The Gododdin Heritage Trail: Papple to Nunraw Falls

We last left the Gododdin HeritageTrail on a quiet road junction just to the south of Papple. Heading north along the tarmac, or the wide green verges, you soon come to a hillcrest, beyond which unfolds a splendid view of Arcady.  The Lammermuirs  crown the distance, while in the bottom foreground of this perfect scene stands Papple House & its gorgeous Steading, the latter of which is currently in a state of renovation.

George Mackintosh is already a legend in these parts. He had grown up on a farm near Inverness, which had a steading. Unfortunately, that particular steading is now a carpark, but when the Papple property came up for sale he determined on some sort of personal paean to his childhood & bought it in order to create a not-for-profit heritage centre dedicated to the history of agriculture .

Papple Steading was acquired for the purpose of saving and preserving a farm steading. Our agricultural built heritage is fast disappearing and there are no significant complete farm buildings of this grade in Scotland which are open to the public. Furthermore the stories of Scotland’s agricultural revolution and the “Improvement Movement” are not told with authority in any single place.
George Mackintosh

That by next year there will be accommodation & a cafe at the Steading, & that the Gododdin Heritage Trail goes directly by it, is surely no coincidence! My walkers are gonna need such establishments of succor, & it all seems meant to be! On hitting Papple, then, the will also discover nuggets of wisdom (kindly provided by Mr Mackintosh) such as;

1. Did you know that the world’s first threshing machine was built in East Linton by Andrew Meikle?
2. Did you know that the Laird of Whittingehame at the time of the building of Papple Steading was AJ Balfour, British Prime Minister 1902-1905?
3. Did you know that Lady Eve Balfour, niece of AJ and brought up on the estate, founded the Soil Association?
4. Did you know that during WWII Kindertransport children learned the business of farming on this estate?
5. Did you know that the world’s first Chair of Agriculture was created at the University of Edinburgh?

Visit the Papple website

Papple just oozes history. The antique records show how the Cistercian nuns of Haddington once owned lands in ‘Popil,’ while in the 19th century, self-made Madras-money-man James Balfour of Whittinghame Estate set in motion the building of the steading, completed on the watch of future prime minister, Arthur Balfour.

Daisy meeting the Mackintosh dogs

After a pleasant wee chat with George & his architects – they were all having lunch together when I popped mi ‘ead in – I left Papple in the direction of Garvald. Passing by the farmhouse you come to the road, where you must turn left. In October 2019 the walls to Papple/Whittinghame are being restored by a lovely local lad called Giles, who expects his work to be finished by next March.

Following the road down the hill leads you to a junction – the North Lodge of Whittinghame is on the left & the road to Haddington on the right. Ahead is the uphill road route we took today – turning right at the junction in the direction of Gifford first photo below).  It is also possible to enter the field across from North Lodge, head along the valley bottom to the gate, then take a sharp left up the hill.

The road to Gifford
Looking back through the field towards North Lodge

Both routes bring you to a gate, across the road from which is the entrance to some big fields. At this point commences a public pathway marked on all the maps, altho’ difficult to access in the summer – its been left to seed I think.

The entrance to the big field is on the left, Gifford is a few miles straight ahead

The public path clearly marked out

Heading south, the path brings you round the back of Garvald Grange & into a field where sheep are often found. At this point its a good idea to introduce a wee code of conduct for the rural portions of the Trail.

1: Close all gates behind you

2: Leave no litter

3: Dogs on leads around livestock & game-birds

4: Avoid certain paths during hunting season (mid October to January)

I put our guest dog for the walk on her lead for the short distance through the sheepfield to a gate on our right. Once through this I let her off again as we traversed a narrow slip of green between the Grange on our right & a wonderful pond on our left.

Garvald Grange was once part of the Whittinghame Estate – having bought Papple, Papple Westmains and Bogend from Lord Blantyre;  James Balfour then purchased Garvald Mains and Garvald Grange from the old family of Douglas of Garvald. By the middle of the twentieth century the Grange was in the hands of agricultural conservationist Ken Runcie, who ran the famous Rosslyn pony stud, here with his wife, Margaret.

With the Runcies heading into retirement, into the Grange stepped the Strakers – Hugo & Caroline – who went to work planting flowers & trees like crazy. These attracted bees, who are well into the tiny white flowers of the Eucalyptus gunnii, planted by beekeeping Hugo Straker many years ago. When the Strakers bought the mid-19th-century sandstone farmhouse and 35 acres in 1991, there was little on the land except grazing for the Welsh Mountain ponies bred by the Runcies.

There was a cherry tree, a walnut and a few big mature oaks, sycamores and elms, but everything else we’ve planted,’ says Caroline. Initially, with three small daughters to look after, she found the exposed location a trial. ‘I would take the children out in the morning and they were almost blown away. I can remember saying to Hugo “That’s it. I’m going to stay here for 10 years, but, after that, we’re moving”. But, of course, you create a landscape, then you get accustomed to it and then you begin to like it.’

At the end of  the wee green belt you meander through gates & a farm track to the Garvald road, where one should turn left.  At the bottom of the road sits the ‘Hidden Village,’  nestling in serendipitous & serpentine glory in the valley of the Papana Water, & built almost entirely from bright reddish stone hacked out of the nearby Rattlebags quarry.  For Trailers, there are public toilets. car parking, & even the tasty fare & friendly vibes of the  Garvald Inn.

Leaving Garvald Grange

Trail to the left, pub to the right
The Garvald Inn

The name Garvald was first used at what is now Garvald Mains farm – about a mile west from the village along the Papana.  Garvald village was actually called Garvald Kirk in John Adair’s map of 1692. That there is an amazingly well preserved hill-fort at Garvald Mains leads to my translation of Y Gododdin, which contains the name, I believe, of the man after whom Garvald is truly named – Gwrvelling.

No shield unwielded in that spear-flung field
They met war-waging equals, eye for eye
In gory battle’s struggle raging fall
Unshaken in the shield-storm surged his shout
Full faultless honour as he fought his foes
In phrenzied force until his will there fail’d
Before the grave of Gwrvelling the gargant
Some swardy heap of green fore’er became

The hillfort at Garvald Mains

Back on the Trail, it doesn’t actually go into the village,  however, but turns left at the bottom of the road, passing the extremely old church & heading along a path by the left bank of the Papana. This is also named after a member of the Gododdin contingent, I believe, called Bubon. The stanza reads;

From yonder Sea of Iodeo, battle-bold
Comes man thrice-times more fierce than fiercest lion
Brave Bubon, mightiest in battle’s mire

Capture 2.PNG

Take the left path

Just as a wee historical digression here, the ‘Sea of Iodeo’ is the Forth estuary. There is also a stronghold of ‘Iudeu,’ which Bede places ‘in medio sui’ – ie in the middle of a sea-strait which can only be the Forth. Much academic ink has been spilt over its location, but the fact this stronghold would also have been known as ‘Guidi’ leads us naturally to the island of Inchkeith (Inch-Guith / Inch-Guidi). The name alteration can be found in  the ‘Irish Tractate on the Mothers of Saints,’ which states;

Alma, daughter of a Pictish king, the mother of Serb mac Proic, king of Canaan of Egypt; and he [Serb, i.e., St Serf] is the venerable old man who possesses Culross in Strathearn in Comgellaig, between the Ochil upland and the sea of Giudiu (Mur nGuidan).

Image result for saint adomnan


There is no archeological record of a Brythonic ‘Urbs’ fortification on Inchkeith, but then again there has not been a serious attempt to find anything. We do know it was a religious center at that time. Walter Bower, in his Scotichronicon, writes of an ‘island called Inchekethe’ in which Saint Adomnán  ruled as abbot, & it was this holy man who  welcomed St Serf on the latter’s arrival in Scotland. Serf would be the guy who saved King Loth’s daughter, Thaney.

I’d just like to chuck in a little something here. According to the Historia Brittonum of Nennius, in the 7th century, King Oswy of the Northumbria ‘gave back all the riches that were with him in the urbs right into the hand of Penda, and Penda distributed them to the British kings, to wit, ‘the restitution of Iudeu.’ ‘ This places King Penda at the Forth, & it may even be the historical reason that Traprain Law was also known as Dunpendyrlaw.

Back in 2019, the Gododdin Heritage Trail rises & falls for a while before reaching a bridge. Crossing it you see a couple of woodland trails, one of which climbs a steep slope up a valley. This one’s for us!

At the top of the slope one reaches Nunraw Estate & its funky Monkey Puzzle trees. One must head left now, by either hopping over the fence – theres a hole for dogs – & skirting the field, or following a very grown-over woodland track once trodden by the Nunraw monks, more of whom I’ll be chatting about next time.

