All posts by yodamo

North Berwick Beach

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Om Beach

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Pursuing the beach to the west, a large slice of greenery eventually slides into the left – here be the West Links, from where a putttng 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.

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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!

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The club’s whose 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.

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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.


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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 past our point of entry, reaching a great section of rocky outcrop, that happy hunting ground for kids & their shallow, tidal aquaria.

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Leaving West Bay Beach

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Biel

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Approaching the fork

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.” 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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Here be nettles….
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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.

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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.

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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.’

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Spartleton

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Inveresk

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Its Daisy’s 3rd birthday (in dog years) & I thought it a good time for her to do her first semi-urban walk. Thus so, it was time for the legendary swagger that is the potter around Inveresk village. To get the lungs pumping, its best to start this walk from a wee side-road just off the A1. Coming off at the Wallyford junction, one heads north along Salter’s Road (the A6094), when just beyond the motorway there is an immediate left-turn. This road drops your down past a monument & into a cul-de-sac of sorts. You can park up anywhere along the road really, at the bottom of which the walk to Inveresk is sign-posted, whose houses you can see in the distance, over the fields.

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The path skirts the motorway to its left for a while, before veering off towards the houses & crossing a great sweep of fielderie. Soon enough one rises & drops over the railway where Virgin Trains hurtle to and from London in a mad dash to beat the times of the budget airlines. At the bridge, if one turns around for a moment, there is a board to read which gives details of the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, fought on the 10th September 1547 as part of the conflict known as the Rough Wooing meant to convince Mary Queen of Scots to marry Henry VIII’s only son, Edward.

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A Virgin Train heading south

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Fought upon the untouched fields before us, the field has been excellently preserved for the battle-imagination from unscrupulous property developers. Not far away the Prestonpans battlefield is not so lucky & is under serious threat from greedy money-thugs who simply ignore our universal historical inheritance in pursuit of a quick buck. But by Pinkie Clough there is enough of an open expanse to imagine the massed phalanxes of pikemen advancing to the thudding tune of cannonshot & battleshout.

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The last pitched battle to be fought between English and Scottish armies, Pinkie was a bit of a bloodbath really, where 10,000 of 30,000 Scots were slaughtered, & the day’s events long remembered as ‘Black Saturday.’ Not wanting to linger too long in such an eerie place of death I continued north from the railway bridge, reaching the pretty outskirts of Inveresk. The final fields before the village were filled either side with cohorts of marching brussels sprouts, as if these were in fact the two armies at Pinkie, just about to close in battle. An excellent description of Scots-in-Arms was made by William Patten, an officer on the English side.

They cum to the felde well furnished all with jak and skull, dagger, buckler, and swoordes, all notably brode and thin, of excedinge good temper, and universally good to slice. hereto everie man hi spyke, their array towrads joining with the enemy they cling & thrust so nere in the front rank shoulder to shoulder together, with their pykes over their foregoers’ shouldersthat no force can well withstand them

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As the path turned into the tarmac’d Crookston Road, we reached Inveresk, Scotland’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement. Two hundred years ago, while writing his book on Edinburgh, William Maitland breathed out thro’ his pen; ‘the beautiful village of Inveresk, which from its Situation, Houses, & Salubrity of Air, is justly reckoned the finest Village & most healthy place in Scotland.’ Stuffed full of lovely old buildings of the 17th/18th centuries, the Portmeirioin of the north is a secret to most of the Lothians, but belove us this wee enclave of serenity is well worth a visit. Me & Daisy really dug the vibes; a quiet convalescenty place that sat well with my lack-of-lead-use. I only had to carry Daisy a couple of times on the entire walk, & we were there a while.

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We had arrived at the the Shepherd House, just one of the numerous buildings bubbling with character. My blog is too short to rattle on about them all, so I’ll just highlight this one & leave the others to future walkers of East Lothian. Built in the old Scottish style, with high pitched rooves & crowdstepped gable, the house looks sincerely superb. Its gardens are also open to the public, but the most curious part of the house is a padded room used for lunatics, with the house possibly being used as a private asylum. Indeed the equally pretty White House nearby kept a long & elaborate list of the lunatics & their symptoms who stayed in the residence.

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With the Shepherd House & its garden on our left, we turned right up Double Dykes. Allotments soon appeared on our right as we traversed a tarmac’d path to the widely-swathed Lewisvale Park & its Musselburgh Cricket Club. Daisy loves such open spaces & began to pirouette madly about me in some kind of psychedelic orbit as I strode across the flat field.

