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The well-maintained parkland and gardens at Balcaskie retain 17th-century features, overlaid with mid-19th-century developments. The earlier features include a superb axial view from the house, and the basic structure of the three terraces, which have 19th-century steps and planting layout. The third terrace grows fruit and vegetables. There is also a formal late-19th-century rose garden.

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 late 17th century layout of formal axis, terraces, park and planting, was modified to a more informal style in the mid-19th century, following advice from W.S.Gilpin, an exponent of the 'picturesque' theory. The 'natural' quality sought by Gilpin is still evident in the present wider designed landscape while terraces designed by Sir William Bruce in the late 17th century survive adjacent to the house.

Location and Setting

Balcaskie House is situated off the B942, some 2 miles (3km) north of the coastal village of St Monance and 2 miles (3km) north-west of the fishing village of Pittenweem. It lies just over a mile (1.5km) from the south coast of Fife overlooking the mouth of the Firth of Forth and the North Sea. The policies are bounded by roads; the B942 to the south and west, the B9171 to the north, and a minor road between Carnbee and Pittenweem which runs along the east side except where the Grangemuir policies take out a wedge in the north- east corner. Situated on the coastal plain, the policies rise gently northwards. The soil is a light to medium loam and the climate is affected by the maritime conditions. Balcaskie is surrounded by farmland occasionally broken by woodland sheltering the policies of adjoining estates.

Balcaskie was designed to face south-east so that the axial vista centred on the house would line up with the Bass Rock which is an important scenic feature just off the East Lothian coast. This axis runs through the house and on the north side is picked up by an avenue running north-west which is almost centred on Kellie Law 603' (184m). The designed landscape was carefully laid out to use these distinctive landmarks. From the house there is a view across the Firth of Forth to North Berwick. From the surrounding roads there are glimpses into the site and one view of the house but, for the most part, it is enclosed and screened by woodland and hedges.

The house sits on a prominence overlooking the sea at the centre of the policies which are almost triangular in shape. Balcaskie is bordered by substantial hedges along the roads on three sides and by the Grangemuir policies to the east. The inner core is shown on General Roy's plan of the 1750s and the changes which took place in the early 19th century are shown on the 1st edition OS plan of about 1850 and the 2nd edition of about 1900. The vistas to Bass Rock and Kellie Law can be seen clearly on Roy's plan. The park and policies were extended to the present size by the 1850s. Today the designed landscape extends to an area of about 1,050 acres (425 ha).

The strong axial line of the formal design which runs from the north-west to the south-east through the middle of the house is still a major feature of the designed landscape. The three stepped terraces facing south-east are at right angles to the direction of the vista. A second and lesser axis running almost due east from the house can be seen on Roy's plan. The formal shape of the inner park surrounded by woodland, also shown on Roy's plan, appears to have been relaxed in the early 19th century and the informality was also extended to the surrounding policies.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Balcaskie House, listed category A, was built by Sir William Bruce between 1668 and 1674 on the site of an older house. The masons were John Hamilton, Alexander Scott and Archibald Wallace. The house, in the Scottish Renaissance style, was rectangular in shape with square turrets at each corner. Two pavilions, added c.1745, are linked by a single-storey colonnade. Between 1827 and 1831 William Burn altered and extended it. Thomas Clark, the builder, added the cast iron balcony which runs across the first floor facade on the south side. David Bryce undertook more work between 1853 and 1858. The offices are in the East Pavilion, and the Stables are a separate block on the west side of the West Pavilion at right angles to the colonnade. Recently much of the interior has been restored.

The East Lodge, listed category B, was designed by Burn and Bryce in 1846 as a gamekeeper's house. It was improved in 1911. The East Gatepiers and twin Dovecots are listed category A. The gatepiers are dated 1714 and 1745 and the Dovecots were built around 1745. In 1886, Sir Robert Lorimer designed the elegant wrought-iron Gates. The West Lodge, listed category B, was built by Burn and Bryce between 1843 and 1844 on a site chosen by Gilpin. The Gatepiers are contemporary and the gates were added after World War II. The North Lodge was built about 1815, the Gatepiers, listed category B, were constructed about 1745 and the wrought iron Gates added by Sir Robert Lorimer in 1919.

The Home Farm was built by William Lees based on a sketch by Burn in 1834 or 1835. The Bridge on the West Drive is listed category B and was built by William Burn in 1828.

The Garden Terraces, the Statues and Sundial are all listed category A. The Terraces were designed in the late 17th century by Sir William Bruce. W.S. Gilpin and W.A. Nesfield both redesigned the planting and Nesfield added minor items including the two flights of steps.


The parkland is first shown as formal blocks on General Roy's plan of the 1750s. The formal lines can still be traced today especially in the shelterbelts on either side of the southern park, the trees bordering the central vista and in the avenue to East Lodge. The main approach to the house was moved from the north avenue to the east in the mid-18th century but the romantic drive from the west was designed by W.S. Gilpin between 1826 and 1827. He also made the edges of the plantations less formal and these were described in 1834 in the Gardeners' Magazine as 'some plantations formed by Gilpin, the outlines of which are most labouriously twisted and turned about'. He planted many trees in the park some of which still remain. They are mainly elm, sycamore, lime, beech and ash. Other trees were planted in the late 19th century and more have been replaced throughout the 20th century. Today the park is filled with a mixed age range of hardwood trees giving the 'natural' quality sought by Gilpin.

The drive from the West Lodge sweeps through wide grass rides bordered by high beech hedges. Their lines accentuate the roll of the land and curve of the drive. Once over the small bridge the north park is reached. The drive runs straight to the formal entrance courtyard which is almost square and enclosed on three sides by a yew hedge. The policies are mostly enclosed fields and are protected from the westerly winds by thin shelterbelts.


