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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Old Camps on the Lammermuir Hills


ON the East Lothian side of the Lammermuir range of hills, from Nether Brotherstones on the west, to Priestlaw on the south-east, there are upwards of twenty old camps or hill forts. The positions of them are marked in Forrest’s excellent map of Haddingtonshire, published in 1799, and now scarce. They are to be found at Upper and Nether Brotherstones, West Hopes, Brookside, Longnewton, Kidlaw, Longyester, Park Hill, Whitecastlenick, Kinisidenick, Kilmadie Burn, Priestlaw, Penshiel, Garvald, &c. They number twenty-one in all. They are all circular or oval, and perched on the tops of hills and lofty eminences, and different from Roman camps, which were square or longitudinal. They have rings, or mounds of stones and earth, or circumvallations, with corresponding ditches around them. Formed at a very early date in the history of the country as places of defence or habitation, it is not easy now to ascertain who were the people or races who possessed them, but it is generally understood by antiquaries that they were occupied by the original inhabitants of the land, the Cymri, and others, who retreated to these strongholds in the wilds of the Lammermuir and other hills, where they made their final but unsuccessful effort against Picts, Scots, and Saxons. Chalmers in his Caledonia discusses the subject at some length, and Dr Veitch, in his interesting book on the history and poetry of the Scottish Border, published in 1868, enters fully into the matter. This volume will be read with pleasure by those who are fond of antiquarian subjects.

It is the purpose of the writer to notice two of these camps or hill forts, which are on the farm of Brookside, in the parish of Garvald, on the Hopes estate. Placed on the top of a conical hill of moderate height, the one towards the south side is the larger of the two, and on a higher elevation. It has five circular rings formed of gravel and soil around it quite distinct, especially on the north side, with ditches and several entries through them to the centre of the camp, which are still discernible. The centre occupies a large space of fine pasture grass. The south side of the hill is precipitous and rugged, and would be found difficult to an enemy to ascend if opposed. At the bottom is a pretty valley, with a mountain brook running through it. The hillsides and valley are clothed with juniper bushes, mountain ashes, scrubby saughs, &c. Looking down from the hill-top, the valley or glen is of singular beauty. There is a most magnificent view to the north and west of the lower parts of East Lothian, the Firth of Forth, with its islands of Fidra, Eyebroughy, the Lamb, Craigleith, and the Bass; Fife, Pentland Hills, Arthur’s Seat, &c. The fatigue of travelling and climbing the hill is amply repaid by the splendid view.

The other camp to the north, and nearer Brookside, is similar, but much smaller. Mr David Darling, who with his father farmed Brookside for forty or fifty years, and who lately retired from it, was most kind and hospitable to visitors, and. took much delight in telling his friends about the camps, &c. Stone arrow-heads, hatchets, with lots of human bones, relics of former days, have been found from time to time, and no doubt many more may be found, if search were made for them. The sheep and lambs, fond of basking and lying under the banks of the rings, which they have in many places rubbed bare, point out the fact of the artificial formation of these mounds or rings, which have been originally formed of rounded stones and gravel.

The wildest part of the Lammermuir Hills is at Brookside and on the adjoining farm of West Hopes. A more enchanting spot in a fine summer day is perhaps not to be found in the county of East Lothian. From Hopes Bridge, looking up the beautiful glen, with Lammer Law in the distance, the view is uncommonly fine. In the month of July, when the bell heather is in full and splendid bloom on the hill sides and tops, a day’s ramble among the Lammermuirs will, to a lover of wild and beautiful natural scenery, afford much delight; and when he comes to view the camps of Brookside, if he is of a contemplative mind, he will wonder how the old inhabitants of this land could live in their hill-forts, clothed in skins of wild beasts, and depending for their daily food on the chase and slaughter of wild animals and birds, while resisting the attacks of their enemies with slings, bows and arrows, and flint-headed javelins.

The counterpart of such a state of life in the hills and mountains of Scotland at that time may at this day, perhaps, be found, but on a much more extensive scale, in the mountainous country and savage tribes of Afghanistan or Zululand. The late Hugh Miller once visited the old camps at Brookside, and was much impressed with the wildness and grandeur of the scenery, which he took notice of in a lecture he delivered in the Free Church of Yester. He went fully into the geological history of the formation of the Lammermuirs, &c., with notice of the granite on Faseny Water, &c. The lecture was intensely interesting.

At one time a heronry existed in a clump of large trees above Brookside steading. Mr David Darling’s respected father had a peculiar notion about the herons and the state of the weather. When the birds took it into their heads to fly down the burn of Brookside, he cried, shouted, and hounded them up again, thinking that when they came down there would be bad weather, and if again they fled up the burn there would be fine weather. Hill farmers and shepherds are good observants of such instincts of birds and animals. In no part of Lammermuir does the snow, after a severe winter, lie so long as on the hills and in the gullies and scars of Brookside, and the West Hopes. Often far on in June have patches of hardened snow been seen on the hill-sides there. Energetic boys from Gifford, &c., on a holiday have often gone up in gangs to the hills and scattered the snow, declaring it was a terrible thing to see snow lying on the hills in the warm month of June. The traveller from Haddington to the White-adder may see on the roadside near the Whitecastlenick a good specimen of one of the old camps, although a small one. It has two rings round it quite distinct. Another can be seen on the farm of Garvald Mains, west from the village of Garvald.


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