Tantallon Castle is only a few miles from our home in North Berwick. You can even see North Berwick Law from it.
It was the headquarters of the Douglas family. William Duke of Douglas built the castle in the 1350s and they remained occupants until the 16th century when Archibald Douglas was charged with treason. It then passed to the Earldom of Angus.
The outer gate used to have double wooden doors which by the 1500s was the main route into the castle
and the Tower built in 1520s.
Tantallon was besieged three times:
By James IV in 1491
James V in 1528
Oliver Cromwell in 1651 who also captured nearby Dirleton Castle as well.
The castle was abandoned after this last attack. The Dalrymples bought it as a romantic ruin in 1699. It was taken over by the ministry of works in 1924. The castle is now under the care of Historic Scotland. At the moment access is only to the outside grounds. During the pandemic a backlog of safety inspections and work compiled and is now being carried out. Until this is complete there is not access to the inside of many buildings. We wandered around the outside which gives views to the bays on either side and to the Bass Rock.
The Doocot sits in the grounds and used to house thousands of pigeons to provide meat and eggs to the residents. The birds entered via the roof and the door was kept locked to prevent poachers gaining access.
The grounds are spacious
and there are picnic tables near the entrance. It is only a short distance from the Drift Cafe as well.
Having to leave the campervan to be cleaned meant that we had three hours to kill in Dunbar. Following Spott Road in towards the town centre we first had a short walk on the East Beach although the tide was in. There were a few dog walkers out but otherwise it was very quiet.
Cromwell harbour had a few people working on boats. The first harbour was constructed in 1100 at what is now known as Belhaven. The next was stone-built nearer to the castle in the 16th century. After storm damage in the 1650s, Cromwell repaired it to enable English ships to supply his army. Herring fishing was important; In 1819, 280 boats with 2000 men and in bumper years some 700-800 boats would arrive. In the 18th century merchants traded with Europe and in 1828, 203,276 gallons of whisky were exported from Dunbar. The heyday for oyster fishing was from 1770 to 1790 and whaling was undertaken from 1751 to 1802.
The Castle ruins stand beside the harbour. It was built on the site of a Pictish fortress, the first stone castle being constructed in 1071. There were numerous attacks and rebuilding over the centuries and Mary Queen of Scots visited on several occasions. The ruins now provide a cliff-like place for gulls to nest on.
In 1844 a new harbour entrance was blasted through the remaining castle ruins and Victoria Harbour was built by the engineer David Stevenson. We walked around the walls watched by a pair of gulls.
In the 19th century potatoes were taken to London by sea. This continued until 1914 when Lincolnshire began to grow large crops of potatoes. In the 20th century lobster and crab catching increased to supply the demand from local, Edinburgh and London hotels. More recent work on the harbour in 1988 revealed the Harbour Vaults. From the items found in the underground passages, it is assumed they were related to the whaling industry.
In the High Street we found a coffee shop with comfortable sofas and had our first coffee in a cafe for several months. Opposite was the town house museum – the first home of John Muir.
The west end and Belhaven Bay will need to be explored on another day as our three hours had gone and it was time to collect the van.
Having moved last autumn before the last lockdown and only recently been able to go beyond our local council area meant that in addition to settling into our new home, we have at least had time to explore the area. East Lothian is relatively flat, mostly arable land with the Lammermuir Hills and Traprain Law to the south and the Pentlands to the west. Like Edinburgh, there are volcanic mounds including the Law
the Bass Rock.
And the Lamb.
There is evidence of early settlers in the area to the south of the Law including 18 hut circles, middens and a field system dating back 2,000 years. The first record of the town being referred to as North Berwick (to distinguish it from South Berwick as Berwick on Tweed was known as) was in 1250. The town developed a place on the pilgrim trail much earlier; a ferry to Earlsferry in Fife being established in 950AD for those heading to St Andrews. The pilgrimages continued until the mid-16th century. St Andrew’s Auld Kirk is situated down by the harbour on what was a tidal island. It was reduced to ruins by a storm in 1656.
