Edinburgh - Off the beaten track
If you head south from Edinburgh, you'll find the lovely Tweed Valley - rolling hills, forests, castles, ruined abbeys and sheltered towns of the Borders that have a romance and beauty of their own. This is excellent cycling and walking country. Although parts, especially to the west, are wild and empty, the fertile valley of the River Tweed has been a wealthy region for 1000 years. The population was largely concentrated in a small number of burghs (towns, from 'burh,' meaning a defensive ring of forts), which also supported large and wealthy monastic communities. These provided an irresistible magnet during the border wars, and they were destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. The monasteries met their final fiery end in the mid-16th century, burnt by the English yet again, but this time English fire combined with the Scottish Reformation and they were never again rebuilt. The towns thrived once peace arrived and the traditional weavers provided the foundation for a major textile industry, which still survives.
Attractive Dunbar is a holiday resort and small fishing port on the east coast, 48km (30mi) from Edinburgh. It was the site of two important battles, both resulting in Scottish losses. Edward I invaded in 1296 and General Monck defeated a larger Scots army in 1650, facilitating Cromwell's entry into Edinburgh. John Muir (1838-1914), pioneer conservationist and 'father' of the US national park service, was born here. The John Muir House, the man's childhood home, has a small exhibition and audio-visual display on his life. A more adventurous option in the area is offshore diving to sites like Johnson's Hole or Old Harbour reef.
Gifford, a picturesque village 6.4km (4mi) south of Haddington, dates from the 17th century. By the 19th century it looked pretty much as it does now. Looking down on Main St is Yester Parish Church in which there's a memorial to John Witherspoon, one of the signatories to the American Declaration of Independence, who was born in the village. The slopes of the Lammermuir Hills begin south of Gifford, where several walking trails begin. You can pick up a snack for your walk from The Little Bread Shop, a small bakery near the river, where the women serve dressed in period costume.
Haddington, straddling the River Tyne 29km (18mi) east of Edinburgh, dates back to the 12th century when it was made a royal burgh by David I. Most of the modern town, however, was built between the 17th and 19th centuries during the period of great prosperity that resulted from the Agricultural Revolution. It's still a prosperous market town and the administrative centre for East Lothian. The prettiest part of Haddington is the tree-lined Court St, with its wide pavement and grand 18th- and 19th-century buildings.