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Issue 50 - Edinburgh & Lothians – protecting the capital

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 50
April 2010


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Edinburgh & Lothians – protecting the capital

Charles Douglas takes us on a journey through this varied part of Scotland.

Situated on Scotland’s south eastern corner, the local government region of the Lothians, encompassing West Lothian, Midlothian and East Lothian, takes its name from Loth, the seventh century semimythical king of the Gododdin, who traditionally ruled from Traprain Law in East Lothian. Up until the 11th century, the entire territory here formed part of the kingdom of Northumbria until annexed by the Scots in 1010. Thereafter, it was divided up to form Linlithgowshire, Edinburghshire and Haddingtonshire before being collectively rebranded for administrative convenience.

Strategically placed to defend itself against the onslaught of Viking, Saxon and English invasion, it was perhaps inevitable that Edinburgh should emerge as Scotland’s Capital. Ever conscious of the unruly factions of the North, not to mention Hebridean incursions from the West, it was to the security of Edinburgh’s seven hills, accessed by the Firth of Forth and North Sea and centred on its formidable castle, that Scotland’s ruling elite re-located in preference to Dunfermline and Stirling.

And while the rich farmland of the Lothians, west and east, supplied the kitchens; the ports of South Queensferry, Leith, Aberlady and Dunbar offered a constant flow of continental trade. As a result, the region prospered.

West Lothian is possibly best known for the “question” over the voting rights of English and Scottish politicians posed by its then member of parliament Tam Dalyell in his 1997 book Devolution: The End of Britain? Politics included, however, West Lothian enjoys a strong sense of its own identity. Embracing the southern shores of the River Forth, and marching with Stirlingshire to the north, and Lanarkshire to the south and west, it takes in Armadale, Whitburn, Broxburn and Bathgate, and the New Town of Livingston.

Linlithgow, its most historic town, once housed Scottish monarchs in its expansive palace, where both James V and his daughter Mary Queen of Scots were born. Set on fire by Government troops during the 1745 Jacobite Rising, it remains a dramatic ruin and its modernistic aluminium spire, said to represent Christ’s Crown of Thorns, can be seen for miles around. The town’s coat-ofarms features a black bitch dog against an oak tree. Legend has it that after her master was sentenced to death by starvation on an island in the middle of Linlithgow Loch, the devoted animal would swim across each day to find him and bring him food.

Coal, lime and stone mining were once integral to the local economy of West Lothian and it was the discovery of canal coal beside Bathgate by James Simpson, and the opening of the Bathgate Chemical Works in 1852, which led to the widespread manufacture of paraffin wax and paraffin oil. Quarries and collieries fueled brickworks and steel manufacture. To this day the area is dotted with with shale heaps or bings, a reminder of a rich and prosperous past.

Sir James Young Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform, was a resident of Bathgate, as was, more recently, David Tennant of Dr Who fame, who was born here.

Livingston was the fourth post-Second World War New Town to be built in Scotland.

Today it features one of the largest indoor shopping and leisure centres in the country, alongside a busy industrial estate, St John’s Hospital, and the headquarters of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Lothian and Borders Fire & Rescue Service.

On the shores of the Firth of Forth is South Queensferry, named after Saint Margaret, wife of Malcolm III of Scotland, who made this crossing to and from the Kingdom of Fife in the 12th century to visit her chapel in Edinburgh Castle. Ferries crossed here daily until 1964 when the Forth Road Bridge was opened. Both the Forth Rail Bridge, opened in 1890, and the Forth Road Bridge are impressive feats of engineering, and plans for a second road bridge are under discussion.

Two great landed estates adjoin South Queensferry. To the west is Hopetoun House, home of the marquisses of Linlithgow who made their fortune through lead mining in Lanarkshire and strategic marriages; to the east is Dalmeny, home of the earls of Roseberry. Both Hopetoun House, designed by the Scottish architects Sir William Bruce and William Adam, and Dalmeny House, by the English architect William Wilkins, are seasonally open to the public.

The latter, the Scottish home of a twentieth century British Prime Minister, features a fine collection of Napoleonic memorabilia. One mile to the south is Dundas Castle, built by William Burn for the influential Dundas family, and where a 9-hole golf course was established in 1957.

From Edinburgh Airport at Turnhouse, on the west side, the road travels into Edinburgh’s city centre through the fashionable residential suburbs of Corstorphine, with its world famous zoo; Murrayfield, with its magnificent rugby sports stadium, and Haymarket. On the eastern side of Corstorphine Hill, the Forth Bridge traffic runs parallel through the equally fashionable districts of Barnton, Davidson’s Mains and Blackhall.

