Apologies for my tardy lateness in putting up this week’s walk. The route & photos were taken over the weekend, but my midweek writing time was happily invaded by my dad & his ladyfriend coming up from Lancashire. In the middle of their stay – on Wednesday – me & pops caught the train to Newcastle to watch our beloved Burnley FC play at the epic & impressive St James Park. Its a fine city is Newcastle, & one of the perks of living in East Lothian is the fact we have two brilliant cities – Edinburgh & Geordieland – right on our relative doorstep.
As for the walk, this week saw the turn of lovely Doon Hill, whose impressive, vaulting loftitude dominates the eastern portions of the county. To reach the launchsite for the walk, first get yourself to the easily accessible, small & salubrious hamlet of Spott, then turn up the way when you reach the sign for ‘Brunt, Elmscough, Woodhall.’
From here the steadily climbing road slowly veers to the right, before a proper sharp left leads to a long straight. Just before the road bends to the right, a track on the left appears. Follow this for a wee while, passing two cottages on the left, before parking up by the big green farm warehouse thingy.
Getting out with Daisy & my coffee-flask, we headed up a long gentle farm track towards a line of trees which mounted Brunt Hill like some Pictish army waiting the order to charge. To my right the field had been churned into muddy glory, while leafless & lifeless trees lay on my left by a wall.
We eventually came to a possible left turn along a grassier track – which we took. The vista instantly changes; the sea appears, Traprain & Berwick Laws come into view; & on this cloudy day a gap in the heavens allowed angel-lights to beam into Bass Rock, a really startling aesthetic I managed to photograph.
We were now approaching Doon Hill, whose naked red-rouge cloaks of pre-agriculture gave the illusion that it was the haunch-hind of some thinly furr’d deer. I put entering into such a metaphorical frame of mind down to the scenic & tranquil amplitude of this particular walk, with the sea & sky boundless ahead & the Lammermuirs rough to the rear with all its gargoyle vistas.
One soon comes to the corner of an epic field, which one should enter in order to make the final ascent to the summit. As long as we walkers stick to the fringe of the fields, its not a problem. Since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, essentially the whole country has been opened up to anyone & everyone. Land is not property anymore, but merely equity. I rather imagine that many of the Scottish MSPs who voted for the bill were communists as students. The first part of the Code reads;
Scotland’s outdoors, extending from the parks and open
spaces in our towns to the remote and wild areas of land and
water in the Highlands, provides great opportunities for
open-air recreation and education. Open-air recreation provides people with great benefits for their health and well being and contributes to the good of society in many other ways
Private gardens are out of bounds, as is arable land that is growing crops; but like I’ve said, the margins are fine to use. Zones containing rare wildlife are also out of bounds, but that’s about it really, people can go just about anywhere they like, & are actively encouraged by the Scottish government to do so. Its just a case of knowing where to go, & its Apache pathfinders like me & Daisy who are happy to assist.
Once in the epic field, stick to the right margin until you reach a gate. Ahead, you will be able to see the summit point, but we’re just gonna take a diversion here, hop over the gate & head towards another gate & a sign. Once there, you have reached the old Doon Hill timber halls, a great place for a dog to run about like about like a complete mad-head.
Nothing remains of the halls today, but archeologists have marked the outlines of the halls they discovered with earthset stones. The later hall they imagine to be Anglo-Saxon, possibly related to the 638 AD ‘Siege of Etain’ as recorded in the Irish chronicles.
As for the older, slightly larger hall, recent carbon dating of finds have given it a date of 4000 BC – which is pretty impressive, for its hall would have been older than Stonehenge. It just goes to show how much history East Lothian has seen, & we really do live in an amazing county whose visual treats simply reek with fascinating memories.
Before returning to the track, we had a wee potter about this part of Doon Hill – the views are exquisite. In one grand sweep of the eye appears Torness Nuclear power station, a wee lake, a wood, the oval eye of Dunbar town, Bass Rock & the Forth, where Freight ships ploughed the waves.