The hole for the dogs
The woodland trail
… or aim for that gate by skirting the field to the left

For now, the field is best, & you eventually reach a gate, over which we go. Turn sharp left & head down towards the trees where you soon come to a  a crazy rickety bridge. At this point enter the river itself, turn right & in the style of the great explorers hop across the rocks & pebbles to the one true natural wonder of East Lothian – Nunraw Falls.

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The Gododdin Heritage Trail: Hailes to Papple


We are now entering a most salubrious section of the Gododdin Heritage Trail. We last left it at the bridge over the Tyne on the Haddington-East Linton riverside walk. I had to pick Daisy up & carry her across the slightly rickety construction – she has a curious fear of bridges, I think its down to the gaps in the metal platforms which her paws slip easily through.

The red line is the ideal route

We were soon across & staring at a path up a slight rise, which we took for 100 metres or so, reaching a hole in the wall on our right. Feeling adventurous we took this, following a path acrown a steep riverbank, to find ourselves at an ancient gilled entrance to Hailes Castle. Unfortunately it was unopenable (without a wrench) so we had to enter the castle grounds through & over the fence. This route is doable, bending the fench allows larger dogs through – but let us for now get to Hailes via more conventional means instead.

The house is fu the bigness of suche excellent bewtie within as I have seldom sene any in England except the Kinges Majesties & of verie good strengthe
Lord Grey of Wilton, 1548

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

Back at the hole in the wall, instead of talking this like just shown, carry on until you reach a road, & turn right. This soon brings you to a small car parking area & the entrance to Hailes ‘fortalice’ Castle, which is well worth a look. I mean, its definitely the coolest ruin in East Lothian, one of the Seven Warsteeds that has seen its fair share of action over the histories.

Built in the 13th century, for two hundred years it was in the hands of the Hepburns, the last of whom – James, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was the principal instigator of the plot which murdered Darnley, second husband of Mary Queen of Scots. The Queen did sleep here during her lifetime. Another Hepburn of note was Sir Patrick of Hailes, who rescued the banner of Douglas from the hands of the English at Otterburn.

Where the path from the Tyne hits the road


Looking towards Pencraig

Leaving the castle, to continue along the Gododdin Trail return to the car-parking spot & cross the narrow road to the opening of a rough path-track going up the way. Keeping the garden wall of Hailes Cottage to the right, this is a handsome & wild section, with trees growing like banyans out of an old dry stone wall. It kinda reminded me of the abandoned imperial buildings on the Andaman Islands I had explored in my adventurous youth.

Take this path


The path follows a gurgling silver burn on our right, which Daisy & our guest dog for the walk availed of its crystal advantages. You then come to a section of bramble-hedg’d fields where the public path takes some grand right-angled turns among resplendent views, especially of Traprain Law which starts to peep over the horizon to the south.

Picking Brambles with a patient Daisy

Personally I believe there is one grand turn too many – one section of the final square is far shorter & makes the much efficent walk than the circuitous ‘hike-for-ages-then-hack-your-way-through-a-rarely-used-overgrown-track-then-turn-back-along-the-road-to-the-point-where-you-would-have-appeared-ages-ago-if-you-had-simply-just-walked-up-the-side-of-the-field.’

The ideal route = straight ahead
The long-winded route arriving at the road
Looking back along the road from the access point to Traprian

Whether taking the ideal route or assaulting the long-winded one, you eventually arrive at a wall entrance to the Traprain universe. I’ve covered walking the summit & chatting about the famous Hacksilber hoard back in January, with that particular route tackling the slopes from more or less the point the Gododdin Trail arrives in the locality. The Gododdin Trail, however, will not be climbing Traprain – I don’t want to wear people out to much, there’s quite a few miles to do. Instead, follow loose paths through a boulevard of botany – Foxglove, Primrose, Brittle Bladder Fern, Peppered Rock Tripe, Tormentil & Ladies Bedstraw – beyond the cool ruined cottage & round the foot of the Law, passing other earlier W.E.L avatars on the trail of the Loth Stone only a pebble’s throw away.

In recent weeks I’ve been researching the Gododdin & have come up with some interesting stuff. For a start, it seems that the Gododdin might have been Picts. The giant silver chain found at Traprain, dated to the 5th-6th century, such as those used to mark Pictish kingship, adds solid support to such a notion. There also are some references in the old histories which, when placed side by side, indicate as much. The Pictish King List tells us, for example, that the Picts ‘came from the land of Thracia; that is, they are the children of Gleoin, son of Ercol. Agathirsi was their name. Six brothers of them came at first, viz, Solen, Ulfa, Nechtan, Drostan, Aengus, Leithenn.’  This places a section of initial Pictfall in Lothian, with Hektor Boece in his ‘History & Chronickles of Scotland’ stating ‘thee seeis betwix Cathnes and Orknay war namit Pentland Firth ; and all the landis, quhilkis ar now callit Louthiane, war callit than Pentland.’ Through the Old Scots we can learn that the Lothian Pentland Hills & the Pentland Firth are named after the Picts, or Pehts.

William Camden provides more information about a Pictish Lothian, recording that at, ‘the time of Reuther King of Scots,’ a battle was fought in which the death of a certain, ‘Gethus King of the Picts… constrain’d the Picts (who perceived themselves unable to resist) to fly, some by land and others by sea, to Orkney, where they abode for a time, and made Gothus, brother of the foresaid Gethus, their King. And after a few years, having left some of their number to people and plant the Countrey, they return’d to Louthian; and having expelled the Britons, settled themselves again in their ancient possessions.’ Here we see that the two main bases of the earliest Picts were the Orkneys & the Lothians, the latter name linking to Leithenn, one of the six Pictish brothers who first came to settle in Britain. We also have a Gothus, after whom the Gododdin may have been named, & his arrival in the Lothians roundabout the year zero totally fits with the archeological record of Traprain being refortified in the first century AD. What is also fascinating is that in the History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, King Loth himself was recognised as a king of both Lothian & the Orkneys. Food for thought indeed!


We also have the presence of Cunedda in the Pictish King List, where he appears as Canutulachama. His successor in the King List, Wradech, reflects the name of one of Cunedda’a sons, named in the Brythonic traditions as Ceretic. Canutulachama is dated to the mid-fourth century, which fits perfectly into a passage from m Nennius (9th century) , which has Cunedda leaving Lothian for Wales

Maelgwyn, 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.

Recent, widely-trumpted DNA analysis has shown that 0.8% of all Welshmen have close links with the Pictish marker of the Maeatae, which is cool support, but that’s enough of that for now, I think I’ll have to write a book to support the trail – maybe do a cool app for phones & stuff. First things first, I have to traverse the entireity of it, taking photos & everyfink!


Another bit of research I’ve done is on the origins of the fabulous treasure hoard found at Traprain, a portion of which is currently on display in the John Gray Center, Haddington. Its basically a case of joing the dots & seeing what you see, but the coincidences are quite canny. We begin with the poet Claudian who describes in a couple of texts the Roman General Stilicho putting an end to an assault of Britannia.

The Saxon conquered, the Ocean calmed, the Pict broken, and Britain secure. In Eutropium… When I too was about to succumb to the attack of neighbouring peoples – for the Scots had raised all Ireland against me, and the sea foamed under hostile oars – you, Stilicho, fortified me. This was to such effect that I no longer fear the weapons of the Scots, nor tremble at the Pict, nor along my shore do I look for the approaching Saxon on each uncertain wind. On the Consulship of Stilicho

Parts of the Traprain  Treasure as found.

These events happened in 398, the same period as when the last coins in the Traprain Law could be dated. To my mind, the Traprain treasure helped buy off the Picts, for a highly similar hoard dated to the same period was found at Coleraine.  This would of course be to appease ‘the Scots had raised all Ireland.’  Strictly numismatically speaking, the Coleraine hoard’s latest coin is Constantius III (407-411), but its still the end of Roman rule in Britain time & the Scots were attacking Britain after Stilicho’s intervention – & the coins might simply have been added to the bribe hoard later.

As for the Saxon invaders, we get to them via certain elite status silver fittings, whose rare double-triangle containing a flower motif was found at Coleraine & also at Ejsbol in Denmark. ‘The round strap-end from  {the Traprain hoard},’ writes Sonja Marzinzik, ‘is one of the few chip-carved silver belt fittings & is related to the Esjbol strap-end.’ That the weapons of about 60 warriors were discovered in the Esjbol bog suggests they could have belonged to the Saxon warriors who no longer harrassed the British shores. There’s more to my studies, but the coincidences can’t really be ignored.

Back on the Trail itself, the path we were following at the foot of the craggy slopes of Traprain turns west in the direction of a large & wobbly stepping-stile into a field, which had been thoroughly harvested on our arrival. It tosses one onto a crude path, which in the cornucopia of summer leads you through elbow-brushing crops to another quiet slice of country tarmac & a small yet practical place to park the car. Once here turn left for a couple of hundred metres or so.

