This time of year is a funny old fruit. It certainly looks sunny, through the windows on the increasingly widening mornings, but as soon as you step outside you’re like, ‘geesh, thats bloody freezin.’ As the day warms up a tad, weather arrives in a rapid succession of extremely variable vignettes, but never satisfyingly warm. Yet it is not early January anymore, April is actually here & the days are ‘springing forward’ into the well-lit evenings.
This edition of W.E.L. sees one of the longest walks so far, taking in two neighbouring stately estates, & the tomb of the brother of Scotland’s national bardie – Gilbert Burns. We must start in a wee carpark off the 6137 (between Haddington & Bolton), in the vicinity of the long-swept away cottages in which members of Rabbie Burns’ close family were to spend the closing decades of their lives.
A few years after Rab’s death in Dumfries, his mother Agnes, his brother Gilbert, & his sister Isabella, along with multiple spouses & bairns & dogs & stuff, found themselves as the tenants of ‘Grants Braes,‘ with Gilbert running the Lennoxlove farms. Grants Braes stood roughly on the site where the carpark is today, & one may still sense their ghosts huddled around a fiery phantasma, reciting Rabbie’s poetry in the earliest, perhaps purest, versions of the Burns Supper.
After spending a few years in Scotland, by 2009 I had finally managed to penetrate Rabbie’s thick dialect & realised just how good a poet he was. Inspired to eulogize somewhat, I created some stanzas in imitation of his standard hubbie during the year of the Homecoming celebration (2009). There’s a few in particular that would shine a light onto the farming life experienced by the Burns family.
Of poesy & her best of men
I sing, a name that maist must ken,
Its notes still sound through street & glen,
From fame’s flaught horn;
What years are flown, twelve score & ten,
Since Burns was born.
His father toiled thro’ snow & sun,
Crafting an marvellous garden,
Grafting for friendly gentlemen,
Of small estate,
Whose first born, Rab, tho’ poor man’s son,
Was rich in fate.
They settl’d by the gentle Doon,
With kettle-happy Granma’ Broun,
Who whistl’d muckle lip-suck’d tune
While cooking neeps,
Or mutter’d tayles neath bright’ning moon
To frighten sleeps.
He wove his rhymes through thankless work,
Or blanking out the Sunday kirk,
Or in romantic woodland walk
By Aire & Doon;
His style; fourth verse, fourth prose, fourth talk,
Fourth lover’s croon.
So onto the walk. You park the car directly before a monument to the Gilbert Burns-East Lothian connection, behind which you access a woodland trail. Taking the slope down to the right, me & Daisy found ourselves in a leafless wood, coloured only by shocks of bright yellow daffodillies.
After a short while we came to a well, the same one used by Burns’ mother, drawn by the very hands that fed the great poet. After a moments delicate musing, we carried along the undulating path, which eventually reached the main road & a wooden fence. When the road was clear, we strolled breezily across it & entered Lennoxlove estate.
The road led north or so, passing through a series of cottages & farm outbuildings. A couple of hundred metres along the road becomes flank’d on the left by a tall hedge, while to the right a positively Portmeirionesque collection of handsome, spaced-out trees converge in a rolling green field.
One in particular caught my eye on account of it having a massive section lying on the floor. After taking some photographs I returned to the wee road & flagg’d down a friendly estate farmer for a cheery blether. He explained that the branch had fallen in the December storms, & it was one of a number of very old trees on the estate – hundreds of years old. The living tree was approaching the end of its natural life – rot was setting in – & has perhaps 2, 20, or even fifty years left. I never really think about the longevity of trees, as if they can’t die, I mean who does? I definitely learnt & felt something new that morning, & also something indelibly tragic – our youth doesn’t last forever (I’m 42).
Back on the walk, the road passes a cottage on the right, then spills out in grounds of Lennoxlove House, which stood beyond larger colonies of daffodillies, a mighty building of old. Walkwise, after we join’d a road coming in from the left, we headed right & kept the house on our left. The road then veers to the right & away from the house towards a gate – this is where you should go.
Behind us the ghosts of magnificence-clothed Lennoxlove abandon’d their 15th century tower & came to whisper in my ear of the past (via wikipedia). Lennoxlove House is built around the original 15th century tower house of ‘Lethington,’ which the estate was once call’d. It is now the seat of the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, but were in the hands of the Mailtand family for many centuries after its acquisition by Robert Maitland of Thirlestane in 1345. Among his descendents is a quality poet, Richard Maitland (1496–1586), quite unknown these days, but positively worth transliterating out of Old Scots into modern English.
