According to the East Lothian Courier, the grassland on top of Traprain Law was ablaze last weekend. The fire was believed to have been started by a dropped cigarette end. Archaeologists are apparently currently excavating the site, and were this week trying to decide how much damage had been caused to the hill fort... continues...
This is one of those sites where the reputation of the place precedes it... the traveller feeling compelled to visit. This volcanic extrusion (hark at me!) certainly offers a spectacular profile, rising seemingly virtually from sea level upon the coastal plain, albeit a profile somewhat defaced by quarrying at the north-eastern end... why, oh why, oh why? Clearly this was an obvious site to establish a hillfort, both from a military perspective and, judging from Neolithic artefacts recovered here, possessing the necessary 'otherworldly' attributes, too. 'Sacred Hill', indeed.
The summit is most easilly gained via a path from the 'official' car parks below the northern flank, a short, reasonably steep climb. Outcrops of volcanic rock afford natural defence to the southern flank, so the surviving lines of drystone rampart protect the former, circling around the hillside to the west. Although not particularly impressive nowadays, relatively speaking, clearly this was once a powerful fortress, bearing in mind the topography. The summit of the mountain itself features the standard OS trig point and, of far greater importance, what I take to be the remnants of the kerb of a former Bronze Age cairn? Or is that being a little too fanciful?
As you might expect from such an isolated, coastal hill, Traprain Law is a stunning viewpoint. It really is. To the north, the stupendous curtain wall of Tantallon Castle is just visible before the - frankly bizarre - Bass Rock, with the equally noteworthy hillfort of Berwick Law to its left. Edinburgh crowns the approx western horizon, while the southern aspect is that of agriculture, the very basis of Iron Age wealth.
As I sit, an elderly, local man comes over for a chat. He is attired in 'formal' shoes and a cardie and comments upon how cold the wind is for May. 'You don't say?' thinks I, clad in fleece and Gortex. 'Yeah, I lost my wife to pneumonia this February', he adds... 'always wanted to come up here'... and the poignancy of this moment floors me like the proverbial sledgehammer blow to the head. Thankfully the old gent sets off back down before a vicious hail front sweeps in to give me a fearsome battering that is anything but 'proverbial'. It is primeval, invigorating, somewhat un-nerving and more eloquent than I can ever be in describing this hilltop. It IS Traprain Law.
Traprain Law, East Lothian
Friday 21/9/01 4:35pm
This is East Lothians 'Dunadd'- this hill dominates the East Lothian skyline as it rises out of the fertile farming plains all around. I can even see this mound from window in my work place in Edinburgh and it's visible from many other points across the Capital and Mid Lothian. This must have been a great Mother of a central point for the megalith builders living around here- certainly- along its west base is a line of standing stones from Standingstone Farm, through Loths Stone, ending at another monolith just outside East Linton. The only other dominating feature of the land around here is the perfect cone of Berwick Law- another focal point for ancient civilisations. The climb up here is probably the most precarious I've done to any ancient site- my very limited climbing/scrambling skills certainly came in useful. I came up by the NE side of this ancient mound (not the easiest route I later found out!) which has been quarried in complete blinding disregard for this place. The presence of the quarry makes the climb up kinda scary and not for those like me trying to ignore the far-too-high drop to the right. This is the first time I've come up here though it's been on my skyline all my life whenever I look towards the east. Driving here along the amazing country roads I rounded a small hill and it all of a sudden loomed over me filling the windscreen- 'Fuck' was my exact words! This place has been occupied/used from Neolithic, through Bronze (when it was used for burials), Iron ages up through Roman to about 5th century AD- jeez- that's about 5000 years! It's very size and position acts as a natural defence but there's also man-made fortifications all around extending for over 100 m and up to 3.5 m thick. In more recent times this area has become the focus of paranormal/UFO research as the skies above my head have been filled with glowing orbs. Today it's misty and I can't even see as far as Edinburgh. There's only one way back down from here and methinks it's a sliding-down-on-yer-arse job!
Take the A1 east from Edinburgh and head through Haddington on to East Linton. From here take the road south heading towards the might of Traprain Law itself. Pass Traprain and Sunnyside farms and take the next right following the signs. There's a couple of car parks- the second one from this direction has some Historic Scotland boards telling of history, folklore, natural history etc.
Somewhere in the vicinity lived the Pictish king called Loth (around 518). He had a daughter called Thenew who fell in love with a local shepherd. This didn't please Loth and he condemned his daughter to death by having her thrown form the top of Traprain Law. She survived though and still unconscious was carried to a coracle and set afloat on the Firth of Forth. The tide carried her to Culross, where the still unconscious princess was taken ashore by shepherds. Sometime after, she bore a son called Kentigern, who trained as a holy man and was later called Mungo. When he grew up he travelled west and set up a monastery in a small village called Cathures- this grew into the great city of Glasgow- of which Mungo is the patron saint.
The shepherd who fell in love with Thenew took revenge on Loth and killed him with an arrow through his heart and legend has it he was buried at the foot of Traprain Law.
In 1861 Professor James Young Simpson (he of anaesthetic fame) examined the stones around the Law in the hope of discovering Loths grave. Forty foot east of the original site of Loths Stone a stone cist was discovered.
The April edition of PAST is now online and includes:-
THE NEW ROCK ART DISCOVERIES AT TRAPRAIN LAW
TRAPRAIN LAW: ARCHAEOLOGY FROM THE ASHES
A Late Bronze Age axe hoard, Roman Iron Age occupation levels and ecclesiastical remains from the Medieval period testify to the significance of this site over several millennia