Musselburgh To North Berwick
ROUTE LENGTH: 21 MILES
This route follows the coastal roads, not the A1. Musselburgh itself can be reached from the A1 itself, from the Edinburgh Bypass, or by driving through Portobello from the city. From Musselburgh, aim to drive to the B1348, which is the coastal road, passing Port Seton. At its end, turn left onto the A198, following the coast. You will pass through Aberlady and Luffness, and then Gullane. Dirleton is reached by a left turn of the main road. Return to the A198, turning left onto it, to reach North Berwick.
The coastal path can include cycling from Musselburgh along cycle route 76 (High Street, left turn to Shorthope Street, then left onto Eskside East, then straight on to Goosegreen Crescent and route 76). Following this, you will eventually turn left onto the B1348. This will pass through Port Seton (the Old Church can be reached by going one street north parallel,, the High Street). At its end turn left onto the A198, passing Aberlady, then entering Gullane. The route is steepest approaching Gullane.
Onto Direleton, where a sliproad to the left from A198 passes the school onto Main Road, on which you will find the Castle. Before the castle, turn left onto Manse Road, on which you will find thevillage’s church. Return to Main Road, then join onto the A198, which will take you to North Berwick.
By Public Transport
From Musselburgh, you can take the X24 to North Berwick. The bus stops at Direleton, allowing you to visit the castle.
To check times go to Traveline Scotland and click on Plan your Journey on left side of page.
The ‘honest toun’ of Musselburgh is a very old Scottish burgh, but its parish church, of St Michael’s, sited on a slight hill at Inveresk a little to the south, takes us beyond old into ancient. This was a major Roman fortress looking down on the Roman bridge over the Esk. This conjunction of Roman settlement with an early Christian church, repeated at Cramond on the west side of Edinburgh, is a reminder that Christianity first reached Scotland because it was spreading to the furthest outposts of the Roman Empire.
On the east side of Musselburgh near the racecourse is Loretto School, sited at Pinkie House the former mansion of the Earls of Dunfermline. But Loretto was originally a burgeoning centre of late medieval pilgrimage. The hermit of Loretto was a major attraction, living beside a replica of the house of Mary, Mother of God, in Nazareth, which had been miraculously transported from Palestine to Loretto in Italy. The huge popularity of this devotion is a reminder that the medieval Scottish Church was far from moribund as the Protestant Reformation took hold. In 1536 James V walked barefoot from Edinburgh to Loretto. At the same time shrines like Loretto were specifically targeted as examples of ‘superstition’, which was opposed to ‘true faith’ by the radical Protestants, who were often concentrated in trading towns like Musselburgh.
Prestonpans, Cockenzie and Port Seton stretch out along the shore, each with their own seagoing traditions, local industries and distinctive churches. Beyond Port Seton, the journey becomes more rural with coastal villages and churches that retain a sixteenth or seventeenth century character. Aberlady is reputedly where Thenew, Tennoch or Enoch, mother of St Kentigern, was cast adrift by her irate father Loth. But the fish, seals and dolphins departed with her never to return. Perhaps that is why the village is now best known as a bird sanctuary.
In the wood between Aberlady and Luffness are to be found the simple remains of a Carmelite Friary complete with a knight’s tomb. At Gullane the medieval church was abandoned due to sandstorms, and replaced by the parish kirk at Dirleton which is one of Scotland’s finest early post-reformation buildings. Even the little island of Fidra, off the beach north of Dirleton has the ruins of a medieval chapel of St Nicolas.
North Berwick is a pilgrim hub, feeding the faithful by boat over to St Andrews. But in addition to its pilgrim chapel at the harbour- now a ruin- North Berwick contains its own ancient Celtic chapel on the Law, an important medieval parish church with its modern successors, a ruined Cistercian convent, and a Seabird Centre. From North Berwick you look out onto the austere open waters of the firth, with the rocky retreat of the Bass inshore. Here in this exposed spot St Baldred had his chapel, where later devoted Covenanters were imprisoned. Further out is the Isle of May with its grey seals and sacred well, where the Irish saints Adrian or Ethernan and Monanus were martyred. The cumulative weight of history leans heavily, yet this bright seaside town has an almost French atmosphere, bathed in a companionable light that only turns austere out on the open waves in a grey light.
Light on the river may be grey, white waved,
Blue sun dancing, or shining smooth like glass.
Watch the skies move in cloud and bright breeze,
As we take the road between the widening sea
And the long ridgeways, Moorfoot and Lammermuir.
How far we see, living between the two natures,
A land formed by both, and the heavens beyond.