This next walk consists of a fair meander about picture-perfect village of East Linton, We’ve been here before, on the Gododdin trail, but in the process bypassed many of the village’s best aesthetic curios. Leaving no stone unturned, then, lets head back to that time picturesque capsule of a settlement for another look. Apologies for the quality of the photos, by the way, my camera took a bit of a knock over the summer, I’ll sort it out for the next time.
This next walk is perfect for those readers wanting to hit East Lothian, but have no car. The village of East Linton is well served by bus – sadly the station is still closed – with busses running between Edinburgh & Dunbar (the X7) & even as far as Berwick-upon-Tweed (the 253).
So we begin at the the Mart – there’s a bus stop there & plenty of places to park. You will immediately notice a ‘Space Invader’ shaped building,
The (Old Auction) Mart was once the centre of East Linton – a bustling agricultural destination; a place to meet, trade, learn and chew the fat. So bless the local community for bringing it back to life. Originally known as Knowe’s Farm Shop, the Mart now contains a post office & a cool deli & a few other bits & pieces to complement one’s weekly shop. If you turn up on a Saturday or Sunday there’s also some cool stalls snaking aroud the Mart – the evolution of the East Fortune market, like a Byzantine empire after Rome. If you come in the evening’s you could also enjoy Wok & Go’s really tasty cooking on the bus itself, a wonderful culinary addition to this part of the county.
After stocking up on butties, crisps & pop, or whatever, its time to head off out along the walk. To begin, head to the road entrance & turn left i teh general direction of Dunbar. A short wee while later you’ll see a sign reading STATION YARD – turn off the main road here.
You will sooon see a ginnel – take this & climb up & over the bridge across the railway. Below you’ll see the remnants of the old train station, a sad loss to the area. It served the village & surrounding area between 1846 and 1964. The initial service was of five trains each way on weekdays, and two on Sundays. Alongside East Fortune station it was closed by the Beeching Report, but Transport Scotland and East Lothian Council are hoping to integrate the construction of a new East Linton Railway Station within a larger programme of works over the next few years Contractors started survey work in early 2020 at the proposed site of the station, which is due to be further west of the old station site
Back on our walk, once reclaiming terra firma, carry straight on, passing the bowling club on your left. On reaching the old Bank of Scotland building – which was active only a few years ago – turn left & head into East Linton’s fine, spacious park. This area of level verdancy is a real social hub & it seems at one part of the day every East Lintonite pops their head in for a smile, a chat & a cheerio!
At the heart of the park stands the fantastic architectural gem that is the primary school, a Victorian stone single storey building which was built in 1880. Its academic cloisters fed the burgeoning brainblossom of a world famous mathematical emeritus, John Aitchison, who was born in the village July 1924.
By 1952 a long & distinguished career had begun for Aitchison, who was appointed as a statistician in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Cambridge & began to publish papers such as ‘On the distribution of a positive random variable having a discrete probability mass at the origin‘ (1955). Of his later work with Alan Brown , John Creedy writes; ‘this book has perhaps reached the point of being a ‘classic’ in the econometrics literature,’ but lets not got bogged down in statistics, or rather statisticians, & continue our gorgeous late summer saunter.
It is now time to leave the park, & you’ll proceed by taking some kind of pedestrian bridleway on your left. This eventually leads into an are of houses – find a street called LANGSIDE & follow its line of cottages towards one of East Linton’s main artery roads. Turning right you begin heading into the village centre, but as soon as you come to a junction, take the left road – its sign posted SMEATON.
Follow this new road – the fairly busy ‘Preston Road’ – for a wee while until you come to an entrance to the church. This is Prestonkirk & knock yourselves out for a bit in the kirkyard if you so wish.
East Linton is today a part of the Church of Scotland Parish of Traprain – Presbyterian in government and Reformed in theology – a union of three ancient parishes; Prestonkirk, Stenton and Whittingehame. Prestonkirk is one of the oldest Christian sites in the county, & was founded along with Tyninghame, Whitekirk & Auldhame by the very early Saint Baldred, the “the Apostle of the Lothians.” There is a little confusion whether he was 6th or 8th century, but whichever era he was active in, he was certainly an inspirational figure.
