Doon Hill

After walking to Barns Ness lighthouse, I somehow had the mental notion to climb up Doon Hill. I hadn’t been up there in years, usually doing so as a result of a hare-brained scheme. I remember being up there as the Queen Mary 2 sailed past, the massive cruise ship looming large as it motored up the Forth from Rosyth. From Barns Ness I had to walk a while past Portlands then when I reached the A1 I had to run across the road as cars come up and down there with some lick. I was soon rewarded, though, on the way up the road by a fine view back across Dunbar to the Bass Rock and the Isle of May beyond. That vista was to my right all the way up to Doon Hill or at least as long as I kept sweat out of my eyes. I’m not built for heat.

Doon Hill overlooks Dunbar. It is also notable for the fields below which were the scene of the second Battle of Dunbar, the one on 3rd September 1650 when Cromwell won and 3,000 were taken to Durham Cathedral to be executed, transported or imprisoned. I passed a stone on the way up which bore a quote about the battle from Thomas Carlyle. The hill was the site of an Anglian hall but also, archaeologists have discovered fairly recently, a Neolithic settlement too. When I got to the top, I found I was not alone for there was a tour group getting a talk by the big information board. The guide was freely admitting he knew hee haw about medieval architecture so might have to defer to his pal Chris who was also there. I glanced at the board then set off around the traced out edges of the homestead, getting far enough away to completely tune out the group.

I sat for a few minutes looking down the hill towards Torness. Blocking out that and the cement works, it was possible to readily imagine the value of Doon Hill not only as a domestic structure but for defence, giving views right to St. Abbs Head and over the surrounding lands to Brunt Hill and beyond towards North Berwick. The thing that amazed me was that Doon Hill’s significance only came to light due to aerial photography in the 1950s, then as now a vital resource in finding hitherto hidden traces of our past. Looking across the site it was easy to bring to life its past, as a place for communal living, entertaining, and venerating their dead.

Back down the hill I looked again across Dunbar. Even with the new houses I could pick out landmarks, my high school, where I lived growing up, the Castle, Town House, churches and Knockenhair House, to name but a few. Despite the climb and the heat, I was glad I diverted that way to get a wider appreciation of the history, plus just to stand and stare for a while.

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