The parish boundary extends over a large area to the south of Garvald village, and includes the hill farms of Mayshiel, Priestlaw, Killpallet, and Johnscleugh. Like the farms of West Mains and Whitelaw in the northwest of the parish, these farms are all within Whittingehame parish, but outwith the community council area.
As in much of the county, the 1948 floods caused chaos in the parish, resulting in the demolition of four road bridges on the Whittingehame Water within as many miles.
Natural history: while there continues to be a number of badger setts in the hillfoot area, the hare population has been in decline since the 1970s. From 1991, there was an apparent increase in fox numbers. The steady increase in mink along the Whittingehame Water has resulted in the virtual extinction of the moorhen.
There has been a marked decline in a number of other birds, including plovers, larks, hedge sparrows, and partridges (especially since the 1980s). Raptor numbers (sparrow hawk, buzzard and peregrine falcon) have increased. There are still numerous butterflies of varying species seen in summer.
Many roadside wild flowers – campion, bluebell, buttercup and so on – have disappeared probably owing to agricultural spraying. From 1991, there was a marked increase in the appearance of the weed ‘Robin round the Hedge’ (cleavers or sticky Willie) on parish hedges, and an increase of ivy on walls and hedges. After a concerted effort, the giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), which was rife along Whittingehame Water, was eradicated by regular spraying between 1991 and 2000.
The splendid Whittingehame yew tree adjacent to Whittingehame Tower is thought to be at least 1000 years old (although opinions vary). It has an historical connection with Mary Queen of Scots through Bothwell, who resided at nearby Hailes Castle. The five yews at Luggate smiddy are about 120 years old, and for many years there were two monkey puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) nearby; they died in the early 1970s.
Over the four decades from the 1950s, most of the woodlands on Whittingehame estate – mainly hardwoods like sycamore, oak, ash, chestnut, elm, and beech – were clear-felled, and later replanted with more hardwoods, mainly beech, ash, sycamore and oak.
The building of the Whiteadder reservoir in the south brought the greatest environmental change to the parish. Where once the Whiteadder meandered through the land between the hill farms of Millknowe, Penshiel and Priestlaw, forming part of the boundary between Stenton and Whittingehame, the Whiteadder reservoir now forms a sizeable body of water, covering 193 acres (Lothian Regional Council Strategy for Conservation and Recreation 1989 p6). The sites of Millknowe farm (in Stenton parish) and Kingside school (see Education) are now under the water.
The additional water was needed for the Cockenzie power station (due on line in 1968), as well as for future county requirements. Work began in November 1964 (Haddingtonshire Courier 1964 November 13), peaked in 1966, and was completed in 1968; the flooding ceremony was held in May 1968, and the reservoir was officially opened on 3 October 1969. The dam is 89 feet high and 600 feet thick at the base; the reservoir has a capacity of 1,750 million gallons. A second area for flooding was also provided. The consulting engineers were G.H. Hill & Sons of Manchester, and the main contractors A.M. Carmichael Ltd. Initiated by the East Lothian Water Board, the reservoir was completed under the auspices of the South-East Scotland Water Board. The project cost £1¾ million, and over 120 men were employed (Haddingtonshire Courier Annual Retrospective for 1968; 1969 October 3); as they were billeted in Haddington, this massive enterprise did not impinge much on the economy of the parish.
Later, the Whiteadder reservoir was registered as a wildlife site of importance by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, being of particular value for geese. It also supports a number of natural brown trout (Lothian Regional Council Strategy 1989 pp12,15).
In spite of the loss of the mansion house, the main landowner in the parish remains Whittingehame estate (the Balfour family). Clint estate (the Blair family) owns a further part of the parish. Both estates have substantial areas of woodland.
Whittingehame estate controls four farms: Whittingehame Mains (Eastfield is now part of this); Luggate; Papple and Overfield.
Clint estate owns Stoneypath and Yarrow.
The farms mentioned above are tenanted. Most of the other farms in the parish are now owner-occupied.
Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction
Much of the attractiveness of the northern part of the parish is due to the extensive woodlands of the Whittingehame estate, which are all managed on a commercial basis. The property itself has had a rather chequered history over the period. Until 1963, the A listed Whittingehame Mansion House (Harris, P 1989 pp112-120) – a 19th century ‘classical’ house and its associated buildings (designed by Sir Robert Smirke) – were still owned by the Balfour family, although it had not been used as a family home since 1935. From 1942-53, it was used by Dr Guthrie’s Institution for Boys (a junior approved school). Empty until 1956, for six months the house became home to refugees from the Hungarian revolution. In 1963 the Balfour family sold it with about 38 acres of ground. From 1963 to May 1980 it was owned by the successful Holt School, a boys’ school. Between 1981 and 1986, the owner was Mohammed al-Abdaly who eventually received planning permission to turn it into a private hospital. The plan however, fell through, and again the land and buildings were sold. In 1986, the house was purchased by Charles Skilton; he restored the house to residential use, creating six luxury flats by 1988.
The landscape (Land Use Consultants, 1987 pp243-6) around the house dates from c1819, and was designed by W.S. Gilpin; the designed landscape extends to some 219ha (542 acres). There are many superb and interesting specimen trees in the arboretum.
Parts of the A listed Whittingehame Tower (on the estate) are thought to be 13th century. It was restored as a home in 1964 – having been a home in the 17th century. This building is away from the main house, and is the residence of the 4th Earl of Balfour (who died in 2003).
Many of the estate’s associated buildings are listed by Historic Scotland. The following are A listed: West Lodge; Whittingehame Tower Pavilion Lodges. B listed properties include: the Stables; East Lodge; Heather Lodge; Main (Stable) Lodge; South Lodge; West Lodge; Joiner’s Cottage; Lady Eleanor’s Cottage; Redcliff.
A large number of the parish’s farm steadings are aesthetically pleasing, and several are listed; Papple (B), West Mains, Whittingehame Mains (B); Luggate (B); and Eastfield (B, and described as ‘Elizabethan’ in design) all still have their brick chimneys. Papple’s splendid Victorian Gothic façade, and Luggate’s cattle court are both particularly fine (Dunnett, R., 1968 pp16-18). Ruchlaw Mains farmhouse is B listed.
Eastfield farm steading was last used in 1990, when the farm was incorporated with Whittingehame Mains. Severe deterioration of the steading roof caused a collapse; by 2000, the property had been sold, and was to be converted to housing, subject to listed building consent. The farmhouse and the farm cottages here are also B listed.