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Culross Abbey House


Remnants of late-17th- or early-18th-century parkland survive at Culross Abbey House, but most of the tree planting dates from the later-18th and early-19th century. The structure of the 17th-century terraced gardens remains, with a terraced walk over 130 metres long. The gardens are noted for their collection of shrub roses. The mid-19th-century kitchen garden has a double wall for heating.

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

No information available.

Location and Setting

Culross Abbey House stands on the north-eastern edge of the Royal Burgh of Culross some 7 miles (llkm) west of Dunfermline. The site is bounded to the west by Culross Abbey and its adjacent grounds, to the south by the B9037 and to the east by a B road which links the latter with the A985(T). Culross lies deep within the Firth of Forth on its northern shore some 8km east of the mouth of the River. The Abbey House stands on the south-facing hill above Culross, enjoying a mild climate but exposed to winds from the south-west. Soil conditions are slightly acid loam. The immediate surrounding landscape to the north and west is agricultural. Just over lkm to the east, the estate of Valleyfield has largely been developed for local authority housing. To the south west, 6km across the estuary, the shoreline beyond the town of Grangemouth has been developed with the Oil Refinery, Sewage and Chemical Works. The estuary and the developments on its southern shores are prominent from the designed landscape of Culross Abbey House, which itself is moderately significant from the B9037 to the south. Views are obtained south across to the Pentland Hills on a clear day.

Culross Abbey House is situated to the east of Culross Abbey, the surrounding walls of which form the western boundary of the site. The designed landscape extends north to a now disused access road which in c.1850 formed the Parliamentary and Municipal Boundary. To the east and south, the landscape extends to the B9037. Reference to John Slezer's perspective view of 1693 suggests that the designed landscape was once enclosed by walls to the south and north of the house and was extended north and east by lime avenues on either side of access drives. The 1st edition OS map of c.1850 shows that the landscape expanded on either side of these avenues to include the parkland and the Kirkbrae plantation on the southern boundary. The designed landscape now includes some 112 acres (45ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Culross Abbey House, listed B, was built in 1608 and enlarged in 1670. The architect is unknown. It was reconstructed after a period of decline in 1830 and reduced to its original early 17th century proportions in 1952.

The Garden House, listed B, is a vaulted recess in the terraced garden wall. It is dated 1674. The West Lodge, listed B, is thought to be 18th century but rebuilt in the 19th century. There is also an East Lodge with ornamented gateposts.


The Parkland was laid out prior to the mid-18th century and extended eastwards between this time and c.1860 as comparison of General Roy's map and the 1st edition OS map shows. The Parkland which now exists due south of the house and Gardens was originally the Abbey Orchard and is illustrated in John Slezer's engraving of 1693. This also shows an avenue extending east from the house and one running north from it along the edge of a woodland to the north of the house. The east avenue is described in Gardeners' Magazine of 1842 as being composed of lime trees 'of a great age'. Of the trees which remain today some are probably of the original 17th century planting. The avenue is now a farm access track. On the line of the north avenue, oak and maple species remain around 250 years old, and some beech around 110 years old. The road is not indicated on the 1st or 2nd edition OS maps, suggesting that it had been removed pre-1850 although a lodge is marked on the northern boundary on the former main road. Throughout the parks, trees include varieties of oak, sycamore and elm of around 250 and 150 years old. Some sycamore and horse chestnut species on the west drive are around 100 years old.


The Woodland known as Kirkbrae Wood, lies on the southern boundary of the site between the B9037 and the east drive as far as Robertson Park and extends west along the edge of an escarpment as far as the terraced gardens. It is indicated on the 1st edition OS although most trees today appear to be less than 100 years old. Species are mixed deciduous. A small area of woodland, now a young coniferous plantation, remains on the north-west corner of the park. It used to extend along the northern boundary of the site as shown on the 1st edition OS map.