While Hector Boece claims he was a convertor of the Picts in Pithland, the earlier name for the Lothians, Simeon of Durham says that “the boundaries of his pastorate embraced the whole land which belongs to the monastery of Saint Balther, which is called Tyninghame – from Lammermuir to Inveresk, or, as it was called, Eskmouthe.” He is said by early historians to have died in 756, by the Aberdeen Breviary associates him with the sixth century Saint Kentigern. It reads;
Being eminently devout, he renounced all worldly pomp, and, following the example of John the Divine, resided in solitary places, and betook himself to the islands of the sea. Among these he had recourse to one called the Bass, where he led a life without all question strict and contemplative, in which for many years he held up to remembrance the blessed Kentigern, his instructor, in the constant contemplation of the sanctity of his conduct.
Following Baldred’s death on the site of this chapel, there was a dispute between the parishes of Auldhame, Tyninghame and Prestonkirk, as to which should have his body. The story goes that by the advice of a holy man, they spent the night in prayer. In the morning three bodies were found, in all respects alike, each in its winding sheet, prepared for burial. The story was probably invented to explain the claims of each church to house the shrine of Saint Baldred.
This brings me to one of the great colections of East Lothian poetry, by a certain James Miller, entitled, ‘St. Baldred of the Bass. The Siege of Berwick, with other poems and ballads, founded on local traditions of East Lothian and Berwickshire. ‘ A weighty title & real storehouse of county knowledge, which you can read in full here. Of the Baldred poem, it is composed chiefly in the Spenserian stanza, quite a florid & electric piece really, as in;
He was a star in reason’s dawning day,
That led the savage hordes of human kind,
Ere Learning poured her intellectual ray
Like light from heav’n upon the vacant mind :
Then God was heard in thunder or the wind,
While meteor forms did aerial conflict wage ;
As tattooed groups upon the shore reclin’d,
Listened the mystic lore of Runic sage,
Cull’d from the Scandinavian’s darkest pagan page.
He travelled paths untrod, o’er mountains bare,
To preach the gifted creed to barbarous men ;
His food alone the jetty juniper
That blossom’d on the steeps of Lammer’s glen ;
He dragged the savage from his gloomy den,
In silken chains his wayward passions bound,
While Hope’s bright rainbow glitter’d o’er the fen,
And Mercy scatter’d pearls upon the ground,
Where erst dark Odin’s chiefs in blood-stain’d garments frown’d.
Leaving the kirkyard & entering the car park, you’ll notice a space in the wall which leads into a big field – take this & skirt the field to your right. Once it reaches the wood, you should enter this little realm of dryads, beyond which is the Smeaton Road. There’s a nice path running through the woods, so follow this for a little while beforestepping out onto tarmac.
Once on the road, turn left & head up the gentle hill towards Smeaton. Once over the cattle-grid, dogs should be popped on leads as there are not a few sheep shuffling about these parts.
You soon come to a show jumping field, which you should enter on your right. This is where I put Daisy’s lead on & she wasn’t impressed!
Walk through the field until you come to a gate in the wall by a white bench (beyond the gate), through which is some pleasant woodland. Enter here & turn left. You now arrive at Smeaton Gardens Nursery – I think its one of the best garden centres in the county; a joy to get to, over 50 years experience, really pretty aesthetically, & its has some truly wicked begonias. There’s also an idyllic Victorian conservatory tearoom which is worth going to even if you dont like perusing thro’ petulias.
The Smeaton Estate belonged to the Hepburn family for 400 years, & has been owned and run by the Gray family since 1934 & is home to a variety of wildlife (including both fallow and roe deer) and the not so wild (Highland cows).Sadly, the old mansion house was demolished in the 1950s, but there is still a secret treasure to where you should head to next.
Following the road back towards East Linton, on the right you will come to a gate that leads to some woods – welcome to Smeaton Lake. This is essentially a U-shaped walk around a charming waterscape lined with a Portmeirion of foreign trees, each with their own names pinned in Latin to the bark.
