Doon Hill

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Apologies for my tardy lateness in putting up this week’s walk. The route & photos were taken over the weekend, but my midweek writing time was happily invaded by my dad & his ladyfriend coming up from Lancashire. In the middle of  their stay – on Wednesday – me & pops caught the train to Newcastle to watch our beloved Burnley FC play at the epic & impressive St James Park. Its a fine city is Newcastle, & one of the perks of living in East Lothian is the fact we have two brilliant cities – Edinburgh & Geordieland – right on our relative doorstep.

As for the walk, this week saw the turn of lovely  Doon Hill, whose impressive, vaulting loftitude dominates the eastern portions of the county. To reach the launchsite for the walk, first get yourself to the easily accessible, small & salubrious hamlet of Spott, then turn up the way when you reach the sign for ‘Brunt, Elmscough, Woodhall.’ 

From here the steadily climbing road slowly veers to the right, before a proper sharp left leads to a long straight. Just before the road bends to the right, a track on the left appears. Follow this for  a wee while, passing two cottages on the left, before parking up by the big green farm warehouse thingy.

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Turn right into the field to begin the walk…

Getting out with Daisy & my coffee-flask, we headed up a long gentle farm track towards a line of trees which mounted Brunt Hill like some Pictish army waiting the order to charge. To my right the field had been churned into muddy glory, while leafless & lifeless trees lay on my left by a wall.

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Turn left here…

We eventually came to a possible left turn along a grassier track – which we took. The vista instantly changes; the sea appears, Traprain & Berwick Laws come into view; & on this cloudy day a gap in the heavens allowed angel-lights to beam into Bass Rock, a really startling aesthetic I managed to photograph.

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We were now approaching Doon Hill, whose naked red-rouge cloaks of pre-agriculture gave the illusion that it was the haunch-hind of some thinly furr’d deer. I put entering into such a metaphorical frame of mind down to the scenic & tranquil amplitude of this particular walk, with the sea & sky boundless ahead & the Lammermuirs rough to the rear with all its gargoyle vistas.

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The epic field is to the left…

One soon comes to the corner of an epic field, which one should enter in order to make the final ascent to the summit. As long as we walkers stick to the fringe of the fields, its not a problem. Since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, essentially the whole country has been opened up to anyone & everyone. Land is not property anymore, but merely equity. I rather imagine that many of the Scottish MSPs who voted for the bill were communists as students. The first part of the Code reads;

Scotland’s outdoors, extending from the parks and open
spaces in our towns to the remote and wild areas of land and
water in the Highlands, provides great opportunities for
open-air recreation and education. Open-air recreation provides people with great benefits for their health and well being and contributes to the good of society in many other ways

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The lock of a lock’d field-gate, much older than the 2003 Land Reform Act, Scotland

Private gardens are out of bounds, as is arable land that is growing crops; but like I’ve said, the margins are fine to use. Zones containing rare wildlife are also out of bounds, but that’s about it really, people can go just about anywhere they like, & are actively encouraged by the Scottish government to do so. Its just a case of knowing where to go, & its Apache pathfinders like me & Daisy who are happy to assist.

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Doon Hill Halls lay over the gate in the direction of the sea…

Once in the epic field, stick to the right margin until you reach a gate. Ahead, you will be able to see the summit point, but we’re just gonna take a diversion here, hop over the gate & head towards another gate & a sign. Once there, you have reached the old Doon Hill timber halls, a great place for a dog to run about like about like a complete mad-head.

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Nothing remains of the halls today, but archeologists have  marked the outlines of the halls they discovered with earthset stones. The later hall they imagine to be Anglo-Saxon, possibly related to the 638 AD ‘Siege of Etain’ as recorded in the Irish chronicles.

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The newer hall…

As for the older, slightly larger hall, recent carbon dating of finds have given it a date of 4000 BC – which is pretty impressive, for its hall would have been older than Stonehenge. It just goes to show how much history East Lothian has seen, & we really do live in an amazing county whose visual treats simply reek with fascinating memories.

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The original archeologists
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& today’s version…

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Before returning to the track, we had a wee potter about this part of Doon Hill – the views are exquisite. In one grand sweep of the eye appears Torness Nuclear power station, a wee lake, a wood, the oval eye of Dunbar town, Bass Rock & the Forth, where Freight ships ploughed the waves.

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Daisy was in her element, her wolf DNA bubbling to the surface as she ranged the heights as if she was back with her ancestors in Tibet. At one point a Virgin train appeared snaking through East Lothian, reminding me of a sonnet I wrote in 2008 or 09, at nearby Spott Dod.


SUMMER VISTA

Upon the steep slopes of Spott Dod
I sat, observing as a God
Surveys creation, all below,
Thro’ fields sunburnt by summer’s glow,
The London train creeps past a car;
The wavy mane beside Dunbar
Grew angel blue, no northern sea
In glassy, grey conformity,
But more an Adriatic Bay,
Ecstatic with this cloudless day
& I above it with the sheep,
Some rustic Croat half asleep,
Dreaming where men have rarely trod
Upon the steep slopes of Spott Dod.


