Alison Cowe (nee Ford, 1946) – Gullane 1950s

Born in Gullane in 1946, the sea and the rolling sand dunes are the over-riding memories of my earliest years in East Lothian. Freezing-cold swims, sliding down the dunes on tin trays and long walks, towards Jovey’s Nook one way or Muirfield the other, with my father on a Sunday to let my mother have a rest from looking after us four. Even the weather seemed to depend on the mood of the sea and I remember when I was finally allowed to join the older two and my father on the annual equinox walk. I was woken early, and told to dress warmly so we could walk to the island of Eyebroughy (Eeebrochy) at the unusually low tide – it couldn’t be done at any other time and the fact that we just might be cut off on our return made it more exciting.

Alison’s mother supervising her activities at a Brownie event, 1950

My brother and I went to Miss Johnston’s school in a big room in Luffness House. It was a real Dame School, one teacher for about 20 children from five to ten years old. One group would be reading round Miss Johnston’s desk, while another was “doing sums” and a third writing longhand in their copy-books and then we had general lessons, such as history, all together. The history was extremely biased and I used to gleefully say things to my English mother like “We beat you at Bannockburn” and the only Shakespeare play I had heard of till I moved on was Macbeth. However, I am extremely grateful to have had a grounding in Scottish history, which was continued in the junior part of my Perthshire boarding school, because I still find myself slightly less ignorant of our past then some of my contemporaries.

On summer weekends Gullane beach was a Mecca for daytrippers from Edinburgh. They came by bus and by bike mostly, with the number of cars increasing every year. The cyclists came in all shapes and sizes, including girls in high-heeled sandals, but they must have been fit because it was about a 36-mile round trip. Sometimes on these occasions our entire family packed into the Ford Consul and left for the hills – a picnic on the Lammermuirs – where we dammed fresh water burns and collected sheep’s wool, far from the crowded seaside.

Miss Johnston’s school, Luffness at garden fete in aid of SSPCA, 1950. Alison is third from right on front row.

As a teenager, I yearned to be somewhere else, somewhere more exciting and often took the bus into Edinburgh to wander round the shops where I could experience the buzz of city life. This was not prophetic because, apart from a year in Germany, I have lived all my life in East Lothian or in girly flats in Edinburgh.

In 1970 I married Robert Cowe, whose family lived in the very old house called Fountainhall, beside Pencaitland. We rented Crauchie farmhouse, on the Gilmerton estate, then bought and restored the cottages at Beanston Mill where we stayed extremely happily with our three children until 1988 when we came to live in my parents-in-law’s house. We have many good friends outwith East Lothian, as well as within, but this is where our hearts are and although we enjoy travelling have no inclination to retire abroad. I would miss the people and the landscape too much.