Humbie Church Wood


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

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

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





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




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

Older graves…
Newer graves

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

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

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



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


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





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

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


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

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


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


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

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




Almost back at the car

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

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

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


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John still gets this magazine in 2018

Balgone Estate

Half-term means entertaining the kids, & after a neat collection of bribes, blags & threats, me & the wife finally managed to get them out of their lazydayness & out into the beautiful fresh air. I’d chosen the Balgone Estate on account of an interesting valley I’d espied on the road between East Linton & North Berwick. This proved to be a mudpit, but exploring a little further took us to the large, modern farm buildings at a place called Balgone Barns.


Parking up by a massive warehouse thingy, we returned back along the farm road a little, before turning left into a field. Following the farm track with a hedge to our left, we were all pretty icy in the freeze-blast that seemed like it was whipping in from Siberia.


At the end of the field, the track veered right into some woods, passing a few pheasant feeders. Its off season at the moment, but within a few months the county will be full of barbarians paying up to a grand at a time to shoot a few innocent pheasants who are like, ‘this isn’t India, its bloody freezing & why is that weird-looking guy in a green trench coat shooting at me.’ 

The young pheasants are all kept in large enough pens, which at this time of year are empty. Keeping the pen to our right, the path drooped down to a large bank of rhododendron which marked the arrival at a straight forest path. Beyond, we glimps’d water through the branches, like an emerald uncovered from the brown earth.

Turning left the path was flanked by tall evergreens, & my youngest became completely enfatuated, Daisy-style, with carrying a long stick. At these moments, I noticed the first wee buds in the hearts of rhododendron leaves, which will soon enough be exploding into rainbow life.

After a long walk reach’d a very muddy junction, at which point a lovely expanse of visual space opened up. We were now entering the Balgone Park, a perfectly picturesque example of the 18th century formal park layout, to which was added lakes & cliff walks the following century. We turned right here, crossing a wide ‘land-bridge’ between a lake on our left & a beige marshland to our right.

Across the ‘bridge’ the road winds left, & straightens out into a lovely bit of dry tarmac. To our right rose items of great geological interest, namely the Balgone Heughs, a crag-climbers delight. Seeing such cool, rocky upwardly mobile potential always reminds me of ST Coleridge inventing recreational rock-climbing in 1802 as he wandered about the English Lakes.

As we slowly climbed, the lake became more & more impressive thro’ the branches to our left. Then, just after a metropolis of snowdrops & a sign that says NO HORSES, the road turn’d sharply to the right. Keeping going, we soon emerg’d from the woods. To our right were fine fields & stables, while to the left, Balgone House appeared in all its impressive pink antiquity.

Arriving in front of the big house

These days Balgone house is looking good & well occupied, but this is a state of affairs that has changed only in recent years. As long ago as 1845 the house & estate was in decline, with the Statistical Account for Scotland of that year describing the state of North Berwick parish’s stately houses;

Balgone – the property of Sir George Grant Suttie, Bart., – & Rockville, the property of Sir Edward Thomas Troubridge, Bart., with their ample woods & picturesque rocks, are beautiful seats; but bot, as Leuchie, are deserted by their respected baronets. This universal absenteeism is universally felt as a sever bereavement.

Balgone estate began life in the bloodline of the Suttie Baronets, a title created on 5 May 1702 for George Suttie, while the third and fourth Baronets both sat as Members of Parliament for Haddingtonshire. On succeeding to the estates of his aunt, Janet, Countess of Hyndford, daughter of William Grant, Lord Prestongrange, the fourth Baronet added Grant to his name, becoming a Grant-Suttie. A couple of centuries later,  the eighth baronet was Sir (George) Philip Grant-Suttie, 8th Baronet (1938–1997) who in 1962 married Elspeth Urquhart, who became ‘The Lady Grand-Suttie.’
This fascinating lady  was born in New Delhi, India, one of four children of Major-General Roy Urquhart (of Operation Market Garden fame) and his wife Pamela. They had one son, and were divorced in 1969. It was during this divorce that she was introduced to Menzies Campbell by her barrister, future Conservative Member of Parliament Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. She married Campbell in June 1970,  & persuaded her husband to stand in the 2006 Liberal Democrat leadership election, in which he was eventually victorious.
Since 1700, Balgone has been in the Grant-Suttie family, a wonderfully scenic agricultural estate run on an environmentally friendly basis. The generations have experienced many years of history. Our ancestors were mainly businessmen or military, sadly all that remains is the recently restored mansion house sold to the present owners as a ruin in the eighties… All the farmland historically has been tenanted out but in 1959 when my father inherited the estate times had changed, he arrived from Canada to find it badly run down and decided to take the farm back in hand. Gone were the days of the wealthy landowners and we have worked hard to build the estate into a thriving agricultural business. THE BALGONE ESTATE WEBSITE