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Approaching the summit

It was time to head back to the gate & the track & continue our climb to the summit point. Once at the top, we simply kept on going, walking along some kind of Dark Age ridgeway (in my imagination). From this situation it is possible to make out just how ‘wall-like’ the Deuchrie Dod-Traprian Law-Garleton Hills-Falside hill-chain appears from this angle, completely dividing the county in two.

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At Doon Hill also begins one of the sorrier episodes in Scottish history. To cut a long story short, Cromwell had an army of about 10,000 men & was marching back to England after a pretty poor effort to subdue Scotland. The Scots had an army of 20,000 men camped on Doon Hill. If they’d have just stayed put, the English would have gone home.

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Cromwell @ The Battle of Dunbar

Instead, the Scots decided to attack the English in the open plains below & got absolutely slaughtered, after which two marches began. The first was by Cromwell, who turned right round & went on to subdue a now defenceless Scotland. The other was the death march of 5,000 Scottish POWs to Durham. Many died from sickness and hunger either on the eight-day stagger south, or during their imprisonment in Durham Cathedral. Of those who survived the ordeal, they were transported to New England & Barbados as indentured labourers. Here’s another sonnet of mine telling the tale;


THE DUNBAR MARTYRS

When Cromwell cross’d the border all of Scotland held its breath
As men march off to Dunbar each to claim an English death,
Descending from the old Doon Hill they block the Broxmouth burn
Now only at the push of pike could parliament return
Then comes the crush upon the fields by little Pinkerton,
The Scottish right flank buckl’d, with the morning wearing on
Three thousand Scots already dead, ten thousand tried to flee
But soundly rounded up by roundheads setting sick lads free
The other half now march to Durham, dropping dead like flies,
That in a month of Death’s dark work are daily cut to size
Just fourteen hundred live to see the sun set on the wave
‘Gan sailing for the New World there to back-break as a slave
Where some of them sired families, so friends, perhaps you are
Related to a Scotsman from the Battle of Dunbar.


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The path to Spott Estate at the western corner of the epic field

Soon enough the hill begins its natural slope down the way, & one should head in the direction of the walls & houses & stuff which encapsulate Spott Farm, whose main house looks proper cool with its gaggle of romantic towers. Its roots go way back, to when Elias de Sprot was given lands in the area after the ravaging marauds of Edward Longshanks.

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Lars Foghsgaard

By the Millennium, the entire estate was in the possession of a Danish industrialist. A noted hunting enthusiast, Lars Foghsgaard has been described as ‘a legendary shot’ and is believed to have bought Spott for its rolling terrain, which offers driven partridge and pheasant shooting, plus duck-flighting and roe-deer stalking With the arrival of his first grandchild, however, it was time to head back to Denmark, & so he put the entire estate up for sale in 2010.

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At £25 million, it was the most expensive country estate in Scotland. Unable to find some Russian oligarch to buy it (something about Sainsburys not having built their supermarket in Haddington yet), the property agents Knight Frank have been selling it off piecemeal. A few cottages have gone; 60 percent of the arable land has gone; I don’t know about the house (worth 2-3m), it appear’d empty & lock’d up when I had wee potter around the grounds before hitting the car. When I did return to the wheel, Daisy was shattered, but happy, this had been her toughest walk yet. As for me, there is nothing like getting high up in the hills & senatorially basking above the stretching, silent serenity of lowland East Lothian.


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Shakespeare’s Seton Castle

The author making this week’s notes, near Seton Collegiate Church
There is a slight sense of Spring in the air. I saw some snowdrops peeping through dead brown leaves the other day, & the biting cold is twinkling away on the northern winds. This week’s walk was spent in sunshine; not warm raybeams, but not cold either. I had chosen the Seton Castle stroll, with my missus & wee Daisy on each hand like the Byronic solecism.
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You can park the car just off the main road on the very eastern edge of Port Seton, a couple of hundred metres from the caravan park. We were immediately greeted by the endearing sight of a lady feeding horses, & on investigation we found out her name – Shona – & the fact she is an equine Mother Teresa, rescuing horses for a fairer life in her fields.

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Shona also told us we had just missed a certain lady called Sylvia, who apparently walks the walk we were about to walk every day, taking photographs as she does so. Apparently the birds eat directly from her hand, so gentle is her soul.
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It was nice to be out with just the wife. A right pair of pathfinders we are; she is 1/16 Canadian Indian & I love the way her ears twitch when she’s within three meters of subterranean water. Our pleasant potter together properly began with a sign saying, THE SANDY WALK. There was no sand to speak of, but a fine carpet of fallen pine needles did give somewhat the illusion of sand.
We proceeded along the path beset by pine trees – some deciduously -barren, some Himalayan verdant – for about half a mile, before breaking out into open fielderie. Here, the main path turns left through a formal opening in the wooden fence,  becoming a signposted gentle rise through a grassy heathland.
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A few steps in a young laddie on a dirt-bike rustled by us, testament to the universality of this particular walk, being so close to a conurbation & a holiday park. Emily commented on how good the path was & as a mother herself declared it to be perfect for baby buggies. She also said that it would be a good place for a run, for those healthily inclined.
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At the top of the wee heath the path forked into the signposted ‘long’ & ‘short’ trails. Turning right along the shorter version, we entered a tall, ivy-mantled wood which spilled out at the walls of the bat-haunted Seton Collegiate Church. Closed in winter, it rose up as tall & sturdy as the Chateaux of Hougoumont as it fended off the attacks of Napoleon’s Grand Armee.
We continued our walk around the walls until the short trail met the long trail coming in from our left. Before taking the long trail back to the car, we instead headed right a wee while, thro’ more fantastic woodland, in order to glimpse the fabulous Seton Palace from the bed of a stream, through a grate in its outer wall.
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Approaching the Collegiate Church. Seton Palace is to the right of the picture
Now in private hands, today’s palace stands on the site of the Castle of the Lords Seton, whose Jacobite version had his lands & title stripped away for treason in 1716, & the castle was left to ruin. A couple of centuries previously, however, it was considered the most desirable house in Scotland, & through my investigations I would like to place the twenty-five year old Shakespeare as acting in its main hall.
James VI in 1586

