harbour for fishing, sealing, and whaling and was designated “Port of Haddington” by a 1633 Act of Parliament, helping maintain Haddington’s burh status with enhanced overseas trading privileges.
There has been considerable alteration on the coast at Aberlady Bay since these old times. The sea has made great inroads into the coastline around Kilspindie Links. The course of the Peffer Burn has also been getting gradually shallower, & at the Point, where the ships used to anchor, the foreshore presents to the older inhabitants quite a different appearance to what it did in their own recollection John Pringle Reid: Historical Guide to Aberlady (1926)
From this vantage, the view of Aberlady Bay’s fabulous nature reserve is lovely; over the Peffer estuary & onto the rolling Gullane dunes, with the sky offering the occasional puffs of blunderbus-blasted flocks of wintering Geese.
The rough remains of the old port’s anchorage protruded from the clay bottom, upon which in former days boats rested safely when the tide was out. One famous local legend is that of fisherman Skipper Thomson, the pilot at Aberlady, who was unfortunately lost in a storm. Not long after his disappearancem his wooden leg washed up nearby, & was dutifully handed to his widow, who kept it on her mantelpiece to her dying day.
The port’s decline began with the coming of the North British Railway in 1846, with a station opened at Ballencrieff. The townsfolk were canny, however, & the year before the railway was officially opened in the area, they hold sold their rights of anchorage to the Earl of Wemyss. It was the same guy, by the way, he restored the parish kirk in 1886.
The quaint clubhouse of Kilspindie Golf Club, which possesses a rich history. Formed in 1867 as the Luffness Golf Club, it was the 35th registered golf club in the world, with the course then was on the far side of the Peffer Burn on land which is now part of the Nature Reserve. Unfortunately for the historian or enthusiast, there is little evidence of the course layout and the original clubhouse.
A few years later, there was a split in the club, with some members moving to a new course nearer Gullane, & others to the links land Craigielaw Farm, & named Kilspindie in 1899. Of this new course – which has hardly changed in 112 years – one of its first members, Ben Sayers (see our walk along North Berwick Beach) commented, “one would almost think nature had intended this for 18 holes as there is just sufficient ground and no more.”
It was time to commence proper our circumnavigation of Kilspindie Links, a fond daunder by the seashore with the wife & dog, perched upon a sliver of coastal path between the soft golf turf & the shelly sands that edge the Firth of Forth. Guided by short, white, stubby poles, we found ourselves traversing the 2nd & 3rd holes of the Kilspindie course, happy to have be born into a world which offers such walking as this!
Half-way down the third fairway, just as we were passing an ornithologist building, the weather abruptly changed. ‘This wasn’t predicted‘ cried a golfer in near despair at the green, huckling behind an imaginary shelter in his mind as he braved his putt.
Not long after the birdwatching house, we descended to the beach itself. It was quiet, secluded, & gorgeous – no clanking clubs & yelps of frustrated golfers disturbing the natural peace here! The coast was startlingly refreshing visually, with very handsome rock formations pleasing the eye; while out to sea an oil tanker sat idly on the sea, obscuring for a moment the eyeliner-like illusion of a dull sky, doubling over, darkening the sea. All-in-all a perfect painting & a total gorging of East Lothian-ness.
As we reache’ the end of this comfortable stretch of beach, we surmounted once again the links, & found the wind picking up & the rain falling harder as 45 degree jagged bolts. Poor Daisy, she’s not a fan of this kind of thing, but like the golfer I was also completely surprised by this extreme turn in the weather.
We soon reached another beach, a real natural gem which reveale’ an expansive & succulent panorama. In one sweep of the eyes one can make out the phantasy of Fife, individual details of Edinburgh Castle, the towering apartments of Newhaven, the mound-whales of the Pentlands & even the hoary Ochils far out to the west.
At the end of this beach one arrives at a large, whitewashed empty building in the vicinity of ‘The Quarry’ – i.e. the 9th tee of a second Golf Course situated on the Links. This new club is called Craigielaw, whose Championship links course was designed by Donald Steel & opened in 2001.
From the tee we found a road, a few meters along which we then turn’d left into the relative shelter of some woods. Thro’ the trees to our left we could see the large houses of Craigielaw Park – one of those rare British conurbations that are the ‘gated communities’. ‘They have many in America,’ explained the wife, but in Britain they haven’t really taken off. Still, having keypad-only-access to one’s cul-de-sac does help to justify spending the million pounds or so that these houses cost – alongside, of course, the kitchens by Clive Christian.
Back in the woods were were getting colder, & the wife was carrying Daisy for large spurts. Not only the cold, but the finally leafless trees all were telling our souls that Winter was really here. Still, its a charming stretch of walk, with clear paths leading to a gate & a road.
At this point one is faced with two choices. Follow the road a little to the right where it joins the John Muir’s way, running parallel to the main road, or cut across Craigielaw’s driving range. As the weather had turned heinous, the range was empty & so we pursued the latter course.
On reaching the very convenient John Muir’s Way, it was now a simple stretch back to the Pleasance & the car. Just before reaching the relative warmth of our Renault Scenic, we came across the remarkable building that is the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC). It wasn’t the right time to enter – we were soaked – but I made a mental note to return sometime the next week to check out.
Finding myself driving through Port Seaton a few days later, I suddenly remembered both my pal, Gary Riley (originally from Elphinstone) & my fact-finding mission at the birdwatching center. A phone call & a wee drive later we were entering Waterston House – the aforementioned HQ of Scottish birdwatching. It is named after George Waterston, a one-time Director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland, famously who pass’d his idle hour as a POW in WW2s twitching & writing birdwatching articles for the camp’s secret newspaper.
A lovely French lady called Laura took us under her wing brilliantly; explaining the history of the place, & showing us about like a courtesan receiving foreign dignitaries at the Sun king’s Fontainbleu. She is the curator & organiser of the eight, six-week exhibitions that the center holds every year in its gallery. These are definitively dedicated to Natural History, the duty to which is enshrined in the constitution drawn up by the society. 2019’s line-up is done & dusted already, she explained. For me & Gary in December 2018, we witnessed the explicitly vivid animal art of young & gifted Lucy Newton. I was blown away by her stunning squirrels, while Gary completely adored her shags!
