One of Scotland’s Great Trails, the John Muir Way offers walkers and cyclists a unique journey through Scotland’s landscapes, history and heritage. Going coast to coast in 134 miles, it links Helensburgh in the west with Dunbar in the east. The route symbolically passes through Scotland’s own first national park and offers a chance to connect with nature – just as Muir did here as a boy – taking advantage of the green spaces, beaches and woodlands that link our coasts, villages, and even the capital city.
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks”, John Muir. All around Dunbar there are the most beautiful and soul searching walks. From the short but breathtaking Clifftop Trail to the beach walks that exhilarate and of course Dunbar is at the end of the 134 mile coast to coast route, the John Muir Way. In this section we identify a few ideas for walks around Dunbar but there are many more and wandering and exploring is often just as rewarding. Maps and equipment can be found in several High Street shops - a good Ordenance Survey map is invaluable for some of the more remote locations.
This walk from the town centre will take around an hour and a half and follows a path along the coast towards Belhaven Bay with views to the Bass Rock. It passes curious rock formations, the site of the old outdoor pool and Winterfield Golf Club. The trail is also part of the John Muir Way so even if you can’t manage the full 134 miles you can experience some of its beauty. For a longer walk you can continue further along the John Muir Way stopping at either Foxlake or East Links Family Park for refreshments before heading back.
This 28 mile Heritage Path starts in Dunbar and dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries when people carried salted herring from Dunbar to the markets in Lauder for winter food. It is hard to imagine the huge weights of these baskets and it is no wonder that the trails fell out of use as railways provided an easier and cost effective alternative form of transport. The Creel Loaders statue at the junction of Victoria Street and Castle Gate commemorates Dunbar’s fishing heritage.
Nothing beats a beach walk and just off the High Street there is a pleasant short walk along East Beach to Dunbar Golf Club but on a much larger scale the spectacular Belhaven Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in East Lothian. Famous also for the Bridge to Nowhere Belhaven beach is also the location for many sea based activities. From Belhaven there is a good 5.5 mile walk to the restored Preston Mill in East Linton. Close to Dunbar are a number of other stunning beach walks including Tyninghame, Ravensheugh, Thorntonloch, Redheughs and Bilsdean. The beautiful locations of Cove, Pease and Coldingham bays are also highly recommended trips.
Just outside Dunbar by East Links Family Park is the John Muir Country Park which is a wonderful walk on sandy trails through wood and grassland. Part of the John Muir Way this walk can be enjoyed on its own or part of a longer walk from the town centre across Belhaven Bay, although check the tides before approaching the “Bridge to Nowhere”. There is an adventure playpark and toilets at the entrance and please remember to bring change for the car park
East Lothian’s coastline is rich in geological features including sandstone and limestone layers. There are eye-catching hills, headlands and islands made of volcanic rocks. Near Dunbar, the Barns Ness Geology Trail has fossils formed 350 million years ago in a shallow sea near the Equator. You can visit one of the world’s most important geological sites, Hutton’s Unconformity at Siccar Point near Cockburnspath. During the 18th century James Hutton, father of modern geology, discovered Siccar Point and used it to illustrate his ‘Theory of the Earth’ and evidence of processes of erosion, deposition and uplift.
If history and archeology peak your interest then East Lothian offers a fascinating variety of attractions, all accessible from Dunbar. Beautiful walks take visitors past the ruins of stunning cliff top castles including Tantallon, Fast Castles and the 2nd century Edin’s Hall Broch. Hailes, Innerwick, Barns and Tower Castles are also within easy reach. Being so close to the English border means that this land was once battle-torn from centuries long strife and there are atmospheric battle grounds just outside the town. Other local sites to visit include the Doon Hill Dark Age Settlement, Dunglass Collegiate Church, Preston Mill and for the more curious Yester’s Goblin Ha’ is fascinating. East Lothian Archaeology & Local History Fortnight takes place in September each year.
There are a number of walking guides to East Lothian that detail routes around the countryside of Dunbar but the small publication Walks: East Lothian highlights a good number within easy reach of the town. Some to recommend are the walk around the charming village of Spott (look out for the witches stone), the Hope Reservoir and Aitkengall Wind Farm beyond Innerwick. For a hill walk aim for Deuchrie Dod, Traprain Law and there are longer walks in the Lammermuir Hills to the south of Dunbar. From Cove Harbour there is a 4.5 mile circular walk that is also highly recommended. For the truly determined the magical Fairy Glen near Innerwick is an off path adventure as well as seeking out the mythical Whittinghame Yew.
Anywhere can be a wildlife walk but three suggestions easily reached from Dunbar are Pressmennan Wood, Woodhall Dean and Pease Dean Wildlife Reserve managed by the Woodland Trust and Scottish Wildlife Trust respectively. (The 214 mile Southern Upland Way also passes through the Pease Dean reserve). There are marked trails around both walks and an abundance of wildlife to look out for. Both organisations manage a number of other walks in the area. If you need a little help exploring why not join a nature tour or take part in one of East Lothian Council Countryside Ranger Service events.