We begin in 1585, when in another part of East Lothian, King James VI lorded over, ‘a sumptuous banquet prepared by the Earl of Arran at Direleton, after a Council held there ; divers of the nobility and gentry passed the time right pleasantly with the play of Robin Hood.’ James clearly loved the theatre, & also composed many quite decent poems of his own. Thus enamour’d with the literary arts, to help celebrate his upcoming marriage to a princess of Denmark called Anna in 1589 he asked Queen Elizabeth of England if he could borrow some of her actors. It is her majesty’s granting of her royal cousin’s request that begins the possibility of Shakespeare having visited East Lothian.

That Shakespeare was a member of the Queen’s Players seems likely.  ‘The parallels between Shakespeare’s plays & the Queen’s plays,’ writes Terence G Schoone-Jongen, ‘are substantial & intricate.’ It is clear that many of their recorded plays were rewritten by Shakespeare, with lines & phrases popping all across the Shakesperean ouvre. Where the Queen’s Players produced & acted in Richard III & King Leir, so Shakespeare wrote a version of Richard III & the slightly differently spelt King Lear. Where The Two Gentlemen of Verona shares much with the Queen’s Players’ Felix & Philomena, so the playlet of the mechanicals in Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream bears a strong resemblance to the Players’ Clyomon and Clamydes. Likewise, while ‘The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth‘ forms the entire foundation for the material of 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V; their ‘Troublesome Reign of King John’ is simply a redaction of Shakespeare’s King John. So much so, that in the 1611 quarto printing of the ‘Troublesome Reign,’  the authorship was assigned to ‘W. Sh,’ which was elongated in the 1622 printing into  ‘W. Shakespeare.’ Furthermore, in 1592, & practically from his death-bed, the chief playwright of the Queen’s Men, Robert Greene in his ‘Groats-worth of Witte,’ blurted;

Here is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.

Greene is here commenting on the evolution of Shakespeare from actor to playwright. The ‘Tigers heart’ expression is alluding to a line in Henry VI Part III, which reads, ‘O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!’ In the same papmlet, Greene also castigates Shakespeare & Thomas Kyd with, ‘it is pity men of such rare wits [Nashe, Marlowe and Peele] should be subject to the pleasures of such rude grooms.’ On their formation in 1583, the Queen’s Players were given the title, ‘grooms of the chamber.’ There is enough here to place Shakespeare with Her Majesty’s players, & thus we can send him towards King James through the following literary memorials;

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The Queen’s Players are sent to the court of King James
(The statement of the Revels from 1587-89)

Betweene the of September 1589 a regni * R* Eliz., and the of the same September, for • the furnishing of a mask for six maskers and six * torchbearers, and of such persons as were to utter speeches at the shewing of the same maske, sent into Scotland to the King of Scotts mariage, by her Majestie’s commanundement, signified into the Mr & other officers of this office by the Lord Treasurer, the Lord Chamberleyn & Mr Vicechamberleine : the charges, as well for workmanshipp & attendance, as for wares delivered & brought into this office for & about the same, hereafter particularly insueth.

***

The Queen’s Players are in Carlisle, September 20th 1589

After my verie hartie comendacions: vpon a letter receyved from Mr. Roger Asheton, signifying vnto me that yt was the kinges earnest desire for to have her Majesties players for to repayer into Scotland to his grace : I dyd furthwith dispatche a servant of my owen unto them wheir they were in the furthest part of Langkeshire, wherevpon they made their returne heather to Carliell, wher they are, and have stayed for the space of ten dayes, whereof I thought good to gyve yow notice in the respect of the great desyre that the king had to have the same Come unto his grace: And withall to praye yow to gyve knowledg therof to his Majestie. So for the present, I bydd yow right hartelie farewell
Carlisle
The xxth of Septemre, 1589
Yowr verie assured loving friend
H Scrope

***

The ruins of Seton Palace (MacGibbon and Ross)

While the Queen’s Men were in Carlisle, up in Scotland things were not turning out as King James had hoped. Terrible weather had prevented Princess Anna from crossing the North Sea, & James had camped up at Seton Castle to watch the Firth of Forth for any ships from Denmark. A letter from William Asheby to Walsingham. [Sept. 8, 1589) reads;

With the first wind the Queen is expected out of Denmark. It is thought that she embarked about the 2nd instant, but that contrary winds keep the fleet back. Great preparation is made at Leith to receive her, and to lodge her till the solemnity, which shall be twelve days after her arrival. The King is at Seaton till her arrival.

