The village is built almost entirely from bright reddish stone from the nearby Rattlebags Quarry. This gives the village buildings a very strongly uniform appearance and helps give Garvald its unique atmosphere. The quarry helped sustain the village over the years, and stone from it was used in many of Haddington's buildings, including St Mary's Church.
Another reason for Garvald's location is that it lay on the traditional through route from the coast to the Border towns to the south-west.
This was not always to its advantage. Cromwell's army camped nearby shortly before the Battle of Dunbar in September 1650. They didn't damage Garvald, but did drink its brewery dry (and then went on to win the battle).
At the east end of Garvald is the Garvald and Bara Parish Church. This was built in the 1100s, though the bulk of what is on view dates back to a major rebuild in 1829. Internally the church is a great surprise, feeling very light and airy, with a light wood ceiling. The church is at the heart of a conservation area that includes the old schoolhouse nearby.
You could describe Garvald as serpentine in shape. Most of its buildings lie along a single road, but its twists and turns serve to conceal its length. The west end of the village has a slightly more open feel than the east, and here you find the village hall with its almost free-standing bell tower at one corner. Nearby are the little car park and other facilities for visitors, and the Garvald Inn.
In about 1160 a Cistercian Convent was established at Nunraw ("nuns' row"), a little to the south of Garvald. A tower house for defence was built in the 1500s and it had steadily expanded to become a fortified mansion by 1600, built of the same red stone as the village. The last three prioresses were all from the Hepburn family and, as tended to happen at the time, the property passed to the Hepburn family after the Reformation of 1560.
Things started to come full circle in 1945, when moves began to purchase Nunraw House as the core of a new Cistercian Monastery, and the first seven monks took up residence in February 1946. On 21 November 1947, the monastery became an abbey, the first in Scotland for nearly 400 years. A number of additional buildings have since been erected, and the original Nunraw House serves as the abbey's guesthouse.