Days Out in the Past – War Walks
These days East Lothian is known for its beautiful beaches and countryside, and it’s hard to imagine the place as the front line in a war. But the traces of past conflicts are there, and with a little local help their stories can be revealed.
During both World Wars the East Lothian coastline was of great strategic importance, guarding the approach to Edinburgh and the naval base at Rosyth. It was heavily defended against any possible attack and that has left its mark on the landscape.
Aberlady Bay is a quiet and peaceful nature reserve, but it also hides a wartime secret only visible at low tide. In May 1946 two midget submarines were moored at the low water mark in the bay, to be used as target practice by the RAF. Another surprising feature is the network of defences from World War II. Today the concrete blocks that line the sides of the bay seem almost part of the landscape, perhaps a long forgotten art installation. But they were built with a deadly serious purpose, to stop enemy tanks from advancing along the coast.
For East Lothian Archaeology and Local History Fortnight a special guided walk led by the local history society will take visitors to explore some of these defences, and cross the sands of the bay to see the wrecks of the midget submarines.
Aircraft were also key to defending the East Lothian coast, and it was back in World War I that an airfield was established near Drem, now home to the National Museum of Flight. A group of enthusiasts have taken on the task of preserving a little of that heritage , lovingly rebuilding a World War I Sopwith Strutter biplane. Normally kept under-wraps in the group’s temporary hanger at Congalton Gardens near North Berwick, the public will be allowed an exclusive view of this unique fighter plane as part of the Archaeology and Local History fortnight events.
East Lothian was also a battleground in the 1500’s, as English and Scottish armies contested over the hand of the infant Mary Queeen of Scots. English monarchs were intent on forging an alliance with Scotland through marriage, but when their plans were rejected they sent soilders north to force the issue, a period known rather ironically as the ‘Rough Wooing’.
In 1547 an invading English army reached Musselburgh before being confronted by the Scots. The Scottish commander the Earl of Arran invited his English counterpart to settle the matter man to man, an archaic gesture from an earlier age of chivalry before cannons and gunpowder. A guided tour led by volunteers from the Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Group will take visitors along the route taken by the advancing Scots, starting from the Roman bridge and including the vantage point of Inveresk Church.
Following the battle, English troops garrisoned the town of Haddington, hoping to draw the Scots and their French allies into committing to a lengthy and costly siege. When the Queens Consort Mary of Guise came to view the scene she strayed too close to the enemy lines, and English gunners opened fire killing sixteen of her followers and leaving the queen stricken with terror. The reality of siege warfare of this time will be brought to life in a guided walk, led by Jon Cooper from the Centre for Battlefield Arcaheology. Leading visitors into medieval closes, across the killing fields and into the trenches, he will reveal some of the shocking truths of how the siege was conducted.
Something to eat? A short distance from Aberlady Bay, the village of Gullane has many places to eat. The half-timbered Old Clubhouse pub was built in 1890 as the original clubhouse for Gullane Golf Club. Tom Kitchen has also recently opened the Bonnie Badger, a pub and restaurant in a coaching inn dating to 1836. In Haddington, Falko Konditormeister is located in a coaching inn dating to the 1700s. and the Waterside Bistro occupies a row of Georgian cottages with a fine view across the River Tyne to St Mary’s Collegiate Church.
How to get there? Aberlady Bay: By bus – East Coast Buses x5, 124 or x24. By car -on the A198. Congalton Gardens: On the B1347, close to the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune. Haddington: By bus – East Coast Buses x7, 106 and 107. By Car -just off the A1.
- Defending East Lothian against invasion in World War II, Tuesday 3 September, 10am – 1.30pm, booking via www.eastlothian.gov.uk/archaeologyfortnight
- Early Aviation in the Lothians Open Day, Congalton Gardens, North Berwick, EH38 5JP, Wednesday 4 September 1pm – 4pm
- Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Walk, Tuesday 10 September, 11am – 1pm, booking via www.eastlothian.gov.uk/archaeologyfortnight
- Whitecoats and Rascals on tour: A talks and walks around the siege works of Haddington, Friday 6 September, 10.30am – 12.30pm, booking via www.eastlothian.gov.uk/archaeologyfortnight
Words by : David Hicks