Is it me, or did the Summer just arrive? No it definitely did & it is, with some positivity, still here! The world, or at least the county, is my oyster once more, & it is time to go out & explore. In that spirit this shall be the last of my Gododdin series for 2019. I’ve left a great walk till last, however, which begins on the extremities of the county on the road that leads from Gifford in the direction of Duns.
Its a great drive or cycle this, with the Lammermuir ridge towering over & advancing towards the approaching traveler like the Alps over Bavaria. Not quite as imposing, obviously, but there is a certain beauty to the scene. One must park up at a cattle grid next to Darent House, more or the last residence in the county, Across the road from here is the Tweeddale Fisheries, full of ‘hard-fighting trout.’
They’re a mellow bunch round these parts, & don’t mind the odd walker enjoying the scintillating views into several counties & there’s even a cafe open to the public which does a grand bacon butty.
So me & Daisy walked into the tri-loch system, keeping the first one to our left, along which banks we were followed by a male swan keeping an eye on his nesting mate.
Beyond the second loch we wove left & then onwards, leaving the cafe & main hub behind, & heading in the direction of Green Castle – the first of the two hill-forts this walk takes in. The fishermen were in fine spirits, but not too happy with the sunshine apparently its too bright for the fish at the surface.
At the far end of the third loch, I hopped over a fence, & Daisy under, & we were soon wandering up & round the really evocative from the other side fortification. This triangular fort rests on the steep right bank of the Newlands Burn and is protected a short distance away to the N by a minor watercourse, & along with its isolated gullies would have been a tough nut to crack.
Returning to Fisheries, we headed along the far western shore of the third loch for a wee while, then instead of returning to the car, we took a grassy track west for about 100 metres. This ends up at Newlands farm eventually – a bonnie walk in itself – but for today we were heading up & over the gate on our right
We had now been swept into a vast, smooth field. The views – well panoramas really – are sublime here, & variable also. One must climb a gentle rise in the direction of some trees – Black Castle Wood. As you approach them, you should be able to make out the rough ramparts of Black Castle.
There is a gate in the fence at the top of the field which one pass over, then head right & forward to the corner of this new field. This gives you access to the Black Fort, which can be pleasantly explored, but to continue the work the easiest way is to head towards the woods in the direction of Newlands again.
Black Fort’s proximity to Danskine suggest that it was once known as Dun Skine, with the Dun element meaning hillfort. The fort is on the summit of a hillock, at 900 feet (270 m). It measures about 380 by 340 feet (120 by 100 m). It has an inner and an outer rampart, and two entrances marked by causeways.
The name ‘Skine’ links to a certain Serguan, whose name does not appear in Y Gododdin, but we can definitely connect him to the Gododdin. In the Harleian genealogies, & specifically the Welsh kingdom of Ceredigion, we may observe;
That Ceretic is the son of Cunedda gives us a positive link between Serguan & the Gododdin, for Cunedda was the Dark Age warlord who moved from the Lothians to Northern Wales in order to fight the Irish pirates known as the Scots. He won, & so the Scots decided to try Dalriada instead… & the rest is history.
Maelgwn, the great king, was reigning among the Britons in the region of Gwynedd, for his ancestor, Cunedag, with his sons, whose number was eight, had come previously from the northern part, that is from the region which is called Manaw Gododdin, one hundred and forty-six years before Maelgwn reigned. And with great slaughter they drove out from those regions the Scotti who never returned again to inhabit them. The Historia Brittonum of Nennius (9th Century)
Ceredigion is a long way from East Lothian, but in the 6th century the ‘Welsh’ world stretched in an unbroken realm from East Lothian, west to Strathclyde & down the entire west of Britain to Cornwall. It is within the genealogy for Strathclyde, as found in a text known as ‘The Descent of the men of the North,’ that we see Serguan again.
Ryderch Hael m. Tutwal Tutelyt m. Kedic m. Dyuynwal Hen Mordaf m. Seruan m. Kedic
The Strathclyde lineage shows Serguan as the son of Kedic/Ceretic, rather than the grandson as proposed by the Harleian Genealogy, but the correlation is consistent. It also places Serguan in Scotland.
Leaving the fort & its history, at this point I made the mistake of climbing into a newly planted wood, but Daisy saw me right & stuck to the fringes of the field instead. Still, we were in close unison as we made our way in the direction of the Gifford-Duns road where of course our car was parked.
To the left of my vision I could see Danskine farm itself, which was an inn back in the day, & was also a smugglers hotpsot. An article in an 1870’s edition of the Haddingtonshire Courier recounts a boat full of ankers (barrel measure of spirit or wine) landing ashore at Dunglass Dean, Cockburnspath. The ankers were hidden in a barn for future delivery, when a Gauger doing his rounds found the place of concealment. He locked the door to the barn and took off to Dunbar to get assistance.
In the meantime, “Pat was up to the Gauger” and the cargo was removed from the barn. The officer returned with his help only to find the “bird flown”. Fooling the Revenue officers proved to be a popular pastime and was considered harmless by many residents, shop keepers and traders.
Once the booze had safely avoided the customs officers, it would have to be hidden & Danskine was also a well known location for the operation. The farmer and Innkeeper would take a late night journey on a bare-backed horse to bring kegs into Haddington.
Danskine Inn & Farm were long occupied by John Miller, a well-known man in his day. The inn was for a long period the halting house for travelers going to & from Berwickshire from Lothian, Longformacus & Dunse being the nearest places on the Berwickshire side. It was thus well frequented by all sorts of travelers, & a convenient & useful house of entertainment, both for ‘man & horse.’ Old Miller, it was said, knew much about the operations of the runners of contraband gin & brandy, who came across teh Lammermuir hills from the Berwickshire & Northumberland coast. Dealers in such goods knew Danskine well, & a supply could be got. Reminiscences & Notices of the County of Haddingtonshire John Martine
Me & Daisy eventually met up in a large field – there were sheep in it, but they were a good way off, & I managed to keep Daisy oblivious to their existence. We then skirted the field & finally reached the track at the entrance of the Fisheries, only a stone’s throw from the car.
There was curious novelty when I arrived, for I found a gentleman from Dumfries scrabbling about near my car on the cattle grid. It turns out he was a huge Geocaching fan. I’d never heard of it myself, but apparently there are three million hidden over the world. He & his wife had just spent a week in Estonia ticking that nation’s off. I mean, it really is a good way to get out of the house or to make a journey interesting I suppose.
This time of year is a funny old fruit. It certainly looks sunny, through the windows on the increasingly widening mornings, but as soon as you step outside you’re like, ‘geesh, thats bloody freezin.’ As the day warms up a tad, weather arrives in a rapid succession of extremely variable vignettes, but never satisfyingly warm. Yet it is not early January anymore, April is actually here & the days are ‘springing forward’ into the well-lit evenings.
This edition of W.E.L. sees one of the longest walks so far, taking in two neighbouring stately estates, & the tomb of the brother of Scotland’s national bardie – Gilbert Burns. We must start in a wee carpark off the 6137 (between Haddington & Bolton), in the vicinity of the long-swept away cottages in which members of Rabbie Burns’ close family were to spend the closing decades of their lives.
A few years after Rab’s death in Dumfries, his mother Agnes, his brother Gilbert, & his sister Isabella, along with multiple spouses & bairns & dogs & stuff, found themselves as the tenants of ‘Grants Braes,‘ with Gilbert running the Lennoxlove farms. Grants Braes stood roughly on the site where the carpark is today, & one may still sense their ghosts huddled around a fiery phantasma, reciting Rabbie’s poetry in the earliest, perhaps purest, versions of the Burns Supper.
Of poesy & her best of men
I sing, a name that maist must ken,
Its notes still sound through street & glen,
From fame’s flaught horn;
What years are flown, twelve score & ten,
Since Burns was born.
His father toiled thro’ snow & sun,
Crafting an marvellous garden,
Grafting for friendly gentlemen,
Of small estate,
Whose first born, Rab, tho’ poor man’s son,
Was rich in fate.