Following the way we came for a few metres, we then turned right along the path into more woodland. After meandering like a river for a few paces, the path hit the clifftop, affording wonderful views of the lake. Across the waters, by a heavy tractor, a fire was burning beside a wooden summer house, where a man sat reading a book, chillin’ in the sun. Behind, the conical eruption of Berwick Law loomed large & beautiful, & I’m like, ‘this is a great walk.’

A little while later we reached a pleasant pet-dog-cemetery. A large number of the family’s dogs were sequestered into the canine aether here. Names included Tiger, Punch, Judy, Kelpie & the unfortunate Carlo, whose early demise came at the mechanical hands of a ‘rearing machine.‘ The wife was particularly touched by the memorial stone of a puppy who died at 6 months which said, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all.’

Continuing with our lovely walk, the path kind petered out into a big sea of leaves, so we headed right-front until we reached the fence of a field of mole hills, where the path was taking its proper shape. This we followed to our left. We soon came to a sharp drop to the left which would take us to the lakeside.

The road dropping sharply to the left
Turn left at the bottom…

As we dropped, Daisy went completely viral, scampering between our spaced out human train with ENORMOUS enthusiasm, a lopping tongue & just completely mental eyes. It was great to see her gallop between the members of our spaced out party, splashing thro leaves & generally loving the moment. This is why you get a dog.

The path became rooved with rhododendron, with the monolithical Heughs emerging on the left, the bottoms of which the girls began to explore with delightful goofiness – clearly Daisy’s joie de vivre was infectious. Only a few minutes ago, the youngest was lagging a little; it is a long walk & she’s only 8, but I always find it amazing how quickly tiredness evaporates in kids.

I really enjoyed the aesthetic of lakewater meeting ice, where the wind-whipped waves hit the frozen surface like the Atlantic Ocean hurling itself at the Irish shore. In this very place the Victorians used to holding curling bonspiels on the big lake, which had been purpose built in the 19th century.

The path began to rise up towards the farm road, passing the detritus of tree surgery, with leafy-limbs scattered everywhere as if we had come across a field hospital after some Napoleonic battle. Just after we met the road we’d followed earlier, we  traced our steps back to the muddy junction. Instead of turning left, we kept going, climbing up to the farm buildings, to the extreme left of which lay our car. Happy & hungry, it was only two miles to North Berwick & the dog-friendly, blazing-fired serenity of Whynot? Where we ate our massive butties & quaffed our coffees & pop!

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The county of East Lothian is very much a microcosm of the British Isles. We have heathy wastes, highland terrain, evergreen forests, flat plains & of course miles of myriadic coastline. One of the truest jewels in the county’s wave-lapped coast-crown is the stretch of sands & rocks between Seacliff Beach & Tantallon castle.


Before departing on this particular walk, I would at first consult the tidal situation, for it cannot be done at high tide, & as me & Daisy found its best to leave it a few hours to dry, as the rocks were quite slippy in places. To get to the launchpad, hit the A198 & head along a wee tarmac road where you see the weird stone fireplace in the wall.



At the end of the long straight road you reach a barrier, where payment of three pounds allows you to continue, through woodland & down to beachside, where a carpark makes the megasteep £3 tax a wee bit justified.



It was time to get going; there were gulls, there was a a glorious morning, there was a lady on a horse on the beach.  To the right a line of rocks extended into the sea to form the cross-mounted, jagged rockiness of St Baldred’s Boat. Named after an 8th century holy man, Baldred was known as ‘the Apostle of the Lothians.’ The historian, Symeon of Durham, described, ‘the boundaries of his pastorate embraced the whole land which belongs to the monastery of Saint Balther, which is called Tyninghame – from Lammermuir to Inveresk, or, as it was called, Eskmouthe.’  His cult was certainly centred on the four churches of Auldhame, Whitekirk, Tyninghame and Prestonkirk. Of these, Auldhame once sat on the wooded headland above the beach, the ruin of whose stately castle can still be seen peeping through the trees.



