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East Lothian [ formerly known as 'Haddingtonshire'] is a county that lies to the East of Edinburgh, beginning at the city’s boundary with the town of Musselburgh , a fairly recent addition to the county following local government reorganisations and now East Lothian ’s largest town.
The county has a varied topography. Its northern boundary is the shoreline of the Firth of Forth; to the East is the North Sea; thesouthern extremity is marked by the Lammermuir Hills; and in between is mostly the prime agricultural land that gave the county its reputation as the Garden County of Scotland.
Before Musselburgh was welcomed to the fold, there were five main towns (with a population of over 5,000) in the county – the former mining towns of Tranent and Prestonpans in the West, the wealthy Royal Burgh of North Berwick, the fishing port of Dunbar to the East and, in the centre, the ancient market town of Haddington. Haddington was the former county town of East Lothian – indeed the county was formerly called Haddingtonshire. There are also numerous picturesque villages.
Dunbar lies on the main East Coast railway line between London and Edinburgh . North Berwick is also served by frequent train and bus services to and from the capital. Trains call at Longniddry, Prestonpans and Musselburgh. There are fairly extensive bus services, mostly linking places in East Lothian with Edinburgh .
For the Visitor
Wildlife and golf are abundant and will be covered later. Apart from those, there is little of interest to the visitor inthe West of the county, although do make time to stop in Musselburgh for an ice cream from the famous Luca’s emporium, one of Scotland’sfinest ice-cream manufacturers. There is a racecourse in Musselburgh and you might be able to take in some culture at the town’s Brunton Theatre.
One major visitor attraction is the Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum at Prestonpans. There is also a mural trail in the town with a great variety of wallmurals, a leaflet is available to follow. The old church has a fascinating graveyard, with graves from the Covenanters times. There is a memorial to the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans, commemorating the defeat of government forces by the Jacobites.
As you leave Edinburgh further behind and reach the central andeastern parts of the county, the county becomes more attractive. You enter a world of satellite towns and villages from which large numbers of the populace commute to work in Edinburgh . These are all in fairly close proximity to each other.
Following the coastal trail along the Firth of Forth takes you past the sleepy village of Longniddry and through the conservation village of Aberlady to Aberlady Bay , once Scotland ’s largest seaport. The sea at Longniddry is popular for wind surfing. More of Aberlady Bay follows later in the wildlife section.
Gullane is next. This is one of the county’s largest villages and boasts oneof Scotland ’s finest beaches, as well as one of the country’s best restaurants, La Potiniere. Park near the Pro shop (the first buiding you pass on the left as you enter the village) and walk up the hill past the "tudor" type houses. At the top there are magnificant 360 degree views. To the north you can see the Fife coastand beyond, to the west is Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat and to the East is Berwick Law.
Gullane contains numerous exquisite large houses, many of which were owned by wealthy businessmen and were used as holiday homes in Victorian and Edwardian times. Most of these fine homes have been divided into smaller dwellings but are still very desirable and expensive properties.
A couple of miles further on is Dirleton,a small, photogenic village with a large castle at its centre. Dirleton has often featured among the prize-winners in the Best-Kept Villages awards. Built around a village green, it has a vaguely English feel. The gardens inside Dirleton Castle grounds make a visit to the castle a must.
Whilst in Dirleton, take a short detour on the C road north out ofthe village to Yellowcraigs beach. This is another gorgeous beach which can get busy on warm summer days. There is a car park and a brilliant adventure playground for young kids. Walk north from thecar park and you will pass barbeque areas and also public toilets.
North Berwick is a prestigious town with a dark past, as it was the scene of witch burning in the 16th century! The arrival of therailway brought a gilded age to the town, which styled itself the Biarritz of the North. During this time, many wealthy families from London society established summer homes in the town.
Nowadays the town makes for a pleasant day trip or a long weekend. As well as golf and boat tours, visitors can relax on two fine beaches,play putting or tennis or climb North Berwick Law, a volcanic plug onthe town’s southern edge for unparalleled views in all directions. Theaward-winning Scottish Seabird Centre is not to be missed.
Dunbar boasts more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in Scotland . Visitors can tour the Belhaven Brewery.. On the outskirts of the town is the John Muir Country Park , a haven for nature lovers and walkers alike. For families East Links Family Park provides an outlet for kids energy and lets them get close to farm animals.
Head back westwards along the A1 towards Edinburgh and your first port of call is East Linton. The National Trust for Scotland runs the impressive Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot. The mill is extremely popular with artists. There are lots of bonnie houses in the village and a pleasant waterfall. The village square hasa fountain with gold cherubs around it. There are three Inns in the village, The Crown Hotel, The Linton Hotel and the Drovers Inn (which is shut at present - April 2008). There is also a tearoom, TheVotodini, in the main street and another at Smeaton Gardens which has a pleasant lake to walk around, at the NE of the village. There's also a really nice walk from East Linton to Hailes Castle. The repaired walk along the River Tyne is worth doing, though a little rough and takes around 45 mins to an hour.
Learn about the history of Scotland ’s national flag, the Saltire at the village of Athelstaneford (astonish the locals and pronounce it as they do, Elshinford) and visit the nearby National Museum of Flight at East Fortune, where you can board Concorde.
