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Dunbar

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Dunbar is a harbour town in East Lothian, on the south-east coast of central Scotland.

The medieval harbour lay a couple of miles west, where the Biel Water flows out: that was "Belhaven" where the brewery now stands. Oliver Cromwell was unimpressed by its muddy creek and ordered construction of the harbour in Dunbar that bears his name. This in turn was outgrown by the 19th C, when the Victoria Harbour was created alongside. This necessitated cutting through the red sandstone of the headland, so it's a striking harbour entrance, with what's left of the castle teetering above it.

Dunbar was the birthplace of the conservationist John Muir (1838-1914). Local natural features and wildlife had already fascinated him by age 11 when his family moved to the USA. There he was to discover the wilds and set about their preservation through the agency of the United States National Park.

Get in

By road: Dunbar is on A1087, a loop north of the A1 London-Newcastle-Edinburgh road. The town is 30 miles east of Edinburgh and 28 miles northwest of the English border at Berwick-upon-Tweed. East Coast Bus X7 runs along A1 between Edinburgh and Dunbar, every 30 mins M-F and hourly Sa Su, taking 80 mins. Borders Bus 253 also runs from Edinburgh to Dunbar hourly, and every two hours continues to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

By rail: Dunbar is on the East Coast Mainline from London King's Cross to Edinburgh, but those trains just flash through. You need to change at York or Newcastle for the Cross-Country trains coming up from the Midlands and stopping at Dunbar every couple of hours on their way towards Edinburgh. There's also a local train between Dunbar and Edinburgh, so this connection is hourly, taking 20 mins.

1 Dunbar railway station is a 100 yard walk to High Street.

Get around

  • The town is compact, but you need wheels to reach Torness.

See

  • 1 Dunbar Town House Museum, High St. Apr-Sep daily 13:00-17:00, Oct-Mar Sa Su 14:00-16:00. Photographic displays of the history of the burgh. Local historic documents can be researched here - there is usually a member of the local history society on hand to offer assistance. Free.
  • 2 John Muir's Birthplace, 126 High St EH42 1JJ, ✉ info@jmbt.org.uk. Apr-Sept M-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 13:00-17:00, Oct-Mar W-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 13:00-17:00. This museum in the house where John Muir was born describes the life, work, and achievements of the renowned environmentalist. Free.
  • 3 Dunbar Castle. 24 hrs. Stump of what was once among the strongest fortresses in Scotland. After various assaults it was "slighted" in 1567 to prevent use by rebels, and the construction of the Victorian harbour carved through it. Free.
  • 4 Torness Nuclear Power Station, Dunbar EH42 1QU (On A1 five miles east of Dunbar). M-F 09:00-16:30. Twin Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors, pushing 600 MW apiece into the National Grid since 1988, and planned to continue to 2030. You can simply drop into the visitor centre, but you'll get much more from joining an organised tour (minimum age 7), which needs to be booked 3 weeks in advance (more than 4 weeks in advance for foreigners). Free, but there ought to be a £50 spot penalty for anyone making Homer Simpson jokes, which by now have half-decayed to lead.
  • The bird-limed lump out to sea northwest is the Bass Rock. Sail around it, and perhaps even land, on boat trips from North Berwick. Due north on a clear day you may also make out the cliffs of the Isle of May, a bird sanctuary. It's usually reached from Fife but there are summer boat trips from North Berwick.

