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Craigmillar Castle


Craigmillar Castle is a late-medieval castle surrounded by a deer park. The site includes the remains of 16th-century formal terraced castle gardens. There are views from some of the garden compartments over the surviving earthworks of a P-shaped fishpond. Early-19th-century woodland clumps mask a number of quarries and are positioned to frame views in and out of the site. Some ground planting survives from late-19th-century walks from the Inch Estate to the picturesque ruins of Craigmillar Castle.

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:

Late medieval castle site, including the remains of 16th century formal terraced castle gardens and the earthworks of a fishpond. Surrounded by parkland, the ruins were a focus of an 18th/19th century romantic landscape.

Location and Setting

Craigmillar Castle lies on the south-eastern urban fringe of Edinburgh, 4km (2.5 miles) from central Edinburgh on the north side of the Old Dalkeith Road (A68) and within Edinburgh's designated Green Belt. Despite its proximity to the city, its immediate setting is rural in character with major urban development affecting the castle environs to the north. The Old Dalkeith Road marks the site boundary on the south-west. Roads to Duddingston and Holyrood form the south-eastern and north-eastern boundaries. To the west the Inch estate, once contiguous with the Craigmillar policies, is now separated from it by the A68. The site of the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary immediately to the south-east of Craigmillar has closed the last remaining, open, rural aspect to the site.

Craigmillar Castle stands on top of a minor ridge between Arthur's Seat and the Edmonstone ridge, directly on a sandstone outcrop, the base of its south walls lying on a 7-10m high crag. This elevated position commands long-distance views dominated to the north-west by Arthur's Seat (2.5km away) and Salisbury Crags. The sequence of other panoramic views and prominent eye-catching features are Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town, Prestonfield House in its landscape setting (q.v. Inventory, Volume 5, p.193), Duddingston Church and glimpses of the loch, village and Duddingston House policies (q.v. Inventory, Volume 5, p.77), the Fife coast and the East Neuk across the Firth of Forth ' including Inchkeith, the East Lothian coast with the Bass Rock, North Berwick Law and the sands of Aberlady Bay, Traprain Law protruding over the Tranent ridge, the Lammermuir Hills forming the eastern skyline, Edmonstone House, park and ridge to the south-east with the Moorfoot Hills forming the skyline, views to the south-west of the Pentland Hills and views to the Braid Hills, Blackford Hill and Corstorphine Hill.

Views of Craigmillar are equally important, its visual prominence as a picturesque landmark within the environs of Edinburgh being long recognised and appreciated. A principle view is that gained from Arthur's Seat and there are panoramic views of the whole of Craigmillar Castle Park from the Queen's Drive in Holyrood Park. Other significant landscape views are seen from Niddrie Park, now a public park, and from the parkland at Edmonstone House where Craigmillar Castle appears juxtaposed with Edinburgh Castle.

The existence of a barony at Craigmillar is recorded from 1374 when the lands at Craigmillar were acquired by the Preston family, but the detailed boundary of the estate is unknown. The King's Meadow adjacent to the Braid Burn to the north of the castle, and lying between Bridgend and Peffermill is recorded before 1536, and lay within the centre of King James V's hunting forest of Drumselch.

Roy's Survey (1747-55) gives no indication of an extensive designed landscape at Craigmillar, showing only agricultural land in the form of runrigs beyond the confines of the castle. Knox's map (1812) clearly shows blocks of planting around the castle for the first time, which mirror the present woodland areas.

Architectural Features

Five distinct building periods can be discerned at Craigmillar Castle. An early 15th century tower house forms the nucleus of the castle, followed by the curtain wall and projecting corner towers with related courtyard buildings. In the 16th century the east range was rebuilt, and in 1660 the castle became the property of the Gilmour family who rebuilt the west range. A Sundial, dated 1660, the year the Gilmours acquired Craigmillar, stood near the castle until 1894 when the family moved it to The Inch. It was square-headed with ball finial decoration on a square column with carved panels. An inscription read 'This dial stood at Craigmillar, falling into ruin it was re-erected here with needful additions, AD 1894'; where it remained until c.1980 but is now lost. A Doocot is situated in the angle of the north curtain wall. A drystone dyke surrounds the area around the fishpond. Drystone-faced banks also enclose the woodlands. Note should be taken of the drystone dykes along Craigmillar Castle Road.

