Settlements & Sites
In this section you will find a growing number of articles about the parishes, towns and villages of East Lothian, as well as about specific historic and archaeological sites.
Please leave a comment below if you have ideas or suggestions for articles you’d like to see in this section.
The East Lothian landscape is dominated by the volcanic plugs at Traprain Law, North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock offshore. North Berwick Law and Traprain Law were both centres of settlement in the Bronze Age and later fortified during the Iron Age to create hillforts, visible today as earthen ramparts. But even earlier settlements have also been discovered – along the coast near Dunbar are the remains of Scotland’s earliest house, dating from the Mesolithic period about 10,000 years ago.
During the Bronze Age and Iron Age the East Lothian plain would have been full of small enclosures and settlements, and many of these appear as cropmarks in aerial photography. A string of Iron Age hillforts is found along the edge of the Lammermuirs.
Evidence of Roman activity in East Lothian is centred on the Roman fort at Inveresk, situated at the commanding position overlooking where the River Esk meets the sea.
The control and domination of East Lothian’s landscape during the medieval period is also revealed by the many fine examples of castles such as Tantallon, Dirleton, Hailes and Dunbar.
From the 12th century many parish churches were established, but only a few examples, such as St Martin’s Church in Haddington, survive in their original form. These churches and their later successors served as focal points for the burghs in East Lothian which, from the 11th century onwards, began to emerge as centres for trade and local justice. Indeed, Haddington was the site of a royal palace in the 12th and 13th centuries. Many of these burghs received royal charters in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The landscape of East Lothian is also ‘bathed in blood’, with many significant battles that have national and international ramifications having occurred in the county. Battles such as Athelstaneford, Dunbar I, the Siege of Haddington, Pinkie Cleugh, Prestonpans and Dunbar II all took place in the county.
The richness of the farmland in East Lothian attracted innovative farmers, and it is not surprising that the Agricultural Improvements started in East Lothian, with people like Andrew Meikle and John Rennie. Many fine farm steadings dating to the mid 19th century can be seen, and attest to the wealth generated by these farms at that time. It is not for nothing that East Lothian was known as the Market Garden of Scotland. Unsurprisingly, the sea and coast have also influenced life in East Lothian. Indeed, historically fishing and farming were the mainstays of the economy of East Lothian.
From the 19th century heavy industry has played a significant part in shaping East Lothian landscapes, from coal mining through to wireworks and nuclear power stations. Railways and roads have also played their part in shaping our landscape.
Even though much has changed in our landscape, large elements of it would still be recognisable to our distant Mesolithic predecessors. The hills, plains and coast are all constants upon which our past is written.