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A smallish hut-thing caught my eye & I went to investigate. It turned out to be a lovely old gentleman called Tony Saunders, fixing a bike or three. He was from Barking originally, but after a 25 year stint in the airforce, & marrying a Clydebank nurse, a job came up in Musselburgh in the 70s & he has been here since. Becoming a person of a certain age, he revels in a local scheme which gets similar-aged people out & about riding bikes donated, in the main, by local university students after their three year tenure in the nearby campus.

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At the top of the cricket field, we reach an eroding monument to the time that the Duke of Somerset used the cricket field (before cricket was invented, mind) just before the Battle of Pinkie. It was situated overlooked a chicaning path that led us down into the rest of Lewisvale Park, a most splendid place indeed. Turning left, the path took us into a series of sites – like the stations of the cross – including a bandstand around which babymothers were jogging their figures back, & a Heritage Lottery funded aviary of all things, full of colourful chirping birds.

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The aviary

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Interesting iron…

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At the end of the park, we reached the main road by Musselburgh Grammar School. Heading left uphill, we were soon at a junction. here we turned right along Inveresk Village Road, soon coming to Saint Michael’s Parish Kirk. There has been a Christian centre here since St Modwenna, & by the Middle Ages had become quite an important ecclesiastical. Of its founder & foundation, John S Stuart-Glennie, in his ‘Arthurian localities,’ writes;

On Dunpeledur also, as likewise on the three fortified rocks of Edinburgh, Stirling, and Dumbarton, at Dundonald, in Ayrshire, and Chilnacase, in Galloway, Saint Monenna (Modwenna) or Darerca of Kilslleibeculean, in Ulster, founded a church, and nunnery. These foundations appear to synchronise with the re-establishment of the Christian Church in these districts by Arthur, who was pre-eminently a Christian hero fighting against pagan Saxons and apostate Picts.

 

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Turn right here…

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We found the kirk to be deep in stonework, so we simply strolled around the fascinating graveyards, with some of the best views of the Lothians I’ve seen. Observing such excellent vistas inspired the Romans to build a substantial castra (fort) upon the lands which the graveyard stands. Appearing as ‘Evidensca‘ in the Ravenna Cosmography, the fort & its cavalry garrison formed the easternmost outpost of the Antonine Wall in 142 AD.  A flourishing vicus civilian settlement of timber strip buildings grew around the present village area, where arial photography & archeology has reveled corncupias of Roman sites & artefacts.

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The site of the Roman fort

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Leaving the graveyard we returned the way we came, but at the War monument, take the path down to the right, which leads to The Grove, a wide green area beside the River Esk. We followed the riverpath to our left, keeping the river on our right, with Musselburgh golf course just over the rushing  waterflow.

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The path skirts a small estate of sorts, one of many of the noble gardens still intact after the centuries. When the wall on your left finally peters out into nothingness, a house-topped field appears, marking the direction-shift of our walk. One must here turn left & follow the charcoal-coloured path up the field’s steep left.

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At the top of the field d, go through the gate & continue left along the road – this was the second timne I picked Daisy up, but there was no traffic to worry about. Crossing the main road, we soon came to the Shepherd House again, where turning right led us along Crookston Road again, back towards the car. As we walk’d across the Pinkie fields, I was on my phone googling details of the battle, one segment of which I could imagine being played out on the Fa’side slopes far before me.

IMG_20180319_115632793.jpgJust before the carnage began, a strange burst of chivalry burst out between the two armies; the death spasm, perhaps, of an age before gunpowder. The Earl of Home led 1,500 Scottish horsemen – mostly Borderes – close to the English encampment and challenged an equal number of English cavalry to fight. With Somerset’s reluctant approval, Lord Grey accepted the challenge and engaged the Scots, who were badly cut up and were pursued west for 3 miles. After this the Scottish cavalry was basically KO’d from the main fighting. William Patten, described the slaughter inflicted on the Scots;

Soon after this notable strewing of their footmen’s weapons, began a pitiful sight of the dead corpses lying dispersed abroad, some their legs off, some but houghed, and left lying half-dead, some thrust quite through the body, others the arms cut off, diverse their necks half asunder, many their heads cloven, of sundry the brains pasht out, some others again their heads quite off, with other many kinds of killing. After that and further in chase, all for the most part killed either in the head or in the neck, for our horsemen could not well reach the lower with their swords. And thus with blood and slaughter of the enemy, this chase was continued five miles in length westward from the place of their standing, which was in the fallow fields of Inveresk until Edinburgh Park and well nigh to the gates of the town itself and unto Leith, and in breadth nigh 4 miles, from the Firth sands up toward Dalkeith southward. In all which space, the dead bodies lay as thick as a man may note cattle grazing in a full replenished pasture. The river ran all red with blood, so that in the same chase were counted, as well by some of our men that somewhat diligently did mark it as by some of them taken prisoners, that very much did lament it, to have been slain about 14 thousand. In all this compass of ground what with weapons, arms, hands, legs, heads, blood and dead bodies, their flight might have been easily tracked to every of their three refuges. And for the smallness of our number and the shortness of the time (which was scant five hours, from one to well nigh six) the mortality was so great, as it was thought, the like aforetime not to have been seen

