After the success of SCoJeC’s Whittingehame Walk in 2017 on the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Michael Brander, the estate owner and Lord Balfour’s great-nephew, kindly allowed us access again this year. We are very grateful to him for also giving us a personal tour of the estate, which is not open to the public.
Whittingehame Estate is the historic family home of Lord Arthur James Balfour, the author of the Declaration which promised British support for the creation of a Jewish "national home" in what became Israel. Whittingehame House, near Haddington in East Lothian, also has another significance for the Jewish Community – it was used as a farm school between 1939 and 1941 for child refugees from the Holocaust who escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport.
Amazingly, after a few days of torrential rain, the sun came out for us, and 27 people aged from 5 to 70 participated in the three-hour walk around the estate and the surrounding area. As the area is inaccessible by public transport, SCoJeC provided a minibus from Glasgow and Edinburgh to near Traprain Law, where the intrepid walkers were met by East Lothian Countryside Ranger, Richard English, who told many fascinating stories about the local flora and fauna and the archaeological and mythical history of the landscape. This included the story of the birth of St Mungo, whose mother was reputed to have been thrown off Traprain Law by her father, King Lot. He explained that the hill had been an ancient fortification in Roman times, and described the Traprain Hoard, 53 pounds of Roman-era silver that was discovered in 1919.
As they walked down the hill from the Law, the group also had the opportunity to observe and make friends with the wild Exmoor ponies, imported six years ago to help maintain the land. They then continued across freshly harvested wheat fields to Whittingehame Estate.
The group was given a very personal tour of the estate by Michael Brander. He showed us the family graves – including not only that of Arthur James Balfour, but also of his niece, Lady Eve Balfour, the founder of the Soil Association – and many other members of the notable Balfour family.
He also talked to us about the arboretum of rare trees, and explained how many of his ancestors had brought tree specimens back from their travels, and he took us through the tunnel of tree-roots of the spectacular 800-year old "Whittingehame Yew"
After the event, our walkers commented on the history, the landscape, the company, and the weather. Comments included:
"A lovely day, well led, in excellent company. A joy and a privilege to visit the Whittingehame estate and meet and hear from the owner."
"What a privilege to see the private estate of Whittingehame and the amazing Yew tree!"
"Thank you very much for organising everything. I would definitely do this again."
"Wonderful landscape and views and friendly ponies were a surprise bonus."
"Tremendous excursions full of interest and varied terrain. Thanks for arranging everything!"
"A lovely trip, great views, great stories and cleverly arranged weather."