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The designed landscape at Arniston House retains features from an early-18th-century formal design, including some drives, fragments of avenues and some specimen trees in the formal wilderness area. There is 19th- and early-20th-century parkland, a 19th-century formal garden on the site of the original wilderness, and a wild garden laid out in the 18th century but further developed in later centuries with tree and shrub planting. The walled garden dates to the mid-18th century.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Type of Site

A landscape park of the late 18th century and early 19th century (Thomas White improvement plan 1791) that incorporates features from a previous formal scheme part of which was designed by William Adam (1726-33).

Location and Setting

Arniston is situated on the east bank of the River South Esk some 12 miles (19.5km) south of Edinburgh. The A7(T) forms the eastern boundary of the policies beyond which lies the town of Gorebridge. The village of Temple is situated beyond the south-west corner of the Arniston policies. Arniston itself lies on an undulating plateau above the river valleys of the South Esk, the Gore Water and the Middleton Burn which run through the site to the west, north and south respectively. Beyond the northern boundary are the flat Lothian plains which extend to the River Forth. On a clear day, the Forth and the Hills of Fife can be seen beyond the policy woodlands from the top of the house. To the south the land rises gently to the Moorfoot Hills.

The surrounding landscape was used in the 18th century landscape design of Arniston to close vistas created as part of the formal design. The impact of the surrounding landscape has, however, been reduced over the years as the planting has matured and the overall scheme has become less formal. The woodlands and policy wall are of moderate significance in the local scenery.

Arniston House stands within some 1,052 acres (426ha) of designed landscape which extends north to Trotter Bridge, west to the woodlands on the banks of the River South Esk and east to the A7. The southern boundary of the policies today is formed by the B6372 which links Penicuik with Gorebridge, but an area to the south of this road was part of the original design and should still be considered as part of the designed landscape today.

Several maps exist to show the development of the estate since the 17th century. Reference to a 'Plan of the Policies prior to 1690', 'Plan of the Woods and Enclosures at Arniston in 1753' and the 1st edition OS map of c.1850 shows the landscape around old Arniston House in the 17th century, to be extremely simple and apparently confined to a walled enclosure around the house with some tree planting in the fields beyond. Following 1690, a new and more extensive landscape was laid out to the south of the house between it and the present southern boundary. After 1753, the estate of Shank, which lay to the north of Arniston, was purchased and the designed landscape was extended to include it. In the course of the subsequent years, it reached the form shown on the 1st edition OS map by the early 19th century.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Arniston House, listed category A, is a Georgian House begun in 1726 to the design of William Adam. Part of the old house dating from c.1620, which stood on the same site, was incorporated. The Adam Corps de Logis is three storeys high with a nine- bay front. It is connected by wings to twin pavilions, each two storeys high with three-bay front ends. The western third of the house was completed by Robert & John Adam between 1750-55 and a massive entrance porch was added by Wardrop & Reid in 1876. The porch on the garden front was added c.1800. The Orangery extends from the western pavilion and is included in this listing. It is now used for garden storage. The statues of sphynxes on the roof were added by the Chief Baron in The North Lodges and Gate, listed category B, are one-storey twin lodges which date from 1790. The roofs are platformed and a Lion, the Dundas family crest, surmounts one, whilst the other is surmounted by an Elephant, the crest of the Oliphant family; Katherine Oliphant was the wife of George Dundas who purchased the estate in 1571. The South Lodge, listed category C(S), is a one-storey random rubble building with the date 1826 inset into the north gable. The South Gates, or Cougar Gates, are listed category B. They are dated 1824 but were brought to Arniston at this time, having been acquired from a house in Nicholson Street, Edinburgh, where they were originally erected in 1766-67.

The Walled Garden, listed category B, stands to the south of the house, bounded on its south side by the B6372. It dates from c.1764 and was embellished with ornamentation, including three gates and a Loggia, from Parliament House, Edinburgh, after its demolition in 1808. A Grotto, listed category B, is situated to the north of the walled garden and is thought to have been formed from stones from Old Arniston House, one of which is dated 1644. There is also an Ice House. An Urn on an octagonal pedestal with two stepped bases, listed category B, stands in the wilderness area, and an Ornamental pillar, also listed B, which is thought to be particularly unusual stands in the same area. Both are thought to be 18th century in origin.


The parkland extends on all sides of the house between the woodlands which flank the River South Esk and the East Lodge on the B6372. From the house, it extends north between the river and Arniston Mains Farm and encloses the walled garden at Shank. This layout was established in the early 19th century. William Adam's plan of 1726 included formal avenues and roundels in the parks to the north and east of the house but it would appear that these were never planted.