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As for the wooing, the infant Queen Mary was smuggled out of Scotland to France, where she would later marry Francis, Dauphin of France, in 1558. Pinkie was a futile exercise really, & within fifty years, at the Union of the Crowns, the English & Scots put down their weapons & began to hug each other like long-lost, but happily renuited cousins!

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Over Kidlaw / The Castles

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As an aesthetic artist, I am absolutely head-over-heels in love with snowmelt. The variety it brings to photographs is immensely satisfying, especially up in the hills with all those lovely rolling contours. For this week’s walk it had to be the Lammermuirs, & I found myself going up two times to the same area because of the sheer quality of air, scenery & solitude. Firstly, & just after the up-county roads had opened following the Beast from the East, me & Daisy headed to Kidlaw for a wide circumnavigation of the Lammerloch Reservoir. A few days later we went to check out an intriguing Iron Age hillfort known as The Castles, at the heart of the Longyester Quarry system.

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OVER KIDLAW

To reach Kidlaw from most parts of the county, get yourselves to Gifford first, then going up towards the golf club, turn left in the direction of Longnewton. This is a wee hamlet of tall, fine, pastel-painted houses standing in a neat row. It is also something of a T-junction, & half-way between our two walks.

Daisy admiring the fine houses at Longnewton

Turning right, the car ribbon’d along the last road before the Lammermuirs, the edge of civilisation, so to speak, & beautiful place to be. Above us buzzards, sparrowhawks and kestrels spiral’d thro the air like a dogfight over London. Behind us the vista spread magnificently along a smooth swathe of green fields & then the Forth, & beyond that the paps of Fife. We were driving  through a part of Yester parish; based around the kirk at Gifford, I’ll leave Reverand Innes, in the Statistical Account of Scotland to introduce matters (1791-99).

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There’s plenty of parking at Kidlaw farm, & also some very interesting folklore. Adjoining the farmhouse are the ruins of The Ward, said to have been a keep or baronial prison. In former times, long before the Access Code Scotland (2003), the local lairds of Newtonhall would imprison inside its redoubtable, 5′ thick walls; ‘sturdy beggars, landloupers, tinkers, idle vagabonds & ragamuffins who were trespassing on the lands of Newtonhall.’ These scruffy guys & gals had come up over the Lammermuirs from the direction of Lauderdale, when, ‘arose the necessity of having a secure lock-up to confine them, & prevent them from prowling about the countryside.’ The Ward also used to give a night’s shelter to wayworn travelers, a group of whom, described as gypsies, were on one occasion surprised by James V.

I’m from Burnley myself, Pendle Witch Country, & in the very same year – 1612 – that the old crones Demdike & Annie Chattox were being tried & executed for witchcraft in Lancaster, at Kidlaw a certain Bessie Henderson was also getting into bother. She even confessed to having been “tane away with fyve hellis houndis” which never helps your case, & alongside ‘Katherine Conynghame‘ from Samuelston, went the way as the North Berwick witches & all those other poor ladies who happened to be a bit different under an extremely superstitious king (James VI).

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Looking back towards Kidlaw

It was time to hit the walk. There was lots of snow, but not impassible, & there was glorious hill country stretching all before us. We first went through a gate at the same time as a bevvy of ladies off to ride their horses in the fields. Me & Daisy instead stuck to the track-path, keeping a small dam & a stream to our left.

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Lammerloch

After passing some containers on our right, the track led upwards towards a gate, beyond which lay the frozen emerald of Lammerloch reservoir (opened 1905). Keeping this to our right, we found ourselves winding through a muddy, steep-sided narrow valley.

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Looking left down the stream-valley towards Kidlaw

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The track then passes a smaller waterbody called Latch Loch. After this comes a gate where one should turn right, but before doing so its only a little diversion to check out the ‘Minsters House’ as I like to call it, standing by another pond. With no power to speak of, it is used by a couple of ministers every now & again for ascetic meditation. Its always nice to just be there a few moments, sharing soul-energy in a religious haven.