The Scottish Birdwatching Center began life in the 1930s, when a group of adolescents set up their society, including George Waterston. Money began to pour in from enthusiasts & benefactors, & they were able to buy a property on Regent Street, Edinburgh. They sold this 14 years ago, & used the money to create this purpose-built center overlooking Aberlady Bay & its reserve. The center houses the largest ornithology library in Scotland (over 3,500 pieces), housed in funky mobile shelving units, which on the day of our visit was being used by a gentleman researching for his degree upon the habitats of Geese.
There is no cafe at the center, & Gary told me of the time a few months ago he’d gone riding on his electric bike, at the end of which he found himself at Waterston House. Feeling thirsty, & asking if he could buy a coffee, he was met with the reply, ‘you cannot buy one, but we can make you one,’ a quite congenial response!
Hello everyone! This post was prepared a few weeks ago, in the first flush of Autumn, but a trip to Italy’s heel with the wife’s family has delayed its finalisation. Since our return, Halloween had to happen, plus Bonfire Night, & with the kids are satiated with sweets & activities, & my head is now relatively free of clutter enough to return to my Walking East Lothian series.
Since our last post, the world saw the death of Rennie McOwan, without whom I would never have obtained the audacity to create this blog. Born in Menstrie, Clackmannashire, in 1933, as a small boy he encountered a recalcitrant landowner denying access to land. Rennie replied, ‘why cant we go this way?‘ a moment which energized a life agitating for the right to roam, a human glory was finally codified in Scotland in 2003. Along the way, when countryside associations were wary of criticizing the landowning fraternity – they were all pals in a rather feudalistic fashion – he acted like a bull in a china shop, & told them to just sort it out.
When Rennie addressed the Landowners Association in 1996, his address was describ’d as being ‘statesman like,’ & just as men like Frederick Douglass spoke oratories which induced the demise of slavery, thus breaking the bond a human had over fellow humans, so Rennie ended the privilege between human & land, reducing it to mere equity & opening up nature’s beauties to all – at least in Scotland anyway.
So god bless Rennie, & let us now take ourselves on a wee tour of the Yester Estate, currently in the hands of an Aberdeen oil family, headed by Ian Wood. Before the Woods, there was the Italian composer, Gian Carlo Menotti, who had lived at Yester into his 90s until 2013. At the age of 7, under the guidance of his mother, Gian began to compose songs, and four years later he wrote the words and music of his first opera, The Death of Pierrot. The Consul, Menotti’s first full-length work, won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle award as the best musical play of the year in 1954. Flush with money from his efforts, he bought Yester in 1972 from two antique dealers who had bought the estate from the Hay Marquises of Tweeddale a handful of years earlier.
In 2018, access to the Yester Estate from the Gifford side is a bit sketchy – the Woods have blocked off access & created rodent-like runs for the villagers. On first moving in they even dropped huge tree trunks at entrances villagers had been using for years. These were soon chainsawed through, however, & a ceasefire akin to that of the Kashmir disputed territory has since ensued.
For those wanting to enjoy the Estate in the traditional fashion – ie freely – there is a beautiful walk which commences by Danskine Loch. One must park up across the road from the entrance to the loch, beside a gateway to a world of verdant glory – tinged with Autumn of course at this time of year. For me & Daisy, we had the happy circumstance of the wife bobbing along, & all was well in the world.
Me & Daisy were not the first travelers to this corner of East Lothian, sprawling towards the Lammermuirs from picturesque Gifford village. Just under three centuries ago, Daniel Defoe was here on his Grand Tour of Great Britain, recording his visit with the following ;
Here we turn’d out of the way to see the Marquess of Tweedal’s fine park, and which is, indeed, the main thing, his fine planting at Yester, or, as Antiquity calls it, Zester; I say the park, because, tho’ there is the design of a noble house or palace, and great part of it built; yet, as it is not yet, and perhaps, will not soon be finished, there is no giving a compleat description of it.
The old Earl of Tweedale, who was a great favourite of King Charles II. tho’ not much concern’d in politic affairs, at least, not in England, yet took in from the king the love of managing what we call forest trees, and making fine vistas and avenues: The very first year after the Restoration the king laid out, with his own hand, the planting of Greenwich and St. James’s parks, and several others, and the said earl had seen them, and was extremely delighted with the method.
This occasion’d his lordship, as soon as he went down into Scotland, to lay out the plan and design of all those noble walks and woods of trees, or, as it might be call’d, forests of trees, which he afterwards saw planted, and of which a gentleman, whose judgment I cannot doubt, told me, that if ever those trees came to be worth but six pence a tree, they would be of more value than the fee simple of that estate; not meaning by that estate the land they grow on, but the whole paternal estate of the family: Nor is it unlikely, if it be true, that his lordship, and his immediate successor, planted above 6,000 acres of land all full of firr-trees; and that, where-ever it was found that any tree fail’d, they were constantly renew’d the next year.
It is certain, that many of the trees are, by this time, of much more value than six pence a tree; for they have now been planted near three-score years. And tho’ it is true, that a firr-tree is but a slow grower, and that most, if not all the trees I speak of, are firr; yet it must be allow’d that, the trees thriving very well, they must, by this time, be very valuable; and, if they stand another age, and we do not find the family needy of money enough to make them forward to cut any of them down, there may be a noble estate in firr timber, enough, if it falls into good hands, to enrich the family.
The park itself is said to be eight miles about, but the plantation of firr is not simply confin’d to the park, nor, indeed, to this estate; for the family of Tweedale has another seat near Musclebro, at Pinkey, where the same lord planted also a great number of trees, as his successors have likewise done at another seat, which they have in Fife, near Aberdour.
Our own experience of Yester sent us off along a straight path between two steepish slopes of trees, following the course of the Gifford Water. Eventually we came to a rather muddy section, where the main path continues straight, but we turned a sharp, uphill left.
We were now free in the Estate, lovely wild country which must be traversed to the forward & to the ight until one comes to a drystone wall, from where wide open fields lead to the Lammermuirs. Me & Daisy reached this point at the edge of an old pheasant pen.
Turning right at the wall we found ourselves on a path which eventually began to descend to the valley floor. This eventually looped back on itself, bringing us to the bonnie banks of the Hopes Water sharp on our left.
