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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