Park Here
Plenty of space on the left-hand verge

As we pass’d Traprain on our left, I couldn’t help but feel what an intelligent piece of stone she is. You can really feel her personality. Then, as soon as we reach’d the trees that line the road on the left, turning right brought us to a fine farm-road leading down into the valley of the Luggate Burn & back up again. This is where the Trail continues.

The view of tree-topped Lawhead Hill here is splendid, with the escarpment-topping obeliskean Balfour Monument piercing the sky to its right like Cleopatra’s needle. It was erected to the memory of (1820-56), the father of both British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour (1848 – 1930) who we’ll be looking at more in the next post.

Looking back the way we came

You now come to the wide & spacious fields of Cockielaw farm, with a lovely solitude descending as a psalm for the soul. Again we had to follow wide-sweeping right angular tracks which eventually reached another road, which one should turn right along. After a wee while you come to a fork, the left turn of which is pointed out by a shiny new sign saying PAPPLE 1/2 A MILE… which is where we shall be heading in the next post.

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The Gododdin Heritage Trail: Barnes Castle-East Linton-Hailes

We have now arrived at the first tricky section of our proposed Heritage Trail around the central parts of the county. We were last out & about on the path down from Barnes Castle towards Athelstaneford. We were at the junction where, if one turns left one will soon enough come to that famous old village, named after the battle where Saint Andrews Cross was seen in the sky, & thus the Saltire was born.

Alas for us, we don’t really want to turn left, but are instead heading towards East Linton. Another alas comes with the complete deficiency of a path network in this area. The images above were taken from the end of the one short stretch of decent track, tho, which fits snughly into the idea of our Heritage Trail. In the distance is the path from Barnes, which hits a busy road. Ideally, the trail would enter the fields, skirting the edges either north at the Cogtail Burn, or to the south, before arriving at the track (blue-staggered route). I think the owners are at Beanston, so lets hope they’re amenable to a wee harmless walkway around the edge of a field.

Presupposing that there will one day be a pristeen path connecting this track & Barnes – opening up a vital East Linton to Athelstaneford pedestrian connection – let us continue to the end of it in the direction of East Linton. We soon come to another road, much quieter tho, which I’ll call Point A for a moment. Turning right will take you up to the wee hamlet-strip at Markle, & join the road one has to take today (red route) seeing as the afore-hoped for paths remain as yet unplaced.

Approaching Point A
The ideal route takes the road to the left

The entry point to the ideal route thro’ the field
The ideal route would follow the hedgerow

The name Markle connects with the Y Gododdin-East Lothian theory I have been builind up throughout 2019, in which a number of 6th century warrior’s names equate to topographical features in the county. It is likely Markle the name derives from Marchleu as found in Y Gododdin (my translation).

It was as true as the old songs tell us
When no mans’ mare dare overtake Marchleu
Whose lances, hurl’d by grand Earl, commanding
From prancing stallion, thick hack-paths form,
A soldier rear’d for slaughter & support
Full furious his sword’s defensive arc
Whose grasp sent ashen shafts a-shattering
Atop the stony pile in solemn stance
He spreads destruction with a dark delight
With blade well-bloodied midst the verdant furze
As when the reapers in fine weather flock,
So Marchleu made the sleepers’ life-streams flow.

From Markle, the road winds towards Markle Quarry, passing the northern tip of the retirement haven Monks Muir Park. We are just about to reach a really nice path up towards the wooded heights of Pencraig. At the main opening to this path, if one looks north into a field, there is a line of hedgerow that would be the ideal path back towards Point A. This would go through Markle Farm’s land, I think, so yet again lets hope they’re amenable to a wee harmless walkway around the edge of a field.

Where the ideal route would emerge
The ideal route would have followed the hedgerow in the distance

From here the path climbs for almost a mile towards Pencraig,  passing a series of different shaped benches plonked Portemeirion style by the path, whereupon entering its wood we find ourselves in Wolfstar territory, East Lothian’s premier field archery club. Just beyond the targets we arrived at a superb spot to view Traprain Law, which shall be the constant centrepiece of the Trail.

A little while after this we come to a wooden table, the so-called Pencraig Picnic Area – & a cool parking spot by the A199, with its very own toilet. I steered the Trail in this direction as people might get caught out on a hike & a toilet offers some redemption. It is also a great spot to join the Heritage Trail just for a wee while – as we shall see Pencraig is a key junction that works as the figure-of-8 hinge for people conntemplating shorter walks.

Pencraig was the scene of a quite forgotten but essentially very cool bit of Scottish history. In February 1401, during the reign of Robert III,  Henry Hotspur invaded Scotland. They got to Papple & then Linton – what East Linton was called back then – & burnt the granges at Markle & Traprain. Hailes held out, tho, it would have been a tough nut to crack, one of the “seven warsteeds,’ or  castles, of East Lothian.  To meet the English, a force of Scots under Archibald, Master of Douglas marched out from Edinburgh Castle. As they began to pour over the ridge at Pencraig, the English in Linton took fright, turned tail & ran for it Johnny Cope style.

At the western end of Pencraig’s parking spot a path drives thro’ some foliage, before bursting out overlooking the eastern quarter of the county roughly where the Scots appeared backin 1401. There’s a little old gate in the wall to the left which takes you into a field for a bit, or you can just stick to the slightly noiser path. They meet up at the edge of a field – it was potatoes when we in attendance – which has a signpost pointing downhill though the fields towards East Linton. This of course, should be taken.


About half a mile or so, passing Pencraig Standing Stone on one’s right, you arrive in East Linton via some new builds, then under a bridge into a large playing field area. The village is a true jewel of civilisation. You never really need to leave the village, actually, its got everything as far as ameneties go, all colacted in a completely unpretentious & picturesque settlement.

Beyond a handsome primary school & a communal park is the hilly, happy high street which hasn’t chang’d aesthetic, one expects, for a century or more. For walkers on the Gododdin Heritage Trail, this is where one would spend a night, availing of the local eateries & accommodation. Plus, if there’s been ankle sprain or something, there’s frequent busses back to Edinburgh & Dunbar.

East Linton has a reputation of being something of an artist’s paradise, among whom Robert Noble is the most famed. Noble was born in 1857 and worked as an apprentice lithographer before studying in Paris and becoming a painter committed to the Barbizon School of painting in the forest of Fontainebleau – a group of realist artists who believed that painting should be undertaken outwith the studio. Indeed, by 1906, East Linton had taken on the monicker of ‘The Scottish Barbizon.’

The ‘pastoral tradition’ evoked a century ago by such eminent painters as William Mactaggart, Arthur Melville, Robert Noble, William Miller Frazer, W.D. McKay and others, remained in evidence amongst later painters, but the landscape was seen for its contemporary vitality and relevance without nostalgia for a past age. Sir William Gillies, 1898-1973, who was born in Haddington, painted the Lothian and Border landscape he loved with a distinctive vision that profoundly influenced painters in the second half of the twentieth century. Previously, easy access by railway had added to the popularity of East Linton and Dunbar as favoured locations for artists but no collective artistic ‘school’ as such developed; most artists then, as at the end of the period, worked as individuals. From, The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian, by John Busby ARSA RSW

These artists worked directly in the landscape, recording rural scenes in villages with farmworkers. Inspired by his experience and training in France, Noble returned to Scotland and found that the landscapes of East Lothian, and the countryside surrounding East Linton in particular, fitted his ideals of subject matter perfectly.

Robert Noble: Dovecot

The next morning, or whenever really, follow the high street south to the T-Junction. To the left are the water-tumbling Linn Rocks – a great rush to witness after heavy rains – around which there has been over 5000 years of settlement. We instead are turning right here, crossing the road, passing under the heavy iron railway bridge & walking about 100 meters to a signpost which points towards left Traprain Law & Hailes Castle.

If you’re here on a Sunday, the market at the Mart is a stone’s throw from the Trail

This is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Trail, right on the banks of the Tyne, flush with woodland & high-banks & just pure serenity.  After a good way, passing under the spelndidly-hewn motorway bridge, straight from the playbook of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one comes to a much smaller wooden bridge, which is where I shall leave this segment for now. But this is a key link to the Pencraig hinge of the 8 I’d mentioned earlier – from here one can walk all the way back to Haddington along the Tyne, or even head back up to Pencraig itself, the red route in the second of this post’s maps.

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The Gododdin Heritage Trail: Haddington to Barnes Castle

Route A in red / Route B in blue

Its been a couple of months since my last post, but that does not mean I haven’t been busy walking about East Lothian in the company of my faithful dog, Daisy. Far from it, we’ve been extremely busy,  tracing &  retracing routes, hacking trails like Belgians in the Congo, all round the heart of the county around Haddington. The reason being is my instigation of what I have called THE GODODDIN HERITAGE TRAIL.