Created way back in 1830, this arboretum has earn’d a place in the National Tree Collection of Scotland, while the collection of rhododendrons and the Snow drop carpets are other high lights at the right time of year! In the winter months the lake was used for curling competitions and continued to do so until 1982. Thus, in the style of Hamlet’s Mousetrap, Smeaton Lake is a stunning walk within a walk!
While wandering the lake I put the finishing touches to a poem I’m writing called ‘To An Englishman with Liberty,’ the opening stanza, which concerns East Lothian, reading;
Sir, did you please your skin
‘Neath Nunraw’s sylvan falls,
Or ease your boat within
Old Dunbar’s harbor walls,
& have you ever gazed
On Whittinghame’s strange yew
As morning’s chorus lazed,
Drunk on a haar’s fresh dew?
Sir, did you stroll the swerve
Serving Port Seton’s sands,
Invested with the verve
East Lothian demands,
Like pluckin’ young fungi
From Saltoun’s lofty wood,
Or gladly ambling by
The Younger’s handsome flood?
Sir, did you ever take
The views from Deuchrie Dod,
& in that moment make
A pact with Man & God,
To wander to & fro,
Record all seen & felt,
Until thy senses slow,
When mental trances melt.
To an Englishman with Liberty
Dost thou ken thy’s a bard?
“I do, sir, in my dreams!”
By land & sea
Ascend art’s boulevard,
Upbending via beams
Thro’ Heaven thickly starr’d!
Completing your cjourney around the lake brings you back onto the esteate road. Turn right & head down hill, over the cattle grid & back to the main road. Crossing this soon bringy to the sacred site of Saint Baldred’s well – which a thirsty Daisy availed herself of.
From here you head left along the bank of the river, over a wee bridge, then on to East Lothian’s rustic, Harry Potter style water-driven, Preston Mill – Its a musem these days, but the majestic wheel still revolves & alongside the excelllent pictorial displays you really do get a lovely feeling of just being there two hundred years ago.
It is now time to conclude the walk, which means coming back the way we came for a bit, but instead of heading towardssaint Baldred’s Well, aim left towards the white bridge over the Tyne.
Once over the river, aim straight towards Phantassie Farm & its famous, wobble-eyed Doocot. Phantassie Farm and Workshop, presently owned by Hamilton Farmers, is the birthplace and childhood home of the civil engineer John Rennie the Elder (1761-1821), who designed many bridges, canals, docks and warehouses, and a pioneer in the use of structural cast-iron.
Rennie also attained a deserved reputation as a builder of bridges, combining stone with new cast-iron techniques to create previously unheard-of low, wide, elliptical arches, at Leeds Bridge, and in London at Waterloo Bridge (1811–1817), with its nine equal arches and perfectly flat roadway. His later efforts in this line also show that he was a skilful architect, endowed with a keen sense of beauty of design. Waterloo Bridge was considered his masterpiece and was the most prestigious bridge project in England, described as ‘perhaps the finest large masonry bridge ever built in this or any other country’. He also designed the London Bridge that is now in Arizona, constructed by his sons after his death (1830), then dismantled & re-erected in Lake Havasu City in 1967.
Phantassie Doocot is a “beehive” doocot, or dovecote, and is a National Trust for Scotland property, along with the nearby Preston Mill. It was built in the 16th century, and has an unusual parapet in the shape of a horseshoe.
Passing the Doocot & through the farm you’ll come to the Dunbar – East Linton road, so of course turn right here. A quarter of a mile later you’ll come to East Linton’s famous narrow bridge. Peering over the sides to the right is a splendid rocky stretch of the river which swells & rises dramatically with a foaming torrentiality after heavy rains. Its quite a spectacle, & when in a spate I’d put it down as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Wast Lothian. We’ve already seen one – Nunraw Falls – the rest will come soon enough.
Just over the bridge is the Linton Hotel – a wonderfully run place with great food, a cool beer garden, & with the bus stop just across the road, a perfect place to wait for transportation out of the ever-charming, never-waning village of East Linton.
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