Discover how the boy born in this house became one of the driving forces behind the modern conservation movement. The exterior of the Museum has been restored to its original condition. Inside, you’ll find a warm welcome with friendly, well informed staff always available to answer questions. The absorbing hands on interpretation centre will take you on the journey of John Muir’s life as a pioneering conservationist, explorer, writer, geologist and inventor. The building is fully accessible with three floors of family friendly interactive displays complemented by a lively exhibition and events programme and a shop offering books and gifts for all ages.
History & Culture
Dunbar is steeped in history and there is much evidence of this to be seen in its High Street, Closes, Harbour and Castle. John Muir, the American naturalist and explorer grew up here and the community of the town that he knew has developed and is reflected in a vibrant cultural scene.
With its distinctive witch’s hat tower and its bell, clock and sun dials the Town House has been the focus of town life since the 16th century. Staff here are always on hand to chat about the town and the history of the building. You can visit the council chamber – scene of the infamous witch trials – and a grimly atmospheric jail cell. The building is accessible on all levels and is home to a museum and gallery with changing historical and art exhibitions as well as a local history display area and research room managed by Dunbar and District History Society.
The ruins of Dunbar Castle stand proudly above the Harbour entrance, there is no access to the ruins but with imagination it is easy to appreciate that it was once one of the strongest fortresses in Scotland. Dunbar has three harbours, dating from the 17th century, and the town was once a major herring and whaling port. The harbours are always busy with a fleet of fishing boats, a sailing club and other activities including divers, coastal rowers, kayaks and stand up paddle boats regularly making use of its facilities. Look out for the RNLI lifeboat, visiting seals and drop into the RNLI shop; there are also food vans and regular events including the town’s busy Lifeboat Day in mid July.
Founded 300 years ago in 1719, Belhaven is Scotland’s oldest working brewery and produces Scotland’s best-selling ale, Belhaven Best. Just a stone’s throw from beautiful Belhaven Bay on the outskirts of Dunbar, the Brewery is a fascinating blend of old and new and produces a wide range of award-winning beers including Scotland’s Beer of the Year 2018, Twisted Grapefruit IPA. The brewery offers tours where visitors to see the beers being made and taste the delicious results in our beautiful bar.
Available from local shops this excellent little publication, A Walk Around Historic Dunbar is published by the Dunbar and District History Society. The walk should take between 1.5 and 2 hours and provides both a comprehensive history of the town and a really fascinating walk which starts and ends on the High Street. It was first published in 1970 to commemorate Dunbar’s six hundred years as a Burgh. In the summer guided tours take place regularly (book via the link below) and the tour will also soon be available in app form on the Curious Edinburgh platform.
Seconds off Dunbar High Street, down Garden Lane, is the beautiful Backlands community garden run by The Ridge, a charity that provides life and employment skills. Since 2012 it has been transformed from a rubbish-strewn eyesore to a calming, productive space run by charity staff and volunteers. Fully accessible, it functions as a market garden, training ground, event space, living history, outdoor cooking classroom and occasional pop-up restaurant. Regular events run on-site, advertised on the charity’s Facebook pages. A particular focus is the rebuilding of the Black Bull Close buildings: a range of workshops exploring their heritage and history are organised throughout the year.
Alongside the harbour this fortified artillery Battery is an open air attraction which has been recently renovated and now hosts a performance space, coastal garden and an interpretation hub which tells the history of the site from its origins to now. Built as a Napoleonic shore battery on Lamer Island it was latterly a hospital before falling into disrepair. The panoramic views from here extend across the Forth, with the iconic Bass Rock and Isle of May in view as well as romantic lighthouses along the coast.
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at an operational nuclear power station? Torness power station has a purpose-built visitor centre where you can explore how electricity is created in the exhibition space and take a free tour of the facilities. Tours are free and cater for groups and individuals but need to be booked in advance. You can also visit the bespoke visitor centre at Viridor‘s Energy Recovery Facility just outside the town. Here visitors will learn about sustainable waste management and how energy recovery fits into the waste hierarchy.
Dunbar has a busy contemporary and traditional music scene, producing many bands and artists that have a local, national and international profile. It hosts a long running traditional music festival during the last full week-end in September each year and a well respected outdoor pipe band competition each May. The new Battery venue by the Dunbar harbour has quickly become a popular outdoor music venue. Musicians often play at gigs and open mic nights in the local bars and the Dunbar Music School offers a wide range of classes and workshops.
Dunbar has a vibrant arts scene with events happening throughout the year, including the European stone stacking championships, a programme of exhibitions at Dunbar Town House gallery and museum and North Light Arts programme. The High Street is a great place to browse with the Found Gallery, Coast Gallery, Flux, the Dunbar Craft Studio and the Makery where you can customise cards and prints. Seams Sew on the High Street runs fun sewing workshops for kids and adults as well as the Dunbar Fashion School that also runs courses. There are studios and an exhibition space at West Barns Studios and an annual street art trail.
This beautiful five metre high steel bear sculpted by Scottish artist Andy Scott is a fitting tribute to John Muir, the American naturalist who was born in the town. The sculptor said, “I am delighted to have been commissioned to bring this large steel creation to Dunbar. I wanted to honour John Muir in an unusual and striking fashion. As he’s been commemorated in bronze in the town, I felt a sculpture celebrating one of America’s most dramatic creatures would be a fitting tribute to the great man”. For more information visit John Muir’s birthplace on the High Street or perhaps walk some (or all) of the John Muir Way which follows his footsteps to Helensburgh on the west coast.