A little while after this we came to an old stone bridge which we used to cross the Water to our left. We were now at the foot of the slightly crescentic peninsula on which stood the original Castle of Yester, & climbing a steep slope brought us to those very hewn stones, some portions of which clinging stoically to its former magnificence.
The story of Yester & Gifford begins with Hugh de Giffard, an influential feudal baron in 12th century Scotland, who obtained the lands at Yester (Jhestrith) from Malcolm IV of Scotland. There is a charter dated between 1166–1171 by William The Lion which states that Hugh held these lands “by grant from my brother King Malcolm and Ada the Countess, my mother”. His grandson, another Hugh, built the castle on a promontory between the Hopes Water and a little tributary, the Gamuelston Burn.
Sir David Dalrymple, in his annals, relates that ‘Hugh Gifford de Yester died in 1267; that in his castle there was a capacious cavern, formed by magical art, and called in the country Bo–Hall, i.e. Hobgoblin Hall.’ A stair of twenty-four steps led down to this apartment, which is a large and spacious hall, with an arched roof; and though it hath stood for so many centuries, and been exposed to the external air for a period of fifty or sixty years, it is still as firm and entire as if it had only stood a few years. From the floor of this hall, another stair of thirty-six steps leads down to a pit which hath a communication with Hopes-water. Statistical Account of Scotland
Daisy loves to roam the castle area, which I let her do while imagining the medieval activities which tumbled about the place. The best part of visiting the castle, however, is the Goblin Ha,’ an oblong subterranean cavern, 37ft by 13ft 2ins, built of ashlar & said to have been constructed by magical means by Sir Hugo, who was also known as the ‘Wizard of Yester.’ Legend also supposed that Hugo was able, via a pact with the Devil, to raise a magical army to his aid, and use them to carry out his will. It is this army of hobgoblins that was considered to be the builders of Yester Castle.
A Clerk could tell what years have flown Since Alexander fill’d our throne, (Third monarch of that warlike name,) And eke the time when here he came To seek Sir Hugo, then our lord: A braver never drew a sword; A wiser never, at the hour Of midnight, spoke the word of power: The same, whom ancient records call The founder of the Goblin-Hall.
The Goblin Hall was featured in Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion, as in the stanza above. Scott at the time was a quartermaster for the Edinburgh cavalry, & was based in Musselburgh from where he explored East Lothian & wrote some of his greatest poetical works. The king mentioned – Alexander III – is known to have been at Yester on and around May 24, 1278, where he corresponded with Edward I of England.
In the 14th century, the Giffards had no male heir, & so Joanna, the daughter of the last Sir Hugo de Giffard, married Sir William de la Haye of Peebles, who was invested with the barony and lands of Yester through his wife. The barony has stayed with the Hay family ever since & the Estate, as we have seen, until the 1960s.
To reach the Hall, pass through the door in the great keep wall, & follow a track in down & the left, wher you will reach the entrance. While Daisy guarded the portal whimperingly, the wife & I explored the Hall through the torch on my phone, We even started to follow the tunnel to the Hopes Water as mentioned in the Statistical Account, but found it blocked by rubble. It is eerily cool down there, yeah, & yes, well worth a visit – a very evocative place & in amazingly good condition – perhaps it was goblin-hewn after all!
The last person to dwell at the castle, according to Francis Turner Palgrave, was the estate’s falconer. Palgrave notes, ‘in 1737, the Goblin Hall was tenanted by the Marquis of Tweedale’s falconer, as I learn from a poem by Boyse, entitled “Retirement,” written upon visiting Yester.’ Leaving the Castle ourselves we return’d to the old stone bridge, after crossing which we turned left. After a while a stick plunged in the ground notified us of the climb we had to make up another steep slope. This took us to a regular path where we turned left.
We were now returning to the main Yester path, & after crossing a bridge marked ‘unsafe structure’ (it was fine) we found ourselves at one of the green signs placed by the Woods to mark out their rat-runs. Turning left here would eventually lead to Gifford, but we need to head back to the car, & so turned right.
A lovely stretch along the leaf-carpeted path home saw unveiled the ancient erosion work undertaken by the Gifford Water on the Yester bedrock, quite gorgeous actually, & of course the magnificent trees praised with gushes by Defoe. Then it was the car & the happy drive home.
A day or two after I posted the Deuchrie Dod walk, a message drops into my inbox from a lady called Annie, a member of The Waggonway 1722 set, who invited me to walk the route of the oldest railway in Britain. Long before steam help’d drive an engine along the tracks, in 1722 a wooden wagon travel’d by gravity alone from the coal pits at Tranent to the saltmakers at Cockenzie. Downhill it did anyway, a horse went down with the wagon so it could be haul’d back uphill to those working plugs of Scotland’s ‘Great Seam.’
“Do you have a dog,” I ask’d Annie. She responded in the positive, & last Wednesday we met up near the original starting point of the Wagonway in the Butts car park across the road from The Brig Inn at Tranent. The same place people used to practice archery in Medieval times. Annie and her dog, Rakija, were waiting for us; she recognised wee Daisy from my blog & right from the off we were all fine companions.
The Butts car-park has an easy access to the Waggonway, but my delightful hostess, being so passionate about her subject, wanted me to see everything. Crossing the main road we reach’d the rear of the pub, next door to which is a private garden, where a wee peek over the wall reveals an old tunnel under the main road where the Waggonway began its gentle flight to the sea.
Passing under the main road we began our 2.5 mile hike to the coast, most of which was spent listening to Annie’s effortless, effervescent & quite relentless volleys of facts. She is a former English teacher, who spends her retirement teaching creative writing on exotic luxury cruises – & she is as fit as a fiddle, trust me.
I never knew this walk existed, & I wish I had, for when I get my car done at the impeccably honest & highly efficient Reilley’s garage in Tranent, & have to wait a couple of hours, I usually end up walking Daisy through the town’s streets & playing fields. Not next time, however, I’ll be back, this really is an excellent pedestrian thoroughfare.
