Dunbar (/dʌnˈbɑːr/ (listen)) is a town on the North Sea coast in East Lothian in the south-east of Scotland, approximately 30 miles (48 km) east of Edinburgh and 30 miles (48 km) from the English border north of Berwick-upon-Tweed.


Tolbooth and mercat cross, Dunbar High Street
Location within Scotland
Area3.01 km2 (1.16 sq mi) [2]
Population8,486 [3] (2011 census)
 Density2,819/km2 (7,300/sq mi)
OS grid referenceNT678789
 Edinburgh26 mi (42 km)
 London325 mi (523 km)
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townDUNBAR
Postcode districtEH42
Dialling code01368
EU ParliamentScotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament

Dunbar is a former royal burgh, and gave its name to an ecclesiastical and civil parish. The parish extends around 7 12 miles (12.1 km) east to west and is 3 12 miles (5.6 km) deep at greatest extent, or 11 14 square miles (29 km2), and contains the villages of West Barns, Belhaven, East Barns (abandoned) and several hamlets and farms.

Its strategic location gave rise to a history full of incident and strife; but Dunbar has become a quiet dormitory town popular with workers in nearby Edinburgh, who find it an affordable alternative to the capital itself. Until the 1960s, the population of the town was little more than 3,500. The town is thriving with the most recent population published for the town at 8,486,[4] and there are many active and planned housing developments ongoing. There are very well regarded primary schools, a secondary school and a private school in the town.

The town is served by Dunbar railway station with links to Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland, as well as London and stations along the north-east corridor.

Dunbar is home to the Dunbar Lifeboat Station, the second-oldest RNLI station in Scotland.

Dunbar is the birthplace of the explorer, naturalist and influential conservationist John Muir. The house in which Muir was born is located on the High Street, and has been converted into a museum. There is also a commemorative statue beside the town clock, and John Muir Country Park is located to the north-west of the town. The eastern section of the John Muir Way coastal path starts from the harbour. One of the two campuses to Dunbar Primary School: John Muir Campus, is named in his honour.

On the last full weekend in September, Dunbar holds an annual weekend-long, traditional music festival sponsored by various local companies.



In its present form, the name Dunbar is derived from its Gaelic equivalent (modern Scottish Gaelic: Dùn Barra), meaning "summit fort". That itself is probably a Gaelicisation of the Cumbric form din-bar, with the same meaning. This form seems to be attested as Dynbaer the seventh-century Vita Sancti Wilfredi.[5]

Early history

To the north of the present High Street an area of open ground called Castle Park preserves almost exactly the hidden perimeter of an iron age promontory fort. The early settlement was a principal centre of the people known to the Romans as Votadini and it may have grown in importance when the great hillfort of Traprain Law was abandoned at the end of the 5th century AD. Dunbar was subsumed into Anglian Northumbria as that kingdom expanded in the 6th century and is believed to be synonymous with the Dynbaer of Eddius around 680, the first time that it appears in the written record. The influential Northumbrian monk and scholar St Cuthbert, born around 630, was probably from around Dunbar. While still a boy, and employed as a shepherd, one night he had a vision of the soul of Saint Aidan being carried to heaven by angels and thereupon went to the monastery of Old Melrose and became a monk.

It was then a king's vill and prison to Bishop Wilfrid. As a royal holding of the kings of Northumbria, the economy centred on the collecting of food renders and the administration of the northern (now Scottish) portion of that kingdom. It was the base of a senior royal official, a reeve (later sheriff), and, perhaps, in the 7th century a dynasty of ealdormen or sub-kings who held northern Northumbria against Pictish encroachment.

Scottish conquest

Danish and Norse attacks on southern Northumbria caused its power to falter and the northern portion became equally open to annexation by Scotland. Dunbar was burnt by Kenneth MacAlpin in the 9th century. Scottish control was consolidated in the next century and when Lothian was ceded to Malcolm II after the battle of Carham in 1018, Dunbar was finally an acknowledged part of Scotland.

Throughout these turbulent centuries Dunbar’s status must have been preserved because it next features as part of a major land grant and settlement by Malcolm III in favour of the exiled earl Gospatric of Northumbria (to whom he may have been full cousin) during 1072. Malcolm needed to fill a power vacuum on his south-eastern flank; Gospatric required a base from which to plot the resumption of his Northumbrian holding. The grant included Dunbar and, it can be deduced, an extensive swath of East Lothian and Berwickshire or Merse (hence March). Gospatric founded the family of Dunbar. The head of the House of Dunbar filled the position of Earls of Dunbar and March until the 15th century.