All through 2019 I have been focusing on the iron age hill-forts of central East Lothian & their connection to a 7th century poem called Y Gododdin. The net result of all this is a singular idea – that is to establish & maintain a circular walk which will furnish future walkers, or Trailers,  with the landscape, history & ancestral land-rights of the Gododdin. This beautiful poem is older than Beowulf, & should be celebrated as the earliest poetical literature of the British Isles. I first broached the subject with bubbly Bill at the John Gray Centre in Haddington, who pointed me across the road to the Provost, John Macmillan, a proper sound guy who shared his biscuits with me while we chatted!

Part of Y Gododdin by Aneirin

The county of East Lothian is the true custodian & natural curator of the poem & its contents, & the most strenuous efforts must be made to secure its proper place in the history of the British Isles. The Iron Age is known to us mostly through turfed over ramparts & the occasional pinch of archeological remains – but the Gododdin poem has stories & names – many of which we can associate with places in Gododdin; Markle=Marchleui / Elphin = Elphinstone / Colstoun = Golstan / Dremtudd = Drem / Garvald = Garvelling, & so on.

The walks could also be organised, creating jobs in the county. It is such a beautiful landscape, & walking the route should be encouraged, thus engaging with the Access Code Scotland Act, created to improve the physical & mental health of the Scottish people. The local community would also benefit from just accessing the Trail & finding their own wee section to walk along. A significant side-effect will be a boosting of the local economy. The walk should take two days – a perfect weekend’s worth – & I imagine people staying at the hotels (or air B&Bs) at Gifford & East  – both of which can be reached by public transport. As the walkers progress, they can stop for lunch in Haddington, the Garvald Inn,  the wee cafe at the Tweeddale Fisheries, & even the future cafe at Papple Steading.


Papple is right on the proposed thoroughfare, & its new owner George Mackintosh, is enthusiastically up for help with the project. George is also a lover of history, & wishes to save his newly acquired marvelous steading for posterity. His idea of having cost-supporting accommodation & a cafe at Papple is actually quite perfect for future Trailer.  Also happy to help is Nick Morgan, the Access Officer, who has been giving me bits of advice & this lovely map, to which he attached the following notes;

I have attached a map with a suggestion from me highlighted in red and orange, roughly following the route you had marked on the aerial photos. My suggestion uses core paths where they exist and there are a few sections of quiet road (marked in orange). The core paths are marked in purple on the attached map, but where the route is highlighted over them they have changed to red. I hope they are obvious. The core paths numbers are in the little oval labels, so they make the core paths under the highlighter a little more obvious.’

So where to begin. Lets say Haddington,  & I’ve worked out two possible ‘escapes’ from the town, which I shall call ROUTE A & ROUTE B. Route A begins at the entrance to Herdmanflatt Hospital, whose spacious & verdant grounds offer a park-like passage through the town. Altho’ the Trail can be traversed in either direction, on this occasion we shall be going clockwise. So, the first part of Route A one comes to are  some boarded up houses which  were once used in a residential fashion by medical staff. These would be an ideal youth hostel for future Trailers, but one step at a time, lets get the circuit complete first

From the houses, veer left into the excellent greenery, meandering through the trees & unkempt scrub to the far top left hand corner of the grounds . Here, a wee road takes you along the side of the hospital buildings & to an entrance at Aberlady Road. There is a possible easier access point to the pavement in the wall, but that would need a little work.

At the top of Aberlady Road you come to the junction with the A 199 & its roundabout. The best way to traverse this is by taking the pavements onto Haldane Avenue, heading west a few meters until you come to a pedestrian crossing.

Crossing over the A199 brings up Vert Court on the left, a former maternity hospital founded in 1929 by John Vert of Pendleton, Oregon, as a gift to his native town.  Carrying on, we pass the new builds to our left, then cross over the A1 via a wide bridge. We have now left the town, but are not yet free of traffic. We must continue north along the A 6137, using a grassy verge to the side of the road – not ideal, but something to improve on in the future.

After passing the entrance to Harperdean Farm, we eventually come to the point in the above photo.  To the left winds the plateaux-topping road through Coates to Longniddry, while ahead the road goes to Aberlady. To the right, however, continues Route A, a delightful straight line of a farm track with magnificent views stretching out beyond Haddington to the Lammermuir Ridge.

The gate that leads to the derelict farmhouse

There is also a cool old derelict farmhouse to the left of the track which is well worth a wee peruse. The track eventually reaches a road – the one that climbs from Haddington over the Garletons – & it is at this point that we intersect with ROUTE B.

Route A comes out here


This is definitely the quicker way out of Haddington & into the trail, but it is a bit if a clunky start. I mean, ideally we’d have something like the motorway-bridges springing up across the world to give freedom of access to wildlife, as depicted below – tho’ I’m not sure the council budget will stretch as far at this time!

In 2019, however, to access to core path up to the Garleton Hills, one has to traverse the busy roundabout system which links the A1 to the local road network. Kinda keeping left, but obviously not heading up any sliproads – one eventually hits a road which starts to rise gently to the left. There is a distinct path to follow which after about 150m ends abruptly, It continues on the other side of the road.

An awkward bit of the trail – its a bit like a fakir on hot coals here – you really need to cross over then cross back again

Its now time to enter some glorious woodland as one rises up towards the Garletons for about half a mile. Once the path leaves the trees, it winds right towards the main road, at which point you would intersect with Route A.

Route B emerges at the main road here

At this point our two routes have converged on each other – the following text is extracted from an earlier W.EL. post, performed back in February & hence the wintry photos!

Lets park the car {continue our walk} on that small & sketchy piece of ground on the summit of the road over the Garleton Hills between Haddington & Athelstaneford. The space is on the right as you drive from Haddington; there’s a little signpost pointing into a field, which is where this walk begins.

Hopping over the stile, one reaches a wide smooth field,  the gentle rise of which forms a u-shape against the sky. Turning around & looking backwards; Edinburgh is clearly visible, while in the foreground the Hopetoun Monument leaps vertically out of Byres Hill.  Even closer – just across the road – is the Garleton’s tallest peak, Skid Hill, upon which survive some of the the earthworks of a Gododdin hillfort – the rest have been destroyed by extensive quarrying.

North Berwick Law up ahead

Once on the hill’s extensive plateaux I advise just wandering about to your heart’s content like my wee Daisy – perhaps not in the slightly deranged 100 metre arcs that she does, tho.’ At every turn there are simply stunning & extensive views, while even if there’s a bit of weather, this will mostly add to the texture of the vision. It does get a bit windy, mind, so wrap up on a  wintry day.

The rough idea is to pass beyond the ariels towards the woods to the east, skirting a fence while keeping the bales in the photo below to one’s right.  The woods are accessible by a gate that is generally tied. Its no problem for little dogs, but bigger dogs will  have to be heaved over

Once over the fence, with it being Winter I was relishing the gnarly aspects of the skeletal trees. Then, after following a path through thick gorse, about a half-mile before Barney Mains Farm I reached the quite unexpected but completely enthralling remains of Kae-Heughs, another of the Gododdin promontory hillforts.

The path through the gorse


Barney Mains, downhill in the distance

Etymologically we can divide the name into two parts; the first name ‘Kae’ & the Scots word ‘Heugh’ which means a steep ravine or craggy precipice. For me, Kae is the Arthurian Sir Kay – remember Arthur’s Uncle Loth lived only a few miles a way at Traprain.

Back in February, me & Daisy headed under the cliffs back towards the car. In terms of the Gododdin Heritage Trail, we must instead continue down the track towards Barney Mains, about 200 metres from Kae Heughs. It is there that we leave the wintry photographs & return to the light & heat of July. Once the farm is reached, there are some steps to the right which takes the walker into a field & around the farm itself.

As the farm track drops, at the end of the cottage strip there is a sign pointing to a pathway east, which is going to take us along the wonderful ridge betwyx the Lammermuirs & the sea that divides the county in twain. The views of the Gododdin heartlands are simply glorious here.

Approaching Barnes Castle

The above photo is looking back over our left shoulder towards Barnley Mains & on the far right of the photo the majestic white eye in a forest of green that is Kilduff Farm. Some scholars assume that this is where a pregnant Thaney was tossed off the cliff in a chariot by her faith-crazed father, Loth, mainly on the fact that its name sounded like Kepduff.

Sir John Seton of Barnes, from the Seton family group portrait.

