Finding fairytales at Preston Mill, East Lothian

As I write, looking out the window of our rented flat towards Arthur’s Seat, here or there a pioneering tree shouts its last of the season in yellow ochre. The dormant volcano’s rump is going from green to purple, the outcome of that colour wash the inevitable dull brown of deep winter. I wonder how many other residents of this iconic city are reaching for the thermostat now instead of their jumpers, layers no match against the falling mercury. In short, autumn is in the air.

You notice so much during that slow but steady change of seasons, and that’s why I’m always desperate to escape Edinburgh at those turning points to see it for myself. Last weekend — admittedly after a day camped out, reading, on the sofa — we drove away, jumping from seaside suburbs to bypass and finally onto the coast road south to England. Along the A1 is some of Scotland’s most fertile farmland, the golds and greens of high harvest painting the sides of the roads patchwork. We were in East Lothian.

I admit that, even though our Outlander tour came to an end weeks ago, there are a few sites that weren’t on my itinerary that I was desperate to see in reality. That’s why we rumbled through the picture-perfect village streets of East Linton and paused at Preston Mill, a watermill dating from the eighteenth century. Okay, so ‘watermills’ might not be top of your tourist list unless you have some sort of funny fetish, but when you see it you’ll immediately understand. Preston Mill feels like it’s fallen from a fairytale; its pointed roof, terracotta tiles and hotchpotch of windows and doors the stuff of directors’ dreams.

You can take a tour around the mill, learning the intricacies of its machinery — used to grind oatmeal until 1959 — or you can follow the soft path towards the fields. We traced the outline of crops, shadowing the small River Tyne (not Newcastle’s!) until we touched the John Muir Way… and a huge field of brussels sprouts. Punctuating the corner of the pasture is Phantassie Doocot, a sixteenth century ‘dovecote’ which once housed 500 birds. Now it’s a ruin and — like Preston Mill — is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

Back through the field we went, past bright berries and bruised brambles, to hop in the car again and finish the Sunday afternoon with a windswept walk at Aberlady Nature Reserve. From behind a ceiling of grey cloud, the sun warmed our skin just as we scaled the dunes and were looking down on the bay below us. That’s the standard change-of-season unpredictability of the weather, especially in Scotland — you’re just never sure how many layers to wear.

Where do you think is the most magical place in Scotland?

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