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Tour of Scotland
Part 1 - East

East map
 

Clearly it is not possible, nor is it evenly remotely within the remit of these pages, to attempt to visit all places of current or historical interest during the course of this particular Scottish "tour". So let advance apologies be hereby issued to the representatives of towns or even areas who might consider the omission of their "ain pairts" to be unconscionable.

A visitor to Scotland today, coming by road at any rate, is likely to enter via either of two main trunkroads; the A1, to the east of the country or the A74, to the West.

Let's begin our journey on the north bound carriageway of the A1 where we are wont to pass through the coastal town of Berwick upon Tweed. Due to its close proximity to the Scottish border ( Berwick is actually in England) it has played an important role in the history of both Scotland and England and changed hands no less than 13 times between the years of 1147 and 1482 alone. Curiously, although the town is in the county of Northumberland and has

an English MP, its football team, Berwick Rangers, plays in the Scottish league's third division, usually to home gates of around 300. The team's most famous triumph incidentally was a cup defeat of their more illustrious namesakes from Glasgow by one goal to nil in the 1960's.

As we continue to travel north we leave the area to the west of the country known as the Scottish Borders. This area is pre-dominated by towns and hamlets whose traditional industry had been that of high quality hosiery and knitwear. Hawick, Selkirk and Galashiels and the market town of Kelso which is also home to a fine national hunt racecourse are among the most well known. Hawick, in particular has won an international reputation as the home of fine woollens although in very recent times these industries have been affected somewhat adversely by economic vagaries, the entire region remains a centre of excellence for this kind of produce while its economic development agencies are very pro-active in attempts to encourage new high tech industry to the area.

Hawick's much celebrated common Riding is held annually in June. This festival commemorates a band of local youths who waylaid a troop of English soldiers from nearby Hexham (another town on the northern national hunt race circuit), captured and victoriously carried their banner "the Hexham Pennant."

Nort Berwick North Berwick with the Bass Rock in the distance. Taken from the top of Berwick Law.
(Photo: James Loomis)

However, we will be moving along the coast road and into East Lothian, all the while hugging the cliffs that overlook the Firth of Forth's passage to the North Sea. As we do so the Nuclear Power station at Torness looms on the horizon. In the Firth of Forth and about three miles north east of the holiday town of North Berwick stands the Bass Rock. The Rock, although not the oldest in Scotland by any means dates back 400 million years, and as a wildlife sanctuary is home to teeming population of seabirds including its famous colony of gannets. The rock has a lighthouse, the remnants of a 16th chapel and the imposing ruins of an even earlier fortress.

During troubled times, the Bass Rock was used as prison and place of confinement for covenanters (on religious grounds) and Jacobites (on coup d'etat grounds) alike.

The capital of East Lothian, Haddington ( the hidden town) is oft reputed to be the birth place of Protestant Reformist, John Knox. The town, although rural in setting, has factory based operations located nearby for its workforce and is within daily travelling distance of the one of the country's main economic and financial hubs, Edinburgh.

Haddington boasts a fine golf course but the real golfing mecca of the county lies in the five mile stretch between Aberlady and Gullane where no fewer than five course are located including the Championship course at Muirfield and the Open qualifying course at Gullane no 1 and Luffness where visitors might expect to pay between £60-£70 for a round.

Scotland is universally acknowledged as the home of golf. The oldest recorded golf club is the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers ( now based at Muirfield) who had their first competition on Leith Links near Edinburgh in 1744. The legendary St. Andrews, located somewhat further up the east, had its club founded some 10 years later.

Further along the road now known as the East Lothian coastal trail and still with golf we arrive at Musselburgh, home of the first ever "Open" and epi-centre of Scottish golf in the mid 19 Century. Incidentally, the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club, a couple of miles away in nearby Prestonpans, has the most magnificent tower house or "faily-tale castle" style building for its club house. Members will tell you that it is haunted and that the ghost of the Lady Susan can be seen roaming the corridors at night.

Musselburgh, a traditional fishing village out of whose Fisherrow harbour ships once traded with Holland and the Scandinavian ports, is known as the "Honest Toun" allegedly after its citizens disclaimed any reward for honouring the body of Earl of Moray who died there in 1332. It attracts many visitors to its "honest lad" and "lass" elections, expansive pageants still held to this day. Another of Scotland's five race courses is situated here, the others being the previously mentioned Kelso, Perth, Hamilton and Ayr. The course is reputed to be the scene of the biggest ever bet made on a British racecourse, namely £1m by gambler Terry Ramsden. This fact is all the more remarkable given the racecourse was probably the most dilapidated in the country (although considerable improvements have since been made) and the race, a national hunt flat or "bumper", one of the least esteemed in the entire racing calander. And yes, the horse won!

