The Gododdin Heritage Trail: Haddington to Barnes Castle

Route A in red / Route B in blue

Its been a couple of months since my last post, but that does not mean I haven’t been busy walking about East Lothian in the company of my faithful dog, Daisy. Far from it, we’ve been extremely busy,  tracing &  retracing routes, hacking trails like Belgians in the Congo, all round the heart of the county around Haddington. The reason being is my instigation of what I have called THE GODODDIN HERITAGE TRAIL.

All through 2019 I have been focusing on the iron age hill-forts of central East Lothian & their connection to a 7th century poem called Y Gododdin. The net result of all this is a singular idea – that is to establish & maintain a circular walk which will furnish future walkers, or Trailers,  with the landscape, history & ancestral land-rights of the Gododdin. This beautiful poem is older than Beowulf, & should be celebrated as the earliest poetical literature of the British Isles. I first broached the subject with bubbly Bill at the John Gray Centre in Haddington, who pointed me across the road to the Provost, John Macmillan, a proper sound guy who shared his biscuits with me while we chatted!

Part of Y Gododdin by Aneirin

The county of East Lothian is the true custodian & natural curator of the poem & its contents, & the most strenuous efforts must be made to secure its proper place in the history of the British Isles. The Iron Age is known to us mostly through turfed over ramparts & the occasional pinch of archeological remains – but the Gododdin poem has stories & names – many of which we can associate with places in Gododdin; Markle=Marchleui / Elphin = Elphinstone / Colstoun = Golstan / Dremtudd = Drem / Garvald = Garvelling, & so on.

The walks could also be organised, creating jobs in the county. It is such a beautiful landscape, & walking the route should be encouraged, thus engaging with the Access Code Scotland Act, created to improve the physical & mental health of the Scottish people. The local community would also benefit from just accessing the Trail & finding their own wee section to walk along. A significant side-effect will be a boosting of the local economy. The walk should take two days – a perfect weekend’s worth – & I imagine people staying at the hotels (or air B&Bs) at Gifford & East  – both of which can be reached by public transport. As the walkers progress, they can stop for lunch in Haddington, the Garvald Inn,  the wee cafe at the Tweeddale Fisheries, & even the future cafe at Papple Steading.


Papple is right on the proposed thoroughfare, & its new owner George Mackintosh, is enthusiastically up for help with the project. George is also a lover of history, & wishes to save his newly acquired marvelous steading for posterity. His idea of having cost-supporting accommodation & a cafe at Papple is actually quite perfect for future Trailer.  Also happy to help is Nick Morgan, the Access Officer, who has been giving me bits of advice & this lovely map, to which he attached the following notes;

I have attached a map with a suggestion from me highlighted in red and orange, roughly following the route you had marked on the aerial photos. My suggestion uses core paths where they exist and there are a few sections of quiet road (marked in orange). The core paths are marked in purple on the attached map, but where the route is highlighted over them they have changed to red. I hope they are obvious. The core paths numbers are in the little oval labels, so they make the core paths under the highlighter a little more obvious.’

So where to begin. Lets say Haddington,  & I’ve worked out two possible ‘escapes’ from the town, which I shall call ROUTE A & ROUTE B. Route A begins at the entrance to Herdmanflatt Hospital, whose spacious & verdant grounds offer a park-like passage through the town. Altho’ the Trail can be traversed in either direction, on this occasion we shall be going clockwise. So, the first part of Route A one comes to are  some boarded up houses which  were once used in a residential fashion by medical staff. These would be an ideal youth hostel for future Trailers, but one step at a time, lets get the circuit complete first

From the houses, veer left into the excellent greenery, meandering through the trees & unkempt scrub to the far top left hand corner of the grounds . Here, a wee road takes you along the side of the hospital buildings & to an entrance at Aberlady Road. There is a possible easier access point to the pavement in the wall, but that would need a little work.

At the top of Aberlady Road you come to the junction with the A 199 & its roundabout. The best way to traverse this is by taking the pavements onto Haldane Avenue, heading west a few meters until you come to a pedestrian crossing.

