Oldhamstocks | Environment

Land ownership | Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The road from the village to Stottencleugh leads to Fairy Glen, a spectacular valley where ‘Badlands’ topography defines a period 390 million years ago. Red conglomerate rock originates from desert gravels of the southern tropics. Rock strata in the parish fall into four main geological time scales: Carboniferous, Lower Devonian, Silurian and Ordovician. At the sea’s edge the cliffs between Bilsdean and Dunglass burns are unstable and each winter there are many landslips.

The weather is comparatively gentle on this side of the Lammermuirs. It is generally dry with a very low annual rainfall from 600 ml (coast) to 850 ml (hills) in comparison with the Scottish average of 1400ml. South-west winds prevail, but occasional gales off the North Sea send temperatures below freezing. Crops on high ground receive rain off the Lammermuirs and are two weeks later than crops on low ground.

Natural history: hares are rarely seen but rabbits are ubiquitous. The first major outbreak of myxomatosis was in 1955; since then the population has fluctuated with the level of the disease. Farmers and the estate gamekeeper pursue rabbits and foxes with the gun. A few red squirrels still scurry amongst conifers in Dunglass woods, but they are threatened by a recent infiltration of greys. The woods are also home to roe deer, which wander onto the beaches. Road-kills provide most of the evidence for a small population of badgers and a large one of hedgehogs. Otters have disappeared but escapee mink prowl the burns and prey on ducks, water voles (now rare) and other wildlife. Moles are widespread. Rats on farms are now controlled to the extent that this represents a loss of food for owls, foxes and stoats. It is not unusual to see weasels, stoats and their prey (voles, mice and shrews) but adders are rare. At sea the occasional porpoise or dolphin makes an appearance, and in May 1950 some 30,000 sightseers flocked to Thorntonloch Bay for the spectacular but miserable sight of 147 blue whales fatally stranded. University students took part in anatomy classes on the beach until the carcasses were uplifted.

There is no shortage of garden birds – blackbird, sparrow, dunnock, starling, wren, robin, the tit and finch families. Song thrush numbers are down but in winter there are mistle thrushes, redwing and fieldfare. Kestrels, sparrowhawks and buzzards dive on prey in fields and road verges. In Dunglass Dean there are woodcock and occasionally, tawny, barn, short- and long-eared owls; the young conifer plantations also attract goldcrest, redpoll and long-tailed tits. Collared doves arrived in Britain in the 1950s and are now common. Jackdaws colonise cliffs, ruins, and the putlog holes of old bridges. On Dunglass estate’s pond there are moorhen, mallard and little grebe; the burns have dippers, pied wagtails and herons. Unfortunately, several species have disappeared: sea eagle, raven, hooded crow, nightjar, little owl and corncrake.

Woodlands attract regular summer visitors such as the warblers. More commonly seen are the tree creeper and the great spotted woodpecker but sightings of the green woodpecker and kingfishers are now rare. Swallows wheel around most farmsteads, but house martins nest in the cliffs. When grassland acreage increased during agricultural set-aside periods the beneficiaries included partridge, skylark, yellowhammer and meadow pipit. The most conspicuous birds in the parish are pheasants, intensively reared on Dunglass estate.

Near the sea, birds frequenting the shoreline include rock pipit, starling, pied wagtail, dunlin and ringed plover. There are noisy colonies of fulmars on the cliffs at Dunglass and Bilsdean and out on the rocks at low tide are cormorant, herring-gull, black-headed and black-backed gulls, turnstone, curlew, redshank, oystercatcher and a variety of ducks.

Butterflies are relatively scarce, perhaps because of the windiness of the east coast. The most common are small tortoiseshells and the ‘whites’ but along grassy slopes of the coastline, you may see meadow brown. The larger butterflies – red admiral, peacock, painted lady and dark green fritillary – are migrants and vary from year to year.

There are a great variety of plants because the parish stretches from the hills to the sea through wooded deans and fields. Tough shoreline vegetation includes fleshy sea sandwort, oraches, scentless mayweed and scurvy-grass but only isolated plants of sea-rocket. Near Dunglass old sandpit, sea buckthorn has taken over but where rabbits have grazed, smaller plants thrive – primrose, cowslip, meadow saxifrage, dovesfoot cranesbill and birdsfoot trefoil. Among the sea-buckthorn are uncommon Good King Henry – an edible goosefoot, and dainty bur chervil (Anthriscus caucalis).

In the deans, decaying trees allow for some natural regeneration. Dunglass Dean is lined with blackthorn thickets and in the spring, snowdrop colonies are followed by ransoms, ferns, angelica, hemp agrimony, red campion and green alkanet. Although Bilsdean is rich in hart’s tongue fern, it is not very diversified; ivy predominates, draping both trees and ground. The mechanisation of sowing along with chemical weeding has eliminated corn-marigold, cornflower and corn-camomile but arable weeds such as thistle, ‘sticky Willie’ and burdock survive at field edges. Others that thrive are poppy, field pansy, fumitory, forget-me-not, chickweed, red dead-nettle, clovers, speedwells and daisies. Red campion blooms profusely, followed by cow-parsley. Unfortunately, both hogweed and poisonous hemlock are also increasing.