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Anne of Denmark

James spent most of September at Seton Castle, giving our investigation ample time for Shakespeare & the Queen’s Men to arrive in the county. There is no precise evidence for him acting in Seton Castle, I’ll be the first to admit, but there is a great deal of evidence to suggest he was attached to James’ court at this time. For example, the only copy of William Stewart’s Chronicle of Scotland ever found existed in manuscript form in James’ royal library in Scotland. How else but by seeing it in person would Shakespeare have found the accurate correspondances with his play Macbeth, including one incredibly uncanny passage of sixty-five lines describing the thoughts and motives of Macbeth and his wife.

While Shakespeare was studying in the Royal library, James was becoming more & more romantically inclined, & in a grand act of chivalry set sail on October 24th for Norway, where his bride’s little fleet had sheltered from the storms. That Shakespeare & the Queen’s Players went with him in the large wedding entourage can be discerned by an epigram in John Davies of Hereford’s The Scourge of Folly (c.1610).  Dedicated to, ‘our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare,’  it begins;

SOME say good Will (which I, in sport, do sing)
Had’st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst bin a companion for a King

Kronborg Castle

Scholars have scratched their heads over this passage for centuries, but there is a starkness to it which fits with consummate ease into Shakespeare – the Queen’s Player – accompanying King James VI to Denmark. By doing so he would have witnessed at first hand Kronborg castle in Elsinore – the setting of Hamlet – where James & his young queen spent the first few months of 1590 honeymooning, getting drunk & watching plays. Our budding bard would also have met the Danish noblemen Axel Gyldenstierne & Jorgen Rozenkrantz, who appear in Hamlet as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Such wonderful coincidences, & when Shakespeare placed the ‘play within a play’ at Kronborg, I am rather inclined to believe he was actually recording himself & his own duties while being the ‘companion for a king.’ In this passage from Hamlet, the traveling players enact a ‘Dumb-Show;’

Enter a King and a Queen, very lovingly: the Queen embracing him, and he her. She kneels and makes show of protestation unto him. He takes her up, and declines his head upon her neck: lays him down upon a bank of flowers: she, seeing him asleep, leaves him. Anon comes in a fellow, takes off his crown, kisses it, and pours poison in the King’s ears, and exit. The Queen returns;  finds the King dead, and makes passionate action. The Poisoner, with some two or three Mutes, comes in again, seeming to lament with her. The dead 
body is carried away. The Poisoner wooes the Queen with gifts; she seems loath and unwilling awhile, but in the end accepts his love. 

What is interesting here is that just like Hamlet’s father, the King in the Dumb-Show was murdered by having poison administered to his ear. In a similar fashion, a French surgeon, Ambrosie Parex was suspected of killing the French King, Francis II, by giving him an ear infection during the course of treatment. Francis, of course, was the first husband of James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots, a lady who will be popping up rather a lot on our walks across East Lothian.

It was time for the walk back under a scintillating sky. Returning to the point where the short & trails met, we turned right along the long version, skirting the wood which reached to the heavens on our left. Another wee while later & we were back at the signpost & heading back along familiar trails. The sun was sweet , Daisy was happy & all was well with the world.
The Sandy Walk offers a real variety of treasures for the nature-lover, where wonderful woodlands mingle with pretty vistas of the sea. The only drawback was the mellow hub-hub of traffic noise; from Virgin trains rushing to London to the constant maelstromix of the A1 in the afternoon. But this is one lonely negative in a bag full of happy positives, & a session at Seton in the sun should please the county’s walkers no end!

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Bara Loch

East Lothian from Byre’s Hill this morning…

There was snow last night – lots of it. East Lothian this morning is all hues of angel-matter. Perhaps I should have waited a day before I embarked upon this week’s walk in order to benefit from the full glory of fresh snowfall, but I do like the contrast snowmelt adds to a photograph, so yesterday me & Daisy hit the road.

Bara Loch in the summer…

Our destination was Bara Loch, one of the county’s hidden treasures, buried in a gully between Gifford & Garvald. Hundreds of thousands of people have driven more or less right past the place without even knowing it existed; which is a damn shame as its one of the most gorgeous spots in this part of the world.

At entry point 3, Daisy is trying to get back into the warm car.

There are three entry points, which I have marked on the map. Of these, part 3 is clearly the best for parking; point 1 you have to park up in the field off-track. Point 2 is not so bad, but it makes for a shorter walk. Thus to point 3, where me & Daisy found ourselves stepping out into a blast of Siberian air which would shortly be blanketing the lowlands of the Lothians in snow.

The walk begins with a long stretch along a decent track. To one’s left the county stretches for miles, as if we were stood on a verandah in Utah. To our right are Townhead Woods, with a series of broken gale-victims lying prostrate, roots ripped out leaving gaping, earthy maws.

