Travels in Scotland   -  The North Berwick Coast

  The visitor to Edinburgh can very easily spend all their time within the city itself, there is so much to see. But do try to find time to look around the nearby countryside which also has many spectacular views.

Steeped in history the Lothians has many castles and historical sites and the eastern part is well known for its golf courses - Mary Queen of Scots played at nearby Musselburgh.

The Edinburgh and Lothians Tourist Board publish many helpful leaflets including some about "car touring trails". These give a suggested itinerary and the historical sites on a reasonable short drive of up to 40 miles from Edinburgh.

 My wife and I chose to follow the East Lothian trail to North Berwick via the coastal road along the Firth of Forth through the small towns of Musselburgh, Prestonpans, Cockenzie and the golfer's paradise of Gullane, (there are some 11 courses in this area) to the ancient burgh of North Berwick. From here we chose to go off one suggested route to another to see places of interest to us. Having an interest in the Covenanters I was especially keen to see for myself the infamous Bass Rock which was used as a prison in 1685 for the most vociferous (rather than dangerous) Presbyterian ministers, including John Blackader who lies buried at North Berwick church.

Prestonpans got its name from the salt pans there dating from the 12th century, but its monopoly on salt was ended by the Act of Union in 1707 which allowed salt to be brought in from England. It was the location of a great victory for Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 when the army of Sir John Cope was routed in minutes.

In Port Seton can be found the 15th century Collegiate Church and Aberlady has some pretty cottages with a motor museum nearby at Myreton. The Gullane area is a veritable golfer`s paradise including Muirfield golf course which will host The Open championship in 2002.

 Elsewhere off the coastal road are the 12th century Dirleton Castle and gardens. Behind the town of North Berwick stands the 600 foot Tantallon CstleNorth Berwick Law, a conical hill on top of which are excellent views as well as a ruined watchtower and an arch formed from the jawbones of a whale. From North Berwick the road can take you to Tantallon Castle, the home of the Douglas family until 1699 and the Bass Rock, famous as a Covenanter prison.

Tantallon castle was the home of the Douglas family probably built by William, the first Earl Douglas, and it remained the family's stronghold until 1699. It was from here that the Douglas' exercised enormous power and influence and indulged in their intrigues with English kings. Their coat of arms bears the emblem of a heart, symbolizing the heart of Robert the Bruce which Sir James Douglas was to take to the Holy Land to fulfil the Bruce's dying wish. The intrigues with the English meant that Tantallon was itself subjected to attack by Scotsmen themselves, although it surrendered to General Monk in 1651 after a 12-day siege and bombardment.

 The castle was built in the 1300s on a natural promonotory jutting into the sea, which has three sides dropping sheer to the shore. The fourth side is protected by two dry ditches cutting across from cliff to cliff , and a a narrow drawbridge for access to the castle itself. The walls of the castle with its towers and gatehouse are 12 foot thick and the outer gate has a gun platform dating from the 1500s (when guns took place of bows and arrows). In its day, the castle must have been an impressive sight with five floors in the West Tower, lean-to buildings against the curtain wall and a hall block, a bakery and a brewhouse.

Preston MillFrom Tantallon we took the road to East Linton and stopped by Preston Mill, the last  operating water mill in Scotland. Time seems to have stopped here with the buildings showing a distinct tilt, but the grinding of grain continues to this day.

From East Linton we went to Athelstaneford and the home of the Scottish national flag - the Saltire or cross of St. Andrew. The white cross on a blue background is the oldest flag in both the Commonwealth and Europe and is said to have originated in a battle fought in 832 AD between Angus mac Fergus (King of Alba) and aided by the King of Dalriada against a large force of Angles and Saxons led by one Athelstan.

 Fearful of the coming battle, King Angus held prayers and saw a cloud formation of a white saltire against the blue sky. He vowed that if with the saint's help he won the day, then St Andrew would be the patron saint of Scotland.

Saltire MemorialThe Saltire memorial is in the churchyard and was built in 1965. It consists of a battle scene carved in a granite slab. The main panel shows the combatants facing one another and the other side the acceptance of defeat beneath the St Andrews cross in the sky. The inscription on the memorial reads:

Tradition says that near this place in times remote Pictish and Scottish warriors about to defeat an army of Northumbrians, saw against a blue sky a great white cross like St Andrew's, and in its image made a banner which became the flag of Scotland.

 Next to the Memorial is a flagpole on which the flag is flown at all times and which is illuminated at night.

To the rear of the church is a 16th century "Doocot" or dovecote, in which pigeons were kept for supplementing the diet during the winter months. This was built in 1583 by George Hepburn whose son , Sir John Hepburn, was the founder and colonel of the Royal Scots Regiment founded in 1633 for service in France under Louis XIII. The title Royal Regiment of Foot was conferred by King Charles II. The regiment has used the saltire as its emblem since the 17th century. Within the doocot is a short audio visual display that relives the battle and operates automatically as the door is closed.

Haddington is the county town of East LothianDetail, Saltire Memorial and dates from the 12th century. The 15th century St. Mary's Church is known as the "Lamp of Lothian" because there used to be a lighted lantern in its tower. From Haddington, if there is time, the visitor must be tempted to head for the Glenkinchie Distillery to seek out the Edinburgh malt whisky and the tour round the distillery. The tour will show you the use of Scottish barley and pure local water being mashed to produce the "wash" from which the alcohol is distilled. In law the spirit must be stored in oak barrels for at least three years before it can be called whisky. A snippet of information for you - the official description of a barrel is " the middle frustrum of a prolate spheroid " There is an exhibition of malt whiskies and a complimentary "dram" is very tasty. But please remember the "Drink Drive" rules are pretty tough in the UK, so don't over-indulge. Buy a bottle in the shop and take it back with you for an evening nip before retiring !.


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