Around New Winton

What a wonderful series of sunny days. It always happens in Scotland like this. You get some kind of sustained period of sunshine in April or May, which gets everyone saying its going to be a great Summer, then there might really only be one more period like it all the way through to September. Anyway, bets enjoy it while we can.

This new walk was created over three visits. New Winton is on the route of one of my dogwalks, while dogwalking is allowed under the government rules as employment which can definitely not be done indoors. The reason it took three visits is that the walks around New Winton are almost as labyrinthine as the palaces of Knossos.

There are three routes to follow, all of which start from a small parking space by the side of the B6335, about 300 meters to the south east of the town of the village. I don’t really need to write so much about where to go, its all quite logical & also fun to explore. After Walk Two there’s a wee write-up about New Winton, while in the middle of Walk One there’s me reciting some Chinese poetry!


The Car Park


A crossroad of sorts – to the left is Winton Loop North – straight ahead is this walk
The intersecting path (Path B) follows the route of the old railway line – there was once a Winton staion nearby

Lots of cyclists in the area

Both left & right courses work
The left course

The gate back to the old railway


Looking across the road from the car

The fork in the path – bare right

Bramble bushes on the left

Here you can take the first path left & head back to Winton via aa field, or go on a bit further & then turn right through woodland

From the road head into the field & bare right to arrive back at the carpark




New Winton possesses a charm that is not relative to its size. It dates back to the mid 19th- century when the original houses were built by Lady Ruthven of Winton House to replace ones close to falling down near to the main house.

The modern houses being built on the other side of the road

The Square at New Winton comprises a mix of predominantly 19th century cottages, built by Lady Ruthven. On the opposite side of the road a small square has been built, and Gilbert Ogilvy designed some of the houses in the 1930s. The whole makes a delightful rural scene.



Heading along the old railiway route

A relic from the railways

Turn left at the boulders

Do NOT take this bridge, but you can if you want obviously

Reaching the main road – New Winton is to the left

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Levenhall Links

Ah Coronavirus, the hysteria across the planet is through the roof, except for Sweden & Belorussia, the latter of whom possesses the only football league playing anywhere. The only thing people in the UK are really allowed to do is, well, walk, but the Facebook groups are on fire with chat about people going for drives in the country, so I thought I’d find an accessible urban walk instead.


So get yourself to Levenhall village, on the eastern edge of Musselburgh, & for the aspiring gentlemen one of the best places in East Lothian to live. There’s a decent pub, a lovely local community shop, a nine hole golf course, a racetrack & to walk the hounds the wonderful Levenhall Links.



The best place to park is along the road, Hope Place, that heads to the sea from the pub. At the end of the road the open expanse of Levenhall is revealed.



Follow the path awhile, but instead of bearing left to skirt the racecourse, carry straight on towards the sea. After a wee while you’ll reach a long , straight path which you will take to the right.




At the end of the track, turn left at the trees & skirt them for a wee while with the woods on your right & the open greenery on the left. There are two paths breaking into the woods, & its better to take the one about two thirds of the way along the woodline.






The path meanders forwards & to the left, & breajs out into the level greenery, Here one should head towards the sea, when you will soon come to a long straight path. take this to the left.






You will now skirt the Bird Reserve to your right until the path opens up to a new wide space – straight ahead is the lovely little artificial lake at the heart of the area, which we will take to its right.  The lake is one of two areas of Levenhall Links that have been designated as part of the Firth of Forth Special Protection Area and are an important roosting site for wading birds at high tide, and the only major roost between Cramond and Aberlady. The boating lake attracts up to 200 wigeon who graze on the bank during the winter.



Levenhall Links are one of the most popular sites for birdwatching in the vicinity of Edinburgh. The ash lagoons have provided a roost site for gulls, shorebirds and terns; while the seawall provides excellent views of the flocks of sea ducks such as common eider, velvet scoter, red-breasted merganser, long-tailed duck and common goldeneye. Many rare visitors have been seen over the years including white-winged scoter, surf scoter, Wilson’s phalarope, western sandpiper, marsh sandpiper, Franklin’s gull and citrine wagtail. It has hosted three terns which had their first occurrences for Scotland here; namely Forster’s tern, lesser crested tern and royal tern. It is also one of the most regular sites in Scotland for the Mediterranean gull.


As the lake bgins to curve left, instead continue in the same direction  like a sattelite sling-shot, & follow the long straight path to the sea.





At the sea-wall, turn left & head in the direction of distant Edinburgh along National Cycle route 76. Today was a wild & windy clear vistas wonder, when its always a pleasure to be beside the Forth. I encourage future tenants of this walk to check on the weather first to get the fullest pleasure from the experience.





When you reach two concrete bollard thingies, turn left & head into the Levenhall hinterland. On the right are still grassed over ash mounds from which Levenhall Links is kinda formed.  The 134 hectares of land were reclaimed from the sea by building a sea wall and pumping large amounts of pulverised fuel ash from teh now-no-more coal fired Cockenzie Power Station into a number of ash lagoons.



At the junction below, turn left.





Follow the long, straight path for quite a while until just before you reach the loch again. Then, at a point like a bicycle burn, turn right & head across the greenery to the barriers towards the racecourse. At this point turn left & follow the barriers towards the start point, or perhapes even head along a woodland path instead which runs parralel to the barriers.





Musselburgh Racecourse is the second biggest racecourse in Scotland (the first being Ayr) and the fourteenth biggest in the UK.The course offers both flat racing and National Hunt meetings (though it only introduced jumping in 1987) and is 2 km long. The first races in Musselburgh took place in 1777 under the auspices of the Royal Caledonian Hunt. Between 1789 and 1816, race meetings were held on the sands at Leith, although some races did still take place in the town. In 1816, they returned permanently to Musselburgh, to a course that had been laid out for them by the town council. The Hunt were so pleased with the new course that they distributed 50 guineas amongst the town’s poor.



Musselburgh was once certified as being the oldest golf course in the world by Guinness World Records (but more recently they reassigned this ‘record’ to St Andrews). There is documented evidence that golf was played at the links in 1672, and it is claimed that Mary, Queen of Scots, played nearby (at Seton) in 1567. Musselburgh Links was originally seven holes, with an 8th added in 1838 and the 9th in 1870. Musselburgh was one of the three courses which staged The Open Championship in rotation in the 1870s and 1880s, alongside Prestwick and the Old Course at St Andrews. It was selected because it was used by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, and it hosted six Opens in all, the first in 1874 and the last in 1889.

The Parralel Woodland Path

Daisy Napping Afterwards

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Sauchet & Stenton

Am I actually breaking away from the Death-Star grip of the Gododdin Heritage Trail for 2020? Indeed I am, & I’ve found a cool one to start. It begins by parking the car just to the south of the Ruchlaw Mains pig farm, which lies on the road between East Linton & Stenton. You can’t really miss it for the smell, I mean, the family business farms over 27,000 sows and 1,000 ewes & they make a decidely interesting pong.


Cars are a bit fast here & you park right by the road, so  pop your dog(s) on a lead before you let them out. Crossing the road will only take a few wee doggy leaps, by the way, to the stony stile, which forms the entrance to what will be a circuitous walk.


You are now in a field with, on one side, excellent views of the rocks of East Lothian – Traprain, North Berwick Law & the Bass. On the other side you’ll catch a glimpse of the pastel white, 3-storey L-plan Ruchlaw House.


Built in the early 17th century for local nobleman Archibald Sydserff of Lowden, Bailie of Edinburgh, this baronial property was bought in 1950 by famous Scottish playwright, screenwriter and physician James Bridie. Well, this was a pseudonym actually, for Osborne Henry Mavor, who took his pen-name from his paternal grandfather’s first name and his grandmother’s maiden name. After serving as a military doctor during World War I, he turn’d his attention to writing comedy plays, becoming a full-time writer in 1938, the first chairman of the Arts Council in Scotland & founder of the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow (1943).