Just after a large & neat pile of timber, the track veers left, where I saw my first wildlife of the year’s walks; a hare leaping out of the vegetation into the safety of a far-off field.

Following the track along its gentle descent, Daisy & I gazed a while at the first yellow trumpet gorse flowers sprinkling among the green. At the bottom of the track we came to a junction & the place I have monickered point 2. Turning right into the woodland, one is just about to reach Bara Loch.

Point 2: The left hand track gives access from the Gifford-Garvald road

The agricultural sweeps & slopes of Baro, or Bara, was once a parish of its own with its own church and graveyard, which stood in a corner of Linplum farm, to the north of the old farmhouse. Quite extensive in area; farms included Carfrae, Duncanlaw, Bara, Linplum, Snawdon, Little Newton, Quarryford, Newlands, Castlemains, Danskin, Brokside, and the East & West Hopes. After the decline of the working community – like so many in the county displaced by modern, machinistic farming methods, – the parish was enjoined with Gifford, & the church allowed to go to ruin.

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Bara Loch is bottom right. The Old Baro farmhouse top centre.
William Younger

In the 20th century, the Baro lands found their way into the hands of the Younger Family, the descendants of William Younger, one of the leading donjons of Scottish innovation & enterprise. Leaving the village of West Linton in Midlothian as a teenager in the 1740s, he went on to set up a wee brewhouse in Leith, selling his remarkably tasty Youngers Ale.

From this precious seedling, a two centuries long international empire of booze grew, & upon the site of the modern Scottish parliament once stood the dynasty’s HQ, a massive iconic brewery which employed thousands.

The fork…
A carpet of leaves

Back on the walk, the track led us past a small pond on our right, along the wee Sounding Burn, then pass’d the romantic ruins of some long-forgotten cottage just before a junction of two paths. Turning left, one steps onto a carpet of leaves, which began like iced frosties, then as the shelter of the gully kicked in, the snow melted away revealing a wintry woodland world of dull browns, faded greens & a lone, silvery squirrel scampering up a hefty oak.

At first the Loch is not visible, but eventually the path begins to skirt the waterside, revealing breathless gorgeousness & a family of swans, whose younglings had all but lost their grey featherage. The path then arrives at a fork, with the left path leading up to Point 1, & the Baro Farm area, with the right path continuing the circumnavigation of the loch.

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Harry Younger at Sandringham

Next up is a little mini-jetty & a seat, whose inscription is quite weathered over, but tracing it with paper & pencil reveals the name of Harry Younger & 1939. This is the name of Bara Loch’s creator & the year of its creation. A few years previously, in 1931, McEwans had forced a hostile takeover of Youngers, & the family, with a few million in the bank, of course, looked for a new outlet for their entrepreneurial skills; that of farming the land.

The head of the family at this time was the Sandringham-trained Major Henry (Harry) Johnston Younger, one of the best curlers on these islands at that time, playing regularly in the international matches against England for six or eight years, and winning all his matches. He was also a great friend of King George V, & probably nipped across the road to Holyrood Palace with a wee nip when the monarch was in Scotland.

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It was the major who splashed the cash in a ‘new-money’ effort to join the established East Lothian gentry. Being a lover of nature, after acquiring Baro he began building a house, planning a garden, planting woods & extending the Loch into the hidden paradise it is today. Alas, the Major had little time to enjoy the fruits of his vision, being killed by friendly fire in WW2, at St Valery-en-Caux on 12th June 1940. Still, I’m sure he’d be happy to know his little idyll is available for all the good people of the county which he decided to call home!

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My pens are somewhere in the waters off the jetty

I love this particular spot so much, that in the summer of 2016 I decided I would finish a poem I had been writing for many years there. Here is the moment, as recorded in my blog at the time;

Yesterday was the last day I will ever compose a tryptych. In fact, I did 5. The first three were in the morning, walking in glorious sunshine before settling down at the loch. Rhododendron bushes were in full bloom, bluebells were still regnal in visual lucidity, great hosts of insects were covering the loch like clouds of sealike-spray. As I finished my last line I entwined its meaning with Arthur casting Excalibur into a lake after his death at Camlann. It was a bit like Prospero snapping his wand in the Tempest as, after pacing by the loch a few moments & milking these moments, I tossed my pen into the lake & watched the bubbles from its falling slowly pop into nothingness. Getting back to the ranch, I then realised that there were, in fact, two stanzas still to write – which I duly composed with a new pen as I returned to the loch. Back at the jetty, I repeated my earlier penthrowing ritual & watch’d the sylver stylus sink into history.

Back in 2018, me & Daisy reached the head of the loch, crossing a wee bridge at the dam of its creation, then swung back on ourselves on the southern side of the water. The scenery is like a tiny-highlands, & peaceful as death. The only sounds were the lone calls of the duck-drakes, & then a couple of gunshots in the distance which disturbed a giant flock of birds. Alas, I could not make out to which species they belonged, they were simply black flecks against the white sky high above me.

At this point Daisy began to run ahead of me – she is gaining confidence these days, as attested by the ninja leaps she does off the settee; when beforehand she was whimpering for a help down. She’s so cute as she scampers about ten metres ahead, pauses, flicks her head to the side & checks if I’m following, then when reinforced sets off once again at the scamper.