They settl’d by the gentle Doon,
With kettle-happy Granma’ Broun,
Who whistl’d muckle lip-suck’d tune
While cooking neeps,
Or mutter’d tayles neath bright’ning moon
To frighten sleeps.
He wove his rhymes through thankless work,
Or blanking out the Sunday kirk,
Or in romantic woodland walk
By Aire & Doon;
His style; fourth verse, fourth prose, fourth talk,
Fourth lover’s croon.
So onto the walk. You park the car directly before a monument to the Gilbert Burns-East Lothian connection, behind which you access a woodland trail. Taking the slope down to the right, me & Daisy found ourselves in a leafless wood, coloured only by shocks of bright yellow daffodillies.
After a short while we came to a well, the same one used by Burns’ mother, drawn by the very hands that fed the great poet. After a moments delicate musing, we carried along the undulating path, which eventually reached the main road & a wooden fence. When the road was clear, we strolled breezily across it & entered Lennoxlove estate.
The road led north or so, passing through a series of cottages & farm outbuildings. A couple of hundred metres along the road becomes flank’d on the left by a tall hedge, while to the right a positively Portmeirionesque collection of handsome, spaced-out trees converge in a rolling green field.
One in particular caught my eye on account of it having a massive section lying on the floor. After taking some photographs I returned to the wee road & flagg’d down a friendly estate farmer for a cheery blether. He explained that the branch had fallen in the December storms, & it was one of a number of very old trees on the estate – hundreds of years old. The living tree was approaching the end of its natural life – rot was setting in – & has perhaps 2, 20, or even fifty years left. I never really think about the longevity of trees, as if they can’t die, I mean who does? I definitely learnt & felt something new that morning, & also something indelibly tragic – our youth doesn’t last forever (I’m 42).
Back on the walk, the road passes a cottage on the right, then spills out in grounds of Lennoxlove House, which stood beyond larger colonies of daffodillies, a mighty building of old. Walkwise, after we join’d a road coming in from the left, we headed right & kept the house on our left. The road then veers to the right & away from the house towards a gate – this is where you should go.
Behind us the ghosts of magnificence-clothed Lennoxlove abandon’d their 15th century tower & came to whisper in my ear of the past (via wikipedia). Lennoxlove House is built around the original 15th century tower house of ‘Lethington,’ which the estate was once call’d. It is now the seat of the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, but were in the hands of the Mailtand family for many centuries after its acquisition by Robert Maitland of Thirlestane in 1345. Among his descendents is a quality poet, Richard Maitland (1496–1586), quite unknown these days, but positively worth transliterating out of Old Scots into modern English.
After his father had died at Flodden, the young Richard made the fateful decision to obtain a formal education and attend university in Paris. This set him up for a career in the Law, & he would become both a councillor for Mary, Queen of Scots & one of the top judges in Scotland as a Lord of the Privy Seal. As a poet, like all the best bards he went blind, but unfortunately I couldn’t actually find any of his poetry online. This forced me to pop up to the Rare Books section of the National Library in Edinburgh for a wee peruse. It turns out the guy was really, really good – his set pieces are intense with canny observation & wordplay. I find some of the old makar stuff of say, Dunbar & Henryson, a little too formulaic, too courtly – but Maitland has a genuine & funky poetic voice.
After the Maitlands, the house passed through several hands before finally ending up in the possession of the Dukes of Hamilton. The 14th Duke bought it in 1946, & not long after clositer’d the fascinating relics of his bizarre brush with Rudolf Hess, the Reich number 2 & the guy who transcribed Mein Kampf while Hitler dictated it during the fledgeling Fuhrer’s imprisonment at Landsberg prison in 1924. Almost twenty years later, their worldscape was very different, embroiled in a fatal war which would eventually kill 55 million people including Hitler himself.
Perhaps envisioning all this, Hess flew on his own to Britain on May 10, 1941, in a desperate attempt to broker a peace between Britain & Nazi Germany. He was heading for the Duke of Hamilton, & crash-landing in a field south of Glasgow was picked up by a pitchfork wielding farmer, & then the army. Hitler was furious, Churchill simply ignored him, & Hess went on to lead a solitary life as the only prisoner at Spandau Prison in Berlin until his death in 1987, more than four decades after his ill-fated flying mission. The relics at Lennoxlove include the map & compass found in Hess’s possession & a bit of fuselage from the plane.
Back on our walk, through the gate went me & Daisy, to reach another gate toweing above a cattlegrid. Now Daisy hates these grids, steadfastly refusing to step one paw on them, but on this occasion there was a wee hole in the fence for her to snuggle under, & we were soon on our way once more.
Carrying forwards, ipon the left appears a great surge of woodland, into which the walker must pass via a track that appears on the left, just as you cross over an old bridge above the Colstoun Water. This path leads you pleasantly towards a wee bamboo plantation situated beside a zipline & a derelict bridge, the accoutrements of a Scottish Environmental Protection Agency unit.
Carrying on, to the left of the path are some curious topographical depressions , while everywhere is blankets in leaves, creating a chip-board effect underfoot. Turning right at the troll tree, & keeping an old wall to one’s right the path continues with a veer to the left into spiky dense greenerie. As you head towards a gate in the distance, eventually a path breaks off to the right, which should be taken.
Our new path led us thro’ a gorse tunnel of sorts to a tarmac road. Following this to the left leads to a bigger road’s T-junction, which we took to the right. A hundred meters later we came to a lodge house & the entrance to the Colstoun Estate. Flush with wild garlic & with the moles building a metropolis, its a wild corner of Colstoun, not quite as primly kept as the rest of the estate across the river.. You glimpse it’s manicured acreage thro’ the trees; the agricultural wind-tunnel thingy, the glamorous old house, but for me & Daisy we were heading directly to the far right corner of the woods
Searching for Gododdin has led me to make a match between the name Colstoun & that of Golstan. In the Gododdin poem we read (my translation);
It was his heart’s first custom to defend,
Gododdin versus very best of foes,
In battle’s van avenging vehemence,
It was his body’s custom, lion-swift,
To run on predatory shifting hordes,
Custom it was for Golstan’s sov’reign son
To listen to his father’s worldly words,
Custom was kept when Mynyydawg him held
To ruin regal shield & redden lance
Before the lord of Eidyn, Urfai, sworn.
Elsewhere in the Dark Age genealogies we see an Uffa, son of Guillam Guercha, with the Guil- element connecting to the Gol- of Golstan. The Guercha element then leads us to a 6th century northern warrior known as Gwrgi, who appears with his brother in several sources.
Gwrgi & Peredur are the sons of Eliffer of the Great Retinue son of Arthwys son of Mar son of Keneu son of Coel Descent of the Men of the North
573: The battle of Arfderydd between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad. Annales Cambraie
580: Gwrgi and Peredur – sons of Elifert – died Annales Cambraie
Here we see plenty of genuine historically attested Arthurian references;- Arthur himself appears as Arthwys, Peredur is Pheredur, the legendary found of the grail, while Merlin is, well, Merlin. Thus, with Arthur’s grandson being Golstan/Colstoun in East Lothian, then there must surely be an Arthurian connection to Arthur’s Seat
As I was walking through the woods, on the banks of the Colstoun Water, I was struck with a little metaphysical thought. The walker, whether poet or pleasure rambler, is something of a butterfly which flits from plant to plant. The plants, then, are those of the landowners – firmly rooted to one particular spot through equity & deeds. Thus together, the landowner & the walker are an ample reflection of Nature & should always be encouraged to enjoy each other. What use a plant without a butterfly to prettify it?
At the far right corner of the estate woods we were walking through, there is a convenient climbing fence-quarter, but dogs have to be lifted up. This brings you into a field, which you skirt to the left as you head towards the steadily rising rooves of Bolton village. To the left & below runs the Colstoun Water – its all a bit overgrown & I found that access is prevented, even at the far end of the field. This is potentially a brilliant, unobtrusive access point that will link up the walking network a right treat, connecting as it does the Bolton-Gifford walk, the Haddington-Tyne walk via Lennoxlove.