About a half-mile along the ridge you come to the cool shell of Barnes Castle,  an unfinished bastion started by Sir John Seton of Barnes. While still a young man he went to Spain and the court of Philip II, by whom he was made Knight of the Military Order of Santiago and master of the household. He would eventually become James V I’s Treasurer of the Household and an Extraordinary Lord of Session.  Unfortunately, construction ceased upon Sir John’s death in 1594. Sir John owned the nearby Garleton Castle, and was probably responsible for rebuilding it around an earlier core. But it may be that he wanted to build himself something more modern. Also known as Barney Vaults, it feels & looks very much like one of the Palmerston Follies lining the south coast of England, built to protect the realm from Napoleon. Today the castle is used as a storage depot for Barney Mains, BUT, it is slap bang on the Heritage Trail…

Passing Barnes Castle to its left
Looking back at the Castle

The walk continues beyond the castle, aiming towards a moundy clump of trees, which you take to its right. The view then opens up in front of wonderful farmlands, with Pencraig Wood rising to its right, beyond which lies East Linton. Descending the farm track for a wee while eventually brought us to a fork, with the main path turning left to Athelstaneford, while the track continues to the main road.

It is here that I shall leave this first installment of the trail – the next section is going to be tricky & will involve contacting various landowners. This is what Nick Morgan had to say about the obstacles ahead…

Core path 87 along the Garleton Ridge is fantastic, but it eventually hits the North Berwick road. Here, the road verges are quite wide. We had always hoped to build a path in the field margin here, but it has never happened for one reason or another. However, there is normally a grass margin in the fields, so it should be possible to walk there. I would just be very careful about where people cross the road, as there are a few blind summits on that road.



Maitlandfieldhouse Hotel  is a situated in the Riverside Quarter of Haddington Town. This 17th century historic town house retains the charm of its period whilst offering a quality, service and the attention expected from a privately owned and family managed 3 Star Hotel. Maitlandfield has a varied selection of ensuite bedrooms, an award winning modern style Brasserie and Bar, Private Dining Rooms, Conference and Meeting Rooms.

The Golf Tavern is located in Haddington, 5 miles from National Museum of Flight. Guests can grab a bite to eat in the restaurant or a drink at the bar and free WiFi is available.

Places to Eat

The Waterside Bistro loves the East Lothian countryside, which provides plentiful ingredients for a choice of well-presented bistro classics and sharing platters as well as freshly sourced seafood from our popular restaurant section. Outdoor tables allow views of the beautiful river Tyne. A great spot for outdoor drinking by the river, weather permitting of course. 

Falko Café & Restaurant is an offshoot of Konditormeister Falko’s Edinburgh-based bakery is a haven (should that be heaven?) for all things bread and cake. It’s an intimate corner café, brightened with touches of tartan and a rustic scattering of baking paraphernalia. Kuchen might include traditionally made apfel strudel, while the 20-or so hand-made cakes are authentic master-baker confections of whipped cream, chocolate, choux pastry and the like. Breads vary daily, and a short menu of savoury brunch and snack items might showcase today’s rye, spelt or crusty Hunter’s loaf. Tables are in high demand, so the takeaway option for a special picnic or artisan loaf to take home is a bonus.

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Searching for Gododdin (iv): Black & Green Castles (Danskine)

Is it me, or did the Summer just arrive?  No it definitely did & it is, with some positivity, still here! The world, or at least the county, is my oyster once more, & it is time to go out & explore. In that spirit this shall be the last of my Gododdin series for 2019. I’ve left a great walk till last, however, which begins on the extremities of the county on the road that leads from Gifford in the direction of Duns.

Its a great drive or cycle this, with the Lammermuir ridge towering over & advancing towards the approaching traveler like the Alps over Bavaria. Not quite as imposing, obviously, but there is a certain beauty to the scene. One must park up at a cattle grid next to Darent House, more or the last residence in the county, Across the road from here is the Tweeddale Fisheries, full of ‘hard-fighting trout.’

They’re a mellow bunch round these parts, & don’t mind the odd walker enjoying  the scintillating views into several counties & there’s even a cafe open to the public which does a grand bacon butty.

So me & Daisy walked into the tri-loch system, keeping the first one to our left, along which banks we were followed by a male swan keeping an eye on his nesting mate.

Beyond the second loch we wove left & then onwards, leaving the cafe & main hub behind, & heading in the direction of Green Castle  – the first of the two hill-forts this walk takes in. The fishermen were in fine spirits, but not too happy with the sunshine apparently its too bright for the fish at the surface.

Green Castle

At the far end of the third loch, I hopped over a fence, & Daisy under, & we were soon wandering up & round the really evocative from the other side fortification. This triangular fort rests on the steep right bank of the Newlands Burn and is protected a short distance away to the N by a minor watercourse, & along with its isolated gullies would have been a tough nut to crack.

Returning to Fisheries, we headed along the far western shore of the third loch for a wee while, then instead of returning to the car, we took a grassy track west for about 100 metres. This ends up at Newlands farm eventually – a bonnie walk in itself – but for today we were heading up & over the gate on our right

Turn left at the top

We had now been swept into a vast, smooth field. The views – well panoramas really – are sublime here, & variable also. One must climb a gentle rise in the direction of some trees – Black Castle Wood. As you approach them, you should be able to make out the rough ramparts of Black Castle.

There is a gate in the fence at the top of the field which one pass over, then head right & forward to the corner of this new field. This gives you access to the Black Fort, which can be pleasantly explored, but to continue the work the easiest way is to head towards the woods in the direction of Newlands again.

Hop over here

Black Fort’s proximity to Danskine suggest that it was once known as Dun Skine, with the Dun element meaning hillfort. The fort is on the summit of a hillock, at 900 feet (270 m). It measures about 380 by 340 feet (120 by 100 m). It has an inner and an outer rampart, and two entrances marked by causeways.

The name ‘Skine’ links to a certain Serguan, whose name does not appear in Y Gododdin, but we can definitely connect him to the Gododdin. In the Harleian genealogies, & specifically the Welsh kingdom of Ceredigion, we may observe;

[G]uocaun map Mouric map Dumnguallaun map Arthgen map Seissil map Clitauc Artgloys map Artbodgu map Bodgu map SERGUAN Serguil map Iusay map Ceretic map Cuneda.


That Ceretic is the son of Cunedda gives us a positive link between Serguan & the Gododdin, for Cunedda was the Dark Age warlord who moved from the Lothians to Northern Wales in order to fight the Irish pirates known as the Scots. He won, & so the Scots decided to try Dalriada instead… & the rest is history.

Maelgwn, the great king, was reigning among the Britons in the region of Gwynedd, for his ancestor, Cunedag, with his sons, whose number was eight, had come previously from the northern part, that is from the region which is called Manaw Gododdin, one hundred and forty-six years before Maelgwn reigned. And with great slaughter they drove out from those regions the Scotti who never returned again to inhabit them.
The Historia Brittonum of Nennius (9th Century)

Ceredigion is a long way from East Lothian, but in the 6th century the ‘Welsh’ world stretched in an unbroken realm from East Lothian, west to Strathclyde & down the entire west of Britain to Cornwall. It is within the genealogy for Strathclyde, as found in a text known as ‘The Descent of the men of the North,’ that we see Serguan again.

Ryderch Hael m. Tutwal Tutelyt m. Kedic m. Dyuynwal Hen Mordaf m. Seruan m. Kedic

The Strathclyde lineage shows Serguan as the son of Kedic/Ceretic, rather than the grandson as proposed by the Harleian Genealogy, but the correlation is consistent. It also places Serguan in Scotland.

The crucial gate to continue the walk
DO NOT climb over this

Leaving the fort & its history, at this point I made the mistake of climbing into a newly planted wood, but Daisy saw me right & stuck to the fringes of the field instead. Still, we were in close unison as we made our way in the direction of the Gifford-Duns road where of course our car was parked.

Danskine Farm – centre-right

To the left of my vision I could see Danskine farm itself, which was an inn back in the day, & was also a smugglers hotpsot. An article in an 1870’s edition of the Haddingtonshire Courier recounts a boat full of ankers (barrel measure of spirit or wine) landing ashore at Dunglass Dean, Cockburnspath. The ankers were hidden in a barn for future delivery, when a Gauger doing his rounds found the place of concealment. He locked the door to the barn and took off to Dunbar to get assistance.

In the meantime, “Pat was up to the Gauger” and the cargo was removed from the barn. The officer returned with his help only to find the “bird flown”. Fooling the Revenue officers proved to be a popular pastime and was considered harmless by many residents, shop keepers and traders.

Once the booze had safely avoided the customs officers, it would have to be hidden & Danskine was also a well known location for the operation. The farmer and Innkeeper would take a late night journey on a bare-backed horse to bring kegs into Haddington.

Danskine Inn & Farm were long occupied by John Miller, a well-known man in his day. The inn was for a long period the halting house for travelers going to & from Berwickshire from Lothian, Longformacus & Dunse being the nearest places on the Berwickshire side. It was thus well frequented by all sorts of travelers, & a convenient & useful house of entertainment, both for ‘man & horse.’ Old Miller, it was said, knew much about the operations of the runners of contraband gin & brandy, who came across teh Lammermuir hills from the Berwickshire & Northumberland coast. Dealers in such goods knew Danskine well, & a supply could be got.
Reminiscences & Notices of the County of Haddingtonshire
John Martine


Me & Daisy eventually met up in a large field – there were sheep in it, but they were a good way off, & I managed to keep Daisy oblivious to their existence. We then skirted the field & finally reached the track at the entrance of the Fisheries, only a stone’s throw from the car.