Eventually one returns to the ruined cottage & thus the way back to the car is simply returning by the route from whence we came. The highlight of this passage was a lone deer fleeing our chitter-chatter pattering, & it all felt rather Dantean. Where our Italian poet had encountered a leopard, a lion, and a wolf at the gates of Hell, we had encountered a hare, a squirrel & a deer. We weren’t entering Hell, though, we were heading to Gifford for a nice pint by the fire at the Goblin Ha Hotel.


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Encountering mine & Daisy’s footprints on the walk back…
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Sunset from Baro Farm Cottages

The Loth Stone

Upon a subzero morning, & when under a blue & brilliant cloudless sky, the county of East Lothian casts an ethereal, ambrosial glow which uplifts the soul & elevates the mind as one drives among the green-white, frosted fields. For this week’s outing, or should I say weekend’s, me & the dog thought we’d drag the rest of the family along. Splashing the car along slightly slushy roads, we soon reached the narrow valley which separates Traprain Law & the ridge upon which sits the impressive Balfour monument.

Parking up by the outhouses of Standingstone Farm, a gently ascending wide track leads up towards Traprain Law, the giant ‘curling rock’ which dominates this part of the county. The slightly frozen soil underfoot was rather springy, & off we all bounded; the girls & their mum were chatting & giggling at Daisy’s magnificent efforts at walking (they hadn’t been out with her yet). It was both cold AND sunny, a pleasant mix that manifested itself best in the frost that still clung to existence in the shadows of the walls.

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At the top of the slope, where the track aims leftish, we deviated instead along the edge of a field on our right, towards a broken hole in the wall. Scrambling over fallen stones & hopping over the fence, we began a steep climb to the first mini-summit, with the gravity-defying Daisy bouncing upwards beside us.

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On reaching a level, grassy area – we would not be going any higher today – Roxy & I read through the early 12th century ‘Fragmentary Life of Saint Kentigern,’ which tells the story of how Princess Thaney was flung from those very tall, very jaggy cliffs above us 1500 years ago.

So a certain King Leudonus, a man half Pagan, from whom the province over which he ruled obtained the name of Leudonia in Northern Britannia, had a daughter under a stepmother, and the daughter’s name was Thaney.

Thaney’s dad was King Leudonus, or Loth – whose name inspired Lothian itself – & he was rather upset at her unofficial pregnancy. Cue ancient customs, Thaney’s tossing off the clifftop & a holy miracle saving her. Not knowing what to do with Thaney – double jeopardy & all that – she was eventually set floating in a boat at Aberlady, from where she landed safely in Fife & gave birth to Saint Kentigern.

For mystery buffs, there is a highly interesting passage contained in the Fragmentary Life. We pick it up with King Loth on the warpath against a local swineherd who helped his daughter on the path to her ‘unofficial’ pregnancy.

He therefore pursued him, who fled with hasty steps. When he saw he could in no wise escape the king, he turned aside a little out of the way into a marshy place in hopes of saving his life. And when even there he found he could get no safe retreat, snatching up a javelin he transfixed the king, throwing it upon him from behind by means of a thong. But the friends of the king, in the place where he fell, erected in his memory a great royal stone, placing on the top of it a smaller one carved, which remaineth to this day at a distance of about a mile to the south of Mount Dumpelder.

Dumpelder was the original name for Traprain Law. According to WJ Watson in his Celtic Placenames of Scotland (1933) it could have derived from the Brythonic Dunpaladyr, or ‘Fortress of Spearshafts.‘ Looking at the evidence given, I told the girls that we were now going to try & find the Loth Stone, & that what is said to be the Loth Stone today might not be the Loth Stone described in the vita of Saint Kentigern.

Beginning our descent, we soon pass’d a couple of better-kitted-out walkers (still haven’t bought my new shoes), among a scattering of folk we saw in the hour we were there. The Traprain experience is varied & attractive, whose gentle business is not at all abrasive if you desire peace & quiet.

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The hole in the wall that leads to the muddy field that leads back to the track…

Our journey back was a little off piste, & a bit boggy; as we headed north to a ruined cottage, scampered through a hole in the fieldwall & crossed a muddy field (the purple route on the map) to the track. One expects simply returning more or less by the route we came would have been more salubrious. Still, it was fun, & the girls seemed to enjoy having mud-heavy boots, but not so much the barbed wire – until I covered it with my heavy coat like an Elizabethan gallante.

The Loth Stone is just to the left of the hedge, on the skyline

Following the track south, we soon reached the point of original divergence, at which place, if one turns right & walks for about 80 meters along the field-hedge, the LOTH STONE can be admired. Moved from its original position in the middle of the field, even so, its still only about a third of a mile from Traprain Law, & not the ‘mile to the south of Mount Dumpelder’ as given in the vita.

Walking back to the car, the girls whipped their soggy boots off in a flash, so we were forced to drive the small stretch of road up to Standingstone Farm. Named after a highly similar monolith to the Loth Stone, it can still be found upright in an orchard on the farm. Further from Traprain, & just above the marshy Luggate Burn, this stone is a better candidate for King Loth’s memorial, but there is one thing missing , the Vita’s ‘smaller one carved,’ which was placed upon it.