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Approaching The Ministers
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The view of the road from The Ministers
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Back at the gate, one should turn left

Returning the way we came, & reaching the gate, me & Daisy turn’d left & headed uphill. It felt marvelous on the tundra & the snow, Daisy was loving it, & the views were simply delicious. Keeping a stream below us to our right, we followed the track for quite a way.  At the top of the field we then veered right up to a cairn of stones, & enjoyed the Olympian loftiness of it all.

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Looking back the way we came…
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Veer right here

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It was time to head home, & the hill sloped kindly back in the direction of the Lammerloch. At the bottom of the field we followed the track into a field next door-but-one to the reservoir. This led us at a slow, happy pace back to the eastern edge of Lammerloch, where I noticed animal prints on the frozen ice.

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After climbing over the gate, the view back along the track

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It was time to return the way we came. On the descent to Kidlaw to our front right rose the snowy summit of a prehistoric hillfort on Highside Hill. One of a number of such elevated defence-works in East Lothian, I’m looking forward to making a study of them in the nearish future. My instinct is that the one’s against the Lammermuirs form some kind of Maginot Line for the Votadini, one of which we shall be looking at the now…

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Kidlaw hillfort
Annotated draft inked plans of The Castles (left) and Kidlaw (right)

THE CASTLES

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Driving through Longnewton from Kidlaw, one soon comes to the entrance-way at Longyester Quarry, where there’s lots of space to park either before or beyond the gate. Once inside the massive field, turn immediately right & skirt its edges. There’s sheep about & this time of the year there lambs as well, frolicking away in mild confusion.

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It had been about five days since we did the Kidlaw walk, but there was still snowy patches here & there, finishing like glaciers on the rims of slopes. Daisy was thrill’d to be back among the white stuff as we kept the stream to our right as it gently curved to the left. At one point on this stretch we came across the detritus of sheep, where wool-shed & droppings made interesting patterns on the floor.

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Sheep art

As one follows the stream, to the front rises The Castles hillfort. You also notice a wall/fence dropping towards the stream. Treat this as an arrow pointing to where you should cross.

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Cross here – fence is broken so quite easy to hop over

Over the stream & climbing up the slopes, we found ourselves wandering in a windblast an intimidating multivallate, semi-promontory fort. Major lines of defences can still be made out, & it really is one of the hidden gems of the county. This is probably on account of the noisy mechanicals of nearby Longyester quarry putting off the feng-shui-feeling, serenity-seeking walker since 1976.

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Longyester Quarry

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Now here’s the interesting part. The stream that we followed and crossed to reach The Castles is known as the Dambadam Burn, which easily changes phonetically into Dun Badon, ie the hillfort of Badon. A famous Arthurian battle was fought at such a named place, & of course East Lothian has Arthurian connections via King Loth. At first it seems that the Badam element could relate to Saint Bathan/Bothon, to whom Yester Kirk was dedicated. Yet in the Transactions of the Antiquarian & Field Naturalists’ Society (1963/v.IX), James Bulloch wrote;

In the course of the centuries this church acquired a spurious dedication because of the similarity of its name to St. Bathans on the southern slope of the Lammermuirs. Even in the late middle ages the name Bothans became transform’d into St Bothans but there is clear evidence that the original dedication was to Saint Cuthbert. It is told in the Lanercost Chronicle that in 1282 the woodwork of the choir ‘of the church of Bothans in Lothian‘ was being carved at the expense of the rector ‘in honour of Saint Cuthbert, whose church it is.’

We also have the fact that the Roman Geographer, Ptolemy, recorded the Firth of Forth as Boderia, giving us a significant Boder-Badon correlation. Assuming that Dumbadam deriviated from Dum Badon, here is a wee chronicle I’ve assembl’d which shows how an East Lothian location makes sense, chronologically & geographically.


516, Annales Cambraie: The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were the victors. 

The Anglo-Saxons had occupied the Forth area since about 450 AD. Arthur at first kicked them out of Edinburgh, known as the Battle of Mount Agnet, before winning his final battle at Badon, after which the Anglo-Saxons were driven out of the Lothians.

 623, Annals of Ulster: The storming of  Rath Guali by Fiachna son of Baetan.

Rath Guali was the Anglo-Saxon stronghold of Bamborough, in Berwickshire. Fiachna son of Baetan was a Gaelic Scot, whose father ruled Ireland & Alba. There is an old Irish poem which reads; Many score of miles From Dun Baetan in Lethead, And much of land as of sea Between it and Imlech Ibhair.’ Imlech Ibhair is in Tipperary, Ireland, & if one were to head towards Lethead, ie Lothian, from there, & sail from Dublin to the Solway, there would indeed be equal amounts of land & sea.

