Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland

Our next day out into Scotland started from Carlisle, and we took a train up to Edinburgh where we changed for a train to Dunbar, a historic town on the edge of the North Sea…


Status: East Lothian, Town, Scotland

Date: 23/01/2014

Travel: Virgin Trains (Carlisle – Edinburgh Waverley), Cross Country (Edinburgh Waverley – Dunbar), Scotrail (Dunbar – Edinburgh Waverley)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Dunbar Castle, John Muir Birthplace and Museum, Dunbar Harbour, Town House, Dunbar Parish Church, Bass Rock, Town House Museum and Galleries, Lauderdale House etc


After leaving the train station, we made our way straight to the high street, to cut through to the Castle. We soon found the above statue of John Muir outside the Town House, the most famous resident of Dunbar, and I will get back to him later when we visited his birthplace…


Above is the Town House itself, but unfortunately it was covered in scaffolding when we visited. Even so, you can see from the top of the tower that it is quite an impressive building. It also contains a museum, and what is believed to be the oldest functioning Council Chamber in Scotland.

The building dates from the 16th century, and it is open from April to September for visitors to visit the Museum and Art Galleries inside. It is situated on the main high street, about half way towards the harbours.


At the end of the high street, continuing towards the harbour, you will find the back of Lauderdale House at the very end. We walked around to the front of the house, and walked through the small square, which contains a statue of a woman cuddling a swan, not sure of the significance though.

The house was built in 1740 originally, but it was bought by James Maitland, the 8th Earl of Lauderdale, and under his direction it was extended and remodelled to its present condition. Its a great old building, and before the new leisure complex as built across from it, the occupants got great views out into the North Sea.


From Lauderdale House we moved to the sea front, and got our first look at the ruins of Dunbar Castle, of which little remains today. It has a long history, starting in 1070 (although various Castles had stood on the site this was the first stone version). The Castle was ravaged by fire in 1214, and in 1338 the English attacked Dunbar, but were successfully repelled by Black Agnes, the Countess of Dunbar. One of the most famous inhabitants of the Castle was Mary Queen of Scots who visited twice, in the 1560’s, with Lord Darnley and then the Earl of Bothwell. For more information about Mary, Queen of Scots, see my post on Jedburgh here.


Next to the ruins of the Castle is another ruin, that of the Blockhouse. In the 16th century the Castle was reinforced with a new garrison including a Blockhouse, by King James V of Scotland. Both the Blockhouse and the Castle were linked by a covered walkway, but this collapsed in 1993. Both sites are now out of bounds due to the ruins being potentially unstable. There are two harbours in Dunbar, that adjoin the ruins. In fact, part of the Castle ruins were destroyed to create an entrance from the North Sea into the harbour.


Moving further down, past the ruins and round, we found the site of an old Victorian Outdoor Swimming Pool, which was originally filling this cove. Now it is a great place to discover rock pools when the tide goes out, and we did have a look in a few for any interesting marine life.

Looking out past the cove, you can just make out the coastline of Fife across the water, as well as a large rock, which is Bass Rock, which is 351 feet at its highest point. It is currently uninhabited but there is a Castle on the rock which was once used as a prison. The Castle still exists, in a partially ruined state, and close by stands Bass Rock Lighthouse, and the ruins of St Baldred’s Chapel.


Earlier, I mentioned John Muir, whose statue stands outside the Town House. Well this was his first house, from his birth in 1838. At the age of 11 John, along with his family, moved to Wisconsin, and later California in the United States. He became a prominent figure in his later years for the protection of natural habitats and successfully lobbied for Yosemite in the USA to become the world’s first National Park. Since then, many parks and protected forests have been designated all over the world, and Scotland’s first, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, came into being in 2002.

John Muir passed away in 1914, but he is still well known around the world, and he published many books about the places he saw, and the natural beauty that accompanied them. In the USA April 21st is John Muir day, and has been since 1989. He is a true inspiration and his legacy will live on for a long time to come.

Inside his house are three floors charting his life, from Scotland to the USA and various other places. It’s a fascinating exhibit and we really enjoyed reading about his adventures as we looked through the displays. The house is located on the High Street, on the opposite side to the Town House, nearer to the Lauderdale House end.


The high street itself is very pleasant, with a range of colourful buildings that you would expect to find in a sea side town, as well as plenty of older stone ones.


On the way back to the train station I took a picture of Dunbar Parish Church, which is the first building you see as you leave the train station. In 1779 the original church, Dunbar Collegiate Church, was largely rebuilt, before a whole new building was constructed between 1819 and 1821.

So that’s Dunbar, and the end to another great day trip into Scotland.

Dunbar is quite easy to get too, with good connections to the single platform railway station, which is sat on a spur just off the mainline, so the trains that bypass the town fly past on tracks just past the platform. There is an hourly Scotrail service from Dunbar into Edinburgh City Centre that takes about 20 minutes, and every couple of hours Cross Country services stop at Dunbar on the way from Aberdeen to Taunton in Somerset, England. Occasional East Coast train services between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh also stop in the town. Edinburgh Airport is an hours drive from the town, or you can get a bus from the Airport into Edinburgh itself then take the train. The main A1 trunk road from London to Edinburgh also runs around the town.

Dunbar is a lovely little historic town, with plenty of history and the inspirational story of John Muir is a highlight in the town. It’s a great place to visit, and its location just out of Edinburgh makes it a great detour for anyone visiting Edinburgh and the Lothians.


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