It was time for a reward-burger for dragging the girls out of their cozy Sunday morning, so we drove to the Open Arms hotel in Dirleton. Alas, on reaching the place we discovered it was closed for its annual 2 week clean – typical – so instead we went to the dog-friendly Tyneside in Haddington for a tasty meal & the West Ham-Shrewsbury FA Cup tie. A fine way to finish our walk, & the whole pub was going completely mental for Daisy’s cuteness.

Morham Parish Church

Last night I began thinking about the Loth Stone problem, & after a bit of googling I think I’ve got the solution. Near the two stones is the parish church of Morham, where what is thought to be an Anglo-Saxon cross shaft was found re-used in the south wall of the church, which is kept today in the National Museum of Scotland. The Canmore description of the stone reads;

This is a central portion of a very fine Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft, broken top and bottom. All four faces are carved in relief, with a cable moulding at the edges and the ornament contained within a plain roll moulding. The cable has a median line. Face A bears a vine scroll with ridged nodes, trilobed berry bunches and leaves with scooped centres, and the four surviving scrolls are inhabited by birds and animals whose heads and limbs extend beyond the confines of the scrolls. Unusually, the creatures are composed as if they were designed to be seen in a horizontal strip, like a frieze, rather than rising vertically. The lowest surviving quadruped is upright and has one hind leg braced against the volute and its head and other three legs extending well beyond. The body of the next quadruped faces the animal below, but its head is twisted back to bite the volute in which it stands. Its front legs are braced against the vine and its hind legs trail over the vine. The next two creatures also face downwards. The third is a bird biting a berry bunch, with one leg braced against the volute and the other stretched behind and outside the volute. Its wing extends over the volute and its tail feathers extend below. The fourth is a grotesque creature whose elongated neck is intertwined with the volute and whose head has the protuberant eyes of a Pictish goggle-eyed beast. Alternatively the head may be on the tail of a beast standing upright, of which the upper part of the body missing. Its front legs are braced against the main stem of the vine, but its hind-quarters are missing and outside the volute.

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There are two key pieces of information here. Firstly, where we read, ‘unusually, the creatures are composed as if they were designed to be seen in a horizontal strip, like a frieze, rather than rising vertically,’ we may imagine the stone being placed horizontally & supported by BOTH the Loth Stone & the one at Standingstone Farm. Each monolith has a splice-edge top, into which the Morham Stone could be rested, especially when Canmore tells us the stone is ‘broken top and bottom.’ I rang up the RCHAS in Edinburgh yesterday looking for a photo of the Morham Stone to verify my theory,  & this is what they sent me… from the angle of the break it certainly seems that at least one side would have fit perfectly into one of the monoliths. The next time I’m in Edinburgh, I might have to take a trip to the NMS & see whats going on with the other end of the stone. In the photo above, the bottom appears too straight for it to ‘broken’ as Canmore says, & is perhaps set in some kind of base…


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Fa’side Castle

IMG_20180104_112332692.jpgAllow me a moment to introduce myself. My name is Damo, a Lancashire poet-type who has found a second home in East Lothian, & who has also recently acquired a gorgeous Lhassapoo puppy called Daisy. Crossed between the shaggy, temple-guarding, Tibetan sentinel Lhasa Apsu & the hypoallergenic circus Poodle, & cute as hell, she’ll be my companion for the next decade & a half. She’ll need to get out, obviously, so what better than mixing my literary skills into these trips & write a weekly blog in which the dog & I shall wander the tracks & pathways of this very special corner of the British Isles.

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Our first outing was a trip to Fa’side Castle, near Tranent. Its easy to park the car up on a farmer’s track just off the main road by the turn-off to North Elphinstone Farm. A great location to start the walks was this, with East Lothian spreading 360 degrees, via the Firth of Forth & the Lammer Law.

