Calypso Borealis

Our family activities for the next couple of weekends centre around Muir’s discovery of the Calypso Borealis while wandering through the swamps of Canada in 1864. The story of his joy at finding this rare orchid became his first published writing, having been sent on to a newspaper by his former College professor, J.D. Butler, to whom he had written of the discovery in a letter. The article was published in the Boston Recorder in 1865, and an extract is available here:

I never before saw a plant so full of life; so perfectly spiritual, it seemed pure enough for the throne of its Creator. I felt as if I were in the presence of superior beings who loved me and beckoned me to come. I sat down beside them and wept for joy. Could angels in their better land show us a more beautiful plant? How good is our Heavenly Father in granting us such friends as these plant-creatures, filling us wherever we go with pleasure so deep, so pure, so endless.

Next Exhibition – ‘Silva’ by Chris Thomas

We are delighted to announce the upcoming exhibition ‘Silva: a meditation on trees and woods in eleven photographs’ by photographer Chris Thomas. 20th February – 24th March.

Humankind has had an intimate relationship with trees and woodland since the days of our earliest ancestors – on the one hand, practical and prosaic, on another, a deeply-felt sense of their intrinsic value as living things, expressed spiritually by some. The importance of trees and woodland as part of a sustainable, richly-biodiverse and resilient future environments is well-recognised, but our attachment goes beyond this: trees and woodland are just as important to us psychologically and physically, simply by being.
Arising from his own fascination with trees and woodlands, Chris’s sequence of black and white film photographs seeks to invite visitors to the exhibition simply to reflect upon the ‘being’ of trees and woods: their ‘essence’ expressed in their architectures, textures and forms, the way they create light and shade and space, how these phenomena change daily, or through the seasons – and how we respond ourselves, consciously or subliminally, to our trees and woodlands.

Merry Christmas

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

If you are still looking for those last minute Christmas presents, remember we have some beautiful sustainable goods, many of which made within 30 miles of Dunbar. Why not pop in for Lothian Lavender and Chain Bridge Honey Farm goodies or Seaglass Jewellery by Back from the Beach. We also have stationary and books on themes of John Muir and local history. We also have a few of the Dunbar, Scenes of Street, Sea and Shore Calendars featuring photographs by local young people.

We will be open Wednesday – Sunday this week before closing for our winter break from Mon 24 Dec – Wed 2 January inclusive.

Next Exhibition – ‘Flora’ by Cathy Bell

Look out for our exciting first exhibition of 2019.  From 5 January until 16 February, we are proud to host artist Cathy Bell’s solo show, ‘flora’.

In her exhibition of artwork and photography Cathy Bell is concerned with capturing a personal connection with the natural world of “flora”. For paintings she has chosen to depict plants, flowers and trees which mean something to her personally and also for their shape, line and colour. She is not interested in rendering a realistic likeness, however, she does endeavour to capture an image which is true to the essence and spirit of the subject. Her photographs are similar in that they are not created with technical merit in mind. Rather, they are derived from an instinctive connection with the subject, some of the photographs are enhanced to heighten the mood, thereby, altering the aesthetic. In all of the work on display she tries to follow John Muir’s advice to “keep close to nature’s heart”.

New Exhibition – Inspired by John Muir

This wonderful selection of photos are the winning entries of a joint competition run by John Muir’s Birthplace and the Facebook group Dunbar in Pictures. It will be on display in John Muir’s Birthplace from 24 November until 21 December 2018. The photography competition was open to all photographers, professional and amateur alike.

The brief encouraged photographers to take time to look at the landscapes around Dunbar and the fine detail in nature that inspired John Muir as a child growing up in Dunbar. Photos of anything from landscapes to macro shots of nature, or people enjoying outdoor Dunbar were all welcome so long as they were taken within the geographical zone of Dunbar (boundaries are: Seacliff / Tantallon Castle in the west, Pease Bay / Cove in the east, and the Lammermuirs out to Garvald to the south) or a picture of Dunbar taken from across the Firth in Fife or from the top of North Berwick Law.