The Gardens

Slezer's drawing of 1693 shows a series of three terraced compartments to the south of the house. The Gardeners' Magazine of 1842 describes a terraced walk bordered by a high wall of pear trees next to the house and 'a number of lower terraces, slopes and platforms, of great antiquity, some with stone steps, balustrades and vases and among them some very old fruit trees ...'. This terraced walk, some 145 yards long, remains, leading to the summerhouse of 1674. Part of the wall retaining the terrace had subsided this summer. On either side of the walk, Lady Elgin established her collection of shrub roses which includes all Rosa rugosa sub-species and all hybrid musks.

The terraced gardens to the south of the house have been remodelled and are now largely lawn with hydrangeas, azaleas, and other shrubs planted to highlight the landform, and to ensure that there is always some plant in flower throughout the year. Records have been kept by Lady Elgin of all plantings. An informal perimeter walk runs along the southern edge of the garden and returns to the house by a grass ramp which runs from the sunken lawn up to the formal paved terrace at the south front of the house. The bowling green is on the right of this ramp below the terrace.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden lies at the south-east corner of the terraced gardens, walled on the north and east sides, open to the south and west. It was built by Sir Robert Preston and has a double wall for heating. The Gardener's Cottage was lived in at that time by David Douglas who was gardener at Valleyfield before he became a famous plant collector. The garden is now unused, although some of the original box hedging enclosures remain, as do some fruit trees on the walls. An orchard is situated in the south-west corner 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

Situated in the village of Culross, the garden terraces date from 1693, and are still a major part of the structure today. This landscape is also notable for its shrub rose collection, well documented history, and scenically impressive parkland.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

No information available.

Site History

The terraced gardens were laid out in the late 17th century as were the original lime avenues, shown on the 1693 engraving by John Slezer. The landscape was allowed to decay in the early 19th century but was later reconstructed as a comparison of General Roy's map of c.1750 and the 1st edition OS map of c.1860 shows. It declined again after the death of Robert Preston but, following World War II, the house and gardens were restored by Lord and Lady Elgin.

Culross Abbey House was commissioned by Sir Edward Bruce, 1st Lord Kinloss in 1608. His brother, Sir George was a pioneer of the town's coal industry and built Culross Palace between 1597 and 1611. Sir Edward died in 1610, and the Abbey House was completed by his successors. Sir Alexander Bruce, 2nd Earl of Kincardine, added the third storey to the house and, with the aid of his Dutch wife, Veronica Van Sommelsdyke, laid out the terraced gardens. Tulips planted by her re- appear annually on the grass banks south of the house. He was a cousin of Sir William Bruce but there is no evidence to support the possibility that he was consulted on the design of the house. In 1680 Sir Alexander died and was succeeded by his son who died unmarried and the estate passed to his sister, Lady Mary Bruce. Through her marriage to William Cochrane of Ochiltree, the estate passed to the Earls of Dundonald. The 10th Earl, born in 1775, was Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane, the distinguished British 'Seaman' who was buried at Westminster Abbey in 1860. In the early 19th century his father, the 9th Earl, who was impoverished by experiments in extracting gas and tar from coal, went to live in London and sold the estate to a cousin, Sir Robert Preston of Valleyfield. He removed the roof of the house and left it until 1830 when he reconstructed the interior and restored the house, adding an extension to the north of the house; his coat of arms are above the door on the north front. A photograph in 1835 shows that the formal gardens in front of the house had disappeared by this date. When he died in 1860 without children, the estate reverted to the Earls of Elgin and Kincardine, but Lord Elgin was then vicerory of India and did not use the house which was found to be riddled with dry rot and it was again abandoned. Some 60 years later, in 1952, the house was remodelled to its original 1610 proportions by Robert Hurd for Lord and Lady Elgin, who also planted the gardens and established the now renowned collection of old roses. Lady Elgin had family connections of her own with Culross Abbey House as the granddaughter of the 11th Earl of Dundonald. Today Culross Abbey House remains the residence of the now Dowager Countess of Elgin although the estate is under the ownership of the 11th Earl of Elgin, 15th Earl of Kincardine.

Features & Designations


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


  • House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Summerhouse
  • Garden Terrace
  • Terraced Walk
  • Description: A terraced walk over 130 metres long.
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: The mid-19th-century kitchen garden has a double wall for heating.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Kincardine, Culross and Low Valleyfield




  • Historic Scotland