Dunbar and East Lothian

Photo by GWS Photography

Don’t be fooled by its “sleepy little hamlet” appearance. Dunbar and the Dunmuir Hotel can certainly deliver a quiet, relaxing holiday if that’s what you want. But for the more inquiring and energetic, there’s no shortage of interesting things to see and do.

More history than you can shake a stick at!

Dunbar has a long and fascinating pedigree. The town’s name is derived from early Brythonic meaning “Barr’s fort”, and an iron age fortification once stood on an open area of ground north of High Street known today as Castle Park. Strategically positioned at the mouth of the Forth estuary and midway between Edinburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed, the town was a northern outpost of the Kingdom of Northumbria from the 6th century until it became part of Scotland in 1018.

Granted the status of Royal Burgh in 1370, the town continued to grow under the protective shadow of a mediaeval castle whose ruins dominate Victoria Harbour. Scotland and England contended frequently for possession of both town and castle, and two major Battles of Dunbar were fought nearby in 1296 and 1650. The latter battle was fought between Scottish Covenanters (Presbyterians) and English Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell.

General Sir John Cope arrived by sea at Dunbar in 1745 with a force of government troops. From here they marched to Prestonpans to confront an army of Highland Jacobites fighting for Prince Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”). It was an ignominious defeat for General Cope, and one of many Jacobite victories before they were eventually overcome at Culloden.

Visitors to Dunbar can get a “feel” for the town’s turbulent history just by strolling around High Street. Here a fusion of buildings from several eras, some mediaeval, stretch down from the imposing Georgian elegance of Lauderdale House (1790), designed by Robert Adam. Other historic buildings include the Town House or Tolbooth (1550) with its Mercat Cross (a 1911 reconstruction from mediaeval fragments), Dunbar Castle (largely ruined deliberately in 1567 to create a new harbour entrance) and the family home of renowned American naturalist, John Muir.

Those with a thirst for more history will discover no shortage of castles, historic towns and churches in East Lothian - and Edinburgh is just 20 minutes away by car or train.

John Muir   “Father of the National Parks”

Dunbar welcomes many visitors from the USA to visit the birthplace of the Scottish-American naturalist, John Muir. A prolific author of books, essays and letters recounting his adventures in nature, his writings were read and enjoyed by millions. His enthusiasm so impressed Presidents and Congressmen that they passed a bill in 1890 establishing the Yosemite and Sequioa National Parks.

The Sierra Club, which he founded, remains a prominent American conservation organisation to this day. Respect for his exceptional contribution to conservation is reflected in the many places that bear his name, including Muir Woods National Monument, Mount Muir, Muir Glacier and John Muir College.

Born on April 21st, 1838, what was once the Muir family home is now a museum to his achievements. It is located at 128 High Street and is well worth a visit. For the energetic with lots of available time, there is also the John Muir Way, a coast-to-coast ramblers’ paradise through Scotland’s heartland from Dunbar to Helensburgh, a distance of 134 miles/215 km. The John Muir Way mimics the famous John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada, California, if it doesn’t quite match its 211 miles!

John Muir Country Park, an area of woodland, salt-marsh and grassland, is a haven for wildlife and a bird watcher’s paradise. It runs from Dunbar Castle ruins to the Peffer Burn almost 4 miles to the north, and includes a cliff top trail with fine sea views to the Bass Rock.