East Lothian is a very picturesque county and can be overlooked by many who are travelling through it to Edinburgh. This, however would be a mistake, as there are many points of interest and things to do within the area. There are countless castles, churches, country houses, museums and visitor centres. East Lothian can be divided into three distinctive areas – it’s coastline, farmland countryside and historical sites, and the gently sloping hills and villages of the Lammermuirs. There are touring trails established by the local tourist board, and details of these can be found here.
John Muir, the father of American conservation, was born in Dunbar and nearby there is a coastal park and reserve named after him. Dunbar itself has a harbour overlooked by a 13th century castle. Next to the castle is Dunbar’s leisure pool with flumes and wave machine. At each end of the town there are two golf courses with the east course being a championship qualifier.
Travelling west along the coast towards North Berwick, the beach of Seacliff with outcrops of rocks at either end is a great picnic and play place; above it towers the impressive ruin of Tantallon Castle. North Berwick itself was once known as the Biarritz of the North, and is still popular with all who visit. It has two long sandy beaches and the BBC TV featured Seabird Centre which has live camera links to the offshore Bass Rock and May island. The Bass Rock boasts the largest Gannet colony in the northern hemisphere.
Further west and slightly inland is the picturesque village of Dirleton, which has an impressive castle with beautiful gardens, and nearby an extensive beach at Yellowcraigs. Travelling on from Dirleton we reach the historic village of Gullane, with a deserved reputation as a mecca for golfers. There is the championship course of Muirfield, home of many a British Open, and the qualifying courses of Luffness and Gullane No 1, not to mention No 2 and No 3 – truly a place that has golf for all.
The drive round to Aberlady passes the nature reserve of Aberlady Bay, home for many waders and coastal birds, with huge flocks of visiting geese in the winter. Aberlady also has two golf courses, Kilspindie and the new Craigielaw. Next to Aberlady is Longniddry with its impressive Bents course. This links course used to be a qualifier for Muirfield. From there, it’s on to the three towns of Cockenzie, Port Seaton and Prestonpans with a proud mining, fishing and industrial past, glimpses of which can be seen at the Prestongrange Museum.
Finally at the western end of the county, the bustling burgh of Musselburgh.The oldest golf course in the world is contained inside Musselburgh race course. It also has a Royal golf club which is hidden behind high walls and is a beautiful example of parkland golf. Haddington on the A1, a picturesque market town steeped in history, with the 14th century church of St Mary’s, Lennoxlove House, the seat of the Duke of Hamilton and the monthly farmers’ market and lane sales is a great place to visit.
Further down the A1, the Museum of Flight is at East Fortune, with magnificent displays of aircraft. The museum recently acquired one of British Airways’ retired Concordes, and there are many other hangars full of fascinating aircraft. The National Flag Heritage centre is also near by in Athelstaneford and is well worth a visit. If you head to East Linton there are impressive ruins of Hailes Castle which sits under the huge volcanic plug of Traprain Law. From there you can head to the Hamlet of Stenton where the gallery holds regular exhibitions of some of the most eminent artists.
Back inland on the hillfoot trail is the village of Garvald which has a monastery high above it. Four miles further on you will reach the village of Gifford, home of the Goblin Ha’! It is probably as close as you will get to an English Village in Scotland with a Georgian façade, the village green and market cross. The magnificent avenue of lime trees which hides the Bleachfield (the play park of the village) was all beautifully planned by the Marques of Tweeddale in the 18th century.
We have two golf courses; Gifford Golf Club itself must be one of the best examples of a nine hole golf course. Castle Park lies two miles south of the village and is a great test of golf too, having been recently extended to eighteen holes; this course has views of the Lammermuir Hills which makes it a joy to play. There is a visitor centre and museum at Glenkinchie Distillery and this is one of East Lothian’s main attractions. The back bone of East Lothian is the Lammermuir Hills – perfect for nice walks in Hope’s Glen and the Herring Road to Carfrae Mill.