As restrictions lifted across Scotland, we didn’t think twice about making our first family holiday a visit to East Lothian. For those of you who have never been, it lies at the east of Edinburgh and easily reached by car (if electric, a useful map to plan ahead) or public transport (bus or train) from central Scotland and northern England. East Lothian is very popular for families and it has many well-known locations such as North Berwick and Gullane, with attractions such as Archerfield Walled Garden and The Scottish Seabird Centre proving really popular, along with fascinating boat trips available.
We were visiting East Lothian looking to showcase some of the lesser known or visited regions of the area as well as some family favourites. We were staying at a newly renovated cottage at Carfrae Farm near Haddington, which was only 35 minutes’ drive from our home in Edinburgh. Carfrae Farm however felt a million miles away in its remote and peaceful setting at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills. At Carfrae there are a couple of converted luxury cottages which are used as holiday homes and lend themselves perfectly for couples and families alike, their largest has had the recent addition of a hot tub.
The journey itself is an absolute pleasure through the rolling hills, picturesque villages like Stenton with its towering Church and beautiful red roofed houses and quaint villages like Garvald. For anyone visiting East Lothian, I’d recommend you at least stay for two nights with three days to explore the region, but personally I’d recommend you stay longer to take in all it has to offer!
Below I have included a short overview / itinerary of our visit.
We left our home in Edinburgh late afternoon and as the sun shone we headed east towards the small village of Garvald. We were staying just outside the village at Carfrae Farm.
En route I had decided to stop off in Garvald, which is only a mile from Carfrae. It has a well-equipped playground for smaller kids, with seating if you’re bringing a snack. At the bottom of the park you will also find a small stream to watch the local wildlife roam. You will also find a few benches outside the local community hall and for a pub, the Garvald Inn is only a two minute walk.
After a good 30 minutes we jumped back into the car and headed up to Carfrae Farm. To check in we had been sent a code in advance for the key safe by the front door.
We settled into our home away from home, kids in the downstairs spacious bedroom and parents in the upstairs larger bedroom with a large en-suite with a free standing bath, overhanging shower and uninterrupted views over the countryside.
We had booked to go for dinner at the Garvald Inn on the first night. This is the nearest pub and restaurant. It has been run by husband and wife Elaine and Peter for the last 17 years. It offered a cosy and welcoming atmosphere, with good homemade quality food by Peter who is a trained chef. This was our first dinner out in months, so we were a little apprehensive about how the kids would react. I can report back that they did really well!
After dinner we headed back to our cottage. With a busy couple of days we wanted to have a good night’s rest. After the kids were in bed we lit the fireplace and it was time for a wee dram to start our Scottish holiday properly.
After a very comfortable and peaceful night’s sleep at Carfrae, we got ready to head out for the day, starting with a Farm Tour at Carfrae, which is part of several activities they offer either on site or locally. We visited the sheep and new lambs they have on the farm and to the excitement of the kids they even got to sit in a proper tractor.
We then drove 2 minutes to Garvald to meet Liz, a dentist turned farmer who has 45 sheep she is looking after, along with free roaming ducks and chickens. Here we and the kids got to meet and feed new lambs and learn more about them. I was privileged to grow up having chickens at home to look after and working on local farms. It was therefore fantastic to let our children have an experience of what farming life is all about. Hopefully this will help them understand the importance of agriculture and respecting animal welfare and even where our food comes from, not just a shop down the road.
After our Farm Tour we made a short 15 minute drive to Pressmannan Wood, where I had planned for us to do a bit of a forest walk. This worked well with our youngest having a sleep in the car park with my wife, while myself and our eldest went to explore. The full circular walk is about 1.5 hours, but we just did part of it in hope to find a few Glingbobs and Tooflits fairies and guess what, they were not at home despite our daughter knocking very gently on their little door! We had parked up and then followed the yellow stone down the hill and along the path and banks of the lake. It’s an easy walk, a little muddy so make sure you have appropriate footwear and not suitable for prams or buggies, but you could easily use a baby carrier, certainly for the part we walked. Before you go, you can now download the map and story in a leaflet below.
