Athelstaneford: The Battle, the Cross and the ‘Book Nook’

athelstaneford (Images: Kim Traynor (left) cc-sa-3.0; Urban Ghosts)

The village of Athelstaneford, about 20 miles east of Edinburgh, is noticeable primarily for its pretty church, characteristic Scottish cottages and traditional red telephone kiosk, which now serves as the local book exchange, or ‘Book Nook‘.

athelstaneford-book-exchange (Images: Urban Ghosts)

Unlike many adopted telephone boxes turned into libraries, toilets, or snapped-up by collectors, the example at Athelstaneford is still a working phone. Meanwhile, this small village also boasts an important place in popular Scottish culture.


Legend has it that the Scottish Saltire, also known as St Andrew’s Cross, was first adopted at Athelstaneford, following a battle between an army of Picts and invading Angles from Northumbria in 832 AD.

st-andrews-cross-saltire (Images: Wikipedia; Kbolino; public domain)

St Andrew, who was crucified on a diagonal cross, is said to have appeared on the eve of battle to Pictish King Ă“engus II promising victory. Athelstan, the leader of the Angles, was duly slain at a nearby river crossing, giving rise to the name Athelstaneford. The Picts attributed victory to St Andrew’s intervention and adopted his form of the cross as their flag.

Nigel Tranter, the author and prominent supporter of the Scottish Flag Trust, was married at the village kirk. In 2008 a permanent exhibition of his memorabilia was displayed in the north transept.



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