All posts by yodamo

The Waggonway

A day or two after I posted the Deuchrie Dod walk, a message drops into my inbox from a lady called Annie, a member of The Waggonway 1722 set, who invited me to walk the route of the oldest railway in Britain. Long before steam help’d drive an engine along the tracks, in 1722 a wooden wagon travel’d by gravity alone from the coal pits at Tranent to the saltmakers at Cockenzie. Downhill it did anyway, a horse went down with the wagon so it could be haul’d back uphill to those working plugs of Scotland’s ‘Great Seam.’


“Do you have a dog,” I ask’d Annie. She responded in the positive, & last Wednesday we met up near the original starting point of the Wagonway in the Butts car park across the road from The Brig Inn at Tranent. The same place people used to practice archery in Medieval times. Annie and her dog, Rakija, were waiting for us; she recognised wee Daisy from my blog & right from the off we were all fine companions.

The sneaky peek..

The Butts car-park has an easy access to the Waggonway, but my delightful hostess, being so passionate about her subject, wanted me to see everything. Crossing the main road we reach’d the rear of the pub, next door to which is a private garden, where a wee peek over the wall reveals an old tunnel under the main road where the Waggonway began its gentle flight to the sea.

Passing under the main road we began our 2.5 mile hike to the coast, most of which was spent listening to Annie’s effortless, effervescent & quite relentless volleys of facts. She is a former English teacher, who spends her retirement teaching creative writing on exotic luxury cruises – & she is as fit as a fiddle, trust me.

The Waggonway is marked on this old map
The path down from the Butts car-park

The original Waggonway wall

I never knew this walk existed, & I wish I had, for when I get my car done at the impeccably honest & highly efficient Reilley’s garage in Tranent, & have to wait a couple of hours, I usually end up walking Daisy through the town’s  streets & playing fields. Not next time, however, I’ll be back, this really is an excellent pedestrian thoroughfare.

Annie pointing out the original line of the Waggonway

After a wee while we reached the old corner of Tranent & the almost cyclopean walls of the parish kirk. Annie began to regale me with tales of the Battle of Prestonpans, of how a mortally wounded Government general, Gardiner, was taken to the  manse to die; & of how earlier in the battle a group of Cameron Highlanders had lodg’d themselves behind the kirkyard walls, but were dislodged & wounded by Government cannon. As every gunshot was huzzah’d by the redcoats that hoary evening in September, it seem’d to them that their superior firepower & training would carry any battle against these undervictual’d savages from the bens.

Battle of Prestonpans – the Riggonhead Night March by Andrew Hillhouse

That was day one of the battle, the night of which saw the entire 2,500 strong Jacobite army led through Tranent by a local lad, Robert Anderson. They went three abreast in silence, over a wooden bridge across the marshes, to pitch themselves on the eastern side of the bamboozl’d government forces – also about 2,500 strong – just as a fine & bright September day was breaking. Patrick Crichton – a Whig – recorded the weapons of the Highland host (his spellings).

I observed these armes, they wer guns of different syses, & some of innormowows lengh, some with butts tured up lick a heren, some tyed with puck threed to the stock, some withowt locks & some matchlocks, some had swords over their showlder instead of guns, one or two had picthforks, & some buts of sythes upon poles with a cleek, some old Lochaber axes

It is clear from reports that the East Lothianers of those days weren’t happy to have a Highland army in their laps – but the ever-glamorous Charlie was a different bag altogether. As he rode around Tranent, he just happened to pause by the house of Anderson of Windygoul – the aged uncle of Robert Anderson. He had fought alongside Robert’s father in the ’15, & wanting to toast the Prince’s health, order’d his daughter to bring out some wine on a silver platter. She grew too shy, alas, & the job was given to Anderson’s niece. After downing his goblet, the Prince then proceeded to heartily snog Anderson’s niece in the French fashion, rendering Anderson’s now jealous daughter ‘blate’ & piningly declaring, ‘eh, but I had kent.’

Continuing along the Waggonway, we passed under the A1, coming out near the Meadowmill sports center. In front of us appeared the Mayan pyramid that is the battlefield viewing point, which we nipp’d up in what felt like a force-ten gale.  The view is remarkable, the epicentre of the county, where the story of the battle is expertly told via a series of pictoboards. Gazing around the sweeping scene, the battlefield is in a reasonable state of preservation – modernity has certainly done its work in altering the landscape – but certain battlefield features still standing give perspective & distance, like Gardiner’s own Bankton House & the ruin’d but still impressive Preston Tower.


As I stood immers’d in the moment & the history, it reminded me of why I had objected so strongly (I think I swore at someone in an email) to the recent plans of property developers to hack away at our cultural heritage & build over the last bits of greenery of the battlefield. Annie inform’d me that it seems as if this very modern battle had been won, but I didn’t pry too much into the situation.

A similar malarky is happening with a block of  1930s red sandstone shop-buildings in Leith, earmarked for gentrification & soul-less student flats, completely ignoring the small businesses & joi de vivre that dwelt in said buildings. Defending cultural heritage against money-gluttonous property developers shall always remain one of the just wars.

This one held a Waggonway rail

Back down on the road again – the Waggonway was tarmac’d over at this point – we had to negotiate some busy traffic, passing the old monument of the battlefield, before finally reaching a leafier, dog-friendly section. It was signed with a shiny ‘Wagonway 1722,‘ sitting proudly beside the battlefield signs. The two histories are intrinsically entwin’d, actually, for Sir John Cope lined his army up near the tramway itself, & thus one can walk straight through the phantoms of his lines.

At this point in the walk, my phone ran out of juice, which means that the photos which follow are either from Annie’s phone, or from my very professional return to the walk at the weekend – the weather was scintillating then, so made for better photos.

Half-way along this section of the Waggonway, there are two recently created table-top monuments, structurally based upon a tomb in Tranent kirkyard, which lists the regiments who fought in the battle. I’ve already mentioned how East Lothianers weren’t too hot for the Highlanders, but the reception they gave the Government troops was very different. Henderson records that, ‘nothing was wanting for the conveniency of men or horse. The gentlemen supplied the officers with delicacies, & the private men with every proper refreshment, while the people joined to send them tuns of Scots beer & spirits, while workmen flocked in to enter the most difficult tasks upon the first orders.’

I’m a big fan of the Jacobite rebellions. The 300-strong ‘Manchester Regiment’ were the only Jacobite forces to join the Prince south of Carlisle, & were led by a Burnley boy, Francis Towneley. Therefore I’ve always leant towards the blue bonnets & I’ve written some poetry about the ’45, including this wee drama set during the Battle of Prestonpans itself.

Gorgeous morning yer highness, Prince of Wales
A wonderful manoeuvre come to pass
As the English sat at their stakes like snails
Yer army made its way thro the morass
Tracked thro the marshes, measuring their stealth
& now rest hard upon his other flank,
But not for long! the boys did toast yer health
& for this, Grace of God, did duly thank
Those men who eat dry crust & lie on straw
Shall fecht like kings, now watch them charge to war!

Good work Lord Murray, now take up the right
A cannonball shall signal the attack
& now sir Jonathan your men must fight
Not slip away as at Corrieyairack
That cuckold marched two thirds of the kingdom
Not one chieftan has proffered him his sword
Let us announce the end of that empire
Ye gentlemen, ye warriors, now come
Join me in solemnity to our lord
‘Gloria Angele Dei!’ now men, fire!

After an exchange of artillery they highland army embarks on its charge

See how they gan! & what a gory sound
The highland roar, as if the Earth did quake
With furious groan, come see their cannons pound
Brave Camerons, line gis an awfa’ shake
But on they run! & wi’ a mighty crack
Oor muskets reap those eves o’ redcoat corn
& now they rush intae the killing ground,
By broadsword & scyth’d pitchfork limbs be torn
Carrying great slaughter to the English
To be in England, aye, their dying wish!

Sweet salutations sire, yer battles won
Peer thro the smoke & see those fleeing shapes
An entire English army on the run
Lord Percy shall see none of them escapes
The ghoul of Hanover must bare defeat
The field is littered with his bastard dead
Back to Berwick flies Jonnie Cope’s retreat
Wi’ not one of ‘is bayonets stain’d red
Tae praise this day there is nae better word
Tis Victory! God bless King James the Third

Ours is the day, the field, the glory
Go spread its fame – fly north, south, east & west
Fly to Vienna, London& Paris,
Fly to Ferrol, Ostend, Dunkerque & Brest
& let us war! But ‘fore the march we sound
Carry the wounded to a better bed
At Holyrood let casks of wine be found
To toast our heroes & libate the dead
The motions of destiny are at hand,
Come tomorrow let us invade England!

