Focus On: The #Lothian and #East Lothian Coast

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The Firth of Forth from Arthur's Seat
The Firth of Forth from Arthur’s Seat

Scotland’s eastern seaboard is seen, by many, as a poor relation when compared to its west coast cousin. Yet its history, wildlife and scenery are very much on a par to Scotland’s more renowned western fringes whilst the geology along the east coast is possibly the most significant in the country.

This is certainly true of the Lothian and East Lothian coasts, which stretch from the Forth Estuary, a few miles west of Edinburgh, to the Scottish Borders at Cockburnspath.

Much of this gorgeous journey is punctuated by soft, sandy beaches and low-lying dunes but as the coastline turns south from Dunbar it becomes increasingly rugged. Queensferry, the Port of Leith, Portobello, Musselburgh, Aberlady, Gullane, North Berwick and Dunbar are a selection of the attractive towns and villages along the coast.

The Lothian and East Lothian coastlines offer a clear window into the age of the earth. Whether this be the remains of volcanic activity or tangible proof of rocks dating back an incomprehensible amount of time then this is the place to be.

Several very important fish fossils have also been found on the outskirts of Edinburgh, at Newhaven, which are thought to be over 400 million years old. Volcanic activity is apparent when climbing the likes of North Berwick Law and Arthur’s Seat, which rises above Edinburgh’s city centre. Both were formed around 350-300 million years ago and today grant the finest views along the coast.

Humans have been exploiting the coastline for several thousand years, particularly along the more sheltered south bank of the Firth of Forth.

Discarded hazelnut shells were found on Cramond Island and carbon dated to 8,500BC when Mesolithic hunter-gatherers fished the waters of the estuary and hunted in the surrounding woodland. What’s more, a house from this period was excavated near Dunbar in 2002.

The estuary and coastline aided transport for our earliest ancestors and small communities built up along the coast and on the low-lying hills over the course of the next few thousand years.

The East Lothian coastline from Gullane Hill
The East Lothian coastline from Gullane Hill

Saltpanning, shipbuilding, mining, mills and agriculture have also played a key role in the development of communities over the past few thousand years. Today many of these industries have gone or play a far less significant role in the local economy.

Now the more contemporary industry of ‘the outdoors’ is a focal point for an ever-burgeoning tourism and recreation sector with the likes of cycling, sailing, wildlife watching and walking, now playing an increasingly important role.

Throughout the scenery is never less than compelling but it is the wildlife that can be spotted throughout the year that really raises the Lothian and East Lothian coasts onto another level and wherever you are walking the diversity of flora and fauna is remarkable; whooper swans, wild geese, little egret, whimbrel, greenshank, oystercatcher, sandpiper, dunlin, knot, curlew, ringed and golden plover, kittiwake, skylark, meadow pipit, shags, fulmars, herring gulls, puffins, frogs, toads, butterflies, damselflies, wood anemone, wood sorrel, red clover, red campion, sea pinks and common spotted orchid is just a selection of what can be seen.

Tantallon and Bass Rock
Tantallon and Bass Rock
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