After our little forest walk, we made the 20 minute drive into the centre of the seaside town Dunbar. Here we had planned to visit one of their many local cafes and coffee houses. This time we settled on a favourite we had not been to for a little while, Graze Coffee and Chocolate House.
After a delicious lunch, which was finished off with homemade cakes and lovely coffees, we made a short walk along the high street to the conservationist and explorer John Muir’s Birthplace. We were fortunate the Museum had just reopened the day prior after restrictions lifting and we got a wonderful welcome from the team. The Museum lends itself perfectly for kids of any age with various activities and stories being told on the TV, which certainly captured our two’s imagination.
After our museum visit, we headed to Dunbar Harbour Battery, which lies at the edge of the harbour in a peaceful and quiet spot, apart from the soothing sounds of the sea. Here you can enjoy uninterrupted views over the North Sea and towards the Bass Rock and the Isle of May, two very iconic bird reserves, but that’s for another time. Our kids really loved the ‘SEA CUBES’ by Donald Urquhart, which are on display and give a beautiful perception of the space and surroundings in the Battery. In 2017, the Dunbar Harbour Trust created a special location at the ruined Battery and it’s available for the public to visit, explore and enjoy throughout the year.
We finished off our afternoon by going on a ‘bear hunt’ to see the Dunbear, which is a sculpture created by the artist Andy Scott who also created the Kelpies in Falkirk. The impressive Dunbear sculpture was created as a tribute to conservationist John Muir and his connection with the town.
That evening we went for dinner at the Linton Steakhouse in East Linton, a family run hotel which offers a welcoming service and good food. It’s a busy place with a good size beer garden, which will be for another visit!
On the morning of day three we checked out of Carfrae at 10am and then headed straight to East Links Family Park, which was only a short 20 minute drive from our cottage. There had been much excitement from our kids about going back here after our first visit last year.
The Park lends itself perfectly for families who want their kids to have fun, but at the same time learn a little more about the animals and get right up close with them. Here you could easily spend a full day, but even half a day would give you plenty of time to see and experience what there is on offer.
Our highlights included a ride on the train, by train driver Karen, who kindly let our kids beep the horn , which created much excitement! But I’d also recommend you grab one of the bigger pedal carts and visit the animals on the field and then experience the musical maze, which is certainly one of my highlights.
Within the Park you will also find the John Muir Cafe serving snacks, lunches, coffees and good cakes all day. You can either take away and use the benches onsite or sit in taking in the views. If you are sitting outside, make sure you look out for Ginger the cat who will no doubt come by to say hello!
After a good five hours of fun filled activities around the Park, we packed the car and headed for Belhaven Bay. You can park by the beach with a small parking charge of £2. From here you can walk to the beach in about 10 minutes, with little ones anyway! There are also free toilet facilities available, including outside showers should you wish to go for a dip in the sea. The beach is vast and beautiful, overlooking Dunbar, the Bass Rock and Isle of May, with well-kept sand dunes.
Here we spent an hour playing in the sand and just chilling out after a wonderful few days out and about East Lothian, what a place!
En route home we made a stop in Musselburgh and here we picked up fish and chips from East Coast, an award winning restaurant and take-away. We walked a short distance to the promenade and enjoyed these in the evening sun overlooking the Firth of Forth.
Besides the activities we visited, there are also other great attractions I would highly recommend, which includes; The Scottish Seabird Centre with a fascinating discovery centre and awesome boat tours, highly recommended.
The National Museum of Flight, a big favourite for kids (and adults) of all ages.
We stayed at the Stravaig Cottage, which was newly renovated and finished to an extremely high standard, with beautiful touches around the cottage from the free standing bath, to high ceilings and lots of light, but still with a wood burning stove in the lounge by the exposed brick wall.
All opinions and photos are my own, unless otherwise stated. When you next visit share your stories and photos using #visiteastlothian #eastlothian – You can also follow me along on our adventures around Scotland and beyond on @kimkjaerside on Twitter and Instagram