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The parkland at Balbirnie is largely laid out as a golf course, but the structure of late-18th- and early-19th-century parkland and shelterbelt plantings are intact. The remains of terraced gardens survive around the house, which is now a hotel. The 19th-century woodland garden contains a notable collection of trees and shrubs, including rhododendrons grown from seed obtained during plant-collecting expeditions.

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 picturesque designed landscape begun c.1779 to a design by Robert Robinson incorporating parks, shelterbelts, clumps and specimen trees, extended by Thomas White Jnr c.1815, with the addition of a woodland garden developed in the latter half of the 19th century hosting specimens collected by Hooker, the acclaimed plant hunter and, in the 20th century, the creation of an 18-hole golf course.

Location and Setting

Balbirnie is situated near the village of Markinch some 1.5 miles (2km) east of Glenrothes. The site is surrounded by major transport routes which cross this relatively low-lying area; the A92(T) forms the western boundary of the site. The railway line to Perth lies to the east and the A911 follows the valley of the River Leven to the south. The Balbirnie Burn flows through the policies to the north of the house. The site is underlain by coal measures and three workable coal seams were mined at Balbirnie up until the 1930s. The landform is undulating, rising to 350' (106m), and the climate is relatively mild with a low average annual rainfall. The policy woodlands and the nature of the landform tend to confine the views mainly within the policies and screen the designed landscape from view from the surrounding area.

Balbirnie House is set to the north-west of Fir Hill and faces south-west across the park. The designed landscape is bounded by the main A92 to the west, and by minor roads on the other sides. The village of Markinch has expanded into the south-east corner of the site. Documentary evidence of the extent of the designed landscape is provided by a plan by Robert Robinson in 1779, a plan by Thomas White Jnr in 1815, a survey plan of the estate in 1815 and by the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps of c.1860 and 1900. Comparison of these plans and maps shows a gentle evolution from Robinson's original layout in 1779. The road which ran through the estate in 1815 was moved to the west boundary by White, and the designed landscape at that time extended beyond the minor road to the east of the house and is shown extending beyond the railway line on the 1st edition map. In recent years, some changes have been made to the design, particularly by the laying out of an 18-hole golf course in the parks; however, the basic structure planting remains and the designed landscape today extends over 416 acres (168.5ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Balbirnie House was designed in its present form by Richard Crichton in 1815 and is listed A. It is a large classical mansion of two storeys and a basement. It incorporates the earlier house designed in c.1780 and has mid- 19th century 'railway architecture' additions in the rear courtyard. The Stables were built in c.1780, are two-storey and are listed B; they have been converted for workshop accommodation for the Craft Centre. The South Lodge, listed B, is a one-storey building designed by David Bryce. The West Lodge is listed B and was designed in 1823 by R.& R. Dickson who also completed the work on the mansion house after Crichton's death. There is a large walled garden to the south of the house. The golf clubhouse was built to the north of the mansion in 1980. A stone circle has been moved further into the park from its original site near the A92. Rose Cottage has been converted for use as a Craft Centre and Balbirnie Mains now houses the Community Farm Project. An early Stob Sanctuary Cross is sited near the East Lodge.


The parkland at Balbirnie was laid out attractively and both clumps and individual trees were planted, mainly with beech, sycamore, oak, elm and Scots pine. Some of the trees date from 1780 plantings but most of the clumps were put in from 1815. The shelterbelts were extended in the early 19th century. Contemporary accounts refer to the picturesque views afforded from the woodland walks, some of which have become obscured by more recent planting. In 1980 an 18-hole, 6,444 yards, par 71 golf course was laid out in two 9-hole loops, one in the south park and one to the north of the mansion. The golf clubhouse was set in the north park. Care was taken over the design of the golf course to respect the topography and the existing designed landscape. A caravan park has been sited to the south-east of the policies, by Markinch. Minerals have been extracted from an area in the West Park where it is proposed to develop private housing. There is a large car park set in the woodland to the rear of the mansion house.


The policy woodlands were planted in the late 18th/early 19th century in the form of curving shelterbelts and clumps, as part of the picturesque designed landscape. They are planted on the higher ground covering the ridges and hillocks and there are no extensive timber plantations within the policies. The largest area of woodland is at Fir Hill, through which the woodland garden has been laid out. The older trees are mainly hardwoods, oak, sycamore, and beech, with areas of Scots pine, for example on Fir Hill, with some later plantings of conifers. There is a conservation policy for the mature hardwoods, however some housing development is proposed in the Mount Frost woodland area.

