DUNGLASS Old Bridge lies hidden amongst ivy and the protective cover of trees on the south east border between East Lothian and Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders.

The county border here is marked by the deep chasm of Dunglass Dean, through which the Dunglass burn flows.

The bridge has always fascinated me, for it is at least 400 years old and has the footprints of so much history. It was part of the old Great North Road, the main route from London to Edinburgh. The old bridge is the oldest of five which crosses the Dunglass Dean.

The earliest reference to the bridge is 1617, the year James VI visited Scotland on his one and only royal visit here after succeeding to the English crown. In fact, he spent his first night in Scotland at Dunglass.

I’ve often wondered if this old bridge was built as part of the preparations. In the couple of years before the visit there was frantic activity to improve roads and bridges, repair buildings and even clear the streets of unsightly vagabonds and undesirables. There was a desperate desire to impress the absent monarch in his return to his homeland.

As part of these preparations, the border nobles had been ordered to repair and improve the route the king would take. Given Dunglass would be the first place the king would stay in Scotland, a nice new bridge across the precipitous ravine would impress him and show the effort taken, as well as make his journey easier.

I’m not aware of specific evidence of this (there may be, of course), but it seems likely that this was a motivation to either build the bridge or repair it prior to the king’s visit. Let us remember that a king would not travel alone, he would have a huge trail of servants, nobles, soldiers and cartloads of baggage. And this visit was seen at the time as an immense occasion. Without the bridge, the king and his baggage train would have had to veer down a muddy steep path to ford the river downstream, then climb back up to the estate.

What better way to welcome the king home by making sure his arrival at his first overnight stay was a dignified and regal crossing over a new bridge which spanned nature’s deep chasm? If he did so, the king must have paused and peered down at the burn with a nod of approval. James’ son, Charles I, would follow in his footsteps in 1633.

Such were my reflections as I visited Dunglass recently with the intention of trying to find a good view of the old bridge. I have visited the dean many times, but usually in summer and the old bridge was always impossible to see because of the lushness of the wood. With trees now mostly bare, I thought I’d get a better view.

I walked under the two 20th-century road bridges, which have grandeur of their own, to reach the old bridge. But I was disappointed. It still remained hidden, barely visible amongst the trees and ivy. It hides itself so well that you can cross it without realising you are on an ancient bridge.

I walked across the narrow path it carries and was determined to find a view of the bridge. I wanted to respect people’s private gardens so the route I took was dangerous and not recommended. But like a paparazzi seeking a picture of a celebrity, I finally got my photo.

The bridge is beautiful. It was draped in ivy and, given its age, it’s an impressive construction and height. It has been repaired and improved since it was first built, but there it was, still standing and looking magnificent after four centuries.

Robert Burns also crossed this bridge, but let’s not measure historic value just by those who are famous. Tens of thousands will have used this old bridge and continue to do so. Their footprints also grace the history of this ancient crossing.

When I arrived, a lady was collecting wood. I first saw her bag on wheels laden with fallen branches and twigs. Then she emerged from the wood and I watched as she set off across the bridge, pulling her bag of firewood. She was walking in the footsteps of kings, poets, Cromwellian soldiers, Covenanters, post boys, fishwives, traders, farmers, smugglers and travellers of all sorts.

She, as much as them, is part of this old bridge’s story.