Thomas White prepared an improvement plan in 1791 which suggested extending the park much further south than the present park boundaries, to include all the farmland between the B6372 and the farms of Halkerston and Castleton. The present park boundaries are relatively similar to those of the 1st edition OS map indicating that the extent of the White plan was not fully adopted. The White plan assumed the removal of all the earlier formal features including the Wilderness and the Avenues. This part of the proposals was also dismissed, as were his suggestions for an extensive system of winding paths and drives. The informal landscape developed in the early years of the 19th century retained the Avenues and Drives of the previous scheme and some of the original trees of these features remain today. They include the remains of the south end of the Beech Avenue laid out between the house and what became the South Lodge, by Robert Dundas soon after he returned to Arniston in 1689. Also remaining are specimens of lime and oak on the Avenue between the house and the Home Farm, and the mature limes which stand on the lawn to the south of the house which are remnants of the Wilderness area which was laid out in accordance with William Adam's plan of 1726.

The parkland has been replanted with specimen trees including oak and sycamore by successive generations, in particular the great-grandfather of the present owner who held the estate c.1900.


The present woodland structure dates from the informal improvements made c.1800- 1819 but it includes woodlands which were well established at Arniston by the early 18th century, following the plan by William Adam of 1726. Larch, which had been introduced the previous year, was used in the planting. Crow Wood and part of Carlisle Wood, situated to the south-east of the house, appear on Roy's map of c.1750. Between 1764-87, 'numerous woods and plantation were planted near the house', according to the Chief Baron's records.

Numerous rides and drives were extended through the woods in the early 19th century to the south of what is now the B6372 from Castlelaw Bridge through Crow and Carlisle Woods to the East and South Lodges. Much of the timber was felled on reaching maturity. The woods now have a mixed age structure. Robert Adam's Wood in the north of the policies and the woods along the banks of the River South Esk are mixed deciduous and the woods to the south of the B6372 are now largely coniferous.

The Gardens

Formal lawns are laid out adjacent to the south front of the house, fenced off from the park by an enclosure, the form of which appeared on the 2nd edition OS of c.1900. Some individual lime trees stand within this enclosure which are remnants of the formal layout designed by William Adam in 1726. Adam's plan (RHP 5246/3) was of a formal 'Wilderness' with trees underplanted with shrubs 'intersected in all directions by alleys bordered by yew hedges'. A pond formed the central feature of the Wilderness and the vista down the alley was closed on the hill beyond the Middleton Burn by a Cascade which reputedly was 'let off' when dinner was served. It is a striking feature on General Roy's plan of 1750. A sunken garden was apparently constructed as part of the scheme for the Cascade. The whole feature was lost around 1764 although the ground is still marshy today. The location of the parterre however can be detected on the lawn to the south of the house in appropriate weather conditions. A sundial now forms the central feature of this lawn.

The wild garden is situated between the Wilderness and the kitchen garden on either side of the Middleton Burn which has been canalised through this part of the garden. The wild garden was established after the construction of the kitchen garden in the 1760s. An early 19th century pen and ink sketch shows the valley floor of the garden at this time. On the lawns adjacent to the Burn, an ornamental urn formed the central feature of informal clusters of planting. By the late 19th century, this informal planting had gone as photographs show formal carpet bedding around the urn which remains today although the bedding has gone.

A footpath borders the lawns on the north side and, beyond it, the ground rises steeply to the parkland. These south-facing banks are planted out with yew, other ornamental conifers and beech, dating from the early to mid-19th century with late 19th century and early 20th century additions. Beneath the tree canopy, laurel and Rhododendron hybrids are well established along with other varieties of ornamental shurbs. To the north of the west end of the kitchen garden, the footpath runs to the grotto along the banks of the Burn and, here, the remains can be seen of moisture-loving plants which were established beside the cascades of the burn in the early 1900s.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden was established on its present site, to the south of the house in 1764. It replaced a previous garden which was located to the east of the house on the north side of the east drive, and an orchard which stood on the south side of the east drive. The present garden is embellished with stone features from Parliament House which was demolished in 1808.

The new kitchen garden incorporated the large and small basins of the previous cascade system as shown on a plan of the garden described by Alan Tait in the Burlington Magazine, March 1969, 'William Adam and the Country Seat'. Reference to the 1st edition OS map indicates that the garden was laid out in a series of ten compartments with intersecting paths. The garden became a market garden following World War II and is still leased out as such today.

The walled garden of the Shank Estate is incorporated in the park to the north of the house. It was sold privately in recent years and is also run on a commercial basis.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

Open at particular times during the season. For details see:


Arniston is about 11 miles south of Edinburgh. The entrance is on the B6372 one mile to the west of its junction with the A7 road from Edinburgh to Galashiels. For details see:


The Dundas family


The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

An outstanding example of William Adam's formal design, comprising woodland, parkland and gardens, and forming the setting for a category A listed building. The designed landscape is of strong historical interest and plays an important role in the local scenery.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Formal layout 1689-1700, 1726-33 and 1753-70, informalised 1787-1819.