There was curious novelty when I arrived, for I found a gentleman from Dumfries scrabbling about near my car on the cattle grid. It turns out he was a huge Geocaching fan. I’d never heard of it myself, but apparently there are three million hidden over the world. He & his wife had just spent a week in Estonia ticking that nation’s off. I mean, it really is a good way to get out of the house or to make a journey interesting I suppose.

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Searching for Gododdin (iii): Garleton Hills

There’s nothing like sliding into the Jet Garage at Haddington, popping some unleaded in the tank, & going, d’ya know what, if I drive for about three minutes, I’ll find myself in a gorse-swept bastillion above the county, virtually alone among triassic rock formations which plunge my psyche back millions of years to a time before Humans, all complemented by the most splendid of revolving 360 views. Or sometimes I just think that Daisy needs a pee & a poo. Either way, welcome to the next instalment of Walking East Lothian, & without further ado lets park the car on that small & sketchy piece of ground on the summit of the road over the Garleton Hills between Haddington & Athelstaneford.

The space is on the right as you drive from Haddington; there’s a little signpost pointing into a field, which is where this walk begins. I started to take notes a couple of weeks ago, well before the recent February heatwave, on a brilliant morning in icy conditions. Cue ethereally atmospheric early morning light-shows.

Hopping over the stile, one reaches a wide smooth field,  the gentle rise of which forms a u-shape against the sky. Turning around & looking backwards; Edinburgh is clearly visible, while in the foreground the Hopetoun Monument leaps vertically out of Byres Hill.  Even closer – just across the road – is the Garleton’s tallest peak, Skid Hill, upon which survive some of the the earthworks of a Gododdin hillfort – the rest have been destroyed by extensive quarrying.

The main point of these recent ‘Searching for Gododdin’ posts has been to identify placenames in East Lothian which correspond to those given by Aneirin as warriors of the Gododdin war party at the Battle of Catraeth. Among the warriors’ names, there is no match for ‘Skid’ but there is a possible match to Garleton. Garleton’s earliest recorded name was Garmylton, which is quite resonant of Gorwylam, who appears in Y Gododdin (my translation).

Thro’ days of long & strenuous exertion
Their bravery was rais’d, display’d & prais’d
But, following intoxicating mead,
No man was spar’d, tho’ Gorwylam fought well
Twas destin’d Fate decreed to break our charge.
North Berwick Law up ahead

Returning to our walk, once on the hill’s extensive plateaux I advise just wandering about to your heart’s content like my wee Daisy – perhaps not in the slightly deranged 100 metre arcs that she does, tho.’ At every turn there are simply stunning & extensive views, while even if there’s a bit of weather, this will mostly add to the texture of the vision. It does get a bit windy, mind, so wrap up on a  wintry day.

The rough idea is to pass beyond the ariels towards the woods to the east, skirting a fence while keeping the bales in the photo below to one’s right.  The woods are accessible by a gate that is generally tied. Its no problem for little dogs, but bigger dogs will  have to be heaved over.

Once over the fence, with it being Winter I was relishing the gnarly aspects of the skeletal trees. Then, after following a path through thick gorse, about a half-mile before Barney Mains Farm I reached the quite unexpected but completely enthralling remains of Kae-Heughs, another of the Gododdin promontory hillforts.

The path through the gorse

Barney Mains, downhill in the distance

Etymologically we can divide the name into two parts; the first name ‘Kae’ & the Scots word ‘Heugh’ which means a steep ravine or craggy precipice. For me, Kae is the Arthurian Sir Kay – remember Arthur’s Uncle Loth lived only a few miles a way at Traprain. An infallible chain of logic goes like this;

1: According to a set of Dark Age genealogies known as the the Bonedd y Saint, a certain Modrun, daughter of King Vortimer, married Ynyr, king of Gwent, from which union a son called Ceidaw was born.

2: Sir Kay is said to be the son of the union between King Cynyr Ceinfarfog & Anna, a daughter of King Vortimer.  Interestingly, the Bonedd y Saint give Modrun a handmaid called Anna. There are enough tallies to assume Ynyr & Cynyr were the same man, as was Kay & Ceidaw

3: Kays’ father, Cynyr Ceinfarfog, was said to have held Caer Gynyr in Wales, which was later renamed after his son as Caer Cai. An old stone was found here which reads; Here lies Salvianus Burgocavis, son of Cupitianus.’ Confirmation that Sir Kay was Cupitainus comes from a memorial stone found at Castlesteads Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall. It tells us that ‘Gaius Julius Cupitianus restored a temple.’ It is clear now that is from Gaius that we obtain the name Cei, with Geoffrey of Monmouth also calling Kay, ‘Caius.’

4: That Cupitianus was Kay is inferred from the discovery of a stone in the Liddesdale in the Scottish Borders, not far from Castlesteads, which reads, ‘Here lies Caranti, son of Cupitianus.
The Liddesdale Stone

Space doesn’t allow to explain why, but all evidence points towards the Liddesdale as being the site of the battle of Catreath. This means we can link the name Caranti with that of Garanwyn, who appears as Sir Kay’s son in the 9th century Welsh poem Culhwch & Olwen. In the following stanza from Y Gododdin, the death of a son of ‘Keidyaw,’ (Garanwyn) should be the true origin of the grave of Caranti at Liddesdale.

I loved his fame who forced the blood to flow
& thrust his sword thro those who violence loved
& could ever a valourous tale regaling
Leave out the son of Keidyaw, man of war

So essentially, if Kay’s son was Gododdin, then Kay himself was either Gododdin or married to one. Indeed, the Arthurian romances record his marriage to Princess Andrivete of Northumbria. Their Haddington home, then, Kae Heughs hillfort, marks the eastern point of the walk. To proceed onwards there’s a nice path just to the north, which heads back west under the nose of the crags. Again the views are stunning. I’d been so snap-happy, however, that my phone battery ran out & I had to return on another day to finish the photos.

The above photo shows the whitewash of Kilduff Farm. Some scholars assume that this is where a pregnant Thaney was tossed off the cliff in a chariot by her faith-crazed father, Loth, mainly on the fact that its name sounded like Kepduff. However, if we read the account of Saint Kentigern by Jocelin (12th century), we can spot a couple of red flags.

The pregnant girl having therefore been handed over to the executioners, there arose a dispute among them who should throw the first stone at her; but because none of the officers presumed to cast one at one’of the royal family, and yet dared not in any way neglect the judicial sentence, if such it might be called, they brought her to the top of a hill, which is called Kepduf, that, placed in a chariot and precipitated from the top of the hill, she might be consigned to a terrible death… in full faith, and signed with the sign of the life-giving cross, as she gave way in no wise to lust, although being over come by a man she conceived, so when violently cast down in the chariot from the top of the high mountain, she came down to its foot unhurt.

Now the king was again greatly excited against her by those who administered his law, who imputed this miracle to the sleight of the magic art, and, in order that he might not appear to prefer his love for his daughter before the justice of his kingdom, said, ” If she be worthy of life, let her be given over to the sea, and then her God will free her from peril of death if He so will.” They brought her therefore to the firth, which is about three miles from Kepduf, to the mouth of a river which is called Aberlessic, that is the Mouth of Stench, for at that time there was such a quantity of fish caught there that it was a fatigue to men to carry off the multitude of fish cast from the boats upon the sand, and so great putrefaction arose from the fish which were left on the shore, where the sand was bound together with blood, that a smell of detestable nature used to drive away quickly those who approached the place. She then was accompanied to the sea-shore by many men and women weeping bitterly. Some said, “O what a dreadful judgment is this awarded by a father to his child! What hath the king’s daughter done that she should undergo such deadly ills as these! It is cruelty to exact punishment twice for the same crime. Let the judge who maketh no distinction perish; he is entirely cruel.” And as she was consigned to the waters, the voice of all who bewailed her was heard saying, “May the Lord Who delivered thee from death also free thee from peril in the waters!” And as the innocent woman consigned to death heard the voices of those who bemoaned her, she began to cry unto the Lord, saying, ” Judge them, O Lord, that hurt me; fight thou against them that fight against me. Take the arms and the shield and come unto my help.”

Luckily Aberlady doesn’t smell even half as bad as what it did in the Dark Ages, but what we do know is that the the cliffs at Garleton are a better candidate for flying chariots off towards its passenger’s doom than the more sedate slopes of Kepduff. The Garleton Ridge is also exactly 3 miles from Aberlady, with Kilduff being about a half mile closer. Thus, it makes sense that the Garleton Hills werethe original Kepduff.