Drives and Approaches

Little is known of the earlier approaches to Craigmillar. However, Roy's Survey (1747-55) shows a lane to the north of the castle, through what may be the site of the old castletoun, leading to Peffermill. The current approach leads directly off Craigmillar Castle Road to the east of the castle where a crow-stepped stone lodge was built in the 19th century.


Originating in a Medieval deer park, the Castle park has long been a source of good building stone used at Craigmillar, Holyrood Palace and elsewhere in the locality. The eight quarries in the park were all exploited at various times between the early 15th to 19th centuries. Blocks of woodland now mask them.

The parkland planting around the castle has degenerated over the years. Although Knox's map (1812) indicates parkland planting, the main period of planting seems to belong to the early-mid 19th century. The New Statistical Account (1845) states that The grounds have been much ornamented by clumps of beautiful trees' which may refer to the five woodland blocks which still exist. The planting includes sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) to the west of the castle. Other trees in the parkland and on the perimeters of the woodland include oak (Quercus robur), ash (Fraximus excelsior), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and holly (Ilex aquifolium).


The woodland blocks which appear to have been early 19th century plantings (Knox, 1812) still survive in the landscape. They all enclose former quarries and have been skilfully positioned so as to exploit scenic views to and from the site.

Originally managed as coppiced woodland, they are protected by boundary banks with drystone facings, to prevent grazing stock from decimating them. The predominant species planted appear to have benn wych elm (Ulmus glabra) and sycamore, although most of the blocks have been replanted to varying extents.

The largest woodland, Quarry Wood to the north-east of the castle, may have originated in the 18th century. Little remains of its original planting due to the late 19th century use of the quarry floor as a fireworks factory (1893, OS 25"), but it has an important landscape function in framing views to Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh Castle.

West Wood, to the south-west of the castle, survives in relatively good condition and consists primarily of coppice elm with plantings of yew, holly and a variety of shrubs including box, Berberis, Rhododendron and rambling roses. Leopard's bane (Doronicum pardalianches), snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and violets (Viola riviniana) carpet the ground. These all survive from the late 19th century picturesque planting associated with[ [The Laird's Walk, an ornamental walk leading from The Inch to the picturesque ruins of Craigmillar Castle, and linking West Wood with South Wood. South Wood, directly to the south of the castle lies on a plateau and is mostly sycamore coppice, resulting in a relatively poor ground flora. In the late 19th century the planting included briars and rambling roses.[ [East Wood lying to the east on the park boundary was also part of the Laird's Walk, but no longer exists.[ [Dalkeith Road Wood, a broad belt c 115m wide, lies on the south-west parkland boundary, adjacent to the Old Dalkeith Road. At its western end it merges with the[ [Yew Walk, developed between 1877-93 which is planted with common yew, Irish yew (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata'), cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), snowberry (Symphoricarpus racemosus), holly and spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica 'Variegata'). The yews are backed by plantings of Norway maple which contrast with the yews in autumn. This formed part of what was Lady Susan's Walk, now under housing with the Inch estate, and The Laird's Walk (McGowan Associates, 1999).

Hawkhill Wood lies to the east of Craigmillar Castle Road on an outlying ridge. It has a similar origin to the other woodland and serves to frame views of Craigmillar Castle from the east.

Wild celery (Apium graveolens) is to be found growing profusely in the area around the castle, particularly on the lane verges. Other species to be found in the woodland areas include ash, common lime (Tilia x europaea), sycamore, and horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). Other perennial plants include Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), and Bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).

