Bemersyde 378

Clintmains, Scotland

Brief Description

Bemersyde is situated on an outcrop above the River Tweed with views to the Eildon Hills. The 18th-century parkland still includes a few original trees in the shelterbelts and a picturesque winding drive down to the river. The gardens comprise an 18th-century kitchen garden in the shape of a half octagon, a line of old yew trees that were once part of an elaborate late-19th-century parterre, some shrubberies and ornamental woodland. An early-20th-century sunken garden, constructed in two levels with drystone retaining walls, supports a variety of alpine plants.

History

Bemersyde has been owned by the Haig family since the 12th century. The original garden and orchard date from the late-17th century. The garden was redesigned twice in the 19th century and again in the early-20th century, each time by the owners.

Visitor Facilities

Open once a year under Scotland's Garden Scheme. For details see: www.gardensofscotland.org/index.aspx

Detailed Description

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:

http://portal.historic-scotland.gov.uk/hes/web/f?p=PORTAL:DESIGNATIONS:0

Type of Site

Long-established house and grounds featuring ancient woodlands and a heritage tree. The garden grounds are notable for Field Marshal Haig's sunken garden of the 1920s. Other late 19th and 20th century features include a partially surviving walled garden with glass-house and a maturing woodland garden to the south-east of the gardens.

Location and Setting

Bemersyde is located above the River Tweed just over a mile (2km) upstream from Newtown St Boswells. Topographically, the region is characterised by the strongly meandering course of the river, moderately rolling landform and prominent conical and dome-shaped hills. The celebrated viewing point known as 'Scott's View', which takes in the distinctive peaks of the Eildons, is located just north of the designed landscape, while the scenic qualities of the region as a whole have been recognised through the designation of the Eildon and Leaderfoot National Scenic Area. Bemersyde occupies a relatively prominent site at 160m above sea-level, and the canopy of the woods and top of the tower can be seen from Scott's View. Similarly, from the upper storeys of Bemersyde House, views extend across Lauderdale, the Tweed Valley and as far south as the more distant Cheviot Hills. At ground level, shelterbelts enclose most of the park and garden areas, and protect them from prevailing south-westerly winds. To the north and west, the ground slopes down towards the river bank where the strip of surviving ancient woodland has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Encompassing 55ha (136ac), Bemersyde is one of the smallest designed landscapes in the Scottish Borders. It is bounded by the river bank to the north and west, shelterbelts and the minor B6356 road to the east, and a field boundary to the south.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Bemersyde House consists of a central late-medieval tower flanked by lower east and west wings. It has a long and complicated architectural history, with numerous episodes of rebuilding and enlargement. The sandstone rubble tower, with 4 storeys plus attic and a parapet walk on its north and south walls, was partly rebuilt in the later 16th century and is said to incorporate moulded stones from the nearby Dryburgh Abbey. The wings were erected in the second half of the 18th century. The west wing was remodelled and heightened in the 1860s, only to be restored to its original height in 1959-61. Adjacent mid-19th-century stables comprise a single-storey south range with central pediment, and opposite, a similar north range, heightened c.1920s. A decorative brick wall with pale sandstone coping, screens the stables from the gardens to the south. An octagonal-plan sundial, inscribed 'Bemersyde 1691' and mounted on a substantial stepped pedestal base and baluster, forms an impressive centrepiece. A restored summerhouse to the east of the lawn and garden area houses information panels for visitors.

Drives and Approaches

The main access route to the house and gardens leads westward from the hamlet of Bemersyde. From a lodge, the short drive ascends through mixed deciduous woodland, with a subsidiary drive forking off towards the kitchen garden area north of the house. To the north west, a riverside path originating from the old fording point of Monksford connects with a longer track that curves and ascends towards Bemersyde through a strip of woodland.

Parkland

The grass meadows of Bemersyde extend downslope from the house and core woodlands towards the Tweed. Grazed by livestock, they are partly enclosed by mixed deciduous shelterbelts and the woodland strip that lines the track to the riverbank. Early Ordnance Survey editions depict them as mostly devoid of trees, a characteristic that endures in the present landscape. Exceptions include the few remaining horse-chestnuts in the undulating park to the west of the house, and a ring of lime trees planted c.1830 on the slope to the north of the house.

