When people think of the river Tyne, they usually think of the one that passes through Newcastle, with its bridges. There are in fact two rivers in Britain which bear the name – the famous one and the lesser-known one which passes through East Lothian on its way to the North Sea. I know them both and travelling from here to Newcastle or parts south requires crossing both. On the train, you cross the Tyne in the village of East Linton, not so far from Dunbar, looking across the bridge to a waterfall that leads towards Preston Mill, then an hour or two later, the train passes across the other Tyne, perhaps on the High Level Bridge or else further upriver on the less handsome modern rail bridge. By road, meanwhile, involves traversing the A1 more or less throughout from Edinburgh south, the Scottish Tyne crossed near Hailes Castle and Traprain Law, the English one quite close to the Metro Centre. They could not be more different but I have affection for both.
I was talking to someone yesterday about Haddington, a town I used to work in that sits on the river Tyne, naturally enough. I was last there in January for a funeral and before I went, I had a walk along the riverside, as I had quite a few times before. I used to reflect on how much I preferred on being by the sea but being by the Tyne was not unpleasant either. Walking by a river is a different experience, depending on the river. If it is a fast-flowing river, as the Tyne isn’t most of the time, it can be quite like being by the sea, but I think the overall experience is one of just putting one foot in front of another. It just helps thoughts flow for me and so it proved so often as I walked by the Tyne.
The Tyne flows faster through East Linton, where there is a waterfall just under the bridge that leads from the Linton Hotel to the Dunbar road. Nearby is Preston Mill. It is very pretty, a red brick building with a slanted orange roof. I believe it was in Outlander at some point recently. I had a job interview to work at Preston Mill once (I didn’t get it, thankfully) and they asked me what I would do if the Mill flooded, as it does with considerable regularity. I flanneled out an answer when the only sensible one is call the fire brigade and close the bloody place. When I was last in the area, last summer, my friend and I walked across the fields from Phantassie towards Preston Mill. The views were something out of a Glasgow Boys painting, which is appropriate since Arthur Melville painted there for a while, pastoral with bright, undulating fields stretching for miles. Phantassie is also where the engineer John Rennie came from. He designed the Bell Rock lighthouse as well as the Plymouth breakwater.
Between East Linton and Haddington are Traprain Law, a hillfort that became a quarry, and Hailes Castle, which sits right on the Tyne. My last visit was just before I moved through here. I had an afternoon off and took the bus to East Linton, deliberately getting off just after the railway bridge which the top of the double decker bus missed by millimetres. I walked by the river for about 45 minutes until I reached the Castle, which shockingly I had only been to once before. It is surprisingly complete, well for a ruin, and you can explore the cellars and sit on the banking by the river for a while. I am overdue a visit to there and all of the East Lothian castles, actually, particularly Tantallon.
Every time I write about East Lothian, it quickly degenerates into an advert for the local tourist board. I like where I came from, I just don’t like it enough to live there anymore. The Tyne in East Lothian is less well-known than its counterpart in England but it is just as interesting, if not more so, with a fair whack of history over a fairly short span of 30 miles or so from the Moorfoot Hills to Belhaven. Next time you’re nearby, stop and have a wander. It’s no’ bad.