River North Esk

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Esk, a river flowing through Midlothian into the Firth of Forth at Musselburgh. It is composed of the North and South Esks, which unite 7 furlongs below Dalkeith Palace. The North Esk rises in the parish of Linton, Peeblesshire, at Boarstone and Easter Cairnhill, and, after a brief course through barren moorland districts, touches the boundary of Midlothian. This boundary it follows for 2½ miles, and receives the Carlops Burn and some other small tributaries. It proceeds in a north-easterly direction through or along the borders of the parishes of Penicuik, Lasswade, Glencorse, Cockpen, and Dalkeith; and in its upper course, near Carlops, passes through ` Habbie's Howe, ' the scene described in Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd. The most notable portion of the valley of the North Esk is where it flows through Roslin Glen and Hawthornden, presenting here a scene of striking beauty, which is visited by thousands of strangers, attracted not less by the picturesque elements of the scene than by the literary and historic recollections of the spot. Below Lasswade the North Esk traverses the magnificent pleasure-grounds of Melville Castle, and afterwards enters the policies of Dalkeith Palace, joining with the South Esk, after a north-easterly course of 17 miles, at a scene of great sylvan beauty. The basin of the North Esk abounds in valuable minerals of the Carboniferous formation, while from Penicuik to Lasswade the abundance of fine springs has made its banks the seat of prosperous paper manufactures. Mr Watson Lyall, in his Sportman's Guide, says:-` While in a scenic point of view the North Esk is famous, in a piscatorial sense it is, we are glad to say, a great deal better than it was, owing to the enterprise and judgment of the proprietors, which is all the more praiseworthy, as their exertions were attended with great expense. The refuse of all the paper-mills, etc., on its banks used to be thrown into it, making it utterly worthless, but a great improvement has been wrought. ' The South Esk rises, at an altitude of 1700 feet, on the western slope of Blackhope Scar (2136 feet), in the southern extremity of Temple parish; and thence winds 19 miles north-by-eastward through or along the borders of Temple, Borthwick, Carrington, Cockpen, Newbattle, and Dalkeith. This stream receives a number of tributaries, including the Fullarton or Redside Burn, Gore Water, and Dalhousie Burn, all of which yield trout of a small size, which are eagerly sought for, the waters being mostly free. The village of Temple is quiet and remote, but is notable for its old church, once the seat of a body of Red Friars or Templars, established by David I., and at one time endowed with large possessions; lower down, the stream flows past Dalhousie Castle, surrounded by picturesque grounds, in which the river forms a pleasing feature, and the magnificent park of Newbattle Abbey, famous for its gigantic beeches, a short distance below which it joins the North Esk. The basin of the South Esk is also rich in coal measures, and in scenic attraction it is little inferior to the companion stream, although not associated with so much history or romance. Below the confluence of the two streams, the Esk winds 37/8. miles north-by-eastward through Dalkeith Park and along an alluvial valley, overhung by the eminence on which the parish church of Inveresk is situated, passing the villages of Cowpitts, Monktonhall, and Inveresk, and reaching the sea at Musselburgh. Of the many bridges crossing these streams, the most interesting is the old bridge at Musselburgh, which is of great antiquity, and is popularly believed to be of Roman origin. At a time when few bridges existed, this passage of the Esk was of great strategic importance, and is notable as having been crossed by the Scottish army before the battle of Pinkie in 1547, and also in 1745 by the Highland army under Prince Charles Edward, previous to the battle of Prestonpans.-Ord. Sur., shs. 24, 32, 1864-57.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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