The Gardens

Evidence of the 16th century gardens is scant but the West and East Gardens probably delineate the former extent of the castle gardens. Both the West Garden and the East Garden situated to either side of the castle, are terraced, square compartments. The West Garden is a flat square of grass 33m x 33m, with a raised platform on its north side which may have supported a building range. Enclosed on its north, east and partially, west sides by walls, the garden is open on its south side where there are views from the 1.5-2.4m high terrace over the P-shaped fishpond.

Designed for both ornament and utility the P-shaped pond is the most important archaeological, garden feature at Craigmillar. It is nationally significant due to its rarity, and important in the landscape because of its relationship to viewing points within the gardens. It stands within the South Field, a large drystone walled field (also probably 16th century), with the remains of two viewing towers at its southern corners. Large irregular banks formed from the excavation of the pond surrounds it on all sides. The pond, 65m long and 20m broad, aligned roughly NNW to SSE, is deeper at its southern end where the bedrock is exposed, and where there are two islands situated within the loop of the letter P.

The leet at its southern end was probably fed by a spring. An early 18th century engraving shows a stone wall approximately at the south-west bank of the pond giving the impression that at some time the pond has been enclosed (Grose, 1789). A simple flight of steps is sited on the axis of the pond and leads to the west terrace. A conjectural reconstruction to a 17th century date shows these stone steps with stone balusters and a broad stone handrail (MacGibbon and Ross, 1887). A timber gallery which projected from the south side of the first floor of the 17th century extension probably acted as a viewing platform overlooking the pond.

The East Garden measuring 27m x 28m is laid to grass, with the family chapel dating from c.1520 in the north-east corner. The northern wall of the garden gives access into the outer court, while the other walls mean that the garden is visually enclosed on all sides.

On the south side of the castle is the South Terrace, stretching from the west curtain tower for approximately 85m to the east of the castle. About 1.0m high and situated some 5-8m from the south face of the crag and castle walls, it is formed by a drystone wall and gives views out over the South Field and fishpond.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

Craigmillar Castle is open throughout the year. Opening times vary seasonally.


Craigmillar Castle can be reached by bus and cycle route.


Secretary of State for Scotland


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:

A ruined, picturesque, late medieval castle set within a deer park, with an outstanding example of a castle-garden complex, dating to the 16th century. Its dominant position in Edinburgh's landscape has long been recognised.

Main Phases of Landscape Development are 16th century, 17th century, late 18th and 19th centuries.

15th - 16th Century

Craigmillar Castle Park, situated adjacent to the royal palace at Holyrood House, has many connections and associations with the royalty and there has long been a tradition of receiving royal guests at the castle. The Preston family, lairds of Craigmillar for almost 300 years, started building work in the early 15th century. Successive members of the Preston family held office as sheriffs and provosts of Edinburgh and it was Sir William Preston (1417-1453), laird of Gilmerton and Craigmillar from 1442, who presented Edinburgh High Kirk with a reliquary containing the arm bone of St. Giles, the city's patron saint. He enlarged the castle by constructing a protective curtain wall around three sides of the tower.

Sir Simon Preston (d.1519) who succeeded in 1478, Member of Parliament for the county of Edinburgh in 1487, was probably responsible for building some of the outer walls surrounding the castle, including the gate to the west garden surmounted by the Preston coat of arms with the date 1510. James IV made Sir Simon's lands at Craigmillar, including the castle, fortalice and mill, into a free barony for which the annual rent was a penny Scots at Whitsun. In the mid 16th century a further extensive programme of rebuilding seems to have been undertaken by Sir Simon Preston (d. c 1575), Edinburgh's Provost and privy Councillor (1565-7). A loyal supporter of Mary Queen of Scots, he invited the Queen to stay in 1563 and she returned in November 1566 at the same time that the so-called Craigmillar Bond was formed.

Little evidence survives of the designed gardens and policies which would have accompanied the castle, save the fishpond earthwork in the shape of a P situated to the south of the castle and the associated castle-garden enclosures.

17th Century

In 1660 the entire estate along with the adjacent Inch estate was bought by Sir John Gilmour (d.1671), Lord President of the Court of Session and a lord of the Exchequer. Up to 1774 his successors held office as Members of Parliament for the county of Edinburgh (Midlothian). Sir John Gilmour undertook an extensive building programme including a new west range of 1661 overlooking the west garden and fishpond.

