Aberlady | Environment

Environment | Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

Land use is primarily for arable farming. The policies of the two estates – Gosford and Luffness – add scenic beauty, but it is for its coast that Aberlady is renowned.

Aberlady Bay was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1952, the first in the UK; it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The reserve area comprises about 1440 acres of tidal mudflats, saltmarsh, sand dunes, scrub and grassland extending east towards Gullane links, as well as some woodland and the small freshwater Marl Loch.

For some years Archie Mathieson, the then county ranger, had oversight of the reserve until the appointment of the first full-time warden, Russell Nisbet, in 1974. Peter Gordon took over in 1980 and Ian Thomson, the present warden, in 1992. The Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve Advisory Group, representing local and wider interests, meets regularly.

The birds which nest, breed, rest or winter there – about 250 species recorded, including rare migrants – are the prime attraction, but there is interest too in the great variety of plants, marine life – and dragonflies! Nigel Tranter was intrigued by a solitary green woodpecker, which inexplicably returned ‘season after season’ to the treeless habitat of Gullane Point (Tranter, N. 1992 p22).

From October to March, the huge V-formations of honking pink-footed geese make an impressive sight and sound over Aberlady as they wing their way inland to feed, or return to roost at night on the long, wide sand-bar of the Bay. A record tally of 25,960 of these annual visitors from Greenland and Iceland was recorded in 1993.

Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The Civic Amenities Act (1967) required local authorities to designate areas of special architectural or historic interest as ‘conservation areas’, and in 1970 the historic core of Aberlady, with its coastal and rural surroundings to the north and east, was so designated. In 2000 it was proposed that this be extended westwards to include the playing fields, primary school, and pre-war council housing of Kirk Road, Elcho Terrace and the Pleasance.

Within the parish are three large houses of note.

Ballencrieff Tower was originally a 5-storey fortified house of the 16th century, and was incorporated in a Georgian-style mansion in 1730. Sir Gideon Murray, father of ‘Muckle-mou’ed Meg’ of Border ballad fame, lived in the house (1605-21), and his son Patrick became the 1st Lord Elibank. Boswell and Johnson visited the 5th Lord Elibank there in 1773. Long ruinous as a result of a fire in 1868, the building was saved from imminent demolition and restored over a period of eight years (1992-2000) by Peter Gillies, a civil engineer, with advice and a grant from Historic Scotland. Author Nigel Tranter encouraged Peter Gillies to undertake the restoration and took a personal interest in the project.

The A listed Gosford House has been home of the 12th Earl and Countess of Wemyss since 1951; it was designed by Robert Adam for the 7th Earl, completed in 1800, and altered by William Young c1890. However, the 10th Earl (c1880) was the first member of the family prepared to live in it. Remnants of the old house it replaced were partly demolished in 1885, and finally cleared in 1938 (Land Use Consultants, 1987, p94). ‘New’ Gosford was requisitioned in 1939. In 1940 a fire damaged much of the roof; years of temporary roofs permitted leaks, and dry rot followed. A new roof was constructed in 1995-6 over the central block, the work being overseen by local architect Fred Giffen, and assisted by Historic Scotland. Restoration of the sandstone is ongoing, with chimneys and balusters replaced and repaired in 2000 (and beyond). The landscape dates from at least 1799, with later additions. While masked by two centuries of growth, the original layout is still discernable (and is well recorded), and some parts have been reclaimed, for example the wide path from the house to the stables was reinstated in 1987.

The present A listed Luffness House building incorporates a 16th century tower house and later extensions. During the war years and until 1946, Luffness House was used to accommodate the Mayfield House Girls’ School, which was evacuated there. This school was associated with naval families and the girls were either orphaned or had lost a parent. After they left in 1946 it was used for a time as a convalescent home for Polish personnel who had served with the armed forces during the war. This ceased in the early 1950s although some of them stayed on. Some actually did not survive and are buried in Aberlady churchyard. A baronial wing of the house (1841) was demolished in 1959. The house is now available for functions, offering accommodation for 22, and a series of function rooms. The landscape is of significant value, and the double walled jardin clos (walled garden) is reputed to be the only one in Britain (Land Use Consultants, 1987, p152).