My East Lothian

For the purposes of UK Parliament elections, East Lothian extends from Musselburgh, at the eastern limit of Edinburgh, to just beyond Dunbar.
To the north lie 40 miles of coastline, incorporating the harbours of Fisherrow, Prestonpans and Cockenzie – once important to the coal, salt and timber trade – the ancient ferryport of North Berwick, and the fishing towns of Port Seton and Dunbar.
To the south rise the gentle curves of the Lammermuir Hills, the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), and Donizetti’s even more famous opera (1835). Today they give their name to the Lammermuir Festival , which celebrates ‘beautiful music in beautiful places’ every September.
Sandwiched between the hills and the sea is fertile agricultural land producing cereals, fruit, vegetables and livestock. The population of East Lothian is around 92,000.

East Lothian’s strategic position on the road to Edinburgh means that it has been fought over continually since 832, when the Picts and Scots defeated the Northumbrians at Athelstaneford . During the battle a St. Andrew’s cross or saltire appeared in the sky, and after the victory it was adopted as the national flag of Scotland. The Flag Heritage Centre, housed in a converted doocot behind the church, brilliantly evokes the sights and sounds of the battle through an audio-visual presentation.
There were further attacks from the south in 1296, when King Edward I of England besieged Dunbar Castle, and between 1543 and 1551, when King Henry VIII tried to force a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary Queen of Scots. In 1547 the Scots were defeated at Pinkie Cleugh , Musselburgh, but retaliated by besieging the English army at Haddington for the next two years, when much of the town was destroyed.
A hundred years later at Dunbar . Oliver Cromwell and his English Parliamentarians defeated a Scottish army loyal to Charles II – proclaimed King of Scots in February 1649.
East Lothian also played its part in the events of 1745, when the Jacobites won a great victory over the Hanoverian army at Prestonpans . This may have been the first battle to have been supplied by rail, as it is said that the Tranent Waggonway was used to transport weapons to the battlefield. The battle is immortalised in the satirical song, ‘ Heigh Johnnie Cope, are ye waukin’ yet ’, and in the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry , designed by local artist Andrew Crummy.
Finally, during the Second World War, there were airfields at Archerfield, Belhaven, Drem, East Fortune – now the home of the National Museum of Flight – Gifford, Lennoxlove, Macmerry, Penston and South Belton.
Attacked so regularly by armies on land and pirates on the seas, East Lothian lairds built some spectacular castles.
Auldhame, Saltcoats, Luffness, Dunbar and Tantallon guard the coast, and The Bass sits out at sea perched on the Bass Rock. Inland, courtyard castles, tower houses and fortresses stand in ruins. A few have survived to the present day, gentrified and made more habitable in later years: Ballencrieff, Fa’side, Fenton Tower, Winton and Lennoxlove, home since 1946 to the Dukes of Hamilton.
The John Gray Centre in Haddington holds a comprehensive archive of East Lothian’s rich history, including documents relating to Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots. A team of enthusiastic and experienced archivists is on hand to advise the researcher, and the library facilities are excellent.