Battle of Prestonpans by Andrew Hillhouse

From the opening salvo, the battle lasted about 15 minutes, & ended with the complete rout of the Government troops. The future theologian theologian Alexander Carlyle witrness’d, ‘the whole prospect filled with runaways, & Highlanders pursuing them. Many had their coats turned as prisoners, but were still trying to reach the town in hopes of escaping. The Highlanders, when they could not overtake them, fired at them, & I saw two fall in the glebe.’ In the end there were 1400 prisoners & 500 corpses, with the Prince particularly praising a party of Macgregors who had been conspicuous in pursuit & slaughter.

The next stretch of the walk took us ever closer to Cockenzie. Eventually the path spills out into the open road again, where Annie was excited to show me the original Waggonway wall, so we could stick as close to the route as possible. This route was a bit busy for Daisy, but fortunately on my return to the walk, just as the path reaches the road, there is another path which veers to the left, skirting the old coal-storage depot of the recently demolished power station. This is a much prettier, bramble-bubbling way to proceed into Cockenzie.

The path eventually hit the edge of Cockenzie, where we turn’d right  & reach’d the main road. Turning left we were soon in the dual fishing-village-turn’d-town that is Cockenzie & Port Seton. Of all the Facebook groups in East Lothian, these guys are rabidly fanatical about their home, & it warms me to witness such a sense of community which stretches back well into the Bronze Age. In 2002, for example, they won the ‘Scottish Community of the Year,’  & in the same year the won ‘Most Improved Town‘ in the Beautiful Scotland in Bloom competition.

Continuing the walk, we pass’d by a lovely park to our right, then cross’d the main road at Cockenzie House. Keeping this on our right, we followed its outer wall, which consisted of the Wagonway wall at the base, & some crazy Icelandic volcanic ‘hekla’ rock on the the top.

Next we came to what Annie declar’d was the best fresh fish in East Lothian, James Dickson & Son, just beyond whose complex we turn’d left into a shed load of sheds. A twist & a turn later we had arrived at the Waggonway 1722 museum.


A little non-descript from the outside – they definitely need a sign – stepping within is a completely different story, with a completed mock-wagon, models of the mines & salt-pans, finds from the recent Big Dig conducted by the group, & genuine photos from the 1850s of the Waggonway in action. I also tried some stunningly delicious home-made sea-salt, just like back in the day, but made slightly differently – no rancid bull’s blood was used in the making of this movie! The salt was then wash’d down by a spiffing cup of Earl Grey made by my genial hostess, which refresh’d us for the final leg of our long but lovely trot along her historical imaginarium.



Crisp packets from the Big Dig – an antiquarian’s delight


The museum is a stone’s throw from the harbour, to where we continued our walk. Port Seton’s is more of a working harbour, with Cockenize’s used these days more by retirees having a wee splash-paddle in the Forth. It was once, however, a vital lifeline to the trade of Flanders & the Hanseatic ports. Before then, beyond the name-change from Cowkainy, we see the harbour first coming to prominence in relation to the 1284 grant of mining rights as given by James, Steward of Scotland, to the monks of Newbattle. Its always been a busy old place has Cockenzie.

The Cadell’s harbour HQ

At the harbour and the Waggonway’s terminus Annie continued her prolific regalement; delighting at a Stevenson pavement, pointing out the house from where the Cadell’s of Cockenzie House control’d both Waggonway & the waves, plus showing me the sites of her society’s archeological digs. One of the Waggonway Heritage group is an archeologist, Alan Brady, who has also been brilliantly illustrating aspects of the area’s history, prints of which may be bought at the museum.

A genuine Stevenson pavement


Cockenzie harbour was once witness to a scene more joyous than when the supply convoy stuttered into Valetta Harbour during the WW2 siege of Malta. A group of local sailors, with a reputation for being the bravest & most dexterous on the planet, had somehow got stranded in Baffin Bay, Greenland, for months. After several rescue attempts one finally broke through, & fathers & sons thought dead appeared like ghosts at Cockenzie to the inimitable relief of its ladyfolk, who’d been keeping things going as if they were handling the Lancashire munitions factories during WW1.

Cockenzie House from the rear – the Hanseatic barn is the beige building middle-left, from where trade was conducted with northern Europe

The final part of walk was along the coast, along a wee stretch of the John Muir Way, passing by the Royal Legion & the old Cockenzie natural harbour where fishwives used to sell their wares from the rocks. It was in no time at all that we came upon the foundations of a former panhouse – which had been split into two cottages long before it fell into ruin.

Cockenize’s ancient natural harnour

The ruined panhouse under the Auld Kirk

This panhouse was one of twelve which had been operating since 1630, when the Third Earl of Winton opened up the market to Europe. In 1716 more salt was sold from its girnels than other in Scotland, leading a few years later to the creation of the Waggonway under the jurisdiction of the York Building Company of London, who had bought the Winton Estate.  Each pan had a master salter & a servant, whose working lives have been ably described by CA Whatley in the Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalist Society;

Once purchasers had been found, or a ship lay at the harbour awaiting a cargo of salt, Adam drew upon what was apparently a deep & willing pool of occasional labour. Depending upon the size of the order, two to five females were employed ‘breaking up ; salt, at 2/- each per girnel. This was effectively a day’s wage. The salt was weighed by perhaps three ‘mettsters’ at the considerably higher rate of 7/- for each chalder & if the salt was to be shipped, as well as an allowance of 2/- each for bread & drink.

This was our cue to turn away from the shore, to go winding through the quaint narrow, ad-hoc streets of the old fisher-village, then crossing the ‘High Street’ & traversing School Lane. At the intersection of the Lane & ‘New Street’ was the entrance to the old village co-op, now bricked off, but one can still imagine the life & gossip that once buzz’d about this very spot.

At the end of School Lane we came to East Lothian’s main coastal road. To our left was the grand old schoolhouse of Cockenzie, & to our right the even grander Cockenzie House. Both properties have evolved from earlier uses; the former is now BizSpace, while the latter is a dwelling-abode no more, but instead the ever-happening hub of Cockenzie’s tutelary community spirit.

Battle of Prestonpans – the surrender of Cockenzie House by Andrew Hillhouse. A great deal of Government money was hidden under the floorboards, & subsequently found by the Highlanders – enough to fund a rank-swell’d march on Derby.
A garden folly made entirely out of hekla rock

It is in the house & grounds of Cockenzie House in which I concluded our walk. While Daisy & Rakija chased each others’ tails, Annie showed me the miniature salt-pan they use to make that delicious sea-salt. She also pointed me out the now paint-flaking canoe-boat-thingy with an Australian flag meant to commemorate Cockenzie’s former resident, Francis Cadell. He was the winner of the race to navigate the Murray River in Australia from Goolwa to the junction of the Darling River, spurr’d on by the  bonus of £4000 offer’d by the South Australian government.

The Cadells of Cockenzie House were a cool bunch.  Among them were Francis’ brother, General Sir Robert, who served in the Crimea & India with  the Royal Artillery. Another brother, Thomas, was posted to India with his Regiment at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, and would greatly distinguish himself during the Siege of Delhi. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the 12th June 1857. He was stationed at the flag-staff picquet at Delhi, when the picquet came under heavy assault from the enemy. Both the 75th Regiment of Foot and 2nd European Bengal Fusiliers were pushed back, and during the fighting, Cadell rescued a wounded bugler of his own regiment from the middle of the enemy, under heavy fire. Later that day, when the Fusiliers were retiring, a wounded man was reported to have been left behind so Cadell went back on his own towards the enemy, accompanied by three men, and brought in the man from the 75th Regiment, who was severely wounded.

General Sir Robert Cadell

An earlier Robert Cadell was a bookseller and publisher closely associated with Sir Walter Scott & the producer of the highly successful, 1827 onwards, ‘Author Editions’ of the Waverly Novels, illustrated by J. M. W. Turner. On Scott’s death, Cadell paid £30,000 for Scott’s share of the copyright on Scott’s work, thereafter owning it outright.

Entering the house itself, I was astounded to see a thriving panoply of studio spaces, all of whom seemed well worth a cheeky inquiry. The names stood out; including Jacobite Aipiaries, Goblinshead Books, Iolair Yarn, White Ward Tattoo Studio & the Authentic Bliss Holistic Thearapies, who are ‘helping you find a happy place.’

The view from Locks of Love hair salon

Finally it was to the cafe, for another cuppa, a biscuit & a loin-rest. To my immeasurable delight I found Annie was still talking! She’s invited me on a walk around the banana-boomerang borough boundary of Tranent, an offer which one day next Spring, I shall be delighted to take up.