After his father had died at Flodden, the young Richard made the fateful decision to obtain a formal education and attend university in Paris. This set him up for a career in the Law, & he would become both a councillor for Mary, Queen of Scots & one of the top judges in Scotland as a Lord of the Privy Seal. As a poet, like all the best bards he went blind, but unfortunately I couldn’t actually find any of his poetry online. This forced me to pop up to the Rare Books section of the National Library in Edinburgh for a wee peruse. It turns out the guy was really, really good – his set pieces are intense with canny observation & wordplay. I find some of the old makar stuff of say, Dunbar & Henryson, a little too formulaic, too courtly – but Maitland has a genuine & funky poetic voice.
After the Maitlands, the house passed through several hands before finally ending up in the possession of the Dukes of Hamilton. The 14th Duke bought it in 1946, & not long after clositer’d the fascinating relics of his bizarre brush with Rudolf Hess, the Reich number 2 & the guy who transcribed Mein Kampf while Hitler dictated it during the fledgeling Fuhrer’s imprisonment at Landsberg prison in 1924. Almost twenty years later, their worldscape was very different, embroiled in a fatal war which would eventually kill 55 million people including Hitler himself.
Perhaps envisioning all this, Hess flew on his own to Britain on May 10, 1941, in a desperate attempt to broker a peace between Britain & Nazi Germany. He was heading for the Duke of Hamilton, & crash-landing in a field south of Glasgow was picked up by a pitchfork wielding farmer, & then the army. Hitler was furious, Churchill simply ignored him, & Hess went on to lead a solitary life as the only prisoner at Spandau Prison in Berlin until his death in 1987, more than four decades after his ill-fated flying mission. The relics at Lennoxlove include the map & compass found in Hess’s possession & a bit of fuselage from the plane.
Back on our walk, through the gate went me & Daisy, to reach another gate toweing above a cattlegrid. Now Daisy hates these grids, steadfastly refusing to step one paw on them, but on this occasion there was a wee hole in the fence for her to snuggle under, & we were soon on our way once more.
Carrying forwards, ipon the left appears a great surge of woodland, into which the walker must pass via a track that appears on the left, just as you cross over an old bridge above the Colstoun Water. This path leads you pleasantly towards a wee bamboo plantation situated beside a zipline & a derelict bridge, the accoutrements of a Scottish Environmental Protection Agency unit.
Carrying on, to the left of the path are some curious topographical depressions , while everywhere is blankets in leaves, creating a chip-board effect underfoot. Turning right at the troll tree, & keeping an old wall to one’s right the path continues with a veer to the left into spiky dense greenerie. As you head towards a gate in the distance, eventually a path breaks off to the right, which should be taken.
Our new path led us thro’ a gorse tunnel of sorts to a tarmac road. Following this to the left leads to a bigger road’s T-junction, which we took to the right. A hundred meters later we came to a lodge house & the entrance to the Colstoun Estate. Flush with wild garlic & with the moles building a metropolis, its a wild corner of Colstoun, not quite as primly kept as the rest of the estate across the river.. You glimpse it’s manicured acreage thro’ the trees; the agricultural wind-tunnel thingy, the glamorous old house, but for me & Daisy we were heading directly to the far right corner of the woods
Searching for Gododdin has led me to make a match between the name Colstoun & that of Golstan. In the Gododdin poem we read (my translation);
It was his heart’s first custom to defend,
Gododdin versus very best of foes,
In battle’s van avenging vehemence,
It was his body’s custom, lion-swift,
To run on predatory shifting hordes,
Custom it was for Golstan’s sov’reign son
To listen to his father’s worldly words,
Custom was kept when Mynyydawg him held
To ruin regal shield & redden lance
Before the lord of Eidyn, Urfai, sworn.
Elsewhere in the Dark Age genealogies we see an Uffa, son of Guillam Guercha, with the Guil- element connecting to the Gol- of Golstan. The Guercha element then leads us to a 6th century northern warrior known as Gwrgi, who appears with his brother in several sources.
Gwrgi & Peredur are the sons of Eliffer of the Great Retinue son of Arthwys son of Mar son of Keneu son of Coel
Descent of the Men of the North
573: The battle of Arfderydd between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad.
580: Gwrgi and Peredur – sons of Elifert – died
Here we see plenty of genuine historically attested Arthurian references;- Arthur himself appears as Arthwys, Peredur is Pheredur, the legendary found of the grail, while Merlin is, well, Merlin. Thus, with Arthur’s grandson being Golstan/Colstoun in East Lothian, then there must surely be an Arthurian connection to Arthur’s Seat
As I was walking through the woods, on the banks of the Colstoun Water, I was struck with a little metaphysical thought. The walker, whether poet or pleasure rambler, is something of a butterfly which flits from plant to plant. The plants, then, are those of the landowners – firmly rooted to one particular spot through equity & deeds. Thus together, the landowner & the walker are an ample reflection of Nature & should always be encouraged to enjoy each other. What use a plant without a butterfly to prettify it?