Site History

The designed landscape of Arniston was begun in a formal style between 1689- 1700. Part of a formal scheme by William Adam was carried out between 1726-33 but much of this was later removed. Further planting was carried out between 1753-70 following the amalgamation of the Arniston and Shank estates and this whole area was informalised between 1787-1819 although the Avenues and other features of the previous formal schemes were retained. These followed an improvement plan prepared by Thomas White in 1791 which does not appear to have been carried out in total although some ideas were later adopted. There are a considerable number of maps available which document the development of the estate.

The lands of Arniston belonged to the Knights Templar of South Esk up until 1309 when the Order was suppressed and the estate passed to the Hospitallers. After the Reformation, Mary, Queen of Scots, sold the estate to James Sandilands who later broke up the property into several units. The main part was purchased by George Dundas, 16th laird of the Dundas Estate, for James, his son by his second marriage to Katharine Oliphant. Records show that he was a keen improver of the land. A rough plan of 1582 exists showing the layout of the landscape at that time (SRO RHP 5246/13). It is thought that the first Arniston House was built by James Dundas in 1620. At this time, the road from Edinburgh to the south ran through the estate between the house and the Middleton Burn, crossing over the River South Esk by Traquair Bridge, and is now called 'Lord Traquair's Walk.

James Dundas died in 1628 and his son, also James, inherited the estate. He entered a political career which his successors were to follow over the next two centuries. He was knighted in 1641 and, after 1650, created Lord Arniston. His son, Robert, inherited the estate in 1679 but lived in Holland with his wife, Marian, until 1689 when they began to prepare the estate for the construction of a new house, in a style which was greatly influenced by their exile abroad. It is known that in 1690, thirty beech and one elm were brought from Yester and planted out in the avenue which remains in part today to the south of the house. Robert Dundas sat in the Court of Session as MP for Midlothian and became the titular 2nd Lord Arniston. He died in 1726 and his son, Robert, inherited. The year before his father's death he had commissioned William Adam to prepare plans for a new house and improvements to the landscape. Only part of the house was completed immediately, incorporating the previous house. A plan of 1732 (RHP 5206/02) shows the extent of the landscape proposals which were implemented immediately, even before the house was completed, (although this plan has not been seen in the course of this study). Reference to a plan of 1753 does, however, show that the only Adam proposals to be implemented were those to the south of the house.

Robert Dundas, the 3rd Lord Arniston, was created President of the Supreme Court of Scotland in 1748. His improvements had, however, been suspended in the 1730s due to shortage of money, to the death of his wife and four of his children from smallpox, and to personal injury as a result of an accident. He died in 1753 and his first son, also Robert, resumed the improvement work, financed by his marriage to an heiress. Robert Adam was commissioned to complete the work begun by his father and by 1755 the house was complete. The plan of 1753 shows the extent of improvements completed by the 1st Lord President. 'A plan of Arniston and Shank Enclosures' was made in 1758 (RHP 5246/5/1-6) shortly after the neighbouring estate of Shank was purchased. Between then and 1787, woods and parkland were laid out over this more extensive area. The formal parkland parterre to the south of the house was dismantled between 1764-87. It is thought that the Cascade which formed the south vista of this feature was dismantled c.1764.

Robert, the 4th Lord Arniston, was created President of the Supreme Court in 1760, the second Lord President in the family. He died in 1787 and his son, Robert, inherited. It is from his manuscript accounts of Arniston that much of the detailed history is known. He was concerned with agricultural improvements and was founder Vice President of the Highland Agricultural Society of Edinburgh from 1784. He too rose to high political office, acquiring the title of Lord Chief Baron to the Court of Exchequer in Scotland. Thomas White was commissioned to prepare an improvement plan in 1791. A sketch map of 1800 indicates that little of White's proposals had been carried out but a 'Plan of the Policies and Mains of Arniston' dated 1813 suggested considerable informal planting, much of which was carried out by 1828 as shown on a survey map of that year.

Chief Baron Dundas died in 1819 and his son, Robert, inherited Arniston. There is little evidence of any landscape improvements carried out by him, only activities such as mining and quarrying which became common practice in the surrounding areas. The Newbattle railway was constructed within the northern boundary of the Arniston policies in 1824.

The Chief Baron's grandson inherited in 1838 on the death of his father and appears, from the ages of the trees which remain today, to have planted in the parks and gardens. The OS plans of c.1854 & c.1900 show that the structure of the designed landscape remained relatively consistent during the latter half of the 19th century. In 1898, Robert Dundas was created 1st Baronet of Arniston. He died in 1909 and was succeeded by his elder son Robert, 2nd Baronet, but he died within a year of succeeding to the title. He was succeeded by his brother. Arniston was managed thereafter by Trustees until 1930 when it passed to Miss May Dundas, the daughter of the 2nd Baronet. On her death in 1970, Arniston passed to Mrs Aedrian Dundas Bekker, a cousin of Miss Dundas and daughter of the 4th Baronet, who is in the course of implementing a phased programme of improvement to the house and grounds.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland


  • Icehouse
  • Orangery
  • House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Gorebridge South




  • Historic Scotland