He returned to the army during World War II, again serving as a doctor before becoming instrumental in the establishment of both the Edinburgh International Festival & the Glasgow College of Dramatic Art, part of the Royal Conservatoire today. The Bridie Library at the Glasgow University Union is named after him, as is the annual Bridie Dinner that takes place in the Union each December. All of that form lofty laurels indeed, but there’s more, for Bridie even worked with the director Alfred Hitchcock in the late 1940s on Under Capricorn (1949) & Stage Fright (1950).

For film buffs, Under Capricorn is renowned for this epic double-shot six and a half minute sequence (a 1m40s take combined with a 5m20s take); elaborately staged to move in and out of the house and back and forth through multiple rooms, while the new guest (Wilding) pieces together the subtext being revealed, all of it leading up the dramatic introduction of the mistress of the house for the first time in the film. Quality stuff & among of the last pieces of art Bridie would have enjoyed before his death by stroke in Edinburgh, 1951.

James Bridie – 1948

Follow the path to the trees, but instead of hopping over the wall into the woods (we’ll be coming back this way), turn left instead & skirt the trees for a while.

You will soon enough get a fine view of a fine wind turbine, with a wonderful vista of eastern East Lothian as a backdrop. The big white spinny thing caused quite a flutter among the agricultural community when it was first erected on account of it being the brainchild of a prodigal son returning from university. Jamie Wyllie of Ruchlaw Mains Farm had studied Agriculture and Business Management at Reading University, & having completed his dissertation on renewable energy, basically blagged his dad it was a good idea to set up a Vergnet turbine for all their power needs & benefit from the Feed‐in Tariff that sells the excess back to the grid. One expects that from the recent exploits of Storm Chiara & Storm Dennis they’d have made a few extra bob.

Jamie and James Wyllie with their Vergnet GEV MP-R 250kW wind turbine (2013)

‘It’s worked well,’ pointed out Jamie at the time, ‘ it’s more immersed in the local landscape than a larger turbine may have been,’ & it definitely does blend in quite well to the contours. Jamie also stated that,  ‘we can see exactly how much it produces every day through information fed back to our mobile phones,‘ which is just so, well, real!

Back on the walk, continue skirting the trees til you come to an opening & a rising track – take this. It leads you to a handsome field, which you should skirt to the left.

You eventually come to a drop into another field, at the bottom right corner of which is the access to the woods. There’s no opening as such, just a load of fallen moss-covered stones, a bit like when copper coins turn green in fountains.

So we’re now in the woods, which has lots of uppy-downy bits, riverside snowdrops,  budding wild garlic, plus a tangl’d heap of well-marked out paths. The general idea is to head west – you can’t really go east anyway – & cross the Sauchet at a bridge.

There are 3 sub-loops to the main path, a kind of vegetated quarry vibe at the start, a brilliant riverside loop in the middle, plus a neat little riverside diversion just before the bridge. I mean, this walk isn’t the longest in East Lothian, but its certainly one of the most satisfying, & the loops are ideal to stretch out the time a bit.

The start of the central loop – its better to stay right here (POINT A)

Approaching the second entrance to the loop
Following the central loop back along the river

It was by the Sauchet Water that a Late Bronze Age axe was discovered, a Kalemouth variant of the Type Portree. It is untrimm’d, socketed, with a smooth green surface brittle in places, haft ribs, plus scratch marks on the blade. Measurementwise its length is 73 mm, mouth 22 x 28 m,m,. cuting edge 47 mm & weight 205. All records of its original owner have been lost.

The steep path up to the main path (POINT A)

Once satisfying a natural compulsion to do the loop, carry on beyond the second entry point, this time keeping right, you’ll soon come to a y-shaped fork. Turning back on yourself on the right prong will take you back to the beginning of the walk, but first things first we’re gonna carry straight on & reach the bridge, cross the Sauchet & up ourselves into Stenton.

Once over the bridge you turn left & climb up some woodpath steps. You then reach a point where there’s a playing field to the right – ignore the entrance to this & keep following the path straight ahead.

The path hits the back walls of Stenton & turns sharp left, which brings you to a door that says BOWLING GREEN. Now I’d say you can tell a lot about a community from the state of its bowling green, & OMG Stenton’s is immaculate. Perhaps the finest I’ve ever seen. The rest of the village aint bad either, by the way, & well worth a wee wander as long as you remember to pop yer dogs on their leads.

Stenton bowling club was instituted at a meeting in 1876, with the following being the first minute which appears in the Minute Books.

Stenton, August 2nd, 1876

On the evening of which a meeting was held inthe School of those favourable of the construction of a Bowling Green for theparish.

Mr. Sydserff of Ruchlaw was unanimously called to teh chair. The Rev. Mr. Marjoribanks shortly addressed the meeting, & stated that he heartily approved of the scheme, & believed that it would conduce to the moral well-being of the parish.

The chairman & others having also spoken approvingly of the movement, the following Committee were appointed.

My Sydserff, Mr. Majoribanks, Mr. Fraser, Mr. Higgins, r. Purves, Mr. Tweedie, Mr. Stewart, Mr.Cockburn, Mr. Duncanson, Mr. Harrower & Mr. A. Dickson. Mr Sydserff of Ruchlaw to act as Chairman – & Mr Marjoribanks as Secretary & Treasurer.

The meeting resolved to meet the next evening for fixing upon a site for the green.

The Founders and their professions in the Parish

Two possible sites popped up – one behind the old well – where the village hall now stands – & of course the site where it settled for eternity.  In those days the land lay at the back of Mr Duncanson’s garden in Mr Purves’s field. By March the next year the green was ready – at a  coast of £109…8…4 – , & the minutes tell us that a Mr. Lees from Archerfield was invited to inspect the work – & approved most heartily, resulting in the first ever game of bowls at Stenton on the 17th August 1877.  This saw Linton’s Hamilton (skip) & Pettigrew beat Trotter (skip) & Cockburn 39-20  over two matches.

Retracing your steps, turn left at the gate & enter delightful Stenton.
The older properties are built of locally quarried stone and are predominantly roofed with red clay pantiles – it gives the core of the village a really unifying character.

I mean, its just a well-preserved time capsule of a place. Alright, there a re a few new builds cottages on the eastern edge, but the central core is such a compact package of antiquity, I dare anyone not seeing it for the first time to marvel at its magic.

Although it never seems to have had the status of a burgh, its layout reflects the burghal pattern in miniature. Thus, houses and businesses with long, thin garden plots lying behind behind line either side of a road. Stenton once housed a baker, tailors, clothier, grocer, shoemakers, a couple of general merchants (licenced) and a spirit dealer as well as what later directories call ‘dealers in sundries’ – corner shops today.

But that was then & this is now & what Twenty-Twenty Stenton seriously lacks are useful amenities – there’s been no shop or pub for years, while the gallery & the fruit farm at Ruchlaw closed down a decade or so ago. I rememeber when I stayed at Heather Lodge I used to cycle to the fruit farm to buy an ice lolly more for the novelty effect of spending money in the neighbourhood, but thosee days are gone. You can buy kilts in Stenton, but otherwise the only way to actually spend real money is to hop on a bus to Spott, Dunbar & Innerwick

What I also love about Stenton is that Blind Harry mentions Stenton in his poem, ‘The Wallace,’ describing how William Wallace had rewarded Sir Robert de Lawedre with the lands of Stenton in 1297. Now I couldn’f find the reference – its a volumous epic – but it reminds me of the time I blended Harrys Wallace & Barbour’s bruce into a single poem called The Scotiad – here’s an extract where I transliterate one of Blind Harry’s most famous bits.