To get into Bolton me & Daisy had to follow the field round & back on the other side a bit, then over a fence onto the main road. It makes no sense, they really do need to sort it better access. Anyway, once in Bolton, we took a first left which is the path to Gifford – a lovely walk I’ll cover in a future. But for this essay, we hopped over a fence into a lush meadow thing. There is an ‘active dog’ sign, but its very faded, obsolete & legally invalid so don’t worry about it.
Buzzing about in the field for a bit leads to a gate near the church, which you pass through to reach the war monument to the parish dead of Bolton. The church itself is a lovely wee thing, which of course contains the family tomb of the East Lothian Burns contingent. A noticeable absentee, however, is Jean Breckenridge, Gilbert’s wife who bore him 11 kids in the end – a fine & healthy effort.
After pottering about for a bit, we passed out of the kirk-grounds through the lovely iron gates, which had been replaced a few years ago after being appropriated for melting service in the World Wars. Again we had to brave the road for a bit to enter the field to our left this time, where we headed directly north, uphill a bit. The low summit is the site of a Gododdin hillfort, which I am suggesting was once the main estate of Golstan/Gwrgi. You can”t really see it anymore, but I’ve found this wonderful website that shows you all the hillforts in Britain. Here’s East Lothian.
Summary: Cropmarks have revealed the site of a complex fort occupying the summit of the low hill above Bolton. The most coherent element of the defences is a belt of three roughly concentric ditches swinging round the NE, SE and SW flanks. On the NW, however, no fewer than five lines are visible on the aerial photographs, and of these only the outermost can be correlated to the rest of the circuit with complete confidence, pierced by entrances on the NNE and SW respectively. In contrast, the innermost on the NW, clearly intersects the belt of defences on the NNE, re-emerging between the inner and middle ditches on this side, as does the second line, though this latter may also correlate to the innermost round the rest of the circuit. Evidently the confused appearance of the cropmarks is the result of the eccentric superimposition of two separate enclosures, both of roughly the same size, the one oval on plan within the two narrow ditches or possibly massive palisade trenches visible on the NW and an entrance on the SW, and the other sub-oval, measuring 90m from NE to SW by 80m transversely (0.56ha) within the three ditches visible elsewhere. None of these ditches is particularly broad, typically measuring no more than 2m in breadth, but the belt they form is between 22m and 26m deep, expanding to 30m at the entrance on the NNE. And while the outermost appears the broadest, in places up to 4m in breadth, the ragged outline of its W terminal at the N entrance suggests it is a composite mark hiding several recut lines; likewise at the SW entrance, where a spur of the ditch on the NW side of the gap doglegs sharply outwards to create an overlap with the opposite ditch terminal, this spur ditch is no more than 2m in breadth. Undoubtedly, however, the defences are more complex than this simple resolution of the sequence into two separate perimeters, and there are traces of other linear features, some of them possibly palisade trenches, but also including two segments of a broad ragged mark between the second and fourth lines on the NW. No clear features are visible within the interior, but one macula on the S probably marks the stance of a timber round-house. HER: East Lothian Council MEL1125
Its a great view here, fully expansive, while before us in the distance the new builds of Haddington were sewing themselves into the landscape. Carrying on the walk, you drop down hill a bit in the direction of Haddington, & hop over the fence into the Westfield lands. To our left lay the wild & ancient Begbie Woods, at the verge of which I observ’d the curious sight of deer playing chicken with tractors. There is no path here, & one has to drop down into narrow valley, pass the splash water to its right, & follow something of a field ‘motorway’ system to & thro’ Westfield Farm.
At the main road, cross it quickly & enter a lush green field, baring right. This ends at a gate, over which you reach a wee track that leads towards the bridge over the Tyne. Just before this there’s a stile on the right, which you hop over & enter a dreamy landscape of winding rivers & open fields in which the Colstoun Water meets the Tyne.
At the far top right of the field, there is gated access to a footbridge over the Colstoun Water, which one can take then join a nice little path to the side of the main road a wee way back to the car. It was hometime & Daisy needed a nap!
There’s nothing like sliding into the Jet Garage at Haddington, popping some unleaded in the tank, & going, d’ya know what, if I drive for about three minutes, I’ll find myself in a gorse-swept bastillion above the county, virtually alone among triassic rock formations which plunge my psyche back millions of years to a time before Humans, all complemented by the most splendid of revolving 360 views. Or sometimes I just think that Daisy needs a pee & a poo. Either way, welcome to the next instalment of Walking East Lothian, & without further ado lets park the car on that small & sketchy piece of ground on the summit of the road over the Garleton Hills between Haddington & Athelstaneford.
The space is on the right as you drive from Haddinton; there’s a little signpost pointing into a field, which is where this walk begins. I started to take notes a couple of weeks ago, well before the recent February heatwave, on a brilliant morning in icy conditions. Cue ethereally atmospheric early morning light-shows.
Hopping over the stile, one reaches a wide smooth field, the gentle rise of which forms a u-shape against the sky. Turning around & looking backwards; Edinburgh is clearly visible, while in the foreground the Hopetoun Monument leaps vertically out of Byres Hill. Even closer – just across the road – is the Garleton’s tallest peak, Skid Hill, upon which survive some of the the earthworks of a Gododdin hillfort – the rest have been destroyed by extensive quarrying.
The main point of these recent ‘Searching for Gododdin’ posts has been to identify placenames in East Lothian which correspond to those given by Aneirin as warriors of the Gododdin war party at the Battle of Catraeth. Among the warriors’ names, there is no match for ‘Skid’ but there is a possible match to Garleton. Garleton’s earliest recorded name was Garmylton, which is quite resonant of Gorwylam, who appears in Y Gododdin (my translation).
Thro’ days of long & strenuous exertion
Their bravery was rais’d, display’d & prais’d
But, following intoxicating mead,
No man was spar’d, tho’ Gorwylam fought well
Twas destin’d Fate decreed to break our charge.
Returning to our walk, once on the hill’s extensive plateaux I advise just wandering about to your heart’s content like my wee Daisy – perhaps not in the slightly deranged 100 metre arcs that she does, tho.’ At every turn there are simply stunning & extensive views, while even if there’s a bit of weather, this will mostly add to the texture of the vision. It does get a bit windy, mind, so wrap up on a wintry day.
The rough idea is to pass beyond the ariels towards the woods to the east, skirting a fence while keeping the bales in the photo below to one’s right. The woods are accessible by a gate that is generally tied. Its no problem for little dogs, but bigger dogs will have to be heaved over.
Once over the fence, with it being Winter I was relishing the gnarly aspects of the skeletal trees. Then, after following a path through thick gorse, about a half-mile before Barney Mains Farm I reached the quite unexpected but completely enthralling remains of Kae-Heughs, another of the Gododdin promontory hillforts.
Etymologically we can divide the name into two parts; the first name ‘Kae’ & the Scots word ‘Heugh’ which means a steep ravine or craggy precipice. For me, Kae is the Arthurian Sir Kay – remember Arthur’s Uncle Loth lived only a few miles a way at Traprain. An infallible chain of logic goes like this;
1: According to a set of Dark Age genealogies known as the the Bonedd y Saint, a certain Modrun, daughter of King Vortimer, married Ynyr, king of Gwent, from which union a son called Ceidaw was born.