Crossing over the A199 brings up Vert Court on the left, a former maternity hospital founded in 1929 by John Vert of Pendleton, Oregon, as a gift to his native town.  Carrying on, we pass the new builds to our left, then cross over the A1 via a wide bridge. We have now left the town, but are not yet free of traffic. We must continue north along the A 6137, using a grassy verge to the side of the road – not ideal, but something to improve on in the future.

After passing the entrance to Harperdean Farm, we eventually come to the point in the above photo.  To the left winds the plateaux-topping road through Coates to Longniddry, while ahead the road goes to Aberlady. To the right, however, continues Route A, a delightful straight line of a farm track with magnificent views stretching out beyond Haddington to the Lammermuir Ridge.

The gate that leads to the derelict farmhouse

There is also a cool old derelict farmhouse to the left of the track which is well worth a wee peruse. The track eventually reaches a road – the one that climbs from Haddington over the Garletons – & it is at this point that we intersect with ROUTE B.

Route A comes out here


This is definitely the quicker way out of Haddington & into the trail, but it is a bit if a clunky start. I mean, ideally we’d have something like the motorway-bridges springing up across the world to give freedom of access to wildlife, as depicted below – tho’ I’m not sure the council budget will stretch as far at this time!

In 2019, however, to access to core path up to the Garleton Hills, one has to traverse the busy roundabout system which links the A1 to the local road network. Kinda keeping left, but obviously not heading up any sliproads – one eventually hits a road which starts to rise gently to the left. There is a distinct path to follow which after about 150m ends abruptly, It continues on the other side of the road.

An awkward bit of the trail – its a bit like a fakir on hot coals here – you really need to cross over then cross back again

Its now time to enter some glorious woodland as one rises up towards the Garletons for about half a mile. Once the path leaves the trees, it winds right towards the main road, at which point you would intersect with Route A.

Route B emerges at the main road here

At this point our two routes have converged on each other – the following text is extracted from an earlier W.EL. post, performed back in February & hence the wintry photos!

Lets park the car {continue our walk} on that small & sketchy piece of ground on the summit of the road over the Garleton Hills between Haddington & Athelstaneford. The space is on the right as you drive from Haddington; there’s a little signpost pointing into a field, which is where this walk begins.

Hopping over the stile, one reaches a wide smooth field,  the gentle rise of which forms a u-shape against the sky. Turning around & looking backwards; Edinburgh is clearly visible, while in the foreground the Hopetoun Monument leaps vertically out of Byres Hill.  Even closer – just across the road – is the Garleton’s tallest peak, Skid Hill, upon which survive some of the the earthworks of a Gododdin hillfort – the rest have been destroyed by extensive quarrying.

North Berwick Law up ahead

Once on the hill’s extensive plateaux I advise just wandering about to your heart’s content like my wee Daisy – perhaps not in the slightly deranged 100 metre arcs that she does, tho.’ At every turn there are simply stunning & extensive views, while even if there’s a bit of weather, this will mostly add to the texture of the vision. It does get a bit windy, mind, so wrap up on a  wintry day.

The rough idea is to pass beyond the ariels towards the woods to the east, skirting a fence while keeping the bales in the photo below to one’s right.  The woods are accessible by a gate that is generally tied. Its no problem for little dogs, but bigger dogs will  have to be heaved over

Once over the fence, with it being Winter I was relishing the gnarly aspects of the skeletal trees. Then, after following a path through thick gorse, about a half-mile before Barney Mains Farm I reached the quite unexpected but completely enthralling remains of Kae-Heughs, another of the Gododdin promontory hillforts.

The path through the gorse


Barney Mains, downhill in the distance

Etymologically we can divide the name into two parts; the first name ‘Kae’ & the Scots word ‘Heugh’ which means a steep ravine or craggy precipice. For me, Kae is the Arthurian Sir Kay – remember Arthur’s Uncle Loth lived only a few miles a way at Traprain.