Edin’s Hall Broch

 640, Annals of Tigernach: The siege of Etan.

A lot of scholars presume this to be Edinburgh, but it could also be  Edin’s Hall Broch, near Duns. If I am right, this shows how the Angles are beginning their push north again.

664, Annals of Ulster: The battle of Luith Feirn i.e. in Fortrenn. 
665, Annales Cambraie: The second battle of Badon. 

Allowing for the slight discrepancies in Irish annal-keeping, it is possible that these two battles are one & the same. Luith is clearly Lothian (feirn means land) while Fortenn (sometimes Fortriu) is essentially the Pictish world south of the Great Glen. The Roman writer, Ammianus Marcellinus, describes, ‘the Picts, divided into two tribes, called Dicalydones and Verturiones,’ from which passage we see the foundation of Fortrui in Verturiones. Fortriu naturally is the etymylogical root of Forth. Intetrstingly, at Doon Hill an Angle hall was erected c.650, which could be of significance.


After these events, in 681 Bishop Trumwine had established a Bishopric at Abercorn, near Falkirk, showing how the Angles had conquered the rest of East Lothian & beyond. The highwater mark of the invasion would come at Nechtansmere in 685, after which these fledgling sassanachs were slowly pushed back towards Berwickshire.

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The road back to the car…
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Lambs!!

Was The Castles once called Mount Badon? Probably, but only a proper archeological dig would prove the matter. If it does, the site would take on elements of national dignity, for it was the place which first held the ‘English’ from conquering Northern Britain. Our island’s first historian, Gildas, in his ‘De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae,’ after declaring the Anglo-Saxons had ‘dipped their red and savage tongue in the western ocean’ & assaulted Britain, & after a resistance had sprung up in response;

From that time, the citizens were sometimes victorious, sometimes the enemy, in order that the Lord, according to His wont, might try in this nation the Israel of to-day, whether it loves Him or not. This continued up to the year of the siege of Badon Hill (obsessionis Badonici montis), and of almost the last great slaughter inflicted upon the rascally crew. 

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Washing the Lammermuirs off Daisy

Beside the Snowy Tyne

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‘Apres nous, le deluge,’ & this morning the roads of East Lothian are flowing with snowmelt. Last Wednesday, the Zombie Apocalypse flew in from Siberia, & county-wide the streets were full of slowly shuffling pedestrians desperately hunting for bread & milk. A lot of the remoter settlements were cut off completely, out of which situations the spirit of Dunkerque bloom’d & blossom’d in the souls of all. One Garvald resident, Liz Leckie, put up a facebook post reading;

The Garvald road

So after 4 days of being unable to leave Garvald, me and Luke just made it out to get supplies. I have to confess I have loved the whole experience. Being stuck at home and realising that outside help wasn’t coming to the village meant everyone had no choice but to rely on each other and the community spirit was something to behold. Stay safe friends and remember if u can’t get milk there’s always coffeemate lol

As for me & Daisy, she really does love the snow, & thoroughly enjoyed testing her burgeoning scent-detectors by digging out balls in the garden. As for a walk, I thought it better to stick to the main arteries, & so settl’d upon an amble beside the Tyne in Haddington I’d scouted out a few weeks earlier. On that occasion I was out composing poetry, which resulted in a facebook post of my own.

My notebook on the path

So me & Daisy are out wandering Lennoxlove & Coulston while I was writing some poetry. Gets back home, & I’m like, wheres my book. Retracing my steps in a panic just before dusk, mind racing about recomposing the lost stanzas, & 3 miles later the book, my pen & the spare pencil all turn up. Result !!!

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The walk begins by parking at Tyne House in Haddington, next to the historically ornate Poldrate Arts & Crafts Cente in the wonderful Elizabeth Hamilton Buildings. It was nice to be in the county capital. Once the fourth largest town in Scotland, & clearly the most picturesque town centre in the land, Haddington is in the middle of celebrating its 700th birthday as a burgh. The town’s relatively small population of 9000 is just about to get an impressive swelling of numbers from extensive new developments all around the outskirts – perhaps enough new customers to finally convince Sainsburys to build their bloody supermarket!