Later history

The town became successively a baronial burgh and royal burgh (1370) and grew slowly under the shadow of the great Castle of the Earls. Scotland and England contended often for control of the castle and the town. The former was "impregnable" and withstood many sieges; the latter was burnt, frequently. The castle had been slighted (deliberately ruined) in 1568 but the town flourished as an agricultural centre and fishing port despite tempestuous times in the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. Major battles were fought nearby in 1296 and 1650. The second Battle of Dunbar (1650) was fought during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms between a Scottish Covenanter army and English Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. The Scots were routed, leading to the overthrow of the monarchy and the occupation of Scotland.

A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of Castle Park Barracks in 1855.[6]

Dunbar gained a reputation as a seaside holiday and golfing resort in the nineteenth century, the "bright and breezy burgh" famous for its "bracing air".

Since 1983, the town has played host to the first outdoor Pipe Band competition of the season in Scotland. The competition, now held at Hallhill Sports Centre on the second Saturday in May, attracts in the region of 70–80 entries from bands across Scotland and over 2,000 visitors for the day. The local band, Dunbar Royal British Legion Pipe Band, has competed with considerable success over the years.

On Saturday 3 January 1987, a devastating fire destroyed much of the town's historic parish church. The church, as it was before the fire, was opened in 1821 and contained a monument to the Earl of Dunbar (1611) which was said to be unequalled throughout Scotland for its Italian craftsmanship in marble. Though the fire practically destroyed the monument and left only the outer walls remaining, the church has since been rebuilt with a modern interior.

Notable residents

Notable buildings

  • Chapel tower (with doocot conversion) of the Trinitarian Priory, Friarscroft, west of the town. Founded c. 1240 by Christiana de Brus, Countess of Dunbar.
  • Dunbar Castle, possibly from the 14th century, rebuilt and remodelled c. 1490 and c. 1520. Largely ruined with the aid of gunpowder (deliberately by Act of Parliament) in 1567 and with the whole north end removed with the aid of explosives (detonated using a specially-invented electrical system) for the new Victoria Harbour 1842–44.
  • Parish church (see above) by James Gillespie Graham 1818–21 in local red sandstone from Bourhouse quarry[16]
  • Parish Church Hall (1910), located behind the post office off the High Street, contains stained glass removed from St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, redundant there on the creation of the Thistle Chapel.[16]
  • Abbey Free Church (1850) by Thomas Hamilton (architect).
  • St Anne's Episcopal Church (1889) by Robert Rowand Anderson.
  • Dunbar Methodist Church is the oldest Methodist Church in Scotland, having been erected in 1764. Both John Wesley and Charles Wesley were trustees of the Society in Dunbar and John preached at the Methodist Church on 21 occasions.[17]
  • The Town House (Tolbooth), High Street, (c.1550).
  • Mercat Cross (c.1911) created from medieval fragments to replace lost original sited opposite West Port. Now beside Town House.
  • Lauderdale House (1790–92), designed by Robert Adam and executed by his brother John after Robert's death; built round the carcass of Dunbar House (c1730).
  • Railway station (1845) but altered.
  • Cromwell Harbour, very old fishing harbour which dates to 1600s
  • Ordance Survey Tidal Gauge - Beneath the Castle Rock at Victoria Harbour is a small castellated building, now the Harbourmaster's office, but originally built in 1913 by the Ordnance Survey and used as part of a network that was used to establish the 'Mean Sea Level' that is used as the reference benchmark for all heights 'above sea level' in the UK.
  • Dunbar Battery (1781) was built to protect the town from privateers in the 18th Century and restored in 2017 by Dunbar Harbour Trust with improvements made to access and a new outdoor amphitheatre sensitively inserted within the defensive walls. The Dunbar Battery also features "Sea Cubes", a public artwork by Scottish artist Donald Urquhart. The project won the Architects' Journal Architecture Awards 2017 for the Best Budget Project of the Year and was Commended in the Scottish Civic Trust My Places Awards 2018.


During 2003, archaeological excavations at Oxwell Mains (Lafarge Cement Works) near Dunbar revealed the site of a Mesolithic house believed to be from around the 9th millennium BC. The site suggests a domed building. Although considered extremely rare and a site of national importance this site is in the middle of an area planned for quarrying.

An archaeological excavation undertaken by Headland Archaeology[18] on a site previously occupied by the Captain's Cabin (a local landmark) within the area of Castle Park identified a sequence of archaeological features reflecting around 2,000 years of human activity. The earliest feature was a large ditch which may have formed part of the defences around a promontory fort previously identified during earlier excavations near the coast at Castle Park.[19] The scale of the ditches indicated an impressive monument. A radiocarbon date of between 50 BC and AD 70 was obtained from charcoal recovered from its infill.

Much later a rectangular building was built over the top of the infilled ditch. Large quantities of burnt grain were recovered indicating that the building was a grain store that had been destroyed by fire. It was established that this was part of the Anglian settlement that had also been identified during earlier excavations.