18 The Blind Minstrel’s Lament

Upon a rock oer foaming flood,
Oor haggard-eyed, blind minstrel stood
With master’s hand & prophet’s fire,
He struck deep sorrows with a lyre;
“Alas, to whom shall we complain?
Alas, who shall restrain oor pain?
Alas, we have lost oor good light?
Alas, who shall defend oor right?
Alas, more pain approaches near
&, sorrowful, is set in fear,
Alas, oor greatest governor
Has come unto his fatal hour,
Alas, where shall oor comfort be?
Who shall now make poor Scotland free?
Where is the soul of freedom fled?
Immingled with the mighty dead
Beneath the turf where Wallace lies
& all of us puggl’d by sighs,
His name is found like flowers wild,
His deeds across the country piled;
Castle & tower, butt & leap,
The bed where Wallace once did sleep,
The camp, the isle, the well, the seat,
The stone where Wallace wash’d his feet,
The port from where his boat set sail…”
About him flew a phrenzied gale,
Stood on the summit of a ben,
God’s grandeur there reveal’d to men,
Then aiming lungs toward the south
He piped a song that mouth-to-mouth
Had pass’d down ages since the times
The Picts made music to their rhymes.

In 1681, the Hamiltons of Pressmennan and Biel secured an act enabling a weekly market and a twice yearly fair at Stenton; the remains of the market tron still mark the site where the markets were held in to the middle of the 19th century: now a pleasant green on the north side of the village. A tron was a public weigh post and beam, used for the bulk measurement of, in Stenton’s case, the wool clip and hides sold at the market. This wool would have come from the Lammermuir sheep, which hills the parish of Stenton pierces for several miles.

The Tron in summer

Back in 2020, & as far as the walk goes, help yourslef to a potter & an explore, tho don’t go passed the wee school at the western edge of the village, or the kirk to the east. Once you’re done, you need to head to the village hall, back at the central green & its annual colony of crocus.

Stenton Village Hall was built in 1913 and recently refurbished and extended as part of a community project completed in 2017. I was there on a Thursday, which sees the weekly 2 hour visit of the post office whith every emenity availbale as you would in the high street.


Portable Post Office


Passing the hall to its left & a playpark to your right brings you to a wee playing field, at the far right hand corner of which is the entrance to the path & the return mission. Simply retrace your steps & when you come to the fork in the photo, turn left.

You soon come to a stone stile over which you’ll find yourself at the end of the path that shoots spear-like to the start of this, what can only say, cool walk. The Sauchet water & its hair which flows like a bonnie woman’s ribbon of hair is one of the county’s secret & very special waterways. While Stenton needs to be seen to be believed!

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The Gododdin Heritage Trail: The Lennoxlove Loop & Back to Haddington


So here we are at last, the final leg of the circuit of the Gododdin Heritage Trail. Its been quite the thirteen months, reigniting my interest in the Gododdin, then slowly applying it to a golden circle of pathways around the heart of the county.



We were last at the edge of the Colstoun Estate, ready to turn left along the tarmac road. This takes you by a the main gates to Colstoun on the left & alonside a tall wall on the right, beyond which lies the Lennoxlove Estate. After a hundred more metres or so, at the edge of the Lennoxlove woodland, a road splits off to the right in the direction of some cottages. Take this.

Beyond the cottages the road drives forward towards Lennoxlove House. About half way there you come to a bridge, where if you peel off to the right you begin what I have called the Lennoxlove Loop, which I’ll detail more at the end of this post.

Turn right at the bridge for the Lennoxlove Loop

Carrying on along the Heritage Trail, you will eventually reach the grounds of Lennoxlove House, keeping left of it until you come to a fork in the road. Turn left at this point.

But before you do, its nice to bask in the open glory of magnificence-clothed  Lennoxlove, communing with the ghosts who flitted down from the abandon’d their 15th century tower, to whisper in my ear of  the past (via wikipedia). Lennoxlove House is built around the original 15th century tower house of ‘Lethington,’ which the estate was once call’d. It is now the seat of the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, but were in the hands of the Mailtand family for many centuries after its acquisition by Robert Maitland of Thirlestane in 1345. Among his descendents is a quality poet, Richard Maitland (1496–1586),  quite unknown these days, but positively worth transliterating out of Old Scots into modern English.

After his father had died at Flodden, the young Richard made the fateful decision to obtain a formal education and attend university in Paris. This set him up for a career in the Law, & he would become both a councillor for Mary, Queen of Scots & one of the top judges in Scotland as a Lord of the Privy Seal. As a poet, like all the best bards he went blind, but unfortunately I couldn’t actually find any of his poetry online. This forced me to pop up to the Rare Books section of the National Library in Edinburgh for a wee peruse. It turns out the guy was really, really good – his set pieces are intense with canny observation & wordplay. I find some of the old makar stuff of say, Dunbar &  Henryson, a little too formulaic, too courtly – but Maitland has a genuine & funky poetic voice.

The Rare Books room in the NLS

After the Maitlands, the house passed through several hands before finally ending up in the possession of the Dukes of Hamilton.  The 14th Duke bought it in 1946, & not long after clositer’d the fascinating relics of his bizarre brush with Rudolf Hess,  the Reich number 2 & the guy who transcribed Mein Kampf while Hitler dictated it during the fledgeling Fuhrer’s imprisonment at Landsberg prison in 1924.  Almost twenty years later,  their worldscape was very different, embroiled in a fatal war which would eventually kill 55 million people  including Hitler himself.

Perhaps envisioning all this, Hess flew on his own to Britain on May 10, 1941,  in a desperate attempt to broker a peace between Britain & Nazi Germany. He was heading for the Duke of Hamilton, & crash-landing in a field south of Glasgow was picked up by a pitchfork wielding farmer, & then the army.  Hitler was furious, Churchill simply ignored him, & Hess went on to lead a solitary life as the only prisoner at Spandau Prison in Berlin until his death in 1987, more than four decades after his ill-fated flying mission. The relics at Lennoxlove include the map & compass found in Hess’s possession & a bit of fuselage from the plane.

Back on the Heritage Trail, the road runs through the estate, passing cottages, farm buildings & really cool petrol thingy, before reaching the main road to Haddington.

Crossing the road brings you to a pleasant roadside path. Turn left here BUT, if you want to check out the site of Gilbert Burns’ cottage – that is to say Rabbie Burns’ brother – if you turn left & bob along a couple of hundred metres you’ll see some interesting memorial stuff. The following is an extract from a walk that never made it to the final W.E.L….

Gilbert Burns Country

The walk begins in a wee carpark off the 6137 (between Haddington & Bolton), in the vicinity of the long-swept away cottages in which members of Rabbie Burns’ close family were to spend the closing decades of their lives.

A few years after Rab’s death in Dumfries, his mother Agnes, his brother Gilbert, & his sister Isabella, along with multiple spouses & bairns & dogs & stuff, found themselves as the tenants of ‘Grants Braes,‘ with Gilbert running the Lennoxlove farms. Grants Braes stood roughly on the site where the carpark is today, & one may still sense their ghosts huddled around a fiery phantasma, reciting Rabbie’s poetry in the earliest, perhaps purest, versions of the Burns Supper.

After spending a  few years in Scotland, by 2009 I had finally managed to penetrate Rabbie’s thick dialect & realised just how good a poet he was. Inspired to eulogize somewhat, I created some stanzas in imitation of his standard hubbie during the year of the Homecoming celebration (2009). There’s a few in particular that would shine a light onto the farming life experienced by the Burns family.

Of poesy & her best of men
I sing, a name that maist must ken,
Its notes still sound through street & glen,
From fame’s flaught horn;
What years are flown, twelve score & ten,
Since Burns was born.

His father toiled thro’ snow & sun,
Crafting an marvellous garden,
Grafting for friendly gentlemen,
Of small estate,
Whose first born, Rab, tho’ poor man’s son,
Was rich in fate.