2: Sir Kay is said to be the son of the union between King Cynyr Ceinfarfog & Anna, a daughter of King Vortimer. Interestingly, the Bonedd y Saint give Modrun a handmaid called Anna. There are enough tallies to assume Ynyr & Cynyr were the same man, as was Kay & Ceidaw
3: Kays’ father, Cynyr Ceinfarfog, was said to have held Caer Gynyr in Wales, which was later renamed after his son as Caer Cai. An old stone was found here which reads; ‘Here lies Salvianus Burgocavis, son of Cupitianus.’ Confirmation that Sir Kay was Cupitainus comes from a memorial stone found at Castlesteads Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall. It tells us that ‘Gaius Julius Cupitianus restored a temple.’ It is clear now that is from Gaius that we obtain the name Cei, with Geoffrey of Monmouth also calling Kay, ‘Caius.’
4: That Cupitianus was Kay is inferred from the discovery of a stone in the Liddesdale in the Scottish Borders, not far from Castlesteads, which reads, ‘Here lies Caranti, son of Cupitianus.‘
Space doesn’t allow to explain why, but all evidence points towards the Liddesdale as being the site of the battle of Catreath. This means we can link the name Caranti with that of Garanwyn, who appears as Sir Kay’s son in the 9th century Welsh poem Culhwch & Olwen. In the following stanza from Y Gododdin, the death of a son of ‘Keidyaw,’ (Garanwyn) should be the true origin of the grave of Caranti at Liddesdale.
I loved his fame who forced the blood to flow
& thrust his sword thro those who violence loved
& could ever a valourous tale regaling
Leave out the son of Keidyaw, man of war
So essentially, if Kay’s son was Gododdin, then Kay himself was either Gododdin or married to one. Indeed, the Arthurian romances record his marriage to Princess Andrivete of Northumbria. Their Haddington home, then, Kae Heughs hillfort, marks the eastern point of the walk. To proceed onwards there’s a nice path just to the north, which heads back west under the nose of the crags. Again the views are stunning. I’d been so snap-happy, however, that my phone battery ran out & I had to return on another day to finish the photos.
The pregnant girl having therefore been handed over to the executioners, there arose a dispute among them who should throw the first stone at her; but because none of the officers presumed to cast one at one’of the royal family, and yet dared not in any way neglect the judicial sentence, if such it might be called, they brought her to the top of a hill, which is called Kepduf, that, placed in a chariot and precipitated from the top of the hill, she might be consigned to a terrible death… in full faith, and signed with the sign of the life-giving cross, as she gave way in no wise to lust, although being over come by a man she conceived, so when violently cast down in the chariot from the top of the high mountain, she came down to its foot unhurt.
Now the king was again greatly excited against her by those who administered his law, who imputed this miracle to the sleight of the magic art, and, in order that he might not appear to prefer his love for his daughter before the justice of his kingdom, said, ” If she be worthy of life, let her be given over to the sea, and then her God will free her from peril of death if He so will.” They brought her therefore to the firth, which is about three miles from Kepduf, to the mouth of a river which is called Aberlessic, that is the Mouth of Stench, for at that time there was such a quantity of fish caught there that it was a fatigue to men to carry off the multitude of fish cast from the boats upon the sand, and so great putrefaction arose from the fish which were left on the shore, where the sand was bound together with blood, that a smell of detestable nature used to drive away quickly those who approached the place. She then was accompanied to the sea-shore by many men and women weeping bitterly. Some said, “O what a dreadful judgment is this awarded by a father to his child! What hath the king’s daughter done that she should undergo such deadly ills as these! It is cruelty to exact punishment twice for the same crime. Let the judge who maketh no distinction perish; he is entirely cruel.” And as she was consigned to the waters, the voice of all who bewailed her was heard saying, “May the Lord Who delivered thee from death upon.land also free thee from peril in the waters!” And as the innocent woman consigned to death heard the voices of those who bemoaned her, she began to cry unto the Lord, saying, ” Judge them, O Lord, that hurt me; fight thou against them that fight against me. Take the arms and the shield and come unto my help.”
Luckily Aberlady doesn’t smell even half as bad as what it did in the Dark Ages, but what we do know is that the the cliffs at Garleton are a better candidate for flying chariots off towards its passenger’s doom than the more sedate slopes of Kepduff. The Garleton Ridge is also exactly 3 miles from Aberlady, with Kilduff being about a half mile closer. Thus, it makes sense that the Garleton Hills werethe original Kepduff.
Heading west now, with a sheer slope to your left, one has to climb over another gate, before entering perhaps the most gorgeous place in the county. Aesthetically, you encounter deep-history in a glance; carboniferous tuffs and trachytic lavas all converging in one picture-frame scene
Eventually, one comes to a curious bit of concrete & a pool. To the right of here rises the flat-topped Craigie Hill – like something from Arizona, but a bit greener. It was here that William Wallace was supposed to have hidden while on the run from the Sassenach hordes. These are a few lines from my ‘Scotiad‘ describing such an occasion.
Fae the forest to the city
Scottis lot obsess’d with pity,
The conquest of their contree done,
But for one spirit on the run,
Its native saviour, brightest son,
For of all brave & ancient Scots
Whose glories knew no bars & blots,
‘Wallace!’ is name known most of all,
In him was Scotland’s very soul,
As evening shades drape slowly down,
Wrapping the glades in sylvan brown,
Night owls awaken in the dell,
Fox-barkings heard upon the fell,
Enough remains of dusk’s half-light
To guide the fugitive aright,
Yet not enough from far to show
His figure to the watchful foe,
For Wallace is a hunted man,
By gudemen help when e’er they can
With food & shelter, news & knives,
For while he lives Scotland survives.
After Daisy quench’d her thirst, we turned upwards in the direction of a gap in the ridge, as if the blade of some diety had chopped it in two. Its better to not follow the path – which is pretty much overgrown with gorse – but instead go across the field & join the path just before it begins its ascent through the gap.
At the top, we reach’d one last gate, which gave us access to the field we had first entered. Cue Daisy sweeping about the verdant canvas like the strokes of a painters brush, a wee nip over the stile & the drive downhill from the delectable Garleton Hills.
In the last post I introduced the idea that certain members of an armed contingent called the Gododdin, which marched from the Lothians to the Battle of Catreath in 600 AD, had connections to East Lothian. We observed Elphin–Elphinstone, Rhuvawn-Ravensheugh & Gwid-Kidlaw, all of which were connected to Iron-Age fortresses or burial centers. In the same fashion, I would like to introduce an idea that the 6th century warrior known as Dremrudd was once a warlord at an outstandingly impressive & fabulously well-preserved hill-fort called the Chesters, only a stone’s throw away from the village of Drem. The stanza in which he is found in Y Gododdin (my translation) reads:
Ye Kings stand firm twyx Dremrudd’s ruddy glances, Whose purposes times pillages obscure, Men plough the seas with pure impunity, Of these, the palest first is satisfied, A wee bit crazed & yet his crown complete, Before him garden-cover’d, Gownddelw, Right worthy, lived as tall as did Maelderw, Wielded his spears as such we bards must praise How his soul-strength pervaded many lands;
I like late January, with the morning twilights coming earlier & growing nearer to my bedroom window, & the evening’s light lasting just a tad while longer – Spring is definitively coming! But, there is nothing like a crisp, clear winter’s morning for a walk; so me & Daisy found ourselves driving into the quaint, wee, 3-bay car-park at the Chesters.
The best way to enjoy this walk is to not head straight for the hillfort along the path, but to veer right into the woodland. At this time of year the branches are bare & the air is insect free, which lent a real feeling of barren tranquility to the occasion.
Passing up & over a gate, we enter’d a new field, with gorse on our left, while over the wall to the right sat a handsome blue tractor!
At this point we began to ascend a steepish slope to our left, with Daisy sniffing for rabbits as we went.I was loving the way the tree branches in this silent corner of the county were making weird webbing patterns against the sky.
After a wee while we reached a fine plateaux, with splendid views all round. At the rough summit spot, one can make out Edinburgh, Fife, North Berwick Law, & even Torness Power Station in the far distance.
Crossing the plateaux to the NE – aiming for North Berwick Law – we reached a clumsy wall, thro’ a gap in which we found ourselves on a hillslope thick with gorse & paths. Here we had our first glimpse of the Chesters directly to the north, in which direction we paced our way down paths & through gorse.