To organise a walk with Annie, or visit the Waggonway Museum, please visit


Deuchrie Dod


Taps Aff, in Scotland, in September? Well it certainly was a couple of weeks ago, on a joyous afternoon’s stroll with my wee dog, Daisy. Twas a lovely end of summer’s day; a perfect, breezeless heat, & the best conditions to hit the Lammermuirs.


Our walk commenced at the country cul-de-sac that is Deuchrie Farm, parking up on the grass by a strip of soon to be renovated cottages. From here we headed up the road between farm outhouse buildings & a fine, category-C-Listed farmhouse;  rather like the family home of Jane Austen.




At the top of the road one finds oneself at the edge of civilisation, like the Black Sea Tomis of Ovid’s exile, & it is a refreshingly superb feeling to plunge through the gate & along the track towards the mossy Lammermuir phalanx in front.



As one proceeds south, a lonely abandoned farmhouse grows into vision. Its name is Lucknow, named after the siege during the Indian Mutiny, about which I have composed a sonnet sequence, my favorite one being this little conversazione;

Image result for siege of lucknow


General – My, how hot a day this is!

Reverend – I cannot agree with you sir,
There was a lovely breeze this morning,
The hour was three I think,
& if you ever had visited Stuffcote
You wouldn’t dream of calling this hot!

General – Stuffcote! Why, I have been there, sir,
Was there, in fact, for three years, sir,
It is one of the coolest stations in India.

Reverend – Poppycock! In August! What nonsense!

General – Yes, sir, especially & most particularly in August,
I have felt positively chilly all thro’ the month!

Reverend – Chilly? In Stuffcote? In August!?

Servant – More champagne, Sahib?

Back in 2002, Angela Foster interviewed a certain 82 year old man called Adam Bathgate for the Fourth Statistical Account of Scotland, who had been a shepherd at Deuchrie betwen the ages of 17 & 20. In the following extracts from his interview you can get a real feel for the good old days.

Related image


After two years at Long Newton I went to Deuchrie and started working with the sheep. When I was young every farm would have at least one shepherd and a flock of sheep. I didn’t come with my father this time because they needed a young shepherd. I thought that was a nice change. I didn’t apply for the job. Mr Jeffrey, the farmer mustn’t have had any applicants for the job and he knew me because my uncle John was up there. Anyway, Mr Jeffrey came up to my father and asked him if l would like to come and work with the sheep. So that’s how I started. That was the first time I had left home. I was 17 years old [1937].

I worked under Hammie Hall the head shepherd at Deuchrie. The two of us stayed in Lucknow bothy. It’s a ruin now. The two of us bothied there. Cooking our own meals and looking after ourselves. You got up about four or five in the morning and went out to the sheep. The sheep were always put up on the hill to keep the ground clean. This was to keep the droppings at the top of the hill. Sheep lie down at night and when they stand up in the mornings, there would be the droppings. So to keep the bottom of the field clean for feeding, the sheep were driven to the top of the hill last thing at night. So the first thing you did when you went out was to bring the sheep down. Most of them would come down easily as they would be into the routine.

My first sheepdog was called Bet. Before I left home there was man there that knew the shepherd at the Hopes and he had one for sale. So I went and bought her there. She cost me £3. It was a lot of money at that time. She was two years old. It is 1937 and I was now earning 32 shillings as a young shepherd with one and six extra to feed my dog. I was feeling smart now and cocky a bit! Bet was trained when I bought her and she came to live with me at the cottage.

The breeding season was a busy time. You had to sit up all night at the lambing time and you took night about. My very first lambing was at the fit o’ Deuchrie Hill. We stayed at the house and my sheep were at the foot of the hill in a lambing shed. Hammie’s were over at the farm and we sat up all night. You had to keep awake. You were up two days and a night. Then you got to bed for a night. Hail, sleet or snow it didn’t matter what the weather was like.

We did our own shearing then, by hand. Now they use machines. Some farms would join up together and help each other to shear. At Deuchrie we did our own shearing. The last time I remember sheep walking to Haddington was in 1932 or 1933. When Steve Ramage was at Deuchrie. Now, he walked from Deuchrie to Haddington with 40 South Country Cheviots ewes and lambs to the sale at Haddington. He didn’t get a good enough price for them so he had to walk them back home again. I met him when I was coming home from school. I would be about twelve then and I walked to the filters with him then I turned and walked back home. The breeding sheep went to St Boswells. Up at Deuchrie there is a drove road that they took over to Duns. Most of them, at the end went to Edinburgh.

I was at Deuchrie for three years. Then James (the farmer’s young son) left the school and took my job. So I was made redundant.

It is possible to walk up beyond Lucknow & earn a spectacular view of the Dunbar Common turbines, but for this day’s walk we hopped over a fence to the left & entered a lovely verdant glen; a hidden gem that feels ever so remote, but is only a wee drive from Edinburgh. I love it up here actually, & I’ve taken the family on a couple of occasions (hence the photo). I also love it when I’m on my tod, when the only sound is the bleating of sheep which seems to boom upon the gustless, breathlessness of the Lammermuir silence.




Once in the field, bisected by the gurgling Rammer Clough, just head west through the relatively steeply-sided glen – you cant get lost. ‘What a day, what a summer,’ I thought while watching Daisy frolicking with a piece of sheep fleece in her mouth. These sheep, btw, keep the valley bottom perfectly manicured, almost like a golf course.




On we went, passing a sheepfold thing that felt rather like Ruthven Barracks. I adored the sheer timeleness of the place as continuing onwards a track emerges from the left, which upon meeting took us to a green cattle grid gate. Up-plucking Daisy for the hop over & through, we entered an even more beautiful valley, the only sound being a tiny waterfall in a cleugh, which roared like Victoria Falls on closer inspection – a curious pheneomena of the Lammermuir silence.


We were going at a gentle pitter-potter pace, allowing me to examine the slopes of the valley; on the north side fern & gorse intermingled gladly, while the south slopes were more tree-gnarled & rocky & positively paleolithic.




Take the left track uphill…


After a while the path rose up a hill to the left – which we took – where a picnic table is conveniently placed for those that way inclined. At this point a gate leads into the field where I normally turn left & head towards Deuchrie Dod, as shown in the photo with the girls below.


Alas, on this occasion, that field was teeming with sheep, while the field directly in front had a wee herd of curious & virile-looking cows. With me using a psycic leash with Daisy, I thought it prudent – & interesting of course – to seek an alternative route.


We followed this fence to the right


What serendipity! After turning right at the gate, we managed to enter the epic field in which the cows were without their knowledge, utilisng lots of creases & folds in the landscape to avoid detection as if we were a Zulu impi during the Islandwhana campign. The view was also stunning, with Dunbar & the North Sea & the Lammermuirs coalesceing in an epic sweep.




Directly to the north I could see the pinetops of the Pressmennan Woods, & headed for them, sweeping across the field & into another one, upon the hill parts of which a large flock of sheep were gathered like the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn. We were not here to fight, however, but I instead found it the perfect opportunity to continue Daisy’s training in Pleepance.


For those who have never come across this word before, it means P-sychic L-eash Sh-eep Avoid-ance – in this instance the p is NOT silent – & is used to gently move an untether’d dog around a flock of sheep. The art is in not startling the sheep – they will be observing you always & at any given moment one of them may frighten & set off a stampede. Of course Daisy possesses a sweet temper & we reached the top of the field & its gate without any negatives.




The next field saw us approaching the summit of Deuchrie Dod, passing through ruined drystones reminscient of Hadrian’s wall. At this point, we just aimed for the summit trig-point, where a more than lovely view of East Lothian can be found. With it just being a week or two since the wheat harvest – when massive satanic, light-flashing engines work all through the night gorging on the crops – the county was a pretty piece of  patchwork.



Looking south from Deuchrie Dod towards the Dunbar Common turbines

11 years ago in May 2007, it was on this spot that I won my first East Lothian panorama, & dare say fell in love. I had recently moved into Heather Lodge on the Whittinghame Estate, & thought I’d climb Deuchrie. From the summit in 2018 I traced my route taken that day through the whitewashed houses of Yarrow & Clint, while also tracing the eleven years of existence that had brought me back to this spot. I guess Walking East Lothian is my personal literary paean to the sensations I felt when first seeing the unbelievable vista from Deuchrie.



At an elevation of just under 300 metres, Deuchrie Dod is the 11512th highest peak in the British Isles and the 7114th tallest in Scotland. Following its ridge to the east, we could soon make out Deuchrie Farmhouse below, & Stoneypath Farm across a valley. Then we were sharply descending towards the strip of cottages where the car was parked, from where we left the island-like serenity of the Deuchrie enclave & headed home for pies.