Woodland

Although not extensive in terms of area, the mature Bemersyde woodlands are prominent in local landscape views. Structurally, they comprise long-established policy plantations around the core of the designed landscape, a woodland strip that flanks the track down to the river bank, and a swathe of ancient woodland along the bank of the River Tweed. Here, the range and diversity of woodland flora and fauna together with supporting documentary and cartographic evidence from the 1700s, indicates the longevity of deciduous woodland, the importance of which is recognised through its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). In the spring, a profusion of wild flowers grows beneath the canopy of oak, yew and other broadleaf trees. Closer to the house, the mixed woodlands retain a structure established during the 18th and 19th century and maintained through subsequent replanting projects. Occasional veteran broadleaves stand among the younger spruce, beech and elm, while a path along the southern edge of the designed landscape leads through an attractive beech avenue, devised by the Field Marshall Earl Haig in the early 20th century.

Woodland Garden

At the bottom of the gardens, to the south and south east of the summerhouse, a range of trees bear witness to an arboretum created in the 1950s to 1970s, partly with specimens gifted from the Royal Botanical Gardens and partly through supplementary additions made in the late 20th century. Specimens present include red oaks, a Wellingtonia and Monkey Puzzle, and a small collection of maples and Sorbus. An understorey of Rhododendron and Azalea bushes, together with many naturalised daffodils, adds colour and texture to this woodland garden space.

The Gardens

The garden grounds extend from the south front of Bemersyde house and comprise an approximately rectangular-shaped area of lawn bordered by woodland. The present scheme is a relatively simple one, in which garden elements of different eras co-exist. Close to the gravel forecourt of the house, the gnarled, veteran sweet chestnut is by far the most ancient feature. Current estimates place it between 500 and 800 years old, with popular tradition claiming this 'Covin' or 'Trysting' tree to have been planted by family founder, Petrus de Haga himself in the late 12th century (www.bordersforesttrust.org ). Although the original trunk is now dead, layers taken by the 2nd Earl in the 1950s have resulted in healthy stems shooting up from the base. The inscribed sundial, fixed on its substantial pedestal on the main lawn terrace is a feature of the late 17th to 18th century gardens, while the large yews in the centre of the garden bear witness to an ornate, 19th century arrangement of tree-lined parterres. The structure of this former, more complex garden space can be traced via historic maps and aerial photographs that show up faint undulations in the lawn, and thus reveal an approximately square garden, divided into quadrants by axial paths.

Today, within this largely grassed-over space, the most colourful features are those devised during the 20th century. Surrounded by a low, retaining stone wall, the sunken garden in the south-eastern sector was a creation of the Field Marshal Earl Haig in the years following the First World War, and his surviving plans and notes on its design are of particular historic value. Although the 2nd Earl later simplified the arrangement through the removal of some flower beds, the symmetrical form of this small, partly-paved garden remains essentially unchanged. At the centre, crazy-paving paths intersect at a small, circular pond. The lawn quadrants extend outwards and up two steps to where mostly low-growing alpine plants grow along the wall. Close by, an avenue of brick pillars anchor wooden trellising on which roses and other climbers grow. A more recent feature is the luxuriant bed that extends along the brick wall to the east of the east wing. The late 2nd Earl's widow is a knowledgeable gardener, and has created a flourishing show of colour and foliage in this part of the Bemersyde garden.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden to the north-west of the house is now only partly cultivated. It was built and developed during the second half of the 19th century and originally featured intersecting axial paths within a regular, six-sided walled enclosure (1896-8, OS 25'). The area under cultivation was reduced by about a half during the mid 20th century, although the potting range and grassed-over mounds of former vegetable beds remain. A late-20th-century tennis court occupies the former south west quadrant of the garden. Now, the chief surviving elements of the Victorian enclosure include the northern brick wall, which divides the garden from the sloping field to the north, some wall-trained fruit and free-standing apples, and a glasshouse range, now used for cultivating a profusion of flowers, tomatoes, peaches and figs. Within the sheltered area of the enclosure, low box hedging surrounds the remaining planted and well-maintained vegetable plots.