Musselburgh, in keeping with other fishing villages of the ilk has a proud and long established community and traditions; probably best epitomised by the ancient rhyme with regard to its august neighbour-

"Musselburgh was a Burgh when Edinburgh was nane
And Musselburgh will be a Burgh when Edinburgh is gane"

Just a few miles along the road and we reach the environs of the City of Edinburgh, the "Athens of the North", so named because of its Greek revival monuments on Calton Hill. Dr Johnson once said that "Edinburgh was too well known to admit description" but we will tarry, at least for a little while, here in Scotland's capital since 1532.

The city of course is synonymous with its castle, which dates back to the 7th century, but when the town first became independently established from the castle is not entirely known. Nor is the date of the town achieving burgh status; the earliest charters not having survived.

Princes St Princes Street, Edinburgh, with Scott Monument in the foreground and Calton Hill in the background.
(Photo: OBG)

From the Castle esplanade one can look out over Princes Street with its fine shops on one side and magnificent gardens on its south side, directly under the castle. Within the gardens stands the tall gothic monument paying tribute to Scots writer Sir Walter Scott. This is probably the largest edifice erected in celebration of any writer anywhere in the world.

Across Princes Street booms the famous "one o'clock gun". This time gun installed within the Castle battery around 1860, was an idea supposedly inspired from a similar Parisian concept whose gun was activated at a certain time by the sun's rays! Certainly there have time signals also at Greenwich.The gun is electronically synchronised by cable to the time ball on Calton Hill, which can be seen by ships in the river. The original cannon and electric clock is in the city's Huntly House museum. Other similar devices are known to have existed elsewhere e.g. Greenock and Glasgow in Scotland and Newcastle upon Tyne in England but only in Edinburgh does the one o'clock gun still sound out across the gardens at bustling Princes Street terrifying tourists and pigeons alike while locals nonchalantly check their watches.

Now the financial and economic hub of the country, the Bank of Scotland being founded there in 1695, Edinburgh's early prosperity was hard won due to incursions from the "Auld Enemy" (England) who occupied the township on several occasions during the 14th century. The Georgian new town came into being in the 18th century and boasts some fine examples of the work of the Adam brothers of Kirkcaldy, Fife. Robert is more well known for such works in Edinburgh as Register House and the brilliantly-planned Charlotte Square than James whose efforts found more fame in Glasgow.

Today Edinburgh can boast its International Conference Centre and its universally popular and internationally renowned Festival of Arts and Music. In addition to being the home of the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh is also the location of the Scottish Rugby Union stadium , Murrayfield ( Scotland are current 5 Nations champions) with its improved ground capacity now at over 70,000. Visitors to the capital come all year round from every part of the globe to savour and sample the history and majesty that is Edinburgh.

Forth Bridges The Forth Rail Bridge with the Road Bridge in the background (from St David's Harbour).
(Photo: OBG)

Tourism is a major economic sector of the Lothian region and as we travel over the Forth Road Bridge heading northwards into (the Kingdom of) Fife we can see to our right the Forth Railway Bridge. Spanning nearly a mile, the Bridge has become like the Statue of Liberty for America or the Eiffel Tower for France; a landmark immediately recognisable and identifiable with Scotland and one of the greatest achievements of 19th century engineers.

Into Fife now and Dunfermline which inspired the oft used quote by its most famous son, industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie "fortunate indeed the child who first sees the light of day in that romantic town." Dunfermline, in company with other Fife towns now comprise the eastern end of a new technology belt known as "Silicon Glen" that we will get back to later.

Nearby, at Mossmorran, gas liquids are piped from the oil and gas terminal at St Fergus near Peterhead and from the more local Braefoot Bay sea terminal where the liquid petroleum gas arrives by ship for processing.

Further up the coastline, we go, by-passing St Andrews, the legendary home of golf and actual home of Scotland's oldest university and over the Tay Road Bridge to Dundee, the City of Discovery and birth place of legendary entertainer Will Fyffe and home to the much celebrated poet and sometime thespian William McGonagall. McGonagall was actually born in Edinburgh, around 1800 but has always been associated with the city of Dundee where he was a Shakespearean actor with the local theatre company. However he is probably best known and oft quoted for his somewhat unenviable yet thoroughly deserved reputation of being the "worlds worst poet". This was brought about in no small way as a result of his predilection for combining bathos with outlandish rhyme, perversity and irrelevance.

