Saturday, 4 February 2012

All Weather Walks in Edinburgh Area: Part 1 Midlothian

*** update 27/07/2012

The First Bus Group’s Dalkeith depot has closed.  Routes have been replaced by Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Coach Lines buses.  However, these are not exact replacements and it is recommended that you check with the bus operators.  The replacements are as follows:


86/86A                                                        Lothian Buses 33
92/92A                                                        Lothian Buses 39
141/142/241                                                Lothian Buses 40
139                                                              Lothian Buses 15, 37, 40, 47
110 and 328/428                                          Edinburgh Coach Lines 328/329/330

Contact details for the operators are:

Lothian Buses  0131-555-6363
Edinburgh Coach Lines  0131-554-5413

*** end of update

These notes have been retrieved from the Professor Whitestick Archives as I was discussing walking groups for the visually impaired with some friends recently and had made contact with interested groups on Twitter.  These are some short walks which can be made with friends and an amenable car driver. These walks can be arranged to suit most capabilities and as the name suggests, the more “interesting” Scottish summer weather gives an extra input with the sound of the wind, rain, squelching boots in mud and rivers in full torrent. 
The area covered is Midlothian, which lies to the south of Edinburgh.  The main town is Dalkeith and while public transport connections to it are good, some country connections become more difficult; hence the need for a car.  Please see update for changes to bus services in the area. 

Dalkeith is a pleasant, though rather overlooked, country town.  The town featured in Scotland's agricultural past as well as in the mineral extraction industries.  The High Street has been recently modernised and with a by-pass of its own, the traffic is less of a problem.

In the High Street, there is an historic Scottish church, St Nicholas Church.  This kirk has an attractive teashop attached to it.

St Nicholas Church
26 July 2012

The Corn Exchange, which reflects the former wealth and political influence of the town.  Gladstone was the MP.  The Corn Exchange is still in a rather sorry state and is again under redevelopment, probably as housing.  What appears to be the Buccleuch arms can be detected on the front of the building.  An amateur described this field with grand quarters with a mix of blazon/emblazon, one can sense an illegitimate descent from King Charles II (Baton sinister), the Royal arms of Douglas (heart with a crown) and probably the arms of Scott - not sure about Montague.  The Dukes of Buccleuch have the estate at Dalkeith Palace, which can be accessed along the end of the High Street.  The heir to the Duke of Buccleuch is known as the Earl of Dalkeith. 

The Corn Exchange
High Street, Dalkeith
26 July 2012

The dates of these walks are recorded with some comments on the local weather at the time.  The weather in the summer of 2011 was variable and my twitter feed at the time mentioned the Scottish words such as dreich and drookit.  Names of nearest towns and villages as well as proximity to main roads have been added and a search engine will tell you of any other attractions near the area with applicable opening times.  It is always worth visiting the local library services as they are a good source of local historical and natural science information. 

Much of the area to the south and east of Edinburgh has been reclaimed from industries such as coal mining and papermaking.  New parks have been made and previously polluted rivers have been cleaned up. Heritage museums have sprung up such as the Scottish Mining Museum in Newtongrange and the Preston Grange centre in Prestonpans.  Old railways have been converted to cycle ways and walkways and many of the historic bridges can still be crossed on foot or at least viewed from a short distance.  The trunk roads such as A1, A68 and A7 are never far away and the city by pass can be heard in Dalkeith Palace and Park.   

Open access rules are different in Scotland and the concept of trespass is alien to many Scots (The Lord’s Prayer refers to Forgiving our Debts rather than trespasses, something to do with Banking no doubt).  Information about Ranger services and fishing rights can be obtained from the local amenity provider.  Many of the houses, castles and old churches are popular as wedding venues and the Mining Museum has a sideline in funeral teas.

29 July 2011 Preston Hall
Preston Hall is a private house and the grounds are accessible from a local road from Pathhead on the A68.  The setting is by the River Tyne and the house and grounds stand on the right bank of the Tyne with Oxenfoord Castle and Estate on the other side of the river.

View of Oxenfoord Castle from Preston Hall
© Professor Whitestick

The Tyne can be crossed on the Thomas Telford Bridge on the A68 as well as two older bridges upstream at the village of Ford and downstream at Preston Hall.

Monkey Puzzle
© Professor Whitestick

Preston Hall’s grounds have a fine collection of trees, especially monkey puzzles which I found standing out on my peripheral vision. The bark of these trees is interesting to touch. The house can be seen from the south and north and is open on some days of the year. 

The Lion Gate - Preston Hall
© Professor Whitestick

The Lion gates are impressive as you enter the grounds and there are many walks in the grounds.  Take care with the livestock and the cattle grids if you are crossing them on foot. While you might enchant your friends with an extempore xylophone recital you could end up with a snagged cane, stick or even foot! 

7 August  2011 Crichton Collegiate Church

It had been raining for a few days and the local rivers, Tyne and Esk, with their tributaries were flowing rapidly. The village of Crichton lies between the A68 and A7 and can be reached by several country roads.  There is car parking space near the church and it is a walk through some moor land to Crichton Castle in a hilly setting between the two rivers.  At school this was studied as an example of river capture much in the tracks outlined by James Hutton in his theories of geology which went against the grain of accepted belief in the age of the earth derived from the Bible. 

Collegiate Churches were endowed before the Reformation for the purposes of saying prayers for the soul of the departed.  The church was in the control of the Church of Scotland as the parish church of Crichton, though the church has been transferred to a trust. 