On reaching the sands – lovely soft & smooth – Daisy began doing her whirly-bird revolutions around me, she is becoming quite the accomplished scamperer! As for myself, I was enjoying the seaweed & rocks & of course the Wordsworthian ribbed sand.




Hitting the rocks, we came to one of Scotland’s smallest harbours – that has been carved out of the rocks of a feature known as the Gegan. It was constructed in 1890 by Andrew Laidley, who utilsed a steam engine and compressed air to cut the stone in a wonderment of Victorian engineering.



Beyond there we found a photography class in the middle of, well, a class. It turned out to be Dunbar’s Maclean Photographics, whose theme was Beaches & Castles.  Not wanting to disturb them with my ‘loving life on a winter’s Sunday morning’ vibe, I whistled Daisy to my feet & heading north along the slippery rocks. Above us the gulls were nesting in the cliffs, blasting out 4-seconds worth of staccato warnings as we got close.



At this point, at the northern end of the beach, most folk would – & should- potter back to the car. But its a bit soul-passive is that, & its better to keep going, skirting coves & cliffs & really enjoying the scramble.


Barnacle covered rocks have better foot-grip


The ruins of Tantallon castle were slowly growing in scope. In the 1720s, Daniel Defoe wrote a series of letters describing his wanders about Britian. In letter XI he writes of Tantallon that it was, ‘mostly buried in its own ruins; it was famous, in the Scots history, for being the seat of rebellion, in the reign of King James V. And hence came the old, and odd fancy among the soldiers, that the drums beating the Scots March, say, “Ding down tan-tallon.” That beat or march being invented by King James the Vth’s soldiers (or, perhaps, drummers) when they marched against the Earl of Angus, who held out Tantallon Castle, against the king. But this by the way: Tantallon is now no more a fortress, or able to shelter a rebel army.’


Tintallon – called DENTALOUNE on a map before 1300 – derives from the din or dun = fortress, of Taloune. In 1374, William, first Earl of Douglas wrote from, ‘our castle of temptaloun.’ He had built on one of the last great fortresses in Scotland. It was to be besieged three times; by James IV in 1491, James V in 1528, then finally & ruinously by Oliver Cromwell in 1651. Its defender, Sir James Balfour, wrote at the time (his spelling);

Fryday 21 Febrij, 1651. About 4 in the eiuning Tantallon Castle, in Louthean, was randred to Cromwell, after he had battred at the for wall 12 dayyes continually with grate cannon. Capitaine Alexander Setton defendit the same gallantly; bot afyter that the enemeyes canon had oppind a werey large breache, & filled the dray ditche with the wall, he entred it by storm. The Capitaine and thesse few men (which) wer with him, betooke themselves to (the) tower, & resolued to sell ther lives at als good a rait as they could, if that quarter should (be) denayed them; bot the enimey seinng them stand gallantly to it, preferrid them quarters, which they excepted the defenders wanted to defend, but on discovering quarter would be given, relented

After Cromwell dismantled most of the fortifications, the castle soon fell into disrepair & was abandoned to the skyline where is stands alongside its scenic sibling; the white, seagull-poo coated Bass Rock. Once the the hermitage of Saint Baldred, the ruins of an old chapel still cling to the stone, which leads us to one of East Lothian’s finest – but forgotten – lyrical poets. In 1824, James Miller published his, ‘St. Baldred Of The Bass: A Pictish Legend: The Siege Of Berwick, A Tragedy, With Other Poems And Ballads, Founded On The Local Traditions Of East Lothian and Berwickshire,’ out of which we may read;

At morning’s dawn the Bass appear’d,
Half hid in ocean’s mantle fold,
Shining as magic wand had rear’d
A mountain pearl in bed of gold.
Afar, impervious to the sun,
The woad-dyed groups, in shadows dun,
Along the summits steal;
While glad the Bishops’s barge they hail,
Seen swan-like, urged by favoring gale
Westward the port of Bele.
Where high Tantallon’s castle stands,
Like vet’ran set to watch the deep,
Gleam’d nodding heads & waving hands,
wherever human foot might creep;

Almost half a millennium ago, the great 16th century Scottish historian, Hector Boece described Bass Rock – sometimes known as ‘The Scottish Alcatraz,’ –  as;

Ane wounderful crag, risand within the sea, with so narrow & strait hals (passage) that na schip nor boit may arrive bot allanerlie at ane part of it. This crag is callet the Bass; unwinnabill by ingine of man. In it are coves, als profitable for defece of men, as (if) thay were biggit be crafty industry. Every thing that is in that crag is full of admiration & wounder.

