THE JOHNNIE MOAT - Jim Forster
Egypt may have its mysterious Pyramids and India its beautiful
Taj Mahal, but Prestonpans has its legendary "Johnny Moat"!
This large dark blue whinstone boulder which sits precariously
on the rock shelf now known as the Girdle Rocks has puzzled eminent
geologists and scientists over the centuries as to how it arrived
on the shore of the Firth of Forth opposite the town of Prestonpans.
The huge boulder, fully nine feet long by six feet wide and over
six feet high. estimated to weigh 13 tonnes. is of a different
texture to all the rocks around it. most of which are sandstone.
How did it get there? A number of theories are given:
"It could have been a meteorite which fell from the sky centuries
ago", some say. "It could have been blasted from the
mouth of Arthur's Seat when it was an active volcano" say
A more feasible expIanation is given by the geologists and the
men of science. Thousands of years ago when all this area was
in the grip of the Ice Age this large boulder was carried along
with a glacier then. as the ice receded and began to melt. the
boulder was left perched on its precarious pinnacle.
Enough about the scientific expIanations, what about the popular
legends that surround this giant boulder that the people of Prestonpans
have taken to their hearts? How did the name Johnnie Moat come
The Johnnie Moat on its original site
In the year 1526 King James V granted a charter to the Acheson
family of Gosford to construct a harbour on the west side of Salt
Preston. It became known as Acheson Harbour.
In 1609 the harbour fell into the hands of the Morison family
and it became known as Morison's Haven.
A huge fellow was employed by the Morisons as Harbourmaster. Some
local lads walking along the shore, seeing this large boulder
commented "that the rock puts me in mine of big Johnnie"
and from that time on the boulder was called Johnnie Moat.
The huge boulder has probably sat there on it pinnacle and watched
the progress of the hamlet of Althamer become a thriving community
and, over the centuries, go from one name to another - from Althamer
to Prieststown. then Salt Prieststown. then Salt Preston, then
finally, as we know it today. Prestonpans.
Over the years the legend of the rock became famous. It was said
by the locals "as long as the Johnnie Moat stands on its
original shelf of rock. the town will flourish" and it did
with its potteries. saltworks, ropeworks, breweries, soapworks.
market gardens, coalmines, brickworks and numerous other small
places of work.
Then. during the great storm of December 1952. the great rock
toppled onto the shore and there gradually became covered by all
sorts of debris for forty years. During that time what happened
to the industries of Prestonpans? They all closed down. one after
the other, bringing unemployment and redundancy to the people
of Prestonpans! Was it coincidence or the legend come true?
However, things are looking bright for Prestonpans because, at
the beginning of March 1992. Johnny Moat was lifted back on to
its original resting place by the contractors who were laying
a new sewage system along the shore line. We will just have to
wait and see what the legend has in store for us. There is hope