East Lothian is bisected by the east coast railway line, and by the A1 motorway, which parallels the line of the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh, with staging posts at Dunbar, Haddington, and Musselburgh. A branch railway rambles along the coast from Musselburgh to North Berwick.
In summer time there is a ferry between North Berwick and Anstruther operated by the Scottish Seabird Centre.
The first official record of coal mining in the UK is a charter dated 1210 granting the monks of Newbattle Abbey the right to work the heugh near Prestonpans. The majority of East Lothian’s population is still concentrated in the western part of the constituency, where the old mining towns of Prestonpans, Tranent and Ormiston exploited the rich seam of coal running under the Firth of Forth until the mines closed in the 1960s.
In 1722 coal inspired the creation of the Tranent Waggonway , the earliest railway in Scotland, which carried coal in waggons on wooden rails down the slope to Cockenzie Harbour. There it was unloaded and the waggons dragged back up the hill by horses. It is still visible.
From 1967 to 2013, coal was used to fuel the power station at Cockenzie, demolished 2015. Heavy industry is now centred in the eastern part of the constituency, where Torness nuclear power station, Tarmac cement works and Viridor waste disposal are all situated close to Dunbar.
East Lothian has been known since 1884 as ‘the garden of Scotland’, and not much has changed.
The constituency grows its own barley for the Glenkinchie whisky distillery near Pencaitland, its own oil seed rape for Black & Gold cold-pressed rapeseed oil near Haddington, its own organic wheat for the flour mill at Mungoswells , its own spirit for NB Gin in North Berwick.
Knops Beer Company at Archerfield crafts a variety of beers, including India Pale Ale and Musselburgh Broke, and at South Belton Farm near Dunbar Thistly Cross Cider comes in six varieties, including strawberry. A few miles down the road, Oldhamstocks produces Purely Scottish mineral water from springs deep in the Lammermuir Hills.
Yester Farm Dairies produce milk, cream and cheese at Gifford, while in Musselburgh Di Rollo and S. Luca have been manufacturing award-winning ice cream for a hundred years. There are artisan bakeries in Dunbar , Gullane and North Berwick , a honey farm at Ormiston, and bottled jams, pickles and mustards from Fenton Barns .
In Newcraighall Brodies blends its own tea, and in North Berwick The Howdah Tea and Coffee Company roasts its own coffee beans. Haddington and North Berwick each has its own chocolatier, The Chocolate Tree and Ailey Mae respectively.
Belhaven Smokehouse, Clark Bros. at Fisherrow and James Dickson at Cockenzie all smoke their own fish, and locally-produced lamb, beef, pork, goat, wild boar and game are available from East Lothian’s excellent butchers.
There are two state-funded nurseries, 34 primary schools and six secondary schools in East Lothian, of which Musselburgh Grammar is the oldest, having been founded in 1626. In addition there are a small number of private schools, the best-known of which is Loretto, Scotland’s oldest boarding school, founded in 1827.
Queen Margaret University established itself on the outskirts of Musselburgh in 2007 and currently has over 6,000 students. QMU has the highest proportion of research-active staff of all the 'modern' Scottish universities and develops pioneering expertise that cuts across its specialist fields. The university has three flagships: health and rehabilitation; creativity and culture; and sustainable business.
In addition, Edinburgh College is seeking to set up an East Lothian campus in the near future.
Tourism came early to East Lothian. North Berwick harbour , built in the 12th century, served for 500 years as the ferryport for St. Andrew’s, at the height of its popularity carrying 10,000 pilgrims a year to and from Earlsferry in Fife. A summer ferry crossing between North Berwick and Fife has recently been instituted by the Scottish Seabird Centre.
The pilgrims travelling south may have been on their way to Whitekirk, which was a significant place of pilgrimage, possessing a holy well said to work miracles, and, from the 12th century, a stone statue of the Infant Jesus in his Mother's arms. The shrine of Our Lady at Whitekirk was desecrated by the armies of Edward I in 1296, but the church continued to be a place of pilgrimage, attracting 15,563 pilgrims in 1413 and receiving visits from the future Pope Pius II and Kings James IV and James V of Scotland.
Around 1450, the remnants of the despoiled shrine were conveyed to the new foundation of St. Mary the Virgin at Haddington and the shrine re-established there. Following the restoration of St. Mary’s in 1973, the Whitekirk and Haddington Pilgrimage was reinstated, and continues today.
Another reason for the popularity of the shrine was that it was on the Camino , the route from St. Andrew's to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Whitekirk is described as a stopping point on the ‘Iter pro peregrinis ad Compostellam’ in Book V of the Codex Calixtinus. The pilgrim traffic brought new ideas into the county.
Much later, during the 19th and early 20th century, the increasing popularity of golf attracted well-heeled tourists to East Lothian and led to the spread of hotels and boarding houses. The Cliveden set are reputed to have patronised North Berwick in the 1920s, and from 1947 onwards the romantic novelist, Georgette Heyer, accompanied her husband every year on his annual trip to Muirfield, staying at Greywalls, still a secluded luxury hotel.
Other visitor attractions have been developed over the years, including Newhailes House near Musselburgh, Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum at Prestonpans, the Museum of Flight at East Fortune, the Scottish Seabird Centre and Coastal Communities Museum at North Berwick, and John Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar High Street.
A comprehensive list can be found at Visit East Lothian .
The Royal Company of Archers has been competing for the Musselburgh Silver Arrow since at least 1603, which makes it the oldest sporting trophy in the UK.
Much earlier, golf was the favourite pastime. In 1457 King James II was so concerned that his subjects were playing golf rather than practising their archery that he issued an Act of Parliament banning the game. Yet ninety years later, Mary Queen of Scots was reputed to have played on  Musselburgh Links - The Old Course  in 1567. East Lothian has a just claim to being the birthplace of golf, as we know it today.  Muirfield has records going back to 1744, which makes it the earliest known golf club in Scotland.
Musselburgh Racecourse, founded in 1816, is the second biggest racecourse in Scotland in terms of average prize money offered per meeting and the fourteenth biggest in the UK. It attracts over 70,000 racegoers a year.
Throughout the constituency football and rugby union are the most popular sports, with tennis hard on their heels. Athletics are also important: George McNeill from Tranent is famous for winning the two most famous foot races in the world – the New Year Sprint in Scotland and the Stawell Gift in Australia – and Yvonne Murray from Musselburgh won a Bronze medal in the 3,000 metres at the 1988 Olympic Games. In 2014 Gary Anderson from Musselburgh became the World Darts Champion.
  • William Dunbar, poet (b. 1549/50, d. by 1530)
  • John Knox, Protestant reformer (1510 – 1572)
  • Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, politician and patriot (1655 – 1716)
  • Andrew Meikle, inventor of the threshing machine (1719 – 1811)
  • Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, signatory to the American Declaration of Independence, (1723 – 1794)
  • Robert Cadell, publisher of Sir Walter Scott’s novels (1788 – 1849)
  • David Macbeth Moir, Scottish physician and writer (1798 – 1851) 
  • Jane Welsh Carlyle, letter writer (1801 – 1866)
  • Samuel Smiles, author of Self-Help (1812 – 1904)
  • John Muir, father of US National Parks (1838 – 1914)
  • Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, Vice Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge (1845-1936)
  • Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister 1901-1905 (1848-1930)
  • Mollie Hunter, writer (1922 – 2012)
  • John Pitcairn Mackintosh, writer and politician (1929 – 1978)
  • John Bellany, painter (1942 – 2013)