Back in February, me & Daisy headed under the cliffs back towards the car. In terms of the Gododdin Heritage Trail, we must instead continue down the track towards Barney Mains, about 200 metres from Kae Heughs. It is there that we leave the wintry photographs & return to the light & heat of July. Once the farm is reached, there are some steps to the right which takes the walker into a field & around the farm itself.

As the farm track drops, at the end of the cottage strip there is a sign pointing to a pathway east, which is going to take us along the wonderful ridge betwyx the Lammermuirs & the sea that divides the county in twain. The views of the Gododdin heartlands are simply glorious here.

Approaching Barnes Castle

The above photo is looking back over our left shoulder towards Barnley Mains & on the far right of the photo the majestic white eye in a forest of green that is Kilduff Farm. Some scholars assume that this is where a pregnant Thaney was tossed off the cliff in a chariot by her faith-crazed father, Loth, mainly on the fact that its name sounded like Kepduff.

Sir John Seton of Barnes, from the Seton family group portrait.

About a half-mile along the ridge you come to the cool shell of Barnes Castle,  an unfinished bastion started by Sir John Seton of Barnes. While still a young man he went to Spain and the court of Philip II, by whom he was made Knight of the Military Order of Santiago and master of the household. He would eventually become James V I’s Treasurer of the Household and an Extraordinary Lord of Session.  Unfortunately, construction ceased upon Sir John’s death in 1594. Sir John owned the nearby Garleton Castle, and was probably responsible for rebuilding it around an earlier core. But it may be that he wanted to build himself something more modern. Also known as Barney Vaults, it feels & looks very much like one of the Palmerston Follies lining the south coast of England, built to protect the realm from Napoleon. Today the castle is used as a storage depot for Barney Mains, BUT, it is slap bang on the Heritage Trail…

Passing Barnes Castle to its left
Looking back at the Castle

The walk continues beyond the castle, aiming towards a moundy clump of trees, which you take to its right. The view then opens up in front of wonderful farmlands, with Pencraig Wood rising to its right, beyond which lies East Linton. Descending the farm track for a wee while eventually brought us to a fork, with the main path turning left to Athelstaneford, while the track continues to the main road.

It is here that I shall leave this first installment of the trail – the next section is going to be tricky & will involve contacting various landowners. This is what Nick Morgan had to say about the obstacles ahead…

Core path 87 along the Garleton Ridge is fantastic, but it eventually hits the North Berwick road. Here, the road verges are quite wide. We had always hoped to build a path in the field margin here, but it has never happened for one reason or another. However, there is normally a grass margin in the fields, so it should be possible to walk there. I would just be very careful about where people cross the road, as there are a few blind summits on that road.



Maitlandfieldhouse Hotel  is a situated in the Riverside Quarter of Haddington Town. This 17th century historic town house retains the charm of its period whilst offering a quality, service and the attention expected from a privately owned and family managed 3 Star Hotel. Maitlandfield has a varied selection of ensuite bedrooms, an award winning modern style Brasserie and Bar, Private Dining Rooms, Conference and Meeting Rooms.

The Golf Tavern is located in Haddington, 5 miles from National Museum of Flight. Guests can grab a bite to eat in the restaurant or a drink at the bar and free WiFi is available.

Places to Eat

The Waterside Bistro loves the East Lothian countryside, which provides plentiful ingredients for a choice of well-presented bistro classics and sharing platters as well as freshly sourced seafood from our popular restaurant section. Outdoor tables allow views of the beautiful river Tyne. A great spot for outdoor drinking by the river, weather permitting of course. 

Falko Café & Restaurant is an offshoot of Konditormeister Falko’s Edinburgh-based bakery is a haven (should that be heaven?) for all things bread and cake. It’s an intimate corner café, brightened with touches of tartan and a rustic scattering of baking paraphernalia. Kuchen might include traditionally made apfel strudel, while the 20-or so hand-made cakes are authentic master-baker confections of whipped cream, chocolate, choux pastry and the like. Breads vary daily, and a short menu of savoury brunch and snack items might showcase today’s rye, spelt or crusty Hunter’s loaf. Tables are in high demand, so the takeaway option for a special picnic or artisan loaf to take home is a bonus.

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