Our house is situated alongside the southern edge of the Glen. There was originally a Mill Pond at the entrance to the Glen and now a culvert passes under the road. Lochbridge Road got its name from the bridge over the reservoir. The water was controlled by a sluice gate and provided power for the three mills which were situated there. Now only the ruins remain. The first path through the Glen was opened in 1856.
The burn flows into what was known as the Mill Sea which later became Milsey Bay and is our nearest beach.
I have been looking at Canmore maps online. The 19th century ones show an iron foundry established in 1821 in the East Bay. Coo’s Green or the East Links where golf was played before 1798 was where the burgesses could graze their animals for a fee until the popularity of golf increased.
Our house is situated on what was part of Rhodes Farm. It also had limekilns and employed several men. In 1904, Abbot’s Croft House was built along with the lodge. In the 1930s Lime Grove social housing was built on some of the land to the east. In 1993 some of the land surrounding Abbot’s Croft was sold to build two houses on each side. Ours is one of the two on the west side, abutting the Glen. Two further housing estates were built on the farmland: Rhodes Park and Ben Sayers Park. The Lochridge Toll bar at the foot of Heugh Road was installed in 1805 but townspeople did not have to pay tolls. There is now a small roundabout there at the junction with Tantallon Road.
I have also been looking at some of the older buildings in town. St Andrew’s Kirk sits behind the High Street. It was built between 1665 and 1664 to replace the older church.
By 1873 the congregation had overgrown it and in the 1880s moved to St Andrew Blackadder’s Church in the High Street. The Lodge, a group of whitewashed buildings sit in grounds at the bottom of Quality Street.
They were built in the 17th century and originally owned by the Dalrymple family. The tower behind is said to be where St Andrew’s well was. The buildings are now apartments, and the grounds are a public park and gardens.
In 1889 the first reference to the town being called ‘The Biarritz of the North’ was by Edmund Yates, editor of ‘The World’ a weekly society journal. By this time, large numbers of people were visiting on the trains including golfers. Robert Stevenson’s family, including his grandson Robert Louis Stevenson used to spend summers in North Berwick in the 1860s. During the pandemic the town has been very quiet but no doubt that will change when it is over.
Only three miles from our house, Seacliff Beach is accessible via a private road. Car drivers must pay £3 to open the barrier. On the path down to the west end of the beach, the ruins of Auldhame Castle, 16th century tower house are visible through the trees.
At low tide it is possible to walk around the cliffs to see Tantallon castle which is a little further along the coast.
The harbour, known as the Gegan was carved from the Ghegan Rock (which means Churchman’s Haven) and constructed in 1890. It is said to be the smallest harbour in Scotland but was empty when we visited on a cold January day. In summer the beach is popular with dog walkers, riders (there are a number of horses on the estate) surfers and picnickers.
The rocky outcrop which projects into the bay is known as St Baldred’s Boat and has a stone beacon with a cross on at the end.
St Baldred’s Cave is at the foot of the cliffs. He is said to have lived there from time to time. In 1831 a stone altar and bones of both humans and animals were discovered. They were thought to date from the Iron Age and to be the remnants of a sect which undertook human sacrifice.
At low tide there is an expanse of sandy beach to walk along. It was completely deserted on our winter visit.
The exit road out climbs up past the ruins of Seacliff House, a mid-19th century building constructed on the site of an earlier 18th century house and was destroyed by a fire in 1907. The owner did not survive. The road passes through an arch in the surrounding wall.
Various outbuildings on the estate were used as a secret naval base in World War II which focussed on navigation training and U-boat defence. They are now private homes. Troops were also stationed here to prevent landings during the Napoleonic War in 1798. Like most of the beaches on this portion of the coast, there are views towards the Bass Rock.
It is said that the rocks and the coastline here were the inspiration for Robert Stevenson’s story ‘The Wreckers’. Our first trip here for many years will not be our last now that we are living close by.