A century & a half later, Boece’s words still rang true, for Bass Rock was the scene of Britain’s longest siege. Defoe writes;

Neither is the Bass worth naming any more, which being a mere rock, standing high out of the sea, and in its situation inaccessible, was formerly made a small fortification, rather to prevent its being made a retreat for pyrates and thieves, than for any use it could be of to command the sea; for the entrance of the Forth, or Firth, is so wide, that ships would go in and out, and laugh at any thing that could be offered from the Bass. The most of its modern fame is contained in two articles, and neither of them recommend it to posterity.

That in the times of tyranny and cruelty, under the late King Charles II. and King James II. it was made a state-prison, where the poor persecuted western people, called, in those times, Cameronians, were made close prisoners, and lived miserably enough, without hope or expectation of deliverance, but by death.

That after the Revolution a little desperate crew of people got possession of it; and, having a large boat, which they hoisted up into the rock, or let down at pleasure, committed several pyracies, took a great many vessels, and held out the last of any place in Great Britain, for King James;


The siege of Bass Rock lasted 3 years, with a handful of Jacobites being the defenders & the increasingly embarrassed & exasperated government men of King William daring not to go anywhere near the deadly cannons. Over the three years, however, lost of armaments & fine French wine & food managed to reach the rock, including boatloads of women! As for the denoument, in his excellent book, Blood-Stained Fields, Arran Paul Johnston writes;

The last laugh belonged to the garrison. When the councilors had entered the castle to discuss the terms of surrender, they had been given fine biscuits & excellent French wine & treated with cordiality & confidence. When they departed they had observed substantial numbers of Jacobites lining the ramparts, sufficient to man the castle’s cannon if they were pushed to it once again. Accordingly they recommended that the Williamites accept the garrison’s ambitious demands. In truth, the remaining rations would not have lasted the week & the rampart garrison was composed of jackets hanging from many spare muskets. It was the oldest trick in the manual, but it worked.

The final beach – the footpath up the cliff is at the end of the sand…

Back in my world, the rocks were beginning to peter out into a sliver of a beach. At the far end, a path rose back up the way an – ancient track grown over with a weird green weed.


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Hop over the gate & go straight ahead to the wee road.

At the top of the path one comes to a gate. Hopping over this we headed straight along the hedge-side, & reach’d a wee road. Here we turned left for a while, before reaching another gate just before the woodlands of Auldhame. Through this we headed in the direction of the sea, keeping the woods on our right util we reached a gap in the ruined walls, which we eagerly stepped through. A few meters away rose the splendid gothic ruins of Auldhame Castle.



The castle was built in the 16th century, by Adam Otterburn of Reidhall, Lord Provost of Edinburgh. It consists of a three-storey main block with a projecting stair-tower. Part of a vaulted basement remains, but the upper floors are mostly gone. After the death of St Baldred, to ease the squabbling parish kirks, his corpse supernaturally triplicated, one of whom was buried in this very spot.


We were almost back at the car. A wee stroll through woods, interrupted only by a veritable cavalry charge of kids on horses from nearby stables. It was then back to the beachside & our car, from where we followed the one-way system, passing the site of Seacliff House, partly hidden from the road by trees. Originally built in 1750, before being rebuilt in 1841 and extended in the 1850s, it burned down in 1907 and has stood as a ruin ever since. One of the coolest roofless ruins in the country, this ivy-mantled, three-storey baronial mansion of Squared and stugged stone and ashlar dressings is a true joy to pace round the outside & wander within into the less dangerous portions. Daisy simply loved it!