The home of young Rabbie, Ayrshire

They settl’d by the gentle Doon,
With kettle-happy Granma’ Broun,
Who whistl’d muckle lip-suck’d tune
While cooking neeps,
Or mutter’d tayles neath bright’ning moon
To frighten sleeps.

He wove his rhymes through thankless work,
Or blanking out the Sunday kirk,
Or in romantic woodland walk
By Aire & Doon;
His style; fourth verse, fourth prose, fourth talk,
Fourth lover’s croon.

So onto the walk. You park the car directly before a monument to the Gilbert Burns-East Lothian connection, behind which you access a woodland trail. Taking the slope down to the right, me & Daisy found ourselves in a leafless wood, coloured only by shocks of bright yellow daffodillies.

The well which nourished the Burns family

After a short while we came to a well, the same one used by Burns’ mother, drawn by the very hands that fed the great poet. After a moments delicate musing, we carried along the undulating path, which eventually reached the main road.

Back on the Heritage Trail, the path eventually bears left at a signpost, in the direction of the River Tyne. Me & Daisy had trodden the very same path early March 2018, in much snowier conditions.

On reaching the bridge, turn left then rigth & head towards the Aubigny Leisure Centre. Across the road from it is the entrance to the very fine Neilson Park.

George Neilson was a Haddington shopkeeper. He died in 1897 and left a sum of money for public beneficence. His trustees purchased an area of ground known as Mylne’s Park for a public park and recreation ground: it was in use by 1910.

Nielson Park Road

From the park, one enters Nielson Park Road & its award winning toilet – then you are the heart of Haddington & the circle is finally complete! For the rest of 2020 me & Daisy will be exploring other parts of this fabulous county – so thanks for your patience & tune in soon.

Daisy’s Lunch
Human Lunchtime in Haddington


At the bridge, on looking east there appears a great surge of woodland, into which the walker must pass via a track that appears on the left, just as you cross over an old bridge above the Colstoun Water. This path leads you pleasantly towards a wee bamboo plantation situated beside a zipline & a derelict bridge, the accoutrements of a Scottish Environmental Protection Agency unit.

Turn left here after the bridge

Carrying on, to the left of the path are some curious topographical depressions , while everywhere is blankets in leaves, creating a chip-board effect underfoot. Turning right at the troll tree, & keeping an old wall to one’s right the path continues with a veer to the left into spiky dense greenerie. As you head towards a gate in the distance, eventually a path breaks off to the right, which should be taken.

The Troll Tree

The path is half way along here on the right
The new path

Our new path led us thro’ a gorse tunnel of sorts to a tarmac road. Following this to the left leads to a bigger road’s T-junction, which we took to the right. A hundred meters later we came to a lodge house & the entrance to the Colstoun Estate. Flush with wild garlic & with the moles building a metropolis, its a wild corner of Colstoun, not quite as primly kept as the rest of the estate across the river..  You glimpse it’s manicured acreage thro’ the trees; the agricultural wind-tunnel thingy, the glamorous old house, but for me & Daisy we were heading directly  to the far right corner of the woods

Back at the road from whence one came

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The Gododdin Heritage Trail: The Colstoun Loop

So begins the penultimate leg of the Gododdin Heritage Trail. My original plan was to have it done by Christmas, & focus on walks around other parts of the county for 2020. Of course the festive season got in the way of all that, but we’ll be finished soon enough so all good!

For a new decade I shall be introducing a new feature – a paypal button. I mean, I do all this for free, but a bit of petrol money will never go amiss, & Daisy always needs feeding. The first fifty pounds, by the way, will go towards upgrading the site & getting rid of all those alien adverts!

We were last in Gifford, enjoying the succor & scenery. At this point the Trail follows the course of the Haddington road for about a third of a mile. It is possible to traverse some of this section via the field to the right, however, if the traffic does your head in.

At the foot of the slope one comes to a wee parking area on the left & a gate. Passing through the latter, one arrives at one of the best kept paths in the county. With a fence on one side & a riverlet on the other its also great for de-wandering dogs, I take some of my feistier Fetch East Lothian clients there.

A local volunteer strimming the path

What follows is a lovely mile or so of meandering by illustriously crystal waterflow & under ruggedly gushing woods. After a bit you’ll come to a gate in a tall deer fence. This should be taken. It is also possible to follow the path to the left, which trundles on delightfully all the way to the village of Bolton. At one point you can even turn back on yourself & head towards this point, forming the aforetitled Colstound Loop. At the end of this post I’ll show you just how that one goes.

Trail thro the gate (left), Loop to the right

Back to the main trail, one now begins a mild ascent through some extremely pretty woodland, especially in winter when one can gaze effortlessly through the branches at the rivervale below.

At the top of the rise you’ll reach another gate & then enter a huge section of field. Following the path, you pass a house on the left & come to a farm track. At this point the footpath heads straight ahead, indeed to follow the Colstoun Loop you will keep going. However, for the concerns of the Heritage Trail we shall here be turning right & heading along the farm track.

IMG_20191217_101715 (1)
Turn right here

About 200 meters up the way the track forks, where we’ll be going left, skirting the field with a large gamebird pen area on our right. The track then turns right, then right again at the end of which there is a house on the left just before a T-Junction. Turn left here.

Turn left at the truck

Right for the Trail, left to the main house

The next section heads north towards Haddington, a lovely & serene stroll through the Colstoun Estate. My searching for Gododdin has led me to make a match between the name Colstoun & that of Golstan. In the Gododdin poem we read (my translation);

It was his heart’s first custom to defend,
Gododdin versus very best of foes,
In battle’s van avenging vehemence,
It was his body’s custom, lion-swift,
To run on predatory shifting hordes,
Custom it was for Golstan’s sov’reign son
To listen to his father’s worldly words,
Custom was kept when Mynyydawg him held
To ruin regal shield & redden lance
Before the lord of Eidyn, Urfai, sworn.

Elsewhere in the Dark Age genealogies we see an Uffa, son of Guillam Guercha; with the Guil- element connecting to the Gol- of Golstan and Uffa connecting to Urfai. The Guercha element then leads us to a 6th century northern warrior known as Gwrgi, who appears with his brother in several sources.

Gwrgi & Peredur are the sons of Eliffer of the Great Retinue son of Arthwys son of Mar son of Keneu son of Coel
Descent of the Men of the North

573: The battle of Arfderydd between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad.
Annales Cambraie

580: Gwrgi and Peredur – sons of Elifert – died
Annales Cambraie

Here we see plenty of genuine historically attested Arthurian references;- Arthur himself appears as Arthwys, Peredur is Pheredur, the legendary found of the grail, while Merlin is, well, Merlin.

Near Bolton is the site of a Gododdin hillfort, which I am suggesting was once the main estate of Golstan/Gwrgi. You can”t really see it anymore, but I’ve found this wonderful website that shows you all the hillforts in Britain. Here’s East Lothian.