Finally, Haddington built in the 12th century which still retains its triangle layout of the 15th century and lists no fewer than 284 buildings of special architectural interest and the famous Nungate Bridge which spans the River Tyne which even in the 13th century was know as the 'Old Bridge,' this connects the town to what was the village of Giffordgate birthplace of the Protestant Reformationist John Knox. Haddington is the Local Goverment administrative centre of the county as well as the Law Courts for the County of East Lothian. Visit St Mary’s Collegiate Church, known as the Lamp of Lothian, the largest parish church in Scotland being even larger than St Giles in Edinburgh with a total length of 63m and a width of 35m at the transepts . The towns main hotel is Maitlandfield House Hotel but the town has many smaller hotel & B&B's including '1 West Road'. The Duke of Hamilton’s home, Lennoxlove House with its extensive grounds [which are open to the public] , now a 5* hotel, to the south of the town has associations with Mary, Queen of Scots and houses an impressive art collection. A little further south, in thefoothills of the Lammermuir Hills lies Gifford, an enchanting village boasting two hotels serving excellent meals, the Tweeddale Arms and the Goblin Ha’.
The estuary of the River Tyne at Tyninghame, between North Berwick and Dunbar is also home to large numbers of birds. Dunbar was the birthplace of John Muir, the father of the United States National Parkssystem.
From North Berwick harbour, boat trips are run to the island of Fidra and around the Bass Rock, one of the world’s foremost seabird breeding sites. There are also seals, which are inquisitive enough to check approaching boats and, if you’re lucky you might encounter dolphins. There is a fascinating article on the Bass Rock at http://www.north-berwick.co.uk/bassRo...
The county’s wildlife is mainly of interest to bird-watchers, especially water birds. Aberlady Bay is world-renowned for the huge flocks of geese that winter there as well as large numbers of waders and other shore birds. Musselburgh Lagoons are also home to large numbers of waterfowl.
The estuary of the River Tyne at Tyninghame, between North Berwick and Dunbar is also home to large numbers of birds. Dunbar was the birthplace of John Muir, the father of the US National Parks system.
A recent addition to North Berwick ’s harbour area is one of Scotland ’s most prestigious visitor centres, the Scottish Seabird Centre.
Golf is undoubtedly the major visitor draw in East Lothian , particularly the Golf Coast stretching from Longniddry to North Berwick , which takes in no fewer than 12 top-class courses, including the world-famous Muirfield, a frequent host to the Open Championship.
Musselburgh is home to the world’s oldest playing golf course, dating from 1672 and it hosted the Open Championship 6 times during the tournament’s early years. Prestonpans is home to the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club.
Beginning at Longniddry and heading eastwards, the Golf Coast comprises Longniddry, the new Craigielaw course and Kilspindie, both at Aberlady, Luffness between Aberlady and Gullane, Gullane Numbers 1, 2 and 3, Muirfield, 2 new courses at Archerfield between Gullane and Dirleton and the West Links and Glen course at North Berwick.
Heading further round the coast there is also a lovely new golf club at the village of Whitekirk and two courses at Dunbar, Dunbar Golf Club and Winterfield. Finally, inland there are courses at the county town of Haddington and the village of Gifford , nestling in the foothills of the Lammermuir Hills.
For the casual visitor, Muirfield and Archerfield will not be an option (unless you have some well-connected friends). However, all the other courses listed here offer friendly welcomes and great golf. Most visitors will want to stick to the coastline the for the links courses but this should not mean that the likes of Whitekirk (long and fastrunning hill course) and Haddington (classic parkland) are ignored.
Golf can be an expensive pastime these days - particularly if you are planning to play a few rounds. However, good value for money can still be found with a small amount of pre-planning. The 3 main factors affecting price are: time of year; day of the week; time of day. In general, prices are cheaper in winter, Monday-Friday and (in summer)after 4pm. Most links courses are kept in excellent condition and are playable all year, making winter golf excellent value. In summer,"twilight" tickets offer discount golf after 4pm - in June and July you can tee off after 6pm and still get a full round in.
Most courses have websites detailing exactly what offers are available - Golf East Lothian is an excellent resource.
Where to Stay
Most visitors to the county are likely to make Edinburgh their base. Getting to East Lothian from the capital is easy.
For those who choose to stay in the county, there are many small hotels in East Lothian, Greywalls on the outskirts of Gullane being one of the most elegant with most of its 23 rooms overlooking the famous Muirfield Golf Course. Haddington has the Maitlandfield House Hotel, as well as the 5* Lennoxlove House which went through an extensive renovation during 2005-2007, but only really large hotel is the Marine Hotel in North Berwick , which was recently purchased and renovated by the Macdonald Group. There are plentiful guest houses and B&Bs throughout the county that offer a good standard of accommodation.
Camp and caravan sites are also available. Indeed the site at Yellowcraigs by Dirleton is reckoned to be one of the country’s best.
There are numerous marked paths for walkers throughout the county. In 2005 the Scottish Parliament introduced Right to Roam legislation that gives walkers statutory rights of public access to most ofScotland ’s land and water, providing these are exercised responsibly.
If you plan to visit a number of castles, get in touch with Historic Scotlandas they might be able to offer temporary membership, which will allow free entry to their properties. If you are a member of a similar organisation, such as English Heritage there might be a reciprocal arrangement.
It may also be worth contacting the National Trust for Scotland to find out about Discovery tickets, which are short-term memberships of 3, 7 or 14 days. There are also reciprocal arrangements with similarorganisations such as the National Trust.