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Around Broadwoodside


Yesterday morning I was all set to get stuck into writing the Seacliff walk, which I’d done over the weekend, only to be childishly surprised by a succulent fall of snow. All was white, white, white, & knowing just how fast the thaw kicks in round these parts, I thought it best to rush out & take some photos while I had the chance. Choosing the lengthy potter around the newly renovated steading at Broadwoodside, part of this route takes in the  lovingly nurtured woodland brilliantly purchased by the Gifford Community, & with lots of aesthetic trinkets to see along the way it was a fine choice to snatch those all important wintry photographs.



Just off the B6355 between Gifford & Pencaitland is the house of Inglisfield, beside whose gate-lodge one finds ample space to park the car. Thus doing, off trotted me & Daisy to the crawing of the rooks & crows, over a wee stone bridge & through a fine gate. This brought us to a long stretch of woodland, with a river bubbling icily to our left. I soon discovered that Daisy loves snow, diving head first into the stuff & fluffing it off her face with eager enthusiasm.

IMG_20180206_084953973-EFFECTS.jpgI love the timelessness of a snowy woodland scene – the collective human brain has been experiencing pretty much the same thing for hundreds of thousands of years (especially in the Ice Ages) a shared memory that returns us all to our elk-eating, primordial roots. I also love the freshness of the air-chill in my lungs, a right dust-clearer. So off I was happily stomping along a wide & gently rising path which scythed between two epic fields, & flanked by a procession of trees, the branches of which were bowing like courtiers at a ball. Monty Pythonesque, at one point on our right appeared an empty picture-frame hanging in mid-air.


IMG_20180206_085600002.jpgNext up was something of a four-way junction. On our left & right gates opened up into large fields, while ahead the track continued through the woods, with a sub-path leading slightly to the right. Following the latter, we came to a curious neo-Greacian portico, rather like the unfinished one on Calton Hill in Edinburgh.

IMG_20180206_085642067.jpgIt had been added in the 1860s to Strathleven House, Dunbarton, then dismantled & re-erected on this spot in 2000. In an interesting visual effect, Broadwoodside came into view between the columns like the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge. Once part of the Yester Estate, Broadwoodside is older than Gifford itself, appearing as ‘Broadwoodsyid’ in Blau’s 1654 map of Scotland – the first complete map of the country.


IMG_20180206_085729481.jpgThe potico had been moved here by the latest owners of Broadwoodside – Anna and Robert Dalrymple – whose home peeped out from the fieldtop’s periphary across the open field. They’re a good sort are the Dalrymples – whose fabulous gardens have won admiratioon across the board. Starting very much witjh a blank canvas, they’ve kinda been making it up as they go along; when blending their modernist instinct with intelligent planting have ruffled the featheros of the ancien regime no end, as these superlative-laden praises make out;

I was spellbound by the wit and elegance at Broadwoodside – a garden created in less than two decades by Robert and Anna Dalrymple from derelict yards surrounding an ancient agricultural steading in East Lothian. David Wheeler


A garden that employs all the classical devices of symmetry, perspective and precise alignment but does so in such a witty fashion that the familiar becomes fresh and exciting. Agnes Stevenson

This is one of Scotland’s finest contemporary private gardens, with excellent structure, imaginative use of objects, and some of the most eye-catching planting in Scotland … Cutting-edge garden design combined with imaginative planting; who could ask for more? Kenneth Cox

Fast becoming one of the most influential new gardens in Scotland
Caroline Donald

Lady Anne-Louise Hamilton-Dalrymple with her husband Sir Hew
Hew Dalrymple & Lady Anne-Louise Hamilton-Dalrymple

Robert Dalrymple is the son of Major Sir Hew Fleetwood Hamilton-Dalrymple, one of East Lothian’s greatest 20th century figures. Leading a prestigious life in pubic service to the county, he held the office of Deputy Lieutenant between 1964 and 1973, the office of Vice-Lord-Lieutenant between 1973 and 1987 & the office of Lord-Lieutenant between 1987 and 2001. Hew was married to Lady Anne-Louise Hamilton-Dalrymple, who passed away at Leuchie in berwickshire only last month. She was president of the East Lothian Girl Guide Association for many years and  maintained connections with many organisations and charities in North Berwick, annually crowning the lifeboat queen and presenting the horticultural society show prizes for more than 40 years.

