The Out About Scotland complete guide to walking from the Athelstaneford National Flag Centre to the Hopetoun Monument
What’s this attraction all about?
This lovely walk across the rolling countryside of East Lothian will take you from a starting point at the birthplace of Scotland’s national flag to the 95-foot Hopetoun Monument on Byres Hill in the Garleton Hills area near Haddington.
This is an easy walk at around 5 miles that should only take 2-3 hours to complete so its perfect for a quick jaunt to get some fresh air on a sunny afternoon, and you’ll even see a bit of history along the way.
Starting in the small village of Athelstaneford you’ll first stop to look at the museum dedicated to the Saltire – Scotland’s national flag – that was adopted by the nation in 832 AD. After a look inside the museum you’ll take a romp across fields before stopping halfway to check out the ruins of a half-finished fort, with another short walk leading you to a monument that offers panoramic views across the Firth of Forth and North Berwick.Read more...
The National Flag Heritage Centre
Athelstaneford is quite a small village and to be honest if the National Flag Centre wasn’t in the grounds of the parish church you probably wouldn’t ever visit it. It’s a nice place to start this walk though, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t head round the back of the church to check out the museum before heading onto the route that leads to the Hopetoun Monument.
The museum is unusual because it occupies an old doocot (a building originally used to keep pigeons) so it’s quite small, but even so, The National Flag Trust has managed to fit an exhibition about the origins of the Saltire inside it, complete with a video telling the story of the flag’s origins along with an information panel. It’s worth taking a look outside the doocot as well because there are nice views across the fields towards North Berwick, and you can just about make out the Bass Rock in the distance.
I was surprised to discover how interesting the story of the Saltire is, not just because it’s the oldest flag in Europe but also because its origins are pretty unusual.
The story goes that in 832AD a battle occurred just outside of modern-day Athelstaneford between an army of Scots and a much larger army of Anglo Saxons. The Scots, fearing they were about to be massacred, prayed to God for help and were soon rewarded with the sight of a white cross formed by clouds across the blue East Lothian sky. The Scots king believed this was a sign from St. Andrew (who was crucified on a diagonal cross), so he vowed to make him the patron saint of Scotland if they won the battle.
The Scots did indeed win – against great odds – and King Angus was true to his word, adopting Andrew as the nation’s patron saint. The story is told in greater detail inside the museum and there’s also a depiction of the battle scene carved into a granite plinth on the opposite side of the graveyard which is ideal for a quick selfie or two.
I have to say I enjoyed my brief visit to the National Flag Centre and I think it’s pretty incredible that the birth of Scotland’s most famous emblem originated in this obscure little village in the middle of East Lothian.
You’ll find the remains of Barnes Castle halfway between the National Flag Centre and the Hopetoun Monument at the side of the track leading through open farmland. When I first saw it I thought it was just the ruins of a farm storeroom, but it’s actually an unfinished castle built in the late 16th-century.
The walls are several feet thick and they’re built with big stones like you see in castle’s throughout Scotland, but the walls are only about ten feet high. It’s a weird-looking building but it’s in a great location perched in the middle of farmland with lovely views looking out towards Fife in the distance.
The low-roofed structure was actually built by Sir John Seton of Barnes as a monastic grange – a landholding run by a monastery to provide food – but was never finished after Sir John died in 1594. There are quite a few rooms inside and you can explore them if you like but there’s a lot of old farm debris lying about so watch out for sharp bits of metal sticking out of the ground. It’s a bit creepy in there too so you might want to give it a miss if you’re visiting when the light’s fading.
The Hopetoun Monument
The Hopetoun Monument was built in 1824 in memory of the 4th Earl of Hopetoun, and it offers amazing from the viewing platform at the top. The monument is situated on the top of Byres Hill and to be honest you’ll have a job missing it because it dominates the skyline for miles around.
The B-listed monument is best reached from the small car park at the base of the hill where you’ll find a path running through thick gorse bushes all the way to the open hilltop. Once at the plinth you’ll find an open doorway leading onto a narrow winding staircase which will take you all the way up to the viewing platform 30 metres above, and from there you’ll find stupendous 360-degree views looking out across the Firth of Forth, Fife, and Edinburgh.
One thing to note is that there aren’t any lights inside so it’s pretty dark. I recommend you take a torch with you when you visit because the steps are quite worn down in places so you’ll need to take care climbing them. And because there are open slots in the walls you might find a nesting bird suddenly flys out of nowhere which can give you (me…) a bit of a fright.
What I liked about this attraction
- You’ll see a lot of history in a short space of time on this walk
- The Saltire museum is an interesting wee place
- The Hopetoun Monument offers fantastic views from the top
What I didn’t like about this attraction
- The National Flag Museum is unmanned so it’s sometimes closed during the day
- To get to the Hopetoun Monument on this walk you’ll have to cross a busy-ish road. Take care when crossing.
- If it’s been raining you’re going to get really muddy crossing those fields
Athelstaneford Parish Church,
This is an easy walk across farmland that’s relatively level although it can get very muddy in winter. Starting at Athelstanford head to the church and have a good look around the National Flag Centre at the rear of the graveyard before returning to the road and following the footpath directly opposite.
This path will take you down a country lane and onto a small wooden bridge at which point you’ll turn left and continue over a turnstile and up a gently sloping field. At the end of this field turn right and follow the track until you see Barnes Castle.
After a quick look at the castle continue in the same direction and skirt left around the farmhouse before turning right on the B-road. A little way up is a signpost that’ll point you onto another path leading through fields and towards the top you’ll see a communications mast and the Hopetoun Monument in the distance.
You can continue in this direction towards the monument if you like but it’ll mean crossing a road, so if you don’t fancy braving the traffic I suggest you return to Athelstaneford and drive to the car park at the bottom of Byres Hill where you’ll find a path leading directly to the monument.
Prices and opening times
The Flag Heritage Centre at Athelstaneford is open daily between 9.00am and 6.00pm from April to October, and on St Andrews Day. Admission is free.
The walk to the Hopetoun Monument is free and the route is open 24/7, 365 days a year.