Daisy on the descent…



The walk I am about to describe was undertaken at the end of July, however my commitments as a reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe meant I had to wait until today to find the head-space to create those word patterns which are storing East Lothian’s prettiest walks for posterity. This one, by the way, is one of the prettiest so far, & began in the most unmuggiest of heats.

A few miles beyond Dunbar to the south lies seagirt Thorntonloch caravan park, where one may park the car without reproof. Please avoid the privacy of the caravaneers & take the path just to the north of the park which leads to a lovely stretch of sands. I think this my favorite in the whole county, ripped up by rock formations like the coast of Kephalonia; & is a very special place when sun, sea & zephyrs fuse as one.

Torness Nuclear Power Station

With tap & flip-flops off I started to stroll south, having a wee blether with a couple of dog walkers. From them I discovered a few interesting facts. The story goes that when the nearby power station was built, East Lothian Council was going to shut the site down – but the caravan owners at the time clubbed together & bought the lease making it a  privately owned site, an extreme rarity in Europe.

I also learned that there are 57 caravans, they go for about 30 grand, & in a victory for the people, East Lothian Council turned down Verdant Leisure’s attempt to buy Thorntonloch & told the natives they can have it as long as they want. As for fun, they love a good coffee morning &the BYOB Bingo on Saturday nights. At only £800 a year site fees – Pease Bay just down the road is about £3000 – you can see why there is a massive waiting list for one of these jewel-lives by the sea.

Daisy grabbing a drink

As one walks along the beach, notice the huge blocks of stone that form some kind of protective wall for the site. These were actually paid for & put in place by the caravaneers as if they were dragging the bluestone menhirs from the Preseli Hills in order to create Stonehenge.

Breaking free of the beach, me & Daisy clamboured over some rainbow rocks, traversed a wooden bridge & scampered up a steep slope. This brought us to a cliff path with wonderful views. To our left was the North Sea, with the beach below; ahead was the path, to our right were fields & the A1 with all its dodgy speed traps, above which rose an epic section of the Lammermuirs – such a medley of colours under the cerulean blue!

Further down the path, the sands below us gave way to mossy rocks, which all appeared as if toxic waste had been dumped upon the shore. Up front, the tops of a little strip of cottages rose up (Bilsdean) as if I was marching to a battlefield during the War of The Spanish Succession.

We then came at a pleasant potterspeed to an epic field of cabbages. I could tell Daisy was getting hot in the heat, so I thought I’d give here a wee carry for a bit – trust me, its a rather poetic experience to hold a fluffy lhasapoo against one’s naked chest, with the sun beating down upon the nape; seeing the sea gleaming golden to your left, while to your right cabbages are swarming away to the hills, among which delicate white butterflies have chosen to live in natural harmony.

Turn left here

At the end of the cabbage field, the path enters a wood & drops down to the left. I was suddenly hit by the chiascuran dappling of the sun through the leaf-roof, & then a charming waterfall, still bonnie despite the drought. Daisy instantly began to revive in the shade, so when we reached the beach again she was happy to bounce about- she really does the love the smells of the shore & comes across of something like a scent-hoover as she scurries about nose-down.

Following the beach a wee while to the south, we came to an opening into thick, gnarly bushland through which a slightly manicured path took us further south. The sounds of the A1 grew louder as we suddenly found ourselves among a few houses around Dunglass Mill, whose auld stones must lament the passing of lost silence. This area is also the county border to, well, the Borders, & marks the far south-east corner of East Lothian.

Doing a spot of gardening was a delightful 93-year old lady called Amore Radcliffe, who came across as spritely as a teenager. A mine of information, she explained how the now disused section of track upon which we were conversing was the original stagecoach road, along which lorries would eventually come until the building of the majestic A1. She remembers driving down to the beach to collect sand with her family, a romantic image which I have pondered over more than once this summer. Usually in the middle of watching a really bad comedian in a dark & dank venue in Edinburgh.

From here is was a pleasant path under the bridges & up into Dunglass Estate., now in the Usher family after Frank J bought it early last century. Financially crippled in recent years by inheritance taxes, the house & grounds have found a salvation in their use as a marriage venue with a permanent marquee set up in the grounds. This is sited beside a ruined Collegiate Church in which the weddings take place in good weather, a place which I visited a couple of years ago during a late composition period of my epic poem, Axis & Allies.

Back in 2000, I had composed the Waterloo section of the poem, into which touched upon the famous story of the De Lanceys.  William De Lancey was a leading member of Wellington’s staff, & a few months before Waterloo had married Magdalene Hall, the daughter of Sir James Hall of Dunglass. Alas,  William was mortally wounded at Waterloo, to where Magdalene rushed to, ploughing her way through the detritus of battle to find him & spend their last few marital hours together before he died.  Here are some of my stanzas on the De Lanceys from Axis & Allies;

As step-by-step they paced between the aisles
Of Greyfriars Kirk – him buck, she bonnie lass –
Memories melted in those passing smiles
To when they walked the gorge down to Dunglass;
No fairer rose
Could e’er this love entwine,
The perfect, ‘I am yours,’ the spotless, ‘you are mine.’

He was the quintessential breed,
Lord of an Age’s passions,
Beknighted, gallivanting steed
Spritely in brightest fashions,
All England’s soldiers his to feed,
Distributing rations –
An army marches, bully-beef & rum,
By inky blots of Quatermaster’s thumb.

Into the Belgic heart of hearts
The Iron Duke did steer
Twyx crows & carts, ‘Before it starts,
I want my best men here…
Yes, especially DeLancey, for him France holds no fear.’

April 4th

What dost thou do when one engorg’d with love
& that love’s source enarmour’d overseas?
‘Follow the Drum!’ lass be a little dove
& join those eagles swarming on the breeze;
As love demands
Such pangings to suspend,
Mrs DeLancey lands with luggage in Ostend.

In excuisite elevation,
Over trees so fair & fine,
Aided she the conversation
With proud cookery & wine,
‘Polyglot conglomoration!’
‘An overstretching line!’
Knowing death haunted every statement said,
She drove uncertain futures from her head.

That night they let desire reign
& fell, immesh’d, adream…
She felt his pain, him knelt, him slain…
She woke him with a scream,
‘Tis just a horrid nightmare, love, biting on a moonbeam.’

June 9th

Embraced by such a lovely summer’s day,
Brilliant Brussels sparkl’d in the sun;
Along a gentle, tree-lin’d parkland way,
The doting De Lanceys, arms lock’d as one,
Stroll lost in love,
Empassion’d feelings true,
How lazily above clouds drifted cross the blue.

She whisper’d softly in his ear,
“Darling I am so happy,
The city seems so far from here,
Idyllic tranquility…”
With one long velvet kiss so dear
United heart flies free
For one perfect moment of happiness –
Pierced by the gruff voice breathless with distress.

“Sir, you’ve been summon’d by his Grace.”
Her pretty heart’s flurry,
With skin like lace she strok’d his face,
Wash’d away all worry,
“Swift my sweet, I’ll brew some tea & ink thy quills, now hurry.”

June 15th 1815

In 2018, a wedding was being prepared, & I met the groom, Justin Holdgate I think his name was, a guy from Brisbane about to marry a Weegie called Rhona. Every house on the estate was taken up by family & friends from all across teh world, with some of them down in Dunbar. A proper solid geezer, I can imagine that was one hell of a party – I mean Weegie+ Aussie = ‘lets get slaughtered, all day long!’


Leaving the church area,  Daisy & I headed for the scattered cottages of Home Farm, passing some very happy looking Mangalitza pigs. Then, at the gate lodge, after asking directions off a very kind woman, she most hospitably invited us in for a natter, a cuppa & snacks – proper meat for Daisy – a phantastic wee moment which is, to me, just what life is all about.

Leaving the estate we turned south into Bilsdean, among which houses there is a relatively hidden path that leads to the A1. Crossing this we then found ourselves more or less back at the same point where we had left the cabbage field for the woods. Walking back to the car, the tide was rushing in now & the wee whip of waves showed how the weather had changed. I think I had also changed a touch, this was a glorious walk, full of humanity & history, & of course that never-ceasing beauty of East Lothian’s scenic scenes.








Aroon’ Saltoun


In the middle of a heatwave, it is always jolly nice to go for a walk, but not as much fun to write it all up. But here I am, on a slightly cooler Sunday morning, ready to etch down my strollings of a couple of weeks ago around the western portions of an area known as the spoon-rhyming Saltoun. On the way I dropped off some junk at Macmerry recycling centre, & learnt the fabulous news that despite the Sword of Damocles that has been hanging over its extremely valuable service in recent months, East Lothian Council has decided in its infinite wisdom not to close it down.