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Like many other fine old mansions of yore, Tyne House has been divided up into separate tenements like some Post-Berlin-Wall-Fall communist country. Of its previous owners, Captain William Wilkie  was an interesting fellow. I cannot find a picture of him, but he would have looked something like the fellow in the painting below, which you can actually see in Haddington library at the moment as part of an exhibition by Scottish painter James Howe (1780-1836).

Wilkie was in charge of one of the two companies of Haddington Volunteers, form’d to fend off the invasion of Napoleon after the collapse of the Peace of Amiens in 1803. That Napoleon had his army ready to invade via Bolougne suggest the invasion was probably meant for the South East, but the Spanish Armada did circumnavigate the entire island, so it probably made sense. The Haddington Volunteers trained twice a week & were barracked in timber on a site where the Artillery Park housing was built. The presence of the army did the town the world of good, by the way, with soldier’s pay packets & cultural diversity enriching the inhabitants in a most positive fashion, & probably mixing up the gene-pool along the way.

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Starting the walk, while at the house, spend a moment to appreciate the graceful single segmental arch, with dressed-stone arch ring, coursed-rubble spandrels and wing walls of the Waterloo Bridge. Of its history, John Martine in his Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington (1883) writes;

There was no stone bridge across the Tyne at this point until 1817, when the Waterloo Bridge was built. There was a ford, and stepping-stones, and a wooden bridge for foot-passengers a little way above it. The mound from which this first foot-bridge started is yet well marked a little below the Sting-dam sluice. The foundation of the Waterloo Bridge was laid with high masonic honours by the Marquis of Tweeddale on the 18th June 1817, being the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. 

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With the river on your left, head along the path & its avenue of trees. There are two interesting plaques celebrating regally inspired plantings; the first for King George V’s coronation in 1910, & the second stretching all the way back to the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838!

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The two trees – one for King George & the other for his bride, Mary of Teck

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Victoria’s tree

The path continues on, where a steady steam of happy dog-walkers-in-the snow passed me & Daisy. She’s still quiet scared of bigger, older dogs, but she’s getting there. With humans she’s absolutely fine, bordering a tad on the overfriendly, & acts like she’s had a few sweet sherrys at Christmas whenever she meets someone new, often following them off into the distance.

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Three years ago, this stretch of the Tyne river walk was fitted with green bars & suggestions on how to use them aerobically. Cara Blair, Community Health and Activity Officer with East Lothian Council, explained how the idea had come about. She said: ‘We’ve been looking at how we can support people who are prone to falls and keep them as active and independent as possible.’ These ‘exercise stations’ are not quite rowing machines, but offer gentle universal routines, including ‘Knee Bends,’ ‘Side Hip Strengthener‘ & ‘Heel Walking.’

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After a wee while one reaches a white box girder footbridge, which should be crossed. We are now on the national cycleway 196, but on the day no cycles could be seen on account of the thigh-deep snow. Keeping a large hedge to its left, the path then thrusts towards the main road where, through a gate & turning right, it forms a parallel pathway to the road,. This part of the cycleway is shielded from the pedestrian (& dog) by another large hedge.

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The gap in the hedge-fence
The 16th Duke

A couple of hundred meters along this path a gap in the hedge-fence is reached, which faces onto the entrance way to the North Port of Lennoxlove Estate. I’m waiting for a little more foliage to congregate before we walk Lennoxlove, but architecturally North Port is always worth a wee diversion. The estate was bought by the Dukes of Hamilton-  the Hereditary Keepers of the Palace of Holyroodhouse – in 1946, & after he inherited the title & lands, the 16th Duke, Alexander, took up residence in the  North Port while the main house was being catered to his tastes. North Port had been built by his grandmother through the classy architect, Philip Vincent Belloc (1927-95), the noted restorer for National Trust.

What you see from the gap

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North Port – built in 1978, the year the 16th Duke was born

After our brief excursion across the road, me & Daisy returned to our walk. The path continued to skirt the snowy immensity of a massive field, before disgorging into a wee woodland world. Here the main path continues by the road, but my earlier scouting knew of a feint but very definitive path to the right that would lead me back to the iron bridge over the Tyne.

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Turn right here
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Daisy refusing to cross freezing waters (again !)

After descending sharply to a stream, followed by a wee ninja leap & of course Daisy’s stout refusal to cross an icy stream once more, & me having to go back & her here & carry her across – I found myself on the aforementioned path. With great joy I realised that the way was marked out by the prints of a family of deer, & duly followed them. To our right a sharp drop leads to the Tyne, but the path more or less sticks to a ridge.

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Eventually one comes to a segment of ruined wall, to the right of which there is gap in the fence which needs to be crawled or stooped through I’m afraid, but its well worth the physicality. Once through,  one becomes surrounded by perfect, peaceful forest; although the path must be traversed at something of an angle.

