Prestongrange in the coastal village of Prestonpans is a free-to-visit outdoor museum that showcases the fascinating industrial heritage of East Lothian. The museum aims to educate visitors about the 800 years of industrial activity that left its mark on the area, from the almost-vanished harbour to its long-abandoned colliery.
|Opening Hours:||Open 24/7.
Cafe/visitor centre open 8 April to 30 September, 6 days a week Friday to Wednesday, 11 am to 4:30 pm. Closed on Thursday.
|Parking:||Free car parking area|
|Contact:||0131 653 2904|
|Facilities:||Cafe, visitor centre, audio tour|
Prestongrange Museum is an outdoor historic site located in Prestonpans not far from the banks of the Firth of Forth in East Lothian.
The village of Prestonpans is relatively unknown by Scotland’s tourists which is unfortunate because there’s a surprising amount of things to do if you spend a little time looking for them. The museum is situated in an attractive part of Prestonpans with a thick copse of woodland behind it and a scenic view of the Forth in front.
It’s remarkable that Prestongrange was at one time the site of intense industrial activity with a harbour, a colliery and a brickworks, but today there are just a few buildings remaining to give visitors a glimpse of East Lothian’s abandoned coal mines.
Getting to Prestongrange Museum from Edinburgh is simple enough if you follow the signs to Prestonpans (the next village east after Musselburgh) and take the turning onto the B1348.
You’ll pass a turn-off for Levenhall Links nature reserve and a bit further on is the signposted entrance to Prestongrange Museum.
It’s a fairly nondescript road so keep your eyes open for the signposts, but there are a few railway coal wagons on either side to give you a clue about what lies ahead along with a limited amount of roadside parking just before the main entrance.
Once inside you’re free to walk around at your leisure to look at the old buildings and machinery, with the majority of the exhibits located in the area at the back towards the woodland (and behind those trees is the world’s sixth-oldest golf course).
Once there you’ll find the remains of the railway lines that transported coal in and out of the site as well as the steam-powered machinery that operated the coal mines.
Mining was one of East Lothian’s main industries for hundreds of years but many of the old pits ceased production in the 1980s leaving just a few buildings behind to mark their presence on the landscape.
Prestongrange is no exception, although the buildings there range in age from the Victorian era through to the mid-1900s with a Cornish beam engine at one end of the scale and a brick kiln at the other.
It’s difficult to imagine exactly how the site would have looked in its heydey but it’s certainly enough to get an idea of the scale of the industry that at one time thrived in Scotland.
The only negative I can think of (it’s not really a negative as such, more of a ‘would-be-nice-to-have’), is that the big buildings like the powerhouse and the brick kiln are closed so you can’t get inside them other than on a guided tour.
There’s a larger attraction dedicated to Scotland’s long-since-vanished coal industry at the National Mining Museum in Gorebridge, but Prestongrange Museum offers a nice alternative to that much busier site.
1: Prestongrange Museum is one of those often-overlooked attractions that make East Lothian such a great place for people to visit, and the fact that most tourists seem to stay in Edinburgh means it’s a nice alternative to the hustle and bustle of the city.
2: The outdoor museum is free to enter and coupled with the conservation area across the road and the battlefield you’ll get a good family afternoon out for the grand total of exactly zero pounds.
3: The telephone audio guide is a great idea. Just dial the number at each point of interest to hear a description of its history.
1: There isn’t a huge amount of parking at the museum but there are a few spaces on the road leading to the entrance. I don’t think you’ll ever struggle to park but just be aware the spaces are limited.
2: The on-site café is decent and they serve locally-sourced produce but unfortunately it’s only open in summer. Support the museum by grabbing a bite in the café while you’re there.
3: If you visit outside of the museum’s opening times between April and September you’ll find a few cafés and takeaways in Prestonpans high street. Musselburgh is a much bigger town with more restaurants but if you’re a tourist it would be better to take a train from Prestonpans as you’ll be in Edinburgh city centre within 15 minutes.
I have to give bonus points to East Lothian Museums who have done a good job of setting up information panels at each point of interest with an audio guide that’s available by calling different phone numbers. The audio guides are quite interesting and it’s a nice touch considering the entire museum is completely free to visit.
There are guided tours between April and September but to be honest I feel half the fun of places like this is just setting off in whatever direction you fancy and seeing what you stumble across.
While it’s not exactly going to take you all afternoon to look at what’s on offer you’ll find more than enough to keep you occupied for a good hour, or longer if you grab a cuppa and a snack in the on-site café.
Most of the outdoor areas have been laid to grass and thankfully dog walkers appear to clean up after their mutts so there’s no problem letting the kids burn off some energy in the open spaces on the occasional sunny days we get in Scotland.
It would be a good place to sit down with a picnic as well, especially if you’re looking for somewhere that’s away from the busy crowds of Edinburgh.
While Prestonpans isn’t exactly a hotspot of tourism there are a couple of other interesting places to investigate after you’ve walked around Prestongrange Museum.
First off I highly recommend you cross the road and take a walk through the 134-hectare Levenhall Links which at one time was the site of the colliery ash disposal but is now a haven for wildlife. The views across the Firth of Forth are lovely and if you spend a little time walking around you’ll eventually find a couple of hides where you can watch a variety of birds nesting and feeding.