Heading west now, with a sheer slope to your left, one has to climb over another gate, before entering perhaps the most gorgeous place in the county. Aesthetically, you encounter deep-history in a glance; carboniferous tuffs and trachytic lavas all converging in one picture-frame scene

Eventually, one comes to a curious bit of concrete & a pool. To the right of here rises the flat-topped Craigie Hill – like something from Arizona, but a bit greener. It was here that William Wallace was supposed to have hidden while on the run from the Sassenach hordes. These are a few lines from my ‘Scotiad‘ describing such an occasion.

Fae the forest to the city
Scottis lot obsess’d with pity,
The conquest of their contree done,
But for one spirit on the run,
Its native saviour, brightest son,
For of all brave & ancient Scots
Whose glories knew no bars & blots,
‘Wallace!’ is name known most of all,
In him was Scotland’s very soul,
As evening shades drape slowly down,
Wrapping the glades in sylvan brown,
Night owls awaken in the dell,
Fox-barkings heard upon the fell,
Enough remains of dusk’s half-light
To guide the fugitive aright,
Yet not enough from far to show
His figure to the watchful foe,
For Wallace is a hunted man,
By gudemen help when e’er they can
With food & shelter, news & knives,
For while he lives Scotland survives.

After Daisy quench’d her thirst, we turned upwards in the direction of a gap in the ridge, as if the blade of some diety had chopped it in two. Its better to not follow the path – which is pretty much overgrown with gorse – but instead go across the field & join the path just before it begins its ascent through the gap.

At the top, we reach’d one last gate, which gave us access to the field we had first entered. Cue Daisy sweeping about  the verdant canvas like the strokes of a painters brush, a wee nip over the stile & the drive downhill from the delectable Garleton Hills.

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Searching for Gododdin (ii): Chesters Hill Fort (Drem)

In the last post I introduced the idea that certain members of an armed contingent called the Gododdin, which marched from the Lothians to the Battle of Catreath in 600 AD, had connections to East Lothian. We observed ElphinElphinstone, Rhuvawn-Ravensheugh & Gwid-Kidlaw, all of which were connected to Iron-Age fortresses or burial centers. In the same fashion, I would like to introduce an idea that the 6th century warrior known as Dremrudd was once a warlord at an outstandingly impressive & fabulously well-preserved hill-fort called the Chesters, only a stone’s throw away from the village of Drem. The stanza in which he is found in Y Gododdin (my translation) reads:

Ye Kings stand firm twyx Dremrudd’s ruddy glances,
Whose purposes times pillages obscure,
Men plough the seas with pure impunity,
Of these, the palest first is satisfied,
A wee bit crazed & yet his crown complete,
Before him garden-cover’d, Gownddelw,
Right worthy, lived as tall as did Maelderw,
Wielded his spears as such we bards must praise
How his soul-strength pervaded many lands


I like late January, with the morning twilights coming earlier & growing nearer to my bedroom window, & the evening’s light lasting just a tad while longer – Spring is definitively coming! But, there is nothing like a crisp, clear winter’s morning for a walk; so me & Daisy found ourselves driving into the quaint, wee, 3-bay car-park at the Chesters.

The best way to enjoy this walk is to not head straight for the hillfort along the path, but to veer right into the woodland. At this time of year the branches are bare & the air is insect free, which lent a real feeling of barren tranquility to the occasion.

Passing up & over a gate, we enter’d a new field, with gorse on our left, while over the wall to the right sat a handsome blue tractor!

At this point we began to ascend a steepish slope to our left, with Daisy sniffing for rabbits as we went.I was loving the way the tree branches in this silent corner of the county were making weird webbing patterns against the sky.

After a wee while we reached a fine plateaux, with splendid views all round. At the rough summit spot, one can make out Edinburgh, Fife, North Berwick Law, & even Torness Power Station in the far distance.

Crossing the plateaux to the NE – aiming for North Berwick Law – we reached a clumsy wall, thro’ a gap in which we found ourselves on a hillslope thick with gorse & paths. Here we had our first glimpse of the Chesters directly to the north, in which direction we paced our way down paths & through gorse.

Once we reached the valley bottom, we turned left, & headed towards a stile in the distance, over which we popped & did a U-turn of sorts in order to explore the hillfort to its eastern end.

What a joy; an excuisite circumvallating heap of vivid turf walls & defensive ditches, all lush-flush with hibernating grasses. The Chesters consists of two acres of atmospheric circles atop a conical eminence, but as a defensive position its a bit daft – an invading army could easily have slung rocks and arrows from the heights from whence we came earlier. But, it was heavily defended – perhaps it was an iron-age bank or something, protecting the treasures of the Gododdin chiefs. It was certainly very high-status, & as I have already stated, connected in some way to Dremrudd.

The quantifiably excellent vistas obtained from the Chesters were very much favored during the two World Wars of last century, in the capacity of an observation post. Just a couple of miles away lay RAF Drem, a vital chain in the protection of Britain, overlooking the waterways of the Firth of Forth with all of its crucial shipping. To protect Drem, an anti-aircraft gun emplacement was also established right on the Chesters.

During the Second World War, Drem was abuzz with different squadrons & planes – including Mosquitos & Hawker Hurricanes – piloted by an ever increasing array of internationals. The first edition of the Supermarine Spitfire flew from Drem in 1939 (A&B Flights of 72 Squadron),  & 16 editions later, at the end of the war, they were still flying from Drem.

While stood on the Chesters, observing the merry meld of sky, sea, & land, I began imagining the dog-fighting scene during the first major air-battle over Britain of the Second World War. It took place on the 16th October, 1939, only 3 days after 602 Squadron had moved to Drem to bolster the defences around the Firth of Forth.

Thinking that the War would be over in a matter of weeks, the Germans had decided to attack the shipping at Rosyth, roaring in over the Lammermuirs & along the Forth in four waves of three Junkers Ju 88 bombers of the 1 Gruppe Kampfgeschwader. Taking the British air-defence completely by surprise, they scored some damage.

Spitfires from Drem & Turnhouse (Edinburgh) were scrambl’d to attack the raiders, resulting in the first two Luftwaffe bombers shot down, one of which was claimed by George Pinkerton of 602 at Drem. It was brought down off the May Island and two crew were rescued by a trawler; they were transferred to Military Custody at Edinburgh Castle where they were visted by George himself. A third plane was struck by ack-ack fire & limped through the skies to Holland, where it made a forced landing in which all the crew were killed.

A Junkers Ju 88

Back at Rosyth, the cruisers HMS Edinburgh and HMS Mohawk, and the destroyer, HMS Southampton, had all sustained direct hits, but did not sink. 15 Sailors who were killed, was not released for many years. Some of the dead are interred in the Naval section of South Queensferry Cemetery.

In the early noughties, the BBC ran a sheme called ‘People’s War’ asking viewers to send in accounts of the war. From these I found Edward Thomson’s account of the attack, made in  2003.

I was a passenger on the Dundee section of an Edinburgh to Aberdeen train which had just entered the first arch at the Southern end of the Bridge. The next stop was to be Leuchars Junction. I was in the corridor with an older boy called Jack Thomas from Edinburgh. We were looking downstream to the right of the carriage and were trying to identify some of the fleet at anchor below the bridge. Almost simultaneously there was a giant waterspout as high as the bridge alongside one of the capital ships and a barge tied up alongside; it seemed to fly up in the air! In later life I discovered it was HMS Southampton. There were two or three other explosions further off and one of the ships was actually struck; it was HMS Mohawk and casualties were sustained on board.

Drem was a relative placid posting – with squadrons being rotated here from the wild SE corner of England. In November 1941, a member of 611 Squadron (West Lancashire) recorded his unimpress’d observations of arriving at Drem.

As compared with Hornchurch, Drem has a very long way to go. The men have four wooden huts in which to sleep (35 men to each) & heated by 2 coal stoves. Senior NCOs & Officers both have the old type messes. Dispersal point is situated along the south-west side of teh flying field. There are 5 wooden huts, 2 for pilots, 1 each for A- & B- flight’s ground crews & 1 for signal & armament personnel. Squadron HQ is on the opposite side of the flying field & is very reminscent of the wooden HQ which the Squadron had in pre-war days at Speke. It must be realized that Hornchurch has been completely modernized & everything is most up to date whilst here no modernization has been carried out yet

At the eastern end of the Chesters are the remains of a double gateway, through which me & Daisy bounced. We next came to a fortuitous hole in the fence, through which we went, turning sharply right & downhill. Then, it was a return to the valley, along which we went, this time passing the stile & reaching the sites information point.

The hole in the fence

It was then a wee potter back through the woods & to the car. We really enjoyed this walk. Its all a bit short, like, but its quiet & you can freely meander about a lot like a drunken spaniel, so make what you will of the occasion!