Edinburgh, like Rome, is built on seven hills. Scottish Arthurian legend fancifully suggests that this was the site of ancient Camelot, which given that Arthur’s halfsister Anna was allegedly married to King Loth, and mother of Sir Gawain and Mordred, might have some substance. Be that as it may, Edinburgh rises out of the low ground sloping towards the coastline of the Firth of Forth and there has been a castle on a rock here for over a thousand years.

But Edinburgh’s true renaissance, however, came in the 18th century in that period known as “the Scottish Enlightenment” when the inhabitants of the overcrowded medieval tenements on either side of the ridge of rock running from Edinburgh Castle towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, embarked upon an ambitious town planning venture in the meadowland to the north. This was to become Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town, the catalyst for Edinburgh being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Much has changed since that golden age when Edinburgh housed men of the caliber of the philosopher David Home, the economist Adam Smith, Dr Samuel Johnson’s biographer James Boswell, the chemist Adam Black, the mathematician John Playfair and the novelists Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, all of whom played a vital role in creating the society in which we live today. Yet Edinburgh remains gracious, sophisticated and independent, despite the chaos which has been created through the re-introduction of a tram system.

This disruption will, of course, pass, and Scotland’s Capital City and its devolved Parliament at Holyrood, is blazing a trail in British politics. Contemporary writers such as Alexander McColl Smith, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welch, and J. K. Rowling have kept the literary momentum going against a backdrop of the annual Edinburgh International Festival, now in its 63 year.

Edinburgh now boasts the University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, Edinburgh College of Art, established in 1909, Heriot- Watt University dating from 1966, Napier University, created in 1993, and Queen Margaret’s University in 2007.

There is no book that illustrates the true character of Edinburgh better than Muriel Spark’s 1961 novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which portrays the radical undercurrent of a town obsessed with its normality and propriety. Edinburgh, with its cobbled streets and dreaming church spires, thrives within the different worlds of commerce, academia, and the arts.

South of the city, roads run through a clutter of residential districts into the sprawling Pentland Hills.

At Roslin Village, a distance of 10 miles, is the gem-like 15th century Rosslyn Chapel (the Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew), much admired by Queen Victoria and the poet William Wordsworth, and which has once again become a major visitor attraction following the extraordinary success of the book and film of The Da Vinci Code.

What is often forgotten is that for centuries Edinburgh’s port of Leith was a separate town. Incorporated into the city in 1929, a massive regeneration programme has taken place which has dramatically altered its character, bringing fashionable restaurants, art galleries and up-market housing into the neighbourhood. Cruise liners and commercial shipping nevertheless still dock here, and many fine buildings survive, including Lamb’s House where Mary Queen of Scots rested upon her return to Scottish soil in 1561. A more recent landmark is the Royal Yacht Britannia which was brought to Leith’s Ocean Terminal in 1997.

To the east is the town of Musselburgh which takes its name from the mussel beds which once proliferated offshore but were long ago decimated by coastal erosion and pollution. Musselburgh’s designation as the “Honest Toun” dates from 1332 when a Regent of Scotland died here after a long illness during which he was devotedly cared for by the townsfolk. When offered a reward for their loyalty, they turned it down.

However, in 1547, Musselburgh bore the brunt of English invasion and, after the Battle of Pinkie, 10,000 Scots lay dead in retaliation for six year old Mary Queen of Scots being betrothed to the four year old Dauphin of France. Atrocities are not exclusive to the 21st century and generational memories are long.

All the same, East Lothian has the best of everything: rich farmland ranging from the fertile arable yielding soil of the coastal plain to the sheep filled slopes and grouse moors of the inland Lammermuirs; picturesque coastal and inland towns detailed with buildings of historic interest, and large stretches of sandy beaches hugging little fishing villages and harbours. The novelist Nigel Tranter, who lived at Aberlady for many years, used to tell a story concerning the Prime Minister of Denmark being taken to the holiday town of North Berwick while on an official visit to Edinburgh. On being asked by the town’s Provost (Mayor) what he thought of East Lothian, the Dane replied that he was particularly impressed to see how all of the land that was unsuitable for playing golf had been turned over to agriculture!

With 22 golf courses to choose from, he was certainly not exaggerating.