Crichton Collegiate Church
© Professor Whitestick

I attended a Palm Sunday service in this church a few years ago with my father and I have many memories of family trips to this church and nearby Crichton Castle (an Historic Scotland property). 

At the door I was welcomed by Fiona from the Friends of Crichton Collegiate Church and have been signed up as a friend. When we were there, there was a group of singers singing a capella in the Taize style.    A newsletter mentions Catholic baptism as a novelty since becoming ecumenical and although the church can be hired as a location for weddings there had been no Catholic weddings since the Reformation.  I commented on this to a Catholic friend who muttered something about income streams which I could not understand.  A similar tale was told at Dalhousie Castle where prospective couples were being shown the facilities including a wedding chapel.  

The Collegiate Church has beautiful acoustics and concerts are held here.  There are also a variety of publications and souvenirs on sale.  The graveyard is worth a visit to explore the family names. 

Towards Crichton Castle from Crichton Collegiate Church

© Professor Whitestick

If you are going to the castle the walk is just about suitable along a track and a long cane should cope with it.  I have had no problems at the castle.  Crichton Castle has many attractions in addition to a stunning setting.  There is an interesting Italian style wall decoration in the keep and though the Crichton family had a power base here at the time of James II of Scotland it also has connections with Bothwell and Mary Queen of Scots.  The castle is exposed to the elements and stout shoes and waterproofs should be worn, just in case.

Newbattle Abbey

Not far is Newbattle Abbey, situated south of Dalkeith and an important part of Scottish history.  The Abbey was influential in the Middle Ages and the monks were enterprising in coal mining.  The Abbey has had a chequered past and is part of the Esk Valley College.  During the 2nd World War my mother had been stationed here. 

Access to the interior is limited to organised groups though the grounds have an Italian styled garden and on the day I visited the River South Esk had been threatening to burst its banks.  There was a lot of noise coming from the river and the wind blowing through the trees along the river bank.  The nearby church is also attractive from the exterior.  My father used to take me fishing in the river round here though I do not recall catching anything.

8 August 2011 Vogrie Park

Vogrie Park is located off the A68 south of Dalkeith and is part of Midlothian Council amenities. The park has many attractions and many varied walks.  A stout stick is strongly advised as my cane proved inadequate on some of the descents to the River Tyne. The Tyne emerges from Crichton towards Ford and the river can be crossed and a walk combined with Crichton.  There is a Car Park (small fee) and access is free.  The local park service operates from here and there are many events during the year.

Vogrie Park
© Professor Whitestick

I particularly enjoyed the walks around the house and on the day itself the sun appeared, bringing out the wasps.  Boots or stout shoes are also advised for the walks.  The sound of the many streams feeding the Tyne makes for an interesting soundscape; when coupled with the rustling of the leaves from the trees it is a stunning sound picture, and with so much rain over the previous days the run off water made quite a sound!

In the walk from Vogrie House to the River Tyne, there is a circular tour taking in the Alderdean Burn with a few bridges to cross.  The walk is quite hilly and care should be taken on the descent and in navigation near the confluence of the stream and river.  Navigation by sound gets difficult at this point. 

Vogrie House is a Gothic Pile and is worthy of a horror movie.  Access is limited though there is an attractive café for coffees, teas and snacks.  In the staircase there is a portrait of Magistrate MacFarlane Burn by Sir Henry Raeburn. 

Vogrie House
© Professor Whitestick

The estate was owned by the Dewar family who had clay and coal mining interests.  The nearby village of Dewarton was built for the estate.  Vogrie lies between Cranstoun and Borthwick  and the Dewars may have been distantly related to the whisky firm of same name.  Dewar is derived from a Flemish or Flanders name (like Seton, which will feature in a later post).  After the money ran out, the house became a mental hospital from 1920 to 1963.  From 1963 to 1972 it was used for civil defence afterwards reverting to the local authority.

There is a Golf course in the grounds so if you hear “Fore!” make sure you duck!  There is also a miniature railway which runs on certain dates.  The Cedar Tree café has a natural sun trap and covered area with picnic seating.  The gardens are very attractive and there are walled gardens with fruit trees (apples and pears) and market garden produce. I could make out the espaliered fruit trees against a wall.

At the time of the visit, there was only a very limited bus service to the park with bus number 529 stopping on Sundays only with an hourly service between March and September.


Borthwick Castle 

Borthwick lies off the A7 and is south of Gorebridge near the village of Middleton.  Borthwick also has a famous church with memorials to the families associated with the parish.  The church has joined the Tynewater group of churches and is now linked with Cranstoun and Crichton and other villages in the area. 

Borthwick has a stunning double tower and I remember passing through the village when on hikes with the Scouts.  Sunday trips always seemed to stop on the way out to the Borders with a detour round Borthwick.  The country roads are rather narrow and hilly with barely any room for passing. 

We stopped at the castle to make a few enquiries locally and were warmly received by Gail.  We got chatting about Arniston and the other places I had been visiting. Borthwick has Mary Queen of Scots associations and is in the next valley to Crichton though Borthwick has been continuously occupied and is in private hands.  It has a restaurant and some guest rooms and is a beautiful location for a function especially a wedding.  I was telling this story to another chemistry PhD from Edinburgh at a function in London when he said that he had been married there (It’s a small world)!   

The Great Hall is stunning and we were joined by David who told us about the present day activities of the castle and the history.  In the Great Hall there is a painting in old style of Mary Queen of Scots by a local artist.