After a wee while we reached the old corner of Tranent & the almost cyclopean walls of the parish kirk. Annie began to regale me with tales of the Battle of Prestonpans, of how a mortally wounded Government general, Gardiner, was taken to the manse to die; & of how earlier in the battle a group of Cameron Highlanders had lodg’d themselves behind the kirkyard walls, but were dislodged & wounded by Government cannon. As every gunshot was huzzah’d by the redcoats that hoary evening in September, it seem’d to them that their superior firepower & training would carry any battle against these undervictual’d savages from the bens.
That was day one of the battle, the night of which saw the entire 2,500 strong Jacobite army led through Tranent by a local lad, Robert Anderson. They went three abreast in silence, over a wooden bridge across the marshes, to pitch themselves on the eastern side of the bamboozl’d government forces – also about 2,500 strong – just as a fine & bright September day was breaking. Patrick Crichton – a Whig – recorded the weapons of the Highland host (his spellings).
I observed these armes, they wer guns of different syses, & some of innormowows lengh, some with butts tured up lick a heren, some tyed with puck threed to the stock, some withowt locks & some matchlocks, some had swords over their showlder instead of guns, one or two had picthforks, & some buts of sythes upon poles with a cleek, some old Lochaber axes
It is clear from reports that the East Lothianers of those days weren’t happy to have a Highland army in their laps – but the ever-glamorous Charlie was a different bag altogether. As he rode around Tranent, he just happened to pause by the house of Anderson of Windygoul – the aged uncle of Robert Anderson. He had fought alongside Robert’s father in the ’15, & wanting to toast the Prince’s health, order’d his daughter to bring out some wine on a silver platter. She grew too shy, alas, & the job was given to Anderson’s niece. After downing his goblet, the Prince then proceeded to heartily snog Anderson’s niece in the French fashion, rendering Anderson’s now jealous daughter ‘blate’ & piningly declaring, ‘eh, but I had kent.’
Continuing along the Waggonway, we passed under the A1, coming out near the Meadowmill sports center. In front of us appeared the Mayan pyramid that is the battlefield viewing point, which we nipp’d up in what felt like a force-ten gale. The view is remarkable, the epicentre of the county, where the story of the battle is expertly told via a series of pictoboards. Gazing around the sweeping scene, the battlefield is in a reasonable state of preservation – modernity has certainly done its work in altering the landscape – but certain battlefield features still standing give perspective & distance, like Gardiner’s own Bankton House & the ruin’d but still impressive Preston Tower.
As I stood immers’d in the moment & the history, it reminded me of why I had objected so strongly (I think I swore at someone in an email) to the recent plans of property developers to hack away at our cultural heritage & build over the last bits of greenery of the battlefield. Annie inform’d me that it seems as if this very modern battle had been won, but I didn’t pry too much into the situation.
A similar malarky is happening with a block of 1930s red sandstone shop-buildings in Leith, earmarked for gentrification & soul-less student flats, completely ignoring the small businesses & joi de vivre that dwelt in said buildings. Defending cultural heritage against money-gluttonous property developers shall always remain one of the just wars.
Back down on the road again – the Waggonway was tarmac’d over at this point – we had to negotiate some busy traffic, passing the old monument of the battlefield, before finally reaching a leafier, dog-friendly section. It was signed with a shiny ‘Wagonway 1722,‘ sitting proudly beside the battlefield signs. The two histories are intrinsically entwin’d, actually, for Sir John Cope lined his army up near the tramway itself, & thus one can walk straight through the phantoms of his lines.
At this point in the walk, my phone ran out of juice, which means that the photos which follow are either from Annie’s phone, or from my very professional return to the walk at the weekend – the weather was scintillating then, so made for better photos.
Half-way along this section of the Waggonway, there are two recently created table-top monuments, structurally based upon a tomb in Tranent kirkyard, which lists the regiments who fought in the battle. I’ve already mentioned how East Lothianers weren’t too hot for the Highlanders, but the reception they gave the Government troops was very different. Henderson records that, ‘nothing was wanting for the conveniency of men or horse. The gentlemen supplied the officers with delicacies, & the private men with every proper refreshment, while the people joined to send them tuns of Scots beer & spirits, while workmen flocked in to enter the most difficult tasks upon the first orders.’
I’m a big fan of the Jacobite rebellions. The 300-strong ‘Manchester Regiment’ were the only Jacobite forces to join the Prince south of Carlisle, & were led by a Burnley boy, Francis Towneley. Therefore I’ve always leant towards the blue bonnets & I’ve written some poetry about the ’45, including this wee drama set during the Battle of Prestonpans itself.
Gorgeous morning yer highness, Prince of Wales
A wonderful manoeuvre come to pass
As the English sat at their stakes like snails
Yer army made its way thro the morass
Tracked thro the marshes, measuring their stealth
& now rest hard upon his other flank,
But not for long! the boys did toast yer health
& for this, Grace of God, did duly thank
Those men who eat dry crust & lie on straw
Shall fecht like kings, now watch them charge to war!
Good work Lord Murray, now take up the right
A cannonball shall signal the attack
& now sir Jonathan your men must fight
Not slip away as at Corrieyairack
That cuckold marched two thirds of the kingdom
Not one chieftan has proffered him his sword
Let us announce the end of that empire
Ye gentlemen, ye warriors, now come
Join me in solemnity to our lord
‘Gloria Angele Dei!’ now men, fire!
After an exchange of artillery they highland army embarks on its charge
See how they gan! & what a gory sound
The highland roar, as if the Earth did quake
With furious groan, come see their cannons pound
Brave Camerons, line gis an awfa’ shake
But on they run! & wi’ a mighty crack
Oor muskets reap those eves o’ redcoat corn
& now they rush intae the killing ground,
By broadsword & scyth’d pitchfork limbs be torn
Carrying great slaughter to the English
To be in England, aye, their dying wish!
Sweet salutations sire, yer battles won
Peer thro the smoke & see those fleeing shapes
An entire English army on the run
Lord Percy shall see none of them escapes
The ghoul of Hanover must bare defeat
The field is littered with his bastard dead
Back to Berwick flies Jonnie Cope’s retreat
Wi’ not one of ‘is bayonets stain’d red
Tae praise this day there is nae better word
Tis Victory! God bless King James the Third
Ours is the day, the field, the glory
Go spread its fame – fly north, south, east & west
Fly to Vienna, London& Paris,
Fly to Ferrol, Ostend, Dunkerque & Brest
& let us war! But ‘fore the march we sound
Carry the wounded to a better bed
At Holyrood let casks of wine be found
To toast our heroes & libate the dead
The motions of destiny are at hand,
Come tomorrow let us invade England!