The woodland has remained at about the same extent since Gilpin redesigned its outline in the 1820s. It is planted mainly with hardwoods such as oak, beech, ash, sweet chestnut and sycamore mixed with some Scots pine and larch. There are also some small sections of more recent conifer plantings. On the west side the picturesque Chapel Walk leads to the remains of Abercrombie Church which is isolated in the centre of the woods. This layout appeared to exist even on Roy's plan. On the west side Bishop's Walk leads through the woodland towards the sea and ends in the plantation adjoining the road. Lime and beech are planted on either side of it. A wide ride has been cut through this wood to maintain the vista to Bass Rock. Around the house there are some fine specimens of conifers planted in about 1880 and the old orchard to the east has been planted up with interesting trees and shrubs since the 1920s.

The Gardens

The formal courtyard to the north of the house is laid out with gravel near the house with rectangular lawns flanking the gravel. To the west and on the south front of the Stables lies the Rose Garden. It is surrounded by a yew hedge and the geometric pattern of rose beds was laid out in the 1870s. Roses still flourish here.

To the south of the house there are three broad terraces designed by Sir William Bruce in the late 17th century. Their destruction was averted by Sir Ralph Anstruther, who was influenced by Sir Walter Scott and W.S. Gilpin in the 1820s. Gilpin designed a 'flower garden'. The balustrades and a pair of tall steps at either end of the second terrace are said to have been added by William Nesfield in 1853. The planting layout is certainly attributed to him.

The top terrace is divided into three equal parts with the centre one about the same length as the facade of the house. In the 19th century there were two large trees in the centre section. Today, the western one is grass with a young Cedar of Lebanon in its centre. The eastern section is laid out in a geometric pattern as an 'American Garden', which was fashionable in the 19th century. It now contains a variety of shrubs not necessarily of American origin. In the middle of the central section is a square parterre filled with roses and enclosed by box hedges. The western and eastern compartments are enclosed by mixed yew and holly hedges on three sides. Ornamental statuary is found on the north side. The divisions of the central terrace are defined by wide gravel paths. A balustrade runs along the top of the terrace providing magnificent views of the second terrace below.

The second terrace runs the whole length of the first and its high retaining wall is supported by large buttresses. Each buttress provides a sheltered corner for tender plants and climbers including a Ceanothus, Rosa 'Felicite et Perpetue', a very large Hoheria sexstylosa, a large Azara, an enormous Garrya elliptica and a tender Crinodendron hookerianum. The layout was designed by W.A. Nesfield and is again divided into three. The oblong 'bowling green' is enclosed by a gravel path which leads down the centre of the outside wings. Roses and mixed borders are planted in the two straight beds on either side of the path which lead to the imposing flight of steps at either end.

Walled Garden

A central flight of steps, probably dating from the 17th century, leads to the third terrace laid out as a kitchen and flower garden. Fruit and vegetables are grown to supply local shops. On the east side is a range of small glasshouses used mainly for propagating and raising seeds. In the west compartment is an orchard. On the south side of the enclosing wall is a narrow strip used as a nursery for some of the plants.

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

An outstanding late 17th century landscape with later overlays, notable for the main axial view focussing on Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. The house and terraces were designed by William Bruce, the steps, balustrade and gardens added by William Nesfield, and flower gardens designed by W.S. Gilpin.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Late 17th century, altered in the mid-19th century and maintained throughout the 20th century.

Site History

The gardens and park were laid out in the late 17th century. They were changed to a more informal style in the mid-19th century and have been cared for throughout the 20th century.

The earliest record of the lands at Balcaskie dates from 1223. The 'manor place' was bought by Sir William Bruce from John Moncrieff in 1665. Sir William was Surveyor-General for Charles II and completed the Palace of Holyroodhouse for him. Charles knighted his architect in 1668 and Sir William began extensive modifications to the house at Balcaskie. Within the next six years, he constructed the house, built the terraces and laid out the formal park and avenues along the strong axial vistas. His work still provides the essential framework of Balcaskie today.

Sir William left his wife at Balcaskie when he moved to Kinross and he finally sold Balcaskie in 1685; it passed through several owners until 1698 when Sir Robert Anstruther bought it. The property has since passed through nine generations of the Anstruther family descending through the eldest son. In 1710, Sibbald described Balcaskie as 'a very pretty new house with all modern conveniences of terrace, gardens, parks and planting'.

In 1818, when Sir Ralph Anstruther, 4th Baronet, (1804-1863) inherited at the age of 14, he found the property in some disrepair. In May 1827, Sir Walter Scott notes in his diary that 'Balcaskie is much dilapidated but they are restoring it in the good old style with its terrace and Yew hedge'. Sir Walter is attributed with persuading Sir Ralph to restore the house and with this intent he commissioned William Burn to design the alterations and additions. The work was carried out between 1827 and 183l. Between 1826 and 1827, W.S. Gilpin gave advice on the garden, park and policies. Gilpin was an exponent of the 'picturesque' theory and was involved with Scott at Bowhill.

In 1853, Sir Ralph asked David Bryce to undertake further alterations to the house and about the same time he also asked William Nesfield to modify the planting on the terraces. Throughout his life Sir Ralph was continually improving the estate and embarking on new schemes. Articles extolling the beauty of the gardens at Balcaskie appeared throughout the 19th century and in 1905 George Elgood wrote that Balcaskie was 'one of the best and most satisfying gardens in the British Isles'.

In the 20th century the gardens have continued to be looked after by the family and particularly by Mrs Anstruther, the mother of the present owner.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Garden Terrace
  • Balustrade
  • Steps
  • Dovecote
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential








  • Historic Scotland