Once we reached the valley bottom, we turned left, & headed towards a stile in the distance, over which we popped & did a U-turn of sorts in order to explore the hillfort to its eastern end.
What a joy; an excuisite circumvallating heap of vivid turf walls & defensive ditches, all lush-flush with hibernating grasses. The Chesters consists of two acres of atmospheric circles atop a conical eminence, but as a defensive position its a bit daft – an invading army could easily have slung rocks and arrows from the heights from whence we came earlier. But, it was heavily defended – perhaps it was an iron-age bank or something, protecting the treasures of the Gododdin chiefs. It was certainly very high-status, & as I have already stated, connected in some way to Dremrudd.
The quantifiably excellent vistas obtained from the Chesters were very much favored during the two World Wars of last century, in the capacity of an observation post. Just a couple of miles away lay RAF Drem, a vital chain in the protection of Britain, overlooking the waterways of the Firth of Forth with all of its crucial shipping. To protect Drem, an anti-aircraft gun emplacement was also established right on the Chesters.
During the Second World War, Drem was abuzz with different squadrons & planes – including Mosquitos & Hawker Hurricanes – piloted by an ever increasing array of internationals. The first edition of the Supermarine Spitfire flew from Drem in 1939 (A&B Flights of 72 Squadron), & 16 editions later, at the end of the war, they were still flying from Drem.
While stood on the Chesters, observing the merry meld of sky, sea, & land, I began imagining the dog-fighting scene during the first major air-battle over Britain of the Second World War. It took place on the 16th October, 1939, only 3 days after 602 Squadron had moved to Drem to bolster the defences around the Firth of Forth.
Thinking that the War would be over in a matter of weeks, the Germans had decided to attack the shipping at Rosyth, roaring in over the Lammermuirs & along the Forth in four waves of three Junkers Ju 88 bombers of the 1 Gruppe Kampfgeschwader. Taking the British air-defence completely by surprise, they scored some damage.
Spitfires from Drem & Turnhouse (Edinburgh) were scrambl’d to attack the raiders, resulting in the first two Luftwaffe bombers shot down, one of which was claimed by George Pinkerton of 602 at Drem. It was brought down off the May Island and two crew were rescued by a trawler; they were transferred to Military Custody at Edinburgh Castle where they were visted by George himself. A third plane was struck by ack-ack fire & limped through the skies to Holland, where it made a forced landing in which all the crew were killed.
Back at Rosyth, the cruisers HMS Edinburgh and HMS Mohawk, and the destroyer, HMS Southampton, had all sustained direct hits, but did not sink. 15 Sailors who were killed, was not released for many years. Some of the dead are interred in the Naval section of South Queensferry Cemetery.
In the early noughties, the BBC ran a sheme called ‘People’s War’ asking viewers to send in accounts of the war. From these I found Edward Thomson’s account of the attack, made in 2003.
I was a passenger on the Dundee section of an Edinburgh to Aberdeen train which had just entered the first arch at the Southern end of the Bridge. The next stop was to be Leuchars Junction. I was in the corridor with an older boy called Jack Thomas from Edinburgh. We were looking downstream to the right of the carriage and were trying to identify some of the fleet at anchor below the bridge. Almost simultaneously there was a giant waterspout as high as the bridge alongside one of the capital ships and a barge tied up alongside; it seemed to fly up in the air! In later life I discovered it was HMS Southampton. There were two or three other explosions further off and one of the ships was actually struck; it was HMS Mohawk and casualties were sustained on board.
Drem was a relative placid posting – with squadrons being rotated here from the wild SE corner of England. In November 1941, a member of 611 Squadron (West Lancashire) recorded his unimpress’d observations of arriving at Drem.
As compared with Hornchurch, Drem has a very long way to go. The men have four wooden huts in which to sleep (35 men to each) & heated by 2 coal stoves. Senior NCOs & Officers both have the old type messes. Dispersal point is situated along the south-west side of teh flying field. There are 5 wooden huts, 2 for pilots, 1 each for A- & B- flight’s ground crews & 1 for signal & armament personnel. Squadron HQ is on the opposite side of the flying field & is very reminscent of the wooden HQ which the Squadron had in pre-war days at Speke. It must be realized that Hornchurch has been completely modernized & everything is most up to date whilst here no modernization has been carried out yet
At the eastern end of the Chesters are the remains of a double gateway, through which me & Daisy bounced. We next came to a fortuitous hole in the fence, through which we went, turning sharply right & downhill. Then, it was a return to the valley, along which we went, this time passing the stile & reaching the sites information point.
It was then a wee potter back through the woods & to the car. We really enjoyed this walk. Its all a bit short, like, but its quiet & you can freely meander about a lot like a drunken spaniel, so make what you will of the occasion!
Hello & welcome to year two of my Walking East Lothian series. So far we have scratched the surface of just some of this remarkable county’s scenically sensational & really quite interesting walks. There seems to be history popping out of every rock! To open 2019 I thought I would dig deep into the area’s earliest recorded inhabitants, an Iron Age tribe named the Otalini by the 2nd century Roman geographer, Ptolemy.
Further south [i.e. below the Selgovae] are the Otalini (sic), among whom are the following towns: Coria 20*10 59∞00 Alauna 23*00 58∞40 Bremenium 21*00 58∞45″
Their tribal territories spread from Falkirk, through all the Lothians & into the eastern borders as far as Northumberland, where the town’s mentioned above seem to have been situated. Coria would be Corbridge, Alavna would be Learchild near the River aln, & Bremenivm, High Rochester. Other passages in Ptolemy give us a few coastal & river names, such as Firth of Forth (Bodotria Aestuarium), the River Coquet (Cocuveda Fluvius) & the River Tyne (Tineus Fluvius).
They also had a hill-fort on East Lothian’s lodestar, Traprain Law – a 3rd century horde of Roman Silver was discover’d here, indicating a settlement of some importance. By the sixth century, the Otadini had become the Gododdin, at least in the Old Welsh language of their native poet Aneirin. It is from him & his fabulous poem, Y Gododdin, that we learn how the tribe had moved their principle seat to Edinburgh, from where 300 warriors marched to the battlefield of Catraeth. Only a handful would survive, including Aneirin, whose series of elegies to the fallen dead is the first true literary treasure of the British Isles.
I have translated Y Gododdin myself (you can read it here) & as I did so I began to notice matches between the names of the warriors & certain places in East Lothian. Once is nothing, twice a lucky coincidence, three times a gently extending ‘hmmmm,’ & four times an, ‘I really do need to open 2019 with a ‘Searching for Gododdin’ series.’ For example, there are two stanzas which mention a certain Elphin, who could be the same man to whom a memorial stone was erected at the Dark Age burial near Elphinstone. Other Gododdin-East Lothian connections begin with a certain Rhuvawn, whose name could well have corrupted into Ravensheugh, the site of a hill-fort at the northern extremity of Seacliff Beach. According to the medieval Welsh Triads, Rhuvawn was one of the three Fair Princes of Britain alongside the famous Owain of Rheged. There is also a warrior called Gwid, son of Peithan, whose name may be present in Kidlaw (Gwidlaw). Here is the stanza in which he appears in my translation of Y Gododdin
No hall was ever made more eminent, Nor mightier, for slaughters more immense; The mead of Morien has turn’d to flame & none could say that Cynon can’t carve corpses, Whose hero-sword resounds around the ramparts, No more than we can move a massive boulder, Will Gwid, the son of Peithan, too be moved!
Daisy & I undertook this walk between Christmas & New Year, on a an extra fine day in which all the natural colours were peculiarly pastoral. Parking up, we entered a small picnic area at which end was a strange guillotine thing which I had to lift up to let Daisy through.
We walk’d parallel to wall for a bit, then turn’d slightly left to start our climb to the summit & to witness those ever-expanding views. That was us, then, climbing slopes hewn from the Earth 320 million years ago. Antiquity indeed, & there has been human occupation on Traprain since the Bronze Age, about 1500 BC.