Between the 9th and 11th centuries the area was used as a cemetery.[20] 76 articulated skeletons and the disarticulated remains of a further 51 individuals were recovered. The articulated skeletons were all buried in the standard Christian fashion. A small number of the skeletons were in long cists but the majority were simple shroud burials.

A dump or midden above the cemetery contained many elephant ivory off-cuts dating to the 18th or 19th centuries.


As with most of the British Isles, Dunbar has an oceanic climate (Köppen: Cfb) with cool summers and mild winters. It is one of the sunniest and driest places in Scotland, with around 1,450 hours of sunshine and 600 mm (24 in) of rainfall annually. Temperature extremes range from 31.0 °C (87.8 °F) in August 1990[21] to −12.0 °C (10.4 °F) in January 1982.[22]

Climate data for Dunbar (20 m asl, averages 1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 7.1
Average low °C (°F) 1.9
Average rainfall mm (inches) 49.0
Average rainy days (≥ 1 mm) 10.5 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.2 9.9 9.4 9.6 9.0 11.0 10.4 11.0 115
Mean monthly sunshine hours 58.0 77.6 114.9 146.6 192.4 171.3 179.2 163.2 128.7 100.0 71.3 48.1 1,451.3
Source: Met Office[23]


Due to its geographical location, Dunbar receives less rain and more hours of direct sunshine per year than most places in Scotland.[23] The town has begun to be referred to by locals as 'Sunny Dunny', after a local radio host popularised the term.

Dunbar has two promenades (forming part of the John Muir Way). These provide an ideal viewpoint to see Dunbar's interesting geological features: including volcanic deposits and dykes; seen from a high vantage point on the western, clifftop promenade, which passes the town's Public and Winterfield parks. Looking down onto a raised shore platform, and the raised beaches, further along the coast, one can get an appreciation of the glacial-isostatic uplift that has occurred in this part of Scotland.


Dunbar has a thriving local economy with a well-provisioned High Street, as well as many businesses along Spott Road up to the A1 including Howden's, AG Thompson, and Border Roofing,[24] among many others.

The town has an Asda supermarket and a filling station (the first in East Lothian). The store is accompanied by a drive-thru McDonald's built in late-2015 (also the first of its kind in East Lothian), a restaurant owned by Marston's named the Pine Marten, a hotel also owned by Marston's and a garden centre.[25][26]

Agriculture remains important, but fishing has declined. Its main manufacturers are cement at Tarmac's Dunbar Cement Plant at Oxwell Mains (the only integrated cement plant in Scotland) and the Scottish Ales of Belhaven Brewery. Another large local employer is Torness Nuclear Power Station.

More recently Dunbar has become a base for many adventure sports with a local surf school and wakeboarding park. Alongside, activities including coasteering, stand up paddle boarding, a ropes course and zip lining are also increasingly popular. Information on all activities can be found on the 60things Dunbar website.

Twin towns

Dunbar is twinned with Lignières, in France and Martinez, California, United States.



Dunbar is home to the junior football club Dunbar United.

Dunbar is also home to the Dunbar United Colts Football Club,[27] who play their home matches at Hallhill Sports Centre. The club is open to boys and girls and has around 400 members from 4 years old who play at the Soccer School sessions, right up to adults (Dunbar Athletic) who play in the amateur league. The popular Colts Festival takes place on the second Saturday of Dunbar Civic Week in June of each year. Home colours are black and white stripes. Away colour is blue. Football has been enjoyed by Dunbar youngsters as long ago as the 1920s. During the 1960s the first youth team was formed as Belhaven Boys Club. Training back then took place in the old Belhaven church hall on Beveridge Row. Over the decades training has taken place in a number of locations such as Winterfield and Deer Park. In 1992 the club was renamed Dunbar United Colts Football Club. In September 2001 The Colts moved to their new home at the newly built Hallhill Healthy Living Centre, now known as Hallhill Sports Centre. The Colts are affiliated to the Scottish Youth Football Association and through hard work and dedication are in receipt of the SYFA Community Award. Dunbar United Colts Football Club is run entirely by volunteers.


Dunbar Golf Club: Laid out in 1857 and redesigned by Old Tom Morris around 1894, Dunbar East Links is situated on the estuary of the Firth of Forth. It is used as an Open Championship Qualifying Venue when the Open is played at Muirfield and all of the major Scottish Championships have been played here, The Scottish Amateur, Scottish Professional Championships, and Scottish Boys’ Championship. The British Ladies and the Ladies Home Internationals have also enjoyed Dunbar as a venue. Dunbar is also home to Winterfield Golf Club.


Dunbar is also home to Dunbar RFC. They play their home games at Hallhill Sports Centre and operate a 1st XV, 2nd XV and various school teams. The 1st XV play in the Scottish Hydro Electric National League East 1.


