After visiting the Museum of Flight at East Fortune, Ike and Jane cycled over to the National Flag Heritage
Centre at Athelstaneford. The Heritage Centre is situated within a doocot (dovecote), located behind the Church, which was built in 1583 by
George Hepburn, and restored in 1996.
The Athelstaneford Doocot
The Athelstaneford doocot is one of the earliest surviving Scottish examples from the 16th century. The son
of the builder George Hepburn was Sir John Hepburn, the founder and first colonel of the Royal Scots.
This famous Scottish regiment, the First of Foot, has used the Saltire as its emblem since the 17th century.
The arms of the Hepburn family can be seen on the door lintel of the doocot.
Jane explained to Ike that early free-standing, purpose-built doocots in Scotland are of a “beehive” shape
which are circular in shape and taper up to a domed roof with a circular opening at the top. It was only in
the late 16th century they were superseded by the rectangular ones with a mono-pitch roof sloping fairly
steeply, usually in a southerly direction. As they looked at the doocot they could see that it was built during this time in the 16th century.
Learning the History of the Saltire
An information board outside the doocot provided more information regarding the fascinating history of
the Saltire. Ike spent some time reading it.
The St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire is Scotland’s national flag. The flag, the white saltire on a blue background,
is the oldest flag in Europe and the Commonwealth and originated in a battle fought in East Lothian in the
An army of Picts under Angus MacFergus, High King of Alba, helped by a small army of Scots led by
Eochaidh had been on a raid into Lothian, which was part of Northumbrian territory, and were being
pursued by a larger force of Angles and Saxons under Athelstan.
The Albannach/Scots were caught in the area of Markle, near East Linton, to the north of the modern
village of Athelstaneford, the village being re-sited to its present location in the 18th century. The two
armies came together at the ford near the present-day farm of Prora. Prora is about a mile east of Drem on
King Angus led prayers for deliverance and was rewarded by seeing a cloud formation of a white saltire,
which was the diagonal cross on which St Andrew had been martyred, against a blue sky. The king vowed
that if, with the saint’s help, he gained the victory, Andrew would thereafter be the patron saint of
Scotland. The Scots did win, and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland.
There is a Saltire Memorial is located within the doocot and outside at the southeast corner of the
churchyard. This was built in 1965, and restored in 1993. It consists of a battle scene that shows the two
armies facing each other with one about to claim victory, and the other accepting defeat under the sign in
the sky of the St Andrew’s Cross.
The inscription on the Memorial reads:
‘TRADITION SAYS THAT NEAR THIS PLACE IN TIMES REMOTE PICTISH AND SCOTTISH WARRIORS ABOUT TO
DEFEAT AN ARMY OF NORTHUMBRIANS, SAW AGAINST A BLUE SKY A GREAT WHITE CROSS LIKE SAINT
ANDREW’S, AND IN ITS IMAGE MADE A BANNER WHICH BECAME THE FLAG OF SCOTLAND.’
Ike was impressed with the audio-visual display on the ceiling and the realistic sound effects (available in several languages).
Ike was also interested in a map showing the different regions of Scotland before unification. The map
showed North and South Pictland, Dal Riata and Strathclyde. Jane said she has learned about the different
regions of ancient Scotland when she was at school.
Being originally a doocot, there were pigeonholes lining three of the walls. Ike got some pictures
taken sitting in one of the pigeonholes.
After seeing the various items inside the doocot they signed the visitor book and left the doocot, bending down to get through the doorway as the entry door was very small. They slid the locking bolt and secured the door.
Outside the doocot is a small garden with a seated area for visitors to have a rest. There is also a stone circle containing an image of the Saltire and surrounded by text which reads: “Athelstaneford – Birthplace of the Scottish Flag”