Balgone Estate

Half-term means entertaining the kids, & after a neat collection of bribes, blags & threats, me & the wife finally managed to get them out of their lazydayness & out into the beautiful fresh air. I’d chosen the Balgone Estate on account of an interesting valley I’d espied on the road between East Linton & North Berwick. This proved to be a mudpit, but exploring a little further took us to the large, modern farm buildings at a place called Balgone Barns.

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Parking up by a massive warehouse thingy, we returned back along the farm road a little, before turning left into a field. Following the farm track with a hedge to our left, we were all pretty icy in the freeze-blast that seemed like it was whipping in from Siberia.

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At the end of the field, the track veered right into some woods, passing a few pheasant feeders. Its off season at the moment, but within a few months the county will be full of barbarians paying up to a grand at a time to shoot a few innocent pheasants who are like, ‘this isn’t India, its bloody freezing & why is that weird-looking guy in a green trench coat shooting at me.’ 

The young pheasants are all kept in large enough pens, which at this time of year are empty. Keeping the pen to our right, the path drooped down to a large bank of rhododendron which marked the arrival at a straight forest path. Beyond, we glimps’d water through the branches, like an emerald uncovered from the brown earth.

Turning left the path was flanked by tall evergreens, & my youngest became completely enfatuated, Daisy-style, with carrying a long stick. At these moments, I noticed the first wee buds in the hearts of rhododendron leaves, which will soon enough be exploding into rainbow life.

After a long walk reach’d a very muddy junction, at which point a lovely expanse of visual space opened up. We were now entering the Balgone Park, a perfectly picturesque example of the 18th century formal park layout, to which was added lakes & cliff walks the following century. We turned right here, crossing a wide ‘land-bridge’ between a lake on our left & a beige marshland to our right.

Across the ‘bridge’ the road winds left, & straightens out into a lovely bit of dry tarmac. To our right rose items of great geological interest, namely the Balgone Heughs, a crag-climbers delight. Seeing such cool, rocky upwardly mobile potential always reminds me of ST Coleridge inventing recreational rock-climbing in 1802 as he wandered about the English Lakes.

As we slowly climbed, the lake became more & more impressive thro’ the branches to our left. Then, just after a metropolis of snowdrops & a sign that says NO HORSES, the road turn’d sharply to the right. Keeping going, we soon emerg’d from the woods. To our right were fine fields & stables, while to the left, Balgone House appeared in all its impressive pink antiquity.

Arriving in front of the big house

These days Balgone house is looking good & well occupied, but this is a state of affairs that has changed only in recent years. As long ago as 1845 the house & estate was in decline, with the Statistical Account for Scotland of that year describing the state of North Berwick parish’s stately houses;

Balgone – the property of Sir George Grant Suttie, Bart., – & Rockville, the property of Sir Edward Thomas Troubridge, Bart., with their ample woods & picturesque rocks, are beautiful seats; but bot, as Leuchie, are deserted by their respected baronets. This universal absenteeism is universally felt as a sever bereavement.

Balgone estate began life in the bloodline of the Suttie Baronets, a title created on 5 May 1702 for George Suttie, while the third and fourth Baronets both sat as Members of Parliament for Haddingtonshire. On succeeding to the estates of his aunt, Janet, Countess of Hyndford, daughter of William Grant, Lord Prestongrange, the fourth Baronet added Grant to his name, becoming a Grant-Suttie. A couple of centuries later,  the eighth baronet was Sir (George) Philip Grant-Suttie, 8th Baronet (1938–1997) who in 1962 married Elspeth Urquhart, who became ‘The Lady Grand-Suttie.’
This fascinating lady  was born in New Delhi, India, one of four children of Major-General Roy Urquhart (of Operation Market Garden fame) and his wife Pamela. They had one son, and were divorced in 1969. It was during this divorce that she was introduced to Menzies Campbell by her barrister, future Conservative Member of Parliament Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. She married Campbell in June 1970,  & persuaded her husband to stand in the 2006 Liberal Democrat leadership election, in which he was eventually victorious.
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Since 1700, Balgone has been in the Grant-Suttie family, a wonderfully scenic agricultural estate run on an environmentally friendly basis. The generations have experienced many years of history. Our ancestors were mainly businessmen or military, sadly all that remains is the recently restored mansion house sold to the present owners as a ruin in the eighties… All the farmland historically has been tenanted out but in 1959 when my father inherited the estate times had changed, he arrived from Canada to find it badly run down and decided to take the farm back in hand. Gone were the days of the wealthy landowners and we have worked hard to build the estate into a thriving agricultural business. THE BALGONE ESTATE WEBSITE

Following the way we came for a few metres, we then turned right along the path into more woodland. After meandering like a river for a few paces, the path hit the clifftop, affording wonderful views of the lake. Across the waters, by a heavy tractor, a fire was burning beside a wooden summer house, where a man sat reading a book, chillin’ in the sun. Behind, the conical eruption of Berwick Law loomed large & beautiful, & I’m like, ‘this is a great walk.’

A little while later we reached a pleasant pet-dog-cemetery. A large number of the family’s dogs were sequestered into the canine aether here. Names included Tiger, Punch, Judy, Kelpie & the unfortunate Carlo, whose early demise came at the mechanical hands of a ‘rearing machine.‘ The wife was particularly touched by the memorial stone of a puppy who died at 6 months which said, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all.’

Continuing with our lovely walk, the path kind petered out into a big sea of leaves, so we headed right-front until we reached the fence of a field of mole hills, where the path was taking its proper shape. This we followed to our left. We soon came to a sharp drop to the left which would take us to the lakeside.

The road dropping sharply to the left
Turn left at the bottom…

As we dropped, Daisy went completely viral, scampering between our spaced out human train with ENORMOUS enthusiasm, a lopping tongue & just completely mental eyes. It was great to see her gallop between the members of our spaced out party, splashing thro leaves & generally loving the moment. This is why you get a dog.

The path became rooved with rhododendron, with the monolithical Heughs emerging on the left, the bottoms of which the girls began to explore with delightful goofiness – clearly Daisy’s joie de vivre was infectious. Only a few minutes ago, the youngest was lagging a little; it is a long walk & she’s only 8, but I always find it amazing how quickly tiredness evaporates in kids.

I really enjoyed the aesthetic of lakewater meeting ice, where the wind-whipped waves hit the frozen surface like the Atlantic Ocean hurling itself at the Irish shore. In this very place the Victorians used to holding curling bonspiels on the big lake, which had been purpose built in the 19th century.

The path began to rise up towards the farm road, passing the detritus of tree surgery, with leafy-limbs scattered everywhere as if we had come across a field hospital after some Napoleonic battle. Just after we met the road we’d followed earlier, we  traced our steps back to the muddy junction. Instead of turning left, we kept going, climbing up to the farm buildings, to the extreme left of which lay our car. Happy & hungry, it was only two miles to North Berwick & the dog-friendly, blazing-fired serenity of Whynot? Where we ate our massive butties & quaffed our coffees & pop!

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