Focus On: East Lothian ...............................................
From the coast to the country in East Lothian
Prestongrange’s links with mining go back nearly 1,000 years and the colliery, which closed in 1962, included the first deep shaft in Scotland sunk to the depth of 420 feet (128m). In fact, it was first called the National Mining Museum before reverting to its current name of Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum in 1992. The name derives from the medieval village of Preston or “Priests’town” and “grange” refers to a farm belonging to a religious house. However, the Prestongrange we know now bears testament to an industrial past, not a rural one. For centuries, the surrounding area was the hub of intense industrial activity, with glass works, a pottery, soap works, industrial ceramics, colliery and brickworks providing employment. All these industries have left their mark on the landscape and while the museum brings back those heady days of manual toil and labour, the site is now a haven for wildlife. It’s family friendly to a large extent with activities, indoor and outdoor games and the grounds are also used for local events, exhibitions and theatrical performances. But it’s best to take a guided tour with one of the museum’s knowledgeable staff to find out about this part of East Lothian’s role in Scotland’s industrial age and the heritage left in its wake. REACH FOR THE SKIES The small village of East Fortune would never have found fame had it not been for the airfield situated close by. And had the airfield not been chosen as the site for the Museum of Flight in 1975 by the National Museums of Scotland, it might have suffered the same fate as many obsolete airfields, with weed-strewn runways and tumbleweed. Now it’s a vibrant tourist attraction, with displays of both military and civil aviation and virtual reality interactive galleries. Picnic tables are dotted across the airfield so the whole family can make a day of it. Established in 1915 as a fighter and airship airfield before becoming, on the formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918, the temporary base of the No 22 (Training) Group RAF. One of the airfield’s earliest claims to fame was in 1919 when the British airship R34 made the first eastwest crossing of the Atlantic, flying from East Fortune to Mineola, New York. The intervening war years saw part of the site used as a tuberculosis sanatorium. After the Second World War, the runway was extended to take American bombers during the Cold War but was never used for this purpose sand when Turnhouse Airport was closed in 1961 for construction work, air traffic was diverted through East Fortune.
ALL HAIL NEWHAILES The National Trust for Scotland are putting a Lothian treasure back on the map. Newhailes House might not enjoy the fame and popularity of Bowhill House or Drumlanrig Castle, for instance, but it’s the job of the National Trust for Scotland who took over the property in 1997 to put it on the tourist map. And that’s exactly what the Trust is doing. Plans are underway for a £2.5 million revamp where the grounds will be restored to their 18th century look and improved facilities for visitors will be installed. Even now, guided tours are available on a daily basis so it’s strongly advised that you to get down there at the earliest opportunity. It’s location just to the west of Musselburgh makes access relatively easy by car or public transport. Some stately homes never reflect any sense of being lived in. Some are stark shells bereft of any personality and some are hugely ornate and over-decorated. Neither of these descriptions could you place at the door of Newhailes House which has a charm all of its own. It’s unpretentious, smaller than one might think, full of character and full of ornaments – including chipped saucers – that give it a delightful charisma and give you an idea of life in the house over the centuries. Yes, it might be slightly worn round the edges but I feel that gives it a distinct personality. It was the home of the Dalrymple family from the early 18th century to 1997 and was originally bought by Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Baronet of Hailes in 1709 for £27,000 or £2.5 million in today’s terms. Taking his title from the family estate in Hailes, East Lothian, Sir David changed the house’s name from Whitehill to New Hailes. There are two things that strike you when you visit the house. One is the symmetry, the other is the depth of the building which is only one room deep – and not a very big one at that. Perhaps the most impressive room in the building is the library wing, started by Sir David and completed by his son, Sir James. While the collection of books is now housed in the National Library of Scotland one can understand why Dr Samuel Johnston, writer, literary critic and moralist, called it the “most learned drawing room in Europe”. The wndows on the outside are painted on, to give the interior much wall space as possible. With this wing built, and keen to maintain the building’s symmetry, Sir James balanced it with an apartment wing, to which entry is gained via the dining room, complete with four massive columns and painted a camouflage green. With proposed investment, it’s going to look like a totally new Newhailes. The renovation includes restoration of the historic Doocot to include new facilities aimed at families, along with landscaping that will provide visitor amenities and catering facilities, plus the planting-out of a community and volunteer-led kitchen garden.
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