But owing to its proximity to Edinburgh, there has been a slight tendency to overlook East Lothian as being nothing more than a dormitory for the Capital.

Certainly, that is why several of Scotland’s ruling elite came to live there, notably the first Duke of Lauderdale who ruled Scotland for Charles II between 1661 and 1680; the first Marquis of Tweeddale, Chancellor of Scotland from 1692-96, and Arthur Balfour, the British Prime Minister from 1902 until 1905. Lauderdale’s home Lethington, renamed Lennoxlove, is today the seat of the fifteenth Duke of Hamilton and is open to the public.

Up until the arrival of the railway in 1846, the Great North Road crossed straight through East Lothian from Berwickshire towards Edinburgh bringing all manner of goods and travelers from the south.

Haddington was at one stage in its history the fourth largest town north of the Scottish Border. It has since fallen back into a charming time-warp, centering on the restoration of f St Mary’s Parish Church, the Lamp of the Lothian, where the great reformer John Knox began his career as a Catholic alter boy.

Knox, founder of the Church of Scotland, was brought up in a house on the Giffordgate where a tall oak tree and stone marks the spot.

Haddington’s other celebrated inhabitants include Samuel Smiles, author of Self Help, and Jane Welsh Carlyle, the talented wife of the historian Thomas Carlyle.

East Lothian’s small towns – Tranent, East Linton, Morham, Gifford, Humbie, Garvald, Port Seton, Aberlady, Dirleton, Gullane, North Berwick and Dunbar – abound in history. For example, at Prestonpans, in 1745, troops of the British Government were decimated in under five minutes by the Highland army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

At Athelstaneford is the Flag Heritage Centre which celebrates the origins of the Scottish Saltire, adopted after the lucky omen of a white cross appeared against a blue sky before a battle between Scots and Northumbrians in the 9th century.

John Mair, the 16th century philosopher whose teachings radicalised Europe, was born at Glenhornie in 1467; John Muir, the Victorian naturalist and father of environmental movement, spent his first 11 years in Dunbar, and the writer Robert Louis Stevenson spent childhood days holidaying with his cousins at North Berwick where the coastline features in several of his novels, notably Catriona and The Wreckers.

Offshore from North Berwick is the Bass Rock, today home to 8,000 gannets which can be viewed on webcams from the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick.

On the coastline opposite the Bass Rock is the dramatic ruin of Tantallon Castle, built in the mid-14th century for the first Earl of Douglas and which, until it fell into disuse, was considered to be Scotland’s most impregnable fortress.

East Lothian is packed with diversions for the adventurous and curious ranging from the Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum to the Museum of Flight at Drem, the Myreton Motor Museum at Aberlady.

Amber Restaurant
Royal Mile, Edinburgh
The highly acclaimed restaurant
at the Scotch Whisky Heritage
Centre. Scottish food presented
with a selection of 280 whiskies.
Tel: +44 (0)131 477 8477
Cambridge Street, Edinburgh
Excellent food and wine in a
striking modern interior.
Tel: +44 (0)131 228 8882
Channings Restaurant
South Learmonth Gardens,
Fine dining in a relaxed
atmosphere, near the West End.
Tel: +44 (0)131 315 2225
Daniel’s Bistro
Commerical Street, Edinburgh
A stylish city bistro with a
French flair.
Tel: +44 (0)131 553 5933
Dubh Prais
High Street, Edinburgh
Small, romantic cellar restaurant
serving traditional Scottish food.
Best to book.
Tel: +44 (0)131 557 5732
The Stables Tea Room
South Queensferry, West
Traditional, high-quality tearoom
in the elegant setting of
Hopetoun House.
Tel: +44 (0)131 331 4305
The Grainstore
Victoria Street, Edinburgh
A Scotland Mag favourite,
tucked away in the Old Town.
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 7635
Henderson’s of Edinburgh
Hanover Street, Edinburgh
Vegetarian restaurant, with
attached shop and deli,
approaching it’s 50th year
as one of the city’s most
popular eateries.
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 2131
Restaurant Martin Wishart
Leith, Edinburgh
Michelin star restaurant with an
enviable reputation.
Tel: +44 (0)131 553 3557
The Café Royal
West Register Street,
This spectacular
200 year old café and
oyster bar is an Edinburgh
institution. Tucked away
behind Princes Street, this
is a must visit.
Tel: +44 (0)131 556 1884
Ducks at
Kilspindie House
Aberlady, Easy Lothian
A village restaurant with
rooms renowned for excellent
food, wine and service.
Tel: +44 (0)1875 870 682

