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Taking Long Walks and Sea More of Our History

Lots of queries have been received about how the Prestoungrange Ceiling got to the Merchiston Tower and what that Tower is anyway.

A taste of the answers appears in the Booklet available at Napier University linked here. An elegant Ceiling fragment appears opposite.

Preston Grange Ceiling

Taking Long Walks and Sea More of Our History March 1st Lots of queries have been received about how the Prestoungrange Ceiling got to the Merchiston Tower and what that Tower is anyway. A taste of the answers appears in the Booklet available at Napier University linked here. An elegant Ceiling fragment appears opposite. Preston Grange Ceiling The superb painted timber ceiling in the Boardroom, dated 1581, was brought to the Tower from Preston Grange House, near Prestonpans by arrangement with the Coal Industries Social Organisation and with the help of a special grant by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. The transfer was carried out by the Ministry and the National Trust for Scotland and included 5 months of preservation treatment in a workshop in Leith.

A room off the gallery houses the humidification plant for the ceiling. The tempera painted on the boards of the ceiling is elegant and masterly. It is unique in Scotland and is thought to be the work of a foreign painter. Painted in grey, white and black upon a red lead ground, the multitude of motifs include the figure of a Red Indian, and 3 grotesques which are believed to represent comic actors in German folkplays. The painting on the beams date from a later period and is of an inferior quality. The latter was badly mutilated in the 18th century when the beams were adzed level to receive a new plaster ceiling.

If you don't feel up to a walking tour at the University, you can always blow the wind out of your head with a choice of two very local walks which are illustrated here by the East Lothian Tourist Board (1995). There a good few more for the enthusiast in the full selection by Jim Crumly.

Our local two are:

Rennies Bridge to Cuthill Rocks

It might begin off Musselburgh among carolling long tailed ducks, soothing eiders and sooty-black scoters. Twenty minutes ago you had parked by the old bridge over the river Esk (I6th Century, cobbled, a doughty survivor rather than a thing of beauty) and set off to walk downstream to the Firth of Forth. You walked among mallards and mute swans, par for the watercourse of such an urban river, and noted the occasional goosander and goldeneye, this being half a mile from the great sea going firth. Perhaps as you walked you admired the wide swathe the river inflicts on the town and the handsome, dark-stoned, one sided streets which stand back respectfully from it and add to its distinguished breadth

Then suddenly there were seagoing influences - cormorants and a vast tanker slipping past the river mouth, pointed at Holland. The land curved away eats and the world was suddenly
Walk 4

You have begun to walk out along the curves of what feels like a sea wall, except that the sea is still some miles off; rather it is the outer edge of Levenhall Links, a flat sprawl of reclaimed land entrapping the old town far inland. Then that sound falls n your ears, that clanging, querulous merriment which is the unmistakable hallmark of a cabal of long-tailed ducks in early spring display. The crooning eiders seem seem to be trying to calm don the long-tails, layering their cries with lush sound. The scoters, a mixed flock of velvet and common, are blackly silent.

All the East Lothian shore lies ahead of you. No mile of it is dull, and you have already established one of the recurring themes of all East Lothian landscapes..... its astounding capacity for fast shifts of mood, co-existing extremes of man and nature, town dwellers and deep sea duck, for example. Half a mile inland from the cavorting swimmers, at the inland edge of this same ledge of sea-level land, there is a racecourse and the oldest golf course in the world, and beyond that, up-by in the town the kind of Tolbooth which is an object lesson in all that is best in that Scottish architectural tradition East Lothian (with that touch of Dutch common to much of eastern Scotland) serves so well. When you step in at its 16th Century door, don't be surprised if the carolling of the long-tails still rings in your ears.

Walk 3

and that which includes our own Foreshore called Prestonpans Tide Path from Cuthill to the Prestonlinks Sailing Centre.

Prestonpans Tide Path

Prestonpans puts a very different kind of sea-wall walking under your feet. Here you walk beyond the wall on a tide path. The village wades into the firth at high tide and the path is drowned, but at less than high tide you walk between dozing eiders and the stone-and-shore-rock defences of early generations of village builders.

This is architecture at its most instinctively improvised, the right-angle between a jutting house and a retiring one built where a wedge of shore rocks leans pointedly inland, forming the angle's foundation. Here is a short stone staircase, smoothed and indented by the sea, and going nowhere, the sea door it once served long since stoned up by a stonemason with different ideas. New restorations and developments like the Salt Works pay homage to the place's industrial past, rather beautifully in this case. What with the eiders on one hand, the tide teasing your footpath, and the thrusts of the village leaning out at you, there are shades of Stromness in Orkney or old Lerwick on this mile of the Lothian shoreline.
Walk 2

Cockenzie and Port Seton were welded by headier days of mining and fishing than we know of now, or can even remember now. They grew round their harbours, and at their peak, there were more fishing boats here than there was mooring space. Fishing is a secondary presence here now, and the mining is just memory. Shorn of the purpose which spawned them, such places seem to retreat into themselves, the shell without the crab, as instinctively seagoing as ever, but with not much more than the sea view to show for it, and a handful of walking miles which crowd your mind with memories set in old stone, with once-upon-a-times and might-have-beens.

Walk 1

Published Date: March 1st 2002

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