Walking Solo: Gosford Estate, East Lothian

Posted by in November's Magazine

Carolyn McKerracher

I often wonder why autumn is so popular as a season. It is, after all, about dying, about endings, about grief and about loss, shrinking daylight and falling clocks. Spring, on the other hand, is all light nights, galloping lambs, rebirths and hope.   

I love the colour green, but somehow I find spring too green. Too happy. Like that annoying person at work whose life is fantastic. Even when you know it’s not. 



I prefer autumn. The colours are the colours of life. A palette of reds used to light up the streets, the riverbanks and the parks. A walk in autumn is like rejuvenation for the soul. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, the days are getting shorter. Yes, it’s nearly the X word. But it is also the most beautiful time of year.

One of my favourite autumn walks is at Gosford Estate in Longniddry, East Lothian. Bordering the coastline, Craigielaw golf course and the John Muir Way, the Estate is comprised of 5,000 acres of trees, grasses and ponds, a nineteenth century mansion (designed by Robert Adam and featured in the 2001 film of the same name) and a farm shop with cafe. The house is only open for a few days each year, so check the website (http://www.gosfordhouse.co.uk/), but the farm shop (Gosford Bothy), situated just off the A198, before Aberlady, is open 7 days a week. Take an East Coast bus (124, X24, X5) from Fountainbridge, Princes St or Waterloo Place, to Craigielaw golf course, or the first stop in Aberlady. Or park in the Bothy car park.

One day, having been out Walking Solo on the coast, I popped in to the Bothy for some eggs, veg and a cheeky wee coffee and cake. As I sat on the decking outside, quietly sipping my latte, a small boy at the next table suddenly shouted,

“Look at that ginormous cabbage!”

The old curling lodge at Gosford Estate

Heads turned. Admittedly, the brassica I’d had to place on a seat of its own beside me was very large indeed. Rather like an extra in the tale of the Enormous Turnip. I smiled. On the other hand, perhaps the small boy had heard about my first ill-fated visit to Gosford Estate…

I had been working for a charity in East Lothian and was tasked with taking a 5yr old out for the day during the school holidays. Her mother had said:

“Take her to the ponds at Gosford Estate. She loves it there.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know it,” I replied diligently, conscious of my health and safety/safeguarding responsibilities. 

“Don’t worry,” she replied breezily, “she knows the ponds like the back of her hand. She’ll show you the way.”

Easily (and foolishly) reassured, we set off in my car, as I told myself that ‘The Ponds’ were probably just small cousins of those in Inverleith Park. Sadly, they’re not.

I prefer autumn. The colours are the colours of life. A palette of reds used to light up the streets, riverbanks and parks

Gosford Estate is like something out of an Agatha Christie novel. Quite simply, spellbinding. The majestic mansion is hidden amongst a tranquil oasis of still water, floating swans, trees of all species and a scattering of magical 19th century outhouses, all made of local stone and decorated with shells. It is a bewitching place. Perfect for silent contemplation, slow walking – or a game of hide and seek. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit confusing. 

When I say, ‘a bit confusing’, I mean we had a full-on Hansel and Gretel situation going on. And I didn’t bring any pebbles. 

After an idyllic hour of hide-n-seek (me with one eye open all the time – I am not completely irresponsible), I suddenly realised I was lost. Turning to the 5yr old for advice (that phrase itself should be a cause for concern), I discovered that her ‘back of the hand’ knowledge was seriously lacking. It was also at this point that I ascertained that Mum had never been to Gosford Ponds. Granny had always taken her.

Not wanting to alert Mum to our ‘Lost in 5,000 acres of Woods’ situation, but also acutely aware (too late) of my health and safety/safeguarding responsibilities, I kept Mum in the (partial) loop by phoning regularly to reassure her that we were having fun and would be back soon. 

Three hours later, a fortunate encounter with a gardener at the locked iron gates and a 1.5mile walk back along the coast, we finally made it to the car. 

I confessed to Mum and thankfully it has never hit the tabloids – so far.

Later, I discovered that you need a permit to walk in the grounds. This costs £1 from the Bothy and you get a free map. I’d totally recommend it. 

Though I’d still take a ball of twine.

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