High meteorological pressure and sunshine meant that heading to the beach was a must last week. There are several, covering about 40 miles on the East Lothian coast but our first choice was Tyninghame. We had been there on a number of occasions a few years ago, once for a New Year’s Day barbecue. After parking at the end of Limetree Walk where the parking attendant had just arrived and was checking everyone had purchased a ticket, we took the left-hand path which runs through the woods
down to Tyne Sands, passing some concrete World War 2 anti-tank defences before reaching the beach. The coast from Peffer Sands to Dunbar Castle is part of the John Muir Country Park. The tide was out
and we walked along Sandy Hirst, a promontory. I found quite a few pieces of sea glass. One of the few people we saw was a metal detector.
I don’t know how lucky he was going to be.
On the way back to the car I foraged some blackberries. On the way back to Edinburgh we stopped off in Haddington; sitting in the sun outside Falko’s with a coffee and then exploring the nearby Reading Room, a secondhand bookshop which also sells a few ornaments and confectionary. I found a missing volume of my New Naturalist and was very surprised to find that the bookseller was unaware that this was a collectible series. We wandered around the town centre for a while, noting some of the businesses that were here but not in North Berwick and a few of the older buildings, one of the which had been a Primitive Methodist Church. I had not known they had got as far as Scotland. The movement began at Mow Cop, not far from where we used to live and the bookshop I volunteered at supported the work of the Englesea Brook Museum of Primitive Methodism.
A few days later we met up with some friends from Cheshire who were camping at Yellowcraigs just east of the town on the coast. We arranged to meet at the lifeboat station and just before they arrived, I had a little wander around. On the shore is a statue ‘The Watcher’ by Kenny Hunter which looks out towards the Bass Rock with binoculars. Even he had a mask on!
In front of the seabird centre are the remains of St Andrew’s Auld Kirk. All that stands now is a small white-harled building that was the porch and some low walls behind. The church was destroyed in a storm in 1656 but there is said to have been one on the site for 1000 years prior to this. Pilgrims would come to North Berwick to catch a ferry to Earlsferry in Fife en route to St Andrews. There are some information boards inside the porch which contain information about some of the finds during archaeological digs on the site.
With our friends we walked along the West Beach which had quite a few dog walkers and others on it.
I spotted a curlew down by the water’s edge with some gulls. Afterwards, we had a coffee together. Before we left, I popped into the Pennyfarthing, a shop that sells antiques and secondhand books. On the way back to Edinburgh we passed a load of portable toilets and another of generators going to Archerfield which holds events. This was a little surprising in the midst of a pandemic. At Longniddry Bents there were a large number of wind surfers but I think that they could maintain social distancing on the water at least. There is a lot more to explore and we are looking forward to moving here in around a month’s time.
Sunday always makes driving a little more interesting. There was a woman in African dress at the filling station and we passed a vintage car on the bypass. The sunny morning meant we had to head for the beach and Tyninghame is a favourite. Walking through the wood to Ravensheugh Sands, I always find something to photograph whether it be emerging bracken shoots or trees.
We walked and beachcombed and the dog greeted all the other dogs out for a walk.
All too soon we had to leave and drove back along part of the Hillfoots Trail through the communities lying at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills. Just after Humbie and before we joined the A68, eight or nine Mazda MX5s passed, on a day out or heading towards and event perhaps. During our lunch stop just off the A68, it started to snow. Further on, near the Kielder Forest and Newcastleton, it was hailing. The rest of the drive was uneventful as most of the roadworks that have afflicted the northern M6 had been suspended but there are still plenty of potholes.
Cold and windy but blue sky and sunshine from early morning so it was homeward bound with a detour to the East Lothian coast. We walked a short section of the John Muir Trail between Musselburgh and Prestonpans. We have walked this section to Aberlady a couple of years ago and really need to complete the rest of the trail. Flora enjoyed sniffing around on the beach and meeting other dogs. I did some sea glass hunting and could have wandered along the sand and shingle all day. However we did need to head home and so it was off southbound via a few B roads and then down the A7 to the motorway. The M6 was unusually quiet for a Sunday afternoon so a much easier journey than Friday evening. Now trying to warm up a cold house.