Start location: Dunbar (NT 684 785)
End location: A68, at entrance to Thirlestane Castle, Lauder (NT 534 474)
Geographical area: Lothian and Borders
Path Type: Trade Route
Path distance: 45km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians, Suitable for Bikes
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Newsflash: 8th July 2020 sees a guided walk in the Lammermuirs using the Herring Road as part of the Walks Programme arranged by ScotWays for its members; this year the walks celebrate ScotWays' 175th Anniversary. Other historic routes featured include the Thieves Road (Feshiebridge), the Stoneymollan Road, the Cauldstane Slap, the Old Road to Macduff's Cross and the Spout of Ballochleam. If you're not yet a ScotWays member, please consider joining up as membership helps support the Heritage Paths project and it'd be great to see you on the walks!
From Dunbar, a direct route by road runs by Spott and Spott Mill to Halls (NT653727). However, if walking or cycling, the Spott Road's roundabout junction with the A1 is best avoided. Instead, head southeast out of Dunbar on the A1087. At Broxburn a right turn should be made to pick up a road that used to link to the A1. Look out for a track on the left running along the north side of the railway. Following this route southeast, it drops down steps to the Brox Burn and passes under both the railway and the A1. The onward route is a lovely track through woodland and along field edges which contours round the northwest side of Doon Hill heading towards Spott House. Before reaching the big house, a track heads northwest via Doon to drop down to the Spott Burn and the road to Spott, thus picking up the road route to Halls.
From Halls, continue south-southeast in the direction of Hartside. At the roadend cattlegrid (NT654722), a signposted track heads east for 300m before passing through a gate then heading south uphill on a good track. At NT658715, where the track turns east below Easter Hartside Edge, instead pass through a kissing gate (as of November 2016 awaiting repair) and head south more steeply uphill. At NT657708, the Herring Road is rejoined by the good track which has ascended the Edge, but shortly diverges again from this more dominant line (the old right of way to Friardykes and Beltondod) and instead heads south-southwest entering Crystal Rig windfarm at NT654702. Here a notice board shows the relationship between windfarm tracks and the pre-existing rights of way. Keep on the same general alignment to cross the upper reaches of Mossy Burn and reach the first windfarm access track. From here a combination of ScotWays markerposts and additional windfarm signposts attempt to aid navigation through the windfarm site*. Descend Spartleton Edge on its west side to reach the Whiteadder Water, 1km south of Johnscleugh.
Continue by road south-southeast to the Whiteadder Reservoir, round its western end to Penshiel and south by a track to cross the Longformacus road. From here, the promoted Herring Road route proceeds by a right of way on the east side of Killpallet Burn, passes through the march fence (in May 2017, the gate was reported as nailed shut, now awaiting resolution) and descends to Dye Cottage. After crossing the Dye Water, go south to NT647562 to follow the Southern Upland Way (passing Twinlaw Cairns) to Braidshawrig.
From Braidshawrig the direct and shortest route to Lauder is by an old track going southwest across the moor on the west side of Blythe Water. In 2km, the SUW (which takes a different route from Braidshawrig) is rejoined. The waymarked SUW route (which in parts follows the right of way) goes southwest to the plantation ahead where the wall at the edge of the wood is followed to its south end. Turn right after a stile to enter the wood and take the first turning left down to Wanton Walls. Continue down to cross the A697 and follow the waymarked route through a wood and over the Leader Water by Thirlestane Castle to Lauder.
*It may be clear from the above that the Herring Road passes through Crystal Rig windfarm and has become more difficult to follow as a result. There are plans to improve the signage, but if you'd like a general idea of what to expect at present, read Dixe Wills' description of he and his friend's wild camping trip travelling the entire route from Dunbar to Lauder in January 2015. If you're considering cycling the Herring Road, we suggest MTB Innerwick Stravaiger's excellent blog of his journey from Lauder to Dunbar in July 2014.
OS Landranger 67 (Duns, Dunbar & Eyemouth) & 73 (Peebles, Galashiels & surrounding area)
The Herring Road is thought to have been predominantly in use during the 18th and 19th centuries when the herring industry was strong, although records of the inland trade in fish go back to the mid-17th century. The route was used by people bringing home a stock of salted herring for winter use and also by fishwives carrying huge creels of herring from Dunbar to the markets in Lauder. There are parts of the route where V-shaped gouges may be evidence of the repeated use of heavily laden carts or packhorses, perhaps trying to get through the mud.
The first part between Dunbar and the Whiteadder Water is the original road; between there and Lauder the Herring Road is shown on the old OS 6-inch map as lying further west, over Hunt Law and Wedder Law. Roy's map of 1755 appears to shows the road slightly further west again, going over Meikle Says Law, Hunt Law and Wedder Law, and thence to Cleekhimin (2km south of Carfraemill) and Lauder, and calls it ‘Muir Road from Lauder to Dunbar’. However, the exact line appears to have moved over time, possibly dependent upon ground conditions. It's also worth noting that Lauder wasn't the only destination, for example, in the eighteenth century people from Westruther were said to travel to Dunbar at Lammas to get a stock of herring for the winter. Fish-carriers or cadgers also transported fish inland for sale. Old maps show that a network of routes across the Lammermuirs; the promoted Herring Road signposted today is thus just one variant.
Gradually the speed and ease of the railway lines left little need for people to carry huge weights of fish over the high ground of the Lammermuirs and the routes declined in use. It is probably a long time since a herring has passed by this way.
More recently, the Herring Road has inspired artistic reflection and interpretation. Phamie Gow's 2002 album Lammermuir includes a track called The Herring Road. In 2011, Haddington's Peter Potter Gallery commissioned Julia Douglas, Wounded Knee and Ross Combe to consider the route's cultural heritage as inspiration for an exhibition on the Herring Road. That year also saw the publication of Rita Bradd's evocative poem Herrin Trail. In August 2016, Creel Loaders by Gardner Molloy was completed and installed at the junction of Victoria Street and Castle Gate, near Dunbar harbour. This stone statue depicts a woman being loaded up with a basket of fish in preparation for the long walk to Lauder - we suggest then that Dunbar Harbour should still be considered an appropriate place to start a journey along the Herring Road.
In August 2016, ScotWays completed the first stage of its Lammermuirs project with the publication of a new map of the Lammermuirs which shows the Herring Road and other historic routes. Further signposting work is intended, and although signage surveys have already been undertaken by ScotWays volunteers, additional feedback on routes in the Lammermuirs generally and on signage in particular continues to be very welcome.
Another historic route similarly used for the trade in fish is the Buckie Fishwives Path, Moray.