Broadwoodside in the summer, from the air

After Robert & his wife Anna rescued the farm steading from dereliction, they began to direct gardener Guy Donaldson in fashioning an elegant and inventive garden. Higlights include maple trees trimmed to lollipops & an avenue of hornbeams on one side of the house, skillfully planted to make the distance appear longer than it is (mirrored by the straight lines of white fireweed on the other). It will be open to the public in conjunction with the village gardens of Gifford on Sunday 8 July, while parties of 10 or more can be arranged by appointment.

Broadwoodside before renovation


Back in mine & Daisy’s world, we left the portico & returned to the long path. After a wee while I noticed a couple of anti-dog posters. Now, £25 for a new chicken is a bit steep I’d say, but I’m not getting involved…

IMG_20180206_090144697.jpgPassing the entrance to Broadwoodside on our right, with horses in the snow, & the going a bit slutchy underfoot, we came to the gated entrance to Fawn Wood. At this point four ladies in sports gear running with dogs burst out behind me, one of whom asked if me & Daisy would like to join them. I kindly declined & watched them bolt off through the woods while following behind at a softer pace.

Through the gate & turn right




From here the path meanders like a river, where a little further on my odyssey I met a kind gentleman who showed me the best way to get back to my car, mentioning something about following the route of the old Gifford light railway. Now, I’d never heard of this before, but after a little research on the matter in the National Libray (where I am now, actually) I discovered that the line was opened in 1901 at the behest of local landowners who had spent £100,000 in extending the line from the main branch hoping to shift the farm and mineral produce of their estates towards Edinburgh at greater speed and profit. Alas, it was all, ‘conceived too late, poorly planned and badly run,’ & was closed to passengers on 3 April 1933 & to freight on 25 April 1965.The line to Garvald, although proposed, never actually happened btw.

Daisy checking out a trinket

After passing some more of the amusing aesthetic trinkets, me & Daisy came to a gap in the fence, through which we turned right into another section of woodland… Speedy Wood. It felt great to be in the bosom of the Gifford Community Land Company, who got their heads together & down & came up with the cash to by the woods only last April – helped by a grant of £291,520 from the Scottish Land Fund. A little while later we reached the farm road, with cottages hard on our left & Broadwoodside a wee way off to the right – plus another bauble of an O.K. hand at the heart of a circlet of birch saplings.





Ahead we saw a gap in the hedge, which we passed through & entered a big field. Keeping the trees close to our left, in the field behind them we saw a couple of pigs who were friendly enough & left their wee home to say hi.


Turn left here…


Turning left to skirt the pig-field, the path bends right again into a long straight, with a hedge to one’s left. At the end of this we came across a lovely pond & its well-built boat house. I loved the beige rushes & brown waters all skiffled with snowdust – a lovely sensation of colours.




IMG_20180206_092424548.jpgContinuing onwards. the path curved right at the end of the pond, & led us through some vernal woodland back into the epic field. Turning left, Daisy dashed ahead for quite some way until a phalanx of woods marching from the right almost touches the path. Here we turned right, keeping the woods to our right, & eventually returned to the  4-way junction I mentioned earlier in the walk, just before the portico.



Turn right at the woods


IMG_20180206_093438680.jpgHere we turned left & were soon nestled snugly back at the car. Daisy had had a ball, but I noticed loads of mini icicles on her belly & had to crank the heating up to 4 for a bit, but she was oblivious really.


Yes, a wonderful walk was this, not only did I get lots of jolly snow pictures, but also found out about East Lothian’s lost railway system, most of whose routes I should be able to walk at some point in the future. Talking of which, on the drive home I just had to see where the Gifford terminus was. Heading into the village I followed Station Road (of course) until a kind lady pointed it out to me. Apparently folk & cyclists still trip over a sleeper.


How the end of the railway looks today


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Doon Hill


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.

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.



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.



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.

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

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.

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.



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.


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.

The original archeologists
& today’s version…


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.



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.


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.

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.



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.

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;


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.



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.


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.




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.
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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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;


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
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.

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.

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.

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.


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!

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…
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.


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.


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.

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.


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.



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.

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.
 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.
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.
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.
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.’
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;
Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane,
That maid the Anteris of Gawane;
Schir Gilbert Hay endit hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
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.

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!
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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