The Nether Abbey Hotel
North Berwick, East Lothian
Family hotel newly refurbished. Offers 12 en
suite rooms and restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0)1620 892 802
Edinburgh Central Premier Inn
Lauriston Place, Edinburgh
A budget hotel with 112 rooms, in a great
central location.
Tel: +44 (0)1312 217 130
The Inverleith Hotel
Inverleith Terrace, Edinburgh
Charming, small town house hotel opposite
the Botanic Gardens.
Tel: +44 (0)131 556 2745
Kildonan Lodge Hotel
Craigmillar Park, Edinburgh
Friendly, four star small hotel restored with
Victorian grandeur.
Tel: +44 (0)131 667 2793
Number 45 Bed & Breakfast
Gilmour Road, Edinburgh
Lovely bed and breakfast in a quiet
residential street, 10 min bus ride from
the city.
Tel: +44 (0)131 667 3536
Ravensdown Guest House
Ferry Road, Edinburgh
High quality bed and breakfast
accommodation, to the north of the city. Six
en suite rooms.
Tel: +44 (0)131 552 5438
Drem Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast
North Berwick, East Lothian
Guest house accommodation in this large
Georgian family home, in a rural location
outside of Edinburgh.
Tel: +44 (0)1620 850 563
Oakhill Apartments
Thorntree Park, Edinburgh
Ultra-modern serviced apartments in the city.
A flexible option for travelling.
Tel: +44 (0)131 555 5704
Holiday Inn Edinburgh North
Queensferry Road, Edinburgh
Budget hotel close to the airport; 101 en
suite rooms and a restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0)131 332 3408
Ardmore House
Pilrig Street, Edinburgh
A newly refurbished and boutique B&B in the
heart of the city.
Tel: +44 (0)131 554 944
The Avenue Restaurant with Rooms
Haddington, East Lothian
Bright, contemporary bar and restaurant in
the centre of town. Five en suite rooms.
Tel: +44 (0)1620 823 332

Edinburgh Castle
Castlehill, Edinburgh
No visit to the capital is complete without
exploring this world famous landmark.
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 9846
Camera Obscura
Castlehill, Edinburgh
A fun and interactive museum and
a unique way to view the city.
Tel: +44 (0)131 226 3709
National Museum
of Scotland
Chambers Street, Edinburgh
This important and interactive museum
tells the story of Scotland’s land and its
people. Half of it is currently under will
reopen in 2011.
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 7534
Royal Botanic
Garden Edinburgh
Inverleith Row, Edinburgh
One’s of the world’s finest botanic gardens.
Over 70 acres of landscaped grounds and
exemplary glasshouses just one mile from
the city centre.
Tel: +44 (0)131 552 7171
Linlithgow Palace
Linlithgow, West Lothian
Magnificent lochside ruins, once home
to the Stewart kings.
Tel: +44 (0)131 668 8600
Scotch Whisky
Heritage Centre
Castlehill, Edinburgh
This visitor centre next to the castle explains
the whisky making process in a completely
interactive way.
Tel: +44 (0)131 220 0441
Scott Monument
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh
It’s hard to miss this 200ft high gothic
spire in the centre of Princes Street, but
it’s worth climbing to the top for unrivalled
views across the city.
Tel: +44 (0)131 529 4068
Scottish Mining Museum
Newtongrange, East Lothian
Explore Scotland’s mining history at the
Lady Victory Colliery. Features include
an 1652 foot shaft and a winding tower
powered by the country’s largest
steam engine.
Tel: +44 (0)131 663 7519
Scottish Seabird Centre
North Berwick, East Lothian
A five star visitor attraction overlooking East
Lothian’s beautiful sandy beaches. Live
cameras, boat trips, gift shop and café.
Tel: +44 (0)1620 890 202
National Museum of Flight
East Fortune, East Lothian
Explore Scotland’s aviation history, from
the earliest planes, through to World War II
and Concorde.
Tel: +44 (0)131 247 4238
Glenkinchie Distillery
Tranent, East Lothian
Take a distillery tour round the home of
The Edinburgh Malt.
Tel: +44 (0)1875 342 004
Hopetoun House
South Queensferry, West Lothian
A magnificent stately home dating from
the 17th century. Take a tour of the
house and grounds.
Tel: +44 (0)131 331 2451