The Lothians consist of the three former counties of East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian. The land is generally low-lying to the north, rising to moorland and hills in the south, with areas of industry to the west and expanses of good arable farmland to the east. Being close to Edinburgh, this area is at the heart of Scottish history, full of castles, grand houses and churches. It is also a place of quiet, pastoral villages and marvellous scenery. The only towns that could possibly be said to be industrial are Dalkeith, Bo’ness, Armadale and Bathgate, and even here industry never intrudes too much.
Dominating it all is the city of Edinburgh, which probably has more history per square mile than any other comparable place in the world. But it’s a compact city, and its suburbs haven’t yet gobbled up too much countryside. Behind the city are the Pentland Hills, a lonely area of high moorland stretching southwest towards the Lanarkshire boundary, and to the south and southeast are the Moorfoot and Lammermuir Hills respectively, which thrust down into the Borders.
East Lothian (formerly Haddingtonshire) is a farming county, a patchwork of fields and woodland dotted all over with small, neat villages. The quiet country lanes cry out to be explored by car, and though there is none of the grandeur of the Highlands here - indeed, the scenery has, like Ayrshire, an almost rural English feel to it - it is still a beautiful area. The land rises to the south where it meets the Lammermuir Hills. Here, the landscape changes though it never loses its gentle aspect. Haddington is the county town and is full of old buildings. The main Edinburgh-London railway line bypassed it, so it never developed as a place of industry. The town’s main building is the cathedralesque St Mary’s Church, the tower of which is sometimes called the Lamp of the Lothians. A succession of small resorts and golfing centres ring the coastline, though none have been commercialised to any great extent.
Mid Lothian was at one time called Edinburghshire. Towards the south it meets the Moorfoot Hills, and has a string of small towns sitting like satellites round Edinburgh itself. Coalmining was once important here, though all vestiges of the industry have now gone. It is home to such places as Dalkeith and Bonnyrigg, which have never been overwhelmed by industry. Plus, of course, it has the world-famous Rosslyn Chapel, which, people claim (and Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code supported) conceals a mystery that goes right to the heart of Christianity.
Before 1975, the county town of West Lothian was Linlithgow. It is an ancient burgh with a royal palace where Mary Stuart, better known as Mary, Queen of Scots, was born. West Lothian is more industrial in character than the other two Lothians, and at one time had coal and shale mines, the latter being used to produce oil. Both industries have gone, though the occasional red shale spoil heap (called a bing hereabouts) can still be seen.
But there are still plenty of tranquil places to be visited, such as Torphichen, with its preceptory of St John, and South Queensferry, in the shadow of the two Forth bridges. A full day could be taken up exploring Linlithgow itself, with its royal palace, medieval church, canal basin and old stone buildings. Then there are the county’s grand houses, such as Hopetoun and The Binns, which deserve to be visited and explored.