East Lothian’s hillforts

Summary: Cropmarks have revealed the site of a complex fort occupying the summit of the low hill above Bolton. The most coherent element of the defences is a belt of three roughly concentric ditches swinging round the NE, SE and SW flanks. On the NW, however, no fewer than five lines are visible on the aerial photographs, and of these only the outermost can be correlated to the rest of the circuit with complete confidence, pierced by entrances on the NNE and SW respectively. In contrast, the innermost on the NW, clearly intersects the belt of defences on the NNE, re-emerging between the inner and middle ditches on this side, as does the second line, though this latter may also correlate to the innermost round the rest of the circuit. Evidently the confused appearance of the cropmarks is the result of the eccentric superimposition of two separate enclosures, both of roughly the same size, the one oval on plan within the two narrow ditches or possibly massive palisade trenches visible on the NW and an entrance on the SW, and the other sub-oval, measuring 90m from NE to SW by 80m transversely (0.56ha) within the three ditches visible elsewhere. None of these ditches is particularly broad, typically measuring no more than 2m in breadth, but the belt they form is between 22m and 26m deep, expanding to 30m at the entrance on the NNE. And while the outermost appears the broadest, in places up to 4m in breadth, the ragged outline of its W terminal at the N entrance suggests it is a composite mark hiding several recut lines; likewise at the SW entrance, where a spur of the ditch on the NW side of the gap doglegs sharply outwards to create an overlap with the opposite ditch terminal, this spur ditch is no more than 2m in breadth. Undoubtedly, however, the defences are more complex than this simple resolution of the sequence into two separate perimeters, and there are traces of other linear features, some of them possibly palisade trenches, but also including two segments of a broad ragged mark between the second and fourth lines on the NW. No clear features are visible within the interior, but one macula on the S probably marks the stance of a timber round-house.
HER: East Lothian Council MEL1125

The site of the hillfort in relation to Bolton (orange dot, top left)

Back on the trail, we were winding here, winding there, & eventually coming to a junction of sorts. Instead of heading to the main house, drive forward along the field edge. At the start of the next field, head right along the line of the fence, then bend to one’s left. Another couple of hundred metres or so & one reaches a long straight stretch of tarmac. Its also a great place to park the car if you wanted to try the Colstoun Loop. This is where we’ll rest our walk, with only Lennoxlove seperating us from closing the circle…


Turn rigth here & follow the field

Colstoun House


On coming from the right path,  spin a 180 & follow the left path back towards the deer-fence gates

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The Gododdin Heritage Trail: Green Castle to Gifford

This next leg of the Gododdin Heritage Trail sees us heading downslope in the direction of Haddington, in order to close the circuit. As one descends, the views are sent divinely searing into the distance & the Pentlands, Fife, Edinburgh, etc. This is the chief reason that it’s better to do the walk clockwise I feel.

Climb over the fence in the centre of the image

We were last at Green Castle, popping into the café at Tweeddale Millennium fisheries for a pee & a brew. To continue the Trail find the far western corner of the westermost of the three fishing lochs. You should then find yourself at a grassy track leading to a gate. Head this way.




Over the gate, if you like to explore (outwith shooting season), a gate on the right leads to the excellent remains of Black Castle, which I looked at last April. This fort is quite large – bigger than White & Green Castles – & I believe it was the main settlement of a certain Serguan, from which we get Danskine after the ‘Dun’ of Serguan. This guy’s name does not appear in Y Gododdin, but in the Harleian genealogies, & specifically the Welsh kingdom of Ceredigion, we may observe;

Serguan Serguil son of Iusay son of Ceretic son of Cuneda

Cunedda was famous for leaving Lothian (Manau Gododdin) as given in the following passage in The Historia Brittonum of Nennius as .

Maelgwn, the great king, was reigning among the Britons in the region of Gwynedd, for his ancestor, Cunedag, with his sons, whose number was eight, had come previously from the northern part, that is from the region which is called Manaw Gododdin, one hundred and forty-six years before Maelgwn reigned. And with great slaughter they drove out from those regions the Scotti who never returned again to inhabit them.

Cunedda, you’d be interested to hear, was the grandfather of King Arthur. We begin with the eevidence for the Pictish matrilineal succession as stated by Bede, who tells us;

Now the Picts had no wives, and asked them of the Scots; who would not consent to grant them upon any other terms, than that when any difficulty should arise, they should choose a king from the female royal race rather than from the male: which custom, as is well known, has been observed among the Picts to this day.

Now here’s the Pictish King List, where Cunedda appears as Canutulahina, & Arthur appears as Garthnach.

Wradech uecla
Talorc son of Achivir
Drust son of Erp
Talorc son of Aniel
Necton morbet son of Erip
Drest Gurthinmoch
Galanan erilich
Drest son of Gygurnus
Drest son of Uudrost
Garthnach son of Gygurnus

According to the Jesus College genealogies, Cunedda Wledig had two daughters, Tegid and Gwen. The latter then marries a certain Amlawdd Wledig, so the matrinlineal Pictish royal line should flow through their children. Another genealogy in Peniarth MS 177 shows their daughter to be a certain Eigr, otherwise known as Eigyr, Igraine or Ygerne. This woman, of course, is the father of King Arthur & appears in the Pictish king list as Gygurnus mother of Garthnach.

Cunedda Wledig / Canutalahina
Eigr / Gygurnus
Arthur / Garthnach

The only conclusion we can make now is that Cunedda was King Arthur’s great grandfather & that if Im correct about Danskine being the home of Serguan, then Arthur’s great uncle was an East Lothian boy!






Returning from that historical digression, if we continue along the track for a very pleasant half a mile, you eventually come to a wee mini-hamlet about Newlands Farm. Here turn left along the tarmac road.




After a bend the road opens out into a long straight, which you should follow to the end. At this point Lammer Law rises up in the distance beyond gorgeously opening fields. Here, turn sharp right into the field & head along the field-fringe towards the trees in the far distance. These fine specimens belong to Yester Estate, at the other side of which lies the village of Gifford.







Once you reach the treeline you will see a broken wall, which you should pass through & into the splendid forest of Yester. The rough idea is to step through the wild & feral woods along a fading trail about 20 metres parallel to the wall until you reach the corner of an old bird pen.






Carrying on in the same direction as before, with the fence hard on your right, you will come to the next corner. Here again carry on & you will eventually reach a main path.




We’ve traversed this very ground before on the search for the Goblin Ha.‘ Today we’re turning right, descending down the ridiculously muddy path & over the rickety bridge. Reaching the main Yester path, turn left & imagine Daniel Defohere on his Grand Tour of Great Britain, who recorded 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;

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.








What follows now is an extremely pleasant amble through Yester Estate. First up is a series of bridges & real-life  moving water pastoral paintings on ether side of them. Quite wonderful! Then the path rises to the right somewhat & sends you cruising through splendid avenues of forestry until you reach something of a path T-Junction on the very edges of Gifford. Here turn left & drop down towards a gate which takes you into the serene streets of Gifford proper.













The deer-fence gates




Turn left here


The right path leads to Gifford

After about 40 metres theres a ginnel (thats a Lancashire word_ to the left which leads you into the magnificent greenerie of Gifford’s public park. This is lined on your right by a Portmeirion style array procession of houses. In the 17th century a large estate and farming community flourished after the first Marquess of Tweeddale had enclosed the Yester Estate with a 7 mile wall and laid out a park within it. He demolished the old settlement of Bothans which lay near his house, and the village grew outside the gates to accommodate estate workers.

For those traversing the Trail Gifford is an amazing port of call. There’s two hotels, a brilliant uberfriendly newsagent, a co-op, a deli AND a cafe. I know I said earlier that its best to go clockwise, but anticlockwise works as well & Gifford could work a bit like base camp for Everest.

It is also possible to get to Gifford by bus from Haddington & Pencaitland – its a circular route. So hypethetically teh pedestrian citydweller can catch a bus to either East Linton or Gifford in the morning,  then hike up into the hills to the other village & catch the bus home!

My sketch of Gifford church

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The Gododdin Heritage Trail: White Castle to Green Castle

Phew, getting closer, just this & two more sections to go! My year-long dalliance with the Gododdin has been fruitful on many levels, the chief of which has been the hacking out of a workable causeway throu’ thro Scotland’s supremely engardened county for us all to enjoy. The following walk, btw, was conducted on different mornings, hence the variety in the photography!

I last left us at the impressive grassy sentinel of White Castle. The plan now is to break directly onto the Lammermuir ridge & head towards Green Castle thro the blustering breeze, to the cries of wild gander. Earlier in the year I’d been scouting out this particular iron age fort & its near neighbour, Black Castle, upon which occasion I first began imagining linking them up with the hillfort on the Garleton Hills – Kay’s Heughs – in one pedestrian lap of the heart of the god’s ain country.