So to the Saltouns; the villages of East Saltoun and West Saltoun – about a mile apart – a large number of farms and tiny hamlets, with the gothic grandiosity of Saltoun Hall at its heart. We park’d up at the prettily situated car-park by Saltoun Big Wood, one of East Lothian’s last Red Squirrel havens, & a great spot to explore in its own right.



Acquired by Sir Francis Ogilvy – the nephew of the Queen’s cousin Princess Alexandra – from the Dumfries & Galloway Council Pension Fund in the 1990s, he has very kindly let the public enjoy its beauties, among whom was a guy I met there called Graham, who comes to the woodland quite regularly from Edinburgh to photograph the colourful Damselflies & Dragonflies.

Turn right here…


It was taps aff in the sunblaze, & the dog & I would be only spending a small portion of our day in the Big Wood, tracing a route on the edges, always keeping a grand open field on our right. The fernerie & leafage were in optimum succulence as we meander’d among the trees quite gaily, before arriving a good few metres above the gurgling Brins Water.






Turn right at the end of the path…


From here the path descended & thro’ a gate opened out into a grassy meadow, in which pathways had been recently strimm’d, At the other end of the meadow rose the rooftops of Barley Mill.  As our steps took us closer, we reached a gate, to the left of which, like the Loth Stone itself, in a garden, stood a monolithic chimney of an old mill. It was on this spot that the first barley mill in Scotland was established in 1712, and the British Linen Company set up its bleachfields not long after the Battle of Culloden – a similar ‘bleachfield’ but this time stain’d with clansman crimson.


The state of bleaching in Scotland at that time was backward to say the least, & most linen sheets were sent brown to London or Haarlem. As prices rose, & returning sheets steadily became damaged or discolour’d, or both, it became essential for the Scots to create their own bleachfield, & so this little corner of East Lothian won the ticket! By 1773 the enterprise had ended, & the company moved into banking instead – The British Linen Bank – & within 20 years the field had reverted into the delightful pasture ground of today. The bank would last as an independent entity until being bought by Barclays in 1919. Fifty years later exactly, Barclays sold the British Linen Bank to the Bank of Scotland in exchange for a 35 per cent holding in the latter bank.






But that’s all a bit high finance for a poet’s stroll with his beautiful wee puppy, so let us return to our walk. Beyond the gate we reach’d tarmac, which then took us to a larger road, where we turned left over the handsome old Milton Bridge. We were now on the roads, but Daisy was fine connected to our psychic leash. With my flip-flops living up to their name, we pass’d a posh quadrant of houses on our right – & its curious large garden full of geese – before turning right at a road-fork heading in the direction of Pencaitland.







This was a fine stretch of road, with the Lammermuirs looking lovely behind, & the bowl-like depression in which Saltoun sits clearly evident. After a couple of 90 degree angle turns, we came to a crossroads, where we turned sharp right & headed towards the old gates of Saltoun Hall.

Turn right…





Turn right…




On entering the estate, I switched off Daisy’s psychic leash & sent her scampering delightedly thro’ fresh woodland. In a wee glen to our right the Brins water continued its course to a confluence at Pencaitland with the Tyne. To continue our walk we had to cross it via a bridge, with the singular problem that cattle wandered freely all around. This I had discovered on my scouting mission here on an earlier occasion, but upon this day we were assisted by the strong sun which kept the cows prostrate in the heat, lazily swatting flies with their ropey tails.





Taking notes in the field…


Over the gate & turn right…
Turning right gives you this view – drop down






Over the Brins brings you here, take the left track
Hop over the fence to the left-centre of picture



Over the Brins, we then climbed a gate & entered the woodlands of Saltoun Hall. Although most of the parkland has been retained, some areas are now plough’d, but care has been taken to retain the large parkland trees in these fields. The grounds hold many fine specimens of trees, including a large Lucombe oak, some very old sycamores, and all three types of cedars. Two of the Lebanon cedars date back to the 18th century. A few of the mature trees have fallen victim to storms, notably on Boxing Day in 1998, but a programme of replanting is continuing. The wooded areas of the estate around Saltoun Hall suffered badly from Dutch Elm disease in the 1980s. The dead trees have now been felled and there has been considerable replanting, mainly with native broad-leaved trees.


After a wee while, a gate appeared to our left, through which we went for a few moments to gaze upon the rear of the very grand hall before us. Hugh de Morville was granted lands in the 12th century by King David I, where on the site of Saltoun Hall was built a tower or castle. Half a millennium later, the house & estate was bought by Andrew Fletcher, Lord Innerpeffer, to whose family the land still belongs. His grandson Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655–1716) was a major player in the Darién scheme & passionate anti-unionist.



Saltoun Hall as we know it is a castellated Gothic edifice,  built in 1817 by William Burn. It was the main base of the Fletcher family, who had turned Saltoun into an innovative hotbed of agriculture. In the 1960s it was split & sold off into nine rather majestic apartments, in which situation it has remained unto  the present day. All the major public rooms, except the dining room were retained intact in individual flats with the central saloon and dome, along with the gardens and surrounding land being owned communally by all the proprietors.

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun is one of East Lothian’s most colourful sons. Born in 1655, he inherited Saltoun as a 9 year old, & by 1681 was elected to the Scottish Parliament as member for Haddingtonshire, for the second time. Then with the death of Charles Stuart, the Restoration period ended & things started to get rather messy, with Fletcher seeming to get everywhere in those tumultuous times. An excellent example is the period commencing with his role as a cavalry commander in the fail’d Monmouth Rebellion, after which he was charged with high treason, & had Saltoun confiscated – the Earl of Dumbarton got  the estate for a while – & his blood declar’d tainted. A few years later, however, & surfing a fresh tide of change, Fletcher returned to Britain with the more successful William of Orange,  becoming Commissioner of the old Parliament of Scotland & successfully petitioning the king for the return of his estates.

The ill-fated Darien colony which bankrupted Scotland

Elsewhere, Fletcher had been imprision’d in Spain, he’d campaign’d against the Turks in Hungary with the Duke of Lorriane. He’d also spent time in exile in Holland where he’d studied the local farming methods. Back at home, despite engaging with the Dutch agricultural innovations, he was rather backwards in his humanity by reintroducing tip-your-hat serfdom to Saltoun. He was also a slavemaster – a healthy Scottish child could fetch £16 on the colonial markets – inspiring Burns,’

We are bought & sold for English gold
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation

In 1698, during the expansive sociological philosophizing of the Darien period, when, ‘the whole future of Scotland,’ depended upon the scheme, he was also proscribing domestic slavery as the cure for poverty. Darien fail’d, by the way, & in the economic fall-out the bankrupted Scottish elite hitched their ancient country to the wealth of London  – ‘There’s ane end of ane auld sang,’ sigh’d the Earl of Seafield – & the rest, as they say, is history.





To leave the Hall, we had to follow the path to an extremely overgrown courseway, which we took to the right. This eventually led out into a much more cerebral stretch of grounds & a road leading left passing the lovely house where the Fletcher family live to this day.  At the end of the road we reached a gatehouse – built for one of the Fletcher’s mothers by his ever endearing son – & the main road where we turn’d right.








Daisy was tired, panting a lot in the heat, & stopping off for breathers in the shade whenever she found some. We only had a little more to go now, however, down to the fringes of West Saltoun, with epic farm machines trundling about & piercing the serenity like infernal satanical engines. At the road fork, turn left up a hill to Greenhead Farm, though whose abandonato Cold-War border terrain we meander’d to the very track we’d driven down to the car park at Big Wood.










North Berwick Beach


East Lothian enjoys an abundance of beautiful beaches & quite charming coastlines. The jewel of the crown, perhaps, are North Berwick’s West & East Bays, a popular holiday destination for the past couple of centuries at least. In 1824, the Scotsman reported a spring fair of exhibitions & amusements, including swine & ass races, attended by 5,000 peopled including Lord Elcho; his grace the Duc of Guige, peer of France; & Major General Dalrymple.

North Berwick John Adair Map 1682

North Berwick first came to prominence as a ferry-port for pilgrims heading to check out the relics of Saint Andrew held in sacred posterity up in Fife. Eventually the Poshfolk moved in, stopping the London-Edinburgh train at Drem with angry, panting brusqueness, pallavaring all over the shop as they unloaded their baggage; which included golf clubs, dogs, guns, fishing tackle & all the other detritus of the Poshfolks’ regimented holidays. Here Tatler-photographed cabinet ministers brushed shoulders with the highest socialites, & destinies of entire peoples were determined over smoky suppers  – Lord Balfour creating Israel & that decision’s endless interational aggravations are a classic example of a drunken scheme cooked up on too much brandy down the ‘Club.’

