Travel: A round and about in East Lothian

Wheating Farm, near Longniddry

Wheating Farm, near Longniddry

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Whether you are golf crazy or not, David Ferguson discovers a little gem of a place to stay in East Lothian

As East Lothian prepares to play host to the Open Championship, the challenge for many golf fans is where to stay. While residents of Gullane make themselves a small fortune by renting out their homes, and hotels have been fully booked for months, options seem limited.

Might we recommend a wee gem, perfectly located for those heading to Muirfield for a day or the full week, or indeed for a visit at any time of the year?

Nestled between Longniddry and Haddington is Wheatrig. Farmed by the Thomson family for more than 100 years, this property has just been transformed into a beautiful holiday home by William Thomson and his wife, Anna.

Farm diversification has rarely looked this appealing, from the welcome of two friendly horses on the drive in, to the homemade chocolate-chip cookies and complimentary tea and coffee on offer inside.

While William runs the arable farm, Anna has her own PR company, but the young couple have made a bold statement of intent by opening up the business to the tourist trade. They have engaged Private House Stays, the website opening the doors to privately-owned and occupied holiday and business accommodation across Scotland, from small guest houses and B&Bs to some of Scotland’s great castles.

The key, according to Private House Stays, is that we, as the visitors, benefit from “a truly personal service, abundant local knowledge and the opportunity to connect with people who live in the area you’re visiting”.

So, we put it to the test, and William and Anna certainly ticked the boxes. Anna is a fine cook, but so is William, a former Haddington back row forward, who is especially good with the locally-produced bacon, sausages and eggs at breakfast-time. Their warm welcome and knowledge of East Lothian and Edinburgh had me sold, while for my wife it was the quality of the interior furnishings that earned them a five-star review from us.

Anna has opted for a high-spec make-over in the barn conversion. The peace and quiet, wonderful views and close proximity to great little towns such as Haddington, Gullane, North Berwick and Dunbar combine to make this a great base for exploring East Lothian.

Our daughter, Olivia, loved the horses, dogs and feeding the hens that had provided the morning’s scrambled eggs.

East Lothian has plenty to offer visitors of all ages and we took in a few of the best-known attractions, including the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick as well as wings of a different kind at the National Museum of Flight. We also visited the castles of Dirleton and Tantallon plus Glenkinchie Distillery, John Muir’s House and the leisure centre in Dunbar.

But simple strolls through North Berwick and Haddington were just as enjoyable, with the latter’s shop owners having restored a monthly market to attract visitors. The food at Duck’s at Kilspindie House in Aberlady is exquisite, as is the menu at the Waterside Bistro in Haddington, an excellent restaurant that welcomes children. Special mention must also be made to a recently refurbished bistro at the end of Market Street in Haddington which provided a very affordable family bite when we were stuck and needed dinner early. It turned out to be the town’s Conservative Club, but was not like any Tory clubs I know, and for hungry children at 5pm proved a saviour.

The main attraction of East Lothian this summer, however, is the golf. The Open Championship begins at Muirfield on 14 July and more than 170,000 fans are expected to come to the tournament. Daily tickets start from £15 with concession prices for 16 to 21-year-olds and free tickets available for juniors.

In a nifty bit of marketing ahead of the Open, last month saw the launch of Scotland’s Golf Coast Road, as the route from Musselburgh to Dunbar has been rebranded. Incorporating 18 top-class golf courses along its 
30-mile length, including Muirfield, tourism executives hope that the millions watching on TV will be so captivated by the glorious scenery that they will feel compelled to book a holiday to the area.

And where better to stay than Wheatrig. It caters for a family of four or five or two couples in the suite, linked by a good-sized bathroom. Groups of six and more can even be accommodated within the modern farmhouse. William and Anna happily ship out to other parts of the farm when the whole place is taken over. Who needs the 19th hole when you could stay at Wheatrig?

For more information on Wheatrig and other properties across Scotland, go to: www.privatehousestays.com; Wheatrig Farm (tel: 01875 853148, tel: 07775 894012) is situated just north of Longniddry in East Lothian, 20 minutes east of Edinburgh on the A1 by car and Longniddry by train. From April until September, the suite, which sleeps four, costs £40 per person per night; special rates are available during the Open Championship.

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