A DOZEN volunteers explored the historic features of the landscape at Newhailes House in Musselburgh as part of this year’s East Lothian Archaeology and Heritage Fortnight.

They could now go on to take part in a major plan this autumn to record 60 gardens in East Lothian, with a grading of their significance for future planning applications.

The volunteers were given a taste of life as landscape historians as they got the chance to bring the past to life in the Newhailes landscape. They undertook their own ‘sleuthing’ work to explore the site’s historic features, armed with the kind of questions landscape historians and volunteer site recorders ask as they build up an understanding of the history of individual features and their significance.

They enjoyed an online talk explaining the garden landscaping fashion when Newhailes, a Palladian house, was built and then remodelled. The property played a prominent role in the Scottish Enlightenment and is operated and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, which acquired it in 1997.

The group learned how desk research, such as studying old maps and searching through old documents, was an important part of being able to undertake archaeological discoveries in old gardens.

The volunteers then ventured into the grounds, where they were encouraged to give their own views on how the highlighted features could have been used historically.

The guides were all members of Scotland’s Garden and Landscape Heritage (SGLH) – a Scottish registered charity which promotes and protects Scotland’s historic garden and designed landscape heritage.

Fisherrow resident Neil Simpson, who is a volunteer on the Cockenzie Waggonway Project, said: “I used my phone to access some historic maps online and compared the maps with what remains of those features today.

“There was great discussion amongst us about the long hedgerow path called the Ladies Walk. One theory was that it got its name from the ruined chapel of our St Mary Magdalene, which was near the end of the path; the other suggestion was that it was a sheltered path for ladies to walk in while wearing their finery.”

He added: “It’s a feature of the estate that is so easy to miss and, when it was brought to our attention as part of the sleuthing survey, we all got really interested in what it might have been used for.”

SGLH has already received funding from Historic Environment Scotland and the Clyde and Avon Landscape Partnership for a pilot project, ‘Glorious Gardens’, to record historic gardens and designed landscapes in Falkirk and Clyde and Avon Valley.

The project has now been extended to a third phase, which is focusing on gardens in East Lothian.

This will involve the preparation of a digital learning pack for training volunteers to research, survey and record sites; promoting the development of a strategy to conserve historic landscape; and a conservation guide for landowners.

Testing of the digital pack will be carried out on sites in the county with financial support from East Lothian Council. They include: Bowerhouse; Carlekemp; Clint; Colstoun; Drummohr; Edenhall Hospital/Pinkieburn House; Elphinstone Tower; and Gifford Vale.

SGLH will need an additional £10,000 to launch the third phase of the project and the ‘sleuthing’ day at Newhailes was an opportunity to get citizen scientists interested in becoming landscape recorders for the initiative.