Special thanks to Gaynor Smith who helped conceive and administrate the project and all the participating photographers.

Spend your new East Lothian Gift Card with us!

John Muir’s Birthplace is delighted to be part of the new East Lothian Gift Card Scheme.

Following on from the council’s popular Christmas Shop Local Scheme, the gift card retains the same aims of supporting our town centres and local businesses and boosting East Lothian’s economy.

It’s really convenient too, with businesses of all kinds from shops to beauty therapists to restaurants all being able to take part in the scheme at no cost, with the only requirement being their business is able to take Mastercard credit card payments.

And to buy a gift card is easy too as it’s all done online and you just load your card with your chosen amount and it can then be used in participating East Lothian businesses.

This makes is not just the perfect Christmas gift but great for birthdays, celebrations, wedding and corporate gifts.

Spokesperson for Economic Development and Tourism, Councillor John McMillan, said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be supporting this initiative which is a great way of giving our local businesses a boost and keeping spending here in East Lothian. The card looks great, is easy to buy and use, and would be a perfect addition to any Christmas stocking!”

There are more than 100 businesses taking part at the moment, including hotels and restaurants, shops and service providers and we expect more and more will come on board as there’s really no limit to how many people can get involved in the gift card scheme. All the participating businesses will be listed on the gift card website and will display in their premises that the East Lothian Gift Card is accepted there.

The East Lothian Gift Card is available from

So why not think about buying an East Lothian Gift Card for someone this Christmas and give them the chance to pick a beautiful locally made present and support local businesses at the same time?  Here at John Muir’s Birthplace they can choose from books, Back from the Beach Seaglass Jewellery, Chain Bridge Honey Farm toiletries, Lothian Lavender candles and soaps or Marina Outdoors stationery as well as local cards by local artists and photographers including Gordon Jenkinson and Sheila Sim.

Maintenance in John Muir’s Birthplace

*Update Sun 18 November – we are delighted to announce that the upper floor reopened on Sun 3 Nov and the lift is fully operational once again. We would like to thank all our visitors for their patience at this time.*


Following an incident on the afternoon on Thur 1 November, please note that our top floor outlining John Muir’s later life and legacy is currently closed and our lift is out of order.  We apologise for any inconvenience this causes and hope our visitors will understand as we endeavour to get everything back to normal as soon as possible.

We do still have 2 floors available for you to visit in the meantime, and our shop is stocked with lots of books and lovely gifts!

Winter Hours

From Monday 1 October 2018 John Muir’s Birthplace will move to our winter opening hours of Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm and Sunday 1pm – 5pm. We will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  We often get asked if we are quieter in the winter months, however this is the time in which we do our planning for the season ahead.

We will be visited by more than 1500 school children over the academic year, including most P5 classes in East Lothian undertaking their John Muir Project as part of their Citizenship Studies.

The run up to Christmas can also be busy as people like our selection of local crafts made within 30 miles of Dunbar, including: Chain Bridge Honey Farm toiletries; Lothian Lavender Candles and soaps; Back From the Beach Seaglass Jewellery; Sheila Sim and Gordon Jenkinson Cards. We also have a wide selection of books by and about John Muir and the wilderness.

So we are here throughout the winter and we are kept on our toes! Please pop in and see what we’re up to and you may get a sneaky peek of what we have in store for 2019!

Doors Open Days 2018

We are delighted to once again be taking part in the Edinburgh and East Lothian Doors Open Days on 29 and 30 September organised by The Cockburn Association.  Drop in anytime 10am – 5pm on Saturday and 1pm – 5pm on Sunday and have a go at our new trail deigned especially for 2018 Year of Young People, exploring what life was like for John and a young boy in Dunbar.

Doors Open Day is your chance to explore some of Edinburgh & East Lothian’s architecturally and culturally significant buildings – all for free. From heritage landmarks to the newest architecture, Doors Open Day offers free access to properties that are either not usually open to the public or would normally charge an entry fee. The event also offers the public an opportunity to find out more about the area’s public buildings.