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Searching for Gododdin (i) : Traprain Law


Hello & welcome to year two of my Walking East Lothian series. So far we have scratched the surface of just some of this remarkable county’s scenically sensational & really quite interesting walks.  There seems to be history popping out of every rock! To open 2019 I thought I would dig deep into the area’s earliest recorded inhabitants, an Iron Age tribe named the Otalini by the 2nd century Roman geographer, Ptolemy.

Further south [i.e. below the Selgovae] are the Otalini (sic), among whom are the following towns: Coria 20*10 59∞00 Alauna 23*00 58∞40 Bremenium 21*00 58∞45″

Their tribal territories spread from Falkirk, through all the Lothians & into the eastern borders as far as Northumberland, where the town’s mentioned above seem to have been situated. Coria would be Corbridge, Alavna would be Learchild near the River aln, & Bremenivm, High Rochester. Other passages in Ptolemy give us a few coastal & river names, such as Firth of Forth (Bodotria Aestuarium), the River Coquet (Cocuveda Fluvius) & the River Tyne (Tineus Fluvius).

They also had a hill-fort on East Lothian’s lodestar, Traprain Law – a 3rd century horde of Roman Silver was discover’d here, indicating a settlement of some importance. By the sixth century, the Otadini had become the Gododdin, at least in the Old Welsh language of their native poet Aneirin. It is from him & his fabulous poem, Y Gododdin, that we learn how the tribe had moved their principle seat to Edinburgh, from where 300 warriors marched to the battlefield of Catraeth. Only a handful would survive, including Aneirin, whose series of elegies to the fallen dead is the first true literary treasure of the British Isles.

I have translated Y Gododdin myself (you can read it here) & as I did so I began to notice matches between the names of the warriors & certain places in East Lothian. Once is nothing, twice a lucky coincidence, three times a gently extending ‘hmmmm,’ & four times an, ‘I really do need to open 2019 with a ‘Searching for Gododdin’ series.’ For example, there are two stanzas which mention a certain Elphin, who could be the same man to whom a memorial stone was erected at the Dark Age burial near Elphinstone. Other Gododdin-East Lothian connections begin with a certain Rhuvawn, whose name could well have corrupted into Ravensheugh, the site of a hill-fort at the northern extremity of Seacliff Beach. According to the medieval Welsh Triads, Rhuvawn was one of the three Fair Princes of Britain alongside the famous Owain of Rheged. There is also a warrior called Gwid, son of Peithan, whose name may be present in Kidlaw (Gwidlaw). Here is the stanza in which he appears in my translation of Y Gododdin

No hall was ever made more eminent,
Nor mightier, for slaughters more immense;
The mead of Morien has turn’d to flame
& none could say that Cynon can’t carve corpses,
Whose hero-sword resounds around the ramparts,
No more than we can move a massive boulder,
Will Gwid, the son of Peithan, too be moved!

So to my first walk of the series, & the so-called early capital of the Votadini at Traprain, from which the ‘v’ moves to the ‘g’ of Gododdin through natural phonetic interchangeability. Earlier last year I skiffed the slopes of Traprain Law on my investigations into the Loth Stone, but this time we would be hitting the very summit. There is an excellent car-park on Traprain’s northern edge, reachable from the directions of East Linton, Stenton & Haddington.

Daisy & I undertook this walk between Christmas & New Year, on a an extra fine day in which all the natural colours were peculiarly pastoral. Parking up, we entered a small picnic area at which end was a strange guillotine thing which I had to lift up to let Daisy through.

We walk’d parallel to wall for a bit, then turn’d slightly left to start our climb to the summit & to witness those ever-expanding views. That was us, then, climbing slopes hewn from the Earth 320 million years ago. Antiquity indeed, & there has been human occupation on Traprain since the Bronze Age, about 1500 BC.

Looking back to the car park

Daisy loves a good slope, & was scampering about in her usual giddy way. The path was through rocks & gorse, upon the latter of which I noticed a few perfunctory yellow trumpet-heralds embellishing the green, blooming in anticipation with the full orchestra soon to be flushing the hills with brightness.

After a minor path diversion we began to ascend ever higher, the going growing harder & with this pick’d up the wind. We were not alone, a number of fellow walkers were taking advantage of the dry sunshine, & of course thoroughly enjoying the immense panoramas. It is from such vantage that the impressive piece of engineering that is the East Linton A1 bridge can be properly admired.

At the summit I ask’d a mother-daughter couple to take photos of me & Daisy, & they happily obliged. I then offer’d my services in return, & return’d the favour. It turns out I knew the daughter – she is connected to the Haddington Corn Exchange & shows me how to work the lights whenever I hire the hall for some artistic event.

Daisy grabbing a handy drank from the summit pool

So here we were, in the assumed capital of the Votadini, on account of a fabulous horde of Roman silver found here.  Traprain is an excellent setting for rule – massive stretching views in all directions & complete control over the Forth & its access to the world’s seaways.The chieftains must have felt a bit like Hitler at Berchtesgaden, up in the Heavens with delusions of grandeur.

The Traprain Treasure

Now I’d just like to show you something interesting. Speculations have abounded as to why the silver arrived at Traprain c.400 AD, when the Votadini at that time were no longer under Roman jurisdiction. The answer, however, is quite simple.


The first steps in the solution involves recognizing the pattern on the shields of several Roman units, as given in the 5th century Notitia Dignitatum, is identical to the following piece of silverware.


This image was created by Alice Blackwell, based on fragments of the dish being found in the hoard, & their massive similarities with a dish found in Switzerland. One is immediately reminded of the Honariana Attecotti Seniores, a unit of troops drawn from the Attacotti, a hitherto unplaced tribe of Scotland. ‘Honarian’ means they represented Emperor Honorious (395-423 AD), whose coins are the last dated in the Traprain treasure. With the Honariana Attecotti Seniores coming under the Roman Italian command, then  we have credible support for the dish at Traprain being the same as the one found in Switzerland.

We now come to the best bit. For a long, long time, scholars have speculated on the homelands of the Attacotti, but to no avail. However, while looking at an Ogham inscription on an obscure Pictish stone discovered on the Shetland Islands, I hit paydirt. Etched into what is known as the Lunnasting Stone, it reads;

ettecuhetts: ahehhttannn: hccvvevv: nehhtons 

Chispologically speaking, Ettecuhets is a lovely match for Attacotti, especially when we combine two variant spelling in the Notitia, being ‘attecotti’ & ‘attcoetti,’ as in;  Attecoet / Ettecuhet. OK, the Shetlands aren’t the Orkneys, but they are very close & may have been administer’d together 1500 years ago, which suddenly provides the historiographical evidence to explain why King Loth of Lothian was also the King of the Orkneys (& Norway).

With East Lothian spinning in 360 degrees of beauty, I traced the walks I had composed last year, & hinted at those yet to pass. I had first reached the summit of Traprain almost a decade ago, in 2009, during which period I was composing lots of sonnets. This was the result;

Elevated by the Votadini
We scrambl’d up the Laccolithic side
Found picture frame three hundred sixty wide
Elating vision sweet to each degree.

Beneath rocks of volcanic pimplerie
Dunbar, East Linton, Haddington abide,
Fields reach the Forth & beaches there beside
Or lonely Lammermuir where thought soars free.

I cast mine een along the Garleton ridge
To settle on the far-off Forth Road bridge,
Little with distance, ghostly in the mist.

This is the length of Roman Lothian,
A county home my roaming soul hath won
To recollect whenever she is miss’d.

Roll on a decade & I found myself nestled in a rocky outcrop on the eastern end of the summit, rather like those witnessed by the British Army on the Falklands, by Mount Tumbledown. As I gazed down upon the ruins of Hailes Castle, with Daisy greeting the odd climber, I got to work on the first lines of a long poem I intend to write this year – a Wordsworthian effort carved from walks in the Lammermuirs. Here is the opening;

Across the world, among the vale of years,
Lets intimate along the Lammermuirs
Our inclinations natural to roam
In heather’d heights above the feather’d foam
Lost in the dull lights of a day’s rebirth
Our time feels finite of this fertile Earth,
Into the night we drove, down to Dunbar
Where we, by sandstone harbour, park’d our car
Out of the front seat leapt a Lhassapoo
My little Daisy, tho our souls seem two,
We are as one when walking in the hills
By rocks & crags, by riverbanks & rills.

The Quarry

When its not crazy windy, a really pleasant time can be had on the summit – there’s a lot of area for walkers to explore, including the hut-circles to the western end.  For us, I was content to dawdle & compose for a bit, before heading almost straight downhill from the eastern end of the summit, the great quarry rising to our right.

You should eventually see a fence below you, & the car park beyond that. The idea is to make your way over loose paths & what not to the corner of the fence, from where its an easy few meters to the path & the guillotine – & the happy drive home

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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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