Heritage consultant David Hicks brings us the stories behind some of East Lothian’s historic properties.

Saltcoats Castle is a picturesque and unusual ruin just outside the village of Gullane. It was a place linked with the wealthy Livingston family for many hundreds of years, but was also home to more common people.

This was not a grim medieval fortress built for defence, but a comfortable and fashionable home for the local laird, Patrick Livingston and his wife Margaret Fettis. Every castle should have a legend, and there is a nice tale about how the Livingston family were awarded the land here. The story goes that an ancestor of Patrick’s had killed a wild boar which had been terrorising the locals, using the highly unusual technique of choking it to death with a special feathered glove. The helmet and glove said to have been worn by the hero still existed until the 1700s, displayed in Dirleton church.

The castle dates to about 1590, and was constructed around a courtyard with a main block of twin towers joined by an archway. There are the remains of the kitchens, with a vaulted ceiling and large fireplace, an oven and an outlet for washing away the slops. There is also a doocot, as pigeons were considered a useful source of food at the time, along with traces of an orchard and ornamental garden. Decorative features include a row of gargoyles along the roof and gun loops cut into the towers.  

The last resident of the castle was Margaret Menzies, Lady Saltcoats, who passed away in 1790. By then a cottage had been built into one of the walls of the courtyard, for the use of estate’s market gardener. For much of the 1700s this was the family home of John Bartleman, his wife Margaret Bell and their eight children. Their simple cottage has an interesting feature above the door, a carved stone plaque with the Livingston coat of arms. At one time this would have graced the main entrance to the castle, but as it became increasingly run down the gardener clearly decided to upgrade his own house. 

This early example of recycling is a good reminder that places like Saltcoats Castle were not just statements of power for the wealthy, but also homes for everyday folk.