This section of the walk is probably the best really, a slice of Highland loftiness with the most immensely pleasing views; on a clear day they float off into the misty distance as far as Montrose to the north & Stirling to the west, while to the east the North Sea rolls off into infinity… well, Norway.

To proceed, head downhill along the inanimate road to Garvald for a while, where you will come to a gate on the left. Heading through this you reach a steep track to the left that takes you up onto the hilltops. The track eventually peters out, but the idea is to keep nominally to the right of ridgeway & head west. The views from this point are the best in Central Scotland.

Eventually one reaches a big heap of gorse, which you need to keep to your left until you reach a great view of Lammer Law in the front-distance. After an aethereal traversement of sorts, You will soon see a meeting of fences; one crossing your view & the other coming in from the Lammer Law side, as if Nelson was crossing the T at Trafalgar. Head for this point.

Lammer Law appearing in the distance

Crossing over the fence at the junction, the idea is to head for the windmills roughly south-west, & to the left of Lammer Law. Eventually you reach a deep stream & a convenient plank which more or less points a gate in the distance. You should head towards this gate, picking through tangl’d gorse & boggy bits – take some wellies!

The wee bridge is centre-left

Passing through or over the fence drops you into an alien-like landscape of gorse & fern & rough tracks. There’s enough of the latter to lead you west for a wee while, where at a junction you turn right. This new track brings you to a stream & then, after a bit more gorse, you reach fresh grassy bits & a gate into a field on the left.

Keeping heading west, this new field eventually reaches another gate, the passing thro’ of which brings you to an area with a lovely bending road. Dropping down into the neat valley & rising again brings you to yet another gate, & then into the wastelands that mark the edge of the universe that is the Snawden-Danskine section of East Lothian.

Lammer Law holds a fascinating history, & this is a great view ofjust how regally its towers over the county. In an earlier post I showed how Lammer Law was originally known as Mount Badon, the site of King Arthur’s most famous battle. Just for fun I’ll give all the evidence again.

From that time, the {Britons} were sometimes victorious, sometimes the {Saxons}… 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. Gildas

516: 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. Annales Cambraie

The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur NEN


  • On the lower slopes of Lammer Law there are three hillforts; The Witches Knowe, Kidlaw & The Castles. Flowing around the latter goes the Dambadam Burn, which transchispers into Dun Badon, & also the ‘the siege of Mount Badamor’ variant of the battle’s name as given by the medieval Scottish chronicler, John of Fordun. This system of defences guarding Lammer Law comes alive in the mind when reading the phrase, ‘Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon.’
  • From Badon & the antique interchangeability between the D & TH sounds, we come Bothan. This is the ancient name of the parish of Yester, which the Lammer Law forms a part. In the Transactions of the Antiquarian & Field Naturalists’ Society (1963/v.IX), James Bulloch writes of Yester church’s chispering dedication to Saint Bathan;

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 transformed 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.’

  • From Bothon/Bodon we come to Boderia (also Bodotria), which is the name given by Ptolemy for the Forth estuary. With Lammer Law being the largest ‘mountain’ in East Lothian, & that it overlooks the Forth, then it should well have been called Mount Boderia in the 2nd century AD, transchispering to Badon by the Arthurian era. Also relevant is the name ‘Mur nGuidan’ given to the Forth by the ‘Irish Tractate on the Mothers of Saints.’ So just as the Gododdin derided from an earlier Bodotria, so the name Guidan would have evolved out of Buidan.
  • The Annales Cambraie mention a second battle of Badon being fought in 665. According to the Annales of Ulster, in 664 there was fought, ‘The battle of Luith Feirn i.e. in Fortrenn.’ Luith is clearly Lothian (‘feirn’ means land), while Fortenn (sometimes Fortriu) is essentially the Pictish world south of the Great Glen including the breadbasket plains that stretch up the east coast to Moray. 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. Fortrenn, naturally, is the etymylogical root of Forth.

A couple of hundred meters down the track you reach the Duns-Gifford road, which you take for a wee while to the left. After about 100 meters a track veers off the road to the right & heads towards a hengelike sheep-circle thing, & a ruined hut. Here the path is really well made, & you must follow it for almost a mile.

Left = Duns, Right = Gifford

This is a great stretch, with the Lammermuir ridge & Newlands Hill rising steeply to the left, & the plains of East Lothian gallumphing away to the right. There are also birds of prey above – one of them was eyeing up Daisy, hovering only 10 meters or so above her head – probably out of curiosity more than wanting to snatch her, but it was a scary moment!

In the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for 1959-60, Angus Graham talks with some erudition about his field-work upon the ancient tracks which postively riddle the area. With that being the season of Burnley FC’s last title win, it’s a perfect opportunity to slip in a video about a remarkable title win which saw Burnley hitting the top of the table for the first time in the final match of the season, winning away at Man City. Indeed, this part of East Lothian should be twinned with the heathery Pennine moors to the east of Burnley which form the border of Lancashire & Yorkshire.

At Darned House (on the older maps this name is attached to a house, now ruined, near the head of the Papana Water) the highway comes down to an area of flattish or gently sloping ground, bounded on the north-west by Snawdon Hill and the rise topped by Black Castle fort, and on the south-east by the steep face of Newlands Hill. In the northern part of this area rise two small tributaries of the Papana Water, the main stream of which crosses its north-eastern end; its centre is traversed by the head of the Danskine Burn, which rises in two steep scars on Newlands Hill; and at its south-western end are the headwaters of the Newlands Burn, also fed from Newlands Hill. This ground carries a bewildering number of old tracks, and they are the more difficult to trace out as much as the surface is cloaked in moss or broken up by drains…

Two well-marked hollow tracks which descend from the cultivated fields east-south-east of Black Castle, and cross a gully which rises from Green Castle, some 500 yards distant. On the opposite side of the gully these tracks appear to have found their way to the face of Newlands Hill and joined the assemblage there, as one of the tracks can be seen continuing in that alignment. A number of hollow tracks emerging from the headwater streamlets of the Newlands Burn where these coalesce at Green Castle.

After passing a quarry on the left, the path eventually comes to another ruined hut, & it is at a gate there that you enter a rough field, following a path to another gate. Once through or over this, turn sharp right & a m for Green Castle directly ahead. This is a really cool spot & where we’ll be leaving the walk for now. The Gododdin Heritage Trail continues towards Gifford from this point, but it is also possible to head back to White Castle on a loop, via the Tweed-dale Fisheries, even stopping in the cafe there for a refuel  – but please make sure you don’t disturb the fishermen & get caught in  barb’d cast!

Turn right after the gate

Green Castle up ahead

The summit of Green Castle

A toilet & a cafe only a stone’s throw away

On Hacking out the Gododdin Trail

O for a walk along a printed line!
Remove the vagueries of random paths,
For when we from the city disincline,
Soul-peace in reach away from public baths!

There’s so much pleasure in a trodden route
That stays unhidden in the memory
Of generations, perrennial fruit
Ripens afresh, ever-exemplary.

With each footstep a sort of hypnosis
Descends like manna on the pacing host
That enters into cute symbiosis
With nature, rills & forest, hills & coast,

And history! The ghosts go with us too,
Enacting deeds, phantasma in the dew.

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The Gododdin Heritage Trail: Nunraw to Whitecastle

In the past couple of weeks Autumn has roar’d in all its rainbow glory, then shook its head in mad defiance at the wild weather systems resulting in widespread leaf-fall across the county. O, & Daisy had her second birthday! Walking East Lothian is, on one level, the story of Daisy’s walks… arguably the luckiest dog in the county. I started doing them when she was old enough to go out after her injections, a veritable Snowy of companionship & enthusiasm. Happy Birthday Daisy!