Daisy loves a good slope, & was scampering about in her usual giddy way. The path was through rocks & gorse, upon the latter of which I noticed a few perfunctory yellow trumpet-heralds embellishing the green, blooming in anticipation with the full orchestra soon to be flushing the hills with brightness.
After a minor path diversion we began to ascend ever higher, the going growing harder & with this pick’d up the wind. We were not alone, a number of fellow walkers were taking advantage of the dry sunshine, & of course thoroughly enjoying the immense panoramas. It is from such vantage that the impressive piece of engineering that is the East Linton A1 bridge can be properly admired.
At the summit I ask’d a mother-daughter couple to take photos of me & Daisy, & they happily obliged. I then offer’d my services in return, & return’d the favour. It turns out I knew the daughter – she is connected to the Haddington Corn Exchange & shows me how to work the lights whenever I hire the hall for some artistic event.
So here we were, in the assumed capital of the Votadini, on account of a fabulous horde of Roman silver found here. Traprain is an excellent setting for rule – massive stretching views in all directions & complete control over the Forth & its access to the world’s seaways.The chieftains must have felt a bit like Hitler at Berchtesgaden, up in the Heavens with delusions of grandeur.
Now I’d just like to show you something interesting. Speculations have abounded as to why the silver arrived at Traprain c.400 AD, when the Votadini at that time were no longer under Roman jurisdiction. The answer, however, is quite simple.
The first steps in the solution involves recognizing the pattern on the shields of several Roman units, as given in the 5th century Notitia Dignitatum, is identical to the following piece of silverware.
This image was created by Alice Blackwell, based on fragments of the dish being found in the hoard, & their massive similarities with a dish found in Switzerland. One is immediately reminded of the Honariana Attecotti Seniores, a unit of troops drawn from the Attacotti, a hitherto unplaced tribe of Scotland. ‘Honarian’ means they represented Emperor Honorious (395-423 AD), whose coins are the last dated in the Traprain treasure. With the Honariana Attecotti Seniores coming under the Roman Italian command, then we have credible support for the dish at Traprain being the same as the one found in Switzerland.
We now come to the best bit. For a long, long time, scholars have speculated on the homelands of the Attacotti, but to no avail. However, while looking at an Ogham inscription on an obscure Pictish stone discovered on the Shetland Islands, I hit paydirt. Etched into what is known as the Lunnasting Stone, it reads;
ettecuhetts: ahehhttannn: hccvvevv: nehhtons
Chispologically speaking, Ettecuhets is a lovely match for Attacotti, especially when we combine two variant spelling in the Notitia, being ‘attecotti’ & ‘attcoetti,’ as in; Attecoet / Ettecuhet. OK, the Shetlands aren’t the Orkneys, but they are very close & may have been administer’d together 1500 years ago, which suddenly provides the historiographical evidence to explain why King Loth of Lothian was also the King of the Orkneys (& Norway).
With East Lothian spinning in 360 degrees of beauty, I traced the walks I had composed last year, & hinted at those yet to pass. I had first reached the summit of Traprain almost a decade ago, in 2009, during which period I was composing lots of sonnets. This was the result;
Elevated by the Votadini We scrambl’d up the Laccolithic side Found picture frame three hundred sixty wide Elating vision sweet to each degree.
Beneath rocks of volcanic pimplerie Dunbar, East Linton, Haddington abide, Fields reach the Forth & beaches there beside Or lonely Lammermuir where thought soars free.
I cast mine een along the Garleton ridge To settle on the far-off Forth Road bridge, Little with distance, ghostly in the mist.
This is the length of Roman Lothian, A county home my roaming soul hath won To recollect whenever she is miss’d.
Roll on a decade & I found myself nestled in a rocky outcrop on the eastern end of the summit, rather like those witnessed by the British Army on the Falklands, by Mount Tumbledown. As I gazed down upon the ruins of Hailes Castle, with Daisy greeting the odd climber, I got to work on the first lines of a long poem I intend to write this year – a Wordsworthian effort carved from walks in the Lammermuirs. Here is the opening;
Across the world, among the vale of years,
Lets intimate along the Lammermuirs
Our inclinations natural to roam
In heather’d heights above the feather’d foam
Lost in the dull lights of a day’s rebirth
Our time feels finite of this fertile Earth,
Into the night we drove, down to Dunbar
Where we, by sandstone harbour, park’d our car
Out of the front seat leapt a Lhassapoo
My little Daisy, tho our souls seem two,
We are as one when walking in the hills
By rocks & crags, by riverbanks & rills.
When its not crazy windy, a really pleasant time can be had on the summit – there’s a lot of area for walkers to explore, including the hut-circles to the western end. For us, I was content to dawdle & compose for a bit, before heading almost straight downhill from the eastern end of the summit, the great quarry rising to our right.
You should eventually see a fence below you, & the car park beyond that. The idea is to make your way over loose paths & what not to the corner of the fence, from where its an easy few meters to the path & the guillotine – & the happy drive home
Its been a frantic few weeks in the world of Walking East Lothian. After spending the year cavorting with my dog Daisy about the county, I realised that walking other people’s dogs around the same places could be a nice way of making a wee wage. The result is Fetch! East Lothian, my transcounty, council-approved, fully-insured, dogwalking service. So far we have three ‘clients’ – the dog in Musselburgh has open’d my eyes to the amazing Levenhall Links, which we’ll be covering in this blog early next year. There’s also a couple of rescue dogs in Gifford, which means we get to enjoy Yester’s amazing woodland regularly.
So, to Circlin’ Kilspindie. The name relates to the golf course on the western fringes of the spectacular seagirt settlement that is Aberlady. Of this wonderfully airy, breathy & scenic village, Rev John Smith wrote in the 1845 Statistical Account of Scotland, ‘Aberlady does not appear to have been the scene of any memorable event, nor is it famous in history as the birth-place, or place of residence, of any very eminent men.’ This is a rather staid approach to history, however, & I found the walk I took in the area with the wife & Daisy absolutely fascinating.
We settled the car on a scintillating morning by a small public park called The Pleasance, opposite a kirk on the extreme western outskirts of Aberlady, just off the coastal road. The kirk in question is the Aberlady Parish Church, dedicated to Saint Mary. Dating from the 15th century, it was re-built in 1887 – designed by London architect William Young – and was described in a newspaper of the time as, “one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland.”
On this occasion we refrained from entering the kirk’s cloisters, & instead follow’d a path around its grounds & thetwo peaceful graveyards to our left. The path then dives directly forwards toward the Forth. In a field to our right we could make out the clump of trees & ruined brickwork that mark the site of Kilspindie Castle. An early fortalice of the Spens family, it was destroyed in 1548 by the English during their occupation of Haddington, enabling English supplies to be landed unchalleng’d.
Our path soon reach’d a more pristine pathway, which we took to our left, soon arriving at the main hub of the Kilspindie golf course club. Just before the clubhouse itself, there is a building which I sensed was the ‘Town of Haddington’s House,’ from which the county town handled its imports & exports. Aberlady was an important harbour for fishing, sealing, and whaling and was designated “Port of Haddington” by a 1633 Act of Parliament, helping maintain Haddington’s burh status with enhanced overseas trading privileges.
There has been considerable alteration on the coast at Aberlady Bay since these old times. The sea has made great inroads into the coastline around Kilspindie Links. The course of the Peffer Burn has also been getting gradually shallower, & at the Point, where the ships used to anchor, the foreshore presents to the older inhabitants quite a different appearance to what it did in their own recollection John Pringle Reid: Historical Guide to Aberlady (1926)
From this vantage, the view of Aberlady Bay’s fabulous nature reserve is lovely; over the Peffer estuary & onto the rolling Gullane dunes, with the sky offering the occasional puffs of blunderbus-blasted flocks of wintering Geese.
