From Musselburgh, it is easy to explore the area south of Edinburgh, fast becoming a dormitory belt for the capital. Referred to as Midlothian, this too was an active mining area until not so long ago. The A6094 leads to the busy market town of Dalkeith. At the far end of its High Street is the entrance to Dalkeith Country Park, part of the estates of the Duke of Buccleuch. The extensive grounds contain woodland walks beside the river, nature trails and an unusual 'tunnel walk'. The magnificent red-stoned mansion, Dalkeith Palace is not open to the public but can be appreciated from the outside. George IV stayed here during his State visit to Scotland in 1822.
Just south of Dalkeith at Newtongrange is the Scottish Mining Museum centred on the Lady Victoria Colliery, the main pit for this region, which was established in 1890. Guided tours of this pioneering operation are offered between April and September. The winding tower operating down the 1,625ft (496m) deep shaft was driven by Scotland's largest steam engine, still on view. The displays bring to life the conditions both at work and at home for the colliery workers and their families.
Taking the A7 south from Dalkeith and turning left on the B6372 leads to fourteenth century Crichton Castle. Its most notable feature is the bizarre Italian Piazza styled forecourt, much out of character with the rest of the building. This is the product of the rather unstable Francis Stuart, fifth Earl of Bothwell.
The eight storey high Borthwick Castle is nearby at North Middleton - there is a pleasant 2 mile (3km) walk that links both castles, taking around an hour. This Scots tower house with its distinctive twin keeps was the quarters of Mary Queen of Scots and her husband Bothwell following their marriage. Although 500 years old, it has been much restored and is now a private hotel where, for a price, you can use the same bed-chamber as Mary and Bothwell.
Follow the A6094 from Dalkeith or try crossing west from Borthwell Castle using country roads until you see signs for the village of Roslin. Rosslyn Castle, poised on a crag, stands high above the glen carved by the River Esk far below. In the fourteenth century this became the home of the St Clair family, its most prominent member being the fifteenth century Sir William St Clair. Sir William's excesses were notorious, such was his taste for a sumptuous lifestyle. In his later years he sought amends by building a church, and Rosslyn Chapel was the result. The finest craftsmen of Europe were employed. Founded in 1146 and never finished following William's death in 1484, the chapel is still remarkable.
The most famous piece is the Prentice Pillar found on the south side of the Lady Chapel. While the master mason was away in Italy looking for inspiration for his 'magnum opus', a young apprentice, following the design he saw in a dream, set to work. On seeing the finished result the master murdered the boy in a fit of jealousy. It greatly surpasses all the other carvings.
The best reason to visit Penicuik a few miles south on the A701 is to see the Edinburgh Crystal Factory and Visitor Centre. There is a large crystal shop and a video presentation. It is possible to watch the craftsmen blow, cut and engrave the world famous crystal, but children under eight are not allowed on the tour.
Returning to the west side of Edinburgh via the city
by-pass there are signs for Hillend Dry Ski Slope, open all year and once the largest
dry ski slope in Europe. Hire equipment and tuition are available.
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