REMAINS of Scotland’s first railway track have been unearthed at the Waggonway path in a find which has been described as being of “huge significance”.

The discovery of the surviving original cobble walkway which lay between the wooden tracks of the line, which was established nearly 300 years ago, was made by volunteers from the 1722 Waggonway Heritage Group last weekend as they carried out a dig on the pathway where it crosses the Battle of Prestonpans site, just south of Meadowmill.

The Waggonway, which used to run from Tranent to Cockenzie, was constructed in 1722 by the York Building Company of London and used by horses to bring coal down to the harbour.

Volunteers dug below the path, which still lies on the land, to a depth of one metre before coming across the surviving remains of the original tracks.

Ed Bethune, from the Cockenzie-based project, said: “We have gained new and invaluable insight into the construction of the railway, which we now know was constructed with a cobbled walkway with a covering of coal dust in between the wooden rails, to provide a firm base for the horses to walk on. Whilst the wooden rails have decayed, traces of the timber remain in the beam slots either side of the cobbles.

“We have also been able to establish that the gauge of the early Waggonway was around 4ft 7in, which is very nearly the standard gauge still used on railways today. The railway was later changed to 3ft 3in during the 19th century. This is a discovery of huge importance and could be the earliest surviving in-situ railway of its kind in the world.”

The project team are still compiling new evidence from their weekend find and plan to produce a report of their full findings soon.

Amongst the additional discoveries during the dig, they uncovered a drainage ditch which established that while the early railway was in operation, a cart track still operated alongside it, with deep wheel ruts discovered on the surface.

The uncovered railway tracks and path would both have been in operation before the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745, which saw Bonnie Prince Charlie lead the Jacobites to victory against Government soldiers.

Mr Bethune said that huge thanks went to the volunteers who gave their time to dig at the site as, well as East Lothian Council which has supported the project.

The Waggonway Museum, which opened its doors at Cockenzie Harbour last March, has charted the finds by the heritage group through archaeological digs as well as the history of the famous railway track.