At the far right corner of the estate woods we were walking through, there is a convenient climbing fence-quarter, but dogs have to be lifted up. This brings you into a field, which you skirt to the left as you head towards the steadily rising rooves of Bolton village. To the left & below runs the Colstoun Water – its all a bit overgrown & I found that access is prevented, even at the far end of the field. This is potentially a brilliant, unobtrusive access point that will link up the walking network a right treat, connecting as it does the Bolton-Gifford walk, the Haddington-Tyne walk via Lennoxlove.
To get into Bolton me & Daisy had to follow the field round & back on the other side a bit, then over a fence onto the main road. It makes no sense, they really do need to sort it better access. Anyway, once in Bolton, we took a first left which is the path to Gifford – a lovely walk I’ll cover in a future. But for this essay, we hopped over a fence into a lush meadow thing. There is an ‘active dog’ sign, but its very faded, obsolete & legally invalid so don’t worry about it.
Buzzing about in the field for a bit leads to a gate near the church, which you pass through to reach the war monument to the parish dead of Bolton. The church itself is a lovely wee thing, which of course contains the family tomb of the East Lothian Burns contingent. A noticeable absentee, however, is Jean Breckenridge, Gilbert’s wife who bore him 11 kids in the end – a fine & healthy effort.
After pottering about for a bit, we passed out of the kirk-grounds through the lovely iron gates, which had been replaced a few years ago after being appropriated for melting service in the World Wars. Again we had to brave the road for a bit to enter the field to our left this time, where we headed directly north, uphill a bit. The low summit is the site of a Gododdin hillfort, which I am suggesting was once the main estate of Golstan/Gwrgi. You can”t really see it anymore, but I’ve found this wonderful website that shows you all the hillforts in Britain. Here’s East Lothian.
Summary: Cropmarks have revealed the site of a complex fort occupying the summit of the low hill above Bolton. The most coherent element of the defences is a belt of three roughly concentric ditches swinging round the NE, SE and SW flanks. On the NW, however, no fewer than five lines are visible on the aerial photographs, and of these only the outermost can be correlated to the rest of the circuit with complete confidence, pierced by entrances on the NNE and SW respectively. In contrast, the innermost on the NW, clearly intersects the belt of defences on the NNE, re-emerging between the inner and middle ditches on this side, as does the second line, though this latter may also correlate to the innermost round the rest of the circuit. Evidently the confused appearance of the cropmarks is the result of the eccentric superimposition of two separate enclosures, both of roughly the same size, the one oval on plan within the two narrow ditches or possibly massive palisade trenches visible on the NW and an entrance on the SW, and the other sub-oval, measuring 90m from NE to SW by 80m transversely (0.56ha) within the three ditches visible elsewhere. None of these ditches is particularly broad, typically measuring no more than 2m in breadth, but the belt they form is between 22m and 26m deep, expanding to 30m at the entrance on the NNE. And while the outermost appears the broadest, in places up to 4m in breadth, the ragged outline of its W terminal at the N entrance suggests it is a composite mark hiding several recut lines; likewise at the SW entrance, where a spur of the ditch on the NW side of the gap doglegs sharply outwards to create an overlap with the opposite ditch terminal, this spur ditch is no more than 2m in breadth. Undoubtedly, however, the defences are more complex than this simple resolution of the sequence into two separate perimeters, and there are traces of other linear features, some of them possibly palisade trenches, but also including two segments of a broad ragged mark between the second and fourth lines on the NW. No clear features are visible within the interior, but one macula on the S probably marks the stance of a timber round-house.
HER: East Lothian Council MEL1125
Its a great view here, fully expansive, while before us in the distance the new builds of Haddington were sewing themselves into the landscape. Carrying on the walk, you drop down hill a bit in the direction of Haddington, & hop over the fence into the Westfield lands. To our left lay the wild & ancient Begbie Woods, at the verge of which I observ’d the curious sight of deer playing chicken with tractors. There is no path here, & one has to drop down into narrow valley, pass the splash water to its right, & follow something of a field ‘motorway’ system to & thro’ Westfield Farm.
At the main road, cross it quickly & enter a lush green field, baring right. This ends at a gate, over which you reach a wee track that leads towards the bridge over the Tyne. Just before this there’s a stile on the right, which you hop over & enter a dreamy landscape of winding rivers & open fields in which the Colstoun Water meets the Tyne.
At the far top right of the field, there is gated access to a footbridge over the Colstoun Water, which one can take then join a nice little path to the side of the main road a wee way back to the car. It was hometime & Daisy needed a nap!