Category Archives: 2018

Circlin’ Kilspindie

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.”

The path is to the left of the Kirk

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.

The Castle is the clump is the clump in the centre of the picture

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.

The Kilspindie 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.

Take the path to the left

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.

Waterston’s story as a POW can be read here

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!

Gary examining Lucy Newton’s ‘Pair of Shags’ – top left

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.

Your author checking out a telescope made available to the public

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!

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Yester’s Goblin Ha’


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.

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The Waggonway

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


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

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

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

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

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

Battle of Prestonpans – the Riggonhead Night March by Andrew Hillhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of Prestonpans by Andrew Hillhouse

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

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

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

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

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


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



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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torness Nuclear Power Station

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

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

Daisy grabbing a drink

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

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

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

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

Turn left here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 4th

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

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

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

June 9th

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

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

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

June 15th 1815

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


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

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








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Aroon’ Saltoun


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


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



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


Turn right here…


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






Turn right at the end of the path…


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


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






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







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

Turn right…





Turn right…




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





Taking notes in the field…


Over the gate & turn right…

Turning right gives you this view – drop down






Over the Brins brings you here, take the left track

Hop over the fence to the left-centre of picture



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


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



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

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

The ill-fated Darien colony which bankrupted Scotland

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

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

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





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








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










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North Berwick Beach


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

North Berwick John Adair Map 1682

North Berwick first came to prominence as a ferry-port for pilgrims heading to check out the relics of Saint Andrew held in sacred posterity up in Fife. Eventually the Poshfolk moved in, stopping the London-Edinburgh train at Drem with angry, panting brusqueness, pallavaring all over the shop as they unloaded their baggage; which included golf clubs, dogs, guns, fishing tackle & all the other detritus of the Poshfolks’ regimented holidays.

Here Tatler-photographed cabinet ministers brushed shoulders with the highest socialites, & destinies of entire peoples were determined over smoky suppers  – Lord Balfour creating Israel & that decision’s endless interational aggravations are a classic example of a drunken scheme cooked up on too much brandy down the ‘Club.’

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

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


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



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



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





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



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


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




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




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


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

Om Beach



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Leaving West Bay Beach




The view from the Castle Mound

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


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


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

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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.



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.

Approaching the fork



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




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


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




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







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

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

Dunbar’s Golden Targe

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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



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






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




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





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






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






Here be nettles….

Not happy…

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




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







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


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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.


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





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

Take the greenway to the right

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





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

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


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



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



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





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

Whiteadder appearing on the descent

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




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


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

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

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

Gamelshiel in winter

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




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



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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.



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.



A Virgin Train heading south


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.



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



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.




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.


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.



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.



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.



The aviary



Interesting iron…


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 center on the site 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.


Turn right here…



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.


The site of the Roman fort


Sir_Archibald_Hope_of_Pinkie,_Baronet,_Knight_of_The_Turf.gifOf the graves checked out by me & Daisy, a few stood out, including quite a number of Napoleonic victims, such as William Norman Ramsay whose body was reinterred in the graveyard from the very fields of Waterloo. A rather interesting grave was that of the anonymous Mary; perhaps the illegitimate sister of a wealthy nobleman. Another was the impressive family tomb of Sir Archilbald Hope, who appears as a portly portrait in John Kay’s ‘Knight of the Turf.’ This classic Scottish Enightenment figure drained and cultivated a marshy piece of land south of Edinburgh – known today as The Meadows, but historically often referred to as Hope Park.




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.





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.




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


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


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.



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).




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).



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.





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.


Looking left down the stream-valley towards Kidlaw


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.


Approaching The Ministers

The view of the road from The Ministers

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.




Looking back the way we came…

Veer right here



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.





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




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…

Kidlaw hillfort

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




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.



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.


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.


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.


Longyester Quarry


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, especially after the medieval Scottish chronicler, John of Fordun, described Badon as Mount Badamor. 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.

The road back to the car…


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