I HAVE long been intrigued by a small ruined building which sits, all lonesome, on the side of River Tyne, near East Linton, overlooked by the modern bridge which carries the A1 over the river at Brae Heads Loan.

A friend from Haddington told me the bridge has a nickname, ‘the racehorse’, and when you view it from below, or at a distance, you can see why.

I remember first noticing the ruin many years ago as I cycled in my younger days along the old narrow road which runs by Hailes Castle. When the ‘racehorse’ was built, my intrigue was rekindled every time I crossed the bridge on my way east, as the little ruin can be clearly seen from it.

It’s stimulated many discussions in the car, with varied suggestions from my family as to what it could be. Suggestions have included the remains of a medieval tower or something to do with farming and cows. But my favourite was my kids’ idea that it is the burial vault of a vampire.

So, finally, after years of driving Kate and the kids half mad with my repetitive conjectures about the building, we decided we should go visit it. I did a quick search of the location on old maps and historical websites but didn’t find a reference to it. To be fair, I didn’t search methodically, for I like discovering a place personally first.

Our trip took place just after New Year, on a beautifully crisp, frosty afternoon. After reassuring the kids that the sheep weren’t dangerous, we managed to make our way carefully down the slope and reached the building without incident.

I always feel a sense of boyish excitement when I’m exploring something for the first time. As I approached, I examined the ruin with my amateur eye and wondered if it might indeed be medieval. Initially, a section of the walls seemed to suggest that may be possible. Was it perhaps connected to Hailes Castle?

But on closer inspection, I realised it wasn’t so old. In the middle of the ruin, there was an enclosed structure with an open entrance. This looked like it was a later addition and, of course, I couldn’t resist the temptation to enter the semi-dark interior.

Inside, a brick-lined ceiling confirmed this was no medieval building, but what was it? It was in quite a ruinous state so I didn’t linger. My son hoped I’d found the vault of the vampire’s coffin, and in truth it was big enough for that purpose, with the appropriate atmosphere.

But vampires apart, I still wondered what it was, or had been, and was on a quest now. I realised the best person to ask would be the farmer who owned the field. Robert Tait, who farms nearby, kindly told me that Alistair Aitken, of Traprain Farm, was the man to speak to.

A couple of weeks later, I cold-called Alistair at his farm. He was instantly friendly and willing to share what he knew about the building. He said he’d give me a lift down to it to make sure we were talking about the same place.

When I told him my kids were with me, he offered them a ride too in the back of his Ford Ranger pick-up. Needless to say they enthusiastically accepted without hesitation! They were laughing with excitement as they bounced in the back. It was a great bonus for them!

After a ride through his farm, we were suddenly, like magic, at Brae Heads Loan, overlooking the ruin.

“It’s a target butt,” Alistair told me. “They’d fire at targets from a position further downstream. Along here was a firing range. I have some .303 bullets in the house collected from the butt. They used it during First World War times, even before. The building in the middle was used as a safe shelter for the person examining the targets, also probably for storing them.”

So the mystery was solved for me. But it opened up a new part of East Lothian history I know little about and which I will now look into. I wished we’d had more time to chat, not just about the target and old rifle range here, but to hear his stories and family history, which for 150 years has seeped into the landscape of East Lothian.

The truth is the most interesting bits of history are often not those written down but remembered human experiences, passed down from generations.

Perhaps we’ll get a chance to chat longer another time.

We thanked him and went on our way. Later, I contacted Matt Curtis, a local enthusiast and expert on military history (although he may modestly decline that well-deserved description). He identified the butt on an 1888 map, which I missed in my hasty research of earlier maps. But I was glad I had missed it, as we may not have met Alistair otherwise, and meeting him was in many ways the best part of our adventure.

Matt told me: “It was probably built in the early 1880s. Rifle shooting was a popular pastime in years gone by and there were plenty of shooting clubs around.”

He then sent me details of many others, including one on the beach at Cockenzie, and pointed out that “the Butts in Haddington would have been for archery and there’s still a big open space, but definitely a precursor for the rifle ranges that would come later”.

He added: “It’s not in East Lothian, but there was even one on top of Arthur’s Seat! Can you imagine the furore that would cause now?”

The top of Arthur’s seat? Bullets potentially flying over the heads of walkers! No health and safety in those days!

“I still think it’s a vampire’s lair,” said my son.

Well, who knows, maybe it is now. And that would make a good story!