By Dr Jan Bondeson

THE celebrated North Berwick postcard artist Reginald Phillimore was fond of painting scenes from his home town and from Gullane, Dirleton and the Bass Rock, ranging from the castle ruins of the mighty to the humble cottages of the poor.

Since he also liked Dunbar, not less than 15 of his postcards are from this East Lothian coastal town, which was popular among the tourists in Edwardian times.

Some of his cards depict standard sights like the Castle Ruins and the Town Hall; one has a quaint little cottage at Cleikum Toll and another the Lover’s Walk, a rump of which still exists.

One of his most interesting cards (pictured below), from a historical point of view, depicts the ancient Abbey Ruins at Friarscroft: they were quite a rural scene in Edwardian times, with sheep grazing and some old cottages in the background.

East Lothian Courier: Reginald Phillimore’s postcard of the Abbey Ruins

This Trinitarian abbey was founded by the Countess of Dunbar in 1242, as one of eight known houses to have been located in Scotland.

The abbey still stood in 1529 but it fell into a gradual decline; the remaining friars moved away, and most of the stoneware of the church was taken away for local building projects.

A 1750 map shows that by this time, only the tower stood, being used as a dovecot.

In 1981, a group of archaeologists and antiquaries made excavations near the dovecot tower, finding the original tiled floor of the church, but no trace of an original dwelling-house for the friars anywhere nearby.

Since the old friars had built their tower sturdy and strong, it still stands today (pictured below), looking virtually unchanged since Phillimore’s time.

East Lothian Courier: The Abbey Ruins today

The only sheep to be found anywhere in the vicinity are the lamb chops for sale at the Co-op supermarket, although the cottages in the background remain more or less unchanged.

Friar’s Walk, also known as the Monk’s Walk of Dunbar, is a more mysterious matter.

This structure is still largely in existence, consisting of two parallel ancient sandstone rubble walls stretching southwards from West Port.

It has been presumed that Friar’s Walk must have some connection with the Trinitarian abbey, and that the part connecting it with West Port is a later addition.

East Lothian Courier: The northern part of Friar's Walk

The northern part of Friar's Walk

Already in Victorian times, Friar’s Walk was used to dump rubbish and garden refuse from the gardens of the houses on High Street, but the entire length was passable within living memory.

When examined by the archaeologists in 1981, it was largely filled with earth and quite overgrown; when I explored it in 2020, things had not improved in the slightest.

What might have been, through the deployment of a sergeant-major and 50 unemployed youngsters armed with shovels and saws, one of the leading tourist attractions of Dunbar has been left to fight a losing battle against decay.

There does not appear to be any other instances of ancient double walls with a narrow walkway between them, and the Dunbar local historians have speculated what use had been made of Friar’s Walk in olden times.

One rather adventurous hypothesis is that the Trinitarian monks used the walls as a walkway from their abbey to another building, perhaps their dwelling-house.

When ended at its southern extremity (see below) by the construction of a Georgian or early Victorian building, Friar’s Walk is heading straight for what is today the grounds of the Priory, my own house in Dunbar.

East Lothian Courier: The southern extremity of Friar’s Walk

No ancient ruins ever existed in these parts, as far as can be discerned: a postcard from Edwardian times, stamped and posted before work on the Priory was begun in 1910, merely shows farmland and market gardens.

Maybe the friars had their garden here, growing fruit and medicinal plants?

Another speculation is that one of the walls of Friar’s Walk represents a substantial fragment of the post-medieval western town wall.

Since at least the western wall of Friar’s Walk has several blocked doorways, a rationalist would instead suspect that it was intended as a rear lane to the houses on High Street, used for the removal of rubbish and garden waste.

The mystery of Friar’s Walk is a profound one, and unlikely ever to be solved.