The ‘Witches’ of North Berwick, innocent victims of the superstitions of King James VI, & the inclemental weather which kept his Danish fiance from crossing the North Sea

Up sprang the mansions; then after the World Wars, when in the twilight of empire the Poshfolk realised the higher taxes on their big holiday homes & the increased wages they were being forced now to pay their servants meant a fourth home in North Berwick was simply out of the question, financially. So they decided en masse to cut their losses, split the mansions into apartments and maisonettes, investing the cashflow into some kind of African, end-of-empire gunrunning ring instead. With their sea-air & sea-views, their proximity to a commutable-via-train Edinburgh, & of course their lovely beaches, these piecemeal properties are costing about a million pounds each, so the town’s former exclusivity remains, somewhat.


For the rest of us, North Berwick remains an excellent place to visit, the veritable, ‘Biaritz of the North.’ It had been a few weeks since Daisy & I had hit the road. We’d grown too lazy in the balmy fortnight, prefering to potter with my lettuce-patch instead. Then, as that body of walm air had pass’d over the North Sea, an epic haar rush’d into the vacuum & sat obscuring all sight for a few days. Next came a wild and moody gale which ravaged my lettuces, & it was only when that had pass’d, & tickled into action by a wee smidgeon of sunshine one morning, that I felt ready to hit East Lothian.



Our excursion to North Berwick’s pristine beachland & excuisite aesthetic began in a gusty but unabrasive breeze, parking up at a free car park near the library, a wee 50 meter dash to the East Bay. Crossing the coast road, we reached the beach through a gateway just off to our left, and found a lovely curve of flat, soft sand, pepper’d with seaweedy rocks & crowned by a grassy headland to our right. Our mood was good, North Berwick is a friendly place, but not quite Biaritz. I’ve been to Biaritz, actually, on my ‘Chanson Du Roland’ tour, & I think North Berwick more of a Tunbridge-Wells-by-Sea.



Heading left along the sands, we found ourselves a proper part of the vangaurd of the Middle Class Morning – it was 7:30 AM – where dog-walkers & joggers readied themselves for another day of pleasant perfections. Strolling the beach, we pass’d a great big lido-like saltwater pool, which was originally a pond for model yachts. A few decades ago, young boys & girls & their white-sailed model yachts would flock to the lido like gannets at Bass Rock. Yachts would be examined & floated; judgements would be made, & every competitor would get at least a sweet from the town council.





The headland which divides North Berwick Beach is a busy wee place. Standing sentinel on guard over the approach is a modern Celtic Cross to mark the bravery of Catherine Watson. In 1889 she had swam out to sea to rescue two boys and a girl, the sons and daughter of a solicitor of Melrose (Mr Curle), who had been swept out by the tide. She had just been bathing herself and was dressing when she tried to rescue the children, but died in the attempt.



The children were saved by the coastguard. Rev. W. Lee Ker, Minister of Kilwinning, saw the event unfold. ‘Miss Watson had only returned from bathing and was dressing when she saw from her house the danger in which the young persons were. Without hesitation, and simply with the clothes she had on, she hastened into the water. I saw her, quietly but determinedly, making her way through what was really an angry sea towards the boy.’ Catherine’s father, Henry Watson, was informed that: ‘… practiced swimmers who were here on Saturday informed me that few strong swimmers would have ventured out in such a sea.’


On the headland there’s a harbour full of little boats, whose sail ropes rattl’d in the early morning silence – the tide was out when I was there, so they were all resting in the mud while a seagull stomp’d about around them. There’s St Andrew’s old Kirk, with just a chapel left standing, but the foundations still marking out the site & structure. There’s the Scottish Sea Bird centre, for those who like that kind of thing; & the Lobster Shack which does a tasty fish & chips, actually.




Just to the right of the shack one can wander along a brutally beautiful section of rockland, with fantastic views of the archipelago that hugs North Berwick. This seems to be the ultimate romantic port of call for the daytripper from Edinburgh, using the branch railway line established in 1850 which still terminates in North Berwick; I’ve actually seen wealthy middle-aged business men I recognize from the capital, hand-in-hand with extremely attractive 20 year-old Russian looking ladies, pottering along the path to admire the view. The islands one admires from the many mellow viewpoints can all be reached by tour-boats, but with some of them costing £50 a pop, I cannot help but lament the decline of Christian Civilisation in the West, where the presence of pilgrims ensures the prices are kept down – trekking the Camino de Santiago on my Chansons du Roland Tour is a prime case in point.




Passing piles of empty lobster creels, it was time to enter the West Bay, where some of North Berwick’s houses waddle right up to the beach itself. In one of the windows I saw a young couple having breakfast with their baby, a quite beautiful moment of post-modern realism for my walk. Daisy was quite oblivious of course, dizzying about on her helium balloon beach high, I just leave her to it.


A fine seacoast is always enthralling to the Human Soul, & North Berwick’s version is of the highest, award-winning standard. The rowing cobles are gone, the beach huts have vanished, & we moderns are given a more salubrious experience by the sea, far from the teeming crowds of the fifties & sixties, who are all down Benidorm or something similar these days. I also couldn’t help but notice how this twin crescent of golden sand, seperated by a rocky headland was an almost identical match to Om Beach in Gokarna, India.

Om Beach



Pursuing the beach to the west, a large slice of greenery eventually slides into the left – here be the West Links, from where a putting green bleeds into the famous golf course. Mounting the grass we walked as far as the First Tee, where at that moment in time there were more folk – five ladies of a certain age –  than on the entire West Bay Beach.

Golf at North Berwick “1835” by Sir Francis Grant.

North Berwick is the fourth oldest to make reference to golf, St Andrews (1552); Leith (1593); Perth (1604) and North Berwick (1611). In the Kirk Session Book for January 1611, Alex Lockart and Thomas Gowan were accused of playing golf on the Sabbath. For their punishment they were committed to sit at the front of the St Andrews Old Kirk on the Anchor Green on cuckstools (pillory stools), facing the congregation, as they listen to the ranting of the parish minister Thomas Bannatyne against them and their sins.

January 20th 1611: On quilk (which) day the repentance of Thomas Gowan and others was required by humbling themselves on their knees and craving god forgiveness for prophaning the Sabbath ye 6th January instant for playing at the goulf.
January 22nd 1611: The gudeman of North Berwick delatit (accused) Alex Lockart as a prophanor of the Sabbath for playing at the golf.

North Berwick golf club was founded in 1832, prompting George Fullerton Carnegie to exclaim in his Golfiada (1833);

Balls, clubs and men I sing, who just methinks,
made sport and bustle on North Berwick Links,
brought coin and fashion, betting and renown,
champagne and claret to a county town,
and lords and ladies, knights and squires to ground,
where washerwomen erst, and snobs were found!


The club’s most famous son has to be Ben Sayers. On entering his shop on the West Links over a century ago, Rosie Neuman wrote; ‘one’s whole existence seem’d to be transformed – worries were all forgotten. All that matters was golf, & to be on one’s game was utopia.’  The best description of Sayers I found was in the Public Ledger of Philadelphia,  April 26th 1914.

Famous Scotch Golfer. Sayers, golf instructer of monarchs, at Merion. Professional who taught kings & queens.

Ben Sayers, Snr., the grand old man of golf & the insturctor of kings & queens, is paying a short visit to his son George, the professional of the Merion cricket club. With the exception of old Tom Morris, no golfer is better known than this famous player & club maker of North Berwick, Scotland. it would be a hard task to visit any country on the cvilized globe where golf is played & not found one of Ben Sayers clubs. The little Scotch seaport town has sent its cargo of golf clubs all over the world for the last twenty years.


images.jpgHe is perhaps best known to fame as the instructor of King Edward, King George & Queen Alexandria. He first met King Edward six years ago, when the late British monarch was visiting North Berwick. The King sent for him, & after Sayers had shaken hands with the King, the latter asked him how the Grand Duke of Michael of Russia, one of his pupils, was progressing, to which Sayers replied, ‘I am sorry to inform your majesty that he was one of the keenest & one of the worst.‘ whereupon the King stroked his beard & burst out laughing. As a result he was summoned to Windsor & told to make the King a set of clubs, which he did. Later he gave Sayers a beautiful tie pin, which is one of his prized possession.

While at Windsor he played with the then Prince of Wales & the present King George & gave him, as well as Queen Alexandraa & Princes Victoria, a number of lessons. He also played a number of matches with them at Chatsworth, the estate of the late Duke of Devonshire.


