Athelstaneford and the legend of the Saltire

Athelstaneford in East Lothian is supposedly the birthplace of Scotland’s flag, the St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire. Legend has it that in 832, an army of Picts under King Angus were being pursued by a larger army of Anglo-Saxons under Athelstan. Angus prayed for help and was rewarded by a white cloud in the shape of a saltire (the diagonal cross on which St Andrew was martyred) in the blue sky. He vowed that if Andrew led him to victory he would become the patron saint of Scotland. The rest is, allegedly, history.

The Flag Heritage Centre commemorating this has to be the smallest museum I’ve ever been in! It’s a lectern-shaped doocot (dovecote) behind the parish church with a door you have to bend down to enter. Inside, a short audiovisual presentation dramatises the story. The viewpoint beside it looks over the fields, and in the churchyard there’s a memorial (1965) showing the battle scene. Both sport saltires blowing in the breeze. This didn’t take long to visit, but it was a lovely experience.

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Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Castle in East Lothian has existed since the 13th century. Built by the de Vauxes, it changed hands twice over the next 400 years – first to the Haliburtons, then to the Ruthvens. Both families added their own extensions before the downfall of the Ruthvens saw the castle abandoned as a noble residence. When the Nisbets purchased the estate in the 1660s they built a new mansion-house and the ruins became a feature in the designed landscape. Today, Dirleton is in the hands of Historic Scotland. As you can see by my attire, despite the date being May the weather was wintry cold when we visited!

In case anyone is wondering, the bottom two pictures are taken inside the doocot (dovecote).

Sunny Dunny: Dunbar

For Jo’s Monday Walk this week, I’m going to take you round Dunbar in East Lothian, affectionately known as Sunny Dunny (which it was). And look! Just below the Leisure Centre where we parked are some lovely benches overlooking Victoria Harbour. I hoped I could kill two birds with one stone and also enter Jude’s Bench Series. I had it in my head that she was looking for benches by the sea in May, but when I check more carefully it specifically says “at the beach”. No beach in view here, just the harbour! Hmm, maybe I’ll get away with it……

Anyway, click on the links above to find out more about both challenges and what other people have been writing about.

We didn’t linger on the benches, but headed uphill onto the High Street to start our walk there. Dunbar is famous for being the birthplace (in 1838) of John Muir who later emigrated to the USA and was instrumental in setting up the National Parks system. His house is still there and is now an excellent museum. Across the road is the Town House Museum and a statue of John Muir as a boy.

After perusing the shops and cafes of the High Street, we headed downhill again, past the Volunteer Arms (does a good pub lunch) to Cromwell Harbour, which dates from the 16th century, and the Battery which was built in 1781 to defend the town from privateers.

Next, we headed back over to Victoria Harbour which was built in the 1840s by blasting away some of the rocks the castle was built on. There’s not much left of the castle now, but it makes a nice home for a colony of kittiwakes.

We also discovered that Dunbar was home to the inventor of the ship’s propeller, Robert Wilson, though he didn’t get credit for it apparently.

Finally, it was time to climb back up to the car park, looking back at the castle and admiring the statue of girl and swan before we left.

North Berwick

We spent the recent Bank Holiday weekend in North Berwick in East Lothian. Our friends from Yorkshire drove up to meet us and we stayed in the beautiful Royal Apartments, complete with view over the harbour and Bass Rock. Confession: the shot on the balcony is staged. Despite the sun, it was very cold and we headed back inside to finish our G&Ts as soon as John pressed the shutter.

Although we’ve visited North Berwick several times as day-trippers, this was the first time we’d stayed in the town. John, however, spent several family holidays there in his youth – and thereby hangs a tale (or two). The Royal Apartments are built on the site of the old Royal Hotel where a very small John persuaded his even smaller brother and sister to turn the taps on in the basin to the point of flooding. “No, Mummy, it wasn’t me!” Tsk, tsk.

On Saturday morning, we took the Three Islands Seabird Seafari around the Lamb, Craigleith and the Bass Rock. All were teeming with bird-life: the Bass Rock is home to over 150,000 gannets at the peak of the season. The trip, in a 12-seater RIB (rigid inflatable boat) was choppy – and just this side of unsettling. First, we had to don our waterproofs.

Then we set off. I can’t remember which birds were from which island, but by the foghorn and lighthouse we had reached the Bass Rock. We had good views back to the Rock and forward to Tantallon Castle on the return journey to the harbour.

On another family holiday, a teenage John and his cousin decided to row out to the Bass Rock from the beach near Tantallon. When their mothers discovered what they had done, they called out the lifeboat – but the boys got back before they had to be rescued. To (belatedly) salve his conscience, John popped a generous donation into the Royal National Lifeboat Institution collecting tin on Saturday afternoon.

There’s more to come on our East Lothian trip – though without the embarrassing (for John) family recollections.

 

East Linton to Hailes Castle

This is a gorgeous little walk of just under two miles each way from the beautiful East Lothian village of East Linton to the riverside ruins of Hailes Castle.

We parked on the High Street opposite this lovely fountain and had an excellent lunch in the Crown and Kitchen before heading off along the River Tyne (no, not that one!) The gorse was magnificent.

The oldest part of the castle was built by the de Gourlays in the 13th century. It was extended in the 14th and 15th centuries, and when the inhabitants moved out of one part, they converted it into a doocot (dovecote) – home improvements 15th century style! Hailes later passed to the Hepburns: James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots who stayed here before their marriage. Historic Scotland runs it now, but there’s no entrance fee which makes it a popular family picnic spot.

We decided to walk back along the minor road above the river. Even the noise from the A1 traffic passing over us couldn’t detract from the scene – the viaduct is actually rather elegant. In fact, three generations of road are visible – as we approached the village, we could see the previous version of the A1, and we walked back in over the original A1 or Great North Road. There’s been a bridge here for the Edinburgh to London Post Road since the 16th century. Finally, our eyes were caught by this splendid house with a very impressive shed (or possibly summer-house).

This is my last post about our recent weekend in East Lothian (though by a quirk of WordPress, it has published as if it was the first!) It’s an area we’ll definitely be going back to.

Added to Jo’s Monday walks – check the link to see where she (and others) have been walking.

Scottish Snapshots: North Berwick

Scottish Snapshots is a series of short posts about places I visited in 2013 but didn’t write about at the time

We visited North Berwick, a seaside town on the east coast, on a day trip in May. Despite the month it was cold and windy, so we spent some of our time in the Scottish Seabird Centre which has a range of webcams to observe birds on the surrounding islands. It also has a nice display of quilting in its wee cinema and one of the mysterious Edinburgh Book Sculptures, based on Treasure Island, though this has since been moved to the National Library of Scotland. It’s an area formed by volcanoes – part of the beach is in the remains of a crater, and volcanic plugs are prominent inland (North Berwick Law) and at sea (Bass Rock). We didn’t climb the Law this time, though we have done in the past and no doubt will again in the future.