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The gap is at the center of the picture

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Daisy studying the wide variety of prints – these, she told me, were from a crow

The sloping path eventually straightens out into something neat & tree-lined, which then descends to an impressively large field. To one’s left the rushing Tyne was making the only sounds to be heard, & we found a couple of human print-trails to follow.

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Daisy impersonating a rabbit

There was one last field to cross before reaching the iron walkway across the Tyne. Keeping the river to the left, we reached a wall, top the left of which was the gap into the field. The last time I was here I kept to the margin, of course, but today I had no need as the snow was both deep & hard-packed & we skimmed the surface in the field like Eskimos on tennis-racket shoes – with the occasional plunge into softer snow being quite fun actually.

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We emerge’d here

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At the end of the field, the Tyne was rushing over a well-crafted weir, & we were soon back on the proper walkway – a bit damp, like, but somewhat spiritually cleansed by our soiree through the snow.

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Daisy on our return

Humbie Church Wood

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This morning I woke up to the smattery scattering of snowflakes that are the field scouts to the Xerxes-like ‘beast from the east’ thats about to blanket Britain, & especially East Lothian, in snow.  Throughout yesterday daytime, however, there was hardly a flurry, into which I went walking with my mate, John Wood of Haddington. For almost fifty years this delightfully kind, honest & chatty fellow was a vital member of the East lothian Courier team, at first as a compositor & in later years as a proof reader.

A drawing of pilot Archie McKellar who was killed hours after the end of the Battle of Britain

We set off in the car with a freshy groomed Daisy – courtesy of a nice lassie in Aberdlady caravan park -, out towards the SW corner of the county & the parish of Humbie. The original name was Hundeley, as in Keith Hundeley, which joined with the lands of Keith Symmars to create the modern parish. In this instance, Keith is not a man’s name, but ‘large wood’ or ‘forest.’ The area is most famous nationally for being the place where the first German plane of WW2 was shot down by ‘Forgotten Ace’ Archie McKellar from his supermarine spitfire, a Heinkel on the 28th October 1939.

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Parking up at the Upper Car Park, we followed the road downhill, during which potter Humbie Kirk came into view – a splendid sight indeed, nestled unegregious in a beautiful sheltered glen. Built in 1800, one enters the kirkyard via a free standing aisle near the gate erected by the Broun family. Once inside, old graves mingle with the new & I must admit that just as Shelley mused, ‘it might make one in love with death, to be buried in so sweet a place’, after seeing the Protestant Cemetery in Rome – where his ashes would one day be interred – I rather like the idea of spending my eternity in Humbie Kirkyard, so pleasant & so sweet a spot it is.

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The Kirk’s incumbent minister is a German lady, the Rev. Aniko Schuetz Bradwell. Apparently she is pregnant, so stand-ins are taking her services at the moment, information I found out in a flash from my companion on the scene. Very much a religious man, Mr Wood is a member of the 35,000 strong Episcopalian church in Scotland. Back in 1977 – the year after I was born – he became a part-time non-stipendiary minister, which basically means he didn’t get paid. Still, he did bring faith to the nooks & crannies of East Lothian’s Episcopalia, conducting bus stop services at Dirleton, Yester, Bolton, Garvald & Gifford.

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Older graves…
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Newer graves

The yearly sacrament at Humbie in the end of July was a great event. Being a widely scattered parish, members had to come long distances from the hills., etc, for the occaison. The church being a pretty long distance from the villages of Upper & Nether Keith, provisions of bread & cheese, ale, etc., had to be priovided in the minister’s barn & offices during the inetervals of service. William Langlands, the innkeeper at Upper Keith, was long the provider of the refreshments, & a good quantity used tt be consumed.John Martine (c.1900)

There have been many notable persons who have worshipped at the kirk, but there is also an unusuality mentioned in the 1845 Statistical Account. There is just something ‘unevolved’ about the chat which I found both fascinating & disturbing, reading; ‘it is a melancholy fact, that there are 8 insane persons in one family, & one in each of two others; but all of them are harmless & inoffensive. The parents of these individuals are correct in their conduct & industrious, though they discover such a degree of mental imbecility as might indicate that the malady is hereditary.’ 