Do

  • Walk the John Muir Way, a long-distance coastal trail. Southbound - which here means eastwards - Torness looks like an obstruction, but there's a walkway that takes you through it. (An amazing number of anglers come here, as fish are drawn by the warm reactor coolant outflow.) You stay in low-lying country to Cove near Cockburnspath, eastern terminus of the Southern Upland Way. It's then a very scenic hike along the cliffs and coves through St Abbs, Eyemouth and Burnmouth; then the terrain calms down and the border near Berwick-upon-Tweed is an anticlimax.
Northbound (more like west-by-northwest) it's an easy scenic stroll past Winterfield Park and golf course to Belhaven Bay and John Muir Country Park. The official route then swings inland, but at low tide you can stay on the shore and splosh across the outflow of the River Tyne. All routes then trend north via Whitekirk and Tantallon Castle to North Berwick, but there are some ratty sections where you have to join the busy A198.
  • 1 Belhaven Brewery, Brewery Lane EH42 1PE, ☏ +44 1368 869200, ✉ info@belhaven.co.uk. Tours Tu-F 13:30, pre-booking essential. A large brewery dating from 1719 and owned since 2005 by Greene King, it brews a range of cask, draught and bottled Scottish ales. £8.
  • Scuba divers: boats can be launched 2 hrs + / - high tide. Shore divers can enjoy the harbour wall and the J-hole, where squat lobsters and other beasties wave their claws at you. Some 200 m offshore are The Yetts. You need to be self-sufficient on kit, there are no hire / repair / air facilities here. And try not to haul ashore at Fool's Beach, to be mocked by tourists sitting on the harbour wall above.
  • Dunbar Leisure Pool, Castle Park EH42 1EU (by harbour). Th-Tu 09:00-16:00, W 09:00-14:00 & 17:30-21:00. Council-run swimming pool with flumes and wave pool. Also has a sauna, steam room and gym.
  • Dunbar Golf Club, East Links EH42 1LL (A mile east of town), ☏ +44 1368 862317, fax: +44 1368 865202, ✉ secretary@dunbargolfclub.com. Established 1856 and open all year, this links course was designed by the renowned Old Tom Morris.18 holes from yellow tees 6196 yards, par 71. Busy whenever the Open is held at nearby Gullane, as it's used for qualifying rounds. summer £90 / day.
  • Winterfield Golf Club, St Margarets, North Rd EH42 1AU (Northwest edge of town), ☏ +44 1368 862280, fax: +44 1368 863562. Offers stunning sea views across the Firth of Forth and Bass Rock. 18 holes yellow tees 4817 yards, par 65.
  • The Traditional Music Festival is held in late Sept. The next is expected to be 25-27 Sept 2020 but tbc.

Buy

The main shopping is area is the High Street and West Port

  • Co-op Food have a small store at 118 High St and a supermarket at Countess Cres, both open daily 07:00-22:00.
  • 1 ASDA, Spott Rd EH42 1LE (on A1 south edge of town). M-Sa 07:00-23:00, Su 08:00-10:00. Large well-stocked supermarket on the main road south of town. Filling station prices here are about the best you'll get in East Lothian.

Eat

  • Town centre offerings are The Creel by the harbour, Shapla Tandoori on High St, and 1902 Bar & Grill further down Queen's Rd.

Drink

  • Dunbar is home to Belhaven Brewery which brews cask Scottish ales, see "Do" for tours.
  • Thistly Cross Cider is made nearby at West Barns from Scottish apples, in various alcohol strengths. They don't do tours but if you've got good quality apples, they'd love you to get in touch.
  • 1 The Volunteer Arms, 17 Victoria St, ☏ +44 1368 862278. Daily 12:00-23:00, food served until 21:00. Lovely traditional bar overlooking the harbour, with an upstairs restaurant and an outside seating area for the sunny days Dunbar is known for.

Sleep

  • Belhaven Bay camping & caravan site, open March-Oct, is on A1087 at the west edge of town. They also run the site near Tantallon Caastle.
  • The Camping & Caravan Club site is a mile east of town beyond the golf course.
  • Lots of small B&Bs in town.
  • 1 Dunmuir Hotel, 11 Newhouse Terrace, Queen's Rd EH42 1LG (just east of railway station), ☏ +44 1368 862033, ✉ info@dunmuirhotel.co.uk. Welcoming, well-run hotel in Victorian building. B&B double from £70.
  • 2 Hillside Hotel, 3 Queen's Rd EH42 1RB, ☏ +44 1368 862071. Simple friendly hotel. B&B double £90.

Connect

Go next

  • North Berwick 10 miles north has the Scottish Seabird Centre and Tantallon Castle. Stay on this scenic A198 coastal route to Edinburgh rather than dash along A1.
  • Berwick-upon-Tweed is a historic border town, with well-preserved walls and old centre.
  • Edinburgh, Scotland's spectacular capital city, is only 30 miles west.




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