Dirleton | Environment

Environment | Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The area enjoys a moderate almost ‘micro’ climate and often seems to be on the edge of passing weather patterns. Snow seldom lies here for more than a day or so. Wind is a noticeable element with the prevailing winds being mostly west-southwest with speeds of 70mph not uncommon, with, frequently, cold east or north-easterlies in the spring and early summer. Haar (sea mist) can persist for two or three days, drifting in and out of the Forth during the day.

There are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and much of the Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve falls within the parish. Following a scientific study and reports in the 1960s, the county council started work on a major, and on-going, project of dune conservation and restoration at Gullane Bents. This involved the planting of sea buckthorn, sea-lyme grass and marram grass. Wooden posts and brushwood fences have also been added and specific pathways designated to allow growth of the grasses and to stabilise the dunes. Although the buckthorn secures the sand, it does squeeze out other species. Another side effect has been to provide more cover for the deer that not uncommonly ventured into the gardens and even on to the streets of Gullane in the 1990s. Yellowcraig Country Park, formerly part of the Archerfield estate, was established by the county council in the early 1970s when a nature trail was also set up.

The coastal area is important both for its flora and fauna and for the recreational opportunities it provides. The latter include not only the obvious sea and beach facilities but also the terrain, which shapes the local links golf courses. Natural erosion caused by wind, storms and high tides, together with human use and conservation measures, has ensured a constantly changing scene since the war. Sand winning at the Muirfield end of Gullane Bents has also had an effect. Permission for this was first given to Dobson & Sons in 1951 and although no extraction has been carried out for a number of years, it has been left as an option for the future. In 1990 very high tides and north-westerly gales badly affected much of the work of conservation and the beach was cut back by eight to ten feet, leaving a low ‘cliff’ of sand.

Seawater quality is now tested regularly. Since 1996, Gullane has achieved a green rating on the European Community scale, indicating excellent water quality and in 1999 Yellowcraig was rated very good. Gullane has also received a Seaside Award for reaching a high standard of land and sea cleanliness and providing good facilities.

Seabirds provide much of ornithological interest along the coast. Winter visitors include divers, seaduck such as common scoter, eider and goldeneye, and waders from the north such as turnstone, knot and dunlin. Fidra is home to a number of nesting seabirds including puffin, guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake and eider. The coastal grasslands have skylarks and meadow pipits and the sea buckthorn thickets provide shelter and nest sites for many birds. In winter the buckthorn berries are eaten by large flocks of fieldfares and other thrushes as well as the resident species such as greenfinches.

Away from the coast many of the breeding bird species have shown a marked decline over the past two or three decades though some such as goldfinches, siskins, long-tailed tits and blue tits which benefit from bird-tables have shown an apparent increase. Also more prominent around the villages in recent years are carrion crows and magpies. Dirleton Castle grounds are excellent for songbirds, particularly when the yew berries are ripe. Modern farming methods have not been good for wildlife although, as part of the set-aside policy, some land has been planted to create wildlife habitats and encourage the reintroduction of lost species. Grey geese and whooper swans are daily visitors in winter to a number of the local fields. The distinctive sight and sound of the comings and goings of skeins of geese is a feature of the parish.

Grey squirrels are very numerous on Archerfield but there also appears to be a very small population of red squirrels and there are roe deer too in the area. With the decline in game keeping, red foxes are now common and have even been known to rear their cubs in garden shrubberies. Weasels and stoats are seen now and then but hedgehogs have become very uncommon. Plenty of rabbits and hares are still to be found on Gullane Hill although less than formerly. Golf course management has had an effect on these and on the proliferation of buckthorn.

Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The parish has two main settlements, Gullane and Dirleton, with the smaller hamlet of Kingston on the southeast boundary. Over the years a number of areas of land, gardens and buildings have been listed or classified to note their significance and to ensure their management and conservation for the future. As a result selected parts of Gullane and the whole of the village of Dirleton have conservation area status.

Two factors had a significant impact in Gullane in the 19th century, the coming of the railway and the development of golf. These, along with an easily accessible beach, brought many more visitors to the area and around the turn of the century there was a considerable amount of new building involving such well-known architects as Robert Lorimer, James B. Dunn, Sydney Mitchell and J.M. Dick Peddie. Greywalls, now a hotel, was designed by Edwin Lutyens with a garden by Gertrude Jekyll. Also notable, in Hopetoun Terrace, are the semi-detached houses of Rattlebags stone designed in 1920 for the county council by the firm of Dick Peddie and Walker Todd.

The ruin of the former parish church is to be found at the western end of Gullane. The present Gullane parish church was completed in 1888 and St Adrian’s Scottish Episcopal church in 1927. The former United Free Church, which became a church hall before being sold in 1990 and converted to a private house and gallery, is notable for its painted ceiling.

In Dirleton examples of houses and cottages dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, in a vernacular style, survive on the ridge from Chapelhill to the Castle and around the Green. Most of these are built from stone from the local Rattlebags quarry on East Fenton farm, with sandstone quoins and lintels. Dirleton kirk with the original manse, on the west side of the Green, dates from the 17th century. Oatfield House and a later manse to the east of the church both date from the Georgian period.

Houses in Dirleton village viewed from the castle. In the foreground are Castlemains farm cottages. Next to these is the old bakehouse which was a Co-op grocery store till the mid 1960s. (A&J Gordon)

Houses in Dirleton village viewed from the castle. In the foreground are Castlemains farm cottages. Next to these is the old bakehouse which was a Co-op grocery store till the mid 1960s. (A&J Gordon)

Archerfield estate lies between the two villages. The house, now a ruined shell, originally dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. During the war it was occupied by a series of regiments, latterly Polish soldiers, and was left by them in a poor state. In 1946, the estate was bought by a farmer, Ian Mitchell, who farmed the land and used part of the house as a grain store. He removed the front entrance and installed a grain drier. In 1960, the Hamilton and Kinneil Estates bought the estate and the home farm became the residence of the Duke of Hamilton. The house continued to deteriorate and in the late 1980s it and the eastern half of the estate was sold for development. From then until 2000 three proposals for golf course, hotel and housing developments were made and failed due to planning or financial difficulties. The requirement by the East Lothian Council to restore the house contributed to these difficulties.

There are also the remains of two castles in the parish: the fragmentary ruin of the late 16th century Saltcoats Castle south of Gullane and the much more significant Dirleton Castle within Dirleton village. The Dirleton Castle ruins date from the early 13th century with additions through to the 16th century.