The inhabitants are industrious, & satisfied with their conditiuon. – It is not in the recollection of the oldest person among them, that an inhabitant of this parish has been punished for any crime. Dram-drinking, so prevalent in other parts of Scotland, is a vice utterly unknown, as might be expected from a people, among whom no manufacture has ever been established, & whose sole employment, that of a very few indiviuals, is agriculture. Stat. Acct. Scot. (1799)

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Leaving the kirkyard, we passed under an arch at the old stables, beyond which a renovated Doo-Cot came into view on our left. Once home to 500 nesting pigeons, its now a private residence. From here, the road forges forward to one of the oldest bottleheads in the area. Crossing over the Humbie Water since 1645, the ‘Kirk Bridge’ linked the drovers roads of Haddington to the Borders & beyond. It was originally built at his own expense by Adam Hepburn, a senator for justice & large landholder around Humbie. The bridge was only just remade last year, tho’ retaining much of its original shape & structure

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Crossing the bridge, & passing an idyllic cottage to our left, we finally entered Humbie Church Wood. Looking at the map we had three choices of route:  the 0.5 kilometre ‘Sycamore’ (green), the 2K ‘Scots Pine’ (blue) & the 2.5K Beech (red). Choosing the moderate nature of the blue route we were soon off, climbing a steep rocky path up onto a plateaux of sorts, out of which grew a great deal of forestry. In such a wood, at this time of year, the large & lovely trees appear like twisted gargoyles caught in their last moments of stycharine agony before being ossified by some errant Medusa.

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In his excellent time-capsule of a book, Reminiscences & notices of the Parishes of the County of Haddington (1894), the venerable John Martine records possible spookiness in the area;

An old tradition has been handed down about a mysterious lady dressed in white garments who usesd to appear at night walking in the lady wood (no doubt called after her) which is on the banks of the Humbie Water, opposite the church. Old people long ago firmly believed in the existence of the lady. The tradition is still current in the parish that she was a member of the old family of the Hepburns of Humbie

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Humbie Church Wood is famous for harbouring the only colony of the North African herb, Cochlearis Megalosperma in Scotland. How it get to the county no-one knows, but I am of Arabic descent myself (on my father’s side), & was also blown to East Lothian by random &  contravening winds. What are native to Scotland, however, are Humbie Church Wood’s magnificent oaks, which even gain a mention Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion

The green sward way was smooth & good,
Through Humbie & through Salton’s wood,
a forest glade, which, varying still,
Here gave a view of hill & dale,
There narrow, closed, till overhead,
A vaulted screen the branches made.

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It was in the presence of Mr Wood that I realised age is just a number. For an eighty year old man, John was nimble on his feet, tho’ he did say he finds it hard to watch a full TV programme to the end, with the inevitable head-droop cutting short the fun. John tries to go for a walk every day, proving that activity & healthy longevity are happily intertwined. The one thing about his age & generation, lets say, is that by not using the internet, his neighbour knows more about what his daughter is doing on the other side of Scotland than he does.

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Following the blue woodland route, below us, through the huge depth of a terrific valley, the Humbie water maintained its torturous course, at one point cascading down a small waterfall. Above it all & inside the trees, brushing forwards through the quantaties of spindling naked branches felt very much like being in a cave full of cobwebs. It was also extremely quiet; ears straining to hear through a complete lack of breeze the individual chirps of birds & the gentlest gurgles of stream-water. At this point our chat lay also becalm’d & we happily enjoy’d the moment.

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After a wee while the path began to drop to the Humbie Water, with the path becoming more & more mud-churned as we did so. The crossing was made via rocks in the stream – Daisy point blank refused & scampered back the way we came, resulting in a minute-long dash to fetch her back across the stream in my arms. From here the walk continued, a little disorientating, but always kept in check by well-placed sign-posts & the sacred blue arrows of our walk.

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Almost back at the car

Eventually we came to a big pile of logs on our left & ahead the woods took on a familiar look from earlier. A few minutes later we were back at the kirk & climbing the road back to the car. At this point Mr Wood began singing ‘Daisy, Daisy,’ with the most dulcet tones, a most salubrious conclusion to our mid-day walk.

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My red pepper & courgette soup – Mr Wood chose ‘cream of mushroom’

Not far away in the village lies the Humbie Hub, & we decided to get some coffee & soup there. A great wee spot – a shop & eaterie combined – Daisy was wooing all the ladies there with her cuteness  while we skimm’d through a book of old Humbie photos assemble by John Bolton. Among them was one of a certain local landowner, Miss Christian Nisbet. Apparently, way back in the day, John had to ask her permission for his Sunday School outings to have a picnic on her land at Stobshiel, where the Wanside Reservoir is. I wonder what Miss Nisbet would make of the Access Code of Scotland (2003).

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John still gets this magazine in 2018