The rough remains of the old port’s anchorage protruded from the clay bottom, upon which in former days boats rested safely when the tide was out. One famous local legend is that of fisherman Skipper Thomson, the pilot at Aberlady, who was unfortunately lost in a storm. Not long after his disappearancem his wooden leg washed up nearby, & was dutifully handed to his widow, who kept it on her mantelpiece to her dying day.
The port’s decline began with the coming of the North British Railway in 1846, with a station opened at Ballencrieff. The townsfolk were canny, however, & the year before the railway was officially opened in the area, they hold sold their rights of anchorage to the Earl of Wemyss. It was the same guy, by the way, he restored the parish kirk in 1886.
The quaint clubhouse of Kilspindie Golf Club, which possesses a rich history. Formed in 1867 as the Luffness Golf Club, it was the 35th registered golf club in the world, with the course then was on the far side of the Peffer Burn on land which is now part of the Nature Reserve. Unfortunately for the historian or enthusiast, there is little evidence of the course layout and the original clubhouse.
A few years later, there was a split in the club, with some members moving to a new course nearer Gullane, & others to the links land Craigielaw Farm, & named Kilspindie in 1899. Of this new course – which has hardly changed in 112 years – one of its first members, Ben Sayers (see our walk along North Berwick Beach) commented, “one would almost think nature had intended this for 18 holes as there is just sufficient ground and no more.”
It was time to commence proper our circumnavigation of Kilspindie Links, a fond daunder by the seashore with the wife & dog, perched upon a sliver of coastal path between the soft golf turf & the shelly sands that edge the Firth of Forth. Guided by short, white, stubby poles, we found ourselves traversing the 2nd & 3rd holes of the Kilspindie course, happy to have be born into a world which offers such walking as this!
Half-way down the third fairway, just as we were passing an ornithologist building, the weather abruptly changed. ‘This wasn’t predicted‘ cried a golfer in near despair at the green, huckling behind an imaginary shelter in his mind as he braved his putt.
Not long after the birdwatching house, we descended to the beach itself. It was quiet, secluded, & gorgeous – no clanking clubs & yelps of frustrated golfers disturbing the natural peace here! The coast was startlingly refreshing visually, with very handsome rock formations pleasing the eye; while out to sea an oil tanker sat idly on the sea, obscuring for a moment the eyeliner-like illusion of a dull sky, doubling over, darkening the sea. All-in-all a perfect painting & a total gorging of East Lothian-ness.
As we reache’ the end of this comfortable stretch of beach, we surmounted once again the links, & found the wind picking up & the rain falling harder as 45 degree jagged bolts. Poor Daisy, she’s not a fan of this kind of thing, but like the golfer I was also completely surprised by this extreme turn in the weather.
We soon reached another beach, a real natural gem which reveale’ an expansive & succulent panorama. In one sweep of the eyes one can make out the phantasy of Fife, individual details of Edinburgh Castle, the towering apartments of Newhaven, the mound-whales of the Pentlands & even the hoary Ochils far out to the west.
At the end of this beach one arrives at a large, whitewashed empty building in the vicinity of ‘The Quarry’ – i.e. the 9th tee of a second Golf Course situated on the Links. This new club is called Craigielaw, whose Championship links course was designed by Donald Steel & opened in 2001.
From the tee we found a road, a few meters along which we then turn’d left into the relative shelter of some woods. Thro’ the trees to our left we could see the large houses of Craigielaw Park – one of those rare British conurbations that are the ‘gated communities’. ‘They have many in America,’ explained the wife, but in Britain they haven’t really taken off. Still, having keypad-only-access to one’s cul-de-sac does help to justify spending the million pounds or so that these houses cost – alongside, of course, the kitchens by Clive Christian.
Back in the woods were were getting colder, & the wife was carrying Daisy for large spurts. Not only the cold, but the finally leafless trees all were telling our souls that Winter was really here. Still, its a charming stretch of walk, with clear paths leading to a gate & a road.
At this point one is faced with two choices. Follow the road a little to the right where it joins the John Muir’s way, running parallel to the main road, or cut across Craigielaw’s driving range. As the weather had turned heinous, the range was empty & so we pursued the latter course.
On reaching the very convenient John Muir’s Way, it was now a simple stretch back to the Pleasance & the car. Just before reaching the relative warmth of our Renault Scenic, we came across the remarkable building that is the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC). It wasn’t the right time to enter – we were soaked – but I made a mental note to return sometime the next week to check out.
Finding myself driving through Port Seaton a few days later, I suddenly remembered both my pal, Gary Riley (originally from Elphinstone) & my fact-finding mission at the birdwatching center. A phone call & a wee drive later we were entering Waterston House – the aforementioned HQ of Scottish birdwatching. It is named after George Waterston, a one-time Director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland, famously who pass’d his idle hour as a POW in WW2s twitching & writing birdwatching articles for the camp’s secret newspaper.
A lovely French lady called Laura took us under her wing brilliantly; explaining the history of the place, & showing us about like a courtesan receiving foreign dignitaries at the Sun king’s Fontainbleu. She is the curator & organiser of the eight, six-week exhibitions that the center holds every year in its gallery. These are definitively dedicated to Natural History, the duty to which is enshrined in the constitution drawn up by the society. 2019’s line-up is done & dusted already, she explained. For me & Gary in December 2018, we witnessed the explicitly vivid animal art of young & gifted Lucy Newton. I was blown away by her stunning squirrels, while Gary completely adored her shags!
The Scottish Birdwatching Center began life in the 1930s, when a group of adolescents set up their society, including George Waterston. Money began to pour in from enthusiasts & benefactors, & they were able to buy a property on Regent Street, Edinburgh. They sold this 14 years ago, & used the money to create this purpose-built center overlooking Aberlady Bay & its reserve. The center houses the largest ornithology library in Scotland (over 3,500 pieces), housed in funky mobile shelving units, which on the day of our visit was being used by a gentleman researching for his degree upon the habitats of Geese.
There is no cafe at the center, & Gary told me of the time a few months ago he’d gone riding on his electric bike, at the end of which he found himself at Waterston House. Feeling thirsty, & asking if he could buy a coffee, he was met with the reply, ‘you cannot buy one, but we can make you one,’ a quite congenial response!
Hello everyone! This post was prepared a few weeks ago, in the first flush of Autumn, but a trip to Italy’s heel with the wife’s family has delayed its finalisation. Since our return, Halloween had to happen, plus Bonfire Night, & with the kids are satiated with sweets & activities, & my head is now relatively free of clutter enough to return to my Walking East Lothian series.
Since our last post, the world saw the death of Rennie McOwan, without whom I would never have obtained the audacity to create this blog. Born in Menstrie, Clackmannashire, in 1933, as a small boy he encountered a recalcitrant landowner denying access to land. Rennie replied, ‘why cant we go this way?‘ a moment which energized a life agitating for the right to roam, a human glory was finally codified in Scotland in 2003. Along the way, when countryside associations were wary of criticizing the landowning fraternity – they were all pals in a rather feudalistic fashion – he acted like a bull in a china shop, & told them to just sort it out.
When Rennie addressed the Landowners Association in 1996, his address was describ’d as being ‘statesman like,’ & just as men like Frederick Douglass spoke oratories which induced the demise of slavery, thus breaking the bond a human had over fellow humans, so Rennie ended the privilege between human & land, reducing it to mere equity & opening up nature’s beauties to all – at least in Scotland anyway.
So god bless Rennie, & let us now take ourselves on a wee tour of the Yester Estate, currently in the hands of an Aberdeen oil family, headed by Ian Wood. Before the Woods, there was the Italian composer, Gian Carlo Menotti, who had lived at Yester into his 90s until 2013. At the age of 7, under the guidance of his mother, Gian began to compose songs, and four years later he wrote the words and music of his first opera, The Death of Pierrot. The Consul, Menotti’s first full-length work, won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle award as the best musical play of the year in 1954. Flush with money from his efforts, he bought Yester in 1972 from two antique dealers who had bought the estate from the Hay Marquises of Tweeddale a handful of years earlier.