From the opening salvo, the battle lasted about 15 minutes, & ended with the complete rout of the Government troops. The future theologian theologian Alexander Carlyle witrness’d, ‘the whole prospect filled with runaways, & Highlanders pursuing them. Many had their coats turned as prisoners, but were still trying to reach the town in hopes of escaping. The Highlanders, when they could not overtake them, fired at them, & I saw two fall in the glebe.’ In the end there were 1400 prisoners & 500 corpses, with the Prince particularly praising a party of Macgregors who had been conspicuous in pursuit & slaughter.
The next stretch of the walk took us ever closer to Cockenzie. Eventually the path spills out into the open road again, where Annie was excited to show me the original Waggonway wall, so we could stick as close to the route as possible. This route was a bit busy for Daisy, but fortunately on my return to the walk, just as the path reaches the road, there is another path which veers to the left, skirting the old coal-storage depot of the recently demolished power station. This is a much prettier, bramble-bubbling way to proceed into Cockenzie.
The path eventually hit the edge of Cockenzie, where we turn’d right & reach’d the main road. Turning left we were soon in the dual fishing-village-turn’d-town that is Cockenzie & Port Seton. Of all the Facebook groups in East Lothian, these guys are rabidly fanatical about their home, & it warms me to witness such a sense of community which stretches back well into the Bronze Age. In 2002, for example, they won the ‘Scottish Community of the Year,’ & in the same year the won ‘Most Improved Town‘ in the Beautiful Scotland in Bloom competition.
Continuing the walk, we pass’d by a lovely park to our right, then cross’d the main road at Cockenzie House. Keeping this on our right, we followed its outer wall, which consisted of the Wagonway wall at the base, & some crazy Icelandic volcanic ‘hekla’ rock on the the top.
Next we came to what Annie declar’d was the best fresh fish in East Lothian, James Dickson & Son, just beyond whose complex we turn’d left into a shed load of sheds. A twist & a turn later we had arrived at the Waggonway 1722 museum.
A little non-descript from the outside – they definitely need a sign – stepping within is a completely different story, with a completed mock-wagon, models of the mines & salt-pans, finds from the recent Big Dig conducted by the group, & genuine photos from the 1850s of the Waggonway in action. I also tried some stunningly delicious home-made sea-salt, just like back in the day, but made slightly differently – no rancid bull’s blood was used in the making of this movie! The salt was then wash’d down by a spiffing cup of Earl Grey made by my genial hostess, which refresh’d us for the final leg of our long but lovely trot along her historical imaginarium.
The museum is a stone’s throw from the harbour, to where we continued our walk. Port Seton’s is more of a working harbour, with Cockenize’s used these days more by retirees having a wee splash-paddle in the Forth. It was once, however, a vital lifeline to the trade of Flanders & the Hanseatic ports. Before then, beyond the name-change from Cowkainy, we see the harbour first coming to prominence in relation to the 1284 grant of mining rights as given by James, Steward of Scotland, to the monks of Newbattle. Its always been a busy old place has Cockenzie.
At the harbour and the Waggonway’s terminus Annie continued her prolific regalement; delighting at a Stevenson pavement, pointing out the house from where the Cadell’s of Cockenzie House control’d both Waggonway & the waves, plus showing me the sites of her society’s archeological digs. One of the Waggonway Heritage group is an archeologist, Alan Brady, who has also been brilliantly illustrating aspects of the area’s history, prints of which may be bought at the museum.
Cockenzie harbour was once witness to a scene more joyous than when the supply convoy stuttered into Valetta Harbour during the WW2 siege of Malta. A group of local sailors, with a reputation for being the bravest & most dexterous on the planet, had somehow got stranded in Baffin Bay, Greenland, for months. After several rescue attempts one finally broke through, & fathers & sons thought dead appeared like ghosts at Cockenzie to the inimitable relief of its ladyfolk, who’d been keeping things going as if they were handling the Lancashire munitions factories during WW1.
The final part of walk was along the coast, along a wee stretch of the John Muir Way, passing by the Royal Legion & the old Cockenzie natural harbour where fishwives used to sell their wares from the rocks. It was in no time at all that we came upon the foundations of a former panhouse – which had been split into two cottages long before it fell into ruin.
This panhouse was one of twelve which had been operating since 1630, when the Third Earl of Winton opened up the market to Europe. In 1716 more salt was sold from its girnels than other in Scotland, leading a few years later to the creation of the Waggonway under the jurisdiction of the York Building Company of London, who had bought the Winton Estate. Each pan had a master salter & a servant, whose working lives have been ably described by CA Whatley in the Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalist Society;
Once purchasers had been found, or a ship lay at the harbour awaiting a cargo of salt, Adam drew upon what was apparently a deep & willing pool of occasional labour. Depending upon the size of the order, two to five females were employed ‘breaking up ; salt, at 2/- each per girnel. This was effectively a day’s wage. The salt was weighed by perhaps three ‘mettsters’ at the considerably higher rate of 7/- for each chalder & if the salt was to be shipped, as well as an allowance of 2/- each for bread & drink.
This was our cue to turn away from the shore, to go winding through the quaint narrow, ad-hoc streets of the old fisher-village, then crossing the ‘High Street’ & traversing School Lane. At the intersection of the Lane & ‘New Street’ was the entrance to the old village co-op, now bricked off, but one can still imagine the life & gossip that once buzz’d about this very spot.
At the end of School Lane we came to East Lothian’s main coastal road. To our left was the grand old schoolhouse of Cockenzie, & to our right the even grander Cockenzie House. Both properties have evolved from earlier uses; the former is now BizSpace, while the latter is a dwelling-abode no more, but instead the ever-happening hub of Cockenzie’s tutelary community spirit.
