We have now arrived at the first tricky section of our proposed Heritage Trail around the central parts of the county. We were last out & about on the path down from Barnes Castle towards Athelstaneford. We were at the junction where, if one turns left one will soon enough come to that famous old village, named after the battle where Saint Andrews Cross was seen in the sky, & thus the Saltire was born.
Alas for us, we don’t really want to turn left, but are instead heading towards East Linton. Another alas comes with the complete deficiency of a path network in this area. The images above were taken from the end of the one short stretch of decent track, tho, which fits snughly into the idea of our Heritage Trail. In the distance is the path from Barnes, which hits a busy road. Ideally, the trail would enter the fields, skirting the edges either north at the Cogtail Burn, or to the south, before arriving at the track (blue-staggered route). I think the owners are at Beanston, so lets hope they’re amenable to a wee harmless walkway around the edge of a field.
Presupposing that there will one day be a pristeen path connecting this track & Barnes – opening up a vital East Linton to Athelstaneford pedestrian connection – let us continue to the end of it in the direction of East Linton. We soon come to another road, much quieter tho, which I’ll call Point A for a moment. Turning right will take you up to the wee hamlet-strip at Markle, & join the road one has to take today (red route) seeing as the afore-hoped for paths remain as yet unplaced.
The name Markle connects with the Y Gododdin-East Lothian theory I have been builind up throughout 2019, in which a number of 6th century warrior’s names equate to topographical features in the county. It is likely Markle the name derives from Marchleu as found in Y Gododdin (my translation).
It was as true as the old songs tell us
When no mans’ mare dare overtake Marchleu
Whose lances, hurl’d by grand Earl, commanding
From prancing stallion, thick hack-paths form,
A soldier rear’d for slaughter & support
Full furious his sword’s defensive arc
Whose grasp sent ashen shafts a-shattering
Atop the stony pile in solemn stance
He spreads destruction with a dark delight
With blade well-bloodied midst the verdant furze
As when the reapers in fine weather flock,
So Marchleu made the sleepers’ life-streams flow.
From Markle, the road winds towards Markle Quarry, passing the northern tip of the retirement haven Monks Muir Park. We are just about to reach a really nice path up towards the wooded heights of Pencraig. At the main opening to this path, if one looks north into a field, there is a line of hedgerow that would be the ideal path back towards Point A. This would go through Markle Farm’s land, I think, so yet again lets hope they’re amenable to a wee harmless walkway around the edge of a field.
From here the path climbs for almost a mile towards Pencraig, passing a series of different shaped benches plonked Portemeirion style by the path, whereupon entering its wood we find ourselves in Wolfstar territory, East Lothian’s premier field archery club. Just beyond the targets we arrived at a superb spot to view Traprain Law, which shall be the constant centrepiece of the Trail.
A little while after this we come to a wooden table, the so-called Pencraig Picnic Area – & a cool parking spot by the A199, with its very own toilet. I steered the Trail in this direction as people might get caught out on a hike & a toilet offers some redemption. It is also a great spot to join the Heritage Trail just for a wee while – as we shall see Pencraig is a key junction that works as the figure-of-8 hinge for people conntemplating shorter walks.
Pencraig was the scene of a quite forgotten but essentially very cool bit of Scottish history. In February 1401, during the reign of Robert III, Henry Hotspur invaded Scotland. They got to Papple & then Linton – what East Linton was called back then – & burnt the granges at Markle & Traprain. Hailes held out, tho, it would have been a tough nut to crack, one of the “seven warsteeds,’ or castles, of East Lothian. To meet the English, a force of Scots under Archibald, Master of Douglas marched out from Edinburgh Castle. As they began to pour over the ridge at Pencraig, the English in Linton took fright, turned tail & ran for it Johnny Cope style.
At the western end of Pencraig’s parking spot a path drives thro’ some foliage, before bursting out overlooking the eastern quarter of the county roughly where the Scots appeared backin 1401. There’s a little old gate in the wall to the left which takes you into a field for a bit, or you can just stick to the slightly noiser path. They meet up at the edge of a field – it was potatoes when we in attendance – which has a signpost pointing downhill though the fields towards East Linton. This of course, should be taken.
About half a mile or so, passing Pencraig Standing Stone on one’s right, you arrive in East Linton via some new builds, then under a bridge into a large playing field area. The village is a true jewel of civilisation. You never really need to leave the village, actually, its got everything as far as ameneties go, all colacted in a completely unpretentious & picturesque settlement.
Beyond a handsome primary school & a communal park is the hilly, happy high street which hasn’t chang’d aesthetic, one expects, for a century or more. For walkers on the Gododdin Heritage Trail, this is where one would spend a night, availing of the local eateries & accommodation. Plus, if there’s been ankle sprain or something, there’s frequent busses back to Edinburgh & Dunbar.
East Linton has a reputation of being something of an artist’s paradise, among whom Robert Noble is the most famed. Noble was born in 1857 and worked as an apprentice lithographer before studying in Paris and becoming a painter committed to the Barbizon School of painting in the forest of Fontainebleau – a group of realist artists who believed that painting should be undertaken outwith the studio. Indeed, by 1906, East Linton had taken on the monicker of ‘The Scottish Barbizon.’
The ‘pastoral tradition’ evoked a century ago by such eminent painters as William Mactaggart, Arthur Melville, Robert Noble, William Miller Frazer, W.D. McKay and others, remained in evidence amongst later painters, but the landscape was seen for its contemporary vitality and relevance without nostalgia for a past age. Sir William Gillies, 1898-1973, who was born in Haddington, painted the Lothian and Border landscape he loved with a distinctive vision that profoundly influenced painters in the second half of the twentieth century. Previously, easy access by railway had added to the popularity of East Linton and Dunbar as favoured locations for artists but no collective artistic ‘school’ as such developed; most artists then, as at the end of the period, worked as individuals. From, The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian, by John Busby ARSA RSW
These artists worked directly in the landscape, recording rural scenes in villages with farmworkers. Inspired by his experience and training in France, Noble returned to Scotland and found that the landscapes of East Lothian, and the countryside surrounding East Linton in particular, fitted his ideals of subject matter perfectly.
The next morning, or whenever really, follow the high street south to the T-Junction. To the left are the water-tumbling Linn Rocks – a great rush to witness after heavy rains – around which there has been over 5000 years of settlement. We instead are turning right here, crossing the road, passing under the heavy iron railway bridge & walking about 100 meters to a signpost which points towards left Traprain Law & Hailes Castle.
This is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Trail, right on the banks of the Tyne, flush with woodland & high-banks & just pure serenity. After a good way, passing under the spelndidly-hewn motorway bridge, straight from the playbook of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one comes to a much smaller wooden bridge, which is where I shall leave this segment for now. But this is a key link to the Pencraig hinge of the 8 I’d mentioned earlier – from here one can walk all the way back to Haddington along the Tyne, or even head back up to Pencraig itself, the red route in the second of this post’s maps.
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