By Dave Berry

THE gems of East Lothian’s countryside are its villages.

The former mining villages in the west were transformed by modern council housing in the 20th century.

Aside from many splendid stone-built farm cottages and converted steadings, many quaint villages remain historically unspoiled, despite farm workers having been replaced by an influx of professional families and retirees.

Athelstaneford, Gifford and Tyninghame are among our most picturesque and ancient-looking.

You would think they had been there since Malcolm threw out the Northumbrians in the 11th century. But you would be wrong; these are wandering villages.

In medieval times, settlements grew up as clusters of huts around the local laird’s stone-built home.

Haddington grew up around David’s palace, Dunbar around its castle, Preston around its tower and so on. The advent of artillery made castles obsolete and the agricultural revolution brought rural prosperity.

The resultant 18th century boom in country mansions brought on a ticklish social problem: the same ramshackle poor huts, with their animals and smells, crowded around these magnificent stately homes. So they were moved out of the way.

This was as much for enlightened reasons as for snobbery.

Not only were the new locations planned, but provided solid, stone-built cottages, and facilities like a school, village hall, etc.

Tyninghame’s original village lay on the slope between the present Tyninghame House and the Tyne.

The remains of the village church marks the spot here, which is also the most likely site of the monastery founded by St Baldred to bring Christianity here in the 7th century.

Between 1780 and 1820, the Earl of Haddington expanded Tyninghame House into its present Scots Baronial style and decanted his people into the planned village we now know at the junction of what is now the A198.

Similarly, the original village of Athelstaneford was a mile or so to the east and closer to the actual site of the battle on the marshy banks of the Peffer Burn. When Sir David Kinloch built Gilmerton House in 1750, the present series of step-down cottages were built along the road leading to Garleton.

The oldest ‘new’ village, Gifford, and the magnificent tree-lined avenue leading south from it, was laid out for villagers moved from Yester by the Marquesses of Tweeddale even before Yester House itself was begun in 1699.

What appears timeless can be deceptive.