Woodland Garden

There is a large woodland garden extending to the east of the mansion house from the walled garden area over Fir Hill to the Balbirnie Burn. A great variety of flowering shrubs and ornamental trees has been planted here, including a notable rhododendron collection. The rhododendrons have all been identified and recorded and their layout is mapped in the Balbirnie Park Guide booklet. The collection is of interest as one of the few of its kind on the east coast of Scotland, and contains amongst the remaining interesting specimens 'one of the finest R. thomsonii in general cultivation'. Many were grown from seed collected by Hooker and from the Forrest and Kingdon Ward expeditions. There are several interesting specimen trees, including a fine Eucryphia x nymanensis near the walled garden, several monkey puzzles and, amongst many others, Acer hersii, Pinus nigra, Cercididiphyllum japonicum and Cedrus atlantica. Walks lead up from the house and the walled garden under the cover of the trees and alongside the Balbirnie Burn.

The Gardens

The formal garden lies along the south-west front of the house. The 1st edition OS map of c.1860 shows a more extensive formal garden extending round to the north side of the house and divided off from the surrounding parkland by a low wall. At that time it was planted up in several compartments but photographs taken in the latter part of the 19th century show the terraces laid to grass with steps descending from the house. In the early 20th century, when two generations of Balfours shared the house, the garden was divided into two by yew hedges and a long central herbaceous border was planted up. The garden is now mainly well trimmed lawns with surrounding shrub beds and there are proposals to redesign this area.

Walled Garden

The large walled garden was constructed at the end of the 18th century to the south of the stables and is still in use today, as a nursery for Kirkcaldy District Council. There is an extensive range of glasshouses along the southwest-facing wall, and there are several choice shrubs planted in the areas to the west and north of the garden.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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

A late 18th century landscape, extended in 1815 with Thomas White designs. Balbirnie has a well-documented history, and contains a notable plant collection, a category A listed building, as well as woodland belts that contribute to the surrounding scenery.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

18th century-c.1779, extended in 1815 and embellished in the latter half of the 19th century.

The present designed landscape was laid out in c.1779 from designs by Robert Robinson and extended in 1815 to the designs of Thomas White. The woodland garden was planted up throughout the latter half of the 19th century.

17th - 18th Century

The Balbirnie Estate was acquired by the Balfour family in 1640. John Balfour who succeeded in 1767 decided to rebuild the old 17th century house in 1780. He also commissioned Robert Robinson to draw up proposals for landscape improvements. The estate survey plan of 1815 shows that most of Robinson's proposals were adopted and the old Statistical Account of 1794 described Balbirnie as a 'delightfully romantic' place with a 'pretty extensive lawn ... planted with different kinds of trees' and 'surrounding eminences ... covered with fine thriving plantations'.

19th Century

The present mansion was built in 1815 for John Balfour's son, General Robert Balfour, and incorporates the fabric of the earlier house at its north end. The architect commissioned to carry out this transformation was Richard Crichton who added the new apartments to the south of the old house and designed their two grand neo- classical facades. General Balfour also commissioned Thomas White Jnr to extend the designed landscape. White incorporated Robinson's earlier design and thickened the shelter plantings, much as Robinson had proposed. The minor road through the estate to the west of the house was moved and the park was extended to the west. All these improvements were funded partly by increased estate rentals and income from coal mining but partly from the General's share of a large inheritance from his aunt which is reputed also to have funded his two brothers' new houses and landscaping at Whittingehame and Newton Don.

The General was succeeded by his son John in 1837 who greatly enlarged his estates between 1850-1875 and also made some additions to the policies including the lodge designed by David Bryce in 1860. His younger brother George, who worked in India, was a friend of Hooker, the plant collector, and from the mid-19th century he sent specimen plant seed back to Balbirnie, starting the plant collection which remains today.

20th Century

The Balfour family continued to live at Balbirnie until 1969 when Mr J.C. Balfour sold the property to Glenrothes Development Corporation who purchased it to help meet the increasing need for recreational facilities in the area. The house is now used as offices for some departments of the Development Corporation; an 18- hole golf course has been laid out in the parks; a caravan site has been located in the south-east of the policies; and the stables have been converted into a Craft Centre. There are currently proposals for housing and light industrial developments in two areas of the park.

The estate is unusual in having retained a wealth of estate documents including plans from 1770 onwards. This is mainly due to the estate factor's post being handed down through one family, the Ballingouls, from 1770-1916.


  • 18th Century (1701 to 1800)
  • Late 18th Century (1775 to 1799)
Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Terrace
  • Description: The remains of terraced gardens survive around the house.
  • Planting
  • Description: The woodland garden contains a notable collection of trees and shrubs, including rhododendrons grown from seed obtained during plant-collecting expeditions.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building



18th Century (1701 to 1800)





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Markinch and Woodside East




  • Historic Scotland