Back in my world, this was the furthest we’d be heading west, & subsequently spun round into rising sunshine & pottered back the way we came, but this time along the beach. Eventually we reached Melbourne Road, from where we quickly found ourselves back on the East Bay Beach. This we followed beyond our point of entry, reaching a great section of rocky outcrop, that happy hunting ground for kids & their shallow, tidal aquaria.

Leaving West Bay Beach




The view from the Castle Mound

At this point, & to the right across the road rose Castle Mound, whose steep slopes we soon climbed. At the top there was a guy sat on a bench, his bike waiting to be ridden, & his dog delighted at Daisy’s arrival. After a few minutes, the guy & the dog left, followed soon afterwards by myself & Daisy, who dropped via a grass-path onto the Pitch ‘n’ Putt course that led back to the car.


As the greenery gave way to road, I simply tuned into Daisy, but without a leash. During my squatter days down London, I was always heavily impressed how the dread-locked hippy-types had hyper-train’d their dogs to handle the London traffic, & want Daisy to be able to do the same if she’s ever with me in a city.


In a world obsess’d with leashes, I’ve gone more down the homeopathic route, & am slowly but surely giving Daisy a savvy street sense controll’d by a psychic leash. She’s doing very well now, sensing when a car is in the vicinity & pausing accordingly, which is handy as for the first time in this series, our next walk will be utilising some of East Lothian’s roads…



OMG, what a lovely spell of weather. May in Scotland is perhaps the best month, before the European monsoon season sweeps in thro’ June, & then the sporadic cold spells during August & July intermittently frustrating our happy plans at summer fun. I love this time of Spring as well, for in the short space of about two weeks everything flourishes into green. Not the dull evergreen green, but like a laser-beam green which startles the eye & shakes the dormant spirit into life

Daisy listening to birds

In my world, the young Daisy has been coming to terms with the morning chorus, jigging her head from side to side with a wee bark as the birds call & answer. Very cute, like a toddler listening to the first Stone Roses album for the first time.



So to the walk. We had the pleasure of the wife’s company, with whom I chatted gaily as we drove to Pitcox, a tiny hamlet a few miles inland between Dunbar & Stenton. Due north of the charming civic center of a signpost & phonebox, there is a gateway that veers to the left while the main road to Dunbar drops downhill. One should drive through the gateway, where about 50 yards later there’s a nice space to park up.


IMG_20180514_124633005_HDR (1).jpg


We were now in Biel Estate, one of the secret enclaves which make this county such a joy to explore.  A red dust track leads gently downhill through rather large fields, dappling in chiaroscuro, along which two cyclists rattled in that WW2 Boneshaker kinda way. After some distance the track then splits into two, with the left fork being our preferr’d choice.

Approaching the fork



We were now heading downhill. To our left the fields stretched gloriously,  while on our right rippl’d a half-wooded area. The weather was warm, like walking about in a cozy duvet at a festival. Me & the wife were chatting about nature as we went, as if she were Dorothy Wordsworth & I her brother in the Quantocks, 1797.




We came to a decaying & overgrown wall & half-road, the back-door to Biel so to speak. The road soon got better & became a bridge over the Biel Water. This river runs for 4.5 kilometres from the Luggate Burn and the Whittinghame Water, via Stenton, Biel House, West Barns, and finally to Belhaven Bay with its rather unusual bridge.


Back in Biel, crossing the bridge brings up a quaint cottage on the right. At this point one should head in the direction of the cottage, then take a sharp right through a gate under the bridge.




We were now in the Biel back garden. Keeping the water to our left, we proceeded through a glossy green area, chimney’d by excellently massive trees & back’d by the majestic Biel House. Trees included a Lebanon Cedar, a Cedrus Atlantica from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, & several flourishing Wellingtonias. There was even an example of the local ‘Eucalyptus Whittingehamensis,’ while wooden magic psilocybin mushrooms seem’d a testament to the new owners’ partying habits, perhaps.







Biel House today is in the hands of the Spence family.  In the 12th century the lands of Biel were part of the extensive etstates of the Earls of Dunbar. By the 14th century we then hear of a ‘fortalice’ at Biel, which was incorporated into the the present 16th century listed mansion. It is thought that the great medieval makar, William Dunbar, was born into the Biel branch of the Dunbars.

William entered St Andrew’s university whilst aged around 10 in 1475 to take his MA. In those days this level of education was roughly equivalent to that of secondary schools today. Thereafter he became a Franciscan novice and visited every flourishing town from Berwick down to the Kent coast and in the process preached at Dernton and Canterbury. He crossed from Dover to the then Picardy, to instruct, where possible, its denizens. He also ventured a good deal further West. He became an ambassadorial secretary for James IV carrying out diplomatic missions.

Dunbar’s Golden Targe

At the turn of the sixteenth century he earned £10 as a salaried court poet which rose to £80 by 1510. Dunbar also made marital arrangements for James IV with his English wife-to-be. In 1503 he penned the sparkling political allegory “The Thrissil and the Rois (The English rose Margaret and the thistle James). In 1508, 7 of his poems were printed for what was the earliest example of Scottish typography. In the train of Queen Margaret he visited Aberdeen in 1511. He disappeared within a few years – whether he fell at Flodden Field is a matter of conjecture. In his famous poem, The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie, Dunbar states he possesses, ‘ane pair of Lowthiane hippis.’ A sample of the same poem reads;

Thow speiris, dastard, gif I dar with the fecht?
Ye dagone, dowbart, thairof haif thow no dowt!
Quhair evir we meit, thairto my hand I hecht
To red thy ribald ryming with a rowt:
Throw all Bretane it salbe blawin owt
How that thow, poysonit pelor, gat thy paikis;
With ane doig leiche I schepe to gar the schowt,
And nowther to the tak knife, swerd, nor aix. 

Thow crop and rute of traitouris tressonable,
The father and moder of morthour and mischief,
Dissaitfull tyrand, with serpentis tung, unstable;
Cukcald cradoun, cowart, and common theif;
Thow purpest for to undo our Lordis cheif,

In Paslay, with ane poysone that wes fell,
For quhilk, brybour, yit sall thow thoill a brief;
Pelour, on the I sall it preif my sell.

For a couple of centuries Biel pass’d through several notable & noble hands. Sir Robert Lauder of the Bass possessed them; as did the the Earl of Melrose; then Sir John Hamilton, later Baron of Belhaven & Stenton. John also published a book in 1723 called, ‘The Countryman’s Rudiments, or An Advice to the Farmers in East Lothian how to Labour & Improve their Ground.’


The Biel House we see today was remodeled in Gothic style in the 19th century, & through Historic Scotland is open to the public on request. This indirectly led to an incident a couple of years ago, when thieves broke in & stole thousands of pounds worth of African artefacts & historical weaponry. Among the latter were remarkable pieces seized from pirates who had infested the coasts of the Malaysian state of Sarawak in the 1860s. Of the 2016 theft, The Edinburgh Evening News wrote:

Items from a rare collection of historical artefacts were targeted, including ancient objects from Africa, mounted animal heads, swords, daggers, spears and arrows. Police are asking anyone who was in the area at the time or who has been offered any of these items for sale, to contact them. Owner Charlie Spence said the items were likely to have been stolen to order. At least two thieves prised open shuttered windows, bypassed an alarm system and went up a spiral staircase to the museum in the fifth floor of the mansion’s tower. The break-in was discovered by workmen who spotted lights on inside the tower the following morning. Mr Spence, 67, whose father bought the property in 1956, said: “These items were targeted, taken to order. They knew exactly what they were doing. “They got through a window where the shutter was shut, with a steel bar across it. They even bypassed an alarm. “They took African artefacts, spears, arrowheads and a whole bunch of swords, not necessarily African. There were all kinds of swords and cutlasses, some with saws on the reverse to slash and hack through the bush. “There were a lot of ‘antlers’ – horns and skulls – on the wall. All the indigenous species they ignored but all the exotic African animals was taken. Things with great grisly horns, some may be extinct.

“They are completely unique. They were collected by previous owners, but we have been custodians since 1956. They just ignored other things.” Mr Spence said the theft would have been carried out by “at least two people”. He admitted it was possible that the suspects had previously toured the property, which is open to visitors only by written appointment. He added: “They had knowledge of the house. They knew the lay of the land very well because it’s a very difficult room to get to. It’s on the fifth floor of the tower – you’d have to know where you were going. You also have to go up a spiral staircase, which has just had lights fitted. The lights were left on the next morning.” Mr Spence said he was not at home when the break-in happened. Police Constable Karen Hamilton said: “These artefacts have been in the museum at Biel House for many years and we are keen to make sure these are returned to where they belong.” 