We last left the Gododdin Heritage Trail at the gorgeous Nunraw Falls, so where next? At this point you would have two choices. The first is to head south through the woods of Nunraw, where we’re gonna enjoy a really quality adventurous walk through varying terrain up to the gloriously preserved & immensely evocative White Castle. I will describe this as ROUTE A.

The other course, ROUTE B, is to meander through Nunraw Estate to the Sancta Maria Abbey, being fully aware of the Access Code Scotland as you do so – ie there’s no popping up to the Big House anymore, saying I’d love to have a look at the medieval roof please. The previous owners, the Cistercian monks, accepted all-comers, but its in private hands these days, so its only the grounds where the Scottish public has free access. The fields are also accessible as long as you stick to the edges, keep dogs on leads & don’t disturb the cows – who are pretty docile at Nunraw, to be honest, quite a divine bunch still.


We have now arrived at what I feel is the principle core philosophy behind the Gododdin Heritage Trail. Across Britain there are a number of beautiful but long-winded country walks, such as the Southern Upland & the Pennine Ways. Most folk don’t have the time or inclination to decamp from modernity’s comforts & rough it for a week or two of hiking. One or two days, however, & yeah, they’re up for it, especially if they can get back to feed the cats! My Heritage Trail will cater for those wanting the hiking experience in miniature. You can drive to Gifford, East Linton, Papple, Nunraw, Haddington, wherever, & get yourself up to this section of the Trail, where natural beauty, healthy hiking & the serenity of solitude intermingle in a singular soul-warming session. You could take one, two, or even three days traversing the ground – its open to many variations – but I am sure it will be to the immense benefit of the individual Trailer’s well-being, & a decidedly positive boon to the local economy.

From the Falls, return to the rickety ‘Laird’s Bridge,’ at which point you must take the right bank of the burn & head east up the slope. You will found yourself in a forested world of long untread paths; sometimes visible, sometimes overgrown with fern. The general idea is to head towards the wall & enter the field beyond, where heading right along the line of the wall the going is far superior to hacking your way through the forest – altho’ that method can be much fun, Daisy loves it.

A good place to hop over into the field

Through these gates please (shut them behind you if you don’t hop over)

Through the gate & head up & left towards the deer fence

Eventually one comes to an open gate, which is tied to the wall-area by rope. At this point look up & to the left & you will see a fence which you should head towards up the steep slope. At the top you will see that the fences are actually the extremities of deer pens. At the corner of the fences turn right & head towards the treeline. At some point you’ll have to hop over a fence, roundabout the place where Routes A&B intersect. It is now time to enter a lovely stretch of forestry, which very occasionally is being worked, so be aware of that & don’t get under anyone’s feet when you’re there.

Hop over the fence here

There’s a track under the fern somewhere

Keeping Thorter’s Reservoir to your right thro’ the trees, you will reach a fine track which will then take you to a gate & thus the spacious and panoramic glory of the Lammermuirs. Yes, we’ve finally made it! From East Linton, lets say, where we hopped off the bus from Edinburgh, lets say, we’ve been on a lovely walk, seen some jolly cool things & filled our lungs & spirits with nature, with barely inch of tarmac stepped upon. And now, before us, spreads the  untameable splendour of East Lothian’s mountains like a phalanx of medieval men-at-arms.

Turn right

Thro the gates, turn right & hop over another gate

Passing through the gate,  turn sharp right & head over another gate, then veer up & to the left. At some point we have to cross the Thorter Burn, which hews its way thro’ a deep-gouged ravine. Keeping the Thorter to one’s right, the views are amazing & the mental ability to leap back 20 centuries to the age of the Gododdin & imagine yourself as one of the the tribe is particularly good fun.

Reaching the head of the Burn
Migrating Geese

What it looks like in the valley (we explored it & changed our minds – too boggy)

As you head south, you will eventually be able to make out the sleek curvatures of Whitecastle Fort, still defending the pass from Saxon nonsense & busybodying. You will soon enough come to the ideal crossing point. A clutch of gorse marks its beginning, which you enter via paths & meander down to the burn at the best & easiest place to cross. Over the Burn, & a fence  & up a slope, you are soon back on the tops, ticking off the final steps to the fort. Towards the finale a path bleeds out of the turf, assisting the final steep climb to Whitecastle & its epic views. Just beyond the fort, by the way, is a wee car-park, which is a perfect staging post for folk wanting to do only a small portion of the Trail.

The clutch of gorse – there is a cool path thro it, or just go around it to its left

Looking down on the crossing point
The crossing point
Daisy leaping over the Thorter Burn

Lookin back along the Thorter Burn
Whitecastle is on the right

The view north over the still fertile plains of the Gododdin
Some of the old fortifications – the road to Whiteadder is in the top right corner

The Carpark


Back at Nunraw Falls, return the way we came in the previous post a little while & back over the fence gate into the field with the adorable monkey puzzle trees. Turn sharp left here & keep the fence to your left as you climb a wee slope. Following the line of the fence you will eventually see Nunraw Tower & then come to a wonderful spot of ground that reminds me of the Italy-Slovenia-Croatia land border where there’s loads of different rules & languages within meters of each other. The photograph shows how within centimetres of each other, you are either in Scottish countryside, where only pooping dogs are frowned on (& disco-raves), private gardens & agricultural terrain opened to the Scottish public by its Access Code as long as certain tenets are adhered too.

Looking at the access point to the monkeypuzzle field – centre right. Then head towards where the photo is taken from

The handsome, red sandstone building the baronial style that is Nunraw is largely a Victorian mansion incorporating a 15th century tower house with its six foot thick walls rising four floors to a parapet carried on chequered corbelling. In the 16th century Nunraw is described as the ‘place and fortalice’ which the nuns of Haddington were obliged, by royal charter, to “fortify the nunnery and have guns aye loaded to shoot at our aulden enemies of England.” The interior has a painted ceiling executed in tempera which has been dated to 1461, emblazoned with the arms of medieval European kings. Originally it measured 30 feet by 18 feet and was composed of 14 strong oaken joists supporting long panels on which the colours had been laid. The ceiling today is somewhat smaller, 20 feet by 17 feet 6 inches, but two other sections are preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities.

Catholic Hist Gazelle 08.jpg

In each panel the prominent feature is the title and armorial bearings of monarchs who flourished in medieval days. The shields give the arms of the kings of Scotland and England, the kings of France, Arragon and the king of Sicily & others. There are two shields to each panel, the remaining space being filled in by representations of birds, beasts and allegorical figures. In the centre of the ceiling, the words “Gratus Esto”are printed and the monogram “P.C.H.” Experts are of the opinion that these letters refer to Patrick Hepburn and Helen Cockburn, his wife, who were owners of Nunraw from 1595 to 1617. Mr. M. R. Apted, M.A., Her Majesty’s Inspector of Ancient Monuments, in a recent article (1958) on “painted Ceilings in Scotland,” is satisfied that “the date of the Nunraw ceiling can be narrowed down to the years following the Union of the Crowns, since one of the emblems depicts the lion and the unicorn seated on either side of the thistle and since the arms of the King of England, although defaced, can be seen to have been quartered with the tressured lion rampant of the Scottish Royal arms.” I have seen ceiling myself, about 2009 I think it was,  a catalystic moment for the following sonnet.


Go thee to Garvald, go up to Nunraw
Summit of Cistercian activty
Gain’d from the Hayes of Hailes & Traprain Law
& many a Ravenswood dynasty.
Dally, then pass thro the Fortatrice door
Friends enter a centre of sanctity
So go thee to Garvald, seek out Nunraw
Summit of Cistercian acticity

As chapel-roof’d cherubim spread their wings
Thro the heraldrics of Christian kings
Far from the golden glow of Gallilee
Fathers offer coffee & compassion
To those souls tired of vices & fashion
Cistercian essence of god’s destiny.

So a Leither has moved into Nunraw – well kind of, the property was bought as something of  a holiday home by Linda Leith, who lives and works in North Carolina through her membership of an epic automobile-selling dynasty.  Her acquisition of Nunraw is a fascinating slice of religious real estate.