Of the first Tay Rail Bridge, the remains of which can still be seen beside the current one, he wrote:

". . . . Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
I hope that God will protect all passengers By night and by day,
And that no accident will befall them while crossing The Bridge of the Silvery Tay,
For that would be most awful to be seen
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green . . . ."

In 1880 he wrote:

". . . . Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remembered for a very long time. . . . . "

Later still he wrote of the current, 2.25 mile long bridge:

". . . .Thy structure to my eye seems strong and grand,
And the workmanship most skillfully planned;
And I hope the designers, Messrs Barlow and Arrol, will prosper for many a day For erecting thee across the beautiful Tay.
And I think nobody have the least dismay
To cross o'er thee by night or by day,
Because thy strength is visible to be seen
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green. . . ."

This time he has proved right - for more than a hundred years.

There are 3 volumes of his work still in print but we shall not quote further!

Dundee is one of the four major Scottish cities, the others being Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, and thrived internationally in the 19th. and early 20th. centuries through its manufacture and trade in jute. Whaling was another commercial activity of this seaport as whale oil and water was used in the jute making process. Dundee's old industries have now been superseded by those of new technology.


Discovery Captain Scott's "RYS Discovery" at Dundee.
(Photo: OBG)

As a result of the city' shipbuilding and whaling experience, the National Antarctic Expedition Committee commissioned the Dundee Shipbuilders to build RSY Discovery, launched in 1901. The ship was involved in a number of turn of the century scientific missions in and around treacherous Antarctic waters and became trapped in ice on at least one occasion. In it was this ship which took Captain Scott, accompanied by Shackleton and Wilson, on his first attempt on the South Pole. Although he was unsuccessful on this occasion, the team set a new southern latitude record in 1903.

It was another Dundee built ship, the Terra Nova, which took Scott on his last fateful attempt on the Pole. On this occasion his part successfully reached the Pole, only to find they had been beaten to it. All of the Pole party died on the return journey, Scott being the last to succumb on 29 March 1912. The Discovery had a wide and varied life, including work with the Hudson Bay Company and a time as a Boy Scout meeting place before becoming part of the Maritime Ship Collection in London. It was returned to Dundee in 1986 where it proudly stands as a tourist attraction today.

Before continuing our journey north through the coastal fishing villages we will first travel inland to Perth, "gateway to the highlands". Perth is also known as the "the fair city" or "Ancient Capital of Scotland". Its tranquil setting on the banks of the Tay is almost without parallel and this doubtless inspired 19th century Fife poet and scholar William Tennant to describe Perth as "the glory of Scotland". The city's most important architectural and historical relic is arguably the great church of St John the Baptist. It is interesting to note that the local football team, St. Johnstone, (challenging for European honours in the 1999) is in all likelihood a derivation of "St John's Toun" as Perth was also known at one time.

Not far from Perth and situated deep within the beautiful Perthshire countryside is the Gleneagles estate complete with 5 star hotel and championship golf courses.

Back on the coast road we travel through Arbroath, famous in recent times for its "smokies" (smoked haddock) and in earlier times for the signing of the historic so-called Declaration of Independence (1320), to Aberdeen, famous, in the last 30 years, for the discovery of oil and gas off its shores. Thanks to oil's service requirements, Aberdeen's port remains busy as does its airport at Dyce, one of 4 major and 57 smaller civil airports in Scotland.

These discoveries have led to the most spectacular changes to the city in that short period of time. A skyline, so long dominated by kirks and colleges has given way to high rise buildings with modern designs. Banks and building societies have taken over from private and established financial sector firms. It's main thoroughfare, Union Street, has often been compared with Edinburgh's Princes Street and is an absolutely straight route nearly a mile long.

The city occupies an area between the mouths of the rivers Dee and Don. Naturally bridge building has been a long established tradition, possibly as far back as 1290 with the Brig o' Balgownie. Certainly, work was completed on this bridge in 1329 largely through the financial assistance of one Bishop Cheyne. A popular rhyme of the time was:

Brig o' Balgownie, wicht's thy wa'
Wi a wife's ae (one) son, an a mare's ae foal
Doon shalt thou fa'

The poet, Lord Byron, who was educated at Aberdeen Grammar school was of course a "wife's ae son." He would be terrified as he rode his horse over the bridge for fear that his mount was "a mare's ae foal." This would be an incident that he would recount until the end of life.

As a result of the rhyme and the Bishops payment another couplet arose:

"Built by the Bishop's purse, doomed by the Devils curse."

The bridge still stands today after 700 years although it is open only to those on foot.

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