It is in the house & grounds of Cockenzie House in which I concluded our walk. While Daisy & Rakija chased each others’ tails, Annie showed me the miniature salt-pan they use to make that delicious sea-salt. She also pointed me out the now paint-flaking canoe-boat-thingy with an Australian flag meant to commemorate Cockenzie’s former resident, Francis Cadell. He was the winner of the race to navigate the Murray River in Australia from Goolwa to the junction of the Darling River, spurr’d on by the bonus of £4000 offer’d by the South Australian government.
The Cadells of Cockenzie House were a cool bunch. Among them were Francis’ brother, General Sir Robert, who served in the Crimea & India with the Royal Artillery. Another brother, Thomas, was posted to India with his Regiment at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, and would greatly distinguish himself during the Siege of Delhi. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the 12th June 1857. He was stationed at the flag-staff picquet at Delhi, when the picquet came under heavy assault from the enemy. Both the 75th Regiment of Foot and 2nd European Bengal Fusiliers were pushed back, and during the fighting, Cadell rescued a wounded bugler of his own regiment from the middle of the enemy, under heavy fire. Later that day, when the Fusiliers were retiring, a wounded man was reported to have been left behind so Cadell went back on his own towards the enemy, accompanied by three men, and brought in the man from the 75th Regiment, who was severely wounded.
An earlier Robert Cadell was a bookseller and publisher closely associated with Sir Walter Scott & the producer of the highly successful, 1827 onwards, ‘Author Editions’ of the Waverly Novels, illustrated by J. M. W. Turner. On Scott’s death, Cadell paid £30,000 for Scott’s share of the copyright on Scott’s work, thereafter owning it outright.
Entering the house itself, I was astounded to see a thriving panoply of studio spaces, all of whom seemed well worth a cheeky inquiry. The names stood out; including Jacobite Aipiaries, Goblinshead Books, Iolair Yarn, White Ward Tattoo Studio & the Authentic Bliss Holistic Thearapies, who are ‘helping you find a happy place.’
Finally it was to the cafe, for another cuppa, a biscuit & a loin-rest. To my immeasurable delight I found Annie was still talking! She’s invited me on a walk around the banana-boomerang borough boundary of Tranent, an offer which one day next Spring, I shall be delighted to take up.
To organise a walk with Annie, or visit the Waggonway Museum, please visit
Taps Aff, in Scotland, in September? Well it certainly was a couple of weeks ago, on a joyous afternoon’s stroll with my wee dog, Daisy. Twas a lovely end of summer’s day; a perfect, breezeless heat, & the best conditions to hit the Lammermuirs.
Our walk commenced at the country cul-de-sac that is Deuchrie Farm, parking up on the grass by a strip of soon to be renovated cottages. From here we headed up the road between farm outhouse buildings & a fine, category-C-Listed farmhouse; rather like the family home of Jane Austen.
At the top of the road one finds oneself at the edge of civilisation, like the Black Sea Tomis of Ovid’s exile, & it is a refreshingly superb feeling to plunge through the gate & along the track towards the mossy Lammermuir phalanx in front.
As one proceeds south, a lonely abandoned farmhouse grows into vision. Its name is Lucknow, named after the siege during the Indian Mutiny, about which I have composed a sonnet sequence, my favorite one being this little conversazione;
General – My, how hot a day this is!
Reverend – I cannot agree with you sir,
There was a lovely breeze this morning,
The hour was three I think,
& if you ever had visited Stuffcote
You wouldn’t dream of calling this hot!
General – Stuffcote! Why, I have been there, sir,
Was there, in fact, for three years, sir,
It is one of the coolest stations in India.
Reverend – Poppycock! In August! What nonsense!
General – Yes, sir, especially & most particularly in August,
I have felt positively chilly all thro’ the month!
Reverend – Chilly? In Stuffcote? In August!?
Servant – More champagne, Sahib?
Back in 2002, Angela Foster interviewed a certain 82 year old man called Adam Bathgate for the Fourth Statistical Account of Scotland, who had been a shepherd at Deuchrie betwen the ages of 17 & 20. In the following extracts from his interview you can get a real feel for the good old days.
After two years at Long Newton I went to Deuchrie and started working with the sheep. When I was young every farm would have at least one shepherd and a flock of sheep. I didn’t come with my father this time because they needed a young shepherd. I thought that was a nice change. I didn’t apply for the job. Mr Jeffrey, the farmer mustn’t have had any applicants for the job and he knew me because my uncle John was up there. Anyway, Mr Jeffrey came up to my father and asked him if l would like to come and work with the sheep. So that’s how I started. That was the first time I had left home. I was 17 years old .
I worked under Hammie Hall the head shepherd at Deuchrie. The two of us stayed in Lucknow bothy. It’s a ruin now. The two of us bothied there. Cooking our own meals and looking after ourselves. You got up about four or five in the morning and went out to the sheep. The sheep were always put up on the hill to keep the ground clean. This was to keep the droppings at the top of the hill. Sheep lie down at night and when they stand up in the mornings, there would be the droppings. So to keep the bottom of the field clean for feeding, the sheep were driven to the top of the hill last thing at night. So the first thing you did when you went out was to bring the sheep down. Most of them would come down easily as they would be into the routine.
My first sheepdog was called Bet. Before I left home there was man there that knew the shepherd at the Hopes and he had one for sale. So I went and bought her there. She cost me £3. It was a lot of money at that time. She was two years old. It is 1937 and I was now earning 32 shillings as a young shepherd with one and six extra to feed my dog. I was feeling smart now and cocky a bit! Bet was trained when I bought her and she came to live with me at the cottage.
The breeding season was a busy time. You had to sit up all night at the lambing time and you took night about. My very first lambing was at the fit o’ Deuchrie Hill. We stayed at the house and my sheep were at the foot of the hill in a lambing shed. Hammie’s were over at the farm and we sat up all night. You had to keep awake. You were up two days and a night. Then you got to bed for a night. Hail, sleet or snow it didn’t matter what the weather was like.
We did our own shearing then, by hand. Now they use machines. Some farms would join up together and help each other to shear. At Deuchrie we did our own shearing. The last time I remember sheep walking to Haddington was in 1932 or 1933. When Steve Ramage was at Deuchrie. Now, he walked from Deuchrie to Haddington with 40 South Country Cheviots ewes and lambs to the sale at Haddington. He didn’t get a good enough price for them so he had to walk them back home again. I met him when I was coming home from school. I would be about twelve then and I walked to the filters with him then I turned and walked back home. The breeding sheep went to St Boswells. Up at Deuchrie there is a drove road that they took over to Duns. Most of them, at the end went to Edinburgh.