The Nunraw Doocot

Nunraw Tower was most recently used as a guesthouse by the Cistercian order of monks.  In 1945, the previous owner, Marcus Spurway, was willing to sell the old house and the surrounding farmland. His Grace the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, knowing that Dom Camillus Claffey of the Cistercian order, the Abbot of Mount St. Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, in Ireland, was seeking a suitable site for an abbey, informed him of several properties then for sale. The second one inspected was Nunraw, &  on February 2nd 1946, the first six monks arrived. It is apt that an Order moved in, for the first records in the annals of Nunraw is when it came to the Cistercian Nuns of Haddington. A convent had been founded by the Countess Ada, mother of two Scottish kings, sometime between 1152 and 1158.

By the Tweenies, with repairs starting to mount up, & a shiny new abbey a half mile away built between 1952 & 1969, it was time to sell up. In steps Leith, paying £2 million in 2014 for the Abbey & grounds, & also ready to invest in full restoration of the tower and its cottages, as well as restoration of the property’ 19th-century glass house & its 16th-century beehive dovecot with its 450 nests & string courses which prevented rats climbing up and inside.

Of all the owners of Nunraw, the coolest geezer has to be Robert Hay, a gentleman antiquary whose adventures in Egyptology lasted eight years & produced some of the most wonderful early drawings of the discipline. Hay first visited Egypt in 1824, the same year that Lord Byron died at Missolonghi in Greece. He would spend more than eight years recording the ancient temples and tombs along the Nile, not merely with sketches and brief descriptions, as earlier travellers had done, but completely, with architectural plans and detailed copies of the murals and inscriptions.

“I am obliged to strip to my drawers and then I am perspiring as much as in a Turkish bath which is no agreeable thing for drawing,” wrote Hay wrote in his journal.  A man of some wealth, he had engaged more than half a dozen qualified artists and architects to do the copy work, which he checked closely for accuracy, while he reserved his own talents for the panoramic views. These provide reliable documentation of the small villages that bordered the Nile almost 200 years ago, and his artists’ evocative drawings of Islamic monuments, many of them no longer standing, show them as they looked in the 19th century, not yet hemmed in by the modern buildings of Cairo.

Hay married a Cretan girl – Kalitza Psaraki, the daughter of the chief magistrate of Apodhulo, Crete – who he rescued from a slave market in Alexandria. Like many of her compatriots, Kalitza had been captured by the Turks during the Greek war of independence (1821-1829) and transported to Egypt. Alarmed by their plight, Hay ransomed Kalitza and several other young women, and went on to pay for their education at an English school.  “I should counsel all travellers never to travel with any other companion than a wife,” wrote Hay in September 1829, before bringing her back to Nunraw for a long, happy, child-swelling marriage.

Unfortunately, the life of an East Lothian gentleman sucked the adventurer out of Hay, who remarked of the circumstance, ‘there is no great wonder, living as I do in the most unhealthsome atmosphere of the Lammermoor Hills!—my head being now only full of Hunting, Fencing, Draining, etc etc. We are all the creatures of habit: and if we happen to fall into bad company, we are too apt to get out of the good track and follow the bad! That is my case; no Egyptians or Syro-Egyptians live about the Lammermoors, so that my spirit is dried up within me!—and I go the way of all flesh, & do just as others do about me!’

Many of Hay’s copious manuscripts are held today in the British Library, and many of his plaster casts in the British Museum, though some objects were sold to a Boston banker and collector whose son later bequeathed them to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where they formed the basis of that museum’s Egyptological collection. In 2001 archaeologist Caroline Simpson asked Dr. Michelle Brown, curator of manuscripts at the British Library, whether the library could contribute a work by Hay to an exhibition recreating the history of the people of Qurna. The library responded by donating what now serves as the exhibition’s centerpiece: full-size reproductions of two of Hay’s largest panoramas, each extending over seven folio pages and some three meters (10′) in length. The panoramas open a window on the daily life of 19th-century Qurna, showing the tomb dwellings of the Qurnawi people, the Theban hills, ruins of tombs and temples, and the villagers going about their daily tasks.

After admiring the history of Nunraw Tower, its now time to get out over the field, either hopping over the fence at the iron gates, or simply heading west a hundred meters to the normal field-gates, depending on the presence of cattle. We are now in the grounds & by turning left along a fine road, one comes to a track through the woods. Take this & plunge into the trees, passing a cool pond & eventually coming to a hole in the wall – a clear shortcut created by the monks since the building of their new abbey.

A Meeting of Borders

Take this track

“Let all guests be received like Christ himself, for He will say I was a stranger & you took me in,” said Saint Benedict, one of the initiators of the monastic life, at Monte Cassino in Italy during the 6th century.  In the 21st Century,  at the new Sancta Maria Abbey, there are large, south-facing several bedrooms en suite, reasonably priced, with disabled access, & full board refectory fare. The Abbey also has a teashop, which will next year be moving into a fabulous soon to be built frontage for the abbey. For Trailers of the future, this is an amazing oasis of duvets & brews before setting off on their hikes into the hills.

The temporary teashop

Nunraw Abbey is made of stone quarried from “Rattlebags” near Dirleton. Work began on the Abbey in 1952, & on the 22nd August, 1954 the Archbishop laid the Foundation Stone of the Abbey in presence of over 13,000 people from all over the country, happy to be there despite rain and mist and some women losing high heels in the mud. 65 years later the head honcho is Father Mark, a very cool chap indeed.  He is the leader, I guess, of a group of vegetarian gentlemen who rise at 3.15 am & pray up til 7.30 AM – the best time, they say, for during early hours the mind is quiet & open.

The monastic life is quintessentially a mix of espirit de corps & devotion to God. The Cistercians in particular have always opened their doors to anyone, & have provided many a wounded soul sanctuary from their sufferings due to the stresses of the modern world. “Let people be themselves,” says Father Mark, who showed me around the precincts with a key card, which completely tickled me & showed how the Cistercians in particular are keeping up with the churning timewheels of modernity! The only drawback is that dogs aren’t allowed in, & I know why. Watching Father Mark’s attempts to swat away Daisy’s overenthusiastic muddy paws from his immaculately white gown was pretty funny (sorry father).

On leaving the Abbey after your cup of tea or whatever, there are two ways to continue the walk. The first is to loop round to the right along the road a little while, then enter a farm area. Its road leads you back into the Nunraw Grounds to a place called the Avenue. Instead of following the tarmac as it curves to one’s left, there’s a muddier track to the right which will eventually lead us to the ROUTE A intersection. This involves a brilliant woodland path overlooking the Thorter gorge. Eventually you take a rough course downslope to the Burn itself, & reach a bridge in much better condition than the Laird’s Bridge.

Crossing the bridge, veer right a little & head towards a wall, at which point you will enter the forest of ROUTE A. Once through the wall, turn sharp right & head to a gate, over which you will enter the field with the deer fence. There’s no need to head to it, just return right & aim for the trees & our inevitable confluence with ROUTE A.

Entering the farm on the left
Entering the grounds of Nunraw Tower
… & definitely no disco-raves
Continue straight at the road-bend along a track
Over the gates, turn right

At this point take the loose path & down to the left

On entering the field you will walk up hill along the line of the trees to meet the Nun’s Walk route

OK, nearly there. A bit of a bumper edition, this one, but all bases need covering & I’m the only one hacking out a Trail at the moment, so its gotta be done. This final course is the easiest way to get from Sancta Maria to Whitecastle, whether on the tarmac or via the woodlands & verges by the roadside. Its a straight shot really, just a little uninteresting. If I were you I’d just get cracking on into the woodlands & then up onto the moors – that’s why we’re here, right!

The road to Whitecastle

Enter the woods in the centre of the picture