Daisy was in her element, her wolf DNA bubbling to the surface as she ranged the heights as if she was back with her ancestors in Tibet. At one point a Virgin train appeared snaking through East Lothian, reminding me of a sonnet I wrote in 2008 or 09, at nearby Spott Dod.
Upon the steep slopes of Spott Dod
I sat, observing as a God
Surveys creation, all below,
Thro’ fields sunburnt by summer’s glow,
The London train creeps past a car;
The wavy mane beside Dunbar
Grew angel blue, no northern sea
In glassy, grey conformity,
But more an Adriatic Bay,
Ecstatic with this cloudless day
& I above it with the sheep,
Some rustic Croat half asleep,
Dreaming where men have rarely trod
Upon the steep slopes of Spott Dod.
It was time to head back to the gate & the track & continue our climb to the summit point. Once at the top, we simply kept on going, walking along some kind of Dark Age ridgeway (in my imagination). From this situation it is possible to make out just how ‘wall-like’ the Deuchrie Dod-Traprian Law-Garleton Hills-Falside hill-chain appears from this angle, completely dividing the county in two.
At Doon Hill also begins one of the sorrier episodes in Scottish history. To cut a long story short, Cromwell had an army of about 10,000 men & was marching back to England after a pretty poor effort to subdue Scotland. The Scots had an army of 20,000 men camped on Doon Hill. If they’d have just stayed put, the English would have gone home.
Instead, the Scots decided to attack the English in the open plains below & got absolutely slaughtered, after which two marches began. The first was by Cromwell, who turned right round & went on to subdue a now defenceless Scotland. The other was the death march of 5,000 Scottish POWs to Durham. Many died from sickness and hunger either on the eight-day stagger south, or during their imprisonment in Durham Cathedral. Of those who survived the ordeal, they were transported to New England & Barbados as indentured labourers. Here’s another sonnet of mine telling the tale;
THE DUNBAR MARTYRS
When Cromwell cross’d the border all of Scotland held its breath
As men march off to Dunbar each to claim an English death,
Descending from the old Doon Hill they block the Broxmouth burn
Now only at the push of pike could parliament return
Then comes the crush upon the fields by little Pinkerton,
The Scottish right flank buckl’d, with the morning wearing on
Three thousand Scots already dead, ten thousand tried to flee
But soundly rounded up by roundheads setting sick lads free
The other half now march to Durham, dropping dead like flies,
That in a month of Death’s dark work are daily cut to size
Just fourteen hundred live to see the sun set on the wave
‘Gan sailing for the New World there to back-break as a slave
Where some of them sired families, so friends, perhaps you are
Related to a Scotsman from the Battle of Dunbar.
Soon enough the hill begins its natural slope down the way, & one should head in the direction of the walls & houses & stuff which encapsulate Spott Farm, whose main house looks proper cool with its gaggle of romantic towers. Its roots go way back, to when Elias de Sprot was given lands in the area after the ravaging marauds of Edward Longshanks.
By the Millennium, the entire estate was in the possession of a Danish industrialist. A noted hunting enthusiast, Lars Foghsgaard has been described as ‘a legendary shot’ and is believed to have bought Spott for its rolling terrain, which offers driven partridge and pheasant shooting, plus duck-flighting and roe-deer stalking With the arrival of his first grandchild, however, it was time to head back to Denmark, & so he put the entire estate up for sale in 2010.
At £25 million, it was the most expensive country estate in Scotland. Unable to find some Russian oligarch to buy it (something about Sainsburys not having built their supermarket in Haddington yet), the property agents Knight Frank have been selling it off piecemeal. A few cottages have gone; 60 percent of the arable land has gone; I don’t know about the house (worth 2-3m), it appear’d empty & lock’d up when I had wee potter around the grounds before hitting the car. When I did return to the wheel, Daisy was shattered, but happy, this had been her toughest walk yet. As for me, there is nothing like getting high up in the hills & senatorially basking above the stretching, silent serenity of lowland East Lothian.