Sunday, March 02, 2014

Saturday Adventure in East Lothian: Tantallon Castle & Dunbar

Entry for 1 March 2014:

I've been travelling or working on Saturdays a lot lately, so when a free Saturday finally rolled around this week, we were off east beyond Edinburgh.  Even after 7.5 years in Scotland we haven't lost our love of castles, so we thought we'd try Tantallon (accent on the second syllable) Castle. This is a large, dramatic sea castle, dating back to the 14th century and located on a small promontory that juts out into the outer end of the Firth of Forth, with small bays on either side.  Rather than the usual rectangular castle with towers at each corner or separate inner keep, it's basically very tall, thick curtain wall, punctuated with three sets of towers, with living quarters tucked just behind or even inside the wall. It was stormed several times (usually unsuccessfully), the last time by Cromwell in 1651.  It’s most unusual features are a central tower that features green volcanic rock originally favoured for its shock absorbing ability; and the view of Bass Rock, a mile off shore, a dramatic volcanic plug that is home to thousands of seabirds. Since the weather was surprisingly nice (mixed sun & cloud), there were plenty of visitors, mostly foreign, out to satisfy their hunger for large ancient ruined military-domestic installations.  

After that we headed south for Dunbar, arriving in time for visit to the John Muir Birthplace Museum in Dunbar.  The conservationist John Muir is practically the patron saint of California, the force behind the American National Park system, founder of the Sierra Club, namesake for countless California parks, public schools and trails.  He's not so well known in his native Scotland, but American tourists inspired the citizens of his hometown to refit the house where he was born in 1838.  It’s a lovely little museum dedicated to his life, which is presented in a kind of timeline as you progress through its floor, featuring quirkily-presented quotations from his writings. Among other things we learned that there is a sister site in Martinez, Calfornia, not far from where Diane’s mom lives; we resolved to match today’s adventure with a California Adventure to the John Muir Historic Monument on one of our upcoming visits.

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