18th Century

In the 18th century the Gilmours moved to Inch House, to the west in nearby Gilmerton, leaving Craigmillar uninhabited after the death of two daughters of Sir John Gilmour, the last of the family to live there. Craigmillar Castle, still part of the Gilmour property, was incorporated into the Inch estate as a romantic ruin, the focus of walks linking the Inch to the Craigmillar policies. From this point onwards the ruins of Craigmillar came to be appreciated for their picturesque qualities and romantic, historic associations with Mary Queen of Scots, the first notable expression of this being John Pinkerton's Craigmillar Castle, An Elegy (1775).

At this period even, Craigmillar's dominant landscape position was appreciated, 'The view of Craigmillar surmounts all the rest, Where our charming Queen Mary pass'd her days that were best', which referred to the view of Craigmillar as seen from Prestonfiled House (Dick, 1874). There is a wealth of paintings, drawings and prints of Craigmillar Castle from 1776 onwards, by John Clerk of Eldin (1776, 1780) Thomas Hearne (1782) and Thomas Allom (1836) among others, reflecting its importance as a tourist destination for over 250 years. The importance of the castle's wider landscape context is recognised in many of these illustrations, as in that by the Rev. J. Thompson (1820) which shows Craigmillar Castle alongside the Bass Rock, Little France and North Berwick Law.

The first account of the gardens and landscape is in 1792 when an account describes the drawing room to the south of the Great Hall overlooking the orchard and adjacent field. The orchard of two acres 'once of great value' had 'now only a few old fruit trees in it'. The fishpond is described bordered by rows of trees on either side, with two small islands in its south-west part, each planted with a hawthorn tree. An elaborate staircase 'led down from what was formerly the bowling green' (Old Statistical Account, 1792).

On the death of Alexander Gilmour in 1792, the estates passed to the Little Gilmour family of Liberton. Extensive improvements were made to their property at the Inch up until the 1820's, and it seems to have been then that a picturesque landscape linking the Inch with Craigmillar Castle was planned.

19th - 20th Century

By 1819 parkland trees were being planted to the south-east of the castle (Bower, 1819). In addition to the picturesque focus of Craigmillar Castle ruins itself, Queen Mary's tree, a sycamore said to have been planted by Mary Queen of Scots, was a focal parkland feature (1852, OS 6"). By 1881 the tree was showing signs of decay, so in an attempt to save it, it was heavily pruned. Such was its interest that it elicited Queen Victoria's concern on her visit to Craigmillar in 1886, when she suggested protecting it with an iron fence. Walter James Little Gilmour (d.1887) did this, had seed collected and seedlings were distributed to Windsor and Balmoral, and several were replanted on the Craigmillar estate (Speedy, 1892). Little Gilmour spent large sums on the restoration of the castle during the 1880s. The tradition of visiting Craigmillar Castle became well established, it was 'open to the Public every lawful day' and teas were to be had at the Dairy, adjoining the castle (Good, 1894). This continued well into the 20th century.

Sometime before 1890, land to the south of the King's Meadow and to the north of the castle became the site of Dickson & Co's 'Royal Nursery', one of the foremost nurseries which moved from their site along Leith Walk. This closed in the 1960s and the land reverted to arable farm use.

21st Century

The castle park has been part of the Fields in Trust historic protection programme and has been protected since February 2010 under the Fields in Trust protected fields protection type.


Tudor (1485-1603)

Features & Designations


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

  • Scheduled Ancient Monument

  • Reference: Craigmillar Castle and gardens


  • Dovecote
  • Fishpond
  • Castle (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Courtyard
  • Pond
  • Description: P-shaped pond
  • Sundial
  • Description: Dated 1660
  • Dyke
  • Description: Drystone dyke surrounds the area around the fishpond.
Key Information





Principal Building



Tudor (1485-1603)


Part: standing remains



Open to the public


Electoral Ward





  • Historic Scotland