The Lothians is the collective name for the three counties of Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian in the Central Belt of Scotland. They're all lowland in nature, heavily populated around Edinburgh, and bounded to the north by the Firth of Forth, to the south by the Lammermuir hills. In ancient times Lothian was a province of Northumbria, becoming part of Scotland in 973 AD. There are half-a-dozen plausible sources for the name, which means no-one knows.
Cities, towns and villages
- 1 Edinburgh is the Lothians' centre of gravity and the capital of Scotland. It's a must-see destination for its combination of arts & entertainment (year-round, not just at the Festival), history and culture, and natural scenery, with the Castle crags and volcanic cliffs of Arthur's Seat looming over it.
East Lothian is the most scenic of the city hinterlands. The coast is muddy near the city but improves as you go east. Then comes a "Costa Golf" of sand hills, ruined castles and pine woods; finally cliffs and craggy islets.
- 2 Musselburgh is a small commuter town just east of Edinburgh.
- 3 Aberlady is an attractive seaside village. The salt marshes of the bay are a wildlife reserve.
- 4 Gullane is a seaside village with a notable golf course.
- 5 North Berwick is a small harbour town, the usual base for trips to the 1 Bass Rock.
- 6 Dunbar was where the conservationist John Muir grew up, before moving to the US.
- 7 Haddington is a pleasant market town with a whisky distillery and aircraft museum nearby.
- 8 Tranent has an industrial museum at nearby Prestonpans.
Midlothian was a coal-mining area in the 19th & 20th C.
- 9 Dalkeith is the main town. Just south in Newtongrange is the Scottish Mining Museum.
- 10 Roslin village has the renowned 15th C Rosslyn chapel - see South Edinburgh for details.
- 11 Penicuik is a commuter village and army base. The view improves as you head into the 2 Pentland Hills.
West Lothian in the 19th C had the world's first oil industry, based on shale oil, and was long an ugly industrial then post-industrial mess; but it has some gems.
- 12 Livingston is a 1960s "New Town," yet near to a Bronze Age burial henge and a base for the medieval Knights Hospitaller.
- 13 South Queensferry is an attractive small harbour town beneath the Forth rail and road bridges.
- 14 Linlithgow Palace was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots.
- 15 Bo'ness has a heritage steam railway.
All transport routes converge on Edinburgh. The 1 airport is 8 miles west of the city, with good UK and European flight connections.
There are frequent daytime trains to Edinburgh from London Kings Cross via Peterborough, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle, plus a nightly sleeper from London Euston. Trains run from Southwest England and the Midlands via Sheffield, York and Newcastle (these also stop at Dunbar), from Manchester airport and city, and frequently from Glasgow (some stopping at Linlithgow) and Stirling. Trains from Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee run to Edinburgh every couple of hours.
Buses run to Edinburgh from London Victoria, Belfast, and frequently from Glasgow and the other major Scottish cities. They mostly bypass the other Lothian towns, so you may have to travel into central Edinburgh and journey out again.
There are trains from Edinburgh to Dunbar, North Berwick, Linlithgow and Livingston. Take the bus for other routes, including South Queensferry where the trains rumble high above the village on the Forth Bridge.
Bicycles are not allowed on the new A1 between Edinburgh and Dunbar, on A720 the Edinburgh city bypass, or on much of the A90 from city's edge to South Queensferry. There are workaround bypassed old routes in each case. Bikes and pedestrians may only cross the Forth by the old road bridge A9000.
- Edinburgh itself will absorb most of your time, with its Old Town clambering up to the castle.
- A series of smaller castle ruins dot the landscape, the most attractive being Linlithgow Palace.
- Hopetoun House near South Queensferry is the most imposing stately home in the area.
- For wildlife, follow the coast to Gullane and Dunbar, with maybe a boat trip to the Bass Rock.
- Highland Games are held each year at Edinburgh Ingliston, North Berwick, and Bathgate near Linlithgow.
- "In Lothian? - no way!" Surprising sights include a nuclear power station at Dunbar, an original Concorde at East Fortune near Haddington, and a coal mine at Newtongrange near Dalkeith.
- Walk: the East Lothian coastline is attractive, and Glencorse above Penicuik leads into the Pentland Hills. A canal towpath leads from Edinburgh to Linlithgow and Falkirk, thence to Glasgow.
- Theatre: in August thousands of shows vie for your attention at the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.
- Ski: there's a dry-slope at Hillend above Edinburgh.
- Edinburgh has a huge concentration of eating places in all price ranges.
- Out-of-town standouts are La Potiniere in Gullane and Champany Inn in Livingston.
Edinburgh and Dunbar are the main brewing centres in the Lothians. Edinburgh has a long tradition of brewing but now only the Caledonian Brewery remains, which brews Caledonian 80/- (eighty shilling), Deuchars IPA (India Pale Ale) and some McEwan's beers (most are now brewed in England). Stewart Brewing is a small brewery in Loanhead just south of Edinburgh. Dunbar is home to Belhaven Brewery and Thistly Cross Cider.
Grain whisky is distilled in Edinburgh for blending, and Glenkinchie Distillery in Pencaitland near Edinburgh distils malt whisky. Gin is distilled in Edinburgh and North Berwick.
- Standard advice applies about dressing for a change in the weather, not leaving valuables on display in your car, and steer clear of the occasional Friday night drunk.
- Southeast for the Borders, with a series of ruined abbeys at Jedburgh, Melrose and Kelso. The cliffs of Berwickshire are very scenic.
- North into Fife for Culross and Dunfermline, the East Neuk fishing villages, and St Andrews.
- Northwest to Stirling for routes towards the Trossachs.
- Glasgow is a major destination in its own right.