Features
  • Sundial
  • Description: A sundial on an octagonal base that was positioned in the garden in the late-17th century.
  • Statue
  • Description: Two lead statues situated in the sunken garden.
  • Summerhouse
  • Description: A rustic wooden summerhouse.
  • Tree Ring
  • Description: A ring of lime trees in the parkland that frames the view to the Eildon Hills.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Bemersyde is a 16th-century pele tower that was converted into a house in the late-17th century and subsequently rebuilt.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

Open once a year under Scotland's Garden Scheme. For details see: www.gardensofscotland.org/index.aspx
Authorities

Electoral Ward

  • Scott's View
History

Detailed History

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:

http://portal.historic-scotland.gov.uk/hes/web/f?p=PORTAL:DESIGNATIONS:0

Reason for Inclusion

Garden elements from different epochs of Bemersyde's long history coexist within this scenically prominent designed landscape. The house itself is of particular merit, with its 16th century tower and well-documented architectural history. The ancient woodlands along the bank of the River Tweed form a vitally important refuge for a diverse range of rare plant and beetle species.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Intermittent development during the 16th to 19th centuries, 1920s, 1950s-70s

Site History

Bemersyde is famous for its long association with the Haig family who can trace their ancestors back some eight and a half centuries on this land. Petrus de Haga of probable Norman descent is named in 1162 as the proprietor of the lands and barony of 'Bemersyd'. From this point onwards, succession followed a direct genealogical descent, apparently following the popular tradition of Thomas Rhymer's medieval prophesy, 'Tyde what may whate'er betyde, Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde'.

There are few obvious signs of the medieval landscape of Bemersyde, except for the swathe of ancient woodland by the river bank and the enormous sweet chestnut that remains standing in front of the house. After more than half a millennium of life, the tree continues to grow new stems owing to the 2nd Earl's efforts to transplant new layers from the dying timber in the mid-20th century. Bemersyde House itself exhibits fabric from the 16th century onwards, with a central tower providing shelter and refuge for generations of Haigs during this turbulent era.

Although it is likely that the medieval and late medieval grounds contained some form of garden space, the earliest features of the present designed landscape post-date this period. Following a spell in prison for his Quaker sympathies in the 1660s, Anthony Haig (1654-1712) is known to have devoted himself to frugal living, and to the betterment of the property (Russell 1881: 298). While his planted orchards have since disappeared, an inscribed sundial that ornamented his garden still stands in the lawns to the south of Bemersyde House. Over the course of the 18th and earlier 19th century, greater numbers of trees were planted and wings were added to the older tower to create a larger and more comfortable living space. The renowned writer Sir Walter Scott took an interest in Bemersyde, with its long history and impressive 'Trysting' tree, while the picturesque scene was sketched and embellished by J. M. W. Turner in 1831.

Historic maps and undulations in the grounds to the south of the house reveal a square garden area that was originally a fairly busy space, adorned with parterres lined by yews and hollies in the mid to later 19th century, (possibly planted by James Haig (1790-1840. A crisis of succession that jeopardised the old medieval prophesy was resolved in the late 19th century, and the property passed to a relation, Colonel Arthur Balfour Haig, who retained his preferred, Victorian scheme of small flower beds and holly bushes (2nd Earl Haig, pers.correspondence 2008).

Douglas, Field Marshall Haig (1861-1928), the prominent military figure and senior commander during World War I had fond childhood memories of Bemersyde. Following the sale of the property after the war, the estate was gifted to him by public subscription in 1921. In the years before his death, Haig laid the foundations of the more simple garden space of the present designed landscape. He removed flower beds and shrubs, thus creating more lawns. Inspired by a postcard of the King Henry VIII knot garden at Hampton Court he designed a small sunken garden, which remains a feature today.

During World War II, Bemersyde was occupied by the Edinburgh Asylum for the Blind and used as a billet for the Women's Land Army. The late owner, Field Marshall Haig's son, 2nd Earl and artist, returned to live at Bemersyde in the late 1940s. He opened the grounds up to the visiting public and continued to maintain the designed landscape. While some elements have been curtailed or reduced due to their diminished economic viability (the walled garden and early 20th century herbaceous borders), other projects are now coming to fruition. The maintained and replanted woodlands form an attractive scenic element in the local landscape, while paths lead through a maturing arboretum. The latest addition is a colourful herbaceous border by the east wing, which complements the other older, surviving remnants of the Bemersyde gardens.

Period

  • 18th Century
Associated People

People associated to Bemersyde

Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • Historic Scotland