The paths throughout the conservation area are well-maintained and easily accessible so it’s a great place to go for a family walk, but I’d only plan for an hour there unless you want to spend extra time in the boating lake or the playing fields.
The other site of interest you might like to visit after Prestongrange Museum is the Battle of Prestonpans battlefield which is located at the opposite end of the village past the rail station on the B1361.
The battlefield was the site of one of the most important events in Scottish history when in 1745 the Jacobites, led by the ‘Bonnie Prince’ Charles Stuart defeated the government army under the command of Sir John Cope. The entrance is marked with a memorial cairn and you’ll find the battlefield viewing platform on top of a small hill (you can’t miss it) where information panels lay out the events as they happened across the fields in front.
There’s a bucket-load of attractions to discover in East Lothian but I’d suggest the battlefield, the conservation park, and Prestongrange Museum are the highlights of a visit to Prestonpans so I wouldn’t spend any longer in the village after you’ve visited them.
That being said, if you want an overview of this under-visited county you might want to take a look at my Guide to the Best Places to Visit in East Lothian.
Things to Do
Explore the History of Mining: Step back in time and get an insight into the life of a coal miner at the Prestongrange Mining Museum. The museum houses an assortment of mining artefacts including original machinery and tools which showcase East Lothian’s industrial past.
Enjoy Outdoor Displays: The museum is home to several impressive displays, such as the massive Cornish beam engine and the even bigger brick kiln. The site also showcases winding gear, a steam engine, and a long-abandoned train line.
Have a Coffee: The Pithead canteen cafe (open during the summer only) serves light snacks and drinks and has table seating. You can also take a picnic and enjoy an al-fresco lunch on the lawn.
Listen to an Audio Tour: Make the most of your visit by listening to the free audio tour using headsets provided by the visitor centre. You can also listen on your mobile phone. The tour will lead you through the site, sharing intriguing stories and historical facts about the mine and the people who worked there.
Join a Guided Tour: Make the most of your visit by joining a guided tour. Knowledgeable guides will take you around the site, sharing intriguing stories and historical facts about the mine and the people who worked there. Paid tours last around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Things to Do Nearby
Inveresk Lodge Garden. 24 Inveresk Village Road, Musselburgh, East Lothian, EH21 7TE. 7-minute drive.
Inveresk Lodge Garden is a National Trust for Scotland 17th-century house with an expansive walled landscaped garden. The garden is home to a variety of wildlife and features an Edwardian glasshouse, a pond, a woodland, and large lawn areas.
The John Muir Way. Prestonpans EH21 8JS. 2-minute walk.
The John Muir Way is a cross-country walking trail that runs from Helensburgh on the west coast to Dunbar on the east coast. The section at Prestonpans is easily picked up from Prestongrange Museum though part of it veers onto the pavement for several miles.
Levenhall Links and Musselburgh Lagoons Nature Reserve. 2 Hope Pl, Musselburgh EH21 7QE. 15-minute walk.
A nature reserve and popular bird-watching site that has been created from reclaimed coal excavations from nearby quarries.
Carberry Tower Mansion House. Carberry Tower Estate, Musselburgh EH21 8PY. 10-minute drive.
A grand 18th-century country house set in 35 acres of countryside. The house is open both as a hotel and as a restaurant. The grounds are free to visit and paths run to Queen Mary’s Mount where Mary Queen of Scots is said to have rested after her defeat in Edinburgh.
Gosford House and Grounds. Gosford House, Longniddry EH32 0PY. 15-minute drive.
A country house that is open for private events and public open days. The grounds are open year-round and offer picturesque walks through managed woodland.
Newhailes Estate. Newhailes, Musselburgh EH21 6RY. 9-minute drive.
An 18th-century manor house managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Partially restored and kept in the original condition from the 1700s. Open for guided tours. Features woodland walks and an adventure play area.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Prestonpans known for?
Prestonpans is known for its rich history and is particularly famous for the Battle of Prestonpans, which was one of the major battles in the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
Visitors who’d like to know more about the battle will find a battlefield viewpoint and heritage trail at the northern end of the village just off the B1361.
In addition, the town is known for its traditional industries of salt panning, coal mining, and pottery. It also has beautiful murals scattered throughout the town that depict scenes of its historical and industrial past.
Why do they call it the Firth of Forth?
The Firth of Forth is called so because it’s the estuary or firth of Scotland’s River Forth. The term ‘firth’ is used in Scotland to denote a considerable estuary of the sea, and in this case, it’s associated with the River Forth. So, it basically means ‘the estuary of the River Forth’.
Are there any coal mines left in Scotland?
There are a few former coal mines in Scotland that have been preserved for their historical significance. One of them is the National Mining Museum Scotland located in Newtongrange, Midlothian. This museum was previously the Lady Victoria Colliery, one of the finest remaining examples of a Victorian colliery in Europe.
What can I do in Prestonpans?
Preston Tower: A historic site in the middle of the village, Preston Tower gives you a chance to step back in time and learn about the history of Prestonpans.
Prestongrange Museum: This open-air museum offers a glimpse into the industrial past of the area with displays on mining, brick-making, and pottery.
John Muir Way: A beautiful coastal walk that stretches across East Lothian, offering stunning views from start to finish.
Prestonpans Battlefield: Visit the site of the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans and learn about this historical event.
The Gothenburg: A historic pub to sample local beer and traditional Scottish food.