I was at Deuchrie for three years. Then James (the farmer’s young son) left the school and took my job. So I was made redundant.
It is possible to walk up beyond Lucknow & earn a spectacular view of the Dunbar Common turbines, but for this day’s walk we hopped over a fence to the left & entered a lovely verdant glen; a hidden gem that feels ever so remote, but is only a wee drive from Edinburgh. I love it up here actually, & I’ve taken the family on a couple of occasions (hence the photo). I also love it when I’m on my tod, when the only sound is the bleating of sheep which seems to boom upon the gustless, breathlessness of the Lammermuir silence.
Once in the field, bisected by the gurgling Rammer Clough, just head west through the relatively steeply-sided glen – you cant get lost. ‘What a day, what a summer,’ I thought while watching Daisy frolicking with a piece of sheep fleece in her mouth. These sheep, btw, keep the valley bottom perfectly manicured, almost like a golf course.
On we went, passing a sheepfold thing that felt rather like Ruthven Barracks. I adored the sheer timeleness of the place as continuing onwards a track emerges from the left, which upon meeting took us to a green cattle grid gate. Up-plucking Daisy for the hop over & through, we entered an even more beautiful valley, the only sound being a tiny waterfall in a cleugh, which roared like Victoria Falls on closer inspection – a curious pheneomena of the Lammermuir silence.
We were going at a gentle pitter-potter pace, allowing me to examine the slopes of the valley; on the north side fern & gorse intermingled gladly, while the south slopes were more tree-gnarled & rocky & positively paleolithic.
After a while the path rose up a hill to the left – which we took – where a picnic table is conveniently placed for those that way inclined. At this point a gate leads into the field where I normally turn left & head towards Deuchrie Dod, as shown in the photo with the girls below.
Alas, on this occasion, that field was teeming with sheep, while the field directly in front had a wee herd of curious & virile-looking cows. With me using a psycic leash with Daisy, I thought it prudent – & interesting of course – to seek an alternative route.
What serendipity! After turning right at the gate, we managed to enter the epic field in which the cows were without their knowledge, utilisng lots of creases & folds in the landscape to avoid detection as if we were a Zulu impi during the Islandwhana campign. The view was also stunning, with Dunbar & the North Sea & the Lammermuirs coalesceing in an epic sweep.
Directly to the north I could see the pinetops of the Pressmennan Woods, & headed for them, sweeping across the field & into another one, upon the hill parts of which a large flock of sheep were gathered like the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn. We were not here to fight, however, but I instead found it the perfect opportunity to continue Daisy’s training in Pleepance.
For those who have never come across this word before, it means P-sychic L-eash Sh-eep Avoid-ance – in this instance the p is NOT silent – & is used to gently move an untether’d dog around a flock of sheep. The art is in not startling the sheep – they will be observing you always & at any given moment one of them may frighten & set off a stampede. Of course Daisy possesses a sweet temper & we reached the top of the field & its gate without any negatives.
The next field saw us approaching the summit of Deuchrie Dod, passing through ruined drystones reminscient of Hadrian’s wall. At this point, we just aimed for the summit trig-point, where a more than lovely view of East Lothian can be found. With it just being a week or two since the wheat harvest – when massive satanic, light-flashing engines work all through the night gorging on the crops – the county was a pretty piece of patchwork.
11 years ago in May 2007, it was on this spot that I won my first East Lothian panorama, & dare say fell in love. I had recently moved into Heather Lodge on the Whittinghame Estate, & thought I’d climb Deuchrie. From the summit in 2018 I traced my route taken that day through the whitewashed houses of Yarrow & Clint, while also tracing the eleven years of existence that had brought me back to this spot. I guess Walking East Lothian is my personal literary paean to the sensations I felt when first seeing the unbelievable vista from Deuchrie.
At an elevation of just under 300 metres, Deuchrie Dod is the 11512th highest peak in the British Isles and the 7114th tallest in Scotland. Following its ridge to the east, we could soon make out Deuchrie Farmhouse below, & Stoneypath Farm across a valley. Then we were sharply descending towards the strip of cottages where the car was parked, from where we left the island-like serenity of the Deuchrie enclave & headed home for pies.
The walk I am about to describe was undertaken at the end of July, however my commitments as a reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe meant I had to wait until today to find the head-space to create those word patterns which are storing East Lothian’s prettiest walks for posterity. This one, by the way, is one of the prettiest so far, & began in the most unmuggiest of heats.
A few miles beyond Dunbar to the south lies seagirt Thorntonloch caravan park, where one may park the car without reproof. Please avoid the privacy of the caravaneers & take the path just to the north of the park which leads to a lovely stretch of sands. I think this my favorite in the whole county, ripped up by rock formations like the coast of Kephalonia; & is a very special place when sun, sea & zephyrs fuse as one.
With tap & flip-flops off I started to stroll south, having a wee blether with a couple of dog walkers. From them I discovered a few interesting facts. The story goes that when the nearby power station was built, East Lothian Council was going to shut the site down – but the caravan owners at the time clubbed together & bought the lease making it a privately owned site, an extreme rarity in Europe.
I also learned that there are 57 caravans, they go for about 30 grand, & in a victory for the people, East Lothian Council turned down Verdant Leisure’s attempt to buy Thorntonloch & told the natives they can have it as long as they want. As for fun, they love a good coffee morning &the BYOB Bingo on Saturday nights. At only £800 a year site fees – Pease Bay just down the road is about £3000 – you can see why there is a massive waiting list for one of these jewel-lives by the sea.
As one walks along the beach, notice the huge blocks of stone that form some kind of protective wall for the site. These were actually paid for & put in place by the caravaneers as if they were dragging the bluestone menhirs from the Preseli Hills in order to create Stonehenge.
Breaking free of the beach, me & Daisy clamboured over some rainbow rocks, traversed a wooden bridge & scampered up a steep slope. This brought us to a cliff path with wonderful views. To our left was the North Sea, with the beach below; ahead was the path, to our right were fields & the A1 with all its dodgy speed traps, above which rose an epic section of the Lammermuirs – such a medley of colours under the cerulean blue!