Dunbar Grammar School hosts basketball training for many school and club squads. School teams often participate in the Scottish Cup competition for their appropriate level. The school also hosts training for the club Dunbar Dragons.

Coastal Rowing

Dunbar Coastal Rowing Club[28] has two St Ayles Skiffs - 'Volunteer' and 'Black Agnes'. They are frequently seen rowing off the coast towards Belhaven or Torness or even just fishing. In 2018 they rowed to all of the named islands in the Firth of Forth. In 2019 they are competing in the World Championships at Stranraer.


The town itself is served by two primary schools, West Barns Primary School[29] and Dunbar Primary School,[30] and a non-denominational state secondary school, Dunbar Grammar School.[31] Dunbar Grammar School also serves a wide catchment area which includes the surrounding areas and villages of (East Linton, Stenton and Oldhamstocks). There is also a small number of children who live in Cockburnspath that attend Dunbar Grammar. The school currently has a roll of 713 pupils, and that number is expected to increase with the ongoing expansion of the school and new houses being built in the area. As of August 2018, Claire Slowther, a former deputy head teacher at the school, is the head teacher, succeeding Paul Raffaelli. Dunbar Primary School is split between two campuses, the original building which is now referred to as: "John Muir Campus" taking Primary 1–3s along with nursery pupils, with the newer-built "Lochend Campus"; taking Primary 4–7s.

There is also a private school, Belhaven Hill School, a mixed-sex prep school for 7–13-year-olds.[32]

Youth facilities

Many youth groups use the facilities of The Bleachingfield Community Centre. There is a youth club which runs Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (term time) from 18:30 to 20:00 for primary 4 to 7 children and 20:00 to 22:00 for secondary school-age children. The Youth Cafe is held on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. The centre is also used by a playgroup, an after-school club and a line dancing club.

See also


  1. Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba ~ Gaelic Place-names of Scotland
  2. "Dunbar (East Lothian, Scotland, United Kingdom) - Population Statistics, Charts, Map, Location, Weather and Web Information". www.citypopulation.de. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  3. "Dunbar Locality 2010". Scotland's Census. 29 April 2001. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  4. "Dunbar Locality 2010". Scotland's Census. 2001-04-29. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
  5. Bethany Fox, 'The P-Celtic Place-Names of North-East England and South-East Scotland', The Heroic Age, 10 (2007), http://www.heroicage.org/issues/10/fox.html (appendix at http://www.heroicage.org/issues/10/fox-appendix.html).
  6. "Historic closes and wynds". Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  7. "Joan". www.OxfordDNB.com. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  8. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36977?docPos=1
  9. "Saint Cuthbert and Saint Wilfrid 657-688AD". www.EnglandsNortheast.co.uk. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  10. "The Gospels Story - Northumbrian Association". www.NorthumbrianAssociation.com. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  11. Battiscombe, C. F. (ed), The Relics of Saint Cuthbert, Oxford University Press, 1956
  12. Buildings of Scotland:Lothian by Colin McWilliam
  13. "Dunbar". Methodistheritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  14. Moloney, C. (2001). "New evidence for the origins and evolution of Dunbar; excavations at the Captain's Cabin, Castle Park, Dunbar, East Lothian". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 131: 283–318.
  15. "Site Record for Dunbar, Castle Park Leisure Pool Development; Dunbar Castle Park; Db87; Db88f; Db03a; Db08Details Details". Rcahms.gov.uk. 20 April 1994. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  16. "Site Record for Dunbar, Castle Park Splash Leisure Pool; Lauderdale House; Dunbar Castle Park; Db09Details Details". Rcahms.gov.uk. 20 April 1994. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  17. "1990 temperature". KNMI.
  18. "1982 temperature". KNMI.
  19. "Dunbar climate information". Met Office. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  20. "Border Roofing - 14 Thorntonloch, Innerwick, Dunbar. EH42 1QT". www.Border-Roofing.co.uk. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  21. Published on Thursday 6 April 2006 09:22 (6 April 2006). "Asda to move into East Lothian - Local Headlines". East Lothian News. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  22. Published on Wednesday 7 November 2007 11:33 (7 November 2007). "New ASDA store seeks local suppliers - Local Headlines". Berwickshire News. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  23. "Homepage - Dunbar United Colts F.C." www.DunbarColts.co.uk. Archived from the original on 20 February 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  24. "Homepage - Dunbar Coastal Rowing Club". www.dunbarcoastalrowing.org.uk. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  25. "West Barns Primary – Together Everyone Achieves More". Edubuzz.org. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  26. "Dunbar Primary School - Standing together. Facing the future". Edubuzz.org. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  27. "Dunbar Grammar School - Non sine pulvere palma". Edubuzz.org. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  28. "Boarding Prep School, East Lothian, Scotland – Belhaven Hill School". www.BelhavenHill.com. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
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