What is interesting here is that historical karma seems to have kicked in. In Volume II, Part III, of the East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalists Society ‘Transactions, (1931-33)’ we read of the Society’s field trip to Biel House in which the Imperialist ‘loot’ of foreign treasures is mentioned without opinion, & normalised before the reader. In an ideal world, whomever stole the ‘African Treasures’ in 2016 were actually trying to return the stolen property to their rightful owners.

Amongst objects of interest in the dining-room a piece of jade was noted, all, including its handles, carved into one piece. It was in the Summer Palace of Pekin when that famous repository of priceless objects of art was looted for the first time in its existence in the year 1860… A picture of great interest is that showing Aloysius or Luigi di Goganza (the patron Saint of Schools) casting away his crown, in response to a vision in order to devote his life to the priesthood & the service of others. Colonel Grant explained that it was one of Napoleon’s pieces of loot & at one time hung in the Louvre.



After enjoying the sun & the overgrown, unkempt Tuscan terraces of Biel’s formal garden, the wife & I continued our walk, taking one last glance at the house to stir the soul. We were now in woodland – Wild Garlic Woods I’d like to call them. Chomping on a customary leaf, & continuing on, we were joined by a wee road dropping into ours from the direction of Biel House. A few more footsteps & we had stepped out into an open expanse in a blaze of sunshine.






Just beyond a tall fir with candleflame-tips, we came across a mown piece of pathway by the river, which we followed. This was a romantic stretch indeed, & we started making love-heart shadow art.




We then came to a spacious area; the flash of deer, a badminton net & a bench.  It felt perfect to be beside the river on such a perfect day. But we had to keep going, of course, & on re-entering woodland came to another junction, turning back-right on ourselves up to a long straight road. Turn left here.





After ‘a lovely stretch for a bicycle ride‘ (the wife),  we came to West Lodge & departed the estate onto the main road. Turning left, we chicaned through immense forestry, over a road-bridge & into a charming pocket of cottages. At this point I led the wife & I back along the banks of the river, passing Biel Mill in the process. As we were treading a path through blossoming bushes I’m like to the wife – who was sniffing the blossoms as we skipped – ‘darling, this is great.’






Unfortunately the path ended abruptly. Taking SAS style command I then led the wife into a field of nettles & a storm of moodiness. Luckily the nettles are young, & the stings like puppy bites, but I did have to walk a good whack behind the wife for a while until the sun & scenery had sooth’d her soul. In the space of about 15 minutes she had gone from ‘this is the best walk in the world’ to ‘this is the worst walk in the world’ then back to ‘this is the best walk in the world,‘ proving Virgil’s ‘Varium et mutabile semper faemina’ still has relevance in these our modern days.






Here be nettles….
Not happy…

But it was worth it. What a wonderful view! Before us the piny tops of Pressmennan appeared straight from some Alpine postcard. Also before us was the route we should have taken. Instead of turning into Biel Mill at the cottages, simply carry on along the road until one reaches a gap in the estate wall on the left.  This brings you back onto the ‘battlefield’ so to speak.




It was the home straight now, & I swear down this is a perfect pathway for poetic solitude. Turning left at some shooting ladders, the path headed in the direction of the car. After a while a Catrail-esque embankment appeared, in the middle of which some steps lead into an underground chamber with a well, very cool & it took a few seconds for my stone to hit the bottom.







Then it was back to the back-entrance of Biel & our loop was complete. We had been bombarded by beauty, & all that remained was a stroll back up the track & we were away until our next foray into the exploring by foot of Scotland’s inimitable ‘Shire.’




A combination of unchanging weather & an attack of the gout (ouch!) has delayed my creation of a new blog – spirit & body –  for some weeks now. However, in a recent gap in the cold & grey, like that which allowed Operation Overload to commence in the English Channel on D-Day,  I recently managed to crack one of East Lothian’s highest points – Spartleton Ridge. It is 468m high, with the Lammerlaw being 529m & Meikle Says Law 535m. Just before the expedition, I was on the receiving end of some vital gout-curing  ‘exfoliation treatment’ on North Berwick beach.


After their forced meteorological absence; the fields are finally greening, the leaves are finally sprouting, & East Lothian is slowly washing with the promise of  bringing summery succulence to the eye. Driving through said fields, we soon bobb’d & duck’d into the Garvald valley, rising again towards Nunraw, & beyond, into the wildest corner of the county. After a few winding miles of narrow, sheep-dodging, please-dont-plummet-off-the side, single road, one passes the parking area at the foot of Johnscleugh Farm. Another mile later, we arrive at a fork. Instead of carrying on the right towards Whiteadder, turn left instead & park up in the gravelly area. It was time to start the walk.





Me & Daisy were well up for it – gout is worse than toothache & even the dog had gotten bored of watching reruns of Father Ted. We followed the road up a little stretch, to a point where on our right a green route up Spartleton opened up.

Take the greenway to the right

As the calf-train commenced quite fully, I was startled by an animal cage-trap on a log over the hill-stream, a reminder yet again of how the Human Imperialist goes about its business.





We then reached the crumbling stones of a broch-like sheep circle, which we passed to our left. From here we kept the fast-flowing stream to our right for a while until our half-path peter’d out into wild ruggedness. At this point – or somewhere near it – turn right, hop over the stream at any suitable place, & head uphill.

Looking back the way we came at the point we crossed the stream


On mounting the haunches of Spartleton, full of the skeletons of unpurpl’d heather, I noticed my first slugs of the year. Is this where they spawn, waiting for Spring to warm the mountain slopes, onto which they swarm in the directions of East Lothian’s steadily burgeoning gardens? Not long after our encounter with the mandibles, we came to a rather strange man-made mound, one of several which appeared like icebergs on the heath, another human intrusion into animal life even in such a remote spot as this.



The area was dissected by a track-road, which we took to the left, & on hitting a wall a little later, we followed it to the right. This led to a gate to our left, which led to a decent road & the final few meters of the climb.



At all times the views & vistas were growing in beauty & magnificence. Hills all round us, the North Sea shimmer, the far-off Pentlands, gangs of wind turbines drowsing in the half-breeze, the explosion of colors in the fertile plains through the White Castle gap, the bleak brown-fades of the uplands, the occasional WW2 plane whizzing by (it happened twice) the cute love-calls of bird-life the only sounds, the sun, the stillness, & my little wee dog, scampering about like a puppet with fleas.





Heading downhill – on the ascent we appeared from the right, this time we will be heading left
Whiteadder appearing on the descent

We spent a few moments at the cairn, Daisy chasing the non-nesting birds & me with the 360 degrees, then headed back downhill along a decent track-road. At the point where it made a sharp bend to the left, we instead turned sharp right, & followed a greenway until the moment you can see sketched out & photographed below. In essence, when the square copses above Penshiel are more or less aligned, like planets, then head downhill towards the trident of paths, the left one of which is reached by skipping over a fence.




At one point I turned back to look At Spartleton, & discovered it has a rather serious demeanour indeed. The moment reminded me of how much a visit to the Lammermuirs is one of rapidly changing moods, one moment elation, the next indissolvable depression. Spinning around, & following my new path, it led me towards the tops of an evergreen copse, whose vivid colors on approaching were dissolving with glory on my sun-starved mind.


The ruins of Gamelshiel are the two dark slivers at the heart of the picture

To our left in the wee distance, the twin gravestone-like remains of Gamelshiel castle. Only low ruins are left of this tower, which is likely to date back to the early 16th century. There is evidence of a vaulted basement, and the walls are around 1.2 metres thick. The structure was around 7.0 metres wide, although it is difficult to say now how long it once was. In his ‘Reminiscenses’ John Martine recorded;

It has a history of its own, & is situated in a deep glen or ravine. It is understood to have been a residence of the family of the Home Rigg of Downfield & Morton in Fifeshire, & of Gamelshiel & Millknowe in Haddingtonshire

Gamelshiel in winter

Nothing really remains, no legend or anything, just a faded memorial to the passage of time. The only poetic impression it made on me was to pity the poor locals who would have to traverse the ten miles of rough ground to Stenton – in all weathers – under which parish jurisdiction Gamelshiel & nearby Millknowe are under.




Beyond the wood, the path drops sharply in the direction of Whiteadder reservoir, which appeared like a drop of molten mercury in the hills. On reaching the bottom, after readjusting a moment to the static horizontalness of the level ground, we turned right & skirted the base of Spartleton towards the car. En route we passed a lovely lady from Penshiel out walking her dog, who was amiable to the nth degree, & large number of geese hanging out by the wee river. Then it was the car, a little Belle & Sebastian for the drive, & a rush of physical buzziness for having got stuck into a decent, tho’ not incredibly taxing climb.