Further down the path, the sands below us gave way to mossy rocks, which all appeared as if toxic waste had been dumped upon the shore. Up front, the tops of a little strip of cottages rose up (Bilsdean) as if I was marching to a battlefield during the War of The Spanish Succession.
We then came at a pleasant potterspeed to an epic field of cabbages. I could tell Daisy was getting hot in the heat, so I thought I’d give here a wee carry for a bit – trust me, its a rather poetic experience to hold a fluffy lhasapoo against one’s naked chest, with the sun beating down upon the nape; seeing the sea gleaming golden to your left, while to your right cabbages are swarming away to the hills, among which delicate white butterflies have chosen to live in natural harmony.
At the end of the cabbage field, the path enters a wood & drops down to the left. I was suddenly hit by the chiascuran dappling of the sun through the leaf-roof, & then a charming waterfall, still bonnie despite the drought. Daisy instantly began to revive in the shade, so when we reached the beach again she was happy to bounce about- she really does the love the smells of the shore & comes across of something like a scent-hoover as she scurries about nose-down.
Following the beach a wee while to the south, we came to an opening into thick, gnarly bushland through which a slightly manicured path took us further south. The sounds of the A1 grew louder as we suddenly found ourselves among a few houses around Dunglass Mill, whose auld stones must lament the passing of lost silence. This area is also the county border to, well, the Borders, & marks the far south-east corner of East Lothian.
Doing a spot of gardening was a delightful 93-year old lady called Amore Radcliffe, who came across as spritely as a teenager. A mine of information, she explained how the now disused section of track upon which we were conversing was the original stagecoach road, along which lorries would eventually come until the building of the majestic A1. She remembers driving down to the beach to collect sand with her family, a romantic image which I have pondered over more than once this summer. Usually in the middle of watching a really bad comedian in a dark & dank venue in Edinburgh.
From here is was a pleasant path under the bridges & up into Dunglass Estate., now in the Usher family after Frank J bought it early last century. Financially crippled in recent years by inheritance taxes, the house & grounds have found a salvation in their use as a marriage venue with a permanent marquee set up in the grounds. This is sited beside a ruined Collegiate Church in which the weddings take place in good weather, a place which I visited a couple of years ago during a late composition period of my epic poem, Axis & Allies.
Back in 2000, I had composed the Waterloo section of the poem, into which touched upon the famous story of the De Lanceys. William De Lancey was a leading member of Wellington’s staff, & a few months before Waterloo had married Magdalene Hall, the daughter of Sir James Hall of Dunglass. Alas, William was mortally wounded at Waterloo, to where Magdalene rushed to, ploughing her way through the detritus of battle to find him & spend their last few marital hours together before he died. Here are some of my stanzas on the De Lanceys from Axis & Allies;
As step-by-step they paced between the aisles
Of Greyfriars Kirk – him buck, she bonnie lass –
Memories melted in those passing smiles
To when they walked the gorge down to Dunglass;
No fairer rose
Could e’er this love entwine,
The perfect, ‘I am yours,’ the spotless, ‘you are mine.’
He was the quintessential breed,
Lord of an Age’s passions,
Beknighted, gallivanting steed
Spritely in brightest fashions,
All England’s soldiers his to feed,
Distributing rations –
An army marches, bully-beef & rum,
By inky blots of Quatermaster’s thumb.
Into the Belgic heart of hearts
The Iron Duke did steer
Twyx crows & carts, ‘Before it starts,
I want my best men here…
Yes, especially DeLancey, for him France holds no fear.’
Brussels April 4th 1815
What dost thou do when one engorg’d with love
& that love’s source enarmour’d overseas?
‘Follow the Drum!’ lass be a little dove
& join those eagles swarming on the breeze;
As love demands
Such pangings to suspend,
Mrs DeLancey lands with luggage in Ostend.
In excuisite elevation,
Over trees so fair & fine,
Aided she the conversation
With proud cookery & wine,
‘An overstretching line!’
Knowing death haunted every statement said,
She drove uncertain futures from her head.
That night they let desire reign
& fell, immesh’d, adream…
She felt his pain, him knelt, him slain…
She woke him with a scream,
‘Tis just a horrid nightmare, love, biting on a moonbeam.’
Brussels June 9th 1815
Embraced by such a lovely summer’s day,
Brilliant Brussels sparkl’d in the sun;
Along a gentle, tree-lin’d parkland way,
The doting De Lanceys, arms lock’d as one,
Stroll lost in love,
Empassion’d feelings true,
How lazily above clouds drifted cross the blue.
She whisper’d softly in his ear,
“Darling I am so happy,
The city seems so far from here,
With one long velvet kiss so dear
United heart flies free
For one perfect moment of happiness –
Pierced by the gruff voice breathless with distress.
“Sir, you’ve been summon’d by his Grace.”
Her pretty heart’s flurry,
With skin like lace she strok’d his face,
Wash’d away all worry,
“Swift my sweet, I’ll brew some tea & ink thy quills, now hurry.”
Brussels June 15th 1815 15:00
In 2018, a wedding was being prepared, & I met the groom, Justin Holdgate I think his name was, a guy from Brisbane about to marry a Weegie called Rhona. Every house on the estate was taken up by family & friends from all across teh world, with some of them down in Dunbar. A proper solid geezer, I can imagine that was one hell of a party – I mean Weegie+ Aussie = ‘lets get slaughtered, all day long!’
Leaving the church area, Daisy & I headed for the scattered cottages of Home Farm, passing some very happy looking Mangalitza pigs. Then, at the gate lodge, after asking directions off a very kind woman, she most hospitably invited us in for a natter, a cuppa & snacks – proper meat for Daisy – a phantastic wee moment which is, to me, just what life is all about.
Leaving the estate we turned south into Bilsdean, among which houses there is a relatively hidden path that leads to the A1. Crossing this we then found ourselves more or less back at the same point where we had left the cabbage field for the woods. Walking back to the car, the tide was rushing in now & the wee whip of waves showed how the weather had changed. I think I had also changed a touch, this was a glorious walk, full of humanity & history, & of course that never-ceasing beauty of East Lothian’s scenic scenes.