On hillsides the vegetation is more varied with hawthorn, blackthorn, rhododendron, gorse, dog rose and bramble quite common, often with honeysuckle and ivy climbing among them. Where rabbits have not grazed, there is a thick cover of bracken, nettles and tall grasses.

Hedges of beech, hawthorn, blackthorn, briar, elderberry, gorse and broom often line fields, woodlands and roadsides. Along the A1 lay-by near Dunglass, the railway embankment is blanketed with primrose in spring and ablaze with rosebay willowherb in late summer.

Dunglass estate has many fine specimen trees including a strawberry tree (Arbutus) located to the right of the main entrance. Within wooded grounds near the Collegiate Church is an ancient sycamore, which may possibly be the Tron tree reputedly in use for weighing goods brought to market when Dunglass was elevated to burgh status in 1489. Within the parish as a whole, the predominant species are oak, beech, ash and sycamore. Perhaps the most famous trees were the stone pines (Pinus pinea) planted around 1850 along the Bilsdean road against the railway embankment. When one collapsed across the road in 1998, Railtrack felled them all. Local people made their anger known and in the following year, Railtrack made amends by planting 20 new stone pines in the same area.

The Aikengalls northeast of Monynut Edge are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for ice-age melt water channels and in glens off the main valley, the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves contain some of the original oak forest. The East Lammermuir Deans Nature Reserve includes hills in Oldhamstocks such as Ling Hope and Wide Hope as well as Innerwick deans.

The parish’s environmental riches seemed to be doomed when the proposals for Torness nuclear power station were announced. Although located within Innerwick parish, the bulky station is visible from the whole of Oldhamstocks parish, and parishioners voiced their very real concerns prior to the commencement of building work in 1979.

Meantime, and with renewable energy objectives to the fore, planning permission was sought in 2000 for a wind farm on Crystal Rig just west of the parish. When the proposals were put before local residents, there were few objections.

Land Ownership

Since 1952, Dunglass estate lands in Oldhamstocks parish have been owned and managed by Francis (Frank) John Usher. The estate farms – Birnieknowes, Branxton, Dunglass Home Farm, Lawfield, Oldhamstocks Mains and Springfield – are all tenanted. Farms in private ownership are Cocklaw, Fernylea, Stottencleugh, Woollands, Middle Monynut and Nether Monynut. Although Dunglass estate has retained ownership of its tenanted farms, many of its cottages, redundant farm buildings and small parcels of land were sold off during the 1930s and most post-war years. A few acres have been lost to A1 road building.

Within the village of Oldhamstocks, all homeowners continue to have rights of grazing on the village green and in theory, access to the well. Formerly, they also had grazing rights on a hilltop common of 456ha where they took their livestock in the summer months and cut turf and peats.

Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

Historically this is an agricultural area and because development has been restricted by local authority planning policies, land use remains much as before. Current local plans indicate no specific requirements for land allocations to support either new housing or employment. Any proposals for infill development are likely to be judged in a similar way. Given the planning presumption against further domestic or industrial buildings in the parish, and the Conservation Order (1979) on Oldhamstocks village and immediately surrounding lands, it is unlikely that there will be changes in the immediate future. In 2000 it was recognised that the special character and appearance of the village should be preserved and enhanced and that even small-scale developments, such as some of the house extensions previously allowed, could have a detrimental impact.

The parish has an unusually high proportion of buildings listed for their architectural merit. In the village they include: the A listed parish church, graveyard walls and watch house; B listed market cross, wellhead, old manse, ‘Braeview’, ‘Wight House’ and Stottencleugh farmhouse; and C listed ‘Greenend’, ‘Hillcrest’, ‘October’ and mill cottage.

All of the bridges crossing the deans are particularly fine, particularly the A listed Dunglass railway viaduct. The 1932 B listed Dunglass A1 road bridge became unsafe and redundant before the A1 was re-aligned in 1992 but the 17th century Dunglass old bridge still carries local traffic.

Dunglass estate has some of the most outstanding architectural structures: A listed Dunglass Collegiate Church and the hilltop gazebo; B listed farm dairy, walled garden, service buildings, hot-houses, stable court and sundial; C listed lodges, gatepiers, walls and gardeners’ houses. After its use as a boarding school during the war, the 1813 mansion was demolished. The lead roof was removed in 1946, army demolition experts blew up the internal walls in 1958 and the job was finished by Old Cambus quarriers. In 1961, a modern house was erected on the site. The extensive ‘picturesque’ formal gardens created in the early 1800s disappeared during world war two. In 2000 the structure of the earlier design could be identified from estate roads and paths but most of the grounds had been given over to lawn, pasture and woodland.

The sites of Cromwell’s Ha’ at Oldhamstocks’ east end and the Plough, two village inns which had disappeared by the late 1800s, are now occupied by cottages.

When Sir James Hall replaced Dunglass castle with a mansion house in 1813, its orientation was changed from south to north in order to take advantage of the sea view. This provided an incentive to integrate the new house within a completely re-designed landscape. Influenced by the ‘picturesque’ principles promulgated by the Romantic Movement of the late 1700s, Sir James combined formal gardens and parkland with plantations and areas of rugged wilderness. The railway intervened in 1846.