In 2018, access to the Yester Estate from the Gifford side is a bit sketchy – the Woods have blocked off access & created rodent-like runs for the villagers. On first moving in they even dropped huge tree trunks at entrances villagers had been using for years. These were soon chainsawed through, however, & a ceasefire akin to that of the Kashmir disputed territory has since ensued.
For those wanting to enjoy the Estate in the traditional fashion – ie freely – there is a beautiful walk which commences by Danskine Loch. One must park up across the road from the entrance to the loch, beside a gateway to a world of verdant glory – tinged with Autumn of course at this time of year. For me & Daisy, we had the happy circumstance of the wife bobbing along, & all was well in the world.
Me & Daisy were not the first travelers to this corner of East Lothian, sprawling towards the Lammermuirs from picturesque Gifford village. Just under three centuries ago, Daniel Defoe was here on his Grand Tour of Great Britain, recording his visit with the following ;
Here we turn’d out of the way to see the Marquess of Tweedal’s fine park, and which is, indeed, the main thing, his fine planting at Yester, or, as Antiquity calls it, Zester; I say the park, because, tho’ there is the design of a noble house or palace, and great part of it built; yet, as it is not yet, and perhaps, will not soon be finished, there is no giving a compleat description of it.
The old Earl of Tweedale, who was a great favourite of King Charles II. tho’ not much concern’d in politic affairs, at least, not in England, yet took in from the king the love of managing what we call forest trees, and making fine vistas and avenues: The very first year after the Restoration the king laid out, with his own hand, the planting of Greenwich and St. James’s parks, and several others, and the said earl had seen them, and was extremely delighted with the method.
This occasion’d his lordship, as soon as he went down into Scotland, to lay out the plan and design of all those noble walks and woods of trees, or, as it might be call’d, forests of trees, which he afterwards saw planted, and of which a gentleman, whose judgment I cannot doubt, told me, that if ever those trees came to be worth but six pence a tree, they would be of more value than the fee simple of that estate; not meaning by that estate the land they grow on, but the whole paternal estate of the family: Nor is it unlikely, if it be true, that his lordship, and his immediate successor, planted above 6,000 acres of land all full of firr-trees; and that, where-ever it was found that any tree fail’d, they were constantly renew’d the next year.
It is certain, that many of the trees are, by this time, of much more value than six pence a tree; for they have now been planted near three-score years. And tho’ it is true, that a firr-tree is but a slow grower, and that most, if not all the trees I speak of, are firr; yet it must be allow’d that, the trees thriving very well, they must, by this time, be very valuable; and, if they stand another age, and we do not find the family needy of money enough to make them forward to cut any of them down, there may be a noble estate in firr timber, enough, if it falls into good hands, to enrich the family.
The park itself is said to be eight miles about, but the plantation of firr is not simply confin’d to the park, nor, indeed, to this estate; for the family of Tweedale has another seat near Musclebro, at Pinkey, where the same lord planted also a great number of trees, as his successors have likewise done at another seat, which they have in Fife, near Aberdour.
Our own experience of Yester sent us off along a straight path between two steepish slopes of trees, following the course of the Gifford Water. Eventually we came to a rather muddy section, where the main path continues straight, but we turned a sharp, uphill left.
We were now free in the Estate, lovely wild country which must be traversed to the forward & to the ight until one comes to a drystone wall, from where wide open fields lead to the Lammermuirs. Me & Daisy reached this point at the edge of an old pheasant pen.
Turning right at the wall we found ourselves on a path which eventually began to descend to the valley floor. This eventually looped back on itself, bringing us to the bonnie banks of the Hopes Water sharp on our left.
A little while after this we came to an old stone bridge which we used to cross the Water to our left. We were now at the foot of the slightly crescentic peninsula on which stood the original Castle of Yester, & climbing a steep slope brought us to those very hewn stones, some portions of which clinging stoically to its former magnificence.
The story of Yester & Gifford begins with Hugh de Giffard, an influential feudal baron in 12th century Scotland, who obtained the lands at Yester (Jhestrith) from Malcolm IV of Scotland. There is a charter dated between 1166–1171 by William The Lion which states that Hugh held these lands “by grant from my brother King Malcolm and Ada the Countess, my mother”. His grandson, another Hugh, built the castle on a promontory between the Hopes Water and a little tributary, the Gamuelston Burn.
Sir David Dalrymple, in his annals, relates that ‘Hugh Gifford de Yester died in 1267; that in his castle there was a capacious cavern, formed by magical art, and called in the country Bo–Hall, i.e. Hobgoblin Hall.’ A stair of twenty-four steps led down to this apartment, which is a large and spacious hall, with an arched roof; and though it hath stood for so many centuries, and been exposed to the external air for a period of fifty or sixty years, it is still as firm and entire as if it had only stood a few years. From the floor of this hall, another stair of thirty-six steps leads down to a pit which hath a communication with Hopes-water. Statistical Account of Scotland
Daisy loves to roam the castle area, which I let her do while imagining the medieval activities which tumbled about the place. The best part of visiting the castle, however, is the Goblin Ha,’ an oblong subterranean cavern, 37ft by 13ft 2ins, built of ashlar & said to have been constructed by magical means by Sir Hugo, who was also known as the ‘Wizard of Yester.’ Legend also supposed that Hugo was able, via a pact with the Devil, to raise a magical army to his aid, and use them to carry out his will. It is this army of hobgoblins that was considered to be the builders of Yester Castle.
A Clerk could tell what years have flown Since Alexander fill’d our throne, (Third monarch of that warlike name,) And eke the time when here he came To seek Sir Hugo, then our lord: A braver never drew a sword; A wiser never, at the hour Of midnight, spoke the word of power: The same, whom ancient records call The founder of the Goblin-Hall.
The Goblin Hall was featured in Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion, as in the stanza above. Scott at the time was a quartermaster for the Edinburgh cavalry, & was based in Musselburgh from where he explored East Lothian & wrote some of his greatest poetical works. The king mentioned – Alexander III – is known to have been at Yester on and around May 24, 1278, where he corresponded with Edward I of England.
In the 14th century, the Giffards had no male heir, & so Joanna, the daughter of the last Sir Hugo de Giffard, married Sir William de la Haye of Peebles, who was invested with the barony and lands of Yester through his wife. The barony has stayed with the Hay family ever since & the Estate, as we have seen, until the 1960s.
To reach the Hall, pass through the door in the great keep wall, & follow a track in down & the left, wher you will reach the entrance. While Daisy guarded the portal whimperingly, the wife & I explored the Hall through the torch on my phone, We even started to follow the tunnel to the Hopes Water as mentioned in the Statistical Account, but found it blocked by rubble. It is eerily cool down there, yeah, & yes, well worth a visit – a very evocative place & in amazingly good condition – perhaps it was goblin-hewn after all!
The last person to dwell at the castle, according to Francis Turner Palgrave, was the estate’s falconer. Palgrave notes, ‘in 1737, the Goblin Hall was tenanted by the Marquis of Tweedale’s falconer, as I learn from a poem by Boyse, entitled “Retirement,” written upon visiting Yester.’ Leaving the Castle ourselves we return’d to the old stone bridge, after crossing which we turned left. After a while a stick plunged in the ground notified us of the climb we had to make up another steep slope. This took us to a regular path where we turned left.
We were now returning to the main Yester path, & after crossing a bridge marked ‘unsafe structure’ (it was fine) we found ourselves at one of the green signs placed by the Woods to mark out their rat-runs. Turning left here would eventually lead to Gifford, but we need to head back to the car, & so turned right.
A lovely stretch along the leaf-carpeted path home saw unveiled the ancient erosion work undertaken by the Gifford Water on the Yester bedrock, quite gorgeous actually, & of course the magnificent trees praised with gushes by Defoe. Then it was the car & the happy drive home.