Dalkeith, which lies about a mile outside the line of Edinburgh's bypass, is the largest town in Midlothian and its administrative centre. For many used to travelling in southern Scotland it's all too easy to write off Dalkeith as a bottleneck that causes traffic jams on the A68 and slows down your progress towards Edinburgh.
And it's certainly true that Dalkeith would be a better place if the through traffic could be taken out of the town. Fortunately work is under way to do just that, with a bypass to the north under construction. The other reason passing travellers might have tended to overlook Dalkeith is that in the 1960s a triangular area comprising the old heart of the town was ripped out and replaced by the sort of buildings developers put up across the country in the 1960s.
But when you take a little time to explore the town you begin to appreciate the important role it has played for the better part of a thousand years, functioning as a market drawing in produce from all across southern Scotland, much of which then went to feed Edinburgh. And when you take a little time to explore the town you really see just how attractive parts of it really are, and how grievously it was damaged by the 1960s redevelopment.
One key indicator of its past importance as a market town are the number, size and quality of the hotels and hostelries on view. Establishments like the Old Mealmarket Inn, the Black Bull, the Harrow Hotel and the County Hotel convey a huge depth of character and history.
And as you look closer you realise that a great deal more of real value and interest remains. Perhaps the most attractive part of the town is the High Street, which runs north east from the central area as an increasingly broad tree-lined avenue that was once home to Dalkeith's regular markets. On one side of the High Street is the Corn Exchange, once Scotland's largest indoor grain market. This was in an unhappy state when we last visited, but let us hope that a good use is found for the building.
On the opposite side of High Street is the Church of St Nicholas. This is an interesting mix, a building whose origins (and in part, structure) date back to the years either side of 1400 before the church became collegiate in 1406. Most of what you see today, however, dates back to a major refurbishment in the early 1850s. The exception is the ruined choir which had long before fallen into disuse and been abandoned.
At the east end of the High Street, the A6094 veers sharply off to the right leaving a stub of road culminating in a gateway. This is the town gateway to Dalkeith House. It started life as a small castle in the 1100s. In the 1570s it was transformed by 4th Earl of Morton into Dalkeith Palace, and in 1642 it was sold to the Earls of Buccleuch. Between 1701 and 1711 they transformed it into one of the finest classical great houses in Scotland.
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