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After parking up, its a pleasant one & a quarter mile pathway to the castle, which can be seen in the distance as soon as one leaves the car. This would be Daisy’s first largeish walk – I’d had her practicing up the Garleton Hills, but she would now be doing a full 2 & a half miles (there & back). Fingers crossed she’d make it.
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 I needn’t have worried, though, she was fine, scampering about & even making a pal of Rocky, whose owner was a resident of the nearby village of Elphinstone. Born in Edinburgh, she’d married a Musselburgh man & inexorably crept into the country to bring up their kids. A few decades later, walking to the castle was one of her many, lengthy daily walks in the area, & she kindly gave me a couple of routes for the future.
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The pathway to the castle was in excellent wintry condition; with gentle slopes, long straights & the occasional meandering, adding to the variety of the outing. Nature, of course, is rather absent this time of year, & instead I looked at the decay of plants, such as dark, wilted nettles & the shrunken brambles, like broken baubles on a pineless Christmas tree.
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On reaching the castle we parted ways, but not before she complained about the public path to Wallyford just by the Fa’side. Completely grown over, ‘like a jungle,’ she quipped, its been a bone of contention between locals & the council for a while now. Hopefully it will be cleared up by the summer.
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There has been a noble house on the Fa’side site since 1189, when the monks of Newbattle Abbey granted land to Saer de Quincy, 1st Earl of Winchester. The castle was burned by the English before the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, which was fought nearby on 10th September 1547, suffocating or burning all those inside.  Two decades later, after the castle was rebuilt, Mary Queen of Scots left Fa’side on the morning of 15 June 1567 for the Battle of Carberry Hill. She changed into a short skirt, apparently, and left her fine clothes behind in a chest. By the late 20th century the Castle had fallen on hard times & was just about to be demolished before it was saved for posterity, & is now a splendid & iconic historical monument on the East Lothian skyline.
Faside_Castle_Main.jpgFor mystery buffs, Fa’side Castle holds the key to the authorship of some of the 13th century Arthurian sagas. These sprang up on the pages of the French poets, a great deal of which is contained in what is known as ‘The Vulgate-Cycle,’ a vast collection of tales which abound with stories of Arthur’s knights all aquesting for the Holy Grail. During my studies I became convinced that one its creators must have had local knowledge of Edinburgh & its environs. In Scotland he places a certain water-protected fortress on a lofty ‘Saxon Rock,’ which perfectly matches Edinburgh castle, once half-surrounded by the now-drained ‘Nor Loch,’ & which Nennius stated as being given to Henghist & co back in the 5th century. The Vulgate-cycle adds that the Rock lay in the region of ‘Arestel,‘ which given the Anglo-Norman prediliction for changing ls to rs, perfectly connects with Edinburgh’s Lestalrig. Also in the area, says the Cycle, lay the ‘Narrows of Godalente,’ which fits in with Lothian once being the demense of the Brythonic tribe known as the Gododdin, who Ptolemy called the ‘Otalini.’
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1d202f1.jpegNow then, in the 16th century a Scottish poet called William Dunbar wrote a poem called the ‘Lament for the Makaris,‘ a lovely elegaic piece dedicated to the dead poets of Scotland. One of the stanzas reads;
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Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane,
That maid the Anteris of Gawane;
Schir Gilbert Hay endit hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
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He’s basically saying (in Old Scots) that the Clerk of Tranent wrote about the gràilquesting Sir Gawain, whose stories were sometime later finished off by Sir Gilbert Hay. The mention of Gawain is significant, for in it we can see that the Clerk of Tranent connects to the Vulgate-Cycle in two ways – through geography & subject matter. With the Vulgate Cycle being written in the early 13th century, between 1210 & 1230, our investigation naturally leads to the ruling nobility of Tranent at that time. These were the De Quincys – Robert de Quincy had married Orabilis, a lady of Leuchars in Fife, through which he found himself in charge of lands about the East Lothian town of Tranent. He was from Northamptonshire, & was very much a post-conquest, French-speaking Anglo-Norman, which provides the language of the Vulgate-Cycle. Dying in 1204, he was succeeded by his son, Saer, but his other son, Simon became the CLERK to William I, King of Scots, in the early 13th century. Everything fits together so neatly here, & I believe that the identity of the Clerk of Tranent has now been ascertained. With the De Quincys being the builders of Tranent’s Fa-side Castle, we can now imagine Simon De Quincy composing the Vulgate-Cycle in its towered keep, fresh from his wanderings around Edinburgh.
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Dunbar shows how the Clerk of Tranent, ie Simon, was responsible for writing the ‘Anteris of Gawane.’ Some scholars have suggested the ‘Anteris‘ are the same as the very famous medieval poem Gawain & the Green Knight, as recently modernized by the Yorkshire poet, Simon Armitage. A clue comes with the incomplete ‘Hugh de…‘ written at the top of the Gawain & the Green Knight manuscript. This is where the fun begins. Returning to the De Quincy’s of Tranent, we discover that Simon De Quincy’s niece, Hawise, was married to a certain Hugh de Vere, the 4th Earl of Oxford. He also held the important rank of Master Chamberlain of England, a pre-parliamentary position which gave him access to the Kings’ Court – the Curia Regis – during times of national decision-making. The Curia Regis was also known as the Aula Regis, which means we now possess a perfect match for Hugh De Vere & ‘Huchoun (little Hugh) of the Awle Royale,’ who appears in the 14th century Chronicle of Andrew of Wyntoun;

Hucheon, þat cunnande was in littratur.
He made a gret Gest of Arthure
And þe Awntyr of Gawane,

To this Huchoun – ie Hugh de Vere – are also attributed the ‘Anteris of Gawane,‘ which really does indicate that the true origins of ‘Gawain & the Green Knight’ lie in the 13th century literary scene that surrounded the De Quincys of Tranent.

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It was time to leave my Arthurian musings behind. Entering the Fa’side grounds, I basked a moment in the excellent – tho misty – views of Edinburgh & the Forth, before whistling Daisy back to my feet & heading home to the car. She was in a right nick by now, bedraggled & soggy, but happy. Welcome to my world our precious wee Daisy!
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On the way back we had a passerine escort, skipping the naked treetops on our left for a while, before leaving us when the trees gave way to nubile fields & two marching lines of pylons